What do Principals As Literacy Leaders SAY to improve and enhance school-wide literacy achievement?

Teachers are likely to stay at schools where they feel supported, appreciated, valued, and appropriately challenged. Principals who are effective Literacy Leaders lead with their words as well as their actions. Principals As Literacy Leaders (PALs) are instrumental in creating these environments by doing and SAYING some very specific things that encourage risk-taking, growth, and reflection, all of which are essential in establishing and maintaining instructional systems that support improved literacy instruction and achievement outcomes for students. 


I have borrowed from ‘What Great Leaders say to Highly Engaged Teams’ to apply these same great principles to the Principals who desire to be effective Literacy Leaders in their schools. While the following list is not comprehensive, I do feel these topics are essential for creating and supporting a positive literacy environment. They are as follows:


“I value your contribution…”


Let’s start at the place where every teacher resides. Every teacher has something to contribute to literacy instruction. Those of us with experience working with adult learners know how important it is to acknowledge what each and every teacher already does or has that they can use to enhance their literacy instruction. Every teacher, let me repeat, EVERY SINGLE TEACHER has something good/positive/helpful that they bring to their classroom literacy instruction. The challenge is to find it and acknowledge it. Then help make clear connections between the practices and/or knowledge the teacher already displays with the literacy practices they are being asked to implement. Knowing that EVERY teacher already has something to offer to their literacy instruction, the Principal who effectively operates as a Literacy Leader can identify that ‘something’ to help each teacher leverage that contribution towards literacy success.  


“Do you have the capacity to do this now?”


As you begin or ramp up new and more challenging initiatives, it helps to guide teachers through a process that allows them to consider their teaching abilities and instructional knowledge in light of any new practices they are being asked to incorporate in their literacy instruction. This question can be a transformative one in that it requires deep reflection on their own contributions and a deeper understanding about the new concepts, which leads to a sense of ownership in the learning process. Through involved, rigorous professional development activities, opportunities to plan and practice the new skill/strategy, and ongoing guidance from an experienced literacy coach, the teacher can eventually fully understand, consider, take into account, comprehend, and appreciate all that is required to answer the question, ”DO YOU have the capacity to do this, NOW?  


“What do you need from me to be successful?”


Once teachers know what they need to do to effectively implement literacy strategies, they can now articulate what they need from themselves and from you to be successful. This question encourages teachers to identify what they feel they need to implement the new literacy practice. These requests may be tangible (library books, leveled readers, technology, etc.), or intangible (training, time to work with other teachers, etc.). With limited budgets and time, principals understandably cannot honor each and every request. Principals must, however, honor that which they agree to as trust is an essential factor in an environment that nurtures learning, growth, and change.


“What did we learn from this that we can use to improve/enhance/get us closer to our goals?”


Implementing new instructional practices is often challenging. Any ‘new’ action in some ways works against the old. Because of this, there will be many mistakes made by many people. Rather than focusing on what goes wrong, a Principal as Literacy Leader can use every opportunity to extract the good that can be used for later. If the outcome was a good one, reflect and plan on how to expand on that. If the practice opportunity was less than ideal, also reflect and identify the adjustments needed to ensure later success. It is reflective practices like these that create learning opportunities from what otherwise would be considered failed attempts or mistakes. Or in other words, making lemonade out of lemons.

And finally…


“I was wrong. I’m sorry”


You are human and YOU WILL make mistakes in this process too. Acknowledging that can only strengthen the trust between yourself and your staff as you display a willingness to take risks, self-reflect, and hold yourself accountable. Modeling this as pubic practice is a powerful example for teachers to follow as everyone learns, through trial and error, how to support a system that promotes effective literacy instruction.

Oh, and let’s not ever forget…


“Thank you!”


To everyone. For everything. All the time. 


> To your assistant principal for creating the schedules that include a two-hour reading block.

> To the custodian who cleans up after-hours at the conclusion of late professional development sessions

> To your parents who help their children with homework for the new program that teachers send home because it will support in-class instruction   

 > To the board members who approve the hiring of a literacy coach, or classroom aide, or books for classroom libraries

> To the finance department who process the payments to reading consultants in a timely manner

> And especially to TEACHERS who are constantly asked to learn new ways of teaching and, as a result, take some incredible risks during the literacy improvement process. This is a process that often involves overriding years and years of ingrained knowledge and habits but choosing, instead, to trust and try simply because you asked them to. And oftentimes done with a smile.  



About the Author

Kimberly A. Chase, Ed.D. is a former classroom teacher, reading specialist, administrator, and literacy expert with more than a decade of experience working with principals working towards improving literacy instruction in their schools. Currently, she is working with principals, reading specialists, teachers, and students in and out of schools on all things related to literacy. Improving reading at your school begins here: 888.442.READ (7323); Askmschase@gmail.com

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