Literacy is central to the life of any school; sustainable reform in literacy instruction, therefore, requires that school leaders function as instructional leaders, helping the entire school community function as a community of practice, working in concert to study, develop, share, and learn from state-of-the-art methods for teaching reading and writing. Members of a school community need to function as action researchers, keeping a close eye on students’ interests and their progress, and engaging in collaborative inquiry to accelerate the learning curve of everyone in the school.
Because it is an absolute priority to help school leaders engage in the leadership work that makes strong literacy instruction possible, the Reading and Writing Project and, especially, the parent organization, the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, offer a whole range of supports to school superintendents and principals.
First and foremost, the superintendents and principals who lead schools with which we work are invited to become members of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project’s Principals as Curricular Leaders Conference. This is essentially a once-a-month conference day, held on Wednesdays, 8am-2pm, at the College. Approximately 250 school leaders participate in this conference day, most of whom have come to these days for many years now. The community of school leaders that gathers for these conferences is now a close-knit community, with school leaders often using these conferences as a time to plan school visits, to share resources and solutions to shared problems. A principal’s role in a school is often a solitary one—although a principal is never alone, there is a sense in which the principal is also always alone. No one else in the community has the same role, the same responsibilities, as does the principal. This makes it all the more important that principals have an opportunity to forge close, supportive relationships with leaders from other schools.
The Principals as Curricular Leaders Conference keeps those school leaders informed about the work that teachers in their schools are apt to be embarking on at any one time, and provide school leaders with lenses for observing and guiding that work. These conference days also allow leaders to rub shoulders with some of the authors of books that inform thousands—even millions—of classrooms. Leaders such as Jim Trelease, Ralph Fletcher, Stephanie Harvey, James Comer, and Michael Fullan have keynoted recent conferences. After the keynote, principals join year-long study groups on topics such as curricular leadership and assessment-based instruction. Included in each day is an array of optional breakfast and lunch time workshops.
In addition, we provide a host of other learning opportunities for principals. Most importantly, principals participate actively in the on-site staff development that occurs within a school. For example, if a staff developer is returning to a school on 15 Wednesdays, and works on each of those days with all the teachers, grades 3-5, within three different ‘labsite’ classrooms and in lunch and afternoon study groups, it is traditional that the principal will have connected himself or herself to one grade level of teachers. The principal will also join those teachers in a one-hour ‘labsite’ with the staff developer, and will participate in the study group that has been designed to contextualize that classroom based work and to support the participating teachers’ own efforts to extend that work between the staff developer’s visits. While working in the labsite, the principal models what it means to be an actively engaged, risk-taking, willing learner, helping other teachers work with similar levels of engagement. Often the principal visits with these teachers during their literacy time between a staff developer’s visits, joining those teachers in the effort to put new ideas into practice. The principal also learns as a supervisor, watching the staff developer coach, demonstrate, scaffold, collaborate to set goals, give feedback and so forth.
Many districts also request that we lead study groups that support literacy leadership and that help principals from across the district align their literacy leadership practices to each other’s. These study groups tackle topics such as supporting a spiral K-8 curriculum in literacy, supervising reading and writing instruction, designing approaches to literacy that support all learners, reforming curriculum and methods to align with the Common Core State Standards, accelerating achievement, and supporting data-based literacy instruction.
The Project offers both study groups and an institute for literacy coaches, that are designed specifically to support this important population of teacher leaders. We expect that many graduates of our Literacy Coaching Institute will one day join the Hall of Fame, along with others who have apprenticed in this guild. Some of own staff developers are among that group. Additional alumni include Carl Anderson, Janet Angelillo, Sharon Taberski, Carmen Farina, Ralph Fletcher, Katie Ray, Joanne Hindley, Randy and Katherine Bomer, Georgia Heard, Donna Santman, Kate Montgomery, and Kathy Collins, to name just a few.
A Principal's Guide to Leadership in the Teaching of Writing by Lucy Calkins and Laurie Pessah (paperback and DVD); available from Heinemann.
A School Leader's Guide to Excellence: Collaborating Our Way to Better Schools
by Carmen Farina and Laura Kotch; available from Heinemann.
Launch an Intermediate Reading Workshop: Getting Started with Units of Study for Teaching Reading, Grades 3-5; (this separately sold bundle includes A Guide to the Reading Workshop and Building a Reading Life); available from Heinemann.