Purpose and Objectives
The Principals as Literacy Leaders program was designed to develop the capabilities of primary school principals as ‘effective literacy leaders’. It focussed around the need to develop both capabilities in literacy and in leadership. The program addresses the fundamental question:
If student literacy achievement is to be enhanced:
- What capabilities do principals need in literacy?
- What capabilities do principals need in leadership?
The term ‘capabilities’ is used deliberately to mean:
Qualities which integrate knowledge, skills and attitudes in such a way that they can be used appropriately and effectively in new and changing circumstances.
(Stephenson in Duignan, 2006: 120)
The objectives of the PALL program were to develop the capabilities of principals:
- To examine school and system data for the purpose of evaluating performance and developing plans and strategies for improvement and sustainability of high levels of literacy achievement.
- To lead the design and implementation of literacy improvement in their schools.
- To build a professional learning community for improving literacy in their schools.
- To contribute to literacy development from a system perspective.
The development of the ‘Leading for Literacy Improvement’ project was based on the following principles:
- evidence based understandings about effective leadership, strategic change management and effective literacy teaching and learning;
- respect for, and understanding of, the diverse and challenging school and community contexts in which leaders and teachers are working;
- the centrality of the concept of partnership between practitioners and those working in support and training and development roles;
- appreciation of the need for support and development opportunities to be proximal (close to the school context), spaced (to allow for practice) ongoing (room for mentoring and coaching) and connected (based on real world issues problems, contexts and cases);
- blending of concept and content knowledge – in leadership and literacy arenas.
The program was delivered by a combination of professional learning module workshops with follow-up activities after each workshop. The follow-up activities are undertaken by the principals with their communities supported by mentors.
The first two modules are designed to enhance principals’ knowledge about the connections between leadership and learning and their knowledge about the teaching of reading. Modules 3, 4 and 5 build on that knowledge and work on how to lead the design, planning, implementation and evaluation of literacy interventions, but particularly interventions in reading, based on an analysis of data from school contexts.
A critical aspect is the support to principals to complete the follow-up activities that are required after each module.
In the PALL Pilot, these mentors were called Literacy Achievement Advisors and provided direct support to principal participants.
In all the other PALL programs that have been implemented by jurisdictions, support has been provided by mentors. This support has varied depending on the various contexts.
Module 1: Leading Learning – What does it take?
The first module to which PALL principals are introduced explains how a leadership for learning framework has been synthesised from five recent meta-analytical research reports into the connections between leadership and learning (Leithwood et al, 2007, Robinson, 2007, MacBeath and Dempster, 2009, Masters, 2009, OECD, 2008). The synthesis or Blueprint is illustrated in Figure 1. Eight dimensions are considered important, the first of which places in centre-stage the moral purpose to which school leaders, indeed all educators, must attend. The framework, when applied to literacy, shows that keeping the spotlight on literacy learning and achievement is enhanced when there is disciplined dialogue based on sound qualitative and quantitative evidence about children’s learning. However, the framework also shows that this is not enough. There are five other dimensions. At the top of the figure is the active involvement of school leaders in professional development about literacy learning with their teachers. The other four dimensions also play an important part. School leaders must pay close attention to their roles in curriculum coordination and the monitoring of teaching; in creating the structures and processes for sharing leadership responsibilities for literacy with their teachers; and in making connections with parents and the wider community that contribute to children’s literacy learning, while never losing sight of the physical, emotional and social conditions for learning.
Figure1. A Leadership for Learning (LfL) Framework
The Figure 1 Blueprint has been applied in a number of ways in the project. First, using a series of pointers derived from the leadership literature, we developed a Personal Leadership Profile (PLP) instrument to enable principals to reflect on their own leadership actions. Second, we produced a school-wide application of this so that principals and their teachers could reflect on how strongly they felt each of the LfL dimensions was evident in action in their schools. Third, we developed a School Profiling Template to capture specific aspects of each school’s context knowing that the research literature emphasises how important it is for leaders to know and understand their school’s circumstances if they are to make best use of the internal and external resources available to them. See Module 1 for samples of these tools.
Module 2: What Leaders Need to Know about Learning to Read
Module 2 demonstrates the complexity of the reading process and the importance of what literacy research shows to be the Big Six, namely:
- Oral Language: the underpinning importance of early literacy experiences and the significance of ongoing exposure to effective language use at home and in the child’s out-of-school life;
- Phonological Awareness, and in particular Phonemic Awareness;
- Letter-Sound Knowledge;
The importance of a broad vocabulary, rapid word recognition and alphabetic knowledge to the point of automaticity is highlighted as is the need for direct oral language teaching for many of the students. The goal is to turn ‘learning to read’ into ‘reading to learn’, not only for students experiencing difficulties, but for all students. This goal underlines the overarching importance of comprehension as the outcome of good reading, teaching and learning. When students show up in achievement data with serial troubles in comprehension, principals are encouraged to drill down into evidence of the child’s performance to identify where assistance should be targeted (that is, on which aspect of the Big Six) and the kinds of teaching strategies which should be employed to help the child improve.
The follow-up task for Module 2 involved principals in classroom observations using a structured observation instrument called a Literacy Practices Guide. This can be completed alone but many principals asked their teachers to complete the instruments for themselves. Data were then compared in discussions to identify good practice and the focus for improvements. Principals reported that this task, though difficult for some, reconnected them with classroom curriculum and in a very practical way with pedagogy across the school.
Module 3: Leading Literacy Data Gathering and Analysis
The third module picks up the ‘sound evidence’ theme by focusing on the importance of evidence-based planning and decision making. The module explores the usefulness and limitations of different types of data about literacy learning. Tools that assist teachers to identify what they need to know and how to gain this knowledge are shared. Data from localised knowledge of school contexts and NAPLAN results about groups of children and individual students are again used to practise disciplined dialogue between leaders and groups of teachers. This is a planned professional conversation focused on sound evidence about specific aspects of learning and/or achievement.
The conversation is constructed in a disciplined or systematic way around three enabling questions:
- What are we seeing in these data?
- Why are we seeing what we are?
- What, if anything, should we be doing about it?
These three questions help principals to dig into individual and group achievement data with their teachers, search for reasons for that achievement and identify where specific improvement steps should be taken for particular children.
A discussion of different informal and standardised assessment instruments related to each element of the Big Six is also included.
Module 4: Designing, Implementing and Monitoring Literacy Interventions
Module 4 defines the term ‘intervention’, reiterating the Pilot’s purpose of improving literacy learning and children’s achievement in project schools. An intervention planning process is explored with the expectation that each school’s intervention plan is made ready for the commencement of the second year of the project. The intervention plan is built on a ‘wave’ metaphor. Three ‘waves’ are used to describe the types of interventions that might be used by schools in the PALL Project.
- The first wave applies to those deliberate acts that are taken across the school to ensure that the majority of students can participate productively in the general classroom curriculum.
- The second wave identifies those students unable to achieve the goals of the general classroom curriculum, that is, students who need specialised assistance in the form of scaffolded learning, special programs or differentiated support structures.
- The third wave applies to students with specific needs who require highly focused or individualised intervention. These are students who cannot manage the general classroom curriculum because of a disability or a difficulty with, or a lack of, understanding of the English language. This is almost always a minority of students. However, in some of the PALL Pilot Project schools, the number of ‘Wave 3’ children was higher than might be expected elsewhere. A sample summary Intervention Plan highlights the use of the wave metaphor.
Module 5: Intervention Evaluation and Future Planning
Module 5 enables leaders to design and implement an evaluation of the intervention they have planned. The point of departure for the design is the understanding that it is only through learning that achievement is improved. Therefore, what has been happening in teaching and learning is as much a focus for the evaluation as is the children’s achievement. Two questions about which qualitative and quantitative data need to be gathered, depending on the nature of the intervention action, follow:
- What changes have there been in the teaching and learning experiences in which children are engaging?
- Are any changes being seen in children’s achievement?
In addition, principals are taken through examples of how disciplined dialogue comes into play making use of the evaluation data gathered. The three generic dialogue questions listed earlier provide the starting point for school discussions leading to further improvement strategies. In other words, the evaluation of interventions is considered formative, always moving forward to further refinement of professional practice. A sample evaluation plan is available in Module 5. It details the data gathering approaches adopted to address the two main evaluation questions but it also highlights the kind of data that the school plans to gather around particular dimensions from the Blueprint.