I started out this last week of school with a stomach ache. It started on Monday and it continued until exactly 7:35 on Wednesday. You see, for once I had done something in my leadership position at school that forced me to trust my colleagues completely. For once I hadn’t just gone with my usual adage of, “if you want something done right, do it yourself.” I am a Learning School Leader in my building. In my district we have two hours of collaboration time on Wednesdays before students arrive. The LSL’s help facilitate this time. Sometimes it’s a building day and I am helping with an all-staff training and sometimes I am just helping to facilitate professional learning communities. Three years ago I also became the Literacy Team Leader. This literacy team came out of a need we saw as teachers for students to be stronger readers in all subject areas. We also felt that we needed some guidance and help in our goals of meeting the Common Core. For two years we worked as a team in an attempt to increase literacy in our building.
One of the largest needs our staff has shared is a need for literacy and reading strategies. Two years ago the literacy team made a plan and about three zillion copies. We were so excited to share different strategies for different departments and a menu for them by skill. This way a teacher could easily select and access a strategy matched with a skill they were trying to concentrate on with a lesson or text. Sadly this never happened. Something came up at the district level and it bumped our plan the morning of the meeting. We were sad, but we made a backup plan and scheduled a new meeting to present. The next one was bumped because of HSPE testing. This went on for two years. We planned, and someone else canceled.
A month ago, we changed plans. This year our literacy team has been sort of disbanded. There are just two of us in the LSL position and we had to figure out how to get these strategies into the hands of our well-deserving staff. We decided that instead of us planning and presenting as we always have, we would actually put the strategies right into the hands of our staff.
We assigned a reading strategy or two to each department based on size. We tried very hard to choose strategies that seemed to lend well to the subject or method of the course. Then we gave them an assignment. They were to use the strategy in class at least once in the next month. We didn’t give them any text, just a strategy to employ however they would like. When we met again this week half of them were assigned to engage us as a staff as though we were the students in a ten minute presentation and activity using the strategy. (The other half are assigned to a meeting scheduled in April. )
I will admit that we had our boulders, (this is what I call the staff who don’t seem to want to budge no matter what is going on so the water of teacher initiatives just parts and goes around them). We also had staff members who were assigned to present ask us what we were doing in the meeting, the day before the meeting. In addition we had teachers who were really excited. Who made extra copies for their colleagues and who sent us special notes to let us know we had picked a really great strategy for them and how well it was working weeks before the meeting. This was great to hear but just not enough to calm my nerves and fear that no one would be ready, that they somehow had all forgotten or would have no plan. It was out of my hands at this point and I am never very comfortable in that space.
But at 7:35 something marvelous happened. A team of ELA teachers got up and they had even prepared a quick PowerPoint describing their strategy called Say Something. They engaged us with the strategy by bringing a high interest article in for us to read and going through a very brief lesson with it. As soon as they were done, the social studies department jumped up and presented a strategy called Evaluating Evidence. They were promptly followed by the science department and Opinionnaires. Next we had the health and fitness department (yes our PE teachers used and presented a reading strategy and they did a fabulous job!) present 5-4-3-2-1. World language came prepared to present AlphaBoxes and did a great job engaging us in French and Spanish. According to the math department’s Exit Slips (yes that was the strategy they presented) nearly every teacher in my building was planning on using two of the new strategies in their classroom in addition to the one they had already been assigned.
My nervousness had been in vain. I am so proud of this staff of teacher leaders. Not only did each staff member now have six new strategies they had just gained experience using one! By the end of the meeting next month every teacher on staff will have been a teacher leader, even if for just ten minutes. They will have planned and implemented a literacy strategy for their students and their colleagues and have eleven more to choose from. This was such an amazing way for them to participate and made this meeting a high leverage activity. We learned something as a staff about engagement from this experience as well. When we look at our students and they are a bit glazed over, we should do what we did with each other. We should put it in their hands. Make it a high leverage activity and put them in charge of their own learning and application.
If you or your building want a quick way to increase literacy and to spread literacy across disciplines I would suggest doing exactly what we did. Find good learning strategies and then put small groups of teachers in charge of presenting them to the staff. It will engage your staff, help them be teacher leaders, and actually get reading strategies into the hands of teachers quickly and effectively. After April I will post again and let you know how the second group does and share those strategies as well.
Happy Reading and Leading!