Online Book Study: Becoming a Literacy Leader by Jennifer Allen #litleaders

Teachers need to be leaders, and leaders need to know literacy.

– Regie Routman

One of the best moves I made as a teacher in my early years was moving grades.

I was hired to teach 5th and 6th grade in a multi-age elementary building. Due to enrollment, we needed a 3rd and 4th grade teacher for one year. Being the low man on the seniority totem pole, I felt obligated to volunteer for the move. My aspirations were to teach middle-level students, so this wasn’t a 100% agreeable move.

What I learned in my short time with younger students, what made it a great move, was that I realized I had not been teaching reading. Check that: I was teaching reading as a subject, but I had not been teaching readers. Or writers for that matter. Literacy was merely another subject in the school day. Teaching younger students helped me realize that I had to become a more responsive teacher for my students. I couldn’t break open a box of the same books for a novel study and expect them to become better readers. With these 3rd and 4th graders’ strengths and challenges more evident in the classroom, it became apparent to me that I needed to improve my practice.

I connected with a literacy specialist, who directed me to some essential resources, such as Strategies That Work by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis. When I did move back to the 5th and 6th grade level, my learning was just getting started. I discovered I Read It But I Don’t Get It by Cris Tovani, Yellow Brick Roads by Janet Allen, and Reviser’s Toolbox by Barry Lane. Through these resources, I found mentor texts and teaching ideas that helped me become a better teacher of readers and writers. Without that move, where I might be today is (thankfully) a mystery.

Becoming a Literacy Leader cover imageFifteen years later, I am now helping lead an online book study for the resource Becoming a Literacy Leader: Supporting Learning and Change by Jennifer Allen. I have not come full circle in my learning about literacy and leadership; this is just the next step in my professional journey. By bringing other literacy leaders into this blog, I believe it will become an even better site for professional reflection and idea-sharing. I know it will for me.

The publisher, Stenhouse, has been gracious in providing a copy of Allen’s book for the contributors. Each educator/writer comes with a different background and level of expertise. Some teach and some lead in the formal sense, but we all lead and learn. We will be responding to this book on this space for the next two months. Subscribers and visitors to this blog are encouraged to read the book along with us. Here is our very loose reading schedule:

June 26-July 2: Chapter 1
July 3-9: Chapter 2
July 10-16: Chapter 3
July 17-23: Chapter 4
July 24-30: Chapter 5
July 31-Aug 6: Chapter 6
Aug 7-13: Chapter 7
Aug 14-20: Chapter 8
Aug 21-27: Chapter 9
Aug 28-Sept 3: Chapter 10 + 11

The lessons I learned from my teaching days have carried through to today. As an elementary principal, I have to be the model for everyone in the building and continue to learn. Based on the recommendations of other professionals, Jennifer’s book will be an essential guide for me as I prepare for the upcoming school year. Not that I will agree 100% regarding everything stated in the text. (I am already thinking about a contrary post regarding rubrics and writing assessment.) Productive disagreement is important when considering new ideas.

Whether you are also reading this book or you will follow along with these posts through July and August, I encourage you to also participate, even disagree, through the comments of each post. We become a smarter profession through this work.


Replacement Practices

“Is most of students’ time spent practicing and applying what you have been teaching, or is a disproportionate amount of time spent following your directions? Is most of your time spent putting up bulletin pard displays, planning elaborate projects, and marking papers, or is most of your time spent thinking and reflecting about teaching and learning to move students forward?” – Regie Routman, Teaching Essentials

A few years ago, my wife and I were looking for a new house. One place we visited had lots of updates one would expect of a slightly older home. When the realtor told us the price, I thought it was a bit high. His response: “They put in $30,000. The asking price reflects this.”

I don’t believe this is necessarily how realty works. Homeowners are expected to keep up their property with periodic maintenance. What updates were made? Did they make the home a better place to live? Or was it merely cosmetic and necessary, replacing the same with the same?

This metaphor could be applied to teaching.

Some of us continue to favor a few older practices, even when new ones are being introduced that are a better alternative. This may be one of the reasons for feeling overworked and subsequently stressed out. What do we give up? What do we add? Focused conversations with colleagues, deep reflection on the part of the individual, and a willingness to forgive oneself for past actions could help this process, referred to as “replacement practices” (Stephanie Harvey?).

I know a teacher who gets to school every day around eight. She leaves shortly after students are dismissed. In between these times, the students are doing the work. The teacher provides quick, explicit instruction using authentic text. She spends the majority of her day conferring with readers and writers. Her purpose is to ask them questions, notice what they are doing well, and guide them toward the learning target. The assessment occurs during the day by both the student and the teacher, and less often at night in the form of papers to grade. Technology is used to support and augment her instruction. She gains time back with efficient use of these tools. Very little of her time is spent on _____ that do little to impact student learning (fill in the blank).

I don’t know if the metaphor works, but this is my vision of a 21st century educator.