Leadership in Literacy 2.0 takes flight

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Palliser principals, vice-principals and Central Office administrators participated in a second annual workshop Monday and Tuesday focused on supporting students’ literacy needs at all grade levels.

“Leadership in Literacy 2.0” builds on the success of a symposium organized by Palliser in October 2013. In both cases, all the presenters were Palliser’s own literacy coaches, experts and school leaders sharing their experiences and best practices.

This year’s symposium gave school leaders a template for a three-year literacy action plan aimed at creating a sustainable culture for literacy in schools; ensuring every student has equal opportunity for literacy learning; and using data to guide instruction. The plan also addresses building leadership capacity to support literacy and supporting professional learning for staff.

Palliser Literacy Coach Bev Smith said the plan is intended to be fluid, reviewed often to ensure the plan is moving the school forward, and providing a longer-term framework for supporting school literacy success at all grades and in all subjects.

For each of the five areas of the action plan, Smith shared videos, written materials and research to inspire discussion among school leaders. The principals and vice-principals were also give time to work on their own school action plans, documents they can share with their school staff and refine over time.

The principals shared their own best practices. For example, Principal Nathan Sillito of Barons and Carmangay Schools, shared the data wall his staff use to track the progress of individual students. Colour-coded, laminated cards indicate the student’s reading level at initial assessment. At a glance, teachers can see which students are at grade level expectation, exceeding, behind or at risk, which ones are making progress and which ones need additional support.

Coalhurst High School Principal Chris McIntyre shared a video from his school demonstrating what literacy looks like in subject-specific courses, such as Social Studies. The video included powerful messages from students themselves about the enjoyment they get from uninterrupted reading time.

A highlight of the event was a sharing session to end Monday’s meeting. Principals and vice-principals shared their own school literacy success story, whether about a struggling student tasting success or passionate, committed teachers getting to know individual students and meet their learning styles and needs. Their stories painted a picture of a growing literacy culture across the division, from high school Physics teachers creating word walls specific to science and middle school reading buddy programs that benefit both older and younger students to kindergarten students enthusiastically “reading” just a month into the school year, by telling their own stories based on the pictures in books.

One school has created regular events at school and on the school’s website to encourage all families to be part of the literacy effort. Another school held a writing symposium last spring, giving students specific writing tasks (the youngest students wrote the daily announcement), and then showcasing the written works at a juice, cheese and cracker event.

Superintendent Kevin Gietz expressed amazement at how much teachers and school leaders have accomplished in the three years since Palliser started its literacy program. Literacy is embedded in the culture of Palliser’s schools, reflected in school goals, talked about by professionals in their collaboration time and echoed by students who are learning to love reading.

Board Vice-Chair Don Zech praised the effort Palliser teachers make to build positive relationships with students. He talked about a day when he was a student at Noble Central School in Nobleford and a teacher asked to borrow one of Zech’s magazines.

“It was the first time a teacher showed me that he and I had something in common,” Zech said.

“You might be the most important person that kid will see in the day,” Zech told the Palliser school leaders. “Remember that.”