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Literacy Online. Every child literate - a shared responsibility.
Ministry of Education.

Leading a school-wide literacy intervention

Schools have different structures and resources, and unique student and teacher learning needs. Therefore, there can never be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ professional development model that will be effective in all secondary schools.

Key roles in leading a school wide literacy intervention

  • Literacy Leader(s)
  • Principal and senior management
  • External expertise

Literacy leader

It is important that there is a person or team with designated responsibility for leading literacy in your school. Being a Literacy Leader in a secondary school is a challenging and pivotal leadership position.

Key tasks a Literacy Leader might undertake include:

  • using evidence to identify student and teacher learning needs
  • developing a professional learning plan to address identified needs
  • facilitating focus-group and whole-staff PD sessions
  • observing and giving feedback to focus-group teachers.

School leaders

The principal and senior management team have a critical role to play in any school-wide professional learning intervention.

The Best Evidence Synthesis of School Leadership (Robinson, Hohepa & Lloyd, 2007) identified that leaders ‘promoting and participating in teacher learning and development’ can have a large educationally significant effect on student outcomes. No intervention can be effective without strong and active senior management support.

Key roles for the Principal and Senior Management Team include:

  • providing resources to support literacy professional development
  • actively promoting and participating in the professional learning
  • asserting the pivotal role of literacy learning in all aspects of the NZ Curriculum
  • publicly supporting and promoting the status of the Literacy Leader
  • ensuring that the literacy focus aligns with the school strategic plan and all other initiatives or PD
  • ensuring that school structures and systems support the implementation and ongoing effectiveness of the project
  • involving the Board of Trustees and wider school community.

Principal leadership is a key to success. While this link relates to  Principals’ leadership in implementing NZC, it is highly relevant to literacy.

External expertise

It is useful for Literacy Leaders to have access to people outside the school who have expertise in literacy and who can offer alternative viewpoints. You may be able to get help from your local School Support Service or other provider, or join a professional development programme such as the Secondary Literacy Project.

Other ways to enlist external expertise include:

  • participating in the Secondary Literacy Online forum 
  • post-graduate study (study awards and study grants are available via PPTA)
  • establishing a cluster with Literacy Leaders from neighbouring schools
  • professional reading
  • subject associations.

Structuring professional learning

There is no single model of professional development that is suitable for all secondary schools. Much will depend on the existing culture and organisation of professional development in your school. 

School-wide level

While whole-staff workshops alone are seldom sufficient to positively change teacher practice, they are an important part of any school-wide professional development intervention.

Such meetings can send a powerful message that literacy is highly valued in the school and that all teachers are expected to be effective teachers of literacy. They are also an opportunity to present and discuss analyses of school-wide student achievement data and evidence about teaching.

Some schools use whole-staff meetings to promote common literacy approaches that ensure students get consistent messages about literacy in all learning areas.

Fostering a school-wide literacy culture

Approaches would be selected on the basis of identified student learning needs and might include the following:

  • setting a target for increasing the amount of engaged reading and writing students do in each class
  • when introducing a text for reading, teachers being expected to make links to students’ prior knowledge and to draw students’ attention to the way that text is organised
  • when introducing writing tasks, teachers being expected to help students understand the:
    • intended audience and purpose
    • content language
    • structure
    • expectations in terms of surface features
  • having a ‘word wall’ that displays key topic vocabulary in each classroom.

Some literacy leaders regularly include literacy tips or examples of easy-to-use literacy activities during staff briefings. These can help remind teachers of the ongoing literacy focus and be a useful addition to more in-depth PD.

Working with smaller groups of teachers

One approach that some secondary schools have found effective when they begin a literacy intervention is to do some more intensive work with a smaller ‘focus group’ of strategically selected teachers.

It is useful for focus groups to have a natural unit of organisation – something the teachers all have in common already. Two ways to group focus teachers are by:

  • a class or group of students they all teach in common. For example, the mathematics, science, English and social studies teachers of 9Wi, 9Jh and 10Al
  • subject area. For example, literacy in mathematics and literacy in science groups.

Advantages of the common-class approach are that:

  • students rather than subjects are the focus of the group’s attention
  • teachers can work collaboratively to address identified needs.

Watch the video of a group of teachers who meet regularly to discuss students they teach in common

Size: 4.7MB, length: 02:31
Source: Te Mana Kōrero - Strengthening professional practice 
© Ministry of Education 2005

One limitation of the common-class approach is that teachers may need additional support to apply learning to their specialist subject areas. For this reason it may be best to take a two-pronged approach. The diagram below illustrates a model that combines a common-class with a subject-specific focus.

Class arrangement

In this model, all the teachers of 10AL meet to examine student achievement data, carry out collaborative inquiry, identify common learning needs, and trial common teaching approaches to address common needs.

10AL’s mathematics teacher also regularly meets with other mathematics teachers so they can focus on specific issues of literacy in mathematics such as teaching students to abstract relevant information from word problems with an unfamiliar context.

Working with individual teachers

Ideally you would also be able to work with individual teachers in their classrooms to:

  • observe lessons and give feedback
  • collaboratively plan lessons, units, or programmes
  • provide tailored PD to meet their own specific needs.

Leading professional development

In an effective professional development programme teachers will be provided with a variety of professional learning activities such as:

  • direct teaching
  • guided professional reading
  • Literacy Leader modelling instructional strategies with teachers participating as learners
  • Literacy Leader or peers observing and giving feedback
  • analysing exemplars of effective literacy teaching such as those modelled by the Literacy Leader or in the ‘Making Language and Learning Work’ DVDs
  • discussions with other members of their professional learning community
  • conducting focused inquiry projects
  • collaborative activity/lesson/unit/programme planning.

Whatever professional learning activities you decide to include it will be essential to:

  • keep the focus on student literacy learning
  • maintain an inquiry focus.
  • maintain a focus on deep learning

Teachers often demonstrate an appetite for easy-to-prepare practical teaching activities they can use with their classes tomorrow. One risk is that teachers use potentially useful activities in inappropriate and unhelpful ways. Therefore, it is important that teachers see how new activities fit in the inquiry framework:

Further reading about professional development

Ki te Aotūroa is a set of learning materials for people like you who support their professional learning and development of classroom teachers.

Robinson, V., Hohepa, M., & Lloyd, C. (2009). School leadership and student outcomes: Identifying what works and why best evidence synthesis. Wellington: Ministry of Education.

Timperley, H. (2008).  Teacher professional learning and development. Educational Practice Series – 18. International Academy of Education & International Bureau of Education Paris. UNESCO.

Timperley, H., Wilson, A., Barrar, H., & Fung, I. (2007). Teacher professional learning and development: Best evidence synthesis iteration (BES). Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry of Education.

Published on: 05 Jan 2018