This post is the third in a three-part series highlighting lessons learned this past year from Leading Innovation In Tennessee (LIFT), a network of district, school, and classroom leaders from across Tennessee who have been working since 2016 to overcome the literacy crisis by providing teachers with high-quality instructional materials (HQIM) and aligned supports in English language arts (ELA) classrooms.
LIFT’s 2022 Annual Report advises districts to turn their focus from learning loss and focus their efforts on aligning systems of support for students who are still behind, particularly students who are in traditionally underserved groups. In Loudon County, we are tackling this challenge by focusing our time and effort on ensuring that school leaders and teachers have the skills and knowledge they need to provide high-quality literacy instruction to all students, including those who are still behind.
Since we joined the LIFT Network in 2016, Loudon County has focused on improving the quality of literacy instruction for all students in our district. As our work has deepened and evolved, we’ve aimed to shift the ownership of our literacy strategy from district leaders to school leaders in order to ensure alignment of our literacy priorities at all levels.
In order to do this during the 2021-2022 school year, we took several strategic actions to help us progress toward our literacy goals:
- We held ongoing training for school leaders to develop curriculum-specific literacy knowledge and ensured that school leaders applied the learning by participating in learning walks. We also trained leaders to provide curriculum-specific feedback to teachers in order to strengthen teacher literacy practices.
- School leaders also began to examine adult expectations for students to ensure they were observing and examining the experiences of struggling students, multilingual learners, and students receiving reading intervention. Leaders learned to look for concrete actions that teachers take to communicate high expectations for students.
In addition to our focus on school-level leadership, we aligned the coaching that our district literacy coach provided teachers with our district literacy priorities. Specifically, we supported our district coach in identifying teacher curriculum implementation needs to better differentiate the support given to strengthen teacher practices. The district coach also implemented specific cycles of observation and feedback so that teachers received the ongoing support they needed to implement the feedback provided from learning walks.
Finally, our district team continued to meet with our director of schools and outside support providers regularly throughout the school year to monitor our progress and align our district literacy priorities.
These layers of support allowed us to create the conditions for all students to thrive. In 2022, proficiency for our economically disadvantaged students in third-grade English language arts grew 9.3 percentage points, and third-grade English language arts proficiency for our Black, Hispanic, and Native American students grew 8.7 percentage points.
We are thrilled to see the growth of our students and are committed to ensuring that we continue to have the mindsets, systems, and structures in place to advance equitable outcomes in literacy instruction for all learners.
Dr. Maria Warren is the instructional supervisor for Loudon County Schools.