“Together we can; together we will” is a slogan I used with students and families a few years ago when I designed a literacy and numeracy challenge for my students. It was my attempt to create a self-paced low-stakes interest-based way to improve my students’ literacy skills. Having taught mostly upper elementary math over the last few years, I’ve seen the impact of low literacy outcomes on mathematics achievement — it is evident when I observe students struggling to decode math vocabulary as they tackle various mathematical concepts.

This experience — coupled with the alarming TNReady achievement data led me to consider shifting instructional contents from math to ELA. I decided that if I wanted to improve my effectiveness as an educator, I would need to strengthen my skills in teaching foundational literacy. My next action was driven by the belief that I am not a math teacher or a reading teacher but a teacher of students who needs to be equipped with the tools to support their greatest need.

I signed up for Reading 360 training.

After seeing the latest reading scores for Tennessee students, I became uneasy and, honestly, a little bit angry that we are not providing students with high-quality reading instruction that will better position them for future success. If we fail to address the literacy crisis, we will fail our students by not preparing them to succeed in life.

The Reading 360 training offered by the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) offers access to a new approach anchored in research and best practices for literacy instruction in Tennessee. This $100 million initiative was designed to provide teachers, districts, and parents with an optional multitiered approach to improve literacy.

The work ahead is challenging given that most students missed many months of in-person instruction due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, these additional early literacy tools — everything from the curricula and assessments to the online resources being provided by TDOE —  indicates an ongoing commitment to finding a solution that works. This is a time for us to work together and be proactive in implementing and closely monitoring student progress in literacy.

Since attending the training, the academic team in my network has been discussing how we can align the Reading 360 training with our newly adopted curricula. Also, we are in the process of developing a plan to provide additional support to address foundational reading deficits for students.

If we put our brains together, we can create a strategic plan that results in a positive difference in student reading outcomes. That plan should include ongoing high-quality foundational literacy training for teachers (like Reading 360) and programs that provide targeted academic support to address deficits.

Now is the time. “Together we can; together we will.”

Mario Grant is a reading teacher at Memphis Business Academy and a member of the 2020-21 cohort of the Tennessee Educator Fellowship.

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