Teach to Lead Summit Inspires Literacy Reform

Improvements are under way at the Louisa Boren K–8 STEM School in Seattle, and the most recent Teach to Lead summit played an important role in facilitating some big changes.

A month ago, 100 teacher leaders gathered near Tacoma, Washington, for the fifth regional Teach to Lead Summit with hopes of learning how to address challenges in their schools.

These summits are part of the Teach to Lead initiative, created by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) to expand opportunities for teachers to lead, particularly those allowing teachers to stay in the classroom.

Two of us came to the summit from the Louisa Boren K-8 STEM School in Seattle, where we focus on low student literacy skills. We left this two-day meeting filled with energy and ideas to address our concerns, many of which our school has immediately begun to implement. Our rapid progress is amazing!

Since Louisa Boren opened in 2011, teachers have watched their students master subjects that today’s global job market rewards — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Our students’ language arts skills, however, often don’t keep pace. Too many haven’t grasped phonics, don’t know how to break down words into syllables and lack skills that eventually will be needed to analyze complex literature.

We hoped the Teach to Lead Summit could set us on the right path, and we weren’t disappointed. During the summit we developed a concrete reform plan to take back to our school, “Literacy is the Backbone of STEM.” With support from one of the 70 educators present at the summit (our “critical friend”), we learned to:

  • Develop a “logic model,” which is a framework for evaluating a program and finding ways to improve it. We first clarified exactly what our problem is, then created goals to move us beyond the problem and finally developed steps and activities to reach the goals. Our biggest challenge is that Seattle hasn’t adopted an elementary school literacy curriculum in 14 years, so teachers in our project-based school have no common way to teach literacy. Consequently, students don’t have aligned literacy instruction and no consistent literacy assessments, nor is a structure in place to discuss student data and use it to inform instructional practice. Our aim is to provide instruction that is aligned within all classrooms at a particular grade, as well as from one grade to the next
  • Create an “elevator speech,” which provides us and other school educators with a short, clear, and consistent message about literacy expectations, which we can now share and communicate to and between the staff and the community
  • Use our critical friend, who was assigned to us at the summit, to guide us in developing our school’s logic model and helping us and our school find appropriate instructional resources

Since the summit ended, our work to implement literacy reforms has accelerated. In just one month, teacher leaders at our school (1) gave an elevator speech to the principal and presented the logic model; (2) developed and distributed a staff survey to learn how the STEM staff can align literacy instruction and assessment within the context of the school’s project-based learning environment; (3) developed literacy professional development plans; (4) gathered information to guide the improvement of classroom libraries; (5) made a presentation to the PTA president to gain support for literacy reforms, as well as more money for books; and (6) took steps to involve parents in the conversations and reforms.

And the work continues! We hope our logic model eventually can grow to address literacy issues not just within Louisa Boren, but throughout all Seattle Public Schools.

Mary Bannister is a teacher-librarian and Jodi Williamson is a second-grade teacher at the Louisa Boren K-8 STEM School in Seattle. Both teachers are certified by NBPTS.  

1 Comment

  1. It sounds like things are going well.

    However, I think I can add to your upward swing to solve literacy problems. I am a retired learning disabilities teacher and I developed Rainbow Rummy, a unique means of tutoring struggling, beginning readers in the guise of a simple card game. The cards not only provide a way with which success can be engineered by meaningfully relating words, letters, and sentences to what the child already knows, but its simplicity and very basic ideas enable even less-than-totally-literate parents (which also means peer and cross-age tutors etc.) to provide much of this help. 

    Please send me the address where I can email a description of the game. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

    Many thanks,

    Jeff Reiter

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