Reader Christina Nosek recently wrote and said, “I would love to know more about supporting both school-wide and district-wide change in literacy instruction.” Wow. Thanks, Christina, for making us reflect on this tough but important topic. The possibilities are endless.
Monique and I have worked with many educators working on this exact issue…moving the district forward. One factor I find important is size. Just as we push for smaller class sizes, maybe we should push for smaller district sizes. I taught in a VERY large district –one with about 85 elementary schools, so I know it is hard. Monique and I have worked with various sized districts. Here are a few models.
Smaller districts: 4-10 schools in a district
One district we’ve worked with decided that they would roll out the work this way.
Tier One Group
First, this district had a summer institute and invited literacy teachers who were excited about having the opportunity to learn this new work.
Then the following school year, those teachers worked with the same consultant who presented the summer institute. The consultant modeled reading workshop in their classrooms and then met with the teachers afterward to discuss what they saw and think of next steps in their practice. This was over seven days across the year.
Each day there was a focus:
Day 1: the consultant demonstrated the entire workshop in action
Day 2: the consultant demonstrated and focused on mini lessons
Day 3: the teachers practiced teaching mini lessons in small groups while being coached by the consultant
Day 4: The consultant demonstrated and focused on conferring
Day 5: The teachers practiced conferring in small groups, giving each other feedback, and received coaching from the consultant
Day 6: The consultant facilitated one-on-one’s in teachers’ classrooms and worked with them on individual goals
Day 7: The consultant modeled in a classroom with each teacher taking a role. The teachers split up different parts of the mini lesson, someone else took a conference, someone else did the mid-workshop, and someone else did the share.
Tier Two Group
The second summer, teachers who couldn’t attend the first summer and who dabbled in the work (because the first tier of teachers sparked an interest) came to an introduction to reader’s workshop weeklong institute.
For the following school year, the work with the consultant started by being focused on this new group of teachers and then moved into nurturing the teachers from the first year along with the literacy coaches.
The days looked like this:
Day 1: Consultant demonstrated the full look of workshop
Day 2: Consultant demonstrated and focused on mini lessons
Day 3: Consultant met with first tier group and discussed ways in which they could build capacity in their building, including possibly becoming a mentor to a teacher in the tier two group.
Day 4: Consultant worked with the tier two group, practicing mini lessons in small groups
Day 5: Consultant worked with literacy coaches supporting them in methods of staff development
Day 6: Consultant worked with first and second tier group supporting partnerships
Day 7: Consultant worked with second tier group demonstrating and focusing on conferring
Tier Three Group
The third summer, all of the teachers who had not yet been trained were trained. Same consultant. Same focus—reading workshop. It was now going on the third year of implementation–which means that the work is not going away.
Day 1: Consultant demonstrated the full look of workshop for the tier three group
Day 2: Consultant demonstrated and focused on mini lessons for the tier three group
Day 3: Consultant worked with the tier one and two group…met first and checked in. Looked at student data (writing about reading/notebooks/post its, levels, any performance assessments) and then planned the labsite with everyone taking a part
Day 4: Consultant worked with coaches. Consultant demonstrated first with an emphasis on the role as a coach and coaching moves. The consultant and coach then planned the labsite where the coaches took over practicing coaching methods
Day 5: Consultant worked with a grade level (third grade) including ALL tiers looking specifically at newer units around writing. Consultant gave workshops on the connection between reading and writing workshop, along with support around new units such as opinion writing for third grade. Consultant pulled kids into the meeting to focus on conferring. Third grade teachers practiced conferring while the consultant coached into their practice.
Day 6: Consultant worked with a grade level (fourth grade) including ALL tiers looking specifically at newer units around writing. Consultant gave workshops on the connecting between reading and writing workshop along with support around new units such as opinion writing (personal into persuasive essay) for fourth grade. Consultant pulled kids into the meeting to focus on conferring. Fourth grade teachers practiced conferring with consultant coaching into their practice.
Day 7: Consultant worked with a grade level (fifth grade) including ALL tiers looking specifically at newer units around writing. Consultant gave workshops on the connecting between reading and writing workshop along with support around new units such as opinion writing (research based argument essay) for fifth grade. Consultant pulled kids into the meeting to focus on conferring. Fifth grade teachers practiced conferring with consultant coaching into their practice.
A larger district
Number one strength=Same focus for the teaching of writing for twenty years
When Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Elementary School opened in 1992 it was designated as a Writing Demonstration School. When it first opened, two leaders in the district (Mary Osborne and Janie Guilbault) shared a classroom and created a vision for Writer’s Workshop. Teachers from all over the district would come and observe their classroom. Their classroom had a two-way mirror so that visitors could watch without the kids knowing (Janie and Mary called these sessions “Behind the Glass”). This was done so that visitors really could see into the beauty of writer’s workshop without disturbing the class and its authenticity and rigor. After two years at Rawlings, Janie and Mary became the true writing liaisons of the district. They were closely tied to Rawlings, bringing teachers in and touring them around from classroom to classroom, along with supporting newer and existing teachers, and continued to spread the word throughout the district. For many, life was just beginning—this inspired new approaches to teaching and (of course) to the teaching of writing. Certainly that was the case for me. I was hired as a 4th grade teacher in 1995 and will forever be grateful for that once in a lifetime beginning.
The school continued to act as this breeding place for excitement around writing. In 2000 it opened a publishing center (named in Janie’s honor—she had recently passed away) and started a district-wide magazine, The Cross Creek Chronicle, to showcase student and teacher work that continues to exist.
Mary then created a cadre of Writing Demonstration Teachers from around the district to further spread the word. Rawlings was the demonstration school, yes, but there were other teachers in the district who learned from Rawlings and become passionate and expert writing teachers/leaders. Mary held regular meetings to build these demonstration teachers up. They shared, researched, studied professional texts, tried stuff out and came back and shared some more, and mostly they wrote. Writing was their connection. It was their passion. And it always pushed them.
A summer writing camp jointly sponsored by Pinellas County Schools, University of South Florida, and the Poynter Institute provided a unique experience for young writers and teachers who wanted to learn more about the teaching of writing.
This camp had everything. Amazing experts from professional journalists (like the creator of Writer’s Camp, Roy Peter Clark) to guest speakers to highly knowledgeable educators who had studied the teaching of writing for many years—Mary Osborne and Janie Guilbault each led a camp. (The district was so large that it needed a leader in the north part of county and the south part.)
Mary and Janie led the morning sessions with LOTS of fun (and I mean fun in the truest sense of the word) around writing. Young writers would work in a group of four with one teacher assigned to them while Janie and Mary taught the kids (and teachers) how to perfect their writing. The kids wrote pieces, played around with figurative language, traveled to different places looking for stories, and interviewed many guests to gather, develop, plan, draft, revise, edit, publish and mostly celebrate their work. All in a three-hour, three-week period filled with lots of juice and cookies.
The afternoon was devoted to the teachers. They processed, reflected, wrote, planned, wrote, listened as writers discussed their process, wrote, shared their writing, and wrote some more.
At the end there was a grand celebration with parents, relatives, friends, townspeople, …(you get the picture) invited in to hear these amazing pieces of work.
This model not only supported young writers, but it helped to provide life changing professional development to many teachers across the district. Many of those became demonstration teachers, and all became life long passionate teachers of writing.
Pinellas always offered on-going training around the teaching of writing — especially to new teachers. These trainings often occurred very early in the year to give teachers the support they needed right from the get go.
Some patterns that we see throughout these models are:
- A vision (whatever it is, there needs to be a focus)
- Support (it can never be a “one time” training and expect greatness or fidelity—if there is to be depth in content we have to dig therefore it needs to be on-going)
- The kinds of support…is it in many places and ways or layered over time building leaders
Coaches, please let us know some ways in which you’ve moved a district around a vision.
Don’t forget to coach, actually!
~Monique & Christy