Monday, October 26, 2020

Ten Roles of the Instructional Leader in Literacy

I currently teach a graduate course at Rider University for prospective reading specialists. While the course focuses on the theory and research behind sound reading instruction, an underlying goal of the course is to prepare students to be literacy instruction leaders. Toward that end, here are the roles I think a successful instructional leader fills in that critical position. These insights were gained over my several decades long experience as a teacher, reading specialist, supervisor of instruction and director of curriculum.


One good way to understand what instructional needs a particular teacher or group of teachers has is to listen to them. We all come into these leadership positions with preconceived notions about what good literacy instruction looks like, but in order to lead we must first understand the needs, desires, understandings, and concerns that the teachers have. Sitting down in small groups and with individuals to talk about literacy instruction from the teacher's perspective is a place to start.

Non-Evaluative Observer

The role of leader often involves observations that end with formal evaluations. In order to understand where teachers are in their literacy instruction and what their individual needs might be, however, it is much better to conduct brief non-evaluative observations and follow-up conversations. These observations are always pre-arranged and never formally written-up.

Evaluative Observer

As I said, however, at times the role of the leader involves formal evaluative observations. The goal of these observations, with very few exceptions, should be instructional improvement. To this end, most observations should follow a clinical model, that is, include a pre-observation conference, observation, and post-observation conference. The clinical model helps to insure that the conference is focused on improvement and not some kind of "gotchya" activity. Feedback on lessons should be supportive and aimed at targeted changes. It is better to focus on one or two areas for improvement and to provide clear expectations for implementation, than to overwhelm with a fistful of suggestions.


Literacy leaders systematically share their knowledge and the exciting new books and articles that they read in the course of keeping up to date on research and innovation. Professional book discussions, information shares, informative emails, and monthly newsletters are ways that the literacy leader provides updated information for teachers. As a reading specialist, I would hold bi-monthly, pre-school information sharing sessions. As a supervisor, I often conducted before and after school book clubs to look at new books on relevant instructional topics for teachers.

Available Resource

The literacy leader needs to be available to answer teacher's questions about instructional practice or about individual students. Reponses need to be timely and informed by best practice, current research, and actual experience. When the leader is unable to answer a question, she should be able to point to resources that may be helpful and provide those resources whenever possible.


Whether it is guided reading instruction, min-lesson development and delivery, book club organization, phonemic awareness instruction, comprehension strategy instruction or any of the many other instructional challenges that may confront the classroom teacher, the literacy leader must be able to model these practices for the teachers through professional development activities and in the regular classroom with the children. Modeling is a powerful way to teach complex concepts to children and adults. The ability to show teachers best practice instruction goes a long way to establishing credibility and trust for the literacy leader.

Resource Provider 

When introducing any instructional innovation to teachers, it is critical that the literacy leader provide the teachers with the resources to implement the innovation. When I wanted to implement literature circles in my fifth grade classrooms, I first had to work with building principles to budget money for the books to support the literature circles and then work with the teachers to identify the books that would be used for literature circle study. The same was true for guided reading. Multiple copies of books on a variety of levels were needed to implement the instructional design. Many a good instructional idea fails for lack of resources. If we expect teachers to implement our innovations, we must provide the resources for them to do so.


At times the literacy leader must be the advocate for the teacher. This may involve arguing with a principal for a budget line for each teacher to get money to improve their classroom library or sitting in on a parent conference with a teacher whose instruction, grading, or evaluation of a child is being questioned. The role of advocate may also involve providing parent presentations on literacy curriculum and instruction or presentations to the Board of Education regarding curricular decisions. 

Program Evaluator

As a literacy leader, you will be inundated with all kinds of literacy programs that promise great things if implemented "with fidelity." The job requires that these programs be evaluated in light of what the current research says is best practice, in light of the needs of the students in the school district, in light of the ease of implementation, and always in light of the fact that teachers teach literacy and not programs. Programs that seek to provide scripted or "teacher proof" instruction eliminate the most critical aspect of any literacy program - the teacher. The implementation of any program must put the teacher at the center and be both grounded in sound research and teacher efficacy. Any program under consideration must come with a commitment to the professional development and the professional expertise of the teacher.


The literacy leader benefits greatly from a broad network of other professionals filling the same roles. Professional organizations such as the International Literacy Association or the National Council of Teachers of English are very helpful.. Sometimes local universities bring literacy leaders together on a regular basis for information sharing and networking. Sometimes county or regionally based organizations provide the support. No matter where it comes from, it is critical that the literacy leader gain perspective and support from a wide network of people working on the same problems.

I like to think of the literacy leader as the "teachers' teacher." In this role we work to make sure all of the teachers under our supervision are successful, while recognizing that each of them is a unique individual with their own special talents, abilities, and perspectives to bring to the task of literacy instruction.

No comments:

Post a Comment