How principals can become literacy leaders

by Brett Henebery22 Nov 2016

In 2010 the Principals As Literacy Leaders (PALL) program was funded by a federal literacy grant as one of the ‘Closing the Gap’ pilot projects, one that was overseen by the Australian Primary Principals Association (APPA).

The program was the only one of 40 funded under this scheme that was not classroom based.

PALL was originally developed and presented by Griffith University, Edith Cowan University and the Australian Catholic University, and since 2010 more than 1,200 school leaders have undertaken the professional learning involved.

After the pilot program, many of the people who have since undertaken it have done so with the support of their State Department of Education, or professional association or from their own funds.

The program set out to accomplish two things: to improve the literacy outcomes of students, and provide principals with the opportunity to become leaders in this area.

In short, the core principle of the program argues that the responsibility for leading learning must be taken by the principal.

Through the program, participants develop an intervention plan that considers a particular aspect of reading improvement for a particular group/groups of students; for instance, improving oral language for junior school students. The intervention plan is then implemented in the subsequent year.
 

Creating leaders in literacy

Professor Tony Townsend, from the Griffith Institute for Educational Research, told The Educator that there were 40 programs funded – 39 of which involved teachers in classrooms – but only one examined how school leaders can impact on closing the literacy gap.

“The first program, which ran through the course of 2010, had 15 different people from four different states in the one place looking at this issue,” he said.

“The following year, they conducted research on the roll-out and how their perceptions about their own leadership and about their ability to lead reading in schools had changed.”

Townsend said since that time, there have been a number of other specific development projects across four states.

“There was one that was offered in South Australia, a couple in Western Australia, one we’re doing this year in Queensland, three in Tasmania, and this is the fourth year of projects that are being funded by the Victorian Government,” he said.

“Overall, nearly 1,200 groups of people have gone through this program, and it’s expanded from just being the principal to being principals and other people in the school.”
 

PALL ‘not a generic leadership program’

Townsend said that the program is delivered in five modules with 10 hours of coaching provided throughout the year, as well as ongoing support and follow up activities after workshops. 

The follow-up activities are undertaken by the principals with their communities supported by designated coaches.

After each of the module sessions the school leader is expected to take what was learned back to their school, work with staff and the school community and then bring what they have learned from this process back to share with others in the following module.

“It’s not a generic leadership program. It’s a leadership program for a very specific purpose – and that purpose is to improve reading,” he explained.

“What we could say is that if you took out the reading content and put in mathematics content, you could run the same program for that subject. So we’re looking at leadership for a specific purpose.”
 

Bringing literacy to STEM

With Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education recognised as being crucial to students’ future job opportunities, Townsend pointed to the important role literacy plays in this learning area.

“We’re trying to bring literacy to STEM. What we’re discussing in this particular program are the literacy components,” he explained.

Townsend pointed to an example:

“A teacher asked students to look at different colours and tell them which ones most reflected conflict. One student put their hand up and asked what conflict meant.

“In this sense, we would argue that all secondary teachers need to be teachers of literacy (in their own subject area) in order to maximize their students' chances of success.

“It is important for teachers of secondary students to not only judge whether or not their students have a good understanding of the subject area they teach – whether it be STEM, social science or a different language – but also to judge whether they can read and understand the terms used in that subject well when undertaking a particular subject.”