When it comes to specific variables that lead to Schools That Work: Where All Children Read and Write (2007) Allington and Cunningham (pages 44-45) report that ten features emerged that enhanced the academic achievement (e.g., thoughtful literacy) of students. Their comprehensive review of the research on school change shows that schools can make a difference. Allington and Cunningham have also reviewed the research on classrooms and have concluded that teachers, as they follow the research at the classroom level, make the difference for students in developing early literacy. By clicking in this link you can see the features of classrooms where all learn to read and write.
Classrooms can be highly productive and schools can be highly productive in insuring that all students learn to read and write.
Here are the ten features that lead to schools that work:
- School staff committed to the idea that all children could learn to read and write, and they worked to produce that outcome.
- Substantial investments were made in professional development – primarily investments to enhance teachers’ instructional skills and to create teaching and learning environments that support high-quality instruction.
- Planning was reorganized so that classroom teachers were more heavily involved in school decision making. In some schools, parents and community members also joined the school site-based management teams.
- To implement new instructional approaches, the schools invested in classroom libraries, big books, magazine subscriptions, and student anthologies. Putting books in classrooms and in school libraries makes it more likely that children will have books in their hands.
- The schools allocated larger amounts of classroom instructional time to actual reading and writing activities while using multiple approaches to literacy instruction. Integration of reading and writing activities and integration of reading and writing with social studies and science lessons are common.
- Special instructional programs were reorganized. Extra effort was made to connect special-program teachers with classroom instruction and classroom teachers.
- Expanding instructional time by extending the normal school day for some children is another feature of many of the successful efforts.
- The assessments of children’s literacy development are tied more heavily to everyday reading and writing than to end-of-year standardized testing.
- Successful schools worked to involve families.
- In most of the successful school reform efforts, change started small, not with a wholesale restructuring of the school. It was not unusual to find a multi-year plan for changing current practice. Long-term plans call for long-term commitments to continuous improvement – commitments from the professional staff and from the district leaders who provide the resources that support the change effort.
School districts can change. They can improve. Outcomes for students can improve.
And – don’t expect a “quick fix” or “small tweaks” or “a hidden secret you just have to uncover” to bring about these kinds of improved outcomes. Life in today’s school districts is complex and leadership matters! Allington and Cunningham have gathered the research to shine a light on the direction for that leadership to focus. They have found that sometimes the needed leadership comes from the staff and sometimes it comes from the administration. Either way, for a whole school to become a place where each and every student can become literate – it takes leadership.
Leadership with a clear vision,
Leadership to navigate change.
Leadership to build and nurture a community with a shared mission.
Leadership to empower teachers to others to learn, grow and influence beyond their classroom.
And leadership that supports all as they explore possibilities, adapt existing practice when appropriate, adopt new paths to serve each and every student and being willing to focus on achieving positive outcomes for each and every student.
We will not have schools or districts where all students learn to read and write if we try to get there by following the path of the status quo. Change must happen. For change to be rooted into the future, it requires leadership.
It is time to consider helping to lead this important change.