This week we had the absolute pleasure of welcoming 3 visitors from my former school board. Anne Elliott, Jane Baird and Mary Lynch are the Literacy Dream Team. These women are so passionate and knowledgeable about literacy. Combined they are a literacy teaching powerhouse.
How did this come to be?
I have been in my role as principal at CISB for the last 7 months. In that time I have observed teachers in their classrooms countless times, attended and participated in team meetings, discussed observations with the extended administration team and gathered evidence. As I did all of this I began to collect data, identify trends and was perplexed by a few things. In literacy staff were using the structure of the Daily 5 but I did not see a lot of explicit teaching of reading. It seemed to me that students were left to their own devices while the teacher conferenced with students or did small group guided reading. Their literacy programming lacked intentionality and an explicit focus on reading. The intentionality and depth of planning, structure, assessment and teaching happening in our units of inquiry was not occurring in literacy. Why? How could teachers not see the link and the natural integration between literacy and their units of inquiry? Why were they seeing them as two separate entities? Why could they not see the need for rich literacy instruction as well as deep inquiry?
Our teachers are great inquiry teachers. They collaborate and create rich and meaningful experiences for their students to explore, inquire and construct meaning. What could happen if they were able to combine their strength in planning inquiry with literacy? Students would only benefit from these natural connections and would deepen their background knowledge and understanding of the transdisciplinary themes.
Identifying the need based on evidence gathered was the first step, but what next? As leaders we all have our areas of strength and areas of weakness. I am most certainly not an expert in literacy. I know what good literacy programming and teaching looks like but I can only scratch the surface with my knowledge. I knew that if I was going to change practice that I had to build the capacity of teachers to deliver quality programming. Our teachers, coaches, PYP coordinators and myself all needed knowledge, pedagogy and modelling. Where would I find it? As an international school principal you are often confined to the knowledge that is in your building. Collectively we have some knowledge about literacy but not the depth it takes to create sustainable and meaningful change. So enter the Dream Team…..
I immediately thought of Anne, Jane and Mary! How could I get these literacy gurus to China to work with my staff. What would it look like? Then it all started with a Tweet. On January 9th I sent a message to the ladies over Twitter and invited them to come to China in August. A few days later I asked them if they would consider coming over their March Break instead to which they replied “Count me in.”
Fast forward to February when I was home for Chinese New Year and had the opportunity to meet with Dream Team in person. This was the start of planning for the week. We identified that looking at Balanced Literacy in its entirety would be overwhelming and that we would only scratch the surface. I was able to share that I do see an intentional and explicit focus on writing through the focus on the formal writing process but felt we needed support in reading. I wanted teachers to see the link between their Units of Inquiry and reading. To me the fit was natural. We began crafting the week…..we decided to focus on Read Alouds and Shared Reading. We identified the ability to use mentor texts that would support both reading skills and the content of the UOI. We decided to structure the PD as a teacher inquiry so we created an inquiry question to guide the week “ How do we create thoughtful readers?”
We decided that we would follow Kath Murdoch’s inquiry process:
Tuning In: Think about a time you learned something new. How did you feel?
Finding Out What is an effective Read Aloud?/What is an effective 5 Day Shared Reading Plan?
Sorting Out: Planning with the coach
Going Further: Coaches Model/Teachers Observe
Making Connections: Team debriefing with focused questions
With the structure and focus determined the Dream Team set about creating presentations and activities for teachers. Our leadership team set about creating a schedule for coverage and began communicating with staff about the upcoming PD. We collaborated through email and Google from half way around the world!
This was all in the initial planning phase of the professional learning. Stay tuned to see how the week unfolded………