The Illusion of Change

By Guest blogger, Dr. Anthony Muhammad, Author and Leadership Consultant.  He will be speaking at a VIP Leadership Summit event sponsored by the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative. This event is being held May 15, 2017 at the DoubleTree in Westborough, MA. It is an invitation only event designed to offer an opportunity for school leadership to discuss transforming school culture to build teacher leadership and improve student outcomes. Please contact for more information.


Anthony MuhammedChange is a very difficult process, but it is the catalyst to continuous improvement.  It tests our ability as professionals at many different levels.  Sometimes, when things get too challenging, we tend to look for short-cuts or we quietly surrender.  We live in a political climate that demands that we change, whether we choose to or not, but I have found that some organizations are good at creating the illusion of change, rather than being fully involved in the process of change.  There are a three key phrases which clearly indicate that an organization is not fully committed to the change process.

Phrase #1: “We are having conversations”

This phrase is a code for; “we have a lot of opposition to this idea and we are afraid to make people too uncomfortable and release an onslaught of political and social opposition.”  I recently worked with a school that has been involved with the implementation of the Professional Learning Community (PLC) process for three years.  They have created collaborative teams and they have designated time for those collaborative teams to meet.  They have created district-wide formative assessments that are administered four times per year.  These milestones were reached in the first year of the process.  So, I asked about PLC Questions #3 and #4 which address systems of student intervention and enrichment, and the room got very quiet.  When people finally began to speak, each answer began with the phrase “we are having conversations.”  If your district is “having conversations,” the change process has stalled.

Phrase #2: “We are in different places”

This phrase is code for; “we don’t have a universal system of accountability, and people who understand the intrinsic value of what we propose have embraced it, and those that are averse are allowed to disregard it until they ‘buy-in’.” Schools and systems that use this phrase are engaged in what I call “accountability light.” This is a diet version of universal professional accountability where group expectations and coherence are the norm.  Healthy school cultures make collaborative decisions and they hold each other mutually accountable for full participation.  When shared commitment is not achieved, a tiered-system of commitment emerges where implementation is based upon personal preference.  Partial commitment is the same as no commitment.

Phrase #3: “District initiatives”

This phrase is code for; “there is a huge philosophical divide between school practitioners and central office which has led to a stalemate.”  I have had the pleasure to work with thousands of schools on the change process and whenever practitioners refer to the change process as a “district initiative,” it is never good.  In essence what they are expressing is a feeling of imposition.  In the mind of the school practitioner, they are confronting real world issues and they have their fingers on the pulse of the needs of the school; and central office lives a world disconnected from reality and their priorities are unreasonable and unnecessary.   This is a clear indication of poor communication and professional disconnection.  If your district has a lot of “initiatives,” effective change is probably not on the horizon.

Literacy for All: Professional Development for Administrators

by Eva Konstantellou, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative, Lesley University

Have you heard Andy Hargreaves talk about how to transform your school into a culture of collaboration and shared responsibility?

3d598a1d2c73ee18837641ad059fbc41_400x400Join Andy Hargreaves to hear his keynote and breakout sessions at the Literacy for All conference, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.  Professor Hargreaves’s keynote address on “Collective Responsibility for the Success of All Teachers and Students” will present the case for collective professional responsibility as the key to school improvement.  In his first breakout session, “Collective responsibility in action,” Professor Hargreaves will discuss ways of schools working together to improve performance. In his second breakout session, “Collective Responsibility in Business, Sports, and Education,” Professor Hargreaves will highlight school communities in which the role of school leaders is to nurture the teachers’ passions and inspire and uplift their teams’ performance.

Past participants have embraced the Literacy for All Conference as the premier professional development event in the northeast.  This year’s sessions and pre-conference workshops offer a wide range of topics that will support and lift the learning of all participants.  Administrators and school leaders are invited to attend a number of sessions that have been designed with their needs in mind.  

In addition to Andy Hargreaves’s sessions, the sessions listed below explore various powerful themes and will help school leaders think deeply about comprehensive literacy, systemic change, and the continuous improvement of teaching and learning.  Here’s a sample of themes explored in administrators’ sessions:

  • Fostering strong teacher-coach-principal relationships
  • Implementing powerful, research-based models of authentic literacy
  • Helping schools or districts monitor and improve their literacy implementation
  • Building understandings of best practices
  • Sharing the nuts and bolts about making RTI a reality
  • Supporting and sustaining systemic change
  • Developing and implementing a comprehensive literacy plan paying special attention to the role of interventions
  • Principals and coaches working together to improve student achievement and meet the Common Core Standards

LFA Brochure CoverThe following eight sessions will address the above themes:

PC-2- From Reading Specialist to Literacy Coach: Examining Essential Shifts (Grades K–8) Irene Fountas, Author and Professor, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative, Lesley University and Gay Su Pinnell, Author and Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

In many school districts across the nation, reading teachers are spending increasing amounts of time in the role of coach to support the professional learning of peers and improve whole school achievement. What will it take to grow professionally, from previously providing direct service to students, to supporting collegial learning? Topics in this institute will include: re-envisioning your role, building relationships with colleagues, anticipating challenges, using language that fosters teacher reflection and teamwork, developing systematic observation skills, identifying essential areas of new learning, helping colleagues re-envision their roles as team members, and working with your school principal to improve student achievement and meet the Common Core State Standards.

LCB-11- Triangulated Literacy Coaching: Fostering the Teacher-Coach-Principal Relationship (Grades 3–6)
Jennifer Felt, Literacy Coach, Oxford Hills School District
Margaret Emery, Principal, Oxford Hills School District
Haley Saurman, Classroom Teacher, Oxford Hills School District

Relationships are the foundation of successful literacy coaching; however, for student progress to be accelerated and continual, it’s imperative that the teacher-coach-principal relationship is strong and maintained. In this session, you will learn ways to develop and strengthen the relationship of key stakeholders in their schools through a systematic coaching model. We will provide examples of scheduling, data collection, and staff development, which has led to seamless coaching experiences and increased student achievement.

LCB-15- Improving Student Achievement and Elevating Teacher Expertise through Literacy Collaborative (Grades PreK–8)
Jess Sherman, Primary Literacy Collaborative Trainer, Lesley University
Heather Morris, Intermediate and Middle School Literacy Collaborative Trainer, Lesley University

Learn about a partnership between your school or district to implement a powerful, research-based comprehensive model of authentic literacy that demonstrated 32% improvement in student achievement in three years. Establish coherent instruction through the teamwork of classroom teachers, specialists, content area teachers, the principals, and the training of literacy coaches.

LCD-9- Using Inquiry As a Tool For Continuous Improvement (Grades K–2)
Alice L. Ensley, Primary District Trainer for Literacy Collaborative, Dalton Public Schools
In this session, we will explore a model that can be used to help schools or districts monitor and improve their literacy implementation. You will learn how to propose a hypothesis, gather soft and hard data to examine the hypothesis, set goals based on this data, and design and implement a plan for meeting these goals. We will use an actual case study from a Literacy Collaborative school district as a model for this session. You will have time to explore the needs of your school or district, and receive feedback about the kinds of data you could collect to begin your own inquiry study.

LCE-4 In-Depth- What Principals and Literacy Leaders Need to Know About Teaching and Learning Writing (Grades K–8)
Ruth Culham, Author/Consultant, The Culham Writing Company
As we enter the era of the Common Core State Standards, writing has never been more important. Teachers are hungry for leadership and support in making their writing classrooms places where important learning takes place every single day. In order to provide this support, principals and literacy leaders need an understanding of the best writing practices so they can be active participants in discussion about how to improve writing instruction. This workshop will address the four Ws– Writing Process, Writing Traits, Writing Modes, and Writing Workshop– and how to organize the school year around them.  It will provide hands-on experiences with tools to use in collaboration with teachers that promote discussion, track improvement, provide feedback, and inspire the changes that the Common Core State Standards are challenging educators to meet in today’s writing classrooms. This workshop is sponsored by Scholastic, Inc.

LCF-15- Meeting the Needs of All Readers: Making Response to Intervention a Reality (Grades K–6)
Clare Landrigan, Staff Developer, Teachers for Teachers
Tammy Mulligan, Staff Developer, Teachers for Teachers
Tom Morris, Principal, Franklin Public Schools
Jodi Fortuna, Assistant Superintendent, Hudson Public Schools
Marcia Uretsky, Principal, Newton Public Schools

Very few people disagree with the premise of Response to Intervention, but how do we make it work effectively in schools? Join our roundtable discussion as several administrators and staff developers share the nuts and bolts of how they make RTI a reality. Hear ways different schools create effective schedules and coordinate instruction between classrooms and interventionists. Learn more about designing small group and individualized lessons, monitoring student progress, and enhancing professional learning.

LCG-6- Systemic Change: A Literacy Journey in Rural Maine (Grades K–8)
Kelly Burns, PreK–8 Literacy Coach, Regional School District #19, Maine
Mary Graybill, Classroom Teacher, Regional School District #19, Maine
Jan Morse, Director of Instructional Improvement, Regional School District #19, Maine
Jane Stork, Principal, Regional School District #19, Maine

Systemic change occurs when all stakeholders are committed to student learning, student achievement, best practices in Tier 1, and professional growth. We will highlight the benefits of whole school collaboration, instructional coaching, common language, and common practices. We will discuss and explore our literacy journey within the Maine Partnerships in Comprehensive Literacy, and each presenter will discuss her role in supporting and sustaining systemic change. Small group activities, video clips, and discussions will be used to engage participants.

LCG-14- Implementing Comprehensive Literacy (Grades K–2)
Wendy Vaulton, Senior Researcher, Lesley University
Carolynne Beless, Reading Recovery Teacher Leader, Dennis-Yarmouth Public Schools
Michael Buonaiuto, Reading Recovery Teacher Leader, Cambridge Public Schools
Kevin Depin, Principal, Dennis-Yarmouth Public Schools

Developing and implementing a comprehensive literacy plan can be challenging. This panel discussion will explore the factors associated with successful implementation of comprehensive literacy, paying special attention to the role of interventions in creating success for all students.


Book Review: Leadership Capacity for Lasting School Improvement

By Jill Eurich, Assistant Director of Intermediate and Middle School Literacy Collaborative, Lesley University

102283bLeadership Capacity for Lasting School Improvement by Linda Lambert is a slender book that was published ten years ago but remains for me one of the most accessible, wise, and helpful books for thinking about school change. It combines her own thoughts about elements essential for lasting school improvement, some examples of schools that have attained success and what that looks like, and a variety of ways to analyze your own school or district to develop an action plan to achieve leadership capacity.

In the opening chapter Lambert provides a Leadership Capacity Matrix (Figure 1.3, pg. 5) to begin to set forth essential components for building school capacity. Through her narrative here are some elements she describes:

How we define leadership frames how people will participate in it. Within the context of education, the term “community” has almost come to mean any gathering of people in a social setting. But real communities ask more of us than merely to gather together; they also assume a focus on a shared purpose, mutual regard and caring and an insistence on integrity and truthfulness. By leadership capacity I mean broad based, skillful participation in the work of leadership… (pg. 4). It is only when a school has undertaken skillful work using inquiry, dialogue and reflection to achieve student performance goals that a school can be said to have achieved high leadership capacity (pgs. 4,5).

Lambert provides figures, rubrics, surveys and a series of questions to engage in as principals, faculty, and staff so to assess our own capacity and chart a course for improvement. Here are a few I have found particularly thought provoking and useful:

  • Engaging Reluctant Teachers: Questions to Ask Ourselves
  • Principals of Constructivism
  • How Principals Build and Sustain Leadership Capacity
  • Leadership Capacity Staff Survey
  • School Assessment Questions

The crucial role that the superintendent and district administration plays is also explored. “A shared vision is the touchstone from which district actions flow; for the vision to be meaningful, it should be created by representatives from all school community groups. Because they are derived from core values, school and district visions should be congruent if they are to guide action. This does not mean the vision statements need to be identical, but they do need to be mediated so that participants understand how they are connected ” (pg. 86).

Linda Lambert’s Leadership Capacity for Lasting School Improvement is both visionary and practical. I highly recommend it!

Dive in, but don’t drown

by Wendy Vaulton, Senior Researcher

In an era of information overload, figuring out what to do with data can feel a bit like drinking from a fire hydrant. Not only is the volume of data sometimes overwhelming, but information from different sources often seem to conflict with each other. How often have teachers found that state test results don’t mesh with classroom assessment results? The end result can be confusion and paralysis. So, how can you move forward and find meaningful, actionable information in a sea of data? This is the first in a series of posts to help you figure out how to move forward in looking at data without getting overwhelmed.

First, it is imperative to be clear about your questions. When we take information in without a sense of direction or purpose, it is easy to jump to the most obvious and sometimes misleading conclusions.  Then, we take premature action and become frustrated with a lack of meaningful change. To avoid this, work with your colleagues to identify the questions that matter most to your school. These questions should be aligned with state and district goals, but should also reflect the concerns and issues that are unique to your school and/or classroom. Once you are clear about the questions that matter most, then you can begin to figure out whether they can be answered with the information you have.

Second, be assured that you don’t need special skills or equipment to dive safely into data. You just need honest curiosity and a willingness to explore (knowing how to use Excel doesn’t hurt, but isn’t critical). Empower yourself to examine one source of data in-depth rather than trying to take in everything at once.  For instance, spending time with colleagues examining state ELA test results by item may lead to more actionable results than looking at a stack of different assessments all at once and comparing results. Digging deeply into a single source will allow you to explore which kinds of questions seem to trip up which students. What do these patterns say about student learning? What implications do they have for instruction?


When digging into data, it is much easier to visualize trends using graphics. Pie charts and bar graphs are easy to make in Excel and can convey a world of information that it is impossible to absorb when looking at numbers in a table.

  • Helpful resource #2: If you don’t have a lot of tech capacity, think about using an online resource like where people market their services for five dollars. Just don’t forget about student privacy if you are going to ask someone else to graph your data.

The idea of data driven decision making is not to try to understand everything going on at once. Better to get a real answer to one narrow, but meaningful question than a superficial answer to a dozen. By digging deeply into a single data source, we give ourselves room to think deeply and strategically. Stay tuned for next time when we’ll talk more about the process of digging into data to inform instruction.


by Jill Eurich, Assistant Director, Intermediate/Middle School


I am writing this on Tuesday, January 2, 2013 and it looks as if the fiscal cliff has, for now, been averted but tough negotiations still lie ahead. As this whole drama unfolds I find myself thinking a great deal about collaboration. I believe in congressional and presidential terms it is referred to as “working with people across the aisle.” The struggle that has ensued over the past months has heightened my appreciation for the integral part collaboration plays in our work with teachers and students.

Our partnership with adult learners provides a variety of opportunities to collaborate. A vital part of our work as university liaisons to schools is to get behind the thinking of our literacy coaches and for them, in turn, to learn how to get behind the thinking of their teachers. This tentative stance, so crucial in coaching and the delivery of professional development, takes flexibility, insight and compassion. It involves taking on the responsibility to make our time together productive and toward that end to problem solve as necessary. Setting norms together and having clear, achievable outcomes are two key components in successful collaboration.

For students, productive collaboration is something that is taught and actively monitored. Looking someone in the eye when he speaks, careful listening, building on someone’s idea, learning language that can be used to respectfully express a different point of view are some of the skills that make a collaborative interchange one in which we benefit from the background knowledge and perceptions of others and use that information to further our own thinking. Whether it’s through interactive read-aloud, literature discussion, an inquiry approach to reading and writing in a genre, or countless other instructional opportunities throughout the day, collaboration opens up new avenues of thought and deepens our understandings. Today’s students will become tomorrow’s President, members of Congress and other parts of the workplace. It will benefit us all if as they take on these roles they both value collaboration and know how to collaborate effectively.

Leading for Excellence: Establishing Coherence in the Instructional Program

by Irene Fountas

Director, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative

One essential goal in our schools is to create places where students learn how to learn and experience the joy of inquiry into meaningful topics and a variety of texts so they can develop the essential habits and competencies that will enable them to live a fulfilling and productive life. This is the greater goal that sometimes gets lost in everyday schooling. The goal can’t be accomplished without year after year of highly effective teamwork around a set of common values and beliefs that pervade the school. The set of values and beliefs form the foundation for the set of competencies that form the curriculum and lead to the effective instructional practices.

The Principal Factor

As the instructional leader in the school, the principal plays a key role in bringing the team together around developing and stating in clear terms the values and beliefs of the school that will provide the context for student learning. The team includes all those who support the literacy development of the students which of course includes classroom teachers, disciplinary teachers, support teachers, and specialists and classroom teachers. Along with the principal, the whole school team owns the outcomes of the literacy program and contributes to the success of each other in helping students achieving those outcomes.

Some key questions include:

What literacy opportunities will every student have in their school day?

How will students be actively engaged in their learning?

How much text will students process each day?

What text resources will students access?

What kinds of assessments will inform the continuous teaching?

How will members of the team work together to plan for and assess the progress of each student?

When the values and beliefs in the school are clear, the team can provide coherence in the instructional program and the principal can support policy decisions and decisions related to professional learning opportunities in the school to align with those goals. The professional staff has clear expectations of their role in supporting the students and in supporting each other and the students benefit from the kind of teamwork that lets no child fall through the crack.  Every child deserves this kind of coherence to grow up literate in our schools.


We hope principals and school teams can join us for What Every School Leader Needs to Know About Good Literacy Teaching and Effective Literacy Coaching so that you can articulate your vision and have the collegial support to help your school achieve the excellence that assures every child is successfully literate.  Consider coming with principals and school teams from your district, your literacy coach, and key members of your central office as a team. Choose from our winter or summer seminar series:

Winter 2013:

January 29-31 and March 4-5, 2013

Summer 2013:

August 12-15, 2013

I hope to meet you and support you in achieving excellence!

Literacy Leadership Teams and The Vital Role They Play

By Dixie Jones

Guest Blogger

It [Leadership] means generating ideas together; to seek to reflect on and make sense of work in the light of shared beliefs and new information; and to create actions that grow out of these new understandings.”   -Harris and Lambert 2003

It’s not too late!   The new school year is here once again.  As you look ahead to the promise of this year, don’t forget about your school-based literacy leadership team.  Hopefully this group has already convened and has a clear, shared vision of what is necessary to support student success and growth over the upcoming year.

If you do not already have a literacy leadership team at your school, how do you decide who should participate?  Consideration needs to be given to the unique perspective each member will bring to the team.  A well-designed literacy leadership team includes administrators, the literacy coach, a classroom literacy teacher from each grade level, and representatives from special education and literacy support personnel.   It is important that this team of professionals share a common vision of the desired goal of the literacy implementation and its development over time.  If this vision has not been established, it should be an initial agenda item.

This team makes decisions throughout the year that directly impact the literacy development of the students, teachers, and school.  In order for this to occur on a regular basis, monthly team meetings should be scheduled at the beginning of the school year.  It is student data and the interpretation of this data that informs the  team as they evaluate the literacy implementation at the school.  Part of the responsibility of the literacy leadership team is to decide on assessments that will most accurately reflect student progress over time with enough specificity to evaluate the strengths and needs of the students, teachers, and literacy instruction.  The data gathered provides insights into weaknesses and strengths of the instruction going on at the school, both in classrooms and interventions.  Careful evaluation and reflection on the student data is the foundation for decisions made regarding budget, professional development, schedules, interventions, and many other concerns.

I know, I know.  This is a tall order and it takes time and effort to meet with the literacy leadership team on a regular basis.  It sometimes seems easier to just make decisions without the benefit of everyone’s input.  That is especially true when the decision-making involves some hashing out of difficult issues.  It can be tense.  However, the benefits that come from having an active literacy leadership team at your school are enormous and are heightened when members of the team look at the issues through a lens unique to their situation.  This is important to making well-rounded decisions in line with the overall vision. The team serves as a compass, keeping the school on a path to the desired outcome.

We will continue to look at the vital role literacy leadership teams play in the implementation of an effective literacy initiative in an upcoming blog.


Harris, A. and Lambert, L. (2003) Building Leadership Capacity for School Improvement. Berkshire: Open University Press.