Educators at any level can spark important change.


Despite the common assumption that leadership is tied to a certain position or title, we all have an important job to do in carrying literacy forward. Educators need to understand that, in whatever position they currently hold, they have the power to make a difference in students’ literacy journeys. 


Systemic Confusion


Within the current system of reading instruction, there are many points of confusion and places where more leadership is needed. Millions of students across the country, right now, are hamstrung by the incoherence of literacy approaches. In Tier 1 instruction, they usually receive a balanced literacy approach, which even former proponents have now admitted is ineffective. Meanwhile, in one-on-one tutoring, they may be taught with an approach focusing on phonics. Many children, even those without learning differences, are bound to be confused by how their lessons oscillate between two reading approaches without an explanation. 

This jumbled system also contributes to problems, like undiagnosed or misdiagnosed dyslexia, that set certain students down a path of even greater hardship. The solution is to give all students consistent instruction in the approach proven to work best: the one based on the science of reading. However, as with any systemic shift, the movement to equip teachers with evidence-based reading methods will not succeed overnight. It will take many pairs of hands and many voices working together. By embracing our inner leader, taking the initiative to improve our own teaching, and encouraging those around us to improve theirs, we can help resolve students’ confusion and lift up those left behind by the current system.


What Is Leadership?


Leadership does not belong to one or two appointed people who make decisions for many others while the others manage tasks. Leadership is simply the influence of one life upon another — anyone can lead. Three principles show the directionality and spirit of the leadership we need to spark literacy change:

  1. The hardest person to lead is yourself. Outside priorities, the ego, and fatigue often keep us from pursuing the kind of personal growth that will help us communicate better with students and colleagues, build connections, and facilitate better reading. It’s important to continue to learn, no matter what your current credentials are.
  2. To make competent decisions, leaders must be grounded in clear frameworks they trust. For example, if a teacher is grounded in the knowledge that reading is language comprehension multiplied by word recognition, they know they have two separate priorities to tackle to help students. They fully understand what needs to be accomplished.
  3. Leading up and leading across are important concepts. Leading up is helping supervisors or authorities understand effective alternative approaches, for example, if you see a problem and know how to fix it. Leading across is doing the same thing for colleagues at more or less equal positions in different departments. Again, these practices grow from the idea that educators in any position — or parents, for that matter — can positively influence literacy.


Courage Is Not the Opposite of Fear


Being afraid to lead is normal, and leadership requires courage. Remember, courage is not the opposite of fear. Rather, courage is about creating significance. No matter where you are, you have the power to influence the lives around you, to begin changing our system of reading instruction, and to increase student access to the deep, all-encompassing benefits of reading, now and well into the future.

For more insights and inspiration about learning to lead for the sake of literacy, watch part one of our leadership webinar series!

The second part of the IMSE leadership webinar series focuses on how we can help others overcome resistance to change and adopt the science of reading in their school or district. Download the PDF summary or watch now here!

Please connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest to get tips and tricks from your peers and us. Read the IMSE Journal to hear success stories from other schools and districts, and be sure to check out our digital resources for refreshers and tips.