Leading Literacy - Developing a School-Wide Literacy Vision (1 of 4)

Leading Literacy - Developing a School-Wide Literacy Vision 

We hope you enjoy the first of a four part series on Literacy Leaders

The first question I ask when I work with teachers and leaders around literacy practices is what is your school-wide vision for literacy instruction? I typically receive answers such as “We do Daily 5” or we have adapted this specific reading series or curriculum. What I don’t hear is the school’s stance on literacy instruction. What do the teachers and school leader believe matters most in developing students’ identities as readers and writers, not only teaching the skills and competencies necessary to read and write? What is the essential content for literacy instruction for all students? What are the pedagogical approaches that best support literacy learning? What are the overarching principles that guide the work? Answering these questions is a good first step in developing a school-wide vision for literacy that ensures that every child becomes a skilled reader and writer, not by chance, but by design.

In this series of blog posts, I will focus on ways to develop a school-wide literacy vision that helps lead and direct literacy instruction. This vision works best when developed collaboratively as a school community. This first post focuses on the rationale for developing a school-wide vision and some tools to do this together as a school community. The second post will focus on essential content for literacy instruction in an elementary school context. The third post will focus on the pedagogies and structures for teaching that content, and the final post will focus on five overarching principles that support literacy learning for all students.

Leadership clearly matters in reading achievement and student outcomes. “Leadership provides one of the most powerful strategies we have in our arsenal to make these conditions of quality reading programs come to life in classrooms and schools so that all youngsters achieve high levels of literacy skills” (Murphy, 2010, p. 93). Leadership in literacy does not rest on the shoulders of the principal alone or even solely on the administrative team. When most powerfully executed, there are multiple layers of leadership: teacher leadership, administrative leadership, and district or diocesean leadership that all work together as a coordinated system of support. 

Researchers have focused on five key areas for establishing a school-wide focus on literacy instruction: establishing literacy as a priority, creating a sense of collective responsibility for all children, ensuring evidence-based, high quality literacy instruction, establishing a balanced system of assessments, and engaging parents, families, and the community as critical partners in literacy work (Taylor, 2011; Murphy, 2010; Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators General Education Leadership Network Early Literacy Task Force, 2016). Establishing literacy as a priority includes dedicating significant time, resources, and promoting a culture of literacy so that everyone who enters the school understands reading is central to the work we do here. Creating a sense of collective responsibility for all children involves a commitment to supporting the literacy identity and development of all children, not just the children in an individual teacher’s classroom. High quality literacy instruction is a result of coherent, ongoing, evidence-based professional development for teachers as well as coaching and support. This professional development is coupled with a coherent reading program aligned to standards, curriculum, instruction, and assessments. A balanced system of assessments allows the school to work toward continuous improvement and support the needs of individual students through targeted interventions and collaboration among teachers and resource teachers and specialists. Engaging families and communities acknowledges the role they play as critical partners in fostering students’ identities as readers and writers and providing a supportive environment inside and outside of school for literacy. Together, these areas help move literacy practice forward school-wide. 

School communities can start this process by using this screening tool from the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators General Education Leadership Network Early Literacy Task Force. Individuals would complete the tool independently first and then meet to discuss their results. This is best done one essential at a time. Each individual shares their score and their rationale. Then the group comes to a consensus and records their group score. This exercise helps identify key next steps in school-wide literacy improvement. Schools may also use the School Change Self-Study Survey developed by Barbara Taylor to determine the right level of school-wide focus.  The Vision of Culturally Responsive Literacy Instruction tool can help teachers craft their vision for a culture for literacy that is responsive and equitable for all students. These collaborative exercises help the entire school community come to a shared understanding of literacy commitments so that all students become readers and writers.


  • Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators General Education Leadership Network Early Literacy Task Force (2016). Essential school-wide and center-wide practices in literacy. Lansing, MI.
  • Murphy, J. (2004). Leadership for literacy: A framework for policy and practice. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 15(1), 65–96. https://doi.org/10.1076/sesi.
  • Taylor, B.M. (2011). Catching schools: An action guide to school-wide reading improvement. Heinemann.