Beyond the Reef: Reading Recovery Teachers as Literacy Leaders

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Beyond the Reef: Reading Recovery Teachers as Literacy Leaders

by Jamie Lipp

My daughter recently turned three. It’s safe to say I’ve watched more than my share of Disney princess movies over the last three years. These films offer powerful messages. One in particular, stands out to me in relation to the work we do as Reading Recovery professionals. In the words of my daughter’s beloved Moana, “There’s more beyond the reef.” Teaching students is our reef.   

As a former Reading Recovery teacher and now a university trainer, I am continually reflecting on the power and promise of the work we do as Reading Recovery professionals and all the ways in which we support student learning.  The numbers cannot be ignored.

With the overwhelming success of students, there is another key piece of Reading Recovery implementation that needs explored more deeply. Throughout my time as a Reading Recovery teacher I very much enjoyed supporting classroom teachers, specialists and principals to further their understanding of literacy processing and ways to support struggling readers.  In short, I quickly positioned myself (through an eager and willing desire to share and collaborate) as a literacy leader within my building and district. This year’s Teacher Leader Institute (TLI) provided the opportunity to look closely at how Reading Recovery teachers are already serving as literacy leaders in their schools, as well as ways to support and extend these practices.  TLI confirmed for me that Reading Recovery professionals not only support student learning, but should be seen and utilized as literacy leaders, with a focus on building literacy capacity within their schools.

Reading Recovery professionals are often equated as expert teachers.  Nancy Anderson reminded us at TLI that the term expert can signal that our learning is complete, which we know to be false.  We are in a state of continual learning as Reading Recovery professionals, with reflection and refinement being integral to our practice.  Being an expert teacher without sharing this expertise and without supporting the learning of others allows for a limited reach.  When one functions as a literacy leader, this reach is extended and multiplied exponentially. I’m no mathematician, but it was powerful for me personally to see that if I positively influenced the practice of just one teacher, that teacher could positively impact 26+ students EACH YEAR.  When I worked with groups of teachers, I could see and feel my impact spreading rapidly, and it felt AMAZING. Way back when, my former district contributed a large amount of resources to provide me the training and experiences needed to become an expert teacher. It was both a financially smart and educationally sound decision for them to encourage, support and value me as a literacy leader.

So, how can Reading Recovery teachers serve as literacy leaders?  We have only begun to capture all the ways in which this is possible and may already be happening in our schools.  I was excited to read the recent blog post by Reading Recovery Teachers Rhonda Precourt and Gen Arcovio addressing how to Spread the Word about the effectiveness of Reading Recovery.  Many of their ideas relating to the power of Reading Recovery for students relate to the power of Reading Recovery for teachers. Likewise, I’ve gathered some ideas about literacy leadership based on my experiences as a Reading Recovery professional and beyond:

  • Open the door.  Literally.  Sometimes we find ourselves in our tiny rooms with our Reading Recovery students and we inadvertently shut the door to the rest of the school and what is happening on the outside of our four walls.  Keep your door open. Let others hear what a Reading Recovery lesson sounds like and allow them to catch a glimpse when they pass by.  Invite classroom teachers, principals, specialists, parents and anyone else interested to watch a Reading Recovery lesson and help them to see and understand your instructional decisions within and beyond the lesson.  Let’s speak the same language.
  • Advocate.  Work with your principal to advocate for Reading Recovery within your school and district.  Help your PTA and school board understand the effectiveness of what you do and how it supports your school’s comprehensive literacy plan.  Help to safeguard the schedule of Reading Recovery teachers and work with your principal to identify what your key roles will be within your school. Be an advocate for students in general.  We must advocate for shared beliefs about teaching, learning and efficacy.
  • Collaborate.  Work with the other professionals who also support your Reading Recovery students to share data and problem solve ways to best approach your students and their learning paths.  Work together as a team to determine clear roles and responsibilities for each person involved in this student’s literacy journey. This should be ongoing, not just during the selection process. Meet formally and informally to discuss progress and next steps.  Use and share the data you have collected to help support the intervention efforts, not only for those selected students, but for all students who are struggling readers and writers. Work together to seek solutions for these students and help the team see these students as more than just the numbers produced by standardized, computerized assessments.  Help literacy teams identify student strengths and support their efforts to teach accordingly.
  • Provide professional development to deepen literacy understandings.  This professional development can be large or small in nature.  It can take on the form of coaching, demonstration lessons, conversations, or formal professional development.  Conducting whole group mini-lessons, modeling guided reading lessons/ writing lessons, supporting teachers to more effectively analyze and use assessment data to set goals for students and teach according to these specific goals are a few ideas of how this may occur.  Professional development can happen anywhere; one-on-one, small group, large group. It may be as broad as a district wide literacy session or staff meeting based on the current needs of the teachers/students or as focused as a 30 minute meeting with a teacher or small group of teachers.  The possibilities are truly endless and differ according to the strengths and needs of both the students and your colleagues.
  • Be a valuable resource. Be available when your colleagues have questions and work collaboratively to arrive at the answers. Share the articles and research you are currently reading and include personal insight as to how this information applies to the students in your school. Help your colleagues connect the dots between research and practice. Send brief email updates sharing any new learning you’ve discovered. Help to take complex ideas and simplify them into meaningful classroom implications.  

Perhaps one of my favorite understandings of being a leader is found in the text,  Becoming a Literacy Leader (Allen, 2016), when she describes this process as “rowing in the same direction.” (p.6) Isn’t that exactly what we want to do as Reading Recovery professionals?  We want our principals, classroom teachers and specialists to share the same beliefs and values about literacy and student learning, and we want their teaching practices to embody these beliefs and values.  We want them to be with us on the boat that is sailing toward understanding how to best support literacy learning and we want them to grab an oar and row rapidly to our shared destination.

Reading Recovery professionals ARE literacy leaders and it is within our role to promote just how powerful Reading Recovery is FOR the students and BEYOND the students. In order for Reading Recovery to continue to grow and prosper, we have to demonstrate the power and benefit of utilizing Reading Recovery as an investment in students, teachers, and the overall growth in literacy capacity within our schools.  This is non-negotiable. It is simply not enough to limit our ties to effectiveness to only the students we serve.

Moana will tell you, “we were voyagers.”  We still are. Now, go beyond the reef.

Let’s keep talking about going beyond the reef.  Join me for the Twitter chat, “ Reading Recovery professionals as Literacy Leaders” on Sunday, August 19th at 7 pm EST.   


Jamie Lipp is a Reading Recovery trainer at The Ohio State University. Follow her on Twitter @Jamie_Lipp.

Jamie Lipp will be a speaker at the 2019 National Reading Recovery & K-6 Literacy Conference, February 9-12, in Columbus, OH. Her sessions are titled: “Build Literacy Expertise in your School Through Intentional Coaching Experiences” and “The Composing Conversation – Avoiding Roadblocks on the Path to Writing”.

Any views or claims expressed in The Reading Recovery Connections Blog are those of individual authors, not RRCNA.

August 6th, 2018|Reading Recovery Teaching|Comments Off on Beyond the Reef: Reading Recovery Teachers as Literacy Leaders