Leading literacy learning locally: challenges of primary school principals

Year: 2013

Author: Hattam, Robert, Kerkham, Lyn, Lucas, Bill

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Educational Leadership and Turnaround Literacy Pedagogies Project (ELTP) is documenting forms of ‘educational leadership’ now evident in four South Australian primary schools that took part in the Supporting Improved Literacy Achievement (SILA) project. The term ‘educational leadership’ here, refers to leadership in schools that focuses on teaching and learning processes. The practices that fall within this category may be those of designated leaders but they may also be those of classroom teachers, and others who work with children, teachers and carers.  The ELTP has interviewed school principals from SILA schools and is researching more extensively four primary schools. The four case study schools participating in ELTP were chosen because they have demonstrated improved literacy attainment in places where young people are traditionally not well served by schooling practices. In this paper, we outline some early observations from our interviews and case studies about the nature of educational leadership that is focussed on improving literacy in specific local contexts. We describe how education leaders frame the challenge of literacy learning: not just in terms of improving children’s literacy but also improving the pedagogical capacity of teachers, carers, and others working with children to develop their literacy. This framing includes the following challenges identified from the field: leading learning for managerial demands; designing complex pedagogy for differentiation; shifting the school culture to foreground student and teacher learning; telling ‘new’ narratives about challenging behaviours, and how they are managed. We also discuss how educational leaders in these contexts are making use of data, not just system level data but that which is developed and valued at the local level. We speculate how these cases provide hopeful sites for new theory, policy and practice about school reform for improved literacy attainment.