S3 Ep20 - 8 Reasons that the Same Page is a Great Place to be

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Hello there, welcome to the Structured Literacy Podcast. My name is Jocelyn and I'm so pleased to welcome you here to this episode.

Now, this is a bit of a shorty one, because I know it's report writing time for teachers in Australia and you don't have time to listen to a big podcast episode, so I'm going to be sharing with you some thoughts that come from a blog post that I wrote in 2021, called Eight Reasons the Same Place Is A Great Place To Be.

One of the challenges we have when bringing teams together into a structured approach is getting everyone to have a shared vision of what instruction can look like and helping each other to commit to what we're going to find on the other side of the change journey. So I'm going to share eight reasons today that it's great to put the hard yards in, to work with your team, to step alongside them and bring everybody on the journey together to build collective efficacy and a shared vision.

If we were to go for a visit to many a local school, we would likely find a great deal of variation in reading instruction from one classroom to the next. It's not uncommon for one teacher to be using one program for phonics and decoding and another to be using something completely different. Even if both of these programs are evidence-informed, this difference in programs and approach can be problematic.

In far too many schools, teachers are left on their own to figure out how best to teach reading. This is unfair on students and teachers alike and, thankfully, is less common than it used to be. Let's look at why it's a good idea to get everyone on the same page in reading instruction.

1. The first reason is consistency.

Now, an old phrase that I've used in a previous job is:

consistency creates credibility

and it's absolutely true. One of the things we want to be able to tell our parents is that, no matter what classroom your child is in, they will be receiving high quality instruction. Having every teacher use the same approach for phonics and reading instruction means that, no matter whose class the child is in, they are receiving precisely what they need to learn at school.

Children receiving quality, evidence-informed instruction shouldn't be left to chance.
Inconsistency is the enemy of continuous improvement.

The other element of this that's really important to consider is that we have to choose resources that are high quality and evidence-informed, as well as providing explicit instruction. A great teacher can take just about anything and turn it into instructional gold, but not every teacher is experienced. Not every teacher is in the same spot when it comes to knowledge and experience to be able to bring the evidence to life in their classroom.

If the resources we're using only result in pretty okay learning, but in the hands of a great teacher can do good things, we've got a problem. Because the gap between where the resource sits and the proficiency of the teacher: all of that gap is chance, and we don't want to leave any instruction to chance.

2. The second thing that makes it a good idea to all be on the same page is instructional time from year to year.

Now in Australia we're currently approaching the middle of the school year, but in the US and Canada you're approaching your summer, which means that after the break, students will be coming back to a new class and probably a new teacher. As children move through the grades, there is minimal loss of instructional time when we're all on the same page.

When everyone's doing something different, children waste time at the start of each year getting used to a new method of teaching and a new way of thinking about how our language works. When you have consistency in every class, we can just pick up where we left off.

In Australia, NAPLAN is now in Term 1. This creates interruption to getting into the flow of teaching and learning, and I've heard that from a number of teachers and leaders. Term 1 is also when we often have things like swimming lessons, carnivals, school photos. All of these school-based events, as well as the ones that come from outside our school, can interrupt learning. Teachers are telling me, at the moment, that they're feeling like Term 1 is not nearly as impactful as it could be, because of all of these things that they've got going on.

But when we have a consistent approach to teaching and learning year in and year out, week one is about getting to know our new teacher.

Week two, we are hitting the ground running with instruction. We don't have this huge loss of instructional time that can happen, and if we're taking all of Term 1 just to get into school, what a wasted opportunity that is.

3. The third reason that it's a good idea for us all to be on the same page is that we can measure impact.

Common teaching approaches and assessments enable us to reliably measure progress within and across classes. This also helps us agree on progress targets and have a clear vision of our strategic improvement agenda.

It's so very powerful to sit down with a team of teachers and examine the cohort data, knowing that we all have a common understanding of what we're looking at and what led us to this point. As an instructional coach or leadership team, this helps us identify teachers who are performing well and those who might need extra support in their practice.

And when it comes to this common assessment piece, remember we need to sit outside the normed data. Many schools are making the shift to normed reading assessment, which is so powerful, so we're talking about DIBELS, Acadience and other normed tools, but those tools don't necessarily tell us what to teach next. They don't necessarily help us overcome or identify problems of practice.

So we have to have data that sits at the coalface of instruction.

We need phonics monitoring data.

We need some syntax information.

We need to be able to know where our students are sitting.

That doesn't mean you have to have a test; there are different ways to collect this information. However, think about your data collection and your assessment from several different perspectives.

Don't over-assess. Don't spend all the time in the universe assessing so that you don't have time for teaching, but be clear about what your assessment is going to give you.

When we have a shared vision about the purpose for assessment, how to use it and what impact it can help us have for students, magical things can happen.

4. The next reason that the same page is a great place to be is because it enables us to support our strugglers much better.

It's so much easier to identify students who are at risk or struggling when we have common vision for what's happening. We can then support them.

Common understanding of the milestones we're looking for or observations that might be red flags during assessment, such as difficulty acquiring basic phonemic skills, means we can intervene immediately. We don't have to wait for a whole term, two terms, or a year, to notice that something isn't right.

5. When we are all on the same page, professional learning is so much more effective.

When we're all doing something different, even when it's similar, it's really hard to provide focused, targeted professional learning for the team. Great professional learning involves developing common language and common objectives. It also involves opportunities to practice instructional routines and observe each other's classrooms, to see what great performance looks like. Sure, we can do this if we're working towards a set of guidelines, but it still leaves the individual teacher to figure out the finer points of instruction on their own.

This is particularly difficult for graduate teachers and we know that we have a number of teachers sitting in the space who are still studying, in some places permission to teach or there's other names, but they actually haven't officially graduated yet.

And they're in the classroom hitting the ground running, or at least sinking or swimming, and let's hope they're not sinking, let's hope they're swimming. But a common approach and a same page helps those teachers to swim. It helps our students' results continue on regardless of who's in front of them.

6. Being on the same page helps us weather staff turnover.

When we can point to exactly what we do here and provide clear guidance, it's much easier to weather the storm of a changing team.

This is so very important in remote or hard-to-staff schools who see high turnover from year to year. When you have a new teacher join your team, you don't have months or a year for them to come to a certain level of proficiency in reading and writing instruction. They really need to hit the ground running.

An established program or set of practices means that you can be very clear about what's expected and support your new staff to do great work right from the start. It also helps you in the recruitment process because you can confidently articulate what the expectations are, what the systems are you use in your school, and that helps you to find a great fit between your school and your team members.

7. Being on the same page helps us think about differentiation a little differently.

Essentially, differentiation is the way we respond to the needs of our students. Different school and class contexts may well call for different approaches to meeting those needs. Now, while all students should receive the same high level of instruction, it isn't always viable for one teacher to support the wide range of student needs in their class. In these cases, it might be worth thinking about sharing a cohort of students across a number of teachers and classes for a period of time each day.

Far from being the old streaming and the land of low expectations for the bottom group, this flexible grouping is a chance for all students to receive fully guided instruction in the foundational skills exactly at their point of need, for as much time as possible. When you have some students working on the basic code and learning to blend, some students beginning to learn the extended code and some students almost or actually just reading anything they can pick up, it truly isn't possible to meet all student needs within the one decoding lesson. Some students are left behind, others are bored and they're not being extended.

The alternative of small groups is equally unsatisfying, because the minute we break into small groups we lose instructional time and some of our students are left to their own devices. Not to mention, this creates noisy classroom environments that actually just make it harder for kids to learn.

8. When we're on the same page, implementing updated instruction is easier.

Because the writers of a program or tool have already put a great deal of thought into the sequence of content and instructional routines, teachers are able to just focus on instruction, they can focus on their students.

They don't have to interpret research, slowly constructing their understandings, figuring out what this looks like in practice. They can just get into it without engaging in much trial and error, which generally ends up with them spending a whole bunch of time doubting themselves in order to teach well.

A program or tool doesn't remove decision making or the need to build knowledge and skills at all. Teachers absolutely are at the heart of the instructional process to meet the needs of their students, but having consistent tools does give teachers and students a jump start in shifting practice from balanced literacy practices to evidence-informed instruction.

Working towards consistent practices in literacy instruction has enormous benefits for both students and teachers, and if you have a great program in place, ensure that you're working with it with fidelity, in that you are recognizing the most impactful elements of it and doing it really well. Spend time practicing, observing and coaching each other.

If you don't have a program and would like to take steps to get on the same page in any element of literacy, you might consider having a look at The Resource Room, where we provide so many lessons and resources and so much professional learning to help get your team together.

But whatever your program, resource or approach, know that consistency in implementing evidence-informed practice creates credibility and leads to continuous improvement.

Being on the same page means that you have collective efficacy, that means collective belief in what can be done. You have collective success and celebration and you have collective struggle. Nobody has to manage the process of teaching all of your students to read and write on their own.

I hope you've enjoyed this shorty episode of the Structured Literacy Podcast.

I also hope that, if you are in the midst of writing reports, that you're able to find the most direct path from where you are now to where you want to go. I want to remind you to celebrate the successes you're seeing in your students and embrace the sometimes scary data and evidence that there's still work to do.

Nobody's starting this work from zero.

Nobody is starting at rock bottom.

Everyone is working from strength and I have no doubt that in the semester to come, you're going to work from yours and build on what your students have achieved.

Have a wonderful week and I'll see you in the next episode. Bye.

Looking to take steps towards getting on the same page? Join us inside The Resource Room!  

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