Leaders Bridging the Opportunity Gap: The Implementation of a Districtwide Literacy Initiative in an Urban School District



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Background: Literacy remains an ongoing concern in urban schools. As a result of this literacy opportunity gap, there have been various literacy initiatives launched at the federal, state, and local level to increase student reading levels and improve overall student outcomes. Policies such as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) (1965), No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and organizations such as the National Literacy Standards, International Reading Association (IRA) and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) have provided extensive information regarding standards and research-based methods as they relate to best literacy practices. Best practices include a commitment to literacy across the content areas which deepens overall knowledge and understanding of the content (Johnson, Watson, Delahunt, McSwiggen & Smith, 2011). This qualitative comparative study focuses on the implementation practices of educational leaders participating in a district-wide Secondary Literacy Initiative (SLI), for grades 6-8 in a large urban school district. Purpose: This study examined how transformational practices of two middle school principals influenced implementation fidelity of a secondary literacy initiative in four key areas: read aloud/think aloud, small group instruction, independent reading, and writing across four content areas (English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science and Social Studies). A description of the Secondary Literacy Initiative (SLI) goals, objectives, policies, evaluation, and their implications for principals are outlined. Research on implementation practices of instructional leaders provide an example of the potential strengths and weaknesses in initiatives for district and campus leaders, identifies key elements in leadership best practices, and serves as a model for lasting impact on student achievement. This study addressed the following research questions:1) How does the administrative and instructional role of a secondary principal in an urban school district impact the implementation fidelity of a district literacy initiative? (2) How does a principal’s transformational practices in an urban school district influence their instructional roles in supporting a literacy initiative? Methods: The data collection in this qualitative case study includes interviews of two middle school principals, campus literacy plans, results of teacher perceptions, and classroom observations of four middle school teachers. Rigor and trustworthiness of this case study were illustrated in which the theoretical bases of transformational leadership and the conceptual framework of Implementation Fidelity was a key driver in the data collection processes. Data generation consisted of an interview protocol, verbatim transcription of the interviews, data examples, and participant observations. In addition to the interview protocol, SLI observation documents/notes and an SLI District questionnaire were also used to determine the alignment of literacy components and to gather information regarding implementation and fidelity of practices of the two transformational leaders. Data was coded and analyzed to identify essential patterns, and themes emerged from participant interviews, responses, and observations. Results: Findings of the study indicated transformational and fidelity practices on behalf of the principals were evident in their responses but revealed inconsistent practices regarding the overall fidelity implementation of the Secondary Literacy Initiative when carefully examined. Teacher observations aligned with questionnaire data, in which parts of the SLI framework were present, but did not showcase all components. Overall knowledge and implementation practices varied by teacher and were impacted by experience, training, coaching, and support. Findings showed transformational practices of instructional and administrative leaders does not influence fidelity. Conclusion: Transformational leadership practices do not always transfer practices of fidelity implementation. Transformational practices can be used as a guide/framework as leaders and teachers map out plans for implementation of an initiative. Leaders must consider how their role (administrative and instructional) impacts the overall implementation of practices for teachers. Leaders must shift from administrative to instructional mindsets to support the fidelity of instructional practices.



Literacy Initiatives, Transformational leadership, Implemenation Fidelity, Literacy, Leaders