4 Takeaways From Our Leadership Talks Every Teacher Should Know

Leadto Literacy

How can we effectively lead students to reading and writing proficiency?

This is a question that teachers and school leaders grapple with every day—and we asked four literacy experts to weigh in for the fifth season of our Lead to Way to Literacy Leadership Talks.

New research and practices about teaching literacy constantly arise, and some hot topics include growth mindset and social-emotional learning. Our experts provided actionable steps and guidelines—including advice for principals on scaling growth mindset practices—and focused on aligning goals and strategies from the district to the classroom to support ELs.  

Anthony Colannino on Growth Mindset

Senior Fellow, International Center for Leadership in Education

Colannino focused on developing a culture of growth in the K-12 classroom. He discussed theories and research associated with ensuring a growth mindset among students—where students believe their intelligence and abilities can be developed and improved through hard work. In contrast, a fixed mindset entails the belief that natural talent and intelligence, as opposed to dedication, play greater roles in learning. 

The first step to encouraging students to focus on growth? Making sure the teachers personally have that mindset themselves, Colannino says.

“How do you think your fixed or growth mindset affected you?” Colannino says. “When I talk about mindset across the country, I always want people to first consider themselves. What happened to you in school as a student—fixed or growth? What has happened to you as a professional—fixed or growth—or even as a person?”

Amy Dendinger on School Culture and Community

READ 180 Classroom Teacher

Amy Dendinger works in a classroom where students are typically two years behind grade level in reading proficiency and may be frustrated with reading. In her Leadership Talk, Dendinger tapped into creating a positive culture and a sense of community in the classroom to dissipate that feeling. She further examined how she ties social-emotional learning into her teaching by encouraging a strong foundation for her students, exercising effective communication skills, and building it into her curriculum.  

“I want you to remember that building your classroom culture is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s going to take months of rigorous practice, adjustments for any speed bumps or injuries, and self-care to keep yourself moving forward,” Dendinger says.

Dr. Anne Cunningham on Phonological Awareness

Expert on Literacy and Development in Early Childhood

To build literacy skills among students, their phonological awareness also needs to be cultivated. Dr. Cunningham dove into this need during her Leadership Talk called “Willoughby Wallaby Woo: Phonological Awareness for 21st Century Teachers.”

Cunningham touched on the National Early Literacy Panel’s continuum of phonological development, which describes phonological awareness as one of the five pillars for a child’s successful literacy development. Focusing on the continuum for students ages 3 to 7, Cunningham provided insights into playful and engaging instructional activities that educators can implement.

“If phonological awareness is needed, then it’s our job as teachers to be able to play those language games and be able to help children move from the meaning of language to the sound of language,” Cunningham says.

Dr. Elena Izquierdo on English Learners

Author of Escalate English and Associate Professor, University of Texas, El Paso

A further challenge to teaching literacy is that not all K-12 students speak English as their first language. One in every 10 public school students in the U.S. is an English learner (EL). 

Dr. Izquierdo discussed how teachers can meet the academic needs of English learners. Izquierdo laid out three guiding questions related to equity, evidence, and efficacy that should start from the administration and trickle down into the classroom to meet the needs of ELs:

  1. How are you planning to achieve equity for ELs?
  2. What evidence will you gather?
  3. How are you going to achieve efficacy?

She also explained that while the question of how long it takes to become proficient in English may arise, the answer is never simple and depends largely on the EL’s experiences, background knowledge, language, and literacy skills. ELs represent diverse backgrounds, and this necessitates different types of support depending on the length of time spent in school, language support programs, and quality of instruction.


Learn more about how you can lead the way to literacy in your district or classroom by exploring web series, program solutions, and case studies here.

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