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Growing literacy leaders

If pressure makes diamonds, then confronting assumptions and challenging educator practice can only lead to better things for literacy learners.

Literacy and English Language Professional Learning and Development (PLD)

In 2015, 35 schools (311 teachers, 6,147 students) across the Central North Island of New Zealand engaged in responsive, differentiated literacy PLD. The overall goal was for schools to take ownership of their own literacy professional learning and development at a strategic and classroom level to increase internal capacity and ensure sustainable practices are in place. There is a clear understanding that challenging teacher and leader beliefs and shifting practice, needs to be maintained beyond external facilitated support. Enablers for sustainability include growing:

  • shared understandings
  • leadership capability in literacy
  • awareness that teachers are change agents
  • pedagogical content knowledge
  • depth of knowledge around what acceleration looks like
  • use of assessment tools and data to inform practice
  • student agency

Through coaching, leaders and teachers have been mentored to lead their own learning using methodologies such as: collaborative goal setting; professional reflective practices; and, in some cases, professional dialogue facilitated through professional learning groups (PLGs). Rich resources shared include; Learning in the Fast Lane (Suzy Pepper Rollins 2014), Literacy onlineThe Literacy Learning Progressions and the Writing hub.

Literacy child 5 2016

All schools involved in Literacy and English Language Learning PLD in 2015 were supported to develop their own explicit focus on accelerating achievement in literacy.

Who was better off?


Literacy child 2 2016As a result of the PLD, leaders (including middle leaders) were and empowered to lead literacy development across their schools. 12 out of 19 schools (63%) demonstrated improved leadership capability, strengthened pedagogical content knowledge and understanding of acceleration in literacy for all learners, including those most at risk. The alignment and connections between quality self-review processes (including appraisal) and successful strategic planning, became clearer for schools over the period of the PLD. This enabled leaders to build capability for continuous improvement.


In-class modelling and PLD support provided opportunities for teachers to “put their practices under the microscope” and reflect on what worked and why, and how a shift in practice could become a new, embedded way of working. The impact of effective Teaching as Inquiry on teacher knowledge and pedagogical ability is apparent over time. Of the schools that have been engaged in in-depth PLD for one year or less, 68% report a positive shift in teacher pedagogical capability. 

Teachers content knowledge of progressions and applied assessment knowledge for formative monitoring and summative purposes grew when they understood “what acceleration looks like”. Teachers became better equipped to make strategic choices and planned for acceleration using a range of data and evidence, including student voice, with a focus on priority learners. 


Collated student achievement data has shown some very significant shifts between 2014 and 2015. For example, achievement in writing increased from 46% (2014) to 60% (2015) 'at' or 'above' national standard overall. The project reports an overall 10% shift over this time. There was a significant increase in Māori student achievement, where student achievement in writing increased from 42% to 55% 'at' or 'above' national standard for the same time period. For more student data achievement, see the infographic data

Co-constructed learning opportunities fostered student agency. An increasing number of students showed an ability to reflect on and articulate learning goals, and the criteria for their success. Of those surveyed, the number of students who could articulate their learning with clarity had improved 24 percentage points by the end of the PLD. Student engagement also increased as assessment became  more purposeful and relevant.

Literacy child 3 2016         Literacy child 4 2016

Students are able to reflect on and articulate learning goals

Challenges recognised

While some drivers for success have been noted above, it was also recognised that significant shifts can take longer when there is:

  • high staff turnover in schools
  • interrupted engagement in PLD
  • lack of engagement in PLD or investment in leading literacy from leaders
  • lack of ownership and collaboration between teachers and PLD providers
  • limited depth of knowledge and understanding around acceleration


Partnerships to improve literacy: The leadership team at Whakarewarewa School (a small school of 40 students nestled in the Redwood forest and bordered by the Whakarewarewa thermal area) have transformed their student achievement. Seventy per cent of students are now 'at' or 'above expectation' in writing, and 72% are achieving 'at' or 'above expectation' in reading (end of 2015). The school achieved this through a strategic focus on four levers of change (The Use of Evidence to Improve Education and Serve the Public Good, Adrienne Alton-Lee, Ministry of Education), and the development and activation of: educationally powerful connections with family, whanau, iwi and community; robust teaching as inquiry process and PLGs (Professional Learning Groups); high impact literacy pedagogy development; and the leadership conditions to support this development. For more on this remarkable story, see Accelerated literacy learning at Whakarewarewa Primary

Where to from here?

To ensure continuous improvement for all schools, schools themselves need to continue to implement quality processes to support teacher professional learning offering support and resourcing to strengthen teacher capability, including developing understanding of pedagogical content knowledge and knowledge of acceleration. PLD providers need to provide responsive, collaborative PLD that strengthens and grows teacher and leader capability in Literacy. 

On reflection

The identification of future leaders continues to be powerful strategy in managing school improvement over time. The Best Evidence Synthesis four levers to drive change (Effective pedagogy, Educationally powerful connections, Leadership, Inquiry), continue to be a focus particularly in relation to engagement and deliberate acts of teaching.

For more impact, view the infographic data from 2015. Further information about the Literacy and English Language Learning PLD Programme is available on our website.