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Invisibility: The Superpower of Literacy Leaders

By Julie Scullen
 | May 22, 2018
Pushing Glaciers

For a very brief, shining moment recently I thought someone understood how difficult it is to be a literacy leader.

One of the teachers I work with smiled at me and remarked, “Gosh, your job must be really stressful.” My heart leapt with appreciation.

But before I could thank her for her thoughtful and generous insight, she added, “I mean, you have to keep finding all these different projects and things to do so they don’t send you back to the classroom.”

She gave me a sympathetic head tilt, patted my shoulder, and walked away. I was having an out of body experience, but I’m fairly sure I just stared at her as she walked away, mouth gaping.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, this is what I wish I had said:

Yes, as literacy leaders, we do often have to “find” things to do.

We “find” SMART goals representative of the needs of thousands of students considered acceptable to teachers, administrators, and our community. We also “find” the data on which to base these goals, then analyze and track that data over years and months.

We “find” professional development opportunities that meet the needs of hundreds of teachers—both new and seasoned professionals with a variety of training and experiences—and provide these opportunities within the scope of the mere three half-day sessions provided each year.

We “find” ways to navigate, address, and communicate the conflicting philosophies of literacy instruction to ensure that thousands of students have their needs met and aren’t caught in the philosophical crossfire.

We “find” ways to help teams of teachers write curriculum documents reflective of an overwhelming number of standards in ways that keep students in mind but don’t force teachers to skip through curriculum to guarantee coverage.

We “find” ways to ensure that our students have authentic reasons to read and write in all disciplines.

We “find” ways to carefully guide new teachers who don’t yet understand why they shouldn’t ask, “What happens if I don’t teach the curriculum?” Then we “find” ways to mentor these teachers to ensure they have a positive powerful teaching experience and decide stay with the profession beyond their first few years.

We “find” and carefully read pages and pages of literacy research to ensure that our teachers and students have the most relevant and beneficial instructional resources boosting their learning.

I wish I had that moment with that teacher again. Without meaning to, she made my work clearer than ever.

Literacy leadership is hard work, but if it’s done right, it’s almost invisible. If it’s working, no one sees the magic happen.

Julie Scullen, an ILA member since 2005, is a teaching and learning specialist for secondary reading in Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota, working with teachers of all content areas to foster literacy achievement. She teaches graduate courses at Hamline University in St. Paul in literacy leadership and coaching, disciplinary literacy, critical literacy, and reading assessment and evaluation.

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