Components of Local Literacy Development

Shared and Strength-Based Leadership

Shared leadership builds capacity to address literacy education efforts across a system (e.g. early care and education providers, elementary schools, adult education providers) and enhances ownership of the system’s common literacy goals.  Research has indicated that effective leadership is positively associated with improved student learning outcomes (Robinson, Hohepa, & Lloyd, 2009).  Further, effective leadership exhibits key traits—it is collaborative and strengths-based.  No literacy leader can act alone and expect any great measure of success (Lewis-Spector & Jay, 2011). Additionally, when an organization’s leadership fails to focus on the strength of its human resources, engagement is significantly diminished (Rath, 2008). Shared and strength-based leaders monitor and ensure equitable practices and collective efficacy within the learning system (Frey, Hattie, Fisher, 2018; International Literacy Association, 2019).  

Literacy leadership must incorporate a focus inside the school/organization as well as outside of it (Wallace Foundation, 2010). Those serving in leadership positions must be knowledgeable about the standards, instructional practices, and assessments that illustrate literacy learning outcomes for the specific populations and help to identify learning needs. Yet, this is not enough.  Literacy leaders must also be able to translate knowledge into instructional applications, to engage others in a common vision, and to garner support for transformational change (Lewis-Spector & Jay, 2011).  Strong leaders share responsibility for: 

  • establishing a shared vision for literacy education efforts within the system/organization;  
  • fostering creativity and collaboration in development of a data driven, comprehensive literacy education plan that identifies key strengths and needs; 
  • determining which variables (e.g., time, materials, and personnel expertise) the system/organization controls, and how to utilize those variables to fully support teaching and learning;   
  • addressing literacy learning needs with evidence-based, equitable and culturally responsive approaches;  
  • demonstrating collaborative commitment to the established vision by setting high expectations, monitoring progress in reaching goals, and recognizing successes.   

Finally, effective leadership is not the responsibility of one individual, but is distributed across multiple roles and stakeholders. Collective leadership significantly increases the likelihood of improved literacy outcomes (Lewis-Spector & Jay, 2011 and Eckert, 2017).  Shared and strength-based literacy leadership promotes cultures of literacy in which professionals actively network across age/grade spans and disciplines to employ up to date, evidence-based literacy learning practices that address the varied needs of learners (Sharp, Raymond & Piper, 2020). 

Key State Level Strategies 

  • Provide professional learning related to shared leadership for literacy education decision making (e.g. implementation science; collective impact; inclusion of educators, administrators, community partners; practices for supporting reflective practice and growth, etc.). 

  • Provide technical assistance for school units /communities as they engage in local literacy plan development. 

  • Convene and facilitate a literacy leaders’ network. 

  • Cultivate shared responsibility for literacy education efforts across positions and disciplines. 

Standards-Aligned, Evidence-Based Instructional Programming

Standards-aligned literacy learning should be learner focused, developmentally appropriate, culturally sustaining, and continuously improving. No comprehensive literacy plan would be complete without accounting for the role of rigorous standards and instructional programming aligned to those standards in PK – adult classrooms.  Standards define the knowledge and skills literacy learners should know and be able to do (Center on Standards and Assessment Implementation, 2018).  In a standards-aligned system of learning, standards hold learning as a constant while treating other traditional factors (e.g. time, location, instructional materials) as variables.  Standards: 

  • Set uniform high expectations and present clear learning goals for learners, educators, and families to achieve; 
  • Inform the development of resources to model quality criteria for meeting progressive developmental benchmarks; 
  • Provide a basis of equitable and culturally responsive and sustainable opportunities to learn;  
  • Provide consistent learning targets from which instructional programming can be developed to guide instruction;  
  • Bridge transitions for students across age/grade levels; and  
  • Inform assessment content to measure student growth and achievement.  


In a comprehensive literacy plan, there should be overlap and agreement among assessment, instruction and intervention, leadership, and standards and curriculum (Center on Standards and Assessment Implementation, 2018). Early language and literacy standards (Infant Toddler MELDS & MELDS) that guide learning from birth to school entry serve to provide a strong foundation for literacy development.  Maine’s English Language Arts/Literacy standards and the WIDA English Language Development standards emphasize conceptual understandings in literacy development rather than minute task-centered learning that often results in check-list instruction and assessment in kindergarten through graduation from high school.  Maine’s updated ELA standards embed expectations of digital literacy development.  Digital literacy is so critical to teaching, learning, and assessment that it is not called out as a separate strand but understood to be included in all aligned instruction.  

Evidence-based instructional programming draws from literacy standards to design a systemic approach to literacy development, with the students at the center of the experience. Well-developed, evidence-based instructional programming should be designed to support and direct deliberate instruction of the literacy skills needed to unlock the learning targets in every content area and assure both conceptual and skill development and content learning.  

Key State Level Strategies 

  • Build clarity in the difference between standards and curriculum, including promotion of strategies for aligning curriculum and instructional programming with standards.  

  • Create guidance and provide professional learning to help educators evaluate key components in literacy curricula (e.g. evidence-base, equity lens, culturally sustaining pedagogies, etc.). 

  • Provide models (e.g. Pre-K and K for ME) of literacy focused instructional programming that are evidence-based, comprehensive, and which integrate content. 


Multi-Tiered Systems of Support

Instruction is at the heart of comprehensive language and literacy development.  Explicit, systematic, and engaging, instruction helps children to acquire the variety of literacy knowledge and skills that will enable them to be productive citizens, workers, and family members. A third of US students fail to develop foundational reading skills necessary to succeed academically, and students with disabilities fail to develop these skills at higher rates than their peers without disabilities (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2014). Stakeholders have increasingly turned to the implementation of multi-tiered systems of support for reading (MTSS-R) with the goal of addressing this issue. MTSS-R is a framework for providing high-quality reading instruction for all students, identifying students needing supplemental or more intensive support, and providing these supports for those who need it (Gersten, et al., 2017). 

High-quality literacy instruction must: 

  • Include systematic, evidence-based, high-impact instruction in foundational literacy, language, listening, speaking, reading, and writing. 
  • Be inclusive, equitable, and culturally responsive. 

  • Be intentionally connected across all content areas. 
  • Follow a clear progression of learning standards across all age-spans and developmental levels from birth through adulthood.  
  • Be decision-based around the diverse needs of individual learners and informed by on-going observation and formative and summative assessment. 
  • Be engaging and purposeful, taking into account students’ interests, strengths and needs while also valuing out-of-school experiences. 
  • Consider the extensive communication needs of an evolving world that calls for expanded and equitable access to multiple forms of media and digital literacy. 


A Multi-tiered System of Support (MTSS) a systemic framework in which all students are supported with high quality classroom literacy instruction (Tier 1) provided by the classroom teacher. If, through monitoring and assessment, students need additional layers of support through Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions, these are added based on the practices that must be put in place to make each student successful. Layered interventions are strategic, directive, and consistently monitored to ascertain growth and changing needs of the learners.  A strong MTSS framework is comprehensive and designed to address the literacy needs of each student in the most inclusive and equitable learning environment. The framework is driven by strong leadership, policies and practices, family and community engagement, staff collaboration, and data-informed decision making. 



Key State Level Strategies 

  • Provide models of MTSS across the birth-grade 12 continuum that reflect developmentally appropriate practices related to literacy instruction.  

  • Provide technical assistance and professional learning related to tiers of intervention across the birth-grade 12 continuum, particularly targeting: 

    • Foundational literacy development in early childhood and primary years 

    • Writing across content areas 

    • High impact instructional strategies 

    • Strategies for students who are ELs 

    • Culturally relevant, responsive, and sustainable pedagogy 

    • Information literacy 

    • Target literacy development aligned to career goals 

Balanced Assessment Systems

A critical element of a comprehensive literacy plan is a well-defined assessment system implemented with integrity.  Assessment is an ongoing process that involves the use of multiple methods to observe learning, gather information, and make decisions to inform instruction and enhance student learning.  A balanced system accounts for multiple measures throughout a student’s experience without placing too much value on any one measure or one type of assessment. Assessments take different forms across the birth-adult span and may include not only academically based tools that measure attainment of literacy skills, but also physical and language development measures that help inform children’s overall development.  Assessments should be conducted in early childhood and school settings by educators but may be performed in other settings by professionals such as physicians, school psychologists, and speech and language pathologists. Assessments need to be reliable, valid, and aligned to literacy and language development targets, learning standards, and curriculum.  Academic assessments may be formative, interim, or summative and should be culturally responsive and sustainable. Evidence gathered from multiple measures can be analyzed to:  

  • Set learning goals for individuals as well as schools/agencies;  
  • Plan and refine instructional practices to meet learning goals;  
  • Set new goals and identify additional instructional practices to support goal achievement.  

  • Determine effectiveness of instruction;  
  • Monitor and document learner growth over time and progress in meeting goals; and  
  • Set new goals and identify additional instructional practices to support goal achievement.  


As part of a well-implemented MTSS, balanced literacy assessment systems should exemplify purposeful and timely data collection to inform decision making about individual students and program-wide curriculum. Universal screening and ongoing progress monitoring allow effective use of resources to improve student performance. This data, coupled with other formative measures, allows educators to monitor effective classroom instruction and problem-solve literacy challenges to determine and advocate for additional resources for students who require more targeted instruction and/or intervention to reach literacy/ELA benchmarks. It is critical to fully engage families and caregivers with strong and regular communication. Parents and caretakers must also understand the goals for data collection and be supported as they make meaning of the information provided.   

Key State Level Strategies 

  • Provide professional learning related to the design of comprehensive assessment systems that guide literacy learning and effectively communicate student growth among stakeholders and to parents and caregivers.  

  • Provide technical assistance and professional learning related to the use of assessment to inform ongoing, intentional instruction. 

  • Explore and promote strategies that support school, family, and community understanding and use of assessment data for documenting growth. 


Job-Embedded Professional Learning

Student learning is dependent on the quality of educators (Task Force on Teacher Leadership, 2001; Hirsch, 2009; National Staff Development Council, 2010), whether those educators are early childhood teachers and practitioners, PK-12 teachers, administrators, or literacy leaders. Ongoing and job-embedded professional learning is crucial to furthering all educators’ knowledge of literacy and language development, standards, curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices and their application of this knowledge to daily practice. Just as teachers strive to utilize authentic assessment, creation of personal and engaging learning experiences, and culturally responsive and sustainable pedagogies in their daily work with students, educators benefit from the same conditions for their own professional learning (ILA, 2018). Job-embedded professional learning should:  

  • be school or classroom based and integrated within the work day;  
  • be grounded in day to day teaching and informed by student data; 
  • build a culture in which continuous learning is considered an essential aspect of professional practice for multiple stakeholders;  
  • establish structures/opportunities (e.g. collaborative learning time) and secure positions (e.g. coaches, facilitators) that support job-embedded professional learning; and 
  • promote teacher leadership and ownership for ongoing professional learning.  
  • focus on evidence-based content appropriate to the age/grade span and linked to established learning targets and/or identified learning needs;  
  • enhance instructional practices to improve student learning; and 
  • be organized as a continuous cycle of improvement (Croft, et al, 2010).  

Although educators can engage in job-embedded professional learning on their own (e.g. self-study, self-reflection), formats which encourage social engagement among colleagues often provide richer and more engaging opportunities. Commonly used formats for job-embedded professional learning include teacher inquiry, case studies, coaching/mentoring, data teams, critical friend groups, examination of student work, and lesson study.   

A comprehensive literacy plan must include intentional, job-embedded, and outcomes-based professional learning. To make the best decisions about the focus of ongoing professional learning that will lead to improved language and literacy outcomes, data about children’s learning should be at the heart of the process.  Additionally, leaders should: 


Key State Level Strategies 

  • Provide guidance related to mentoring teachers (new and continuing) in literacy practices (instruction, assessment, etc.). 

  • Provide direct support, models, and resources for job-embedded, culturally sustaining, and continuous professional learning, including formats such as professional learning communities, coaching, teacher inquiry, etc.  

  • Cultivate partnerships with literacy education related professional learning providers (e.g. higher education; community-based agencies; regional education partnerships, etc.) to better connect schools and communities with professional learning resources.  


Supportive Family and Community Engagement

A comprehensive literacy system fosters a commitment to coordinating a shared vision for literacy learning, developed by families, educators, children, and a representative segment of community members. Comprehensive literacy systems result in well-articulated goals that enable children to develop strong language and literacy abilities.  Communication and partnerships must be fostered that connect community efforts at all levels along the birth-adult learning continuum to ensure culturally sustaining practices are incorporated in literacy programming. In a 2013 study, researchers found that family involvement is positively linked to children’s outcomes in preschool, kindergarten, and the early elementary grades. A preponderance of research confirms the link between family involvement and children’s literacy skills. In addition, parents with diverse backgrounds can respond to direct guidance and become more engaged with their children through literacy and math activities. When they do, their children increase their reading and numeracy skills, on average, more than children whose parents are operating on their own (Van Voorhis, et al, 2013).   These findings underscore the need for committed partnerships between families, learning organizations, and the broader community. 

Highly engaged citizens are the basis of a prosperous, sustainable, and equitable society.  Maine’s future is dependent on their success. Literacy and language development begin in infancy and is the underpinning of all future growth. Engaged families, and communities that recognize caregivers’ status as equal partners in their children's education and development, along with high-quality early childhood programs, provide the foundation for language and literacy growth during the early childhood years.  Weak early language and literacy skills have the potential to negatively impact later academic outcomes. Schools, as part of the literacy learning community, must be prepared to understand language and literacy research across the birth-adult span, to consider the impact of community demographics on literacy development, and to reflect on their existing capacity and resources to help foster relationships with families and community programs.  Literacy learning community partners across the birth-adult span must respect and celebrate the multicultural nature of their communities as part of the literacy learning experience.   

Leadership efforts must foster commitment for sustained collaboration across community literacy learning partners and dedicate time for ongoing professional learning to support partnerships. A supportive, collaborative environment will result in families and children who feel respected, connected, and engaged with partners in their learning communities (Michaels, 2011). The foundation for these partnerships must be data-driven and built upon evidence-based research. Partnership efforts should:  

  • Establish needs based on local, state and national data;  
  • Be inclusive and available to meet families where they are physically, emotionally, and mentally, maximizing both capacity and resources;  
  • Be seamless across and considerate of all developmental levels; and   
  • Result in sustained literacy improvement across all content areas and age spans. 

Key State Level Strategies 

  • Provide technical assistance and professional learning related to building culturally sustaining family engagement.   

  • Develop guidance for schools to engage community partners in literacy education efforts. 

  • Cultivate relationships with and promote the efforts of key literacy education partners across Maine, including development of tools for sharing initiatives, resources, and opportunities with the field.