Principals as Literacy Leaders

APPA has released the research report, Principals as Literacy Leaders: Confident, Credible and Connected. The report is the result of a project initiated by APPA. It involved some 60 low SES Government, Catholic and Independent schools from the Northern Territory, South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland. Funded by the Australian Government, the project set out to identify specific capabilities needed for principals to be effective leaders in the teaching of reading in their schools. Clear was the fact that there is no turnaround in the achievement trajectory of students without the action of dedicated and talented principals. The evidence further showed that, while principals were able to resource improvement strategies for most children, the limited available resources could not always be stretched to meet the immediate needs of those who most require intervention. The challenge now is for government and systems to invest sufficiently in leadership development.

Principals as Literacy Leaders – 5,889KB PDF file

PALL Literacy Guides

The documents were developed by Associate Professor Deslea Konza of Edith Cowan University as part of the PALL Project. They have been extended by Pam Pearson and Sandra Easy, both principals in Queensland, with Professor Neil Dempster of Griffith University. They would like to share them with APPA members. Click on the link in each dot point to download the document.

The Principal as a Leader of Learning

The latest research in OECD countries demonstrates that successful schools are schools where the principal is a leader in teaching and learning. In my role as President of the Australian Primary Principals Association, I have been supported by an executive which recognises this fundamental and essential role of the principal. Consequently our association initiated a pilot project at the beginning of 2009 called Principals as Literacy Leaders.

The pilot is a joint venture with three universities; Australian Catholic University, Edith Cowan University and Griffith University. Each of the universities have taken the lead in developing five modules as part of a professional development program for principals.

There are 60 principals in the program from three states (South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland) and one territory (Northern Territory) with 15 principals involved from all sectors in each of these states and territory. In between the training activity, principals are supported by Literacy Achievement Advisors who are highly experienced principals who have retired and are now giving something back.

This pilot is an excellent example of the need for principals to not only lead learning but it also demonstrates that in order to do this, principals themselves must be learners. I am going to use part of this pilot project to provide the evidence from the latest research of the need for a principal to continue their own growth as a leader.

All principals need to have at the centre of their work a moral purpose that is shared and agreed to by their communities. There has to be a foundation for the direction and actions in a school. The moral purpose for our pilot project is to improve the literacy achievement of the students who are in the schools that are in the project. In order to do this, the pilot is designed to develop the capabilities of principals as effective literacy leaders. It is focussed on the need for principals to develop capabilities in both literacy and leadership.

For professional development to have an impact it must have a clear purpose. The research that looked at the question, ‘What makes an effective leader in learning?’ was carried out in five countries and the factors that were common from all this research are as follows:

  • A deep knowledge of learning.
  • Practical strategies to help teachers.
  • Evidence on which to base your actions.

In the area of literacy, we decided that reading was to be the key focus area as the ability to read was fundamental. The research identified 5 broad areas of development required for reading which are all underpinned by early literacy experiences. The big rocks in reading are:

  1. Early literacy experiences
  2. Phonological awareness
  3. Letter sound knowledge (phonics)
  4. Vocabulary
  5. Fluency
  6. Comprehension

The principals in this pilot project will be undertaking professional development activities which link the leadership capabilities with the literacy knowledge base. However, professional development only has an impact for principals if it leads to the improvement of student achievement. The key link in this pilot is how principals can engage their staff in analysing and reflecting on their teaching practice. Principals will be learning how to conduct disciplined dialogues with their teachers which start from an evidence base and focus on the work that each teacher does in a classroom. These dialogues are more than performance development because they require the principal to be an active participant and a learner in the discussion.

Professional development is not just a conference or a one-off activity where the principal goes off and engages in a learning activity although conferences and workshops do have a real place and purpose. The best professional development that can take place is what occurs on a daily basis in a school where people learn from each other and openly look at what is happening in the classroom now and what can be done to improve. Keeping up with all the latest knowledge is essential if the principal is going to take a lead in learning.

The feedback from the learning that is taking place with the principals in the Principals as Literacy Leaders project has been quite exceptional. Even at this early stage of the pilot, comments that have been received include, ‘I am now having very different conversations with my teachers’, ‘I knew I wanted to lead learning but I felt I didn’t have the knowledge and this program is excellent’, ‘My whole staff is learning together and it is great’.

I could add many quotes but what the pilot program has shown is the power of principals learning with their staff.

In conclusion, the latest OECD report considers that principals learning with their staff is a significant factor in schools that are successful.

If I can leave you with a challenge, it would be to reflect on how much learning you do with your staff.

Leonie Trimper   23 June 2009

This article, written for the PALL Newsletter for Luthern Schools Australia can be downloaded as a 61Kb PDF file.

The BIG 6 or Reading articles

anne_bayettoAs part of the APPA Principals as Literacy Leaders and Principals as Literacy Leaders with Indigenous Communities projects, Anne Bayetto of Flinders University was commissioned to develop a series of articles on each of the BIG 6 of reading (Oral Language, Phonological Awareness, Letter-Sound Relationships (phonics), Vocabulary, Fluency and Comprehension). All the articles are available to download.


Fluency is a key contributor toward independent and successful reading and is comprised of three components: accuracy, rate, and prosody (expression).
Download the article (354Kb PDF file)


Vocabulary knowledge is fundamental to being an independent and successful reader and writer and is comprised of the words that are understood when heard or read.
Download the article (393Kb PDF file)

Oral Language

Oral language is the foundation for the development of literacy skills and is considered to be a strong indicator of later reading, writing, and overall academic achievement.
Download the article (434Kb PDF file)

Phonological Awareness

Phonological awareness is an individual’s awareness of the phonological structure, or sound structure, of spoken words and is an important and reliable predictor of later reading ability.
Download the article (849Kb PDF file)

Letter-sound Knowledge (Phonics)

Phonics instruction is an essential component of a comprehensive literacy program because it is a high-yield strategy to draw upon when attempting to name words that are not immediately known.
Download the article (446Kb PDF file)


Comprehension is about understanding authors’ messages and responding to these messages in a range of ways.
Download the article (618Kb PDF file)

PALLIC Podcasts

As part of the PALLIC project a number of support materials have been developed. One of these has been the production of two videos by Anne Bayetto, a Lecturer in the School of Education at Flinders University, South Australia. View the video titled The knowledge that principals need to have to lead reading and The evidence that principals need to lead the planning for improvement in reading.