Actually, most of the literacy co-ordinators I know are sensible, well-adjusted and have lots of friends! But there are some things about the role that make it much more challenging than it appears to an onlooker.
For one thing, literacy co-ordinators often have a very wide brief. They are often (but not always) meant to ensure that every class in every subject helps to build student’s reading and writing skills. Even with the most willing staff, this job is too much for one person with a teaching load. Inevitably, literacy co-ordinators have to choose which curriculum areas and year groups they prioritise.
Another challenge is to navigate the many possible options for initiatives and interventions. Should the focus be on building a reading culture? On increasing reading mileage? On developing inference, contextual knowledge, response to text or decoding? Or ensuring that students encounter challenging texts in classrooms? Or building subject-specific vocabulary, or more generic, expressive vocabulary? What about extended writing? And how do we make sure that teachers are marking for literacy, and giving feedback? Come to that, do we even know how literate our teachers and LSAs are?
Then there is the depth of the challenge. Frequently, literacy co-ordinators are expected to match students with interventions, and for those students whose problems are severe, the required level of expertise is well beyond that of most teachers, who simply aren’t reading specialists. Couple that with the fact that most secondary reading interventions have limited impact with students a few years behind, but little or no impact for those with more severe problems, and it can be very hard to make a real difference for students in the greatest difficulty.
Once the literacy co-ordinator has defined the achievable limits of their role in the school, they have to set up systems, win staff buy-in, monitor and evaluate impact, and ensure that everything runs like clockwork. They tend to do all this on a time allowance of no more than fours a week, if they are lucky. I’ve talked to some who get no time allowance at all for the role.
So yes, in this sense, there is a loneliness for the literacy co-ordinator. The joy of the job is working with enthusiastic teams to change school culture. The loneliness of the job is when you are sat late at night working with spreadsheets or timetables, the rest of the family in bed, and the clock ticking towards Time to Get Up; or when you are sat in the Head’s office, explaining why the data doesn’t show much progress this year.
We’ve put together a workshop for literacy co-ordinators to help with essential background knowledge, practical strategies for managing the role, and ways to to derive maximum impact from dwindling resources. The aim is to give participants the chance to reflect, be inspired, and to talk to one another about what is working best and why. We will add to that mix with research evidence on why and how reading problems arise, what we can do to promote more effective reading and writing, and how to critically evaluate the claims of different interventions.
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