Leading Literacy: Maura Ross, L&L’13By Jill Anderson
For Maura Ross, it’s difficult to name just one surprise from her year at HGSE. After all, there were many; “too many to list,” she says. “This year was such a treat!”
The Language and Literacy (L&L) Program student came to campus ready to better understand reading development and instructional methods from early childhood through high school, and what research suggests works in terms of literacy intervention programs.
“Maura came to the Language and Literacy Program full of questions about developing literacy, about struggling readers, and about supporting teachers. She has been a voracious learner, seeking out colleagues, mentor teachers, and instructors, to fulfill her goals,” says Lecturer Pamela Mason, director of L&L. “Along her quest she has challenged others to broaden their perspectives and deepen their learning, always questioning what is in the best interest of students.”
Ultimately, Ross wanted to apply what she learned in the program to her own work with students and teachers in low-income schools. After graduation, Ross will be headed to Washington D.C. to work as a literacy coordinator at DC Prep Benning Elementary School. “I’m excited to be joining the team of teachers engaged in literacy instruction to ensure all students who attend our school get an excellent education and are empowered readers, writers, and thinkers,” she says.
Upon learning that she had been honored with the Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award for L&L, Ross answered some questions about his time at the Ed School and beyond.
What is something that you learned at HGSE that you will take with you throughout your career in education? This is not new, but I saw it in a whole new light this year: teacher development is critical to improving outcomes for students. I saw this in research, class, and practice this year, and am more convinced than ever that we need strong leaders in our schools who are deeply committed to the development of their teachers. Without this strong development, we lose teachers too soon, do not cultivate the strengths in the teachers we have, and enter a cycle of turnover or apathy that is unproductive for adults and kids. In this process of teacher development, we need to build communities amongst our teaching teams in which vulnerability is welcomed and people get to know each other’s reasons for doing this work each day. In the pursuit of making safe and productive learning environments for our students, we should start by committing to that as adults with one another.
Is there any professor or class that significantly shaped your experience at the Ed School? Professor Nonie Lesaux’s class, Connecting Literacy Assessment with Instructional Improvement: Response to Intervention in Practice, gave me the framework with which to approach school turnaround efforts and think about exactly what information schools and districts are using to drive information for instructional improvements and also where data is completely missing from the decisionmaking. This class offered a realistic case study of a school in the midst of literacy reform and walked through the thought process any leader could use to determine what to do next to support that school’s progress. I was inspired by Lesaux’s clear and straightforward thinking about how schools can better use literacy data to drive decisionmaking, as well as how connected she continues to be to practice in schools and districts today. We were not talking hypothetical situations in her class. We were talking about what is actually happening, and what must change to see the growth in literacy learning our students so deserve.
What advice do you have for next year’s students going through your program? Ask questions. Imagine the students and teachers you worked with before you got to HGSE and investigate and learn on their behalf. There is so much great work to be done in literacy teaching and learning that will improve literacy rates across the country. The research is there, the examples of programs exists, and now we need people who get inspired by an idea and run with it in practice until all schools offer students the community to love reading, writing, and discussing all of their brilliant ideas.
What will you change in education and why? We need more leaders who know literacy instruction and literacy teachers who choose to lead. These do not need to change in formal positions, but the current divide between how we train teachers and how we train leaders has to change. We are failing to leverage the immense knowledge of our content experts in schools, districts and state initiatives, and at the same time, failing to continuously develop those content experts so they may move into meaningful leadership roles in which they expand the scope of their impact by supporting and developing others. I will develop myself to be that kind of instructional leader I believe we need more of throughout our school systems.