Tennessee Educators Lead the Nation in Literacy Focus

Monday, October 18, 2021 | 03:02pm

Reflections from the Reading 360 Summit

By: Dr. Lisa Coons, Chief Academic Officer


The inaugural Reading 360 Summit resonates in my mind as one of the most powerful learning opportunities of my career. Listening to several Tennessee leaders in the sessions over the three day summit highlighted and reinforced the incredible literacy work that is occurring in across the state. I am incredibly humbled that almost 2,000 educators attended and shared the literacy focus on Tennessee that is occurring in schools and districts over the past 18 months. Social media has been filled with quotes, comments of appreciation, and the recognition that the Reading 360 work outlines the literacy accomplishments in Tennessee.

Launched in January 2020, the Reading 360 Initiative  provides a comprehensive focus on literacy improvements for educators, universities, families, and communities. District-facing strategies include early reading trainings for Pre-K to grade 5 educators and focused implementation networks to support district literacy improvements. Supports to districts also include Communities of Practice, implementation grants, and video models. Families have had the opportunities to order decodables and receive weekly text messages supporting literacy. Community partnerships for literacy tutoring will occur in Tennessee’s urban settings as well. Finally, a Tennessee Reading Research Center is launching this fall to analyze the focused work of Tennessee and study each of these initiatives and their impact on student achievement. The Reading 360 Summit was designed to highlight these efforts and celebrate the work of districts within Reading 360.


The Reading 360 Summit was designed intentionally. The conference began by reflecting on the success of the summer early reading training and the commitment of 11,000 educators; the presenters focused on how to support educators to implement the practices, protocols, and research learned. The panel focused on the neuroscience of the training and the importance of intentional foundational skills instruction. The conference sessions then moved to set Tennessee’s focus on literacy opportunities for every child and discussed the importance of access points that high-quality instruction materials provide that allow all children to have grade-level literacy opportunities every day.


On the second day, the conference focused on district and school leaders. District leaders spoke to their own vision-setting, building a theory of action, and equipping leaders and teachers with the knowledge and skills necessary to execute the plan of action. The district leaders described the importance of working shoulder-to-shoulder with school leaders to ensure a collaborative culture where leaders are chief learners to support growth in classrooms.


The final day defined the vital roles families and communities play in ensuring all children have strong daily literacy experiences. Community partners across Tennessee shared their focus on grassroots collaboration to connect with families and elevate the focus on literacy. The conference closed with discussions with education preparation leaders and their focus on growing our newest educators to use cognitive reading science when teaching children to read along with the importance of using high-quality materials as the foundation for instruction.


I am so thankful for the conversations, the chats, and the connections that were sparked in the Reading 360 community that were made over the three-day summit.


Our schools and our children are so lucky to have the educational leaders who have spoken, engaged, and shared their practice during the summit.  It is clear that our district leaders are creating a vision for success, ensuring the “why” is clear in the work, and that they are working shoulder-to-shoulder with their school leaders and teachers.


Sumner County’s Chief Academic Officer, Scott Langford, explained “principals need feedback just like teachers do” to Norma Gerrell, Director of Schools from Paris Special Schools, who reminded us that “you have to put faces with data and be transparent.” Our leaders truly shared how important honest and focused leadership is to improving literacy experiences for children. Clint Satterfield from Trousdale County encouraged school leaders to own their instructional changes, not just create buy-in. Hamilton County’s Yvette Stewart noted that school principals are the drivers of the bus. These leaders also discussed the use of Tennessee’s Instructional Practice Guide to dive deeply into the content, student learning, and actionable feedback that fosters growth in practice.


Haywood County’s Director of Schools, Joey Hassell, discussed the focus on all learners and reminded us that “just because a student is struggling to read doesn’t mean that they are struggling to think” and Rachael Cornett from Rutherford County asserted that “high-quality instructional materials level the playing field because all students are given access to rich instruction.” Jeta Donovan, the principle Early Reading Training course designer, explained “to teach our youngest readers to how to read, we have to understand more than just what reading is. We have to understand the processes behind it”. Instructional leaders, Carissa Comer from Putnam County and Shannon Tufts from Lenoir City Schools, shared the importance of key tools to support educators in implementing foundational skills including collaborative lesson preparation and focused clear walk through feedback and Penny Thompson from Lebanon Special Schools showed us that early literacy starts in Pre-K.


One of our community leaders, DeMarrus Miller from the Salvation Army advocated, “If a parent cannot read well, it is likely that their child will struggle as well” and StandardsWork CEO, Barbara Davidson, explained “we have a great opportunity here in Tennessee; there is nowhere else in the country with such a comprehensive and coherent approach to literacy instruction.” In the discussion around preparing tomorrow’s teachers to teach reading, Dr. Carolyn Strom from New York University explained “everything we do should be aligned to science and what we know about teaching reading. Our teachers need knowledge, skills, and mindsets to be successful.” And University of Tennessee Knoxville‘s Dr. Zoi Philippakos stated “if we teach students to break the code and understand the system of reading, we give them the opportunity to access a world full of knowledge.”


Recordings from all sessions will soon be available on Best for All Central. You will be able find these discussions and many other experts with empowering quotes, discussion points and strategies.  As a next step, I encourage you to watch these recordings again and share these with your colleagues and extend this week’s learning into your own district’s journey. Download the reflection guide and start a discussion and think about what is next for your school or district. 


My dear friend, Millicent Smith from Lenior City, reminded us that we have to get uncomfortable to change and improve our practice. So, I hope you get uncomfortable, see students in the data, own your change, and use neuroscience to ensure every child in Tennessee has high quality learning experiences every day, every week, every month, year over year!