how to become a literacy leader

Are You Considering A Leadership Role?

Apr 18, 2021

Have you ever dared to think that ‘maybe, just maybe, I could take on a formal leadership role in a school?’

Just to be clear, by ‘formal leadership role’ I’m not just talking about principal class roles. I’m talking about any formal leadership role: team or unit leader, curriculum leader, PLC leader, leading teacher, learning specialist, etc.

If you’ve ever thought about it -even if it’s only been a teeny, tiny fleeting thought- I have some advice for you.

Leadership roles aren’t something you should start thinking about in term 4.

The work for a leadership role starts much earlier than the day the job gets advertised online.

Today’s post explores the work you need to be doing right now, if you’re even slightly interested in entertaining the thought of taking on a formal leadership role for the first time or stepping up to another one.


Familiarise yourself with the key selection criteria now

The criteria for leadership positions are usually very similar, if not exactly the same.

To prepare yourself for the application process later in the year, you need to get your head around the criteria now.

Read the current key selection criteria and think, ‘How would I answer that question right now? What experience do I have that fits under this question?’

Use dot points to jot your thoughts down for each criteria.

Don’t skip this step.

Yes, it’s hard and makes your brain sore, but trust me- you need to do this now to make sure you’re prepared later.

Now, here’s the deal about strong application writing: for each of the selection criteria you need to have at least one comprehensive example of how you meet the criteria. It’s even better to have 2: one for the written application and one for the interview.


Use the S.T.A.R. approach to application writing

The most effective way of providing a comprehensive example for each criterion is to use the S.T.A.R. approach:

  • Situation- What was the problem you identified in your class/school?
  • Task- What needed to be done/changed?
  • Action- What did you actually do to address the problem? Be specific!
  • Result- What was the impact of your work? How do you know? What specific data or evidence do you have of your impact?


Let me give you an example:

Criteria: Demonstrate how you’ve improved literacy outcomes.

Situation: It became clear to me that students in the year 3/4 cohort were disengaged with writing. This meant they were either reluctant to write, writing less or writing with little care or investment. This lack of engagement was one potential factor influencing our low student-growth data for writing.

Task: I raised the issue at the year 3/4 PLC meeting and brought along some examples of student writing surveys I had researched. Once teachers had surveyed their students, I lead a discussion on analysing the student responses using a data discussion protocol. Through their responses, students were telling us they wanted much more choice in their writing.

Action:  Having completed the Oz Lit Teacher’s ‘Teach Writing with Confidence’ course, I was aware of the benefit of using a writer’s notebook to inject more student choice in writing. I engaged in further reading on writer’s notebooks and then ran a mini-workshop on them for my peers. As part of this, I organised for a year 5 teacher from our school to come and share their writer’s notebook examples and experiences. All of the teachers in the 3/4 unit committed to trialling the writer’s notebook and I provided them with links and resources to help them do this. I lead a weekly check-in with teachers, where notebooks were brought and discussed.

Result: After trialling the use of writer’s notebooks for a whole term, students redid the writing survey. The data was overwhelmingly positive with 98% of students saying they now liked writing (as opposed to only 65% in the first survey). What students were asking for had changed too- they were no longer asking for more choice; instead they were asking for more time to write! As a result of the investigation and trial I led, the year 3/4 unit committed to continuing the use of the writer’s notebook and the leadership team asked our unit to present the concept to the rest of the staff to become a whole school approach.


Tips about effective S.T.A.R. responses

Tip #1

The panel want to know what your role in the change was (not your team’s role) so don’t be afraid to use strong verbs that start with ‘I.’

In the example above, I have used: I lead, I organised, I raised, I engaged, I provided.

This helps the panel know exactly what MY skill set is (as opposed to the skillset of my team).

(You can read another blog post I wrote about this here: Bad leadership advice for women.)


Tip #2

Evidence and data trumps gut feelings.

Where possible, ensure you have hard data to measure and prove the impact of your change.

Remember, as I always say: data is not always numbers.

In the example above, I used student survey data (numbers) to prove the change had been effective. You should consider all types of evidence: observations, attendance, amount of student writing, quality of student writing etc.

The more specific you can be when you say, ‘this was the pre-data and here is the post-data,’ the more convincing you’ll be to the panel. (Besides, it’s just good practice to know your impact).


Identify criteria to work on

The whole point of looking at the criteria now (well before you want to apply for a leadership position) is to identify specific areas to work on between now and when you apply:

  • Which criteria don’t you have comprehensive S.T.A.R. responses for?
  • Which responses are weaker than your others?
  • Which questions do you lack data or evidence for?

Use your answers to these questions to guide how you spend the next 6 months of your work. Focus your energy on things that will help build your application (and therefor your leadership skills).

E.g., If you need a clearer response for how you've lead others -instead of doing all the work yourself- you now have a good 6 months to work on building someone else’s capacity so you can use this as an example in your leadership application (and, of course, so you can help empower them to be their best- which is what effective leadership is all about).


Final words…

The good news is that while you’re working on plumping your key selection criteria responses, you’ll also be building your self-belief and confidence as a leader.

So, even if you aren’t 100% sure if leadership is for you, you’ll have a much better idea by the time the jobs are posted online at the end of the year.

You’ve got this!


I’d love to know which part of leadership worries you the most? What’s holding you back from applying for a formal leadership position? Share your thoughts over on the Oz Lit Teacher Facebook page.

When I was applying for my primary school principal role, I was super worried about all the finance management. (Of course, once I got the job, I quickly realised that that part of school leadership was the easiest bit- it was the people leadership that was the hardest…but that’s a post for another day...)



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