Leading Instructional Change through Division-Wide Professional Learning: A Study of the Implementation of READ in Three Elementary Schools

Author: ORCID icon orcid.org/0000-0001-5649-9267
Kapuchuck, Leslie, Administration and Supervision - School of Education and Human Development, University of Virginia
Beavers, Michelle, ED-EDLF Department, University of Virginia

This study explored how a division-prescribed literacy learning initiative, READ, was interpreted and implemented in three Title I schools within one school system and the influence of division leadership and principal leadership. Although all elementary schools were expected to implement the READ initiative, teachers’ instructional practices were not reflective of the division’s desired READ practices, signifying a discrepancy between prescribed learning and implementation of new knowledge in practice. This resulted in a comparison of professional learning practices endorsed in the literature with how the READ initiative was developed and implemented, including principal leadership practices as they navigated the initiative in schools.
Several bodies of literature were analyzed, including division-mandated reform, effective professional learning practices, and the role of school leadership practices in influencing teacher learning and instructional practice. The conceptual framework for this study was grounded in the theoretical and empirical research on best practice professional learning (Desimone, 2009; Darling-Hammond et al., 2017) and core leadership practices of school leaders (Fullan & Quinn, 2016; Leithwood et al., 2012). Leithwood (2012) used existing research to identify several core leadership domains, including setting directions and developing people. According to Leithwood et al. (2012), principals build a shared vision for new initiatives in their schools and cultivate the capacity of staff members to implement new instructional practices in alignment with school and division goals. How principals enact these core leadership functions impacts how teachers engage in professional learning that leads to implementation in practice.
This qualitative, multi-site case study took place between May and June 2022. Data collection included semi-structured interviews with division leaders and the principal of each school, teacher focus groups from each of the three school, and documents pertaining to the interpretation and implementation of the READ initiative, such as Annual School Plans, a division framework for learning, division video communication regarding the READ initiative, and other documents that surfaced during interviews and focus groups. This research sought to understand the division’s intended outcomes and approaches for the initiative and division support provided to principals and teachers to implement READ. It also explored how principals and teachers came to understand the division’s intended outcomes and approaches, and how they were enacting approaches in schools and the resulting outcomes and any barriers to implementation.
Study findings revealed discrepancies in how division leaders, principals, and teachers interpreted the intended outcomes and approaches of the READ initiative, even within the same school. Furthermore, there were inconsistencies in how each principal developed their capacity as well as the professional capacity of teachers and staff to implement READ. This variance was a significant barrier to successful implementation. Findings also highlighted transparent strategic planning, purposeful collaboration across the system, intentional collaboration among principals and teachers to implement new practices consistent with school and division goals, and ongoing differentiated support for principals and teachers as integral to implementing a new initiative at both division and school levels.
Resulting from these findings and drawing on the literature, I developed several recommendations for how the division can support school principals and teachers to interpret and implement a division-wide learning initiative within their schools. Although READ is a division-prescribed initiative, recommendations for principals are also highlighted. 1) The division should develop a collaborative, transparent strategic plan with clearly defined intended outcomes and approaches for the READ initiative at both the division and school levels. 2) Principals should align Annual School Plans with the division strategic plans, demonstrating alignment and focus on division priorities and monitoring of the impact on student learning. 3) The division should facilitate Principal Professional Learning Communities to foster principals’ capacity to lead and implement READ in schools. 4) Principals and teachers should be provided training on effective structures, tools, routines, and practices of PLCs to strengthen understanding of how to use Bridge to Practice and instructional planning sessions to cultivate principal and teacher capacity to move READ forward. 5) The division should identify and share with stakeholders an instructional coaching framework with goals and intended outcomes and hire instructional coaches for all elementary schools, building instructional capacity across the division.

EDD (Doctor of Education)
division-prescribed learning, implementation, professional learning, leadership
Issued Date: