Making a Difference:
Literacy Leadership

It’s really one of the best tools that I’ve run across in demonstrating a lot of what an aspiring principal needs to learn.

John Russ

Educator, on the Literacy Leadership tool

When veteran educator John Russ retired after 28 years in the Jefferson County public school system, he didn’t stay out of the classroom for long.

In fact, the former elementary school principal spent only a month on what might have been his permanent summer vacation. Then it was back to school for him, but this time to teach aspiring elementary principals.

Russ teaches in the education graduate school at Louisville’s Bellarmine University, as well as in the principal preparation and mentoring program offered by Jefferson County schools.

“One of the pieces I focus on is literacy because it’s vital that kids coming out of elementary school are able to read and write well. And it’s a huge role of the principal to ensure that there’s a viable literacy program in his or her school.”

Enter the Literacy Leadership interactive learning tool, designed by KET in conjunction with the Kentucky Department of Education. Its message is that in order to improve student literacy, schools must improve leadership and instruction.

“It’s really one of the best tools that I’ve run across in demonstrating a lot of what an aspiring principal needs to learn,” said Russ, who recently began incorporating the program into his graduate-level course.

“As I began to look at the layout of the DVD, it hit all the areas that I was addressing in my syllabus for this class—using data, having meetings about the work that’s going on in the school, a shared vision of student results, supervision, professional development, using data diagnostically.”

Successfully preparing principals for the arduous task of leading schools is gaining national attention. On Sept. 15, KET airs the P.O.V. documentary The Principal Story, which presents a dramatic portrait of the challenges facing America’s public schools—and the great difference a dedicated principal can make.

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As a lead-in to the documentary, KET is airing Kentucky Principals: Leading by Example, a panel discussion with leading Kentucky educators. Among other topics, these educators and policymakers will discuss the leadership principles presented in KET’s Literacy Leadership resources.

“Literacy Leadership really gives weight to what I talk about in class—it provides context,” Russ said. “I can show a full video clip of a principal engaged in an activity with the staff and then talk about it, reflect about it. Why is the principal doing this? What are the implications? It reinforces some of what I’ve already presented and it enhances some of what we’ve talked about.”

As his aspiring principals listen to their real-world counterparts in the DVD, Russ maintains, they build a firm foundation that will hold them in good stead when they enter their own blackboard jungles.

“What they can do is embed this model in their mind for when they go to work in their own schools,” he said. “They’ve got a notion of what it looks like. The implications of the KET DVD go far beyond just literacy—it’s collaboration, it’s long-range planning. It really fits into the leadership continuum.”