How Can Academic Leaders Promote Literacy in Their Communities?

How Can Academic Leaders Promote Literacy in Their Communities?
Faltering adult literacy is a growing problem in the United States. Going by literacy rates posted on World Atlas just a few years ago, only 65-86% of total U.S. residents are literate, with only 15% able to read at a university level. The majority, according to the same numbers, can only read at 7th- or 8th-grade school level. Learn how academic leaders can promote literacy in their communities.

Low literacy among adults has been linked to a massive range of societal issues and thus requires addressing in as efficient and comprehensive a way as can be managed. Beyond educating low-literacy adults, however, this process crucially needs to include a focus on improving literacy among children, too. We know that it is difficult for kids who get off to a poor start in their reading and writing education to make up ground, which indicates that the best long-term approach to our literacy problem is improving how we teach our kids.

The question that follows is what role academic leaders can play in better promoting literacy in their communities. And there are some crucial steps that come to mind.

Expand Their Own Leadership Credentials

One interesting issue in educational systems in the past that is seldom discussed is a lack of opportunity for advancement past a certain point. Leaders of schools and school systems often attain their positions via experience and promotion but have little chance to actually undergo further training or certification for leadership positions. This remains a challenge for those who are interested, but the amplification of online degree programs relating to higher education has at least provided more options.

Now, it is possible for academic leaders to pursue additional credentials while on the job, or over the summer months. Maryville University’s overview for online doctorates in education leadership states that a degree of this nature can be earned in 1-3 years entirely online, providing interesting options for those pursuing more influence in education. As to how this factors into addressing the literacy problem, we’ll simply note that greater qualification empowers a leader. Someone in a position to run a school or school system will have a louder voice, greater connections, and often greater perspective on how to bring about meaningful change.

Set Up Plans Across Subjects

Regarding actual education plans, one common mistake in our approach to teaching reading and writing is the assumption that only activity in reading and writing classes matters. In other words, we should not think only of one or two periods in a day as the time in which children learn to read and write. Instead, educators and academic leaders need to remain mindful that kids also learn to engage with words through other subjects. A science workbook might ask for short written responses rather than multiple choice answers; math challenges can come in the form of word problems; even foreign language lessons can educate about grammar and sentence structure in English.

In addition to all subjects mattering, today’s academic leaders should also consider that different media matter. According to research analyzed by educators from the Universities of Queensland and South Australia, “engagement in literacy across many different media supported good literacy outcomes.” In other words, kids should engage with words through different subjects and different means, including print, writing, arts and crafts, screens, and more.

Implement Plans For Struggling Students

Another mistake that occurs in literacy education is failing to implement plans for students who struggle. Designing a comprehensive plan across subjects and media for effective education is a wonderful start. But it cannot be the whole effort. There will always be students who struggle even within a well-designed approach, and there also has to be a plan to help these students along. What that plan looks like will depend on the school system, the resources on hand, the nature of the child’s difficulty, and so on. But in the promotion of greater literacy, it cannot be assumed that a comprehensive approach will reach all students at the same rate.

Involve Families

It is also incredibly important for school systems to devise ways of involving parents in the process. As is noted in a piece on family involvement in literacy education posted on Medium, “families are students’ first teachers,” and remain central to education even once kids are in school. Now, this doesn’t mean that there will always be seamless cooperation between parents and educators; in some situations, it will be difficult if not impossible to involve families to a satisfactory extent. However, the same piece just mentioned that academic leaders start by opening lines of communication, holding regular parent-teacher conferences, hosting literacy events, and even providing parents with resources. Altogether this kind of effort will increase the odds of families taking active and productive roles in bolstering the promotion of literacy.

Set Up Opportunities Beyond the Classroom

Lastly, academic leaders would also do well to set up events outside of the classroom to further promote literacy. This can mean any number of things, but we’ll refer to the youth literacy program through Youth Transformed For Life that we’ve highlighted here before as an example. This program promotes both summer reading and greater equity in literacy education by reaching summer campers and primarily grade school students of color. It is again just one example, but it serves as a simple demonstration of how a single, well-run initiative can fill a meaningful gap in education, and help countless students along a better path toward full literacy in the process.

Through all of these measures, leaders in education have the opportunity to promote greater literacy education. Doing so will improve children’s abilities to read and write at desired levels, and ultimately result in greater literacy for entire communities.


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By Alicia Wilson

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