How Literacy Leadership Influences Student Learning

Reading Plus

School leaders have the power to cultivate a culture of literacy and keep both teachers and students engaged in effective literacy instruction.

A literacy leader creates a culture where teachers are empowered to provide personalized instruction to meet each individual’s needs, and students believe in their abilities to improve as well as develop the intrinsic motivation and passion they need to become lifelong learners.
According to
a study conducted by the Wallace Foundation, “leadership is second only to teaching among in-school influences on student success.” The researchers found little evidence of academic success in the absence of effective school leadership. 

Additionally, research shows that, when schools and districts place a high priority on literacy development, students achieve higher levels of overall academic success. Principals and district administrators have a responsibility to develop a culture of literacy to promote independent reading in their schools—and, in turn, improve overall student performance.

So, what can you do to promote a culture of literacy among students and educators? 

6 Steps to Become a “Literacy Leader” 

1. Create a literacy plan

The acclaimed author and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once stated, “ a goal without a plan is just a wish.” He was right! These words are especially true if you are trying to achieve literacy goals in your building or district. Achieving your literacy goals requires an intentional and strategic implementation plan—especially if a large number of your students are reading well below grade level. 

Develop an overarching literacy plan that clearly communicates your vision and mission to educators, parents, and students. As you plan your literacy initiative, consider research-backed solutions that develop reading skills for both proficient readers and those students in need of interventions.

2. Give your students choice and voice

Offering students’ choices about their learning increases motivation, engagement, and overall academic performance—and choice and control during reading instruction is especially important. 

In a study of more than 140,000 students, researchers found that students who reported higher levels of interest and confidence in their reading abilities also achieved significantly higher levels of reading growth. Therefore, the reading development program you choose for your school or district should take into account the passions and interests of readers. student-choice-and-voice

3. Meet each student’s needs through differentiated instruction

Differentiated instruction is a student-centered approach to teaching that is designed to address the needs of all learners, regardless of their backgrounds or skill levels. By adapting instructional approaches to meet the needs of the individual learner, educators can improve reading achievement across the entire student population. 

Incorporate differentiation into your literacy plan to effectively address the variations in reading achievement across the student body.

4. Emphasize evidence-based strategies and tools

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), school leaders are incentivized to prioritize evidence-based instructional tools and strategies to increase the impact of educational investments on academic achievement. Similarly, the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC), established by the Institute of Educational Sciences, uses tiered, evidence-based methods to evaluate the effectiveness of instructional programs. 

Any literacy development tools or strategies you put into place should be backed by extensive efficacy research and proof of their impact. Rather than funnel your budget into literacy interventions that you aren’t certain will work, choose a literacy intervention grounded in evidence. 

Strong-Evidence-for-ESSAReading Plus received an ESSA “Strong” rating for its research demonstrating a significant impact on reading proficiency.

Reading Plus was found to have a positive, research-based impact on student achievement under WWC’s standards as well. 


5. Implement your literacy program with fidelity

Choosing a strong, evidence-based literacy intervention program for your school or district is an important first step in your literacy plan. But to actually achieve your literacy goals takes another critical step: You need to use the program as intended—with fidelity—to ensure maximum results. 

To increase fidelity and ensure a successful implementation of the reading program, you will need to:

  • Offer professional development for teachers to learn how and why to use the program
  • Provide teachers with the resources and ongoing coaching they need to use the program effectively
  • Continuously monitor student, classroom, building, and district performance data, and
  • Adjust the literacy plan as needed to stay on track toward expected growth outcomes. 

Reading Plus provides extensive professional development resources, tailored implementation support, and rich, actionable performance data for both teachers and administrators. By using data to drive literacy instruction, school leaders can accelerate student reading growth with Reading Plus. 


Motivating students to take an active part in their own reading development—that is, developing intrinsic motivation in readers—is one of the most difficult tasks every literacy instructor faces. School leaders can help motivate students to read by employing district- and building-wide contests that reward students for reading.