How Oakland Literacy Educators Are Growing Together


Written by V. Châu

How Oakland Literacy Educators Are Growing Together

Q&A with Rebecca Anderson, Literacy Coordinator 

Scaling and changing curriculums is hard, but the model that Leading Educators used to train our coaches helped. We wouldn’t have been able to do that alone,” says Rebecca Anderson, a literacy coordinator in Oakland Unified School District (OUSD).

Rebecca Anderson headshot with cutoutFor the district, high-quality curricula presented an opportunity to ensure consistent access to challenging and evidence-based lessons across classrooms. Starting in the summer of 2020, Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) began a multi-year partnership with Leading Educators to develop a strategic literacy plan to strengthen the selection and implementation of new curricula, support uptake through professional learning, and foster broad stakeholder buy-in. The partnership concluded in 2023, and the district has continued to grow throughout this school year.

While many educators want this collaborative preparation and ongoing learning, it’s a departure from standard working methods that many school systems struggle to operationalize at scale. As a literacy coordinator, Rebecca supports a network of 16 elementary schools in making the shift. She and I recently spoke about OUSD’s journey.

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

How did the Oakland Unified partnership with Leading Educators start?

We were rolling out a highly rated but complex curriculum, EL Education, with 1,000 teachers at once. Working with Leading Educators allowed us to have two strands of PD to meet teachers at different points.

Some teachers had previously piloted EL, so they already had a deeper knowledge of it. With Leading Educators, we created a PD strand more specifically for those folks and literacy coaches. EL Education, the curriculum provider, also worked with our central office literacy team to help deliver PD to teachers who were brand new to the curriculum via Zoom since we were in the pandemic.

Leading educators helped us train our coaches who were already familiar with the curriculum to lead PD so that we could go deeper into the content knowledge and design principles behind the curricula and do that deeper, complex learning on a larger scale. Initially, we had a lot of resistance from our teachers, so we needed to build trust intentionally and hear them out.

How did the partnership evolve?

As we were going through implementation, once we realized a need, we would talk it through with Ashley and Amanda on the Leading Educators team, and they would create a tool for it or help us strategize a solution.

Because we have 50 schools, being able to send out a document or framework that anticipates needs and has vetted tools for principals is really helpful. Leading Educators’ parting gift to us was a website that had all of the session decks that we had created with them—not just the slide decks but also all of the objectives and the session plans for the PD—so we could replicate them and keep using them in the future.

We’re now sharing that with principals and coaches so that they have all those tools, not just in a drive but easily accessible online within our existing systems, and can more easily maintain this learning orientation.

It’s a big gift because other partners tend to be more protective about what they have created. It was a benefit to co-create with Leading Educators and then have a library of tools that will live on afterward.

What positive changes have you observed even after the partnership concluded?

This year, I see the coaching muscle growing. Even compared to last year, our coaches are better at giving teachers the right feedback at the right time and keeping it rooted in the curricula and best practices.

We worked with Leading Educators on creating indicators so that coaches could establish a norm for what to look for when they walk into classrooms. That will improve instruction and consistency across classrooms in the long term.

School systems and educators are busy right now. What would you say to someone who is skeptical about focusing on this kind of work?

Having the support of an external person helps us bring in resources and perspectives that we otherwise wouldn’t have. I appreciated that Ashley and Amanda were working with various school districts, so they were able to share knowledge from other places around the country. That’s a value add.

I think this partnership helped us slow down. As coordinators, we weren’t working at the last minute, putting together a deck the night before a PD day. Ashley kept us on a schedule. It’s helpful to have someone helping us define objectives, project manage, and ensure that we are developing the learning a month ahead of time so everyone can be on it to make sure it builds purposefully. 

Much of what we did with Ashley in our coaches’ training focused on coaching around specific instructional practices. Teachers don’t often get that kind of feedback and support on their work, and all the research says that coaching is what teachers need. Focusing on the right things in instruction and coaching will increase student outcomes.

What are you hoping to see as the district continues to move forward with its ELA strategies?

One of our California state leaders contacted us to say that we were one of the districts that maintained growth during the pandemic and didn’t decline. It takes a while to change a trajectory, but we’re making progress. 

I always want to see the test scores improve quickly, so I have to hold onto those moments when I really do see a lot of improvement in our process and our collaboration.

EL Education is a knowledge-building curriculum, so things will take a few years to take root. I’m hoping that two years from now, we will see a lot of reading diagnostic scores soaring because kids will build their knowledge and then be able to increase those scores over time. I have high standards, but I also recognize how much change was necessary to get where we are now.

Stay Engaged!

This interview is part of an ongoing series in which we chat with school and district leaders to shine a light on the most promising opportunities for systems change and the leaders who are making it happen.

OUSD is just one of a dozen partnerships across the country that are pushing the boundaries of what schools can offer students. Learn more about how we offer tailored support packages to help visionary districts, networks, and states go further faster.

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