Key Takeaways from “Unsiloing Science: Connecting Schools and Literacy Researchers”

On June 29, 2021, The Windward Institute hosted, "Unsiloing Science: Connecting Schools and Literacy Researchers," a panel conversation with experts Akeela Azcuy, Ph.D., Manhattan Literacy Academy; Claudia Koochek, Head of Westmark School; Ben Powers, D.B.A., Head of Southport School; and Jamie Williamson, Ed.S., Head of The Windward School and Director of The Windward Institute.

In this webinar, leading school administrators examined issues of sustainability and scalability of school-based models that integrate the Science of Reading and supporting evidence-based practices. They addressed fundamental resources and the infrastructures needed for the application of the Science of Reading and evidence-based instruction, discussed collaborative efforts to build successful partnerships to further translate research to practice, and offered insights toward advancing the translation of research in school settings.

The panel of pioneering school leaders shared insights and lessons from their successes and challenges for advancing the translation of the Science of Reading in schools and navigating change to support teachers and students in every school community.

Here are five takeaways to consider for advancing literacy in schools:

1. Intense Focus on Evidence for All Children

Decades of evidence in research and data show the effectiveness of the Science of Reading (SoR) and supported instructional practices. Effective school leaders impress upon the fundamental necessity to incorporate research-based reading practices in every classroom.

“In conversations with school leaders, one disconnect I see happening frequently is that they only see this as a special education problem. You need to spend some time unpacking that data to show all of our kids can be positively impacted by effective instructional practices in reading.” - Jamie Williamson, Ed.S.

2. Commitment to Shared Knowledge

In addition to working with scientists and gathering research to implement in school settings, effective leaders are committed to sharing knowledge with institutions and across schools. Each leader discussed their experiences with a specific focus on leveraging research-based reading instruction in public school settings.

“One opportunity we've seen is to talk to district leaders to understand the challenges and… find opportunities to leverage things like the data they're already collecting.” - Ben Powers, D.B.A.

3. Deliberate Collaboration Through Partnerships

Partnerships with research institutions and other schools facilitate collaboration and shared ownership of research-based practices. Ben Powers and Claudia Koochek cited their work with researchers such as Haskins Laboratories and University of California San Francisco to broaden their understanding of the science while Akeela Azcuy discussed the importance of partnerships when establishing a public school for students with dyslexia in New York City.

4. Empowerment of Communities

Broadening stakeholder support is a key practice in building sustainable and scalable infrastructures in the dissemination of the Science of Reading and supported practices in schools. Strong leadership includes a focus on creating a culture of shared responsibility and efficacy by bringing together curriculum and instructional leaders, teachers, and families.

“I also think that it's important to continue to figure out ways that we can integrate families. That is part of the translational research and transfer of knowledge… how do we empower parents to understand the desired outcomes for their children?” - Claudia Koochek

5. Systems Approach to Equity and Access

Leaders across all areas of education must face the reality that the state of reading education most profoundly impacts marginalized and vulnerable communities. The entire system must be relentless in their pursuit to deliver the highest quality of reading education for all.

“In our pursuit to create the Manhattan Literacy Academy, we came together and coalesced around seeing there was a tremendous need in our public school system for evidence-based instruction… We saw how hard that fight is for parents and how incredibly taxing and debilitating it was for families to fight to get their children the intervention that they needed, especially for families of color and for low-income families. And so the question that our team tackle is this: How can we deliver culturally responsive evidence-based structured literacy in such a large system?” - Akeela Aczuy, Ph.D.