Episode 40 - LEAD on READ: Kristen Wynn and Literacy Leadership in Mississippi
About Kristen Wynn
Kristen Wynn’s service in the field of education spans 15+ years. She is committed to ensuring equitable access for all students to effective literacy instruction, highly-qualified teachers, and high-quality instructional materials. Her experience in the classroom includes teaching 1st and 2nd grade, as well as serving as a Kindergarten through fifth-grade Intervention Specialist. She has also spent several years as a new teacher mentor.
Ms. Wynn previously served as a literacy coach for the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE), a Regional Literacy Coordinator, an Assistant State Literacy Coordinator, and currently serves as the State Literacy Director, where she has worked diligently to improve literacy outcomes of schools and districts across the state of Mississippi. She is the co-creator of the “Passport to Literacy” and “Passport to Literacy Boost” PreK-2nd grade literacy professional development training for teachers.
During the 2016-2017 school year, she co-produced the MDE’s Literacy Focus of the Month in Action instructional videos featuring literacy coaches and students in Mississippi classrooms. During the 2017-2018 school year, she began working with coaches to increase the rigor and consistency of writing instruction in kindergarten through sixth grade classrooms through the development and implementation of Writing Galleries. Currently, she serves as a member of the Mississippi Reading Licensure Task Force, the Mississippi Reading Panel, the Higher Ed Literacy Council (HELC) and the Governor’s Task Force for Teacher Preparation in Early Literacy Instruction.
Kristen is the wife of Detective David Wynn II and the mother of three wonderful children, Braxton, Parker, and Baylor.
Danielle Scorrano: [00:00:00] Hello, READers across the world. Welcome to the Research Education ADvocacy Podcast for all of our READers across the world. We're actually recording on our podcast platform audio and on video. So I'm feeling a little nervous right now. I want to introduce my co-host to you, but you all know that READ connects you with prominent educators, leaders, thought leaders, researchers across the world who share their work, insights, and expertise on the current research and best practices in education and child development.
And this is a special series LEAD on READ. I am joined with my co-host Jamie Williamson, our Head of School at The Windward School and the Executive Director of The Windward Institute. Jamie, I have all this energy. Welcome.
Jamie Williamson: Yeah, no, me too. I'm excited to be here. Thanks for having me. And thanks for letting me pull in a wild idea to join you and do a little special edition of this podcast. So yeah, very excited to be here.
Danielle Scorrano: Me too. And actually, we had a lot of great feedback from our last episode in December, and we are joined on Zoom [00:01:00] by, I said in the lot in December that you are my friend, Kristen, because when we first met, it was just this in instant connection. So for all of you that are on video, you can see Kristen Wynn. But for all of you that are listening, we are joined by Mississippi State Literacy Director Kristen Wynn. Welcome.
Kristen Wynn: Thank you for having me.
Danielle Scorrano: Before we introduce you, Kristen, and get into our series, I want to remind our READ listeners about the LEAD on READ Podcast. It's a four-part series focused on leadership where Jamie and I explore the central question, what does it mean to be a leader in education right now?
So, Jamie, before we talk to Kristen, I want to know, how are you coming to this as a leader in education? We just had an almost snow day. Yeah. And for all the people outside of New York or the tri-state area where it starts to snow, having that is a pretty difficult decision. So where are you showing up?
Jamie Williamson: You know, well one, I was so excited to engage this side of the conversation. In my work, there's so many [00:02:00] things I have to do in my day that feel fun, energizing, engaging. Like today I spent some time in a math classroom watching our fifth graders learn how to divide. So those kinds of things charge me up. And I really enjoyed that experience. But really, you know, I think the last two and a half years, three years have been really hard for education. Period. We've been in some times of a lot of uncertainty, a lot of stress. And I think it's been a really hard time to lead through this process too.
And as we think about looking forward, trying to kind of make sure we're lifting up some stories of leadership. Because there's been so many great conversations about literacy in this country. And when we, when we hear and, and, and find out about things happening across the country, you know, trying to kind of take a moment to really not just unpack the research that goes into it, which I think you do such a great job of on READ and bringing some researchers’ voices to the table, talking about all those great things we need to be focused on.
But wanted to kind of add in this component of the leadership side of this because to do the work that you, Kristen had been doing for the last couple years done in Mississippi. You know, while [00:03:00] it's taken a lot of research and a lot of great, kind of support there, there's also been a lot of great leadership that's been happening along the way.
So I really wanted to get a chance as if you're a superintendent or principal or a parent or a teacher sitting out there today listening. You know, I started to think about, how do we start to break down this work, and really move through a really complex process. And so kind of pull back the curtain on what some leadership pieces around that look like. So I'm coming this today with a lot of enthusiasm and a whole lot of excitement about leadership with a really, a big smile to have a chance to engage you again, Kristen. And so, and really, you know, just do some fun, have some fun conversations today.
Danielle Scorrano: I think Jamie now invited himself to be your best friend as well.
Jamie Williamson: Hopefully you'll have me.
Danielle Scorrano: Yes. So, for those of you that have been listening to the READ Podcast for a while, Kristen was a guest in 2021 where we talked a lot about Mississippi's state literacy policies. She was also a 2021 community lecturer, and I am going to ask you how you're feeling, where you are in the world, Kristen, but I do want our READ [00:04:00] listeners to learn more about you as I read your bio. I feel a little bit like a newscaster when I have this, right? So a little bit more about Kristen Wynn.
Her service in the field of education spans 15 plus years. She is committed to ensuring equitable access for all students to effective literacy instruction, highly qualified teachers, and high-quality instructional materials. Hmm. That just feels so energizing. I know that your work is such a testament to all of this.
Her experience in the classroom includes teaching first and second grade, as well as serving as a kindergarten through fifth grade intervention specialist and a new teacher mentor and literacy coach. So this is where we get into the leadership. So your leadership, her leadership, spans across the Mississippi Department of Education as a regional literacy coordinator, an assistant state literacy coordinator, and now serves as the state literacy director In these roles. She has spearheaded numerous programs in curriculum and professional development, all focused in the science of reading.
And [00:05:00] currently Kristen serves as a member of the Mississippi Reading Licensure Task Force, the Mississippi Reading Panel, the Higher ed Literacy Council, and the Governor's task force for teacher preparation in early literacy instruction. Above all that, Kristen is the wife of Detective David Wynn II, and the mother of three wonderful children, Braxton and Parker, and Baylor.
So, Jamie and I are eager to learn more about you. Kristen and Jamie will start a little bit more about your leadership story, but I just want to know how you are showing up with us today from the state of Mississippi.
Kristen Wynn: Oh, well we are busy, busy in the state of Mississippi. I think we spoke earlier about we are just wrapping up our Winter Literacy Association conference we do on a coast each year, and we had a record number of teachers that turned out; about 594 teachers and leaders showed up. And so it was a really, it was a packed conference, and I was just really excited about going [00:06:00] from session to session and listening to the presenters and participants.
And our focus was around teachers and leaders being superheroes, you know, like that, that's our thing. We're superheroes, uh, or we're looked at as superheroes. And so, um, we really focused on making sure that we had a common language around the science of reading. So we just wrapped that up on Friday. And so I'm back here in the office working.
Danielle Scorrano: Very great. Jamie, I know you're eager to know about Kristen's leadership story.
Jamie Williamson: Absolutely. You know, I, I love the idea of storytelling and thinking through the process of how do you kind of capture a little bit of that journey that you've been on here. And also, I, I remember from my early days before I kind of was in a position of leadership, but trying to kind of lead from my own position where I was, I was a school psychologist in a public school.
I didn't have anyone who reported to me, right? I had no direct supervisor to supervisees. But I was trying, I had a lot of things I was trying to kind of move in the building. So [00:07:00] I really learned to kind of spend some time thinking about that relational aspect of leadership versus the positional authority aspect.
And then when I became a principal program, I just remember, you know, I, I didn't see myself in that way and someone had kind of nudged me in the direction of applying for a job. And so I'd love to hear about how did you get your start in leadership and did someone inspire you to kind of take that first step forward and kind of see yourself as someone who was as, as well capable of leading others.
Kristen Wynn: Yeah, that's, that's a great question. So, I was similar to your story, Jamie, honestly, looking back, I believe that I always had the traits of a leader. Like you know, people just naturally flock to you and people just naturally follow your lead. But I believe those traits were cultivated or were not cultivated until I moved into the role of a state literacy coach.
So when I went from the district level, administrative [00:08:00] role to moving to the state level, that's when I felt like, my leadership traits were really cultivated. When I moved to the state level as a literacy coach, I received training that really helped me to develop out those traits. And I was also placed under the, I'll say apprenticeship with two dynamic leaders, Dr. Tenette Smith. And at the time our state leadership director was Dr. Kymyona Burk. And they really pushed me. So, you know, a lot of times we don't see certain, certain things in ourselves that other people see in us, and so they really pushed me. And then with the development of my leadership traits, we did a lot of professional learning around The Rise of the Coachable Leader, if you've ever read that book by Thomas Crane and the Heart of Coaching.
So in essence it was around coaching, but I didn't know at the time that out as I was [00:09:00] receiving this training around The Rise of a Coachable Leader and then The Heart of Coaching that all of that was going into my purpose and, and developing out those gifts and talents, and those natural abilities that we have.
And so as I moved from literacy coach and then I was asked to be, at the time a regional coordinator and I was like, okay, so now I have 5 to 10 people that I'm responsible for. And so I did that really well. I learned a lot from doing that. And then I moved into assistant state literacy coordinator. And when I did that, then it becomes coaches and regional coordinators are under you. And I think when I got in that position, it really showed me another side of leadership, the managerial side of leadership. You know, I had the instructional, the lead learner, the instructional management side, but then you start seeing where you having to deal with personnel issues and budgets and different things like that.
And [00:10:00] then I transitioned to state literacy director, and now I'm leading the state's initiative, but I also have coaches and then the regional coordinators and my assistant state coordinators that are under me, in addition to all of the others. So I think for my story began when I shifted roles into moving into the state level, because I always saw myself as a person that, or at the district level that got the things done. So I was labeled as, you know, we're going to give you this additional responsibility because you get it done. And not knowing that those were, that's the leadership trait that's cultivated because, you know, I always believe that, we can say things or we can write out a good plan, but until we put action behind it, then that action gets the change and results that we're looking for.
Jamie Williamson: Thank you. Thank you. And I, I think you're absolutely right. I love this notion of, of commitment to plan, the idea of cultivating that in [00:11:00] others. And I'm so glad you had some people who helped cultivate that in you. Because I think we often forget about, you know, the idea of, you know, there, there are some natural components that come with leadership, but there's also a whole lot of work that needs to happen to kind of really not just have those things where people want to listen to you or follow, but also how do you think about sort of always perfecting your craft or sort of growing yourself as a leader to make sure you're just as engaging as you can be and trying to move some big things along. So thank you for sharing that story. I really appreciate that.
Danielle Scorrano: I agree. I think what I hear from you, Kristen, is that leadership has to be cultivated. And I love that approach to it in the growth mindset particularly what Jamie had said about having others, almost as examples for you and those that could model their leadership, and then you could find those traits that you could cultivate.
I also heard this element of through line of a learning mindset in this initiative, and to me those are traits that any rising leader or leader now can continue to cultivate. And as you sit now, one of the [00:12:00] questions that Jamie and I have been asking ourselves is, what does it mean to be a leader right now?
And we talked about this in our last episode. For Jamie. I think it's navigating ambiguity. You spoke a lot about that in our December episode. I talked a little bit about integration, whether it's integration of tensions or stories. This element of paradox always comes to me personally and how I've sort of applied it to leadership is you might hear something like polarity mapping.
And so we both came to it a lot with this term of integration. Yeah. And so for you, is there a word or phrase that comes to mind when you think of the big question? What does it mean to be a leader right now?
Kristen Wynn: Sure. Big question.
Danielle Scorrano: Weighted question. Yeah.
Kristen Wynn: Yeah, that's, that's the loaded question, but it's, it's a simple one for me too, because I feel like right now as a leader, the big word for me is flexibility, as well as [00:13:00] relationship building are key in leadership right now. And I feel like the pandemic really challenged us to think outside the box in developing our strategy as well as making sure that we were being sensitive as leaders to the mental health needs of our staff.
So it really caused us to, when I think about this, to really be flexible in our approach, we had to keep, continue to keep the expectations high, but then we had to change some things and then we have to think about some things really strategically, and progressing forward in the work really caused for us as leaders to be flexible, to be innovative, forward thinkers and never complacent. So you can't get into the mindset of complacency. Like, we have these great outcomes that we see as leaders, and that's it. We've arrived. You hadn't arrived. And if you have, I've [00:14:00] already heard from a mentor, from an older person always tells me, if you feel like you've arrived at a certain, in a certain role as a leader, then it's time for you to go home.
Danielle Scorrano: Mm-hmm. . Yeah.
Kristen Wynn: So, you know, always never being complacent. Flexibility in this time is essential. As a leader, sometimes we can't, you know, how we've done things over the years, we can't continue to do them in this climate and culture that we're in. As leaders, we really have to be innovative in how we're forward thinking and thinking about what's to come. And so you said one word. I probably gave you like three,My biggest one, flexibility.
Danielle Scorrano: As you're talking, flexibility, relationship building, but also this concept of mastery, have either of you read the book, The Rise by Sarah Lewis, Dr. Sarah Lewis?
Kristen Wynn: I have not.
Danielle Scorrano: Okay. We're also here taking copious notes. Write it down. Okay. [00:15:00] I don't remember the exact quote and I wish I had the book because it's become this like reference all the time, but she says that mastery is, it's continuous. It's not ever changing. So she calls it this continuous pursuit, that it's lifelong and that it's never ending. And she goes into the story about the Columbia Archery team, which is fascinating. And, you know, we eventually will have to talk to her. Maybe the three of us could have an interview with her after we all read this book. Maybe like a book club. But that’s what I hear. I hear this story of leadership that is never ending. You’ve never arrived. And I love that about the concept of mastery that pertains to leadership.
Jamie Williamson: Yeah. I always draw on Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, which looks at intrinsic motivation. And the three pillars he lays out are autonomy – some choice in your actions, this idea of purpose – knowing the why behind it. But then last but not least, is this idea of developing mastery. So can you see your progress? And, you know, and, and I think one of the things I love to talk about is this [00:16:00] idea of, you know, the fact that I don’t see myself as an expert. I have expertise, but when I say I’m an expert, that means I’m done. I’ve hit the end of that road. And for me, that is a never ending journey. And so I try to show up every single day to be a little better than I was yesterday and maybe last week, but that’s where my growth as a value, really kind of gets on display. And it can be exhausting for those around you.
Kristen Wynn: Yes, it can.
Jamie Williamson: You know, people in my family. But it’s, but I do think from a personal standpoint, it’s really important to keep that, that notion moving and always thinking about this as an unachievable actual destination we’re trying to reach.
Kristen Wynn: My staff tells me sometimes to your point, we need you, boss, to put the idea fairy on the shelf for just the moment to get this done. Like let us get this, and then you can take the idea fairy back off the shelf. So they have to remind me because sometimes your wheels are spinning and you’re trying to be a problem solver all the time.[00:17:00] And you’re coming up with the next, you know, thing and you know, you have to really, you know, take a step back and receive that feedback. And that’s the leadership trait too. You know, receive the feedback from those that you lead.
Jamie Williamson: You know, my idea fairy, I call it the what if game. And I like to have a lot of iterations and kind of really think through that. So I may have to borrow your idea fairy. I love that. But I do have to put mine on the shelf as well, or in the box, or locked in the basement somewhere where I can’t kind of get it. But you, you started to touch on this idea of problem solving and I think, you know, one of the things for me as I love problem solving. I’m a psychologist by training, so I spend a lot of time in kind of a problem solving paradigm, thinking through how do you define the problem really clearly and measurable and observable terms. So when I think about your work in Mississippi and, you know, and the data that you saw on the NAEP right? Some, you know, decades of challenges around the NAEP scores, and I think it was pretty clear that Mississippi was struggling in a lot of different areas, but sometimes the idea of identifying the [00:18:00] problem and helping people see the problem versus telling them the problem, right? Like when I look at our NAEP scores nationally, I think, how are people not angry about this? But the reality is people see the data and they go, oh, and they go back to their lives, right? So helping people kind of find a way to help your state or your Department of Education kind of really see the problem in a way that allows them to kind of, kind of activate that. How did you go about helping them see that problem when you were started working on this literacy work?
Kristen Wynn: For us, we’re looking at now the pandemic, kind of created that narrative for us to see the problem on a different scale.
Jamie Williamson: Mm-hmm.
Kristen Wynn: And then I would have to say we continued the strategy, but the strategy we use to get where we were in 2019 is a strategy we continue to use, to get the results that, that you just saw in 2022. The [00:19:00] difference is that how we kind of change that narrative and identify some things are, you know, within that four pillar strategy that we have. What are some areas that we need to shore up? Like where is the data pointing? So I’ll give you some examples. So we still have a shared vision of literacy, although we have four key pieces of legislation. But what we saw was the need for additional dyslexia awareness training. So in ‘21, we added our dyslexia legislation for our Early Learning Collaborative Act, that was a part of our shared vision with our four key pieces of legislation. We went from serving 16 or having 16 sites of early learning collaborative, which, a collaborative is our pre-K, public, pre-k, our childcare center and a headstart could be a collaborative. We went from 16 in [00:20:00] underserved areas to now we have 32. So, you know, you saw the need, you feel the need, and but you don't change the strategy, if that makes sense.
When we're looking at developing a common language, which was another one of our strategies, we continued to offer science or reading training, but now we saw, what we saw in our schools is that we understood the science, but the application was the issue. So now we've focused our, our science of reading application and science of reading training on more of application and then training our leaders because that became a barrier, and we added adolescent literacy training to that.
So we keep this developing a common language strategy, but now you added, you strengthen your science of reading training to become more application driven. We have adolescent literacy training because we know our 4-8 students were so strongly affected by what happened [00:21:00] after 2019. And then we went into our coaching, which is part of our initial strategy.
But we saw that just having literacy coaches wasn't enough. So now we are moving to this digital age, so we added digital coaches and our MTSS coaches because we had more students populating our tier two and tier three. And then our supporting our families and partners were our, was our fourth strategy. And what we did was looked at the need to move those regional nights hosted at the state level earlier. So we felt like, or we felt as if it would be better served if we met with parents early on in the school year. Like they, instead of waiting like a waiting model, we wanted to meet with them before the first screener window closed.
So we hosted our regional nights that were open forum. We had those across the state. We do them at the state level and we [00:22:00] partner with districts and we have a presentation we do for parents. For us, I think Jamie, really, we still kept the main theme, but we added some more to it. So I feel like we moved to like the 2.0 version of what we were doing in Mississippi to continue to get those particular results.
Danielle Scorrano: Thank you. That's so interesting. As you were talking, I noticed this, again, this through line. You're staying consistent with your language and you're staying consistent with your programming, but you're continuing to elevate based on the problems that you're identifying, right? So when I think about the science of reading and how you identified that knowledge was there, application just needed to be addressed more.
I'm returning back, and I'm not sure exactly if this captures it, Kristen and Jamie, maybe you could help me think about this, but I just want dig deeper. It seems to me that you are reconciling the tension of maintaining that forward thinking while [00:23:00] recognizing the current problem and resources. And what I mean by that is that you see, you have a certain amount of resources, but there's a problem still there. But how do you then address the problem with some more forward thinking given your current resources? I'm not sure exactly if that's how it should be captured, but I guess what I'm wondering is as you're identifying the needs that you have based on your current problems, what are those non-negotiables in your planning period?
Does that make sense? I have a lot of thoughts going on in my mind right now, and so hopefully our readers also that make sense. But I think it's more about identifying this problem and looking forward and what are those non-negotiables and how you able to solve the problems of the future. Is there a piloting? Are you looking in high need communities? What type of data are you collecting? Are there big bites? Are there small bites? Lot of questions. So let's just start with, what are those small bites that [00:24:00] you're taking first?
This is what I do. I go down a rabbit hole. You should see me in the middle of the night. I'm like, in the middle of the night, I'll wake up and I'll think to myself and I have a little pad next to my bed. I have a little pad. I have questions upon, questions upon questions, and maybe it's on reading. Sometimes it's about like, you know, why is, you know, the sky blue? Or what was it about that book I read last night? So before I go down a middle of the night notebook filling question spiral, let's start with, as you're navigating change, what are those non-negotiables in your planning?
Kristen Wynn: Oh wow. So we actually have, I'm telling you, what we try to do from the beginning is put systems in place and take these systems, and as times change and things change and you identify problems, these systems still stay in place. It's just how you [00:25:00] navigate those systems a little different to accomplish the end goal. Does that make sense? So let me give you an example. We have actually, since you said non-negotiable, we have a non-negotiable document.
Danielle Scorrano: Mm-hmm.
Kristen Wynn: That has our non-negotiables that we have had since the beginning of our literacy initiative in Mississippi since 2013. So that document has morphed into basically putting into it what our big buckets of needs continuing to be on the ground in the school level. But we had to add additional details to those things. So let me give you an example. So one of the big initiatives and pilot that we have is our push towards high quality instructional materials. Now, mind you, since the beginning of our initiative in 2013, [00:26:00] you know, we started with developing a common language. We didn't start with purchasing materials. So we started with developing teachers’ knowledge of the science of reading so that whatever materials they had in front of them, they're able to use them with integrity or add to them what was missing. So we've always had the presence of materials, but now we're piloting where we are giving teachers access to high quality material, which means we've taken the time over the last two years to work with ED Reports to develop our rubrics and we chose only five, met our lit. Yeah, five.
Danielle Scorrano: Mm-hmm. Wow.
Kristen Wynn: For K-5. And so because of those, we were really, detailed on those rubrics as to what we wanted. I think we may have been the first state to ever ask reports to [00:27:00] add in a whole section and criteria just on foundational skills because we knew that we did not want to go back. Like we didn't want this, pilot or this initiative that we were starting to take us back to where we were in 2013. This was something we wanted to help move us forward in the work that we were doing. So we asked them to create a section or we work with them to create a section just to evaluate the foundational skills, materials, with the vendors that submitted materials.
And if you didn't pass that initial vetting, you didn't get put on our list. And so that's why we have five. So things like that. And that's a non-negotiable on our list, is to have access that all students have access to high quality instructional materials. So you have training science or reading training, but then coupled with access to high quality instructional [00:28:00] materials in the implementation there.
We have our school literacy action plans. Those were things that we've had in the beginning, and then we just kind of developed them out to be really more specific to the school needs. We even redid our state level literacy plan to include some of these things. Data-driven instruction was something that we, that was a non-negotiable, our uninterrupted reading block, whether you have high quality instruction materials or you're in the adoption and implementation phase, that's something.
These were, I have to say this non-negotiable list that we have and that we share with our schools and that's on our website, are things that we've really been intentional about being consistently. We've also really pushed, in addition to our science reading training, in addition to high quality instruction materials, there was as been this really push on tutoring [00:29:00] services. So we really, that was a pilot that we had for this year with three through 12. We offered that at the state level free to districts that opt in to every student. It's 24 hours. They can get tutoring services in grades three through 12. Our intervention service office also released a high dosage tutor playbook that they wrote because we know that moving forward we have to give our students additional support.
So, for us, those were the big, the big non-negotiables that we've pushed from the beginning, but I feel like we have really tailored them and really, improved them, as we move forward in the work. And I hope I answered the question.
Jamie Williamson: Yeah. Yeah, you did. You certainly did. And as I'm listening to you, I'm thinking to myself, this idea of creating a common language, the importance of that, right? So to make sure we're all speaking the same, in the same manner, and kind of have some [00:30:00] clarity about what each of the terms that we're using mean. And I think so often we forget foundationally to kind of take a step back and say, oh, when I say this, here's what I mean. And when you say what do you mean, to make sure that we're actually having the old proverbial apples to apples conversation. Right? And then I also heard you sort of think through the idea of creating pilots and testing, those kind of scenarios, evaluating outcomes, working to strengthen knowledge here.
Sometimes whenever I'm working with my team, I talk about, you know, I want to allow people some autonomy because I believe autonomy in their work and professional judgment's a really important thing to work to cultivate, in the work. And but the idea of laying out some clear, what sometimes we'll call guideposts for folks, right?
So when you make a decision here and you do the work, I'm not going to tell you how to solve the problem, but I'm going to tell you at the end of the day, here are the guideposts, and I'm going to lay on the table here for you to evaluate the progress of said piece here. And then doesn't matter how you solve the problem, as long as you hit the guideposts that I kind of lay on here, we're going to, we're going to be able to work through this, right? And allow you [00:31:00] some space to exercise some of your own professional judgment. But I think that that idea of communication and the clarity that gets created around that, it's just really a catalyst for even doing bigger work. But I still appreciate this idea of building the knowledge, working to kind of create some testing there.
And, you know, we've been working also with the New York City DOE, trying to help them think through how do they elevate some of the work and the literacy. And we've been encouraging them to really settle on a few programs that do cut, you know, the research criteria and, and for the old proverbial mustard, right? Like the ones can really do the work in the way that actually have the science of reading foundation to it. And I think they're in the process of really kind of really bringing some the work home, but my hope is we can send this over to a few folks from the team there to kind of help them think through that a little bit better.
Danielle Scorrano: I was just thinking that every state literacy department, every district head, every citywide department of education, no matter what structure they have, needs to listen. And I'm sure you're having those conversations, Kristen, right. I'm sure in any [00:32:00] given week you have someone from a different state talking to you about different types of programs.
Kristen Wynn: Yeah. And we talk to them too because sometimes you get so lost in the work, especially with the high quality instructional materials being a new initiative that we're really trying to push. And then you get, you get into the work as a leader, and then you're like, okay, why do I feel like I'm stuck? Like, are other people stuck? And so, yes, we are, we are part of several different organizations where when I'm always at, I'm like, what is your strategy around here? Are we in alignment to what the rest of the country is doing? Are we, you know, are, did we miss the piece? Is it a piece that needs to be added here that we didn't?
Think about as a team. So it's always that, you know, I'm always thinking, and getting thought partners, and if somebody wants me to be a thought partner with them, I don't mind doing that. But I also like to lean on other people to, you know, give [00:33:00] me their thoughts on are we heading in the right direction, and what has been their I guess, experiences with the same initiatives.
Danielle Scorrano: Yeah. Right. That's an interesting point, and I'm sort of circling back to my original question about what are you looking to do as you're planning and what are those non-negotiables, and as you were talking and, and as Jamie was responding, I kept thinking about, okay, well you're going back to the data, you're piloting. Who was the data that you're piloting with, your stakeholders, whether it be the students that you're working with, the teachers. I know Mississippi has been exceptional in integrating parents and caregivers and families and guardians in that sense. And when Kristen and I were actually speaking in 2021, you mentioned stakeholders and what you said, you said, “We talk about a focus on literacy, but you can't have a focus on literacy or create this vision for literacy for your state if you don't involve your community, your families, and other stakeholders [00:34:00] in your efforts.” That is like a moment. I just wanted to pause and everyone should hear that because integrating the community through this common language, as Jamie was reiterating, as you were talking about Kristen, I think is important. So how did you leverage the communication to elevate these problems and really identify those problems in the communities to mobilize these key stakeholders?
Kristen Wynn: So I think what one thing that's very important when you're talking about involving stakeholders and elevating problems, is around transparency. Like we can't ice over reality. Like we can't just, you know, make it sound better than it actually is. So our intentions and our goals are extremely transparent. And I'll give you an example. We do continuously provide those regional family nights across our state, and we did them early and we partnered with districts. But anybody can [00:35:00] attend those nights because we not only want, families look different, family makeups look different, and we understand that sometimes community members are involved in raising children.
So it becomes this village type of mindset. You know, it takes a village. We've heard that already, but we really do believe that. So we have those meetings to where we allow people to come in and we're really honest with them about our law, about the components of our law, and then what they can do as community members or as family members to really help students build their reading skills. Like I mentioned earlier, we just got finished at the MLA conference, which our Mississippi Literacy Association conference, and there were 900 and, I mean 594 educators present. And I did the, I opened up Wednesday with the keynote and presented the [00:36:00] data from 2019.
I really started from where we were in 2013 because I really wanted them to understand where we were and how far we came. But also I ended with talking about our goal, like until we reached 90 to 95% of students approaching or reading at above grade level, we have not arrived. So it takes all of the stakeholders, community members, parents. We've done community meetings with our legislators. They've called and we show up. And we're there and we have the same message, and we're very transparent with them about what the expectation is, but we also give them the tools that they need to communicate the information to their community members, and people in their organization. So I would have to say the, the important thing is to be really transparent and just be honest with folks.[00:37:00]
Jamie Williamson: Yeah, so I, there's so many pieces here. I'd love to kind of take a moment to follow up on because I just, all this stuff gets me really excited, so thank you. But this idea of, you talked about relationships, this idea of transparency and thinking about this big vision that you and Mississippi wanted to kind of show up with to better, to put a better space for your students out there, right, to kind of create a better educational environment. And that idea of really navigating all of these constituencies and stakeholders. And I'm thinking about, you know, one, you know, , how do you raise up those voices that are sort of trying to help you kind of define where the areas you need to go at?
Because sometimes in problem solving, I, there's a thing I like to refer to as problem admiration, right? We get into a meeting and everyone wants to sort of share, well, this is what I think the problem looks like, right? Or this is my version of the problem without actually defining the problem itself, right? So, I could see teachers getting together and saying, well, I don't like this textbook, or I don't like this program you've given me without saying we need materials that are [00:38:00] actually going to be better informed for the science of reading and giving me the right tools to need. So how did you, and I'm, and I'm also, you've touched on this idea of building relationships and having people feel, seen and heard in the process of this. So if you could just give us any insight to how you helped those teachers, those parents, take that big concern they had and translate that into, in alignment with that big, you know, audacious goal. You had to, to kind of bring 90 to 95% of Mississippi kids up to grade level. Right. That's a phenomenal goal and one that I think has such weight to it that I'm, I cannot wait to hear the call when you tell me you've hit, uh, 98%.
Kristen Wynn: Well, one thing is the messaging has to be consistent, but I think the stakeholders, teachers, and parents, and community members have to see themselves in the work, like where do they fit within the work? My presentation that I do to, that we do to legislators or we present to teachers, [00:39:00] it's the same message. Like it's the same thing. And as an educator, you know, I've had people come up and say, I, you know, when I present the kindergarten data, I'm a kindergarten teacher. So that speaks to me. Or I talk about advocacy as a parent. Well, I'm an aunt and I have my kindergarten nephew that lives with me. So now you just showed me how to advocate for him, but the messaging stays the same.
It's just delivered maybe a tiny bit differently. But like, so with community members and we're doing with families and those stakeholders, we get into really giving conceptual understanding to what the science of reading is. We talk to them about that. Like, and then we ask them where do they see themselves there? Like we have presented them with a website that we've created, that really drills down what the science reading looks [00:40:00] like for them, as families and community members. But then when I go talk to educators, I have the same messaging, but it's more so of here's the data, here's what we look like as a state.
Here's where you should fit in. Here's what this means to us as far as the kindergarten assessment. Here's the third grade assessment, first and second grade teachers. Where do you fit into this? Because it can't all be on the kindergarten teacher and the third grade teacher. So I think what we've really done is have a consistent messaging, but people have to see where they fit into the work. People have to see themselves within the work, wherever you, you may fit into, and I hope I answered your question.
Jamie Williamson: Oh yeah, I love that phrase. They have to see themselves in the work. I think that's a really powerful, if I could say a snippet from this. I think that's a really powerful little phrase there. Thank you.
Danielle Scorrano: I love that too. I wrote it down. Speaking of copious notes, Jamie and I are here just recording, and I hope that [00:41:00] everyone that is tuning in is also taking notes because what you're offering here are valuable insights. And I just have to pause, not really pause, this episode, Harry. We have our entire team here from Najah our marketing expert at the Institute to Harry, who's our audio visual expert, my expert co-host over here, Jamie, and I just all nodding back and forth. So inevitably every time I do a READ Podcast, I like to pause and just take in the room because I am loving this. Like, if I could do this every day, I would. What you talked about messaging, you talked about consistency and transparency, and I will say, I mean, having 95% of all readers being proficient in reading is an, to echo what Jamie said, it's a phenomenal goal. It's a necessary goal, right? It is what every child deserves to have, right, is to have this literacy, this proficiency and literacy, right. Full stop. And [00:42:00] the reason why I wanna circle back to that is because, Mississippi has shown over the last 10 years, I believe it was you, increased in both math and reading. Obviously this isn't a conversation about math, but I think it's very important to echo that you've been increasing in both areas in the NAEP for the last 10 years. I don't know any other state that's done it. Right. Am I right in saying that is and any other state done that?
Kristen Wynn: No, I don't, I don't think so.
Danielle Scorrano: Right? She shakes her head. Right, because that is phenomenal, talk about a phenomenal goal. Yeah, that's a phenomenal goal.
Kristen Wynn: But, but I want you all to understand this, in 2013, what's so crazy is that on the honesty gap, when we looked at that, when we look at how we score between our state assessment, our proficiency rate on our state assessment, as well NAEP, we had the largest honesty gap, so some changes had to be made in [00:43:00] order to get there. And on our law includes a third grade reading assessment. I'm very transparent about that. It does. Our third graders take a reading assessment to determine promotion and retention. Now, what we did in 2019 versus what we did in ‘22 is about 86% of our students score at a level three or above. Level three for us, we have a five level, five level system. Level three is at approaching proficiency. Level four and five are considered proficient. Now, what I told teachers last week, and this is, this goes back to what I just said, it's about where you see yourself in the work, whomever you are, is that the data and the research tells us to 90 to 95% of all students can achieve literacy skills at or approaching grade level, including our students with dyslexia. So we [00:44:00] don't lower our expectations in Mississippi. We keep them very high. If we're already at a level three at 86% of students and that excludes those students that may qualify under a good cause exemptions we're, we don't have that far to go to get where we want to be. Now, I want every student to be proficient, but we, we know that if they're, at least at a level three, they're on the trajectory to be proficient readers and have a better quality of life .That's what I keep at the forefront of my mind, is that we're really transparent and our end goal is that our students are proficient, but the bigger picture is that they have a better quality of life.
Danielle Scorrano: Yeah, that's a really good point. And again, returning back to people have to see themselves in this work. Everyone should see themselves in this work because this isn't a, a reading goal. This isn't even an academic goal, it's a life goal. And as you're talking, you're talking about your end [00:45:00] goals of, let's just circle back to the goal of reading. And I think a lot about not only program scalability, but Jamie and I talk a lot about sustainability and it's amazing to see how over the last 10 years you have witnessed this consistent growth. A lot of the programs, I love talking to you, Kristen, because when we spoke in 2021, you know, since then there's been so many updates and changes and expansions and I'm like, oh my gosh. Like 2.0, we're in rendition, maybe not rendition 4.0. But I see a lot of growth and one of the things that I like to think about with leadership though, is this aspect of sustainability where you look 40 years from now, 50 years from now, and the other aspect of it is you as a leader and your leadership team can't be everywhere. Right? So when you think about fidelity of implementation, program sustainability and how you're developing the future of leaders, what are those components you're thinking [00:46:00] about right now?
Kristen Wynn: So with our literacy support school, let me give you two. We really talk about with sustainability there, is that we try to coach our way out of the buildings. So meaning that our, when we go in, we go in with how do we sustain this building to that to where when we’re gone that the work is still sustainable, and so we've had a lot of transition over the years to where we provided the professional development. And we've grown leaders within their district to where some of our coaches, this is an example, one of our coaches, some of our coaches, several of our coaches have gone back into districts and they're leading schools and districts. So that's a way that we create sustainability. I am a big, big proponent in distributive leadership. So when we go in and do instructional walkthroughs and learning walks, you [00:47:00] know, we typically, we have in the past, we wanna take ownership of all the work. But what we try to do in looking at that is, you know, the responsibility is on everybody.
We walk away from those instructional walkthroughs with everybody having some bit of responsibility so that it's not on the coach all the time. That you're building leaders with teacher leaders within buildings, that they're able to lead the work. I had a conversation with two teachers going into a meeting during our conference. You know, teachers are speaking out now about when things aren't right in their buildings. They're speaking out. And the only thing that asks me is, what advice would you give us on how to push the science of reading in our district? Like we are aware. And so when you start to create these teacher leaders from training and coaching you build sustainability across the state.[00:48:00]
And you're right, we can't be everywhere. But to have those, you know, conversations with folks at the school level, at the building level to say, now, you know, we are, we're leading the work that you can't necessarily lead in our district, but we're there to take the lead on it. So I really would have to say building, being able to honestly be a distributive leader and understand at the beginning of the work, that your goal is sustainability, and if you're going in with sustainability at the forefront, then you're always going be working towards that goal.
Danielle Scorrano: I love that you were talking about distributive leadership.
Jamie Williamson: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I love the idea of, you know, there's some sort of schools of thought where, you know, the idea of giving up some leadership can feel a little bit threatening to your own leadership, right? Mm-hmm, if I give some away, am I going to have something for myself at the end of the day? But I think the reality is that it, you end up multiplying your leadership to such an incredible degree. And not only [00:49:00] through, giving up a little bit, but also like, you know, to your point, you know, you can't do it all.
You are, one human being, at least as far as I'm aware, you're just one human being. you know, I'm one person and I'm very human in the sense that like, I'm fallible. I make mistakes. I learn and grow, and I try to do my best every day. And I really wanted to kind of touch on a couple things here, because I think in this idea of distributed leadership, the concept of mentoring is so critical.
And I'm just thinking about my own experience from my, my first principalship and the executive director I had when I was at Springer School and center in Cincinnati, Shelly Weisbacher, learning like the communication tools and thinking about the positive, you know, process of really mapping out a communication plan and watching her and some of the standards she said was just a great leader to watch. Then I had this principal in, when I was in public school who was very core value centered, who left such a massive imprint on me. And so when I think about sort of this idea of mentorship, I think sometimes our we're product of our experiences and the set of experiences that we've had as [00:50:00] human beings both personally and professionally.
I think we're sometimes at the mercy of the kindness of others. I've had some people who've been really kind to me in my journey. And I think that the idea of coming to the table and thinking about who in my life have had some massive impacts on leadership development, my trajectory forward, and those little positive nudges along the way. So if you could tell us about maybe a mentor that you've had, uh, in your journey, someone who's just had really, kind of had a deep impact on your development. And then I'm going to ask you to turn the question around a little bit here and say, who have you mentored? You maybe want to give them a little shout out some of the work that they're doing.
Kristen Wynn: So my mentors are actually, I'm still in contact with them and one of them I actually work for, Dr. Tenette Smith. She has been a part of this work. She started in 2013 when it was just 29 of us that started as coaches and she was one of the directors as well as Dr. Kymyona Burk. I talked to them on a regular and [00:51:00] they really, I feel like they really took me under their wing. And like I said, I'm the kind of person that tried to get things done. I got it done, but they really helped me navigate different spaces and really, you know, develop other traits that they saw within me as a leader. I am not a prideful person, so I try to be very, very humble to the point sometimes that I won't speak about things. You know, I've gotten better with speaking up and y'all will be so surprised as much as I talk that I don't speak. But you know, I feel like they've cultivated those things in me and, you know, helping me think things through and they're both, right now, I can call them, to Dr. Smith is actually right next door in the other room. But if I have a problem that I'm dealing with or something that I need a thought partner with, they give me, [00:52:00] they help me to see, you know, on a it may be on a global scale that I didn't see or anticipated issues that I may run into with the way that I'm thinking about something or carrying out something.
So I'm really appreciative of Dr. Tenette Smith and Dr. Kymyona Burk for being my mentor, and helping me to see some things that I didn't see in myself. As far as leading others, I am so proud of, I have three, four assistant state literacy coordinators, and I'm so, so very proud of the work that they are doing for the state, we really work as the state's literacy leadership team. And my quote with them, and I say this all the time when I post pictures, is that you create this team to where this team's strong enough to where you, you don't know who the boss is. And I feel like [00:53:00] we've created that type of team to, at any given day, we could be in a room or could go on and you don't know who's, you know, leading it or who's the person that's in charge or over the team because they all take this distinct role based on their leadership styles.
Lori Stringer, she's one of my assistant state coordinators and she is the director of our conference. Now she tasked me with keynoting. She told me that I was, I got voluntold. She told me that I was going to do that. But she directs the conference every year. She puts it together. That's a strength that she has those attending to details and things like that.
So, you know, I feel like within that team or our core leadership team, everybody has their strengths and sometimes I don't have to be in the forefront. I sit back and if it's their time, it's their [00:54:00] time. And we sit back and I take my seat where I am on the team and the input that I need to give at that time.
And I really like leading like that because, you know, we get so much more done.
Jamie Williamson: Yeah.
Kristen Wynn: When you as a leader, well, our leaders can get so much more done when you as a leader, don't feel like you have to take the lead on everything. Like you have to do it all. You don't have to do it all. You build this team that's strong enough to carry the work when you're not there. I was on maternity leave for 12 weeks and nothing stopped. Not one thing. They didn't call me either. They allowed me to recharge.
Jamie Williamson: That's incredible.
Kristen Wynn: They kept the work going. Even when we got a new vendor for our science and reading training, like it just, everything just kept rolling. So, you know, I am adamant about building a really strong team where you all have valuable input and you all [00:55:00] lead differently sometimes, but you're all headed in the right direction.
Jamie Williamson: Yeah. You know, I want to, before we go and go on to the next thing, you talked a little bit about this idea of, you know, help the mentors kind of helping you see some things in yourself a little bit. And I talked with my mentees, and I've learned from my mentors along. This concept of the Johari Window. I don't know if it's one you're familiar with at all, but it's how the world sees you and how you see yourself and where alignment is, right? There's that great alignment. Like, if I see myself in this way and you see myself in that way, then we're completely aligned. But it's those moments of that incongruency that can actually be some of the biggest, our blind spots are what they call them in that those would be the biggest moments of growth, right?
And I think when you, when, when you have somebody who's mentoring you, who's kind enough to you to see, to pay enough attention to you, well, first and foremost, but also to, to kind of tell you in a way that you know, “Hey, I don't think you noticed this about yourself just yet. You've not, maybe this is an area that I think you should work on.” And sometimes that that can hurt a little bit in the conversation. It can maybe be a little stinging on some pride. [00:56:00] But I think ultimately those are the conversations that we as mentors or mentees can really grow from in the process of that. But I think it takes that really solid relationship, a great sense of care and concern from a mentor, an amazing sense of transparency and communication between the two folks. But when you do that and you do that well as a mentor or you receive that well as a mentee, I think it's one of those moments where your career and your sort of path could just take a massive step forward. So thank you for sharing that.
Kristen Wynn: Yes, I agree.
Danielle Scorrano: Whew. I just have to say again, this is a rockstar conversation. I already invited Kristen to Windward, by the way. Great, great. Oh, so we
Kristen Wynn: I would love to.
Danielle Scorrano: In person at some point.
Jamie Williamson: And we have to make a trip down to Mississippi. I'd love to come down to see some schools.
Kristen Wynn: Absolutely.
Danielle Scorrano: Yeah. So I just had, again, take a step back and just be like, wait, I'm here learning all of this from both of you. I appreciate it. So, Kristen as you're reflecting about your work as a leader in Mississippi, where have been those, what have been those things that have felt, [00:57:00] I say in quotations, easy to champion. So maybe perhaps it's something that you have expected to be difficult, but perhaps, was easier than you thought. Is there anything that was easy to champion or just maybe something that you find this sense of flow in really putting forth?
Kristen Wynn: I don't think that things are necessarily easy to champion. I think you become a better leader with the job embedded training and they become more manageable and you're able to problem solve with them because of your experience. So I think experience is the greatest teacher, so I don't know if they become easier, you just become more experienced in how to navigate them. That one is tough and I, and that would be my answer. They don't [00:58:00] necessarily become easier. So I'll give you an example. As we shifted to changing to the application of the science of reading, again, I mentioned now we have AIM Institute of Research and Learning that provides our science of reading training. So for nine years, our educators were used to LETRS training, and they had to transition. And so I thought it was going to be, you know, a big issue, but because we, I guess we've been, and this goes back to what I just said, because we've been in the work so long, we try to anticipate and message things in a way that it necessarily is not easier. We're just used to dealing with challenges and you know, this way. So that transitioning from vendors, that was, you know, I would say [00:59:00] something that I anticipated being very challenging, but it was not, and it was really welcoming from our educators the most.
I would say one of the things that maybe I'm jumping ahead that's more challenging, and what we're seeing now. We're seeing our leaders. We provide, I just in general, I think as states across the country, we provide a lot of training to our educators and our teachers because we know that they have the immediate impact on student outcomes. But then we don't forward think a lot of times as the impact or what impact the leader has, and we don't spend as much time training our leaders.
So that has been a transition and a challenge for us is going back now and providing the same amount of training or depth of training that we've provided to our educators, [01:00:00] to our leaders that are making these decisions that sometimes our educators, don't have, they're not involved in. So that has been something that has been challenging to navigate because there's not a lot of research out there and there's very little training that has been offered to leaders.
So we're trying to really be proactive and provided that training to our leaders. And so that's a challenging, so I guess the easier thing I mentioned, and then the more challenging thing is making sure we get our leaders at every level, not just our school leaders, but our district leaders on board as well.
Jamie Williamson: Yeah.
Danielle Scorrano: It's interesting that you say that because that is one of the main reasons why Jamie and I started the LEAD on READ series is that we look in the research time and time again about how integral school-based leadership is, or district level, or just school administrators are in [01:01:00] implementing programs, in disseminating the knowledge about the science of reading and children who struggle to read. I mean, students, educating students with dyslexia and other language-based learning disabilities is close to heart for us, and I know it is as it is for you, Kristen. And so I wanted to echo that point because I think what you said, the depth of training for leaders as being so important, and I'm hoping that we could all have a follow up conversation at some point in talking, integrating a lot of the other literature that exists about the importance of leadership across industries and how it impacts education.
But speaking of leadership, I know Jamie has a few questions that came to mind. Yeah. Personal questions that may be sources of inspiration from Kristen.
Jamie Williamson: Yeah. So, you know, so this one, I want to direct this one actually at you as a person, right? Because we, as leaders, I think in the last, well, you've been doing some really big work, right? And you have sort of hit the ground and you've been moving mountains down there. But the question I think we, we forget sometimes to ask ourselves as leaders is what are we doing to take care of ourselves? [01:02:00] Right this moment of recharge, kind of finding some way to kind of come at the work new.
And I appreciate Danielle's question at the beginning is how are we coming to this work, doing it a little bit of a check-in, right? The old proverbial putting our oxygen mask on so what are, what do you do to keep your, that flame alive and recharge yourself and really get to a space where you can come to the work very whole and ready to go?
Kristen Wynn: I try to invest in my professional knowledge as well. So there are trainings that I attend. I go to, even within our group here as literacy leaders. Our team, they're very knowledgeable in certain areas, so I make sure I lean upon them if they're presenting. Again, it goes back to that distributed leadership.
I don't have to always take ownership of everything. And so if they're good at a particular area or something that we're focusing on, then I lean on them to build [01:03:00] my knowledge. Now, I'm not afraid, or I'm not the leader type of leader to say that I know everything either. And if I don't know things, then I'll go and find somebody who does, and I learn from them.
So that kind of keeps it burning for me, that I'm always, I'm always searching, I'm always trying to learn. I'm always listening to this podcast, or I'm always attending this particular training. Or we have several different early literacy network groups that I'm a part with, other state leaders that are in the same role and capacity that I am.
So I'm not afraid to ask them questions if I'm unsure about anything or to help me and to be a thought partner. So, and I've created, and I've had those relationships with folks over the years. So, you know, that helps me to recharge. That gives me what I need to stay grounded in what's happening across the [01:04:00] country and what, where we need to head and what we need to continue to do. Just having those other leaders, being a part of the group, but also depending on folks that are within my organization to help build my knowledge on areas that they, that may be their areas of expertise.
Jamie Williamson: Thank you. Thank you so much. And then, you know, I love this idea of kind of this, the future focus here and you maybe kind of, you know, if you can think about a hope for your team, right? As you look to your team, you look at the future and sort of where your leadership is kind of going, is there a, is there a hope for, for that future that you, that you want to share a little bit about?
Kristen Wynn: Absolutely. And I think we we're getting into that. So during our literacy conference, we started the first ever, um, Mississippi Literacy Leadership Network. Again, we've identified the problem that our leaders need training and support around [01:05:00] literacy. So we have several founding members. There's about 20 of us, which consists of state leaders that are at the state level, but district and school leaders. And then we've come together and we've created this network. And within the network, we created norms. We, we've done all kinds of, uh, different things. We just had the initial group to meet at our Mississippi Literacy Association conference, and they came together. So I'm really, really, you know, my big goal is that for this conference, next year, that we have a pre-conference just for leaders, that it becomes a literacy leadership institute. Y'all are getting real life behind the scenes.
Danielle Scorrano: I know I love this so much. Hi everyone.
Kristen Wynn: Y'all like, y'all are getting real life behind me right now.
Danielle Scorrano: This is part of being a literacy leader, right?
Kristen Wynn: No, I can only hold them off for so long. [01:06:00] So, but yeah, that we create this possible pre-conference to our literacy association conference where it's just for leaders and all of the professional learning is just for leaders. So we just developed this network and that's where I see like us really be an intentional about the, what we offer our literacy leaders across the state of Mississippi.
Jamie Williamson: Thank you. Thank you so much. And I don’t know if we have another question, but I just want to maybe just take a quick moment here to express some gratitude. Thank you to everything you've done for the state of Mississippi, for the children of Mississippi for literacy. Just so appreciative for folks like you who are out there really championing, pioneering this work, pushing hard against the status quo of some really, you know, ineffective programs. So I think we need about a thousand more of you in every school district. So thank you so much for joining us today. Thanks so much for being part of us and also thanks for engaging us. I know your lecture went over so [01:07:00] well and I know the podcast episode that you've done with us, so really appreciate you taking some time here to kind of continue the conversation and deepen a little bit about leadership. So thank you.
Kristen Wynn: Thank you all for having me.
Jamie Williamson: I just wanted to make sure I had a chance to tell her thank you.
Danielle Scorrano: Of course. I mean, gratitude times infinity, right? Thank you so much Kristen, for being on the READ Podcast again, and you are a friend. You're an inspiration, and we look forward to learning more about you and the state of Mississippi.
Kristen Wynn: Thank you all so much and I look forward to our future conversations, whatever, wherever they may lead us.
Jamie Williamson: Yeah. Why don't we have that conversation in New York? We should have you up to do a little tour of the program, chat a little bit, take you out to dinner. Just, you know, because we, I feel like all of our conversations have been virtually, I believe. haven't had a chance to physically meet you yet, so I’d love that.
Kristen Wynn: I would love that. I would love that. We can make that happen.
Jamie Williamson: We should, absolutely. We should. Absolutely. So, and we'll get a little planned down south, maybe in the heart of winter up here where it's like really cold. We'll come down to see you.[01:08:00]
Kristen Wynn: Yeah. Because the weather here is unpredictable for sure.
Danielle Scorrano: Oh, well I've never been to Mississippi, so
Jamie Williamson: I haven't either.
Kristen Wynn: Well, you should come and we should do some school visits.
Jamie Williamson: Yeah.
Danielle Scorrano: Imagine if we did a road trip?
Jamie Williamson: Let's, you drive down there. Yeah, like 28 hours, I think. But we, I would love to come visit some of your schools. That would, nothing would, would make me happier actually.
Kristen Wynn: We can make that happen as well.
Jamie Williamson: Yeah.
Danielle Scorrano: Great. Well, for all of our Now Leaders on Leaders on Readers, I don't like that. It sounds great when I just say READers. Leaders on Readers? Sure. For all of you tuning in on our video networks, wherever we decide to post this, and on our Buzzsprout audio, wherever you get your podcast platforms. Thank you for tuning in to the LEAD on READ podcast series. Thank you so much, Jamie Williamson. Thank you. Kristen Wynn, please follow along with a conversation on social media. Najah is sitting to the right of me and she has all our networks. I think we're on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, anything else?[01:09:00]
YouTube, LinkedIn, I sometimes post. Yeah. Are you on LinkedIn, Kristen? I think we're connected on LinkedIn. I think we are connected. If we're not, I'm going to find you after.
But we definitely will post there. If you have any thoughts, questions, ideas about leaders that we should be interviewing, please send us an firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jamie Williamson: And I want us to say thank you, Danielle, for sharing the space with me. I know you've had such a great run of the podcast here. I'm so excited about where this is going, so just really appreciate you letting me join at the table here today.
Danielle Scorrano: Of course. Do you want to say our official until next time, READers? I think we should. Should we say it together?
Jamie Williamson: Sure.
Danielle Scorrano: So thank you to the co-host. Here we go. 1, 3, 2, 1. Until next time readers. Let's try that one more time. One more time. Yeah. And I will say this is our first time doing this. All right. Ready? 3, 2, 1. Until, until next time, readers, that was great.
High five on that one. Thank you.
Kristen Wynn joins LEAD on READ, a special, four-part series on the Research Education Advocacy Podcast with co-hosts, Danielle Scorrano, host of the READ Podcast, and Jamie Williamson, Head of School at The Windward School and Executive Director of The Windward Institute. LEAD on READ explores the central question: What does it mean to be a leader in education right now? Kristen Wynn, the State Literacy Director for the Mississippi Department of Education, explains what it means to be an effective literacy leader.
In this episode, Kristen shares
- the behaviors of an effective literacy leader.
- her leadership story and the key practices she cultivated to grow as a leader.
- the ways her team addressed the needs of the community to enact changes toward better reading outcomes.
the non-negotiables of leadership.
Kristen, Jamie, and Danielle reflect on key lessons and guideposts for leaders to address challenges and monitor successes in their own communities.
Have an idea for a leader who should be featured on LEAD on READ? Email us at email@example.com
Top READ Bookmarks
Each episode, host Danielle Scorrano identifies key takeaways or “READ bookmarks.”
In this episode, host Danielle Scorrano identifies key takeaways, or “READ bookmarks” to guide other leaders in their growth.
“Until we reach 90 to 95% of students approaching or reading at above grade level, we have not arrived. Our end goal is that our students are proficient, but the bigger picture is that they have a better quality of life."
Leadership skills must be cultivated and practiced.
Throughout the episode, Kristen Wynn identifies important behaviors that she has cultivated in her leadership journey:
- Taking initiative
- Maintaining flexibility
- Practicing a learning mindset
- Receiving feedback
Developing consistent and transparent language to communicate with stakeholders
“I always believe that we can say or write out a good plan, but we must put action behind it. Action gets the change and results that we're looking for.”
What does it mean to be a leader right now?
Listen to 11:33 – 17:21 to learn more.
In this episode, Kristen explains that leadership right now means:
- Building relationships and communities
- Balancing flexibility with commitment to goals for the future
Maintaining a continuous outlook on growth and learning
“I feel like the pandemic really challenged us to think outside the box in developing our strategy as well as making sure that we were being sensitive as leaders to the mental health needs of our staff.”
Flexibility means keeping expectations high but being both strategic and innovative in the approach to how we reach these expectations.
“Leaders can’t get into the mindset of complacency. When we achieve great outcomes, we may feel as leaders that we have arrived. We haven’t arrived. And as leaders, we have to be innovative in how we're thinking ahead about what's to come.”
How do leaders identify, share, and address the needs of the community they serve?
Listen to 18:32 – 22:27 to learn more.
Effective change starts with identifying, sharing, and addressing the needs of the communities that leaders serve through
- a systems approach: Developing consistent strategy and establishing foundational systems to address the needs and problems across the community
clarity and transparency: Communicating progress and continued needs with transparency through consistent, common language
For example, since the original enactment of policy and programs around literacy in Mississippi over the last decade, Kristen Wynn and her teams have implemented more targeted programs to address the needs in Mississippi including:
- Professional development focused on the application of the Science of Reading
- More targeted professional development to support readers in the adolescent grades
- Digital coaching platforms
Expanded programs for families and community partners
How can leaders cultivate stakeholder engagement?
Listen to 34:25 – 40:55 to learn more.
"The stakeholders – teachers, parents and families, and community members – have to see themselves in the work.”
Kristen Wynn explains that leaders must understand that stakeholders are vast. Building stakeholder engagement involves cultivating a shared sense of purpose and responsibility to enact change.
“Families and family makeups look different, and we understand that sometimes community members are involved in raising children. So, it becomes this village type of mindset.”
How can leaders build program sustainability?
Listen to 45:51 – 48:36 to learn more.
"Your goal is sustainability, and if you're going in with sustainability at the forefront, then you're always going be working towards that goal.”
Kristen Wynn integrates a framework of distributive leadership to build sustainability. Distributive leadership emphasizes elevating others to lead across scale.
"The responsibility is on everybody. We’re building leaders [by elevating] teachers within buildings so they’re able to lead the work [over time]."
Distributive leadership also supports Kristen and her team maintain healthy expectations about their work and impact.
"You don't have to do it all. You build this team that's strong enough to carry the work when you're not there.”
Learn more about Mississippi’s Reading Programs here:
Literacy Resources and Support Strong Readers, Strong Leaders, Mississippi
During this episode, the co-hosts and guests referenced the following books:
- The Rise of the Coachable Leader by Thomas G. Crane
- The Heart of Coaching: Using Transformational Coaching to Create a High-Performance Coaching Culture by Thomas G. Crane
- The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery by Sarah Lewis
- Drive: The Surprising Truth about what Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink
Learn more about leadership and systems change from the past READ guests:
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READ Podcast is produced by The Windward School and The Windward Institute. READ is hosted by Danielle Scorrano.
About READ: READ, the Research Education ADvocacy Podcast connects you with prominent researchers, thought leaders, and educators who share their work, insights, and expertise about current research and best practices in fields of education and child development.
Note: All information and insights shared demonstrate the expertise and views of our guests and does not constitute an endorsement by The Windward Institute or The Windward School.