Episode 40 - LEAD on READ: Kristen Wynn and Literacy Leadership in Mississippi

Episode Summary

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 info@readpodcast.org

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."  

  1. 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.”

  1. 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.”

  1. 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 

  1. 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.” 

  1. 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: 

Episode 24 with Kristen Wynn    Episode 33 with Tim Odegard

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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.