Ensuring Multilieracies in Schools - What a Leader Can Do

What do school leaders need to do to facilitate a multiliteracy approach in the public schools?

Once a leader recognizes that learning is changing due to globalization, how can they ensure that multiliteracy is addressed in schools? First, recognize that it will take a special type of leader to help educators realize that learning cannot continue to exist in the traditional sense.  The one type of leadership that will help break down the barriers that exist in schools and begin to change the system to recognize different styles of teaching and learning is transformative leadership. Shields (2009) describe transformative leadership as:
Transformative leadership begins with questions of justice and democracy; it critiques inequitable practices and offers the promise not only of greater individual achievement but of a better life lived in common with others. Transformative leadership, therefore,  inextricably links education and educational leadership with the wider social context within which it is embedded (p. 1). A transformative leader will engage in dialogue with staff, encourage collaboration among staff, provide professional development and training for staff, ensure the environment in the school supports risk-taking and trying new forms of learning, have the courage to question the status quo and reflect on current practices.

One of the first steps a leader must take is the time to build personal relationships with their staff. This will help develop a level of trust between leaders and teachers.  When a level of trust has been established, dialogue can begin to take place. “Dialogue and relationships are not elements that can be selected and discarded at will; rather, they are ways of life—recognitions of the fundamental differences among human beings and of the need to enter into contact, into relational dialogue and sense making (participating with our whole being) with one  another” (Shields, 2004 p. 116).  

The first thing a leader can do when considering multiliteracy, is begin having conversations with staff by asking, “What is multiliteracy? What does it look like? Why should we consider multiliteracy? How will multiliteracy enhance student learning? What will I need to know to support a multiliteracy environment?” This beginning dialogue will give teachers the necessary background knowledge to begin to explore the concept and how it relates to them in the classrooms. Two u-tube videos can be shown to demonstrate the need for change and open up a conversation about why we need to address teaching and learning through a multiliteracy approach. These are the recommended videos to show prior to the opening conversations.

Collaborating with teachers will continue to develop a trusting environment where the teachers will begin to feel they have a say in what happens in the school. Teachers need to have opportunities to discuss and collaborate about new strategies. When a leader provides time for teachers to collaborate about multiliteracies, teachers will have a deeper understanding of the topic and in turn will promote an enhanced environment for student learning. If a leader encourages a more collaborative environment, teachers will be more involved with decisions and more likely to want to make the changes that are necessary for an environment that supports multiliteracy.

"Professional development is defined as the process of improving staff skills and competencies needed to produce outstanding educational results for students" (Hassel as cited in Kent, 2004 p. 427). A leader needs to be aware that professional development for teachers is critical in order to help them implement multiliteracy activities in the classroom. When thinking of how to provide an environment that allows for multiliteracy, a professional development practice of a collaborative team model should be considered. Specifically this model allows for opportunities for self-direction, relevancy, and is practicality based on the teachers experiences, and opportunities to apply what has been learned about multiliteracies. When using this model of professional development, it allows for teachers to collaborate with one another on a regular basis and make decisions about instruction as they see fit.

One way for a leader to ensure that this type of professional development can take place is to build the level of trust with the teachers to ensure an environment for risk-taking exists in the school. This culture develops over time when leaders have the open conversations and encourage teachers to try something new. When teachers are interested in trying a multiliteracy approach to a lesson, have the teacher teach the lesson and provide time at a staff meeting for them to come and share everything about the lesson. In addition to allowing time to share about what has been happening when multiliteracy lessons have been happening, make sure as a leader you can support the teachers by providing them with the necessary materials they may need to ensure the lessons can continue. If the teachers ask for more training, find it. If the teachers need some additional materials look at the budget to determine if the material can be purchased.

What happens when school budgets are tight and more materials are needed? That is the time when you as a leader can investigate community partnerships with local businesses to find the necessary resources. “Partners recognize their shared interests in and responsibilities for children, and they work together to create better programs and opportunities for students" (Epstein, 1995 p. 701). When schools enter into relationships with businesses you can ask for several types of resources. Some examples of those resources you may seek could be human, economic, materials and any social activities that may support home/school activities.  A leader can begin by identifying a business that may have resources to support a multiliteracy environment. Contact the organization and inquire about what types of resources you are seeking. 

Concluding Thoughts

It will take a transformative leader to realize that a change in teaching and learning needs to occur. By providing an environment where dialogue is welcome to discuss multiliteracy approaches, providing professional development so that teachers know what and how lessons can change, and providing the resources needed to ensure the curriculum can be delivered, a leader will be laying a strong foundation that encourages teachers to try a multiliteracy approach with students. In turn, students will benefit and be able to contribute to the global society.

Epstein, J. L. (1995).  School, family and community partnerships: Caring for the children we share. Phi Delta Kappan 76(9) 701-712.

Kent, A. M. (2004). Improving teacher quality through professional development. Education, 124(3), 427-435.

Shields, C. M. (2009). Introduction, Courageous leadership for transforming schools: Democratizing practice, Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon.

Shields, C. M. (2004). Dialogic leadership for social justice: Overcoming pathologies of silence. Educational Administrator Quarterly 40(1) 109-132.