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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
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Changing leadership through evolving literacy pedagogies

Geoff Bull
Michele Anstey

Dr Geoff Bull and Dr Michèle Anstey are consultants in education, and authors of titles including Evolving Pedagogies; Reading and Writing in a Multimodal World.  Email: ansteybull@bigpond.com.

Gilson College is an Independent P-12 Seventh Day Adventist School of approximately 700 students, situated in Taylors Hill on the outskirts of Melbourne. In this article, the authors describe the school's development of a professional learning culture, and the implementation of a new approach to literacy with an emphasis on multiliteracies pedagogy. An accompanying article by Sandra England, the College's Learning and Teaching Coordinator P-10, offers a school-based view of the project.

Last year Gilson College wished to reorient the leadership management style and skills of the school. At the same time, they wished to improve literacy teaching practices across subject areas and year levels, and expand teachers' knowledge about literacy, particularly in relation to multiliteracies and multimodal texts.

A representative of the leadership team invited us to assist them in these projects, based on our experience in helping school executives to manage change and implement new forms of literacy teaching. Some of this experience is described in a previous article in Curriculum Leadership 2007 and in Cole and Pullen 2010.

Implementation of the program

In collaboration with the leadership team we prepared a professional learning program. The program focused firstly on skilling and empowering the leadership team in terms of change management and literacy, enabling them to participate in the process of Action Learning; then the same program was commenced with all staff. A series of one or two-day professional learning opportunities took place in March, July and October 2010, and again in March this year, with follow up days planned for May and August. The program has involved presentations and professional readings intended to provide staff with basic knowledge about multiliteracies and multimodal texts.

An important element of the program was an environmental scan by the school, consisting of surveys of teachers, students and staff, designed to ascertain knowledge, understandings and beliefs about literacy and literacy teaching. Students were also asked to report on their home, leisure and school literacy practices. We conducted initial analyses of the results and discussed the findings and their implications at a meeting of all staff in July 2010.

Another major focus of the program was Action Learning and validating change by middle-level leaders and classroom teachers. Middle-level leaders' action plans focused on ways to develop their team's knowledge of multiliteracies and how the teaching of multiliteracies could be implemented across their discipline. They commenced their action learning process prior to the classroom teachers. This ensured they understood the process of developing and implementing an action plan and gathering data, and equipped them with insights and knowledge to better support their teams. Teachers nominated an aspect of literacy practice that they wished to develop, relevant to their curriculum area, which they could then begin to research. Further learning sessions this year will assist teachers to analyse the data collected during their research projects, and to summarise it in written reports and in oral presentations. Some of the action plans are described in the accompanying article by Sandra England.

Staff worked in groups to develop their plans; some were based on year level or curriculum area, while others were based on staff engaged in similar topics in their action learning projects. Some teachers also observed colleagues' lessons. These groupings and observations gave teachers new opportunities to collaborate across year levels and subject areas, and a chance to appreciate the literacy challenges faced in different areas of the school.

Reflections on the implementation process

Many positives have come out of the program at Gilson.

The changes evident so far in teachers' literacy practices reflect the effectiveness of many aspects of the implementation process. Teachers have broadened their concept of literacy and applied it more often to their various levels and subject areas. For example, some teachers have allowed students to demonstrate understanding of a concept through visual representations, which were then explicitly analysed through the concepts involved in visual literacy. Others realised the importance of using the terms associated with the gestural and spatial semiotic systems to aid their physical demonstrations.

The staff at the school who led the project ensured that there were opportunities for all participants to work with us and receive feedback when needed. These leaders also timed the professional learning days to maximise their benefit for staff development. They ensured that at each visit staff were grouped differently, to encourage interactions between different sections of the school. They also provided support and engaged staff in specific professional learning experiences between visits.

Over the course of the project, school leaders were increasingly willing to share with each other the ways in which they were working with their teams, and the personal challenges they were encountering. A better understanding emerged about the different roles of senior and middle leaders and the differences and similarities between level leaders, curriculum leaders and teaching and learning leaders. Leaders also became more active in mentoring and coaching the staff.

Particular characteristics of the program, for example, the variety of professional learning opportunities, cross-year and subject interaction and lesson observations, fostered better communication across preschool, primary and secondary levels, as well as between disciplines.

One sign of progress towards developing a learning community was the increasing importance that middle leaders and staff placed on professional learning time, which was no longer seen as a time to catch up on administrative tasks. More generally, teachers exhibited an increasing level of professionalism over the two years.  This was demonstrated in improved levels of staff attendance, prompt completion of tasks, increased participation in discussion and increasing requests for information specific to individual needs. There was also a marked increase in incidental conversations among staff about their learning and classroom activities.

The environmental scan of literacy beliefs, practices and pedagogy has become an integral part of the school program, and it is planned to conduct parent, staff and student surveys regularly to document and address change.

Remaining challenges

From our observations, there is still a tendency for the secondary school to focus on content and the primary school on learning. While this is a result of the way in which primary and secondary education has evolved in Australia, it nevertheless needs to change to ensure pedagogy and the literacies of the various discipline areas focus on learning. A change in this direction is already happening at Gilson. Both areas of the school will benefit from this more balanced focus.

The leadership team has changed its leadership style, and staff have come to appreciate the stronger role of middle management and actively sought assistance when needed. Nevertheless, the staff have not made as much use of these changes as they might. More communication and discussion about the roles and responsibilities of both leaders and staff would be beneficial. This issue too is now being addressed.

The unique feature of the project at Gilson was the up-skilling of middle and senior leaders prior to embarking on the professional learning with staff. This provided a level of knowledge and skill in both management and literacy that enabled leaders to review and reconfigure their previous ideas about their role as leaders. The next stage, involving the implementation of teacher action learning plans, provided a context for immediate implementation of their expanding skills and knowledge..

The implementation of this project has seen the school move carefully, and with support, from a congenial school to a collegial school and a genuine learning community.


Anstey, M & Bull, G 2009, Using Multimodal Texts and Digital Resources in a Multiliterate Classroom e:update 004, e:lit: Primary English Teaching Association, Marrickville, pp. 1–8.

Anstey, M and Bull, G 2005, 'One School's Journey: Using multiliteracies to Promote School Renewal,' Practically Primary, vol 10, no 3, pp 10–13.

Anstey, M and Bull, G 2006, 'Responding to rapid change: multiliteracies and ICT,' in EQ Australia, Curriculum Corporation, Winter, pp 17–18.

Anstey, M and Bull, G 2006, Teaching and Learning multiliteracies: Changing Times, Changing Literacies, International Reading Association, Newark, Delaware.

Bull, G & Anstey, M 2010 a, Evolving Pedagogies; Reading and Writing in a Multimodal World, Education Services Australia, Melbourne.

Bull, G & Anstey, M 2010 b, 'Using the Principles of Multiliteracies to inform Pedagogical Change', Chapter Eight in Cole, DR & Pullen, DL Multiliteracies in Motion,  pp. 141–159  Taylor and Francis, London.

Calabrese, RL 2002, The Leadership Assignment: Creating Change, Allyn and Bacon, Boston.

Fullan, M 2001, Leading in a Culture of Change, Wiley, San Francisco.

Hargreaves, A & Fullan, M eds. 2008, Change Wars, Solution Tree Press, Bloomington.

Hargreaves, A 1994, Changing teachers Changing Times: teachers work and culture in the postmodern age, Teachers College Press, New York.


Subject Headings

Educational planning
Multimodal learning
School leadership