How Tennessee is Elevating High-Quality Literacy Materials Through Cross-District Collaboration

July 20, 2022

How Tennessee is Elevating High-Quality Literacy Materials Through Cross-District Collaboration

Research confirms what effective educators and policymakers know from practice: educators using high-quality instructional materials, aligned to rigorous state standards, leads to notable student learning gains. The state of Tennessee is supporting the implementation of high-quality English language arts (ELA) instructional materials for pre-K–12 students through the state’s Reading 360 initiative. As a part of this initiative, NIET has partnered with the department of education to support the Tennessee Literacy Implementation Networks (TLIN) across the state. 

What is the Tennessee Literacy Implementation Network (TLIN)?

NIET’s main role to support TLIN is to provide implementation support of high-quality ELA instructional materials to each district and to facilitate the network as a collaborative structure. Specifically, NIET supports the Mid-Cumberland and South Central regions in Tennessee, with six districts in each region. NIET specialists support these districts to set implementation goals, develop strategies for improvement and implementation plans, and determine how they will monitor progress and refine their strategy at regular intervals.

A key part of the collaborative structure of TLIN is mentor districts, which have multiple years of high-quality implementation experience and help build capacity of participant districts that have adopted new ELA materials in the past year. There is one mentor district in each region, and many of the mentor districts have been working together on improving early literacy outcomes for several years. 

Each region's districts come together once a month for learning walks, which is a key NIET practice, as well as once a month for professional learning webinars led by NIET. The learning walks are opportunities for all of the educators within the partnering districts to learn how high-quality instructional materials are impacting classroom instruction, build their capacity in using the instructional practice guide (IPG) provided by the state department to monitor progress of literacy instruction, provide feedback, and share implementation ideas. 

District leaders, school leaders, coaches, and teachers attend learning walks, and each time they focus on a specific aspect of strong literacy instruction. They begin the day together in the host district at a school and set their purpose for the learning walks. From there, they split into groups to observe classroom instruction. There is usually a short debrief between each observation, and everyone comes back together as a whole group before leaving the school. NIET and network participants typically visit two to three schools in the host district, and, as part of the debrief, participants have an opportunity to plan for next steps in their districts and to think about how they will apply what they have learned.

"Having the opportunity to visit other districts allowed us to see the effects of their collaboration, discuss common challenges and unique solutions, and observe alternative structures," said Tracy Hollinger, a network participant and director of instruction and curriculum in Clarksville-Montgomery County School System. "These experiences have been very informative and invigorating. We are so appreciative of the opportunity to participate in the network, and we are seeing the benefits of that participation in our literacy classrooms."

What are the outcomes of TLIN?

"Building a shared vision of effective literacy instruction through common language has been a critical first step [of this work]," shared NIET’s TLIN project director, Sharon Cochrane. She expressed that TLIN is building capacity in all stakeholders to recognize how high-quality instructional materials have impacted the texts that students are reading, the alignment to grade-level standards in questions and tasks, and the opportunities for students to own their learning.  

"We've also seen how teachers can be empowered by having collaborative time to prepare units together," said Cochrane. "High-quality instructional materials are designed to help students build knowledge about the work and craft and structure of language through units of study that include multiple texts and tasks. It is important for teachers to have the collaborative time to see the threads that run through a unit and to help students see them, too. Our NIET senior specialists have engaged in unit preparation support at some level in all of our districts, and many have plans to continue that work in summer professional learning."

Christine Hunter, a network participant and supervisor of instruction in Lincoln County Schools, reiterated the benefit of the collaborative unit preparation process through TLIN. "As we delved into the materials and explored the structure and organization of the content through the unit prep process, the true beauty of the materials came to fruition," she said.

High-quality instructional materials are designed to help students build knowledge about the work and craft and structure of language through units of study. It is important for teachers to have the collaborative time to see the threads that run through a unit and to help students see them, too.
Sharon Cochrane, Tennessee Networks and East Team Special Projects Director, NIET

TLIN has catalyzed mindset shifts across the state about the role that high-quality instructional materials can play in helping educators improve student outcomes and what is necessary to support teachers as they implement those materials. "At the building and district levels, administrators and district support supervisors have gained a panoramic understanding of the curriculum. This insight has provided inestimable confidence in answering questions in PLCs, in community conversations, and in board meetings alike," said Hunter.   

Ultimately, the power of TLIN is in the number of districts involved, and the collaborative structures in place that allow educators to learn from and support one another. "I think district leaders would say that one of the best things about the network is coming together in webinars and walkthroughs to learn together and to support each other. We’ve really seen relationships develop among leaders and coaches across the networks. There is also visible evidence in the classroom of the professional learning teachers are engaging in: unit essential questions and end-of-unit tasks posted so that students have a sense of purpose and direction every time they enter the room," shared Cochrane.

Administrators and district support supervisors have gained a panoramic understanding of the curriculum. This insight has provided inestimable confidence in answering questions in PLCs, in community conversations, and in board meetings alike.
Christine Hunter, Supervisor of Instruction, Lincoln County Schools, Tennessee

TLIN brings together districts across the state of Tennessee that all have a common goal to elevate high-quality ELA materials. Learning walks, focused monthly professional development, and collaborative preparation opportunities have resulted in improved instructional practices, as well as both teacher and student ownership in professional learning communities and classrooms. NIET will continue to support the network through the 2025-26 school year, and we look forward to sharing more results from this project in the years to come.