Teacher Leaders Taking Action in Early Foundations and Literacy

by Amanda Armstrong, Teachers and Leaders division at the Tennessee Department of Education

The research is clear: Reading proficiently prepares students for lifelong success. Research shows the importance of students reading proficiently by third grade. In this third of four teacher leader action briefs, Implementing Unit Starters to Improve Student Literacy, three second grade teacher leaders in Weakley County share how they are taking action to ensure their students are reading proficiently by third grade.

The following is an excerpt from the third action brief, released on May 31 and written by Rachel Bearden, Rachel Cooper, and Beth Davidson. Click here to read the complete brief.

Lessons Learned: Unit Starters are Rigorous

The unit starters are incredible because they give true meaning to the phrase “rigorous classroom instruction.” Prior to the unit, when asked if we were teaching to the highest level possible, we gave a resounding, “Yes!” However, after implementing the unit, we realized how our previous expectations were not high enough and could not compare to the results of the unit. Our teaching has changed in many ways because we are constantly thinking about how we can make more connections and tie in more learning. It taught us how to gather and incorporate other resources, such as educational technology, paired texts, and hands-on activities.

The embedded approach to teaching with this unit is astounding because we each felt that we had never taught so much in such a short amount of time. When asked about addressing rigor within the standards, many teachers would likely list time as a concern. There does not seem to be enough time in the day, or in the year, to cover all the material, so it was exciting to see this unit address that need that so many of us toil over. With high expectations and team collaboration we were able to implement with fidelity and our students definitely benefited. When asked about the unit, students admitted it was “hard,” but they unanimously agreed, “Let’s do another one!” Our students are eager for complex books, hands-on activities, and deeper connections.


With a grant from Chiefs for Change, teacher leaders across the state partnered with the department to develop four action briefs that focus on four key areas: