News and Highlights from the WMU-HIL Literacy Leadership Project

HIL Project schools and their partners are seeing big transformations for little readers and their teachers. Learn what it looks like in communities across West Michigan. 

April 2020


directors' photoFROM THE DIRECTORS

What a difference a week makes! Just days after completing our Spring Director’s Report, our envisioned future transformed due to the expanding public health emergency that shapes our world. Now, like educators across Michigan, HIL Project staff have pivoted to expeditiously respond to Governor Gretchen Whitmer's April 2 Executive Order (EO 2020-35) to keep school buildings closed for the remainder of the school year.

HIL Project Directors, Coordinators, and Facilitators are engaged in planning how to best support the School Leadership Teams in HIL Project schools as they implement their required Continuity of Learning Plans (CLP). Thanks to our colleagues at Michigan Department of Education, Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators (MAISA), and other state associations, Michigan’s schools are receiving excellent guidance, and we are actively seeking ways to support students’ at-home literacy learning.

These are unprecedented times, with more challenges than we can name. But we believe that Michigan’s educators are up to the task of helping students feel safe and secure, while moving them forward, even as our world changes.

Cohort B Schools make a positive start

By Lisa J. Ryan

The HIL Project is off to a great start with 75 new Cohort B schools throughout West Michigan. We are excited to welcome 12 new Cohort B Facilitators to serve the new schools. Cumulatively, they bring over 300 years of experience in leadership for teaching and learning. In addition, we have 22 experienced Implementation Facilitators continuing from Cohort A, and we are grateful for their continued service and commitment to the project.

Introductory staff meetings led by the region Coordinator and newly assigned Implementation Facilitators were held in almost every school in Fall 2019, and Implementation Facilitators began working in their new schools in January. They have been getting to know the principals, staff, and culture. More importantly, they have been observing all the positive things that are happening to achieve literacy success for all children in each school.  

Even as the start-up process has been interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting school closures, HIL Facilitators are working for schools. During a two-week pause to provide Principals and their teams time to adjust, Facilitators met to start working on how they can support their schools for the entire period of the shut-down and help them resume school whenever that becomes possible. In mid-April, HIL Facilitators will meet again to further develop ideas for school support and share ways they are already engaging with their HIL School Teams. In the meantime, the HIL Management and Coordinating teams are meeting daily to adjust to changing circumstances and look for ways to support both Facilitators and their schools. We appreciate the remarkable resilience and positivity shown by school teams and their facilitators. We all look forward to the time when we can meet again in person to plan next steps.

The success of this multi-layered start-up could never have happened without the collaboration of districts, school, and ISD leadership. Together, we know we can adapt through this global public health climate and, ultimately, make a significant impact on the literacy achievement of children throughout West Michigan.

Cohort A school leaders offer encouragement to new HIL project participants

Here is a sampling of how Cohort A participants describe their experience as they approach the end of their third year in the HIL Project. Thank you to HIL Project Facilitator Becky Stauffer for sharing this feedback.

From a Principal

"I, too, was worried that the HIL Project was going to put more on my plate or on the teachers' plates, but it was actually the opposite. Our facilitator worked hand and hand with the teachers and provided support in the areas we worked on. These areas were areas we already felt we needed to improve on, but the project provided focus and support in moving forward." 

–Mindy Bohan, Principal at Marcellus Elementary School

From a Teacher

“I am very thankful for the positive impact the HIL project has made to my building. The HIL Team (consisting of a few teachers, principal, and HIL facilitator) will have the knowledge and power to impact your individual building how they see fit (and with staff input). The HIL project has been a force of positivism, positive growth, transparency, and vehicle for continued progress. It is not another initiative that will be forgotten in two years. We have not only made positive growth with our data, but the program promoted us to unite our staff, speak truthfully... and improve communication between students, staff, and building principals. As our 3rd year is finishing up, my favorite thing about the HIL project is that we (the HIL Team) have programs in place to continue analyzing data. Specifically, the HIL Team will present our updated data in a presentation to our staff every fall, winter, and spring. Also, staff will move students on our reading & math data wall after testing periods in the fall, winter, and spring. Please NOTE, your initiatives may look very different. Analyzing data was one of our growth edges.” 

–Kelly Price, 2nd grade teacher, Justus Gage Elementary School, Dowagiac Union School District


One of the unique features of the HIL Project’s work is the way we support schools through Literacy Rounds. Before the interruption created by the COVID-19 shut-down, the HIL leadership team had completed (with only few exceptions) all the HIL Project introductory meetings with our Cohort B schools, and conducted Literacy Rounds in 41 schools. What we learned, overall, is that Cohort B school teams are eager to begin their participation in the HIL Project.

Our next step, when public health concerns allow us to, will be to complete the Literacy Rounds and staff debriefs in all remaining Cohort B schools. We fill our Literacy Rounds teams with volunteers from across the region—volunteers that include members of the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators (MAISA) General Education Leadership Network (GELN) members, teachers and principals from Cohort A and B schools, intermediate and local district literacy coaches, and HIL Project Facilitators.
Click image above to explore the Components of School Renewal Rounds
What do Literacy Rounds look like?
Facilitators will guide Literacy Rounds participants through a powerful day of appreciative inquiry and collaboration. They will use our updated School Renewal Rounds Handbook, which features a more comprehensive approach to school renewal. The initial version of the Handbook focused solely on Literacy, whereas in the new version demonstrates how our adaptation of Instructional Rounds can be used in all core content areas. Through previous and ongoing learning, we continue to adapt our approach to the meet the needs of each school.


New principals benefit from relationships, clear vision provided by HIL Project teams

By Jennifer Sück
HIL Project Facilitator

The start of a new year always brings excitement and a bit of nervousness. The start of the 2019-2020 school year was no different.  As a HIL Project Facilitator, I discovered I would be meeting new administrators in both of the schools I serve. My emotion meter went from excitement to more of a nervous feeling.  I had a plethora of thoughts running through my head: “What will they think of the project?  Will they accept me in the building? Will they need to establish their own initiatives?  Do they have experience in leadership? How will I catch them up to all we have done in the building in the past 2 years?” 

As I reflect on the positive transition we ultimately achieved, I recognize three key points to our success: relationships, clarity of the work, and willingness on the part of the principals. The school leadership team was critical during the transition as well. The trusting relationships that were formed around the focus on literacy proved to be an asset in setting the stage for sustainability. 

READ MORE about the way the HIL Project eased the leadership transition at two Grand Rapids elementary schools.


Buchanan Elementary scores a WIN!

by Ann DeYoung

At Buchanan School in Grand Rapids, staff created a WIN (What I Need) Library filled with a wide variety of books. Most books are in English, but many are in Spanish. Some are available in both Spanish and English!  The school is home to students from many diverse cultures represented in the books' themes (Latino, African American, traditional, etc.). The fiction and non-fiction books include people who represent all ethnic groups. 

READ AN ACCOUNT of their library journey 
Students check out at least one book per week. Most students check out more, and they track books read on a reading log.


Sand Lake Elementary is growing teacher practices collaboratively

By Teresa McDougall and Julie Scott

The climate is changing for teacher learning. For years, school leaders have sent teachers out to conferences or one day workshops, only for them to come back to the classroom and implement a nugget of an idea from that time away. Sit-and-get teacher training promoted a culture of independence that was ineffective for implementing schoolwide change and cohesive teaching practices. In order for teachers to reach their full potential, a culture of support needs to develop. Just as teachers work hard to develop a culture of learning for students, school leadership teams are working to cultivate a collaborative learning environment for staff.

READ MORE about the research that informs our work and the way it's playing out in Sand Lake.
Sand Lake Elementary staff are engaged in an ongoing process of growth and inquiry.,,,They have found that together they are smarter. Together they can unlock student potential.


Locally grown and sustained: The power of HIL partnerships

by Lisa J. Ryan, HIL Project Assistant Project Director

From its inception as an idea planted by West Michigan superintendents through their Reading Now Network, the HIL Project has embraced a history of grass-roots efforts and collaborative partnerships. We are proud to count as partners many organizations that continue to support and promote the HIL school renewal model in both systematic and organic ways.
Among these partners are the representatives of the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators (MAISA) General Education Leadership Network (GELN) from the 16 ISDs/ESAs that support HIL Project schools. These GELN representatives meet with HIL Project leaders through monthly teleconferences in which they work to coordinate the efforts of ISD/ESD school improvement and literacy/instructional coaching services with the implementation of the literacy initiatives in the HIL Project schools. In recent months, our GELN partners have begun hosting “meet and share” sessions for ISD/ESA instructional teams and the HIL Project Facilitators. Also, the HIL Project has opened Facilitator training to the ISD/ESA instructional and school improvement coaching personnel as part of our sustainability plan.

READ WHAT OUR PARTNERS ARE SAYING about this historic collaboration.

Leading Now, Reading WOW!

Don't miss all the latest news and happenings featured in the Leading Now, Reading WOW! widget on the home page! If you haven't visited lately, here's a sampling of what you've missed:
  • Updates and photos from Cohort A schools
  • News about ways local businesses and charitable foundations are enhancing literacy work at HIL Project schools
  • Stories about the impact that high integrity, high fidelity literacy practices are making in schools
  • and more!
Visit the home page often to learn what's new and exciting at HIL Project!

How can you help?

Some HIL Project schools are benefiting from the generosity of local businesses and charitable foundations. These donors recognize the good work happening and want to leverage their giving through partnerships poised for success. 
We acknowledge with appreciation their support and invite others to join them.

Thank you:

BESCO Water Treatment
Binda Foundation
Metal Flow Corporation
Perrigo Charitable Foundation
United Way

Contact us to learn how individuals and organizations can enhance literacy efforts at HIL Project schools, AND receive recognition for their generosity.
Learn how to contribute

Upcoming Events

All dates subject to change based on State and National travel and assembly restrictions in place at the time of the event. At all times, we are committed to regularly engaging our teams using creativity and technology as necessary.


June 22-23, 2020 COHORT A 
June 24-25, 2020 COHORT B
(Grand Traverse Resort
Please save the dates for possible alternatives.


May 8, 2020
June 5, 2020
August 21, 2020
September 11, 2020
October 9, 2020
November 13, 2020
December 11, 2020

Building Classroom Libraries: Essential Instructional Practices in Literacy

This series of courses was created by a subgroup of the ISD Early Literacy Coaching Network to provide support to district literacy leadership teams focused on building and supporting classroom libraries within their school. The courses are aligned with the Essential Instructional Practices in Early and Elementary Literacy.

Click here to learn more. 
(To access courses, you will need an EduPaths account and be logged in.)
Visit the HIL website
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