Katherine Nelligan, Fourth-Grade Teacher and Instructional Lead at Purpose Preparatory Academy

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One of our goals with Lead With Literacy is to shine a light on bright spots throughout Nashville doing great work to grow student literacy achievement to new heights. We visited Purpose Preparatory Academy to talk with Katherine Nelligan, fourth-grade teacher and instructional lead. Nelligan played a big role in developing her school’s literacy curriculum, and attributes her students’ tremendous growth not just to thoughtful curriculum design, but also to the cohesive, supportive culture of teamwork among the entire Purpose Prep staff.

Here are some things we loved:

Thoughtfully organized literacy curriculum with the students’ learning and development in mind

In developing their literacy curriculum, Purpose Prep drew from multiple sources for highly effective best practices and material. As a school, they are founded on the literacy instructional model “Great Habits, Great Readers” and have also drawn from the Uncommon Schools network. Nelligan notes that their curriculum has been crafted with the eye of an “innovator, not inventor,” crediting the deep work between a magnitude of individuals and organizations to create a collaboratively built product tailored to their students. The curriculum is designed to teach and strengthen individual reading and writing skills through several components, but to also weave them together so that skills are constantly reinforced and continuously practiced. Nelligan explains that one reason she and her fellow educators at Purpose Prep have been able to feel confident in their teaching methods is due heavily to the careful planning and preparation of those who have had a hand in developing it.

Cohesion, cohesion, cohesion!

One of the key aspects of developing the curriculum was that the overall scope and sequence really informs teaching practices. In other words, lessons and grade-level standards are not taught in isolation – rather, skills are taught with great understanding of what has come before them and also what they are preparing students to do next. All teachers have deep knowledge of the sequence of the curriculum and how the individual pieces weave together in the bigger picture. This is super-helpful for teachers to set their students up for success in future grades and beyond.

Holding the bar high for students

One thing that Nelligan shared was that, the more teachers have raised expectations for students, the more students have achieved. She says that, just as the staff holds themselves very accountable, they expect the same from students – and students work hard to rise to the challenge. This is true both academically and behaviorally, she says, and nothing compares to the joy of seeing students proud of themselves for doing what they previously thought was impossible.

It takes a village!

Nelligan emphasized how much she values working on such a collaborative team of fellow educators. Teachers are constantly practicing lesson plans together, observing one another, and showing willingness to grow through giving and receiving feedback. This type of healthy school culture is so important to aspiring to teach at the highest level and growing students to be their very best. When teachers are dedicated to a common vision, students become dedicated too. At Purpose Prep, the success of one teacher is the success of all truly because of the culture of teamwork that plays out every day.

Help us identify more bright spots like Katherine Nelligan and Purpose Prep! Email [email protected] with suggestions for whom we should highlight next.