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Indiana is in the midst of an enormous undertaking to improve literacy rates. The approach: Align state standards, curriculum, and teacher training programs with practices rooted in the science of reading, which emphasizes phonics to help students decode words.
Literacy coach Mika Frame has a memorable mantra for accomplishing big goals.
“My current principal always tells me, ‘Eat an elephant one bite at a time,’” she said. “Through this saying, he always encourages me to seek change in our staff by taking small steps, as opposed to expecting my teachers to change all at once or in drastic measures.”
A K-2 literacy coach at Rose Hamilton Elementary School in Centerville, Frame is part of the first cohort of educators that trained in reading science practices as part of the Indiana Literacy Cadre. Now she co-teaches, analyzes student data to see who needs more help, and leads her colleagues through the state’s new requirements.
Frame told Chalkbeat about her work as Indiana looks to bring more literacy coaches like her to its schools.
What drew you to a career in education?
My favorite part of high school was when I was a cadet teacher and worked with elementary students. I still love working with children today. I enjoy the energy, enthusiasm, and curiosity of young learners. Witnessing the progress and achievements of students, seeing them overcome challenges, and helping them reach their potential brings me a deep sense of satisfaction.
What does your typical day look like?
My typical day at Rose Hamilton includes working alongside teachers in their classrooms. Co-teaching is my favorite aspect of working with my colleagues. An additional responsibility I have most days involves disaggregating learning data. This data often presents patterns and helps teachers identify subgroups of students who need additional interventions. Each month, I also lead professional learning community meetings and offer new ideas and strategies to our teachers. Finally, coordinating testing is an important part of my position; I help ensure testing protocols are executed with fidelity and testing deadlines are met.
What’s your favorite lesson to teach and why?
My favorite lessons to teach are phonics lessons. Phonics plays a vital role in children’s literacy development by providing them with the tools to decode words, read fluently, and comprehend written materials effectively. It sets the stage for their future academic success. Phonics empowers children to read independently and with confidence. When children can decode words accurately, they can read books and other written materials on their own. This opens up a world of knowledge and imagination. I love seeing children’s eyes light up when they start sounding out words.
When did you first learn about the ideas of reading science? How have you been able to apply those recently with fellow educators or students?
I first learned in depth about the science of reading when I was accepted into the Literacy Cadre program. In the Summer of 2022, I attended a weeklong training that dove into the science of reading. I have been able to apply these strategies by leading professional learning community meetings. During this time, I’ve encouraged teachers in the building to present to one another about the science of reading instructional practices they are doing in their classrooms.
Tell us about your own experience with school and how it affects your work today.
I grew up in Modoc, Indiana. My community was rural and consisted of approximately 160 people. I graduated with only 18 students in my class, and that included a few foreign exchange students. It was a close-knit community in which everyone knew each other. This background helps me understand that every single child matters, and no matter the size of the district, helping all students succeed academically and helping them reach their full potential is the ultimate goal in education.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received, and how have you put it into practice?
My current principal always tells me, “Eat an elephant one bite at a time.” Through this saying, he always encourages me to seek change in our staff by taking small steps, as opposed to expecting my teachers to change all at once or in drastic measures. I have used this advice frequently as our school has been going through new initiatives in the last year. Our next step this coming school year is to look into a new phonics program. We are slowly looking into the programs we are using and making small changes, if needed. Again, small steps that lead to changes are important!
What’s one thing you’ve read that has made you a better educator?
This past year I read “Shifting the Balance” by Jan Miller Burkins and Kari Yates with my colleagues in the literacy cohort. It really helped me understand the aspects of science of reading. After reading the book, my superintendent was kind enough to buy a set for my teachers, and I led a book study at Rose Hamilton. It was great to meet after school with the teachers and reflect on each chapter, as well as what we do or possibly could do better.
Aleksandra Appleton covers Indiana education policy and writes about K-12 schools across the state. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.