Wolfpack WORKS: A Look at the Literacy Initiative’s First Year

Wolfpack WORKS (Ways to Optimize Reading/Writing for Kids Statewide) began in 2018 to provide intensive, literacy-specific induction support to first- and second-year, K-2, classroom teachers in 16 high-need school districts. With a three-year, $12,266,816 grant from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, the program has expanded in its second year to support third-year teachers, bringing the total number of participating teachers to more than 200.

 Here’s a look at Wolfpack WORKS’ first year and the impact it is having on teachers and students in North Carolina.

Teacher Helping a Student Read

Antwan Brown, a first-grade teacher at Martin Millennium Academy in Tarboro, says his students would have been at an academic disadvantage if he had not participated in the NC State College of Education’s Wolfpack WORKS literacy initiative.

Through Wolfpack WORKS (Ways to Optimise Reading/Writing for Kids Statewide), he was paired with literacy coach Tonia Percy, whom Brown described as an integral component to his success in the classroom.

“Without Wolfpack WORKS, I know that my scholars would have been at a disadvantage because of my inexperience and novelty. With the program and Tonia, my students had access to education through a veteran educator and access to research-based literacy instruction,” Brown said. “I felt more empowered with knowledge and the necessary tools to impact the lives of my scholars.”

Wolfpack WORKS began in the summer of 2018, with a one-year, $5,894,541 grant from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction to provide intensive, literacy-specific induction support to first- and second-year, K-2, classroom teachers in 16 high-need school districts. A three-year, $12,266,816 grant awarded in March has enabled the program to expand support to third-year teachers going forward, bringing the total number of participating teachers to more than 200.

Designed around 10 evidence-based literacy practices, the initiative incorporates blended professional development, literacy-specific coaching and resources that beginning K-2 teachers need to implement effective literacy instruction in their classrooms.

In its first year, the initiative impacted more than 2,000 students and 170 teachers.

“The Wolfpack WORKS program has encouraged me to implement practices in my classroom that I was hesitant to attempt. It has given me creative approaches to being able to reach my students more effectively,” said Tina Carter, a kindergarten teacher at Wells Elementary School in Wilson. “My coach supports me by modeling lessons, setting realistic goals and providing resources that allow me to better understand how to reach my students.”

Wolfpack WORKS employs 20 literacy coaches who reach:

3,600+

K-2 Students

74

K-5 Schools

200+

Beginning Teachers

Coaches Help Beginning Teachers Gain Confidence

Wolfpack WORKS employs 20 coaches who model and co-teach classroom lessons, giving beginning teachers the necessary tools to impact students in a meaningful way.

Each coach works weekly with and supports a small number of beginning teachers in person and via web-based tools to assist them in implementing a variety of literacy programs, skills, and strategies in their respective districts.

Carter and Brown are not the only teachers who felt their confidence rise through interactions with coaches.

An independent evaluation of Wolfpack WORKS conducted by Duke University’s Social Science Research Institute found that nearly three-fourths of all participating teachers demonstrated gains in self-efficacy in literacy instruction after participating in the program’s pilot year. The mean Teacher Self-Efficacy for Literacy Instruction survey score for participating teachers rose from 6.35 at the beginning of the school year to 7.16 by the end of the school year.

“We always talk about how challenging the work of early literacy instruction is, particularly for beginning teachers and specifically in the districts we’re serving, that are relatively low resource, high poverty districts with high teacher turnover,” said Jill Grifenhagen, Wolfpack WORKS principal investigator and assistant professor of literacy education. “Seeing our teachers gain in their self-efficacy can influence their ability to implement quality instruction and, if they’re feeling more self-efficacious, they’re probably more likely to stay in the classroom longer-term.”

Nearly 3/4ths

of participating Wolfpack WORKS teachers demonstrated significant gains in self-efficacy in
literacy instruction after one year.

Encouraging Teachers to Remain in the Classroom

Survey data indicated that 97% of teachers who participated in Wolfpack WORKS’ first year reported a desire to remain in the classroom, and 88% of those said they planned to remain in a teaching position within their current district.

Helping teachers remain in the classroom is especially important for the 48 percent of the residency-licensed teachers who participated in Wolfpack WORKS’ pilot year. These teachers, who enter the profession through an alternate pathway, have bachelor’s degrees but have not completed a traditional teacher preparation program, and enter classrooms to fill a need in districts facing teacher shortages.

“The support of Wolfpack WORKS has been so beneficial to me. It has allowed me to accomplish so many great things within my first year of teaching,” said Tiah Cooper, a residency teacher at Butner STEM Elementary School.

At the request of school and district leaders, coaches have conducted school-wide and district-wide professional development sessions on topics that included the foundations of reading, comprehensive literacy instruction, writing instruction, small-group reading instruction, read alouds and the integration of digital tools in literacy instruction. In so doing, the impact of the Wolfpack WORKS project has extended its impact beyond beginning teachers.

“The presence of the coaches is not only impacting our Wolfpack WORKS teachers, but other teachers and administrators in our schools and school systems,” said Ann Harrington, co-principal investigator of Wolfpack WORKS and teaching associate professor of reading education and elementary education. “We are able to cast a broader net and impact additional children.”

"My partnership with the Wolfpack WORKS initiative has been simply amazing. I would recommend the program even to veteran educators because we are all lifelong learners and have the opportunity to grow through collaboration."

- Antwan Brown
First-grade Teacher at Martin Millennium Academy in Tarboro

Benefits Extend Beyond Early Literacy

Although the main goal of Wolfpack WORKS is to support beginning teachers as they implement evidence-based literacy instruction, many teachers said they learned how to better manage their classrooms through interactions with coaches.

It’s a benefit that Grifenhagen and Harrington said they anticipated, because Wolfpack WORKS’ practices focus on setting up literacy and classroom environments. “We know through our experiences as teachers and teacher educators that building a strong classroom community and having strong classroom management is an essential foundation for literacy instruction, so it was no surprise,” Harrington said.

Duke’s independent evaluation also showed that 41% of participating teachers said classroom management was a challenge at the end of Wolfpack WORKS’ first year, compared with 58% in the middle of the school year. Giving teachers the opportunity to develop classroom management skills during the first year will enable them to focus on gaining a stronger understanding of literacy instruction as their careers progress, the project team said.

“Many of our coaches needed to work to help beginning teachers establish strong classroom management. Now that they have this foundation for classroom management, they can gain a deeper understanding of the literacy instruction in the second year of Wolfpack WORKS,” Harrington said.

The desire to gain a deeper understanding of literacy instruction has inspired Brown, a first- grade teacher at Martin Millennium Academy, to pursue a Master of Education degree through the NC State College of Education’s New Literacies and Global Learning. His purpose was to continue to impact students long after his participation in Wolfpack WORKS ends.

“My partnership with the Wolfpack WORKS initiative has been simply amazing,” he said. “I would recommend the program even to veteran educators because we are all lifelong learners and have the opportunity to grow through collaboration.”

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