Journal of Educational Change

, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 477–504 | Cite as

Achieving excellence: Bringing effective literacy pedagogy to scale in Ontario’s publicly-funded education system

  • Mary Jean Gallagher
  • John Malloy
  • Rachel RyersonEmail author


This paper offers an insiders’ perspective on the large-scale, system-wide educational change undertaken in Ontario, Canada from 2003 to the present. The authors, Ministry and school system leaders intimately involved in this change process, explore how Ontario has come to be internationally recognized as an equitable, high-achieving, and continuously improving jurisdiction (Brochu et al. in Second report from the 2009 programme for international student assessment. Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, Toronto, 2011; Mourshed et al. in How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better. McKinsey & Company, New York, 2010; OECD in Strong performers and successful reformers in education: lessons from PISA for the United States. OECD, Paris, 2010). The narrative of improvement in Ontario presented here was developed out of systematic interviews with Ministry and School Board leaders’ experiences of the literacy improvement strategy, and informed by document and data analyses. It addresses the historical and political context of Ontario’s change efforts, the shifting understanding of teaching and learning in the province, the essential respect for the professionalism of educators, the structures that facilitated the change, and concludes with key characterizations of the present culture of education in Ontario. While the paper focuses on the elementary literacy strategy, its wider objective is to outline the collaborative approach to shifting pedagogical practice that has opened the ceiling for what a public education system is capable of achieving by fostering local ownership of change while raising the floor by setting high standards for literacy achievement for all students.


Large-scale educational change Literacy pedagogy Professional learning Shared ownership Culture of learning Participatory environment 



This paper is grounded in the dedicated efforts of Ontario principals, teachers and students who, supported by the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat (LNS), have changed the landscape of Ontario education. We would like to thank all participants in the process for sharing their insights, challenges, and practices. These have served to inform our provincial understanding about better serving the students of Ontario. We would like to acknowledge in particular the work of education leaders within the ministry and district school boards for enabling deep professional learning for positive change for learners of all ages.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mary Jean Gallagher
    • 1
  • John Malloy
    • 2
  • Rachel Ryerson
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.MJ Gallagher and AssociatesLasalleCanada
  2. 2.Toronto District School BoardTorontoCanada
  3. 3.Ontario Ministry of EducationTorontoCanada

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