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    Get to Know New Board Member-at-Large Laurie Sharp

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Jun 11, 2019

    get-to-know-sharp-2A member since 2004, Laurie Sharp has spent 15 years in roles of increasing responsibility and visibility at ILA—she’s attended various ILA committees; held leadership positions in two special interest groups (Professors of Literacy and Teacher Education and Specialized Literacy Professionals); served as a Board member, vice president, president-elect, and chair of ILA’s Texas chapter, the Texas Association for Literacy Education; and in July, she starts a new chapter as Board member-at-large. 

    In addition to her many contributions to ILA, Sharp is a former classroom teacher, a teacher educator, and a prolific scholar, having contributed more than 80 publications to the literacy community. She recently accepted a new role as associate professor and assistant dean of undergraduate studies for first- and second-year experience at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, TX.

    We spoke to Sharp about the value of professional associations, cultivating effective partnerships, and what it really means to be a literacy leader.

    On what ILA means to her

    “I’ve been an ILA member since 2004 during my enrollment as an undergraduate preservice teacher at the University of Central Florida. Dr. Donna Camp was one of my mentor professors, and she encouraged us to become involved in a professional organization. I chose ILA and have not regretted it since.

    “Throughout my entire career, both as a classroom teacher and a teacher educator, ILA is my go-to for both evidence-based research and high-quality professional learning. I’ve gained so much from going to the professional conferences each year. But most of all, ILA has given me is a valuable network of professional colleagues. I’ve made professional and personal connections with literacy professionals from all over the world. I’m so excited to give back to an organization that has given me so much.”

    On her hopes for the future of literacy education

    “One of the areas that I’ve really become attuned to is literacy leadership. Rita Bean and Diane Kern have done quite a bit of work in this area, especially for specialized literacy professionals. In today’s schools, it’s equally important that classroom teachers are literacy leaders. Classroom teachers must be equipped to advocate for all students, high-quality literacy practices, and increased support for continuous professional learning.

    “ILA has been such a strong voice for effective literacy instruction among literacy professionals. In moving forward, I see great opportunities to invite other literacy stakeholders into the fold. Cultivating strong partnerships with administrators, policymakers, community members, parents and caregivers, and so many others is a vital step to advance literacy learning and teaching.”

    On promoting ILA’s mission of literacy for all

    “In both my practice and research, equity is always a concern at the forefront of my mind. Every learner should have access to highly qualified teachers who create culturally responsive, inclusive learning spaces. However, schools are currently experiencing teacher shortages and a lack of teacher diversity. To achieve literacy for all, it is essential to recruit, develop, and retain diverse literacy professionals of the highest caliber.

    “In terms of literacy teacher education, all things are not equal. There are great differences across teacher education programs, such as size, funding, and access to diverse school contexts. ILA is well positioned to provide literacy teacher educators with the resources and support needed in their work with preparing teachers for the world of literacy.”

    On the most valuable experience she brings to the role

    “Definitely my experience as a classroom teacher. I am a teacher at heart, and I see great value in maintaining strong connections with those who are closest to students: the teachers. I really admire that ILA has embraced practitioner-oriented research within its journal publications. Essentially, practitioners can read these articles and easily say, ‘I can implement that tomorrow.’

    “It’s about staying closest to where the magic is happening, which is in the hands of teachers.”

    What most excites you about this new opportunity?

    “Everyone I’ve interacted with through ILA and the Texas Association for Literacy Educators is so passionate about literacy and committed to excellence. Through these interactions, I have learned and grown tremendously. As a Board member, I look forward to meeting many more amazing literacy professionals from all around the world to further enhance my understandings of literacy learning and teaching.

    “I have to tell you, this is really just a surreal experience. ILA has been so good to me. To be involved in professional service as a contributor and a learner is just so exciting.”

    Alina O'Donnell is the communications strategist at ILA and the editor of Literacy Daily.

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    #ILAchat: Collaboration Is Key: How Principals Become Literacy Leaders

    By Colleen Clark
     | Jun 11, 2019
    JuneILAChat _Graphics_600x600

    ILA firmly believes that a thriving culture of literacy in a school relies on strong support and dedication from its principals.

    We talk a lot about why principals should be leading the charge and how their focus on literacy is critical for establishing this culture. But how do principals become literacy leaders?

    What can they do to set the tone in their school and make literacy the foundation for all learning? How can they leverage the talent and expertise of their staff and encourage horizontal leadership? And what if their background isn’t in literacy, reading, or English language arts?

    We believe the solution lies in collaboration, which is the focus of our next #ILAchat on Thursday, June 13, at 8:00 p.m. ET: Collaboration Is Key: How Principals Become Literacy Leaders.

    Our special guests for the chat include

    • Mandy Ellis, principal at Dunlap Grade School in Illinois and author of Lead With Literacy: A Pirate Leader’s Guide to Developing a Culture of Readers (Dave Burgess Consulting). She also writes regularly for her blog, A Principal’s Decree: Reflections and Realities of an Elementary School Principal.
    • Toni Faddis, principal at Chula Vista Elementary School District in California and author of The Ethical Line: 10 Leadership Strategies for Effective Decision Making (Corwin). She’s also the lead author of ILA’s latest literacy brief, “Principals as Literacy Leaders,” which was released on June 10.
    • Stephen G. Peters, superintendent of Laurens County School District 55 in South Carolina. Peters is a frequent author and presenter on school leadership. His next project is a series of five books, beginning in January 2020, with iLead: Lessons on Leadership and the Impact on Education, Schools, Teachers, Students, and Community. Just last month, Peters, a current ILA Board member, was elected to serve as the next vice president of the Board. His term begins in July.

    Follow #ILAchat and @ILAToday this Thursday to join the conversation with Ellis, Faddis, Peters, and ILA about what it takes for principals to become literacy leaders.

    Colleen Patrice Clark is the editor of Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.

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    Read to Me: A Campaign to Make Reading a Regular, Family Routine Across Croatia

    By Marina Meić
     | Jun 05, 2019
    lt366-croatia2-ldThe Croatian Reading Association (CroRa), an affiliate of the International Literacy Association, was established in 1991. Since then, CroRa has participated in many campaigns that advocate for reading and literacy. One of them—the biggest such campaign in Croatia—is Read to Me!, which started in 2013.

    Read to Me! is coorganized with the Croatian Library Association - Children and Youth Services Commission, Croatian Paediatric Society, and the Croatian Association of Researchers in Children's Literature, with support from UNICEF.
    Read to Me! aims to encourage families, caregivers, and other adults to start reading to children as soon as they are born. In that way, reading can become a part of their daily routine. It also helps create special emotional bonds. The aim of the campaign is to include all families and children and to make reading for at least 15 minutes a day a habit. 

    The campaign also aims to encourage families with young children to come 
    to their local library as soon as possible. There they will get information on early read-aloud benefits, how and when to start reading to children, lists of quality picture books, and how to choose age­-appropriate books. Picture books are typically the first contact a child has with literature and the written word in general, which is why paying special attention to the quality of picture books is so important. 

    The Read to Me! campaign sends the message that picture books should take precedence when choosing toys from the earliest age, and that families and caregivers can change the lives of their children by their own example by fostering good reading habits. In addition to the family, children's libraries, preschools, and pediatricians are viewed as key factors affecting the development  of early and family literacy. One of the campaign's aims is to encourage cooperation among libraries, kindergartens, and doctor's offices to raise awareness of their institution's important role in creating a culture of reading. 

    Over the past six years, there have been more than 1,000 events organized as part of the campaign, and more than 50,000 children have participated. The campaign has included picture book exhibitions; read-alouds in public libraries, squares, pediatrician's offices, and children's hospitals; and presentations for families about the importance of reading to children. Many activities have also involved local celebrities and well-known leaders ­including actors, singers, writers, and doctors. Stories and books have traveled in bookmobiles around the country to places where children don't have library access. 

    The first anniversary of Read to Me! was celebrated on International Children's Book Day, April 2, 2014, in the Cvrcak kindergarten, with a play in which the campaign organizers, actors, and children presented in a fun way the excellent results of 
    the campaign, which has united the whole country with the aim of making reading a daily habit for all families. Every year, the campaign continues to celebrate its birthday in a different town in Croatia. 

    Through this campaign, CroRa also celebrates International Book Giving Day each February 14 with an activity called I Read, I Give, and I'm Very Happy. People are invited to donate picture books to libraries, which then forward the books to children's hospitals, foster homes, children's SOS villages, and other charity organizations. In the last three years more than 9,000 picture books have been distributed across Croatia. 

    Thousands upon thousands of children and families have been impacted by this campaign in the past six years, and we look forward to seeing the campaign's impact continue to grow in the years to come. 

    For more information about Read to Me!, visit

    Marina Meić, a new ILA member, is a Montessori educator and vice president of the Croatian Reading Association's Split branch. She is an ILA 2019 30 Under 30 honoree. 
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    Get to Know New Board Member-at-Large Rachael Gabriel

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Jun 04, 2019

    qa-rachael-gabrielA former reading teacher and literacy specialist, Rachael Gabriel is now an associate professor of literacy education at the University of Connecticut, where she teaches courses on literacy methods, assessment, and leadership. She is a frequent ILA conference presenter as well as an author and reviewer for several ILA publications, grants, and awards.

    Beyond her work with ILA, Gabriel develops local and international professional development partnerships; serves as the analyst for a U.S. networked improvement community focused on early literacy intervention; and sits on the editorial boards of six major journals. Her robust body of research—comprised of more than 40 refereed articles—centers on literacy instruction, leadership, and intervention.

    We spoke to Gabriel about her interest in decision-making strategy; her plans to prioritize issues of access and equity; and the importance of asking the right questions.

    On what ILA means to her

    “As a practitioner, ILA is a connection to resources. Through ILA’s journals, conferences, and other opportunities to engage with literacy professionals, as a teacher, I found resources that shaped my understandings of literacy and the instruction I provided to my students. As a teacher educator, I often turn to ILA publications and events for resources, ideas, and inspiration.

    “As a researcher, ILA is a support for almost everything I do. Because ILA supports studies directly through grants and indirectly by providing platforms to disseminate research in journals and at conferences, there is a lot of knowledge about literacy that wouldn’t exist if it were not for ILA. A lot of ideas in literacy education can be traced back to an article, book, study, conference session, or conversation that happened because of ILA. Membership in ILA has meant access to a shared knowledge base and a community of colleagues.”

    On her hopes for the future of literacy education

    “There are a lot of separate conversations happening about issues of equity in instruction. I would like to see more cross-pollination between perspectives and ways of thinking about the ongoing challenges of ensuring every child has access to affirming, responsive, robust instruction.”

    On asking the right questions

    “I think part of being a good Board member is being informed about individual issues and aware of the big picture. The Board is not involved on a day-to-day basis, so we get to step back and ask: What is working? When, how, and for whom? Are all efforts leading in the direction we intend them to? What else needs to be recruited, aligned, or revised to increase opportunities for more children to develop powerful literacies?”

    On the experience she brings to the role
    “I have spent a lot of time studying decision-making in education policy settings and committee meetings. I think about leadership and mentoring and how smaller interactions build into bigger patterns of interactions, assumptions, and understandings. The role of a Board member is an opportunity to apply that line of research in the context of my work on literacy and leadership.”

    On what excites her most about this new role

    “ILA has been such an important part of my teaching, research, and connection to the community of literacy professionals. I am proud and honored to be able to give back to the organization by serving in this role, and am excited to engage with and learn alongside international members, leaders, and partners. As a Board member, I am eager to support ILA’s efforts to advocate for the universal right to literacy by generating and disseminating research that has the potential to shape public understandings of literacy teaching and learning.”

    Alina O'Donnell is the communications strategist at ILA and the editor of Literacy Daily.

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    Get to Know New Board Member-at-Large Kia Brown-Dudley

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | May 28, 2019

    A former teacher and national literacy strategist, Kia Brown-Dudley now serves as director of Literacy and Development at The Education Partners, where she works with educators and leading organizations to create and deliver transformational curricula and professional learning opportunities to improve student outcomes in literacy and early childhood education.

    Brown-Dudley, who was elected to one of three members-at-large positions in the ILA 2019 Board Election earlier this month, brings to ILA a wide range of experience in both the public and private sectors. Threaded throughout these experiences is a steadfast commitment to equity—from developing literacy programs for at-risk and gifted students to leading community engagement workshops and scholarship fundraising—everything she does is rooted in her drive to make literacy accessible to all.

    We spoke to Brown-Dudley about increasing representation of diverse social identities within ILA’s membership and materials, her vision for a more balanced, integrative approach to literacy education, and the importance of bringing all voices to the table.

    On what ILA means to her

    “ILA has such a sentimental place in my heart. When I was in graduate school for reading, it was the first professional organization that I joined. ILA was a valuable resource for me as I began my career and still is, over 20 years later. ILA feels like home. It is a safe haven, allowing me to challenge my thinking, gain new insights, and network with like-minded individuals dedicated to literacy for all."

    On her hopes for the future of literacy education

    “I would love to see a more integrative approach to literacy. It’s not just about reading and writing. Literacy is about communicating ideas and creating new understandings.  Reading and writing are language-based competencies. The interrelationship of speaking, listening, reading, and writing should be highlighted and taught in balance.

    "One thing I often hear from secondary colleagues is ‘We weren't taught to teach literacy.’ A focus on disciplinary literacy, moving from silos toward integrative approach, will benefit all students.

    "What’s also important to me is culturally sustaining literacy—hearing all voices and examining multiple perspectives. That expanding of the canon is so important for our students."

    On promoting ILA’s mission of literacy for all

    "What I hope to contribute—when we talk about literacy for all—is increasing the representation of our membership and materials to reflect the diverse identities that embody our global society. I want all stakeholders to reflect on and discuss how we can increase culturally responsive pedagogy and materials so that all students become excited about literacy.

    “My childhood friend sent me a text recently. It was a picture of a book. It was the first time she had seen a children's book in a bookstore that reflected her Filipino American heritage. I always keep that in mind when working with students. Do the books we have on our shelves really serve as windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors?

    "As a champion for literacy for all, we need to ensure that all readers and writers see themselves reflected in resources. As an organization, it is imperative that all voices are at the table and that they’re a part of our decision-making, impacting literacy for generations to come.”

    On the experience she brings to the role

    "Our diverse membership is what makes the organization dynamic. My experiences working in schools and districts, nonprofit organizations, and educational publishers provide ILA with a unique perspective. I hope to leverage my relationships and experiences to connect with current and future members, establishing public-private partnerships to advance our agenda. Together, we can guarantee literacy for all."

    On what excites her most about this new role

    "I am just so excited about our mission to make literacy accessible for all. There are infinite ways for the organization to grow; the key is ensuring that everyone is at the table. Together, we can make a global impact on literacy for all."

    Alina O'Donnell is the communications strategist at ILA and the editor of Literacy Daily. 

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