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    ILA 2018 Equity in Education Panel Helps Educators Create Inclusive Spaces for LGBTQ Students

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Jul 24, 2018
    Equity in Education Panel 2018

    For the audience of ILA’s Equity in Education panel, Literacy and Our LGBTQ Students: Starting and Sustaining Schoolwide Transformation, which took place this weekend at the ILA 2018 Conference in Austin, TX, the message was clear: If you want to create a school climate where LGBTQ students feel comfortable, start with empathy.
     
    Eliza Byard, executive director of GLSEN, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group focused entirely on K–12 education, delivered the opening keynote, weaving her personal narrative with statistics about LGBTQ risk factors.

    “Today, I’m here as a lesbian who grew up in the U.S., whose life was saved by my relationship with books,” she said. “I simply want to say how much it means to be here with people whose work is dedicated to unlocking the incredible joys of literacy for children now, because it meant the world to me.”
     
    Byard also discussed GLSEN’s recent initiatives in response to the wave of discriminatory legislation attempted to roll-back efforts for LGBTQ equity. The organization has been a leading advocate for the repeal of so-called “no promo homo laws” that ban teachers from discussing LGBTQ topics in a positive light. Texas is one of seven states where these laws are still in effect—a fact that Byard used to underline the urgency of their work.
     
    “Change is possible; individuals can make a difference,” she said. “You cannot improve school climate if you don’t take these issues on.”
     
    She then opened the conversation to the panelists: Kris De Pedro, assistant professor at the College of Educational Studies at Chapman University; Amy Fabrikant, staff developer at the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility; Courtney Farrell, founder of The Journey Project; Jessica Lifschitz, Heinemann Scholar and fifth-grade teacher; Kate Roberts, author and literacy consultant; Dana Stachowiak, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of North Carolina Wilmington; and Tim’m West, senior managing director of the LGBTQ Community Initiative at Teach for America. 

    After introducing  themselves and stating their preferred pronouns, they spent the next hour unpacking and strategizing on a wide range of LGBTQ issues in education, from language to libraries.
     
    The danger of staying silent
     
    When asked about their first steps toward creating an LGBTQ-inclusive school climate, several panelists shared their own journeys of self-acceptance. 
     
    Stachowiak spent much of her teaching career wearing dresses and heels, skirting questions about her personal life, and avoiding LGBTQ topics in the classroom. Ultimately, it was a conversation with a student that inspired her to embrace her authentic self at work. 
     
    “A little girl in my classroom who had been really spunky and really gifted academically just started to go downhill and got quiet. I found out through her peers that she had been writing love letters to other girls in the classroom, and they were uncomfortable with that. I didn’t know what to do because I felt like if I supported her, I would be outed," she said. “I made it all about me at that moment—there was wanting to protect my student and there was wanting to protect myself, and that kind of overshadowed, unfortunately.”
     
    When the school counselor failed to take action and the student’s social and emotional well-being continued to decline, Stachowiak realized it was time for her to overcome her fears and focus on the needs of the student confiding in her. 
     
    “I just said, you know what? I can’t just continue to watch this happen,” she said. “That was me, as a kid.”

    Stachowiak’s story sparked a conversation about the dangers of silencing these topics in the classroom and addressed concerns about parent, administrator, or community pushback. 

    “There are a bunch of schools where the adults haven't moved to the same degree as our young people have,” said Roberts. “And I think that’s because, and others will echo, we’re terrified of the parents, we’re so scared of parent communities complaining.”

    Roberts reminded the audience that they can be loud, too.

    “We can complain too, right? We can be the annoying flashing light that someone’s terrified of, being like, ‘Why don’t you have more books that represent all kids? Why isn’t your curriculum more inclusive?’ I don’t think we do become that squeaky wheel enough,” she said. “So the loudest person in the community is the bigoted one.”

    Creating social-emotional benchmarks
     
    Before coming out to his students, West had to overcome his own perception of what it means to be a role model, a responsibility he cherished as one of the few black, male educators in his district.
     
    “Often when we talk about how our young boys need strong, black men [role models], there’s a lot of gendering and homophobia associated with that,” he said. “It may not be pronounced, but the assumption is that you’re masculine, of center, and heterosexual.”
     
    West reached his tipping point when he heard his students using the word “gay” as an insult. Instead of reacting, he decided to use that moment as a learning opportunity; he asked the students to clarify what they meant and, as a class, they read aloud the dictionary definition of the word. 

    His next step was to openly identify with that word. 
     
    “The power of my own decision to come out in that setting was just remarkable. After that, the way that they treated each other, the way they dealt with things, was so much different,” said West. “We had created a culture, in that classroom, in that school—where being gay was really awesome.”

    To West, this experience highlights the need for more social and emotional development work in the classroom. He wants to see more open, respectful dialogue around these topics.

    “When we talk about teaching and testing, when we talk about benchmarks—where are people and where do we want them to grow—we have to do the same thing around social-emotional competencies—not only for our students, but for our teachers.” 

    Students can be teachers, too  

    There was a consensus among all of the panelists about the importance of trusting in students’ wisdom and opening spaces for them to lead inclusivity efforts.

    “I think it’s important to remind ourselves that students come to school with incredible funds of knowledge,” said De Pedro. “In many ways, our students are more sophisticated and more involved than the teachers and the adults in our schools. Our students are teachers too; they can actually lead in these efforts.”

    Farrell said educators should focus on demonstrating they are truly listening by turning students’ words into actions. 

    “It’s learning what it is that the children need from us. Opening up spaces to say, ‘What would you like? What do you seek? What are your experiences?’” she said. “And whenever we open up spaces to hear, and they give us information, following it by action. So saying, “What you say matters, and here’s what we’re going to do about it.’”

    You don’t know what you don’t know

    Byard closed the panel by asking the panelists to share an action item for attendees to take back to their practices. 

    “I would echo the idea that it starts with us, recognizing that we don’t know what we don’t know,” said Farrell. “To dig deep into spaces that we may not have personally lived ourselves. So, a lot of listening, a lot of research, a lot of introspection, a lot of reading.”

    De Pedro similarly encouraged the audience to continuously challenge their assumptions and to seek new ways of knowing. 

    “Admitting you don’t know something and admitting you’re wrong are the two most powerful things educators can—and should—do,” he said.

    Fabrikant urged educators hold regular check-ins where students can discuss their feelings.

    "Just to know what everyone is bringing into the room," she said. "I really do believe in having a space just to share what’s alive in us."

    Panelists also discussed the importance of intersectional thinking, using conscious language, and fully integrating LGBTQ topics into the curriculum.
     
    Stachowiak closed the conversation with a powerful call to action. 

    “We need to be those voices to say, ‘Yes I can, and yes I will.’ Believe in yourselves that you can do this work and you’re not alone. Even if it’s just starting with you, just look around this room—this is a room full of accomplices,” she said. “This is where the revolution starts.”
     
    The livestreamed conversation, sponsored by Heinemann Publishing, was archived on ILA’s Facebook page and can be viewed here

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

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    ILA Announces Winners of William S. Gray Citation Merit, Other Awards at Annual Conference

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Jul 23, 2018
    Nell K. Duke Award

    The International Literacy Association (ILA) presented the William S. Gray Citation of Merit to Nell K. Duke, a professor in literacy, language, and culture and in the combined program in education and psychology at the University of Michigan, School of Education, this weekend at the ILA 2018 Conference in Austin, Texas.

    The William S. Gray Citation of Merit, ILA's most prestigious award, is reserved for those ILA members who have made outstanding contributions to multiple facets of literacy development—research, theory, practice, and policy. A former member of ILA's Literacy Research Panel, Duke was recognized for her work on early literacy development, particularly among children of poverty, specifically in the development of informational reading and writing in young children, comprehension development, and issues of equity and access in literacy education.

    "William S. Gray was the first president of this organization and was a pivotal contributor to our knowledge of the reading process," said Timothy Shanahan, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago and past recipient of the William S. Gray Citation of Merit, who presented the award to Duke. "More than any other ILA award, this one is for lifetime achievement and a career of contributions."

    Duke teaches preservice, inservice, and doctoral courses in literacy education; speaks and consults widely on literacy education; has served as coprincipal investigator on projects funded by Institute of Education Sciences, the National Science Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and Lucas Education Research, among other organizations; and is the author and coauthor of numerous journal articles, book chapters and books, including Inside Information: Developing Powerful Readers and Writers of Informational Text through Project-Based Instruction and Beyond Bedtime Stories: A Parent's Guide to Promoting Reading, Writing, and Other Literacy Skills from Birth to 5

    "I want to thank Tim [Shanahan] and the members of the committee and ILA," said Duke. "It's not really an award for me; it's an award for all the major collaborators I had the pleasure of working with over the years."

    In addition, the Timothy and Cynthia Shanahan Outstanding Dissertation Award, given annually for a dissertation completed in reading or literacy, was presented to Elena E. Forzani, assistant professor in literacy education at the Boston University Wheelock College of Education & Human Development. Her dissertation, How Well Can Students Evaluate Online Science Information? Contributions of Prior Knowledge, Gender, Socioeconomic Status, and Offline Reading Ability, investigated how well seventh-grade students evaluated the credibility of online information in science.

    Other award highlights include:

    • The Corwin Literacy Leader Award was presented by ILA to Esmeralda Carini, literacy district educational specialist for the Winward District, Kailua-Kalaheo Complex Area, Hawaii Department of Education.
    • Julie Coiro, associate professor of reading at the University of Rhode Island, received the Erwin Zolt Digital Literacy Game Changer Award.
    • The Jerry Johns Outstanding Teacher Educator in Reading Award was presented to Sharon Walpole, professor at the School of Education at the University of Delaware.
    • Mark Conley, professor of instruction and curriculum leadership at the University of Memphis, TN, was the recipient of the inaugural Leaders Inspiring Readers Award, sponsored by Achieve 3000.
    • The Maryann Manning Special Service Award was presented to Diane Barone, foundation professor of literacy at the University of Nevada, Reno.
    • The Regie Routman Teacher Recognition Grant was awarded to Keith Garvert, a teacher at Highline Community School, Denver, CO.

    The full list of award recipients can be found here.

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

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    ILA 2018 Kicks Off With Changemaker-Themed General Session

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Jul 23, 2018

    General Session 2018Though just shy of 8 a.m. Saturday, the energy was high as attendees poured through the doors of the Exhibit Hall at the Austin Convention Center. Inside, they danced to live music and posed for pictures in front of the colorful stage, eagerly awaiting the start of General Session.

    ILA Immediate Past President Douglas Fisher welcomed the audience and opened with a powerful quote: “Every student deserves a great teacher. Not by chance, but by design.”

    With its theme of “Be a Changemaker,” these words set the tone of the ILA 2018 Conference in Austin, Texas.

    Fisher then explored what it means to be a great teacher—one who offers equity in choice and access, advocates for all students’ rights to read and write, and ensures that zip code doesn’t dictate achievement. He said literacy is “the gateway to all other learning and the best anecdote to poverty at our disposal.”

    Bernadette Dwyer, ILA President of the Board, said the key to changemaking is persistence: we must “get going, keep going, and get started again.” She encouraged the audience to continue to be curious, to learn, and to advocate for things that matter.

    “Change begins with ordinary people—the quiet revolution of changemakers,” she said. “Let’s get started again and again and again until the basic fundamental right of literacy is achieved for all.”

    The revolutionary changemakers who followed continued to drive that message home.

    Don’t just involve, but engage

    When Adan Gonzalez, educator and founder of the grassroots community organization Puede Network, took the stage, he told his story of finding freedom through education. The son of Mexican American immigrants raised in the high-poverty neighborhood of Oak Cliff, Texas, he realized at a young age that the education system wasn’t serving him.

    “I became angry at the system, the system of education that became more worried about passing the test than knowing my name or my dreams,” he said. “This system was not created for people like me.”

    Gonzalez channeled his frustration into school. The more he read, the more he realized that education would be his escape from poverty. Today, a graduate of Georgetown and Harvard universities, he’s a third-grade teacher at his former elementary school.

    Gonzalez spoke about the danger of reducing faces and dreams to data and numbers and about the importance of speaking truth. He closed with a call to action: for all educators to not just involve but engage the communities in which they teach and to build on the strengths there.

    Practice “disruptive kindness”

    Cornelius Minor, lead staff developer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, followed with the powerful reminder that passion for change is not enough. He called on educators to practice “disruptive kindness.”

    “Being nice in the face of oppression is not enough. Nice does not create change—kindness does,” he said. “Kindness means I care enough about you to call you out and help you learn and change.”

    He reminded the audience of educators that, although they cannot dismantle the discriminatory systems in government, they can—and should—change the discriminatory systems that govern their classrooms, districts, and schools. If we fail to take action, he said, we choose to accept the problem.

    “If you show people a problem with no roadmap to possibility, they can get used to living with the problem,” he said. “I can never get used to this. We can never get used to this.”

    Minor left the audience with a four-step plan for becoming a changemaker: study, invent something, try it and measure your results, and ask for collaborative feedback.

    Change begins with you

    In the final keynote of General Session, Nadia Lopez relayed her story of founding Mott Bridges Academy, a middle school in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn—one of New York City’s poorest neighborhoods, an experience that taught her the importance of knowing students beyond their levels and scores. She reminded the audience that the power of literacy is not about passing a test, but about connecting students to their own stories and to worlds outside of their communities.

    “If you give them a name, they will own it,” she said. “If you give them a number, they will focus on what they cannot achieve.”

    Lopez shared a few of her students’ success stories as well as her four-part formula for transformation: a vision, a written plan, a tribe, and the audacity to make things happen.

    She closed with a powerful message: that change begins with you. She then asked the audience to join her in repeating an inspiring mantra:

    “Neighbor, you have been chosen to do a significant job for children who need you. You are liberating minds, transforming communities, hearts, and minds. You matter. You matter. You matter.”

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

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    Get to Know ILA 2018 Featured Speaker Matthew Kay

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Jul 18, 2018

    Matthew KayMatthew R. Kay is the founder and coordinator of the Philly Slam League, a nonprofit that hosts poetry teams from Philadelphia-area high schools in a five-month intellectual and artistic competition. A proud product of Philadelphia’s public schools, Kay is a founding teacher at Science Leadership Academy, where he teaches an innovative inquiry-driven, project-based curriculum. He recently published his first book, Not Light, But Fire: How to Lead Meaningful Conversations about Race in the Classroom (Stenhouse).

    His answers were edited for clarity and length.

    What inspired you to write Not Light, but Fire: How to Have Meaningful Classroom Conversations About Race?

    “There’s a lot of good information about why we should be discussing race in the classroom. There are already many robust conversations about that. What we need more of is a clear how-to. I hear a lot of this from teachers: ‘I want to talk about race and I know I should, but when I do, my kids walk away feeling worse—what am I doing wrong? We’re reading the right books, were diversifying our books, were doing all the things they tell me to.’

    A great deal of success comes from being mindful about how you’re developing relationships with students. Not just between you and the students, but between the students and each other. How do you train the kids to listen to each other, and to be respectful of each other’s opinions and ideas? How do you, after establishing that environment, challenge the kids. A lot of times we bore students with race issues that should not be boring, because we haven’t let race conversations be intellectually rigorous. Or unique.

    In the book, I call [Black History Month] February soup—how most kids take in their black history. Everything is thrown into the same pot. They don’t know anything is different from anything else. A student, after nine years of schooling, will say that Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King grew up in the same neighborhood, they rode a bus with Rosa Parks. It’s all a big mess and they never really plug into a specific issue because it’s all bland.

    We keep having the same conversations over and over, we keep shedding light on things people already understand. How do you talk about racism in a way where students feel like they’re actually about to learn something new?”

    Can you give us a glimpse into the theme of your presentation at ILA 2018? What do you want attendees to take away from your presentation?

    “I want folks to reflect on how bad we are as a society about talking about race—on the left, on the right, everywhere—we’re just bad at talking about race. We’re going to reflect on what we are modeling for kids and what might be the impact of that. What are kids learning when they hear us talking about race? To the point of February soup—when we confine all of our race conversations to one month, what does that teach students about race? When we only discuss race in terms of white oppression, what does that do to people’s understanding of the depths of racial identity?

    I just want to reflect upon a lot of our bad habits—hopefully things that folks have never thought about.”

    You said that poetry has helped you to overcome your stutter by improving your confidence. What changes have you seen in your students?

    “There are big successes. I have a lot of alumni poets that are teachers now. I take a little pride in that; some of those kids would not have been teachers if they hadn’t formed those relationships with their coaches and teams.

    Most of Philly’s youth poet laureates have come through my league. There are those high-profile successes. But then there are a lot of micro successes. The league makes being a mentor cool. Before you called, I was talking to some alumni who were asking if they can come back and work with younger poets. Of all the things, I’m most proud about that. We have a lot of kids who might not ordinarily be living service lives, but now, they want to give back. And I think that’s good for the city, and it’s good for the kids.

    Some kids fall in love with it and become poetry lifers, and that’s fantastic. But I also celebrate the kids who started freshman year and didn’t have confidence, and afterward, gained the confidence to do something else.”

    The theme of ILA 2018 is Be a Changemaker. What is a changemaker to you?

    “Are you going to be a solution-finder or someone who just talks a lot? If there’s any one unifying characteristic of our race discourse right now, it’s that everyone is wordy. Everything is a speech contest. An interrupting speech contest. You have people going back and forth and back and forth, and sometimes both sides have good will—and if they would just shut their mouths and listen, they would realize how much they agree on.

    Listening is much harder. Someone who’s willing to change things is willing to sit down and listen. Then we can get to, “What are we going to do next?”

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

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    The ILA 2018 Cheat Sheet

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Jul 17, 2018

    ILA 2018 Blog Post RoundupWe’re just three days away from the ILA 2018 Conference! In case you’ve missed any conference news, here’s a roundup of all Literacy Daily blog posts previewing the ILA 2018 Conference in Austin, TX, this weekend.

    The Conference App Guide: Part 2

    Discover ILA 2018: The Conference App Guide
     

    ILA 2018 Exhibit Hall and ILA Central Happenings

    The ILA 2018 Conference: Know Before You Go

    Standards 2017 Cochairs Share Their Can’t-Miss Sessions at ILA 2018 (Continued)

    Standards 2017 Cochairs Share Their Can’t-Miss Sessions at ILA 2018 (Continued)

    Standards 2017 Cochairs Share Their Can’t-Miss Sessions at ILA 2018

    Five Reasons You Should Attend Institute Day at ILA 2018

    Get to Know the ILA 2018 Equity in Education Program Panelists

    ILA 2018 Research Institute: Our All-Keynote Format Is Back!

    Marley Dias on Inspiring Activism, Diversifying Children's Literature, and Her Latest Reads

    Edcamp Literacy: The “Unconference” Within Conference

    A Lit Lover’s Guide to Austin

    ILA 2018 Featured Speaker Colleen Cruz on Anticipating Barriers, the Reading-Writing Connection, and What it Means to be a Changemaker

    Seven Powerful Lessons About Reading From ILA 2018 Featured Speakers Kylene Beers and Bob Probst

    Defeating Decision Fatigue With ILA’s Conference Tracks

    Your Guide to Institute Day at ILA 2018

    What to Expect from ILA’s Inaugural Children’s Literature Day

    Literacy Education for a Changing World

    Hope to see you there!

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

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