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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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    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
    kia-brown-dudley-q-a

    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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    Get to Know Incoming Vice President Stephen Peters

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | May 21, 2019
    stephen-peters-vp

    Last fall, Stephen Peters, superintendent of Laurens County School District 55 in South Carolina, declined a 2% merit increase in his annual salary because, as he said to the Index-Journal, “We are working diligently to raise the salaries of all employees and, until we have our teachers and support staff pay at appropriate levels, I feel it is best for me to decline a raise at this time.”

    It is that fiscally responsible style of leadership, his dedication to educators, and his focus on the future that has defined Peters’s time on the ILA Board of Directors, which he has been a member of since 2016. Now, he’s ready to take on a new role with the organization.

    Peters was elected vice president of the Board earlier this month and will assume the presidency in July 2020.

    We spoke with Peters about how his early learning experiences helped shape the trajectory of his life, his goals for his presidency, and why he’s excited about the future of ILA.

    On literacy

    “ILA means so much to me because it’s personal. I think that my life is what it is today because literacy was a foundation in the home that I was raised in. Literacy was always around me. As a child, we would read about families taking vacations during the summer and my family couldn’t afford family vacations, but it didn’t mean that I couldn’t go places. I went places because of reading. Because I had those experiences during my developmental years, my children had those experiences and now my grandchildren have those experiences.

    “Yesterday, I tweeted a picture of my 5-year-old granddaughter reading a book to her 5-month-old brother. She does it every day after school. It’s never too early for those books to become a foundation for everything to grow from.”

    On the ILA conference

    “As a practicing superintendent, I am faced with budget shortfalls and funding cuts. One of our main anchors is our annual conference. At our annual conference, we’re able to share the spokes that we have on our umbrella. But with budget shortfalls all over the country, schools aren’t sending teachers away to conferences like we used to. I think there’s a direct correlation to the economy and the strength of funding for school districts around the country and the world.

    “On the flip side of addressing that challenge and meeting it, we need to provide such powerful conferences, resources, and materials that our members and future members are convinced that we’re the best at what we do.”

    On the ILA Children’s Rights to Read campaign

    “As a working superintendent, I’m not only talking about Children’s Rights to Read, but employing initiatives in my district. Seeing is believing and I think showing people how this is embedded in the normal daily practices in a school is very powerful.

    “As vice president and president-elect, I plan to continue to challenge those who are working with me and around me to continue to be innovative and creative in ways concerning literacy so we can have a model for other people to see. Perhaps it won’t be able to be implemented with 100% fidelity in terms of what we’re doing, but perhaps it can be embedded in their communities and places of work in ways that fit their needs. We face so many challenges every day around the world and I think those closest to those problems deserve a seat at the table to help solve those problems.

    “I’m a strong believer in Children’s Rights to Read. I get up excited every day about the possibilities that we have as an association—the chance that we have to launch this in a huge way to impact millions around the world. This should be more than an initiative—this should be a movement. I see that happening at ILA. Children’s Rights to Read should anchor all our work at ILA.”

    On the ILA network

    “We already have a great association, but we want to make it greater and we want to make it bigger, both globally and at home. I see that happening in a number of ways.

    “We need to increase membership. More members means more voices. More voices means more action. We need to reach back out to the past presidents of ILA who’ve dedicated their lives to this work. I’m sitting at my desk and there’s a picture of [former ILA Board President] Bill Teale next to me. I say good morning to him every day. Just looking at him reminds me that there’s more work to do; the work never ends. The more people ILA has in the process, the more we can get done.

    “I’d also like to see us get more involved with colleges and universities because those are our future members. If we can engage [educators] early, then we have them as members for a lifetime. That should be our focus—attracting lifelong members of ILA—because literacy is a lifestyle and we need members who are committed for a lifetime to help us fight this war against illiteracy.

    “Adding to that, we want to make sure we create networking opportunities for our members to be in touch with those who are doing things they want to do. Why reinvent the wheel when there are people who are already implementing literacy practices that are effective? We need to make sure we are tapping into the voices of membership and our staff. We will become the leading literacy authority of the world—I think we’re already on our way to doing that—but we need to increase membership and make sure we’re fiscally stable. We also want to identify others who are doing great things around the world to highlight, thus providing opportunities for expanding creative literacy practices around the world. 

    “We believe that we are the best at what we do and that we work very hard and will continue to work very hard to involve our members. There’s a saying that great leaders don’t create followers, we develop more leaders. I think our strategic plan facilitates multiple pathways to that end. We’re looking to develop literacy leaders around the world.”

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

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