Cultivating Novice Teachers as Teacher-Leaders

by Dr. Emily S. Meixner


What does it mean to be a teacher?  I often think about this question as I prepare for the two methods courses on reading and writing pedagogy I teach to the students enrolled in the undergraduate secondary English education program at my school.  For my students, being a teacher means knowing what to do – knowing how to teach a particular text or topic.  I get it.  I remember the panicked excitement of my first few years of teaching and how important it was to fill each period of the day with something interesting and substantive.   And so, much of what I do in my methods courses is practical and about building a repertoire of pedagogical tools that my students can employ as they teach.

But building an expansive toolbox isn’t enough, and the tools I share with my students aren’t going to sustain them throughout their career.  They are going to need many, many more ideas and strategies.  My students are also going to quickly discover that there’s not just one right way to teach a topic or text.  As their students change, period-to-period as well as year-to-year, so must their teaching.


As a result, being a teacher isn’t just about methods, it’s also about developing habits of mind that keep my students asking questions about what’s happening (or not) in their classrooms and then seeking out better texts, more effective methods, new technologies, and more authentic assessments in response .  As a result, my methods courses also need to be about cultivating “teacher thinking” and fostering  in my students a desire to know more – about what they’re doing, about what they’re not, about what they know, about what they don’t, and about what is possible in their instruction even if they have never observed it  or experienced it themselves.

Teaching is, therefore, about knowing what to do and possessing habits of mind in service of the thoughtful creation of new knowledge; it is about figuring out what to do and doing it, often alone, without support, or in the face of personal, institutional, administrative, or financial resistance.

This usually isn’t what my students have in mind when they consider their future work.  They don’t yet see themselves in conversation with the teachers and researchers whose books they are reading in class.  They can’t imagine that they might become instructional innovators.  And, they haven’t even entertained the idea that they might someday share their innovations with other teachers in other schools (perhaps even in other states or countries).  In my methods classes, most of my students don’t imagine that they could become teacher leaders.

But they should.  Seeing themselves in this way will be essential to their professional growth.   It will also build the optimism, stamina, and resilience they are going to need as they move into their future classrooms.  As a result, my methods classes must also become a site in which my students begin seeing themselves as professionals contributing to their chosen profession.    This means that I must provide them with on-going, concrete examples of what this looks like as well as opportunities to imagine what their own path might be.  For example,

  • Talking explicitly about my professional reading, my involvement in professional organizations, and my experiences at local, regional, and national conferences – showing how each of these things contributes to my professional knowledge and well-being.
  • Regularly incorporating materials written and developed by alumni into the curriculum of both my methods courses.
  • Inviting alumni (usually in their first five years of teaching) to talk about their teaching in my methods classes.
  • Sharing materials and ideas I receive as a result of attending conferences presentations given by English teaching alumni.
  • Requiring students to create a 5-year professional development plan that will serve as a professional roadmap in their early years of teaching.

Each of these items makes public the ways in which teaching is about knowing, thinking, innovating, and taking action.  Additionally and more recently, I have tried to expand and reiterate these experiences in my program more broadly by providing opportunities for current students to

  • Network with alumni who return to campus to provide mentoring through evening professional development seminars (“How to Teach…” seminars).
  • Read the materials posted on the English teaching bulletin board outside my office which features articles I’ve written as well as those either written by or celebrating the work of other English teaching alumni, and
  • Participate in a summer potluck/book discussion on a recently published professional book with English teaching alumni and education faculty.


For the students who graduate from the secondary English education program at my institution, these experiences are paying off.  Learning to see themselves as engaged professionals, as teacher leaders, even before they graduate has translated into increased professional engagement in their early years of teaching.  Many of our novice teacher alumni attend local, regional, and national conferences; participate in teaching-related Twitter chats; contribute to our English Teaching alumni Facebook group; return to campus to share their ideas and success stories or to learn from their peers; join professional organizations; serve as mentors to other teachers in their schools; blog or publish articles about their teaching; seek out graduate programs that will enhance their teaching; and, finally, present at professional conferences.

If we want our novice teachers to lead, we must teach them that this is what teaching means.  This is what teachers do.  And we must teach them this crucial lesson before they accept their first teaching position.  (We can do it!)


Dr. Emily S. Meixner is Associate Professor of English and Coordinator of the Secondary English Education Program at The College of New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter @EsMteach, or contact her via email

Connecting Career and Classroom: Leading the Charge in Academic and Career Planning

by Lynn Aprill

I heard the following anecdote from one of our board members last night: “A business friend of mine was hiring recently. After interviewing 100 candidates, he found only three that he felt had the skills necessary for the job.” He wasn’t just talking about job-specific skills; he was lamenting the absence of “soft skills”– non-technical skills such as communications, attendance, work ethic, basic math and computer/technology skills.  While attending chamber of commerce and business development meetings across Northeast Wisconsin this spring, I found the theme of soft skills repeated again and again. The general consensus? “I can train a person for the job, but they need to know how to show up on time and turn off their cell phones.”


Manufacturers are increasingly calling for these skilled workers. According to the 2016 Manufacturing Vitality Index created by the Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance, only 29% of the manufacturing sector expressed difficulty finding talent in 2011. Just five years later, 78% of respondents are experiencing difficulty finding talent.  It’s clear that the talent development shortage looms large in Wisconsin, and according to the latest Talent Shortage Survey results from Manpower Group, it’s a problem that’s being experienced world-wide, with 2015 talent shortages at a seven-year high.

At the same time that employers are desperately in need of future skilled workers, statistics show us that many of our students are lacking adequate preparation for successful post-secondary education.  National college completion rates are continuing to decline, with just over half of our college-bound students receiving bachelor’s degrees after six years.

According to the National Governors Association, development of a skilled workforce is one of the primary priorities of the nation’s governors. To achieve this goal, many states are advocating for “improving the alignment between the skills needed by private sector employers and the education and job training systems that provide the pipeline of workers” (State of Wisconsin). State legislatures have led the charge by passing legislation such as Wisconsin’s PI26, requiring all districts to embed academic and career planning within the 6-12 curriculum by 2017.

What does all of this mean for the classroom teacher? I think a Marinette business leader recently hit the nail on the head—“Teachers need to understand that they are workforce developers.” We want to help our students to become critical thinkers and problem solvers and intelligent consumers of media, but sometimes I think we’ve lost sight of the goal—to prepare our students to become gainfully employed, whether that is right out of high school or after successful post-secondary education. Students today are going to spend more time on the job– and change occupations and whole career fields more often—than any previous generation.  But how much does the average English teacher (or math teacher or science teacher) know about workforce needs today or job opportunities which enable our students to become productive members of our local communities?

We have the opportunity to model for our students our belief in “lifelong learning” by researching academic and career planning, investigating the local job market, and communicating with post-secondary educators about college preparation gaps which exist today.  It is truly going to take all of the resources of our respective “villages” to equip our children for the world they’ll enter after graduation. Creative and authentic collaborations between educators, community members and employers will help our students to make vital classroom/career connections and prepare them for whatever their futures may hold.

We want to hear from you, our readers: what different ways have you been successful in helping our students become “lifelong learners” and, ultimately, career-minded citizens? What are some of the the classroom projects or collaborations with community members, employers, parents, and others that have helped you prepare students for life after graduation? 



by Lynn Aprill                                                                                                                                               CEL member-at-Large 2013-2016

Works Cited

2015 Talent Shortage Survey. Manpower Group, 2015.

2016 Manufacturing Vitality Index Survey. Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance, 2015.

State of Wisconsin. Department of Workforce Development. Wisconsin Workforce Investment

            Act; Wagner-Peyser Act; Agricultural Outreach Play. Madison, 2013. Print.

Maximizing Meetings and Maintaining Morale

         by Ann Marie Quinlan and Anna J. Small Roseboro

The challenge of being in the middle is one faced by English Language Arts leaders.  One on-going task is to use meeting times efficiently while sustaining morale as one mediates, delegates and sometimes even evaluates.  We’re pleased to share some of the strategies you may find useful as you consider ways to maximize meetings and maintain morale with and among those with whom you work.


Leading from the Middle

                  What do we mean about being in the middle?  Most department chairs and literacy leaders are charged with relaying to their teachers and staff the goals, objective and guidelines required of their educational institution whether that be the federal and state governments or the district and school site policies.  On the other hand, these chairs and leaders represent to their administration the needs, wants, ideas and skills of their department, committee or team.  Often, these leaders have risen through the ranks and now feel the pressure to carry  out the tasks incumbent upon t them in their new role without losing the comradery of their former peers.  How can one make the adjustment smoothly and achieve the goals of both – those to whom and for whom we are responsible.


                  It probably seems like a given, but it takes diligence to keep in mind the golden rule as one leads.  In terms of meetings, honor the time of your staff or team.  One can begin by starting and ending meetings on time and go on to use the meeting time efficiently.  Three strategies can help. First, send out and stick to a consent agenda.  Serve light refreshments. Avoid bringing up for discussion topics for which there is no choice.  Just announce them.  On topics on which those present have input,  during discussion time acknowledge those who wish to speak by nodding to the person, writing their names on a list, and then calling on them in order.  In this way, the contributor is more likely to listen knowing he or she will be able to add their thoughts to conversation in a timely manner.  And, save your comments for last.  This will reduce the tendency for discussants to think the decision already has been made.  And, it will give you an opportunity to evaluate your thoughts in light of views raised during the meeting.


                  Refreshments should be kept simple and need not always be supplied by you.  We recommend something wet and something dry.  Bottled water and a simple snack food can suffice.  At the beginning of the school year, invite members to sign up to bring refreshments for one of the meetings.  If you have a large group, pairs or triads can sign up for the same day.  Include their names on the reminder you send out about the meeting.  You don’t want them to be embarrassed for having forgotten, nor do you want the meeting to begin with attendees disappointed there is no snack.

Occasionally, to stay on time, it will be prudent to announce ahead of time that the floor will be open for discussion for a specific length of time. When the time is up, but the discussion isn’t, firmly, but courteously close the conversation by inviting someone to make a motion to table the discussion or to send the topic to an ad hoc committee who will be charged to return to the next meeting with their recommendations.  Honor the time of your staff or team.


                  Maintaining the morale of this staff or team takes effort, too.  One way to begin is to share the opportunity to host meetings with others on your staff or team.  If you are working in the same building, at the same school site or campus, invite different members to hold the meeting in their room, work site, or campus.  Three benefits will accrue.  First, you will not have the weight on you to host. Sharing the privilege of hosting can be a team builder.  Attendees can see the setting in which others work and can view student work displayed in the workspaces of their peers. The meeting host may choose to provide refreshments at this time or partner with a peer to bring them for that meeting.

Foster regular no-cost professional enrichment in three ways.  First, invite members to present teaching strategies during department or team meetings.  Allotting five to seven minutes should suffice.  This, too, can be a contribution for which your staff or team can sign up for ahead of time.  Include their names in the note you send to remind all of the upcoming meeting. Second, encourage members to visit the classroom or school site of others in the department or team.  We all can learn something from those doing similar work. Encourage members to go to conferences, conventions, seminars, or to continue their education through summer workshops.  Regularly post such opportunities and along with sources of funding. NCTE and CEL offer such funding to applicants who are chosen.


                  Everyone appreciates being valued.  You can do that for those you lead by letting them know you see them and understand their contribution to the success of your department or team.  When you attend conferences or conventions, take back and share freebies or modest priced gifts.  Regularly, at least twice a year, send personalized note to each one highlighting something you’ve noticed each has done well.  If you look for something good, you will find it.


           As often as possible, say “Yes”, even if the answer has a qualifying clause.  Yes, you may teach that new book as long as you’ve allotted time to teach the skills outlined in the grade level curriculum standards.  Yes, you may hold an after school poetry showcase once you’ve obtained the endorsement of the administration.  Yes, you may take your class to see a live performance of that play once you’ve raised the funds to pay for tickets.  Here are a couple community groups who may subsidize the cost.  Yes, I will cover your last period class so you can go to parent-teacher conference for your child.  Will you do the same for Joe who wants to see his son compete in the district basketball finals next week?

                  You recall what you most appreciated or sought in your leaders.  Be that kind of leader.  One who honors the time and shows you know and encourage the work of those you now are leading.  Yes, apply the golden rule to your work as a leader.

Letting your staff you are willing to listen and assist where possible is another way of keeping communications open.  Inviting them to put their requests in writing gives them an opportunity to think about what they would like and how best to ask.  Here’s a way to end your meetings or add a line to agenda emails.


What can I do for you?                            Name_______________________________



Anna Roseboro -Orange

Anna Roseboro

Ann Marie Quinlan and Anna J. Small Roseboro                                                                     Current CEL Members
Past Members-at-Large and
                                                                                                   Secondary Section Liaisons to CEL Board




New Hats: The Power of Advocacy

by Rebecca Sipe, Eastern Michigan University

CEL Logo

CEL is the constituent group of NCTE for literacy leaders.

When I started my career as a teacher of 7th and 8th graders, I learned quickly to wear a number of hats in addition to teaching: mentor, police officer, friend, and political advisor emerged among a host of others. As my career progressed from teacher to department head (at various levels) to curriculum coordinator in a large and highly diverse district, to university professor and now Honors College administrator, I found myself in need of more skills and strategies to help me negotiate the demands of students, parents, administrators, colleagues, and budgets. With each new competing need came the necessity of wearing yet more hats.

Wearing many hats is certainly a phenomena familiar to most literacy leaders. I’m sure every CEL member can identify with those moments on the job each week when they draw upon all the skills they learned as successful early career teachers. An hour later, it may be the skills they acquired designing and managing budgets or negotiating curricular changes. Literacy leaders do not shed the hats we wore earlier in our careers, we refine and enhance them so they can be grabbed easily when needed.

It took me many years to identify that advocacy was one of my most important hats. As an early career teacher, I advocated for my students constantly. Along with my colleagues, we advocated for adoption of literature that offered more diversity and writing strategies that had been proven effective by the consultants of the National Writing Project. At each step along my path, I discovered new passions that required advocacy.

Today, literacy leaders are feeling urgency to do whatever they can to change the national narrative about teaching and learning. Literacy leaders in particular have come to realize the importance of reaching out to parents, legislators, and the broader public to help them gain clarity about what is working in classrooms. To do this, we have begun to clarify and crystalize our vision of leader as advocate.

In my newest role, as the Vice President for the Honors College at my university, I’ve come to understand that policy makers often fail to truly understand the students and their families for whom they make decisions. To combat this “decision in isolation phenomena”, we have begun a multi-tiered outreach, beginning with inviting legislators to come to campus to shadow students. We started with our local state representative who spent the day with us shadowing an Honors student—from breakfast and classes to various jobs and clubs. At the end of the day, he asked two things: “Do many of your students work this many jobs and stay this busy?” and, “do you think a student would like to come to Lansing to shadow me?” Since that first visit, we have sent a student to spend a day in the state legislature, and we have hosted our community liaison for one of Michigan’s U.S. senators. We have come to understand that the more we involve these influential individuals in our world, the better they will be able to speak from a position of authority when they share with colleagues in their respective legislative bodies.

A second and emerging strategy for us is that of teaching Honors College students about the power of advocacy and strategies for exercising that power. Some strategies—including sustained communication with legislators from one’s own community—work well in building credibility. Others—such as single contacts or angry letters—generally fail to make the desired impact. We hope to help students acquire both a sense of the potential power of their own voices as well as a set of strategies for use in conjunction with the fall elections. If we are successful, our students will develop important life skills and society will benefit from their involvement for many years.

These are but two of many advocacy strategies available for literacy leaders to use. For others, we are fortunate to have outstanding resources from the National Council of Teachers of English. Be sure to check out Representing a collaboration between Dr. Cathy Fleischer and Jenna Fournel, this site provides strategies to assist literacy leaders as we collectively work to change the national narrative about literacy education.

Advocacy is a hat that is familiar to us. I invite readers to share their own strategies so that we can all benefit from them as we all move forward with our advocacy efforts.

Rebecca Sipe

CEL Chair 2014-2016


Staying Motivated in May

CEL Wordle

It’s May and the end of the school year is in sight.

Will you breeze through that finish line still energized, or go limping forth while counting the days?

When motivation and vigor are at a lull, one text that can help reenergize is Meenoo Rami’s Thrive. Written with the intent to provide a sustaining voice and vision for all teachers, Meenoo addresses (among other topics) the need for mentors and networking in our profession. We are not in this alone! Meenoo writes, “The research suggests that teachers who have had a more varied mentorship experience are more likely to thrive in their work and to stay in the field.” She goes on to describe “varied mentorship” as including “meetings with peers and planning with other teachers in their subject area.” Sharing stories, strategies, and experiences: these are some of the informal ways that mentoring happens. Meenoo adds, “My mentors don’t just give me answers: some help me respond to pressing needs from a position of experience or work with me as I try out new ideas.” Other ways that informal mentoring happens:

  • Colleagues who provide feedback as a means of seeing what’s possible in practice
  • Colleagues within your discipline with whom you collaborate, and/or who challenge your work
  • Colleagues who help you find a professional community (perhaps on the CEL Blog!)
  • Colleagues who help you value your work
  • Colleagues who help you stay balanced

Where, then, might you look for mentors who rise to this challenge? Meenoo suggests considering these questions:

  • Who seems to be passionate about their work and enjoy their job?
  • Who lifts your spirits when you see them in the hall?
  • Who is most willing to share ideas?
  • Who has ideas that are fresh and interesting?
  • Whose career path looks like a path you would like to follow?

At our CEL convention in Atlanta, GA this coming November (20th-22nd), we have the distinct honor of having Meenoo as a keynote presenter. The theme of this year’s convention, which compliments Meenoo’s Thrive, is: Innovative Leadership: Navigating Changes in Literacy Education.

In the coming months, the CEL blog will host a series of posts centered on the theme of innovative leadership. Reinvigorate your energy by participating in our CEL blog, which will focus on the following topics in the upcoming months:

  • Advocacy
  • Mentoring New Teachers and Maintaining Momentum
  • Connecting Career and Classroom: Leading the Charge in Academic and Career Planning
  • Leading the Way: Technology that Empowers Students and Teachers
  • Cultivating Novice Teachers as Teacher-Leaders
  • Maximizing Meetings and Maintaining Morale

We look forward to investigating these topics with you, and to learning from the many varied voices across our CEL network.

Here’s to finishing strong.  



Amanda Stearns-Pfeiffer (CEL Member-at-Large 2016-2019)

#celchat – Be sure to join us on Thursday, May 19th from 8-9:00 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time) on Twitter (#celchat) for a continued discussion of this topic. CEL Member-at-Large Matt Morone (@MrMorone) will lead the discussion.

#LitLead Preview 8.13.15 – Differentiating Instruction

Janice Schwarze

Janice Schwarze

For many, a new school year starts soon, and teachers across the country most likely have mixed feelings:  sadness that the summer (and the much-needed break) is almost over, excitement about teaching a whole new group of students, and anxiety about how to help each one of those students achieve the year’s learning outcomes.  The fact that each student has different needs, different skill sets, and different interests can be overwhelming, and well-meaning teachers often find themselves teaching to the middle because that is the only way they can survive.  However, there is a better approach:  differentiated instruction.  This is hardly a new concept; teachers who taught in a one-room school-house certainly didn’t teach the same thing in the same way to all of the students!  Still, differentiating a classroom can be daunting, especially if you try doing it without support.  Fortunately, you don’t have to do it alone.  This Thursday, August 13, at 9 p.m. EST, educators across the country will share their knowledge about differentiated instruction in this month’s LitLead chat.  Whether you are just beginning to experiment with a differentiated classroom or are an expert at it, join us for this practical discussion.  Here are some of the questions we will consider:

Q1. How do you build a classroom community that is conducive to DI?
Q2. What resources have you found to be helpful when planning DI lessons?
Q3. What technology have you found to be helpful when implementing DI?
Q4. What classroom management tips regarding DI can you share?
Q5. What are some lessons you learned as you experimented with DI?
Q6. How transparent are you with students when differentiating?
Q7. What problems have you experienced when implementing DI?

Engaging in discussion about these important topics will ease the anxiety of a new school year and help prepare you to reach each of those students who will enter your classroom soon.  Hope you can join us!

Janice Schwarze (@jschwarzeteach)
Associate Principal for Curriculum and Instruction
Downers Grove North High School, IL

#LitLead Preview 4.9.15 – Using Blogs to Amplify Educator Voice w/ @NatBlogCollab

The current national narrative on education is one littered with misperceptions, politically laced rants, and many voices not even directly involved in education.  While taking back that narrative can be a challenge, The National Blogging Collaborative (@natblogcollab)believes that writing and blogging is one way to enable and empower teacher leaders in this quest to reclaim the narrative…OUR narrative.  Blogging and co-blogging allow teachers the chance to share their experiences with the rest of the world, helping everyone see the truth about all the amazing things going on in classrooms across the country.  Additionally, blogging provides educational leaders with the opportunity to develop a collaborative culture built upon sharing the written word both within their school and across the country.  Through blogging teachers and leaders are able to not only share their success and seek help for their challenges, but they are able to learn from others in a safe and collaborative setting.  For all these reasons, The National Blogging Collaborative was created for teachers by teachers in an effort to provide free, one-on-one, writing coaches to educators who are looking to get started with blogging as well as those who have been blogging for years.  Simply put, we are here to help YOU share your your story.  So, join us as we talk about the power of blogging and co-bogging for teachers and leaders.

Please join the National Blogging Collaborative (@NatBlogCollab) on Thursday, April 9 at 9 p.m. EST as they co-host #LitLead on Twitter.  

#LitLead Preview 3.12.15 – Tech Tools for ELA Classrooms

Technology has become as integral a part of English classrooms.  English educators must integrate digital tools into their instruction in ways that are purposeful and authentic.  But with so many websites, apps and communication systems, how do teachers choose which digital options are best to meet a unit’s objectives? Please join three CEL members, Kate Baker, Oona Abrams and Matt Morone, on Thursday, March 12 at 9 p.m. EST as they co-host #LitLead on Twitter.

Here are some questions we’ll consider:

Q1 How have you evolved as an educator since integrating technology into your instruction?
Q2 What tech tools are most versatile in your classroom? How do you apply them?
Q3 What tools do you use that are scalable and allow for successful differentiation?
Q4 What tools would students use on their own if you didn’t use them in class? Why?
Q5 How have you “smashed” apps or tech tools together in your classroom?