Reimagining Mentoring Programs

by Chris Bronke

I still remember my required weekly new department chair meetings like they were yesterday.  My mentor at the time, Jill Rose, still a dear friend, and I would sit down with our checklist (adapted from the new teacher mentor checklist) and go item by prescribed item, crossing each one off, until we were finished.  And while some of these items were essential to me learning the culture of my new school and the logistics of this new job, many were out of place, forced, and some even past-due by the time we got to them.

When thinking about mentor programs, I will say this: on one hand, mentor programs for new teachers have come a long way in the 13 years I have been in education.  Shifting from helping new teachers adjust to the school culture to truly being educational thought partners, districts have and do see the value of investing in a mentor who can do both, empowering the new teacher to adjust and grow professionally. However, even in these times of improved mentor programs for new teachers, districts seem to be neglecting, or at least not focusing enough on, the mentor programs needed for their new leaders (this could be instructional coaches, department chairs, assistant principals, principals and even district administration). As a result, too often new leaders are left with mentor programs that fall short for three reasons.  

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  1. Two-way streets can only take you two places

While this may sound a bit confusing, when one works with only one other person, the advice and/or discussion is limited–that is a fact.  So, those conversations can, for t
he most part, only take you further on the path of what you already believed, or down the path of what your mentor thinks.  Hence the two-way street taking yo to one of two places.

  1. Being inside creates unavoidable bias

No matter how much training a district does, a mentor who is at the same school as the mentee has a bias that is brought to the table, perhaps towards others in the school, programs, the contract, the union, or a whole host of other elements.  Now, don’t get me wrong, that isn’t always a bad thing and can provide valuable insight for a new hire; however, it can also lead to the new hire having unfair opinions formed without really even realizing it.

  1.  Programs aren’t designed for leaders

I certainly don’t want to paint the entire nation of schools with a broad brush, but in my experience even the best, most well-developed mentor programs are designed for new teachers, not new leaders. While schools may attempt to adapt these programs for leaders, they tend to fall short, becoming yet “another thing” that already busy educators are forced to do.  The topics we are asked to explore don’t fit with the real issues new leaders are facing.

So what if we reimagined the mentorship structure?

Here at the Conference on English Leadership, we were dealing with some of these very questions as we tried to reimagine our Emerging Leader Fellowship program.  We wanted to try to combat some of these issues that the traditional mentoring programs have and/or some of the problems that our first iteration of our own program had.  Traditionally, this program has paired new leaders from around the country with a mentor in a one-on-one virtual partnership.  And while this had some benefits, we found that it still came up short of truly supporting new leaders in the ways they really need.  

So, beginning with our 2016 class of Emerging Leaders, we created mentor pods in which three to four new leaders from around the country were paired with a mentor so that the whole group could engage in deep conversation around important trends, moves, and decisions in educational leadership.  What came out of it?

  1.  A four-way street can take you to endless placesscreen-shot-2017-02-10-at-7-44-07-pm

By adding more voices than two to the conversation, this experience can take all involved to new places.  No longer is it just about one mentor imparting his/her wisdom onto a mentee, but it is about rich conversations in which all voices bring unique and valued perspectives to the table, pushing everyone’s thinking, including the mentor.  The mentor actually ends up playing the role of facilitator, leading the conversations but listening as much as talking.

Class of 2016 Emerging Leader, Sara Schumacher, says it best when she says, “The ability to discuss challenges I’m having with the work I’m trying to do as a new DC (department chair) and seek outside input has been invaluable. It provides me the support in knowing that I’m not alone in making these moves, but also forces me to step outside of my own lens and get perspective on the issue at hand. It breathes life into my work as an emerging leader trying to find my way to know that I have a group I can lean on and also extend my thinking.”

  1.  We can’t judge that which we don’t know

By bringing together people from different schools, districts, and states, the level of bias is reduced greatly.  Sure, we will always take our biases into any conversations, but the fact that those listening to a problem don’t know anyone else involved in it or the school dynamics and/or any other factor allows for fresh and unbiased opinions to surface.  This also helps build a great sense of community in that it truly becomes a judgement-free zone.

As James Hultgren, class of 2016 Emerging Leader, says, “our mentorship program has been delightful.  I have enjoyed the community and fellowship amongst our team.  Everyone is willing to share their expertise, and fresh perspectives, which has made me a better teacher and leader.”

  1.  Leaders are helping leaders in a program designed for leaders

Unlike a lot of other programs in which a teacher mentor program has been adapted to fit leaders, this program was built by and designed for leaders.  As a result, the activities and conversations are meaningful.  For example, my team this year recently read Five Dysfunctions of a Team to best help all of us think through team dynamics as we started the school year.  Instead of attending to some checklist of discussion topics, we have the ability and expertise to create organic and authentic agendas and activities to help push us all forward.  

Class of 2016 Emerging Leader, Amanda Melchor, illustrates this organic agenda creation best.  She emailed the team five minutes before a scheduled call and said “help…I know we were going to talk about the text, but I have like five questions I NEED HELP WITH.”  So, we ditched our plan to discuss the book and worked to support Amanda through rich conversation and collaborative problem solving.

Here is the catch, this structure, while being used by CEL to mentor literacy leaders, could easily be adapted by schools, districts, and other national organizations to mentor new teachers, too.  Think back to your first or second year on the job…how meaningful would it have been to have a virtual conversations with three other new teachers and one veteran teacher all from different states in an effort to collaboratively grow, a place to share your struggles where no one will or can judge because they can’t fully ascertain your situation?
So, as you think about your role as a mentor coordinator, district leader, new teacher, veteran literacy leader or a new, up-and-coming rock star in the field, consider your approach to mentoring–be it by applying to be a mentor or fellow in CEL’s Emerging Leader Fellowship program or by talking to other district leaders to reimagine your own leadership mentoring programs.  Because the reality is this, even the best of mentors is only as good as the structure in which they are allowed and empowered to mentor.  

Chris Bronke

Christopher Bronke is English Department Chair in Downers Grove, Illinois. Follow him on Twitter: @MrBronke and check out his blog: www.medium.com/@mrbronke.

Empowering Students and Teachers through Technology

by Kate Baker and Christopher Bronke

56,100,000.  

That is the number of Google hits you would get if you did a search for “Ed Tech.”  To say that this phrase can be overwhelming to teachers is an understatement.  Those who love it may get overwhelmed by trying to stay up and current with all the changes, and those who are hesitant to embrace it may be confused by where, and more importantly, why to start.  

We get it; we have and continue to deal with both of those emotions.  However, had we never embraced educational technology, this blog would never have been written, and more importantly, we would have never met.  We are a pair of colleagues from CEL who, like many others, met first digitally through Twitter and continued to develop a professional connection that is both face-to-face and virtual.  It is not our hopes that you leave this piece  going out into the digital world to try to find a writing partner and/or expecting to connect with others instantly; however, we do want to leave you with five tips to empower your students and teachers to do more, be more with ed tech.  We hope you and your colleagues explore the possibilities of learning with educational technology.

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  1. Kate says, “use tech to….enliven the study of canonical texts by creating opportunities for collaboration, which focuses on cross-curricular learning and flipped delivery of instruction.” Pairing geography and literature, students can pin pertinent locations featured in a text on a shared Google Map or apply mathematical line graphing to plot diagrams as in this example. Using blended and flipped instructional design, students can explore, explain, and apply their understanding of the content via a teacher-created hyperdoc such as this one or demonstrate their understanding of reading using DocentEDU, a web-based tool that allows teachers to embed questions, discussions, and instructional elements on almost any web page or Google Doc. Ultimately, your chosen edtech tool is a bridge between the student and the curricular text. Take a look at the texts taught in your class and devise ways in which your instruction and projects can be shifted to an online, blended format.
  2. Chris says, “use tech to…assist grade-level teams or PLC to stay better organized and more efficient in compiling and sharing resources.”  This could be as simple as setting up folders for each team in Google Drive or as expansive as using a site like Blendspace in which teachers can search, drag, and store resources (everything from website to videos) for upcoming lessons, units, or professional learning. This doesn’t need to be rocket science, but teachers don’t always have the time to think about organizational systems, so as a leader, consider using technology to help them with this.”
  3. Kate says, “use tech to… reach each student and showcase students’ talents.” It is easy to include extroverted students during face to face class time, but what about using technology to reach introverted and disaffected students? Whether it is through backchannel communication with Remind or participating in an Edmodo community writing group such as Scribe City or using Google Voice Typing for reluctant writers, students can be given a voice and an opportunity to engage in their learning. I saw the power of edtech when my gifted, but exceptionally quiet student, Maddie became an online writing mentor, sharing her work and providing feedback to classmates in our class Edmodo group and when Ray, a disaffected student who hid in the back corner of the classroom, earned his first A in his academic career the semester we gamified our study of The Odyssey. Because I was willing to explore various edtech methods of instruction, I was able to reach the students who were overwhelmed in traditional face to face learning experiences.
  4. Chris says, “use tech to… empower teachers to own their professional development.”  When I talk to teachers about why they should create a Twitter account the most common response I get is, “but I don’t have anything to share that people would want to read.”  And while that, in and of itself is flawed (we ALL have great content to share), my more important reply is that Twitter is much more than a place to share; it is a place to LEARN.  So, you don’t need to amass followers or share every detail of your classroom to reap the benefits of Twitter.  Create an account and follow a few key educational authors like Penny Kittle, Chris Lehman, or Troy Hicks, or key organizations like NCTE or ASCD.  Worst case, use it to get your news by following handles like Associated Press.  If you really want to push your learning, you could even follow along (or join) a chat like #flipclass, #edtech, #engchat, #celchat, and so many more. You will quickly learn that while you may have thought you didn’t have time for Twitter, you now don’t have time NOT to be on Twitter.
  5. Kate and Chris say, … Don’t be afraid to explore with Ed Tech.  Educational technology is not Skynet, usurping control of classrooms. Teachers won’t be replaced by Terminators (although this angle would make for an interesting satirical piece…..that is for another time!).  It, like so many other tools we use to reach our students and teachers, is just one more way we can help bring learning to life.  

 

aaeaaqaaaaaaaaapaaaajdk1ymeymteylwuyyzctndvlzi1hywixltjlywjmnwm4m2vlng Kate Baker is a high school English teacher at Southern Regional High School in New Jersey. Read more of her amazing work on her blog: http://kbakerbyodlit.blogspot.com.

Chris Bronke Christopher Bronke is English Department Chair in Downers Grove, Illinois. Follow him on Twitter: @MrBronke and check out his blog: www.medium.com/@mrbronke.

Cultivating Novice Teachers as Teacher-Leaders

by Dr. Emily S. Meixner

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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.

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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.

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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 meixner@tcnj.edu.

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.”

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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? 

 

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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.

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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.

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                  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.

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                  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.

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                  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.

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                  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.

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           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_______________________________

Request:

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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

 

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New Hats: The Power of Advocacy

by Rebecca Sipe, Eastern Michigan University

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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 https://teachertoolkitblog.wordpress.com/. 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

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Staying Motivated in May

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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

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Amanda Stearns-Pfeiffer (CEL Member-at-Large 2016-2019) stearnspfeiffer@oakland.edu

#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