How Can Parents and Teachers March Together in Support of Our Students?

Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care

By Eileen Shanahan

In Kentucky, West Virginia, Arizona, Oklahoma, and all across the country, it has certainly been a school year for the books. As we watched news stories on TV and social media, followed the hashtags, read the signs, and perhaps participated in walkouts and other acts of demonstration ourselves, public education was in the spotlight this year. Teachers rallied together to advocate for themselves, their profession, and their students in the fight for equitable funding of public education.

As a teacher educator in Kentucky, my own students heard the rumors, watched the news, and have been encouraged by some to leave the profession before they even enter it. Feeling nervous but hopeful in light of the efforts by teachers to fight for the profession, they keep asking, Will these walkouts do anything? Will this be what creates change?

I want to give them a resounding YES, because…

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Part 4: Reflections on our bulletin boards

Laura Bradley

In my last post I shared the beautiful and inspirational bulletin boards that my students created when they were given the challenge to make our classroom walls their own. Not content to end this project with their displays, I then asked them to choose one part of a bulletin board that they liked and reflect on its value to them and our community. Here are some of their responses, which they added to their digital portfolios:

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Finally, I surveyed my students to find out what they thought of this assignment. What were they proud of from their own contributions? Did they think the activity improved our classroom environment? Did they learn from it? Do they think I should do it with future classes? This is what some of them said:Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 12.21.44 PM

“I am most proud of the the melted crayon art, because it was very hard to do and it turned…

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Embracing the Identity of Teacher-Writer

Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care

By David Premont

In my first year of teaching secondary English, a member of the journalism class, wanting to highlight the school’s new teachers, asked if I could respond to a few questions. One question inquired about my identity as a teacher—I responded that in my heart I am a writer. I knew and was comfortable with this particular identity, but I had not yet fully accepted myself as a teacher-writer. As Anne Whitney tells us, being a teacher-writer refers to “a teacher who has incorporated writing not just as an extra activity but as an integral part of teaching.” I wasn’t there yet.  

Understanding My Identity as a Teacher-writer

Viewing myself primarily as a writer led me to compose freely outside of the classroom, though that did not necessarily mean I was ready to share my writing with students. One narrative I wrote describing a humorous (but innocuous)…

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Part 3: Bulletin board inspiration

Laura Bradley

They arrived early on Day 1 of their bulletin board rotation, laden with bags of decorations, eyes and smiles full of anticipation and excitement. I handed them staplers and push pins, and stepped back to watch them work.

I had assigned this group to the largest bulletin board in the first round because I knew them well enough to expect them to produce a creative, thought-provoking display. I also hoped they would be an inspiration for the rest of the class. And they did not disappoint! They brought in beautiful pictures, inspirational quotes, 3-dimensional objects, bright flowers, and even two different strands of twinkly lights. They filled the enormous board with their creations, and then came back the following class day with more. They weren’t content to leave any large empty spaces.

When the bell rang and their classmates started arriving, their hard work was rewarded with “oohs,” “ahhs,” “wows” and…

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Framing PLC Conversations as Advocacy: A Project for Teacher Education

Everyday advocacy

by Jessica Rivera-Mueller with Jamie Ammirati, Jocelyn Bitner, Stephanie Ferguson, Joshua Killpack, Kenzie Randall, Morgan Sanford, and Mackenzie Wilson

For many secondary teachers, Professional Learning Communities provide a context for communicating with fellow teachers about the most pressing issues in their local teaching contexts. In doing so, teachers have an opportunity to advocate for particular pedagogical beliefs and practices. As a former high school English teacher and a teacher educator, I (Jessica) know, however, that PLCs are complex spaces where discourses converge. PLCs are not inherently good or bad; instead, the communities are made by members who perceive the purposes of these conversations. While PLC conversations can provide an opportunity for teachers to discuss ways to support student learning and examine the meaning and significance of that learning, these conversations can also be viewed as just another required meeting. When teachers view participation in PLCs as a technocratic activity they…

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Encouraging Persistence in Writing

Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care

By Kate Sjostrom

Who are these children sitting around me? Surely they are not my eight-year-old daughter and her classmates, though they look like them and go by their names. These children have just asked if they can skip recess to finish critiquing the story we have been reviewing for over two hours. These children have been only constructive in their feedback, never once dismissing something they “just didn’t like.”  

The one who looks like my daughter and whose story we have been reading begs, “Please, Mom.” I look at her—at the blue-grey eyes that I share, at the blue and green striped shirt I helped pick out this morning—and I cave. “Sure,” I tell her. “We can keep going.” But I watch her from the corner of my eye as she readies her pencil to take more notes on what is not yet working in her…

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A Space for Collaborative Leadership: Understanding the Power of CEL

by Elsie Lindy Olan, University of Central Florida, Orlando                                                                   Kia Jane Richmond, Northern Michigan University, Marquette

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Elsie Lindy Olan and Kia Jane Richmond NCTE/CEL in Minneapolis, 2015

After our first encounter at the NCTE and CEL conferences in Minneapolis (pictured above, 2015), we began a productive and rewarding collaborative research and writing partnership. In our English Leadership Quarterly (ELQ) article (, we describe our positionality this way:

Despite the fact that we teach English education at two very different geographically and socioculturally situated universities—one a mid-sized rural Midwestern university and the other a large urban Southern university—we discovered through extended dialogue that we both aim to make our methods courses safe spaces in which preservice teachers can consider and (de)construct their own identities as readers while preparing to teach literature in secondary schools across the United States and beyond […] And to do this, we use young adult literature and culturally responsive teaching. (p. 11)

As teacher educator researchers, we wanted to create essays that shared our research and that invited teachers to consider, problematize, and reevaluate issues related to the teaching of English Language Arts – and in particular, young adult literature. The idea of disrupting notions – which can be challenging and, at times, gut wrenching – is one that is essential to the transformation of one’s pedagogy and stance in the secondary classroom.

While writing a piece on young adult literature and classic literary texts, we reflected on which venue would be most appropriate for our writing and which audience would benefit from the questions we asked and the statements we made. As teacher educator researchers, an issue that students and alumni in our programs brought to our attention was one of feeling disempowered and confused as to the incorporation of young adult literature in the secondary English classroom. Another issue was related to feeling uncomfortable making connections between the classic literary texts they were asked to teach and their own students’ cultural and personal lives. This was a problem of practice that we also grappled with, but one that wasn’t unique to those of us in higher education; it was relevant to those in high school classrooms.

When we decided to write for English Leadership Quarterly, we chose to submit there because we truly had the understanding that ELQ is a platform that encourages classroom teachers, department heads, and teacher educators to share their journeys of transitioning into leadership and making decisions about curriculum that inform student learning and teachers’ pedagogical practices. As former teachers of secondary English, we also wanted to share our students’ experiences and those of alumni in order to inform teachers’ practices and invite readers into the conversation. CEL defines itself as helping “language arts leaders in sharing mutual problems and insights, exchanging resources, seeking the advice of successful leaders, and investigating issues of greatest concern to leaders.” Although all of NCTE’s groups encourage connection, CEL promotes and fosters collaboration between and among leaders in English programs – at the annual conference and beyond.

In our ELQ essay, we discuss the intentional inclusion of young adult literature and culturally responsive teaching in our methods courses. Our goal is to help preservice teachers connect to their experiences as readers. For example, Kae designed a lesson plan in which her secondary students created their own book covers for young adult novels they read, bringing in their own lived experiences as part of the process. This, Kae says, “allowed students to make their own choices, and therefore reflect on whether they could have made different choices, all the while allowing me to step back as the teacher and not tell the students how they should feel or think. . .” In another case, preservice teacher Elena chose John Green’s Looking for Alaska for her students at an alternative high school. She did so because she wanted to make the literature culturally relevant to students’ lived experiences, which included “struggles in and out of the classroom” as well as “difficulties with substance abuse […], physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, along with a multitude of mental and physical health issues” (p. 14). Elena’s choice of text was not only purposeful in terms of being culturally relevant but encouraged her students to read about an array of characters with unique abilities.

The collaboration on the ELQ essay was just the beginning of our investing in each other’s professional growth and finding connections as teacher educators and researchers. In 2016 and 2017, we worked together on multiple projects related to teaching English Education, young adult literature, and qualitative research. Often, our writing sessions happened via Skype, during which we could see and hear each other while working on the same document in Google docs. This process allowed us to better understand our individual positionalities, contexts, and sociopolitical environments of our different institutions as well as the educational practices of our school systems. Much of our research has involved examining not only our students’ needs as educators but also the programs in which they are prepared.

In a recent article published in the Wisconsin English Journal  (, we discuss how and why we each developed new courses to help future English teachers “build an appreciation of canonical texts and young adult literature and strategies for using literature to encourage critical thinking across the curriculum.” Through the process of sharing the creation of these courses, we found that we also made room for our own professional growth, which included developing new understandings of our programs, our practices, and our students’ needs. The Conference on English Leadership has been a part of that journey. We recognize that our dialogic interactions are reciprocal and cyclical in nature. We gather ideas through reading, researching, and tapping into our theoretical frameworks; we come together in real time to share thoughts and analyze and interpret data, while welcoming dissent and offering critique without personal judgment; and we come away from each project with new understandings and a plethora of additional inquiries that guide our next collaborative project.

We hope that readers of this CEL blog acknowledge the power that collaborative work has; at its core, our co-labouring has brought each of us new information, new opportunities for professional growth, and a partnership that is built on mutual respect, trust, and a willingness to change. For all of us in CEL, there are potential partners for collaborative projects, prospective sounding boards – someone willing to listen to problems, share concerns, and offer constructive feedback about teaching English Language Arts and/or issues related to leadership.

CEL’s recognition of our collaborative partnership culminated in the 2017 English Leadership Quarterly Best Article Award, which honored our unique voices and co-labouring. This honor was especially appreciated because we now identify a platform where our voices are valued and where a broader audience welcomes the need for dialogic interaction among not only teachers but also those who might be tasked with leadership roles.  It is in this protected space where teachers, department heads, curriculum directors, English Educators, and others who take on leadership roles can find encouragement and support and can also feel comfortable asking provocative questions, knowing that data and theories can be examined through multiple lenses, which helps us to move forward in our careers. Because CEL – through its conferences and publications – offers a communal space for practicing teachers and leaders, we can bring forth difficult questions aimed at improving schools as well as teachers’ and students’ learning. Additionally, CEL provides a place for those in a liminal space, who are considering making a change in their careers. Conference on English Leadership members should appreciate this space as one that fosters collegial relationships and promotes reflective and reflexive practices.


kia oona elsie 2017 cel award

Kia Jane Richmond, Oona Abrams, and Elsie Lindy Olan                                    2017 CEL Awards, St. Louis, Missouri

Dr. Kia Jane Richmond is professor of English at Northern Michigan University, directs the English Education program and supervises student teachers in Michigan and Wisconsin. Her publications have appeared in English Education, Teaching English in the Two-Year College, Language Arts Journal of Michigan, Composition Studies, Issues in Writing, and Journal of the Assembly for Expanded Perspectives on Learning. Her current research on mental illness and adolescent literature will be shared in a forthcoming book, Mental Illness in Young Adult Literature: Exploring Real Struggles through Fictional Characters, from ABC-Clio/Greenwood Press.

Dr. Elsie Lindy Olan is assistant professor and track coordinator for Secondary English Language Arts in the School of Teaching, Learning and Leadership at the University of Central Florida. She researches the role of language and writing, literacy, literature and diversity in learning and teaching in Language Arts education and cross-disciplinary education, and teachers’ narratives, inquiry and reflective practices in (national and international) teaching environments and professional development settings. Her work has been published in English Education, English Leadership Quarterly, Research in the Teaching of English, Education and Learning Research Journal, Argentinian Journal of Applied Linguistics, and Language Arts. Her current research on teacher education and diversity will be shared in a forthcoming edited book, Transformative Pedagogies: Moving Towards Critical Praxis in an Era of Change, from Information Age Publishing, Inc.  Elsie L. has presented her work and research at conferences in Mexico, Spain, United Kingdom, and United States.

Incorporating Students’ Perspectives in the Design of Peer Review Activities

Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care

By Adam Loretto, Sara DeMartino, and Amanda Godley

In our previous post, we discussed students’ views of peer review: that, despite some potential pitfalls, it can be useful to hear from multiple perspectives and to have opportunities in both giving and receiving feedback to develop skills as writers with real audiences. In this post, we apply what we learned from students to help teachers design effective peer review experiences.

Potential Pitfall: The Feedback is Wrong or Unhelpful

Let’s get the big one out of the way first.  Sometimes the feedback students get from peers is not particularly helpful or just plain wrong.  One way for teachers to address this issue is to make sure that students receive feedback from multiple peers, at least three. We have found that although students might receive unhelpful or wrong feedback from one reviewer, the other feedback they receive is typically beneficial.

We suggest that…

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What Do High School Students Think About Peer Review

Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care

By Adam Loretto, Sara DeMartino, and Amanda Godley

National studies tell us that most students experience peer review at least once per year, typically in an English Language Arts class. They bring a piece of writing to class, exchange it with another student, and respond to prompts to guide their classmate to write an improved second draft–anticipating that the comments they get on their own writing will help them do the same.

What is less-often understood is whether students think that peer review benefits their writing. In our work with over 500 high school students over the past several years, we’ve found that, yes, students find peer review valuable and have a lot to say about what makes it helpful–and what can also derail it.

In this post, we share what high school students have told us in questionnaires, classroom observations, and interviews about their experiences with peer review. These…

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From Rockstar Pursuits to Roadie Boots: What CEL Has Taught Me About Leadership

by Oona Marie Abrams


There’s a photograph of me as a toddler in which I am seated, just barely, on a dining room chair, flanked by my sisters who are eight years and three years my senior. They’re doing their best to keep me in that chair so that whoever is behind that camera can take our picture. I’ve never been one to sit still, to be held down or held back. But being the third born in my family made me far more likely to compete for attention and to seek praise. When I became a teacher in 1996, I found that the profession helped very much to meet my need for attention. Standing at the front of the classroom didn’t always guarantee that I’d be listened to 100%  (or 50%, or 20%) of the time, but the likelihood was good that I’d get noticed eventually.

Oona baby

The author (middle) with her sisters.

For many years, I liked the attention that teaching afforded me. I brought in my guitar and sang “The Preposition Song” to my students (a listing of every preposition, written to the tune of Adam Sandler’s “Hanukkah Song”). I was the young, energetic, positive teacher who wanted to take on the world. Things were good. Until they really weren’t anymore.


I nostalgically call this crossroads of my teaching career the Seven Year Itch. I got bored. Really bored. Bored of saying the same things to multiple sections of a class. Bored of the same lesson plans. Bored of being the one doing the talking. That’s when I realized that my students were kind of bored, too. I hadn’t realized this, the difference between polite compliance and authentic engagement. This is also when I realized that I could end up being a teacher who said “I like change every once in a while” (translation: “I teach one new book every five years.”). I could be the teacher who essentially taught the same year for the next 40 (which would mean having one year of experience, not 40).


So I did something that most of my tenured colleagues considered crazy. I scratched the itch by getting a new job. I went to work for Edie Weinthal, a CEL member  who promised me I’d never get bored on her watch, and she stayed true to that promise. Under Edie’s leadership, I became a more reflective teacher. She encouraged me not only to attend the NCTE and CEL conventions, but also to present at other professional conferences, and to publish articles in educational journals here in my home state of New Jersey. For the eight years I worked for Edie, I always felt challenged to be my best teacher leader.


When a career opportunity for my husband relocated our family to North Carolina, I moved to a new school in a rural suburban district, and it was like moving to another country. I was part of an interdisciplinary team of teachers who wrote new curriculum and delivered it, and that was exciting. But all of the sudden, I didn’t have a department anymore. There was no department chair, no English office, no supervisor for my subject area. And not much of the freedom and professional trust to which I had grown accustomed over my career. My copies were limited to 2,000 per semester. Students didn’t have school e-mail addresses or regular access to technology.  My selection of the novel The Catcher in the Rye, a book I had taught for 15 years in New Jersey, a book that I had studied in high school, and a book my parents had also studied in high school five decades ago, was challenged. I was on my own, and that loneliness made me want to take a break from the classroom. If not for my NCTE and CEL memberships, if not for the reminder that I was part of a community larger than the one in which I was teaching, I might have left the profession. I came awfully close. Fortunately, following maternity leave after my youngest son was born, my family moved back to New Jersey in 2013, and I’ve had the good fortune since then of working for Heather Rocco, CEL’s current chair.


It was regular face-to-face lesson plan meetings with Heather that helped me to set a clearer course for myself. I knew there was much I was doing right in my classroom, but I couldn’t figure out why other things were going wrong.  This is when two professional books by CEL members found their way into my hands: Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst, and Book Love by Penny Kittle. These were the books that would finally help me find the root cause of my restlessness, and the great irony of it: the very things that made me feel restless were what made my students that way: a lack of choice and a lack of freedom to pursue my own voice. Since 2013, I’ve read many more professional books that inform my instructional choices, but these two truly set me free. In these past five years, I have:

  • abandoned reading check quizzes and other methods that prioritize the policing of reading over inspiring a passion for it,
  • reduced whole novel instruction in favor of literature circles,
  • piloted and later fully implemented reading workshop with my twelfth graders,
  • brought the writer’s notebook into my classes for the first time in my teaching career, and
  • Written more blog posts and read more books than I have in my entire career.


But something far more impactful has happened in these past five years. Miraculous, really. I have shut up! (Okay, let’s not get too crazy. I still talk. A lot. To everyone who will listen. But…) During class time, I’ve grown accustomed to working the room and listening in on conversations, taking notes, and conferring with students in small groups. Despite seeing the benefits of this progress, every day I have to battle the “shame gremlins,” to borrow from Brené Brown. These are the voices in my head that tell me I’m not enough. I’m not teaching enough. I’m not grading enough. I’m not doing, producing, inspiring enough.  The shame gremlins regularly tell me that I’m never going to be that teacher rockstar.


And I won’t be. I don’t want to be a rockstar anymore. (So you can shove it, shame gremlins.)


Rock stars burn out. They chase attention and fame, and when they discover these aren’t enough, history tells us what happens next. If you become a teacher to be a rockstar, you’re bound to face disappointment, as I did. I came into this profession mistakenly seeking attention, but what I’ve discovered over time was that giving my attention to my students is far more fruitful an endeavor.  I want to be like lots of edu-celebrities out there, but they are not their books. Behind most “edu-rockstars,” the good ones anyway, there’s actually a roadie.


Roadies are tough. They get things done. They work together. They get their hands dirty. They put up with divas and egomaniacs. They think of the little things. They plan for what might go wrong. They’re loyal and patient. And when it’s showtime, they’re invisible. But it’s all of their work that makes everything possible. I once aspired to be the rockstar of my classroom, of my department, of my school. Now I know the greatest pleasures and privileges of this profession are in being the roadie.
Editing English Leadership Quarterly for the past four years has been one of those roadie privileges. Behind the scenes, I’ve gotten to know so many amazing educators, authors, and the dedicated staff at NCTE. Whenever I experienced a problem in my instruction, I found a way to spin it into an issue of ELQ. Looking back on issues like “Getting Into Arguments,” “Digital Dilemmas and Delights,” and “Tasking Time and Taking Time,” I can see how my own growth in the classroom correlates to all I learned from my work with authors. As the editorship draws to a close, I know there are a few places where my roadie boots will dig into the ground. Strengthening connections with regional members of NCTE and assisting the New Jersey lead ambassadors is one goal. Collaborating with NCTE and ALAN member Sarah Mulhern Gross and fellow CEL members Emily Meixner and Christina McCabe on NerdCampNJ has been, and will continue to be, one of my most cherished roadie experiences. And to those reading this who might be experiencing that Seven Year Itch, I extend this very “Jersey” invitation for you to join CEL, invoking the sage words of Jon Bon Jovi: “Take my hand, we’ll make it, I swear.” Let’s be roadies together on this and ever-changing tour as literacy leaders!


Oona Abrams (@oonziela) teaches eleventh and twelfth grade English classes at Chatham High School in northern New Jersey. She has served as editor of English Leadership Quarterly since August of 2014. The April 2018 edition, which she co-edits with Elaine Simos, will be her final issue.