Our Students Have the Right to an Integrated System of Supports, and So Do Literacy Leaders
In 2015, my doctoral work at Rutgers Graduate School of Education came to a close as I defended a dissertation studying six of the most amazing preservice teachers, connecting their knowledge of an exemplary literacy day to practice in the field during student teaching. The study group I designed yielded some amazing findings from these amazing women representing our small, but mighty Division of Education at Bloomfield College, a Predominantly Black Institution (PBI) nestled in the New York Metropolitan area. I sought to design a safe space, or even brave space, for my student teachers to openly discuss what they learned about comprehensive literacy instruction (research and theory) with what was taking place in their actual classrooms (practice). Some of the disparities resulted in some discomfort, but we had a study group that novice teachers could lean on to civilly discuss their ideas and concerns.
The findings from this common problem of practice (qualitative study) led my colleagues and I to publish a book on the exemplary literacy day, advocating for comprehensive literacy approaches that push literacy “beyond the language arts block.” We know that in high achieving schools, literacy is ingrained in the culture of the school community.
Five years later, it makes me proud to see these established teachers reading, critically thinking, leaning on research and colleagues, and critically examining what works best for their students. In our latest ILA position statement, my colleagues and I argue that “Dialogue is essential in the consideration of literacy practices, as inclusive interaction is crucial to both learning and teaching” (p. 4). This dialogue needs to be a two-way street with respectful discussion. As we provide integrated supports for our students, we also must provide integrated supports to one another.
What concerns me regarding this idea of integrated supports is that when teachers feel embarrassed, threatened, or even disrespectfully challenged, they retreat to isolation, which results in anything but an integrated support system that our students deserve. I’ve met many teachers (and colleagues) recently who have started to turn away from the same social media tools that attracted them to collaborating as part of a professional learning network (PLN) because of the aforementioned reasons. I, too, am guilty of reading some articles and posts that led me to roll my eyes in disbelief. Can alternative viewpoints be considered if the conditions aren’t in place for productive dialogue?
For me, there are so many professional resources out there that we can turn to. Many of my respected colleagues have written hundreds of peer-reviewed journal articles and books regarding literacy best practices, including my own mentor. Professional organizations including ILA and NCTE publish position statements, reports, and briefs that are led by some of the leading voices in the field.
Within these professional networks, we become familiar with a plethora of tools that can be used to support readers and writers, and, as a former administrator, lead to decisions made in the interest of our kids over programs. There are programs and tools created by literacy colleagues (whom I respect highly) in the field that I have removed from schools because they weren’t meeting the needs of our students. In some cases (to be quite honest), the money saved on removing the programs resulted in greater access to books in the classrooms. Difficult decisions had to be made and included the support of our literacy teams, who were constantly engaged in ongoing ELA program evaluations.
We need to find joy in being part of integrated support systems and we must take steps to diversify our PLN. As a literacy teacher-educator, author, researcher, and consultant, I want to personally thank the colleagues who continue to push and challenge my thinking about the pillars of literacy, comprehensive literacy, new literacies, social justice and equity, and all of the areas of focus that our students so deserve.
Wishing you a joyful, happy, and healthy holiday season.
 International Literacy Association. (2019). Right to integrated support systems [Research brief]. Newark, DE: Author.