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    Get to Know New Board Member-at-Large Rachael Gabriel

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Jun 04, 2019

    qa-rachael-gabrielA former reading teacher and literacy specialist, Rachael Gabriel is now an associate professor of literacy education at the University of Connecticut, where she teaches courses on literacy methods, assessment, and leadership. She is a frequent ILA conference presenter as well as an author and reviewer for several ILA publications, grants, and awards.

    Beyond her work with ILA, Gabriel develops local and international professional development partnerships; serves as the analyst for a U.S. networked improvement community focused on early literacy intervention; and sits on the editorial boards of six major journals. Her robust body of research—comprised of more than 40 refereed articles—centers on literacy instruction, leadership, and intervention.

    We spoke to Gabriel about her interest in decision-making strategy; her plans to prioritize issues of access and equity; and the importance of asking the right questions.

    On what ILA means to her

    “As a practitioner, ILA is a connection to resources. Through ILA’s journals, conferences, and other opportunities to engage with literacy professionals, as a teacher, I found resources that shaped my understandings of literacy and the instruction I provided to my students. As a teacher educator, I often turn to ILA publications and events for resources, ideas, and inspiration.

    “As a researcher, ILA is a support for almost everything I do. Because ILA supports studies directly through grants and indirectly by providing platforms to disseminate research in journals and at conferences, there is a lot of knowledge about literacy that wouldn’t exist if it were not for ILA. A lot of ideas in literacy education can be traced back to an article, book, study, conference session, or conversation that happened because of ILA. Membership in ILA has meant access to a shared knowledge base and a community of colleagues.”

    On her hopes for the future of literacy education

    “There are a lot of separate conversations happening about issues of equity in instruction. I would like to see more cross-pollination between perspectives and ways of thinking about the ongoing challenges of ensuring every child has access to affirming, responsive, robust instruction.”

    On asking the right questions

    “I think part of being a good Board member is being informed about individual issues and aware of the big picture. The Board is not involved on a day-to-day basis, so we get to step back and ask: What is working? When, how, and for whom? Are all efforts leading in the direction we intend them to? What else needs to be recruited, aligned, or revised to increase opportunities for more children to develop powerful literacies?”

    On the experience she brings to the role
    “I have spent a lot of time studying decision-making in education policy settings and committee meetings. I think about leadership and mentoring and how smaller interactions build into bigger patterns of interactions, assumptions, and understandings. The role of a Board member is an opportunity to apply that line of research in the context of my work on literacy and leadership.”

    On what excites her most about this new role

    “ILA has been such an important part of my teaching, research, and connection to the community of literacy professionals. I am proud and honored to be able to give back to the organization by serving in this role, and am excited to engage with and learn alongside international members, leaders, and partners. As a Board member, I am eager to support ILA’s efforts to advocate for the universal right to literacy by generating and disseminating research that has the potential to shape public understandings of literacy teaching and learning.”

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

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    Get to Know New Board Member-at-Large Kia Brown-Dudley

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | May 28, 2019

    A former teacher and national literacy strategist, Kia Brown-Dudley now serves as director of Literacy and Development at The Education Partners, where she works with educators and leading organizations to create and deliver transformational curricula and professional learning opportunities to improve student outcomes in literacy and early childhood education.

    Brown-Dudley, who was elected to one of three members-at-large positions in the ILA 2019 Board Election earlier this month, brings to ILA a wide range of experience in both the public and private sectors. Threaded throughout these experiences is a steadfast commitment to equity—from developing literacy programs for at-risk and gifted students to leading community engagement workshops and scholarship fundraising—everything she does is rooted in her drive to make literacy accessible to all.

    We spoke to Brown-Dudley about increasing representation of diverse social identities within ILA’s membership and materials, her vision for a more balanced, integrative approach to literacy education, and the importance of bringing all voices to the table.

    On what ILA means to her

    “ILA has such a sentimental place in my heart. When I was in graduate school for reading, it was the first professional organization that I joined. ILA was a valuable resource for me as I began my career and still is, over 20 years later. ILA feels like home. It is a safe haven, allowing me to challenge my thinking, gain new insights, and network with like-minded individuals dedicated to literacy for all."

    On her hopes for the future of literacy education

    “I would love to see a more integrative approach to literacy. It’s not just about reading and writing. Literacy is about communicating ideas and creating new understandings.  Reading and writing are language-based competencies. The interrelationship of speaking, listening, reading, and writing should be highlighted and taught in balance.

    "One thing I often hear from secondary colleagues is ‘We weren't taught to teach literacy.’ A focus on disciplinary literacy, moving from silos toward integrative approach, will benefit all students.

    "What’s also important to me is culturally sustaining literacy—hearing all voices and examining multiple perspectives. That expanding of the canon is so important for our students."

    On promoting ILA’s mission of literacy for all

    "What I hope to contribute—when we talk about literacy for all—is increasing the representation of our membership and materials to reflect the diverse identities that embody our global society. I want all stakeholders to reflect on and discuss how we can increase culturally responsive pedagogy and materials so that all students become excited about literacy.

    “My childhood friend sent me a text recently. It was a picture of a book. It was the first time she had seen a children's book in a bookstore that reflected her Filipino American heritage. I always keep that in mind when working with students. Do the books we have on our shelves really serve as windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors?

    "As a champion for literacy for all, we need to ensure that all readers and writers see themselves reflected in resources. As an organization, it is imperative that all voices are at the table and that they’re a part of our decision-making, impacting literacy for generations to come.”

    On the experience she brings to the role

    "Our diverse membership is what makes the organization dynamic. My experiences working in schools and districts, nonprofit organizations, and educational publishers provide ILA with a unique perspective. I hope to leverage my relationships and experiences to connect with current and future members, establishing public-private partnerships to advance our agenda. Together, we can guarantee literacy for all."

    On what excites her most about this new role

    "I am just so excited about our mission to make literacy accessible for all. There are infinite ways for the organization to grow; the key is ensuring that everyone is at the table. Together, we can make a global impact on literacy for all."

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

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    Steps to Authenticity

    By Sharroky Hollie
     | May 22, 2019
    lt366_hollie_ldAll culturally relevant texts are not equitably yoked. Meaning that to simply have books that feature people of color (dare I say the d word: diverse) or that have content related to social, political, and civil issues is necessary but not sufficient. There needs to be a parsing of your culturally relevant texts, a screening if you will, that indicates levels of authenticity.

    The premise is the more authentic the texts, the more equitable and culturally
    responsive they will be for not only students of color but also all students. The
    question then is, what are the steps to cultural authenticity?

    There are three primary steps:

    Step 1: Give students access

    Today, finding a legitimate argument against ensuring access to texts that
    represent traditionally and historically underserved students would be a
    challenge. In 2019, having diverse books should be a given, a basic right, not a
    choice or a privilege. 

    Yet there are too many instances where students of color can matriculate from grade to grade and not be exposed to core texts, and in some cases supplemental texts, that are reflective of who they are culturally and linguistically. The first step toward cultural authenticity is grounded in a commitment to guaranteeing access to culturally relevant texts.

    Question: Is your school/district committed to giving students access to books that are mirrors and windows?

    Step 2: Know your brand of culturally responsive teaching

    Whether teaching in a very diverse school setting or with a homogenous population, cultural and linguistic responsiveness is necessary for any classroom, especially as it applies to increasing academic literacy for all students. Variations of culturally responsive teaching (CRT) include culturally responsive pedagogy, culturally relevant teaching, cultural proficiency, cultural competency, and culturally sustaining. Regardless of the name, CRT pushes teachers to recognize their own cultures and the cultures of their students.

    When it comes to selecting culturally relevant texts, knowing your brand of CRT is imperative. The brand that fits best with seeking cultural authenticity is cultural and linguistic responsiveness (CLR), which focuses specifically on going to where the students are culturally and linguistically for the purpose of bringing them to where they need to be academically.

    The basis of this brand is four words: validate, affirm, build, and bridge. To validate and affirm means making legitimate and positive that which historical institutional knowledge, research, social media, and mainstream media have made illegitimate and negative about traditionally marginalized cultures and languages. Students have been told their cultural and linguistic behaviors are bad, incorrect, insubordinate, disrespectful, and disruptive. In CLR, educators refute this narrative when talking to, relating to, and teaching students.

    An equal part of validating and affirming is building and bridging. This is where the focus on school culture or traditional behaviors occurs. These behaviors are reinforced with activities that require expected behaviors in traditional academic settings and in mainstream cultural environments. Ultimately, the goal is for all students to learn situational appropriateness, which is determining what the most appropriate cultural and linguistic behavior is for the situation and to do so without losing one’s cultural and linguistic self in the process.

    Questions: What is your brand of CRT, and is it conducive to cultural authenticity?

    Step 3: Know the three types of culturally responsive texts

    The capacity to be authentic is hinged on how texts are selected and purchased. The selection process must include an awareness of the three types of culturally responsive texts to decide which materials are most authentic and appropriate. The three types of texts are culturally authentic, culturally generic, and culturally neutral.

    Culturally authentic texts are the preferred type of text for the culturally responsive educator. A culturally authentic text is a piece of fiction or nonfiction that illuminates the authentic cultural experiences of a particular group—whether it addresses religion, socioeconomic status, gender, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, or geographic location. The language, situations, and illustrations must depict culture in an authentic manner. Examples are The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Balzer + Bray), Ghost by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum), and Dreamers by Yuyi Morales (Neal Porter). For more examples of texts, visit

    Culturally generic texts feature characters of various racial identities but contain few and/or superficial details to define the characters or storylines. Culturally generic texts tend to focus on mainstream cultural values but with the use of nonmainstream characters. Many culturally generic texts qualify as “multicultural.” A current example is Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon (Ember) and a classic example is Corduroy by Don Freeman (Puffin).

    Culturally neutral texts feature characters of “color,” but the stories are drenched with a traditional or mainstream theme, plot, and/or characterization. Culturally neutral texts are the least preferred texts because they are essentially race based. The only aspect of these texts is the color of the character’s skin. Note, however, that there are always exceptions, as there are many quality texts that build literacy skills but are still culturally neutral. What you need to avoid is using a culturally neutral text thinking it is culturally authentic. Examples are the Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective series by Octavia Spencer (Simon & Schuster) and The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon (Wendy Lamb).

    Question: How many culturally authentic texts are in your library?

    When does the road to authenticity begin?

    Now! Granted, these three basic steps are easier said than done, but they are the prerequisites to equitable outcomes for your students. A commitment to have culturally responsive texts is a necessary ingredient.

    Knowing the brand of culturally responsive teaching you are using will determine your level of authenticity. Understanding the types of culturally responsive texts will give you focus and precision in your journey to responsiveness. 

    Sharroky Hollie is the executive director of the Center for Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning, as well as the author of Strategies for Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching and Learning (Shell) and the curator of the Culturally Authentic and Responsive Texts collection (Teacher Created Materials).

    Hollie will be a keynote speaker at ILA Intensive: Nevada, a two-day event focusing on equity and access to literacy taking place June 21–22, 2019, in Las Vegas, NV.

    This article originally appeared in the May/June issue of Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.
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    Get to Know Incoming Vice President Stephen Peters

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | May 21, 2019

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

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

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

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

    On literacy

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

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

    On the ILA conference

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

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

    On the ILA Children’s Rights to Read campaign

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

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

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

    On the ILA network

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    The Promise in Books

    By Lilliam Rivera
     | May 15, 2019
    lt366_ld_riveraThere’s a vivid memory I have from when I was 6 or 7 years old. My mother, Ana Maria Rivera, holds my hand while pushing a stroller with my baby brother tucked inside. My other hand holds tight to my other brother while my older sister holds on to the other side of the stroller. Four of us children in total, all under the age of 8. A tiny caravan walking the wide Bronx, NY, streets.

    I remember passing the fire engine house, waving to the firemen as they cleaned their trucks, and I remember my mother pressing tight to my hand as we crossed the busy streets. Our destination was the public library, roughly 15 blocks away from the housing projects where I spent my childhood. I couldn’t wait. 

    The wooden steps that led up to the library were long, or perhaps they seemed that way back then. How my mother managed to climb the stairs of the library with the stroller and all of us beside her I can’t even fathom, but she did it without much of a hitch. As we entered the library, everything smelled old and musty and it was so very quiet.

    I entered the silence with excitement and wonder. 

    Inside, the librarians prepared to read a story aloud. There was barely anyone there, so we took up most of the front row. My legs dangled from the wooden chair as I sat there enraptured, completely in awe of what the librarians read.

    Afterward, Mami allowed us to check out one book each. I browsed the shelves wondering which book to choose, the gift that will take me to a new world, my ticket to enter another wondrous place. I grew more and more anxious trying to decide.

    “You can’t make a mistake here,” Mami said. “We’ll be back and you’ll be able to pick another book. I promise.”

    At home, we sat in the living room as my mother prepared dinner for everyone. When she was done, Mami pulled out her word puzzles as we read. And although her English wasn’t up to par, in that she couldn’t figure out what the words meant on the pages of my book, it was enough to be seated next to her on that small couch, reading together.

    My mother grew up in Corozal, Puerto Rico, a small town located in the mountainous area of the island. She was one of 12 children. There are few pictures of her childhood, even fewer of her as a teenager. My mother could attend school only until the third grade. She had to help take care of her younger brothers, and that is where she would spend most of her working life—being a caregiver to young kids. Her loving ways with young people eventually led her to leave Puerto Rico and move to New York.

    My mother’s story may not seem remarkable or unusual, but I find empowerment in the subtleness of her migration story. How she left her family to start anew in a sometimes cold and hard city without understanding the language. My mother is not a very verbal woman. She’s quiet and strong. It’s in her quietness that I find strength in my own writing. 

    My latest young adult novel, Dealing in Dreams (Simon & Schuster), is set in the near future where girl gangs rule the streets. Sixteen-year-old Nalah and her crew, Las Mal Criadas, use violence to gain status. Access to literature and information is controlled by only a select few. Books are such a rarity in this world that they are found only in the markets and nightclubs. There is a scene in my novel where Nalah ventures outside of her city and reads a poem that transports her back to a time when she was certain her father must have read those same words to her. The words she reads are like ghosts, nudging her back to family and hope.

    The past few years have been an exciting time for children’s books. So many diverse books have been published, garnering awards and hitting The New York Times best-selling list. The conversations have shifted to spotlight different voices, but has it been enough?

    According to The Cooperative Children’s Book Center, 215 kids’ books published in 2017 featured “significant Latinx characters and/or content,” with only 73 books written by Latinx authors. Most can agree how vital it is for young people to see themselves reflected back, but these numbers beg the question: Who gets to tell our stories? I can’t help but wonder how transformative the trips to the library may have been if the books I picked featured a Puerto Rican girl like me.

    My mother is 82 years old now and she still lives in the Bronx where I grew up. Now that I live in Los Angeles, I try to visit her as much as I can. When I do, she usually has a book or two of mine to sign for her various doctors or neighbors. She hasn’t read my latest book, Dealing in Dreams, or my debut YA novel, The Education of Margot Sanchez (Simon & Schuster). The books haven’t been translated to Spanish— not yet, anyway.

    When she can, Mami attends my events, always sitting in the front row. It’s such an honor for me to continue this oral tradition she presented to me so many years ago in that library, where she kept her promise to me to return for more literary magic, as we did again and again.

    Lilliam Rivera is an award-winning writer and young adult author of The Education of Margot Sanchez and Dealing in Dreams (Simon & Schuster). She will be a keynote speaker at ILA Intensive: Nevada, a two-day event focusing on equity and access to literacy taking place June 21–22, 2019, in Las Vegas, NV.

    This article originally appeared in the May/June issue of Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.
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