| Apr 30, 2012
At the International Reading Association 57th Annual Convention's opening general session on Monday, April 30, Board of Directors President Victoria J. Risko spoke about the importance of celebrating teaching in front of a crowd of thousands of literacy professionals. Here is what she said:
"This year IRA is Celebrating Teachers! We are honoring effective teaching of reading in a changing world.
"For this talk, I chose the title Teaching as a Powerful Act, and the teaching acts I describe are empowered by teachers’ knowledge of sound literacy instruction.
"As I searched for a symbol to capture the many attributes of powerful teachers, I was drawn to Robert Matta’s abstract art! At first glance, you may think that this art represents the mayham of a typical day in a teacher’s life.
"But as we dig deeper and learn about Robert Matta, a Chilean artist, we discover that his abstract paintings signal the importance of the individual who looks inward to examine life’s choices while also acting with social conscience.
"Looking inward and acting with social conscience – two powerful acts – that characterize the teachers I met on my journeys as an IRA officer. Teachers who shared their stories with me teach deliberatively, looking inward to analyze and reflect on their teaching while looking outward and teaching for social justice.
"It has been a tremendous honor to serve as your IRA President this year, and in the next few minutes I will reflect on what I have learned from teachers around the world – in Guatemala, in Ghana, in Botswana, New Zealand, Kazakhstan, Canada and the U. S. – just a few of the paths I have followed to this conference and this Grand Celebration of Teachers.
"This celebration is especially important right now, in this TIME of our history. For as Diane Ravitch, former U. S. secretary of education reminds us--we have developed a culture – world wide - where we expect to scrutinize every action of educators and point to shortcomings, but we are slow, very slow to recognize the great works that are being done. It is time for a change – shifting the rhetoric to focus on teachers’ contributions.
"We have multiple images of effective teachers.
"Some come from pop culture, such as Mr. Keating in Dead Poet’s Society, Katherine Watson in Mona Lisa Smile, Dr. Larabee in Akeelah and the Bee, and Mr. Escalante in Stand and Deliver—all encouraged their students’ individuality and propelled them to find their own voice. Because, as Mr. Keating said, the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all.
"And Mr. Escalante who argues that we, as educators, need to set high goals for our students, for with our support, they will achieve those goals and even more.
"Usually our images of effective teachers are more personal—starting with our families, as teachers—for example, I celebrate my husband, Marino Alvarez and son, Christopher—who remind me of the importance of following students’ lead and of the importance of teaching to the heart of our students.
"We learn constantly from our dear friends and our colleagues—for me personally, I recognize our family friends, Janet and Gary Carmichael, here with us today, my literacy colleagues at Vanderbilt University, the literacy coaches who are members of my book club, and my teacher buddies in Nashville—also here today!
"We admire and honor the contributions of the past presidents of IRA, many of whom are on stage with us today and past IRA Board members, and we honor you as IRA members and literacy leaders.
Paraphrasing Anne Radmacher…“we stand often in the company of dreamers—the teachers who tickle our common sense and demonstrate that their students can achieve things that others may think are impossible.”
"These are our mentors and teachers—they look inward for reflection and move forward with a social conscience.
"On my journeys this year, I visited classrooms, interviewed teachers, professional leaders, and students—and it has been a privilege to profile some of these teachers in my presidential blog and columns in Reading Today.
"These teachers demonstrate that their actions are not random but carefully designed and informed by research and by their knowledge of literacy and language development. The stories they shared with me define them— and these stories define us, as professional literacy educators—importantly, these stories cross boundaries of history, geography, culture, and language.
"I derived three patterns that characterize the powerful teachers who shared their stories with me. They:
• Teach with precision
• Teach to students’ knowledge and experiences
• Teach with grit
"Teachers who teach with precision use assessments to support student learning as well as to measure it. They demonstrate that formative assessments can have a powerful impact on students’ learning.
"In particular, there is Mrs. D, Nancy de Arrigunaga, a first year teacher in Florida, who collects multiple forms of data to represent precisely what her students are learning. And these data constantly position her students as competent learners.
"Mrs. D. holds high expectations signaling to her students that that she is confident they can succeed. And as Jerry Harste (2009) advocates, she is fostering reading identities that are positive and that will influence the readers they become.
"The use of formative assessments to guide student learning and instructional decision making occurs throughout the world—from the team of Literacy Coaches in Farmington, Connecticut, to the professional development leaders in Kyrgyztan.
"And while precise in using data to inform meaningful instruction—these educators’ assessments are not linear, straight edged, uni-dimensional tools. Rather, as advocated by Aristotle and others, their assessments, are as flexible as a tape measure that can bend to capture nuances and individualities—nuances and individualities that characterize students’ language and literacy development.
"Teachers who teach to students’ knowledge and experiences teach through the strengths of their students. Their instruction, as supported by Compton-Lilly and others, builds on the premise that literacy learning is enhanced when students take an active role in their learning using their literacy skills and life experiences to identify and address social problems that are meaningful to them.
"For example, there is Ms. Valerie Pierce who teaches in Room 70 at Grant Park High School in Winnipeg Canada. This classroom is the first stop for newcomers ages 14-21, who come from the sub-Saharan region of Africa. Ms. Pierce explains that these students often feel confused and overwhelmed at the difficulty of learning new languages and literacies as they prepare to graduate from high school.
"Room 70 offers a rich collage of multiple literacies. Students are writing poems, music, stories, fables, essays, and video documentaries about their life experiences. A collection of the students’ writings, entitled Stories From Room 70, and their videos are shared widely within the school and community.
"And I draw your attention to Irma Guzman—Irma Guzman lives and teaches in Guatemala, where books and school supplies are extremely scarce. Irma’s students are publishing their life stories and their own curriculum based texts. These texts provide a means for teachers to make connections with their students but also afford teaching multiple reading and writing skills and strategies that build on students’ knowledge.
"As advanced by Geneva Gay (2000), these teachers teach 'through the strengths of their students' (Gay, 2000, p. 29). They recognize that students’ linguistic, cultural, and learning differences are resources for their learning, and their instruction is making efforts to capitalize on those resources.
"Teachers who teach with grit are persistent in providing students—all students—access to new knowledge— knowledge that is useful and usable for addressing students’ needs and preparing them for life.
"One demonstration comes from Dr. Morapedi, a professor at the University of Botswana in Gaborone. Dr. Morapedi is the principal director of a project addressing the high dropout rates of students in her community. Her study group involves students who are preparing to be tutors/teachers of others. They are reading and writing and acquiring new knowledge in their self-selected area of study—such as preparing for electrical work, travel and tourism, art and fashion design, or technology.
"Bernadette Dwyer, a literacy educator at St. Patrick’s College in Dublin, Ireland; Karen Pelekis, Carole Phillips, and William Yang, educators at Greenacres Elementary School in Scarsdale, New York; and Eric McDonald, a middle school teacher at Benchmark School in Media, Pennsylvania, demonstrate that effective instruction involves their students in inquiry projects supported by access to both online and offline resources.
"And they demonstrate that teachers with grit provide opportunities for students to be experts, teaching each other what they are learning through multimodal productions. For example, Eric’s students write scripts and develop videos to represent their newly learned concepts. And at Greenacres, Karen’s first grade students are writing on blogs and videoconferencing with students around the world.
"It takes determination to find time in a school day to deepen students’ learning through their own inquiry and to support applications of academic content; it takes time to study concepts from different perspectives, it takes time to free up spaces for students to be active in their own learning and to identify themselves as experts and capable learners. It takes grit.
"Weaving these stories together, these teachers represent who we are as a profession—deliberate and thoughtful, implementing sound literacy instruction. They would tell us that they are providing their students with access to texts, their histories, and new knowledge. And as IRA member Angie Miller, New Hampshire 2011 teacher of the year, tells us, they are enjoying every minute. In Angie’s own words:
"'I can't imagine being anything else but a teacher--I learn something from my students every single day, and there is never any danger of getting stuck in a rut because when you're dealing with kids they keep life lively and interesting! I laugh out loud every day at school, and I can't imagine a profession that didn't allow for that kind of joy. That being said, teaching reading and writing is nothing short of a privilege.'
"These teachers are us!!! And these are their powerful acts teaching."
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