Ms. Beckee walked into her very first classroom eager to teach her students to love reading and writing.
She strongly believed literacy is transformational for student success.
Ms. Beckee knew she had a big job ahead of her, though. The school where she worked had had low test scores in reading for the past several years, most of her students were labeled as “at-risk,” and she would have a limited classroom library. What Ms. Beckee wasn’t expecting, however, was the difficulty she would face in reaching students who came from backgrounds unlike her own. She began to ask herself, “How do I reclaim and sustain transformational literacy practices so that my students are successful, lifelong lovers of reading and writing?”
Situations like the one Ms. Beckee faced are quite common.
With the increasingly diverse makeup of students, pressures of standardized testing, and lack of funding, teachers often feel overwhelmed with the task of transforming their students into strong readers and writers.
Although this task does take time, mystery doesn’t have to surround it, and fear doesn’t have to drive it. Being a strong literacy teacher requires a lot of skill and a lot of heart (Freire, 2000). But it’s easy to lose heart when testing, pressure, and fear take over.
What I offer here is an invitation to examine your core and ground your knowledge and skills of teaching literacy in your heart.
What I refer to as the CORE of your pedagogy are the four concepts to consider when reclaiming and sustaining transformational literacy practices. They are as follows:
C – Cultivate sociological mindfulness.
O – Operate from a critical social justice mindset.
R – Reframe learning as equity and excellence.
E – Exercise self-care.
These concepts are not linear, but looping in nature. This means that you don’t need to perfect one before you can move on to the next. Think of each concept as interrelated, both independent of and dependent on one another.
Cultivate sociological mindfulness.
Being sociologically mindful calls for awareness of the present, how the present has been affected by the past, and how the decisions you make now could affect the future (Schwalbe, 2017). This means paying attention and posing critical questions: What do you know; what do you think you know; and what don’t you know about your students? Ask yourself:
- What are the experiences this student brings into the classroom every day?
- How does my understanding of these experiences affect how I teach?
- Why do the experiences of others matter?
Operate from a critical social justice mindset.
A critical social justice mindset for literacy “is an evolving process where teachers and students always consider cultural relevancy, employ critical literacy, and work for social justice as they relate to the word and the world” (Stachowiak, 2016). Ask yourself:
- Whose voice is included in this read-aloud? In this decision making? In this literacy lesson?
- Do the books I have in my classroom library reflect the diversity of the world, without harmful stereotypes and biases?
- How can the lessons I teach continue to affect my students when they leave my classroom?
Reframe learning as equity and excellence.
Equity is about giving people what they need to be successful. When we reframe our literacy practices with this in mind, we shift to a true focus on individual student excellence. Excellence is about creating transformational spaces for learners to recognize humanity, engage in critical dialogue with their peers, and reflect. Ask yourself:
- What does this student need to be successful? Who could I ask for support?
- Does every student have access to information that would benefit them the most?
- Are the resources I give my students equitable?
As teachers, it is in our nature to take care of others and, in doing so, it’s easy for us to forget about taking care of ourselves. But self-care is an incredibly important and necessary part of being a great teacher. Make sure to put a self-care activity on your calendar weekly—and commit to it. Some examples of self-care include:
- going to your favorite kickboxing class at the gym (kick that stress out!);
- engaging in a sitting, walking, or eating meditation; and
- practicing self-compassion: Forgive yourself, take sick leave when you’re sick, set boundaries.
Putting CORE Into Action
Teaching literacy from the CORE begins with making a commitment to critically reflect on the abovementioned questions. This self and classroom inventory will pave the way to transformational and sustainable literacy practices!
Dr. Stachowiak is an Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and a literacy consultant with The Educator Collaborative. Her interests are in literacy curriculum, equity literacy, and gender issues in education.
- Culturally Affirming Literacy Practices for Urban Elementary Students, edited by Lakia M. Scott & Barbara Purdum-Cassidy
- Reading, Writing, and Rising Up: Teaching About Social Justice and the Power of the Written Word, by Linda Christensen
Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic.
Schwalbe, M. (2017). The sociologically examined life: Pieces of the conversation (5th ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Stachowiak, D. M. (2016). A framework for critical social justice literacy in urban elementary schools. In L. M. Scott & B. Purdum-Cassidy (Eds.), Culturally affirming literacy practices for urban elementary students (pp. 13–26). Lanham, MD: Roman & Littlefield.