When I became RI Teacher of the Year, it was a fabulous honor. Lots of tears, clapping, pompoms (yes, our school art teacher made adorable green and gold pompoms for the surprise ceremony). After the initial awards ceremony, newspaper interviews, and congratulatory emails, I had a meeting at the Department of Education to discuss my role for the year. I was asked “what do you want your big initiative to be this year?” I was momentarily speechless. Of course, I knew I was going to be working on some state initiatives and I knew I had some presentations and keynote speeches to give (I did fill out the application and go through the process, after all). However, until that moment, I really hadn’t defined what mark I wanted to make as the RI State Teacher of the Year. Was it working with Early Childhood on developing literacy practices for our youngest learners? Of course, that was within my field. Did I want to partner with the Social and Emotional Learning team? I have given many presentations about the importance and link between emotions and learning. As I scanned the list of possibilities, it all felt related to me, but none of it really touched at the heart of what I want to do , what I have always wanted to do – to support and enable children to who struggle to learn to read to become joyful, independent, and successful readers.
I thought back to the most profound professional development I’ve ever had – when I was trained as a Reading Recovery teacher. That single year was probably the most significant in my 18 year career as a teacher because it changed what I thought was possible; for both me as a teacher and for my students who struggled the most. Part of what makes Reading Recovery teacher training so amazing is the ongoing professional development and support with like-minded colleagues. Every month, I met with a group of Reading Recovery teachers and we examined student work, engaged in professional book discussions, and observed and discussed live lessons. Every moment of it improved my teaching, mostly because I was able to problem-solve, share, and grow with a group of colleagues. Being part of that group had a direct and significant impact on the students I taught every day.
I discovered that this is where I could make an impact and I set out to re-create some of that collegiality among the literacy professionals in the state of Rhode Island. I wanted to form a cohort of RI literacy professionals that could offer the same support and professional development that I experience with my Reading Recovery cohort. I sent out invitations to as many Reading Specialists, literacy coaches, and literacy coordinators that I had contact information for, hoping that I would get maybe 20-30 people who might want to join this professional learning community. I received over 120 responses. The Rhode Island Literacy Cohort was born.
On January 7th, we held our first meeting and had over 60 people attend. I gave a brief Powerpoint presentation and we heard from Elizabeth Burke-Bryant and Stephanie Gellar from RI KIDS COUNT about the RI Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.
I was so inspired by the enthusiasm of this group. I got so much positive feedback about the development of the group and it became clear to me that the literacy professionals in this state have wanted this for a long time – the gift of time and space to collaborate and grow professionally together. Our work with struggling readers is complicated and sometimes difficult. It takes expertise, stamina, and grit. It is both emotionally trying and emotionally rewarding. Ultimately, we, as a group, want support from one another. Gathering together is going to strengthen our voice and advocacy. It’s going to support positive change within ourselves and within our teaching. It’s going to make a hugely positive impact on the students we work with every day.
If you are a literacy professional working in Rhode Island and you would like to join the newly formed RI Literacy Cohort, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact me via Twitter @TracyLafreniere. We are better together.