• Celebrate Family Engagement All Year Round

    Our guest author is Sarah Johnson, a practicing public school educator in Saint Paul, Minnesota. She has taught in elementary classrooms, coached new teachers as a Peer Assistance and Review consulting teacher, served as an Academic Content Coach, led professional development on School, Family, and Community Partnerships and helped launch the Parent Teacher Home Visit project in Saint Paul Public Schools.

    It’s October. For some that means apple orchards, leaf viewing, and pumpkin spice. For educators, it also brings Parent Teacher conferences . . and a dread of all the candy and unbridled enthusiasm for that last day of the month, but that’s a different blog.  Over the years I’ve seen educators approach conferences with a variety of perspectives and approaches: some excited to update families on the new learning, some worried about how families might respond to a concern, and some exhausted from the preparation and longs days.   Thankfully, it’s quite rare that some take Ted Lasso’s view, shared when he met Rebecca’s mom, “Boy, I love meeting people’s moms.  It’s like reading an instruction manual as to why they’re nuts.”

    During my 29 years as an educator in various roles in Saint Paul Public Schools, the approach I have learned is that meaningful family partnerships* are integral to student success.  Cory Jones, one of the founding teachers of Parent Teacher Home Visits explains it like this, “With a great curriculum, with a great teacher, if you leave out the home the results for that individual student will be lower.”  He’s right, families and schools need to be on the same team. This October, I’d like to encourage educators to take this parent-teacher season and challenge themselves to create opportunities for meaningful family engagement year-round. If you’re an educator leading a system instead of leading a classroom, then I challenge you to find ways of supporting and structuring these opportunities year-round as well.

  • Literacy Legislation in Education: Align Policy with Practice

    Our guest author is Jeanne Jeup, co-founder and CEO of the Institute for Multi-Sensory Education and a former first-grade teacher.

    Change starts at the top with legislation, a constant force shaping how teachers teach and students learn. Navigating the intricate path from the inception of legislation to its effective implementation within classrooms is a multifaceted and demanding endeavor. By nurturing collaboration among educators, administrators, and policymakers, a trickle-down effect is created that can successfully bridge the immense gap between policy and practice. The majority of states that enacted reading legislation in the past four years recognize the role of science and evidence in reading reform.

    The legislative landscape in reading education is complex and multifaceted. Due to the combined efforts of educators, parents, and state leaders, there has been a movement toward science-based reading instruction. This push brought about an onslaught of legislation to address the persistent reading deficits of all American students, namely those living in poverty and those from black, brown, and indigenous communities who are disproportionately affected.

    The journey of reading education legislation begins with policymakers and educational experts collaborating to draft bills and set expectations. Well-intentioned from the start, the challenge lies in ensuring that these laws, once passed, are effectively communicated and implemented throughout the education system at large. As these policies filter down through the layers of the education system, from the state level to the district level and finally to the classroom, interpretation and implementation can vary significantly. Without an educator on the local classroom level who can communicate and take ownership of the changes, legislation becomes just words on a page without being put into practice. This leads to a disconnect between the intent of the legislation and its real-world application through clear and actionable implementation solutions.

  • Libraries: Guarding Our Freedom to Read

    Our guest author is Jenn Kalata, an adult services library associate at Worthington Public Libraries and treasurer for Worthington Public Libraries United, Local #6606.

    I work in a small library system in Worthington, Ohio, just north of Columbus. My colleagues and I have started sharing the latest book bans from around the country as a strange sort of bonding exercise. Although our community tends to be open to all sorts of materials, we have noticed an increase in book challenges. The director and building managers are wonderful at talking to these folks and getting them to reconsider, reminding them that our collections reflect our community.  One librarian put together a display specifically to highlight banned books, and it has been a hit with patrons. It is always satisfying when I can grab a book from those shelves and put them into the hands of someone looking for a good book. However, I often find myself feeling like we are avoiding the worst, given the rise of book bannings happening all over the country.

    When I began working in public libraries six years ago, the culture surrounding book bans was already shifting. At first, book bans seemed to stem primarily from particularly stalwart religious or far-right groups. At the private Roman Catholic School where I grew up, for instance, the irreverent Captain Underpants books were banned. In 2023, though, there is something far more insidious and frightening about the increasing vitriol of the current bans. They are far more frequent and the scope of what is being deemed inappropriate has widened far beyond commonly challenged books such as Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, or The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.