Introduction to guest blog by LOCI director, KaiLonnie Dunsmore: We are excited to partner with Capstone Academia and especially co-founder Candace Kenyatta in our work in schools. Candace, who writes the guest blog below, brings significant experience in adolescent literacy; charter school leadership; and the education of African-American youth. Candace has experiences in state leadership (she served as the director of secondary literacy in the New Jersey department of education); formative assessment (starting from her work at Pearson); and in urban turn around school leadership as both a principal and now consultant, especially supporting school wide data based decision making and balancing accountability and teacher ownership to increase student achievement. Candace and Capstone Academia worked with us on our $4.5 million federally funded LIREC project (Literacy Improvement in Rural Education through Collaboration) to help capture and support family and community engagement. She focuses on a superb literacy coach from Northampton County Schools (NC), Pamela Miles. See a 2.42 min overview of Pamela in action here or read Candace's reflection below:
There are few things more exciting than watching a parent engage in reading with their child. As educators, we expect that parents will work with their children at home to supplement what happens in the classroom. In fact, we can sometimes unfairly judge a parent’s investment in their child’s education by how much time they engage in content with their children at home or by the rate of completion of at-home assignments. What can often be missed in the ways we think about the school and home relationship is the role that educators can play in ensuring parents feel empowered and capable to provide their children with quality enrichment at home.
Every person has their own unique connection to learning, which is likely determined by several factors, including personal schooling experiences. When it comes to literacy, much like the students that we teach, parents have different levels of comfort with reading. This level of comfort does not mean that they do not hold a strong vision for the types of readers they want their children to become, but could mean that they don’t possess the tools to guide their children to realize that vision. Educators like Pamela Miles, an elementary instructional coach for North Hampton County Schools, understands this reality all too well. With the help of funds from the federally funded LIREC project, Pamela has spent the last 3 years leading parent literacy sessions that support parents to gain the tools and resources necessary to develop children with both a love of and aptitude for reading.
I was fortunate to not only watch Pamela’s work first hand, but also to speak with the parents and students who had been the direct benefactors of her literacy sessions. From my conversations and observations, I learned why Pamela’s sessions were so meaningful to parents and impactful for students. There were three major themes evident in her approach that solidified her success.
Pamela valued and respected her parents. She made only positive assumptions about their investment, involvement, and engagement. When parents were unable to attend sessions, Pamela believed that there was a compelling and unavoidable explanation. She also went out of her way to schedule multiple opportunities for parents to spend time with her—calendaring morning and evening sessions to fit within the busy work and family obligations many of her parents had to navigate. In addition to intentional scheduling, Pamela, ensured that her parents felt comfortable during their time in the literacy sessions. She sought their feedback regularly, and structured sessions aligned to their needs and those of their children. Finally, she was patient with each attendee. Answering questions in a kind and respectful tone, clearing up misconceptions multiple times if needed, and working to provide the resources that parents requested even if it meant spending additional hours in prep.
Pamela used her knowledge of solid instructional practice to inform her approach. Parents often attend sessions that become information dumps. When presenting to parents, it is easy to forget that parents are and can be learners too. Pamela spent time crafting plans for her literacy sessions that included not only time for parents to learn, but also time for parents to practice. Pamela saw her role as a facilitator of learning and model for the literacy strategies she wanted her parents to use at home. Pamela used document cameras to show parents how to practice spelling at home with their children, many times having children participate with her so that parents could see how the exchange should play out between them and their child. After parents watched Pamela model a strategy, they could spend time with their own children at their tables with Pamela to guide them. This low stakes practice ensured that parents were building a muscle they could use with greater confidence at home.
Pamela encouraged partnership as a part of the literacy journey. Parents partnered with her, but also partnered with their own children to learn key strategies and develop a set of routines they could engage in for years to come. While Pamela taught specific literacy skills and strategies each session, what parents and students were learning was that education is not just a process but includes a number of key players. Pamela brought herself to the work and encouraged her parents and students to do the same. Each person in the session had a role, Pamela taught, the parents learned and practiced, and the children both helped their parents practice and engaged with and in the content to drive their own development. There were no passive players in Pamela’s sessions and each person knew it. When Pamela asked for volunteers, students knew they were up to bat. When she set the timer for parents to practice, they pulled out their materials and began to work with their child. No parent attended Pamela’s sessions without their child in tow. This interdependence reinforced the value that no one could accomplish the vision alone.
“When I was growing up, I had a hard time, I could read, but I couldn’t always understand what I read. I want him to be a reader.” ~ Northampton, NC Parent
Even when the pathway is not clear, parents often do have and can verbalize a reading vision for their child. When we as educators are willing to hear and support them in that vision there can be tremendous impact. Thanks to Pamela’s work, the strength of a community of parents, and support from the U.S. Department of Education, LIREC project, parents in Northampton, NC are beginning to realize the vision of their children as strong readers and lifelong learners.