Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

The 2015 NCTE Presidential Address: Advocacy as Capacity Building: Creating a Movement through Collaborative Inquiry

Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

The 2015 NCTE Presidential Address: Advocacy as Capacity Building: Creating a Movement through Collaborative Inquiry

Article excerpt

The following is the text of Kathy Short's presidential address as delivered at the NCTE Annual Convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on November 22, 2015.

In a dialogue at the beginning of the 2014 NCTE Annual Convention, Ernest Morrell and I said "enough is enough"-the time had come for us to take a stand as a Council. We proposed that NCTE members come together in a movement to change the conditions for literacy learning and teaching in our schools, colleges, and universities. We spoke of NCTE's commitment to providing avenues for highlighting the voices of educators and engaging decision makers in meaningful dialogue about why the "test and punish" approach to literacy reform will never work and how systematically building support for deeper literacy learning across a community yields impressive results.

Our comments were based in Kent Williamson's vision that the key to improving literacy is changing the conditions in which literacy is being taught, instead of subjecting ourselves to the ongoing onslaught of reforms (NCLE, 2013). That promise was also based in the belief that all of us are teachers in classrooms, whether those classrooms are in a university, community college, early-childhood center, or K-12 school setting. This belief provides a stance from which to reflect on the ways in which NCTE is working to move beyond reform approaches to advocacy. My focus is on advocacy as capacity building, which has been taken on as a shared agenda across the different conferences, sections, assemblies, and committees that constitute NCTE.

Advocacy as Capacity Building and Action

Many teachers respond with a defensive stance to calls for change because reform efforts typically revolve around a deficit view of teachers and schools. Reforms emphasize fixing what is wrong and attempt to force change through accountability, standards, and mandated programs (Ravitch, 2011). Not surprisingly, motivating change by telling teachers that they are not doing their jobs well and need to be monitored and standardized has not led to sustained reform. The focus on accountability has also been present in recent rhetoric claiming that teacher education programs lack rigor and that a rating system is needed to measure the success of universities.

My early years as a teacher were influenced by reforms based on A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983). This report generated a great deal of discussion about accountability but, more importantly, felt like an attack on the professionalism and integrity of teachers. Our intentions and knowledge were questioned, and experts were hired to tell us what we were doing wrong and what we needed to change in our practice. Like many around me, I closed my door in order to continue teaching in the ways that were most effective for the students in my classroom, while seeming to conform on the surface to administrative mandates. The one positive development from this time was that membership in professional organizations allowed me to remain connected to educators with whom I could think and learn.

Kent Williamson's leadership in guiding NCTE to construct a shared agenda around capacity building is a direct challenge to this approach to reform. Instead of defining change as fixing what is wrong, a capacity-building approach views change as an inquiry through which teachers explore new understandings about learning and literacy (Short, 2015). In an approach based on capacity building, teachers no longer work in isolation, but as members of a team, thinking alongside community members and educators to develop plans for change based on research, practice, and knowledge of the specific students in their classrooms.

To be sure, professional organizations have always been a force for change by supporting educators at all levels of instruction and experience in their efforts to move forward in their teaching, research, and scholarship. The challenge that Kent Williamson provided was to consider how professional organizations could be a movement for positive change through capacity building and increasing teachers' potential to make a difference within schools and universities. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.