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The Power of Authenticity: Twitterpated for Literacy

Read about the power of no frills authenticity in educational leadership. Learn how to share who you really are to allow the beauty of the impossible unfold. Take the risk of exposing yourself to inspire others and teach by example.

In this, what we can call chapter of my career, I took a gamble to uncover what made me into the person I am today in the hopes of motivating middle school children to see themselves as literate individuals.

Circa 2003

Anticipation of Twitterpation:

I stood, knees knocking, blood trembling through my arties, at the front of the classroom on that early September morning.

I was so nervous that I was vaguely able to distinguish the first set of faces that would make or break my aspirations.

I recall swallowing, deeply, even gulping, as I motioned through that final breath into my diaphragm, preparing to leap into my first attempt at captivating 130 capricious tweenagers to take a journey into a life of literacy.

I knew, no joke, that this group, along with each additional class of less than enamored seventh graders, was pondering life outside those four walls; lost summer days, swimming pools and boardwalk escapades, best friends and innocent crushes.

For certain, there was a plethora of more enjoyable things they could be doing, rather than sit in this 110 minute class of what they thought might be the most boring segment of their day and unending ten months ahead.

Courage in my pocket, I began to relive the tale of the 9-year-old with the Dorothy Hamill haircut, who parked herself on the carpet of a small, privately own book store called the Nook of Knowledge.

I explained how I’d peer through the titles of the books along the shelves, and run my fingers along the bindings until an unexplainable feeling came to me.

I articulated how I’d grab the text, examine the illustrations and play with the words on the front and back covers, read somewhere in the middle, more than likely cheat by reading the ending, and then, somehow the minutes turned into hours and I’d hear the echo of my mother’s voice announcing it was time to go home.

I was far away, I implored, no worries for me. Life as I knew it no longer existed, at least for that day.

...because I was lost, in the powerful unknowing that words would one day inspire my knowledge and motivate me to make the impossible, possible.

This defined my childhood, I insisted; words did.

Before long, I announced, I was an author, mimicking the styles of the writers, spinning plots of my own.

And so I did it, treading eloquently with my delivery, given my audience embodied middle schoolers.

I shared the experiences that surrounded my life as a reader and a writer, sprinkled with some realities that inferred the absence of sunshine and apple pie, but reality.

Their turn

Thereafter, I asked the same of them…

to dig deep into the ideas and events that shaped their own

understanding of how they felt about literacy.

to write about their lives as readers and writers, or as I called it, their literacy autobiographies.

I told them to write, freely and that the only grade they would earn was for task completion.

I distributed a bulleted handout with questions to guide their thinking.

Not Exactly Compliance

The students




Tick tock went the clock.

They demanded they hated writing and definitely did not read.

I knelt down, one child at a time and told them they could do this and if they didn’t like to read or write, that was fine, but I needed them to tell me why.

I announced freedom to proclaim their distaste for books and reading and writing.

I insisted that it was fine if they didn’t read, but I wanted to know why.

Did they think they were bad readers?

Did they mess up reading aloud?

They told me they couldn’t spell. I told them good, write anyway.

And just like a bull in a china closet, student after student resisted.

And then it happened.

They wrote about the lack of self- esteem and how “stupid” they thought they were, since other kids could read and write much better.

Many couldn’t name a favorite story or only remembered a book a teacher read in kindergarten or first grade.

But, they did it.

Twitterpation in Motion

I spent the next day or two reading their work, creating a file for each child, placing the literacy autobiographies safely away.

What I read took me far away from the topic and into the lives of my learners.

I learned:

their lack of spelling, hence grasp of letter sounds and blends.

that grammar took a back seat and formats for teaching writing would be a challenge.

the desperate need for written expression as I recognized that what was in their minds could barely equate to a paragraph.

their hopeless fears of being mocked if they were participatory during class read alouds.

if they had a favorite book or if they could read or write, what genre it would be.

I learned how to teach and how to empower a love for literacy.

because I learned what each child needed and yearned to become, which catapulted into 130 individual interventions.

I knew when to call on a student at just the right time to make them feel smart and part of learning.

I could match books to children because I knew their style and what genre would hook them, and I could choose texts at their reading levels, so they would realize themselves as accomplished readers.

I delivered writing and reading activities that were differentiated to gain interest and sustainability in wanting to come to class.

More than anything,

I learned the beautiful power of loving children right where they were because they allowed themselves to tell the truth about who they thought they were.

And in the end...

They learned they could learn.

They read and published.

They trusted me and so the sky was the limit.

They came to class excited and motivated and they worked.

My Final Appeal

For the ending finale at the closing of our school year, I had one final request. You see, the kids did not know I kept their literacy autobiographies hidden away.

I asked them to write their lives as readers and writers, once more.

I promise you that the students looked at me like I had memory loss, insisting they already did this in September, but not because they didn’t want to do it, but because they figured I forgot they already completed this lesson.

I giggled, distributed the same handout as I did in September, and they went to work.

When the timer went off, I asked them to flip their work over and I handed out their original products.

They read, silently, for what seemed like a long period of time and then the conversations began.

The children announced how differently they thought about literacy and what poor writers they once were.

How they didn’t spell correctly and couldn’t even name a book they remotely knew or liked.

Not one child said he or she couldn’t read or couldn’t write.

Not one child, I thought, would be a statistic of illiteracy.

Ahhh...what exactly happened that day?





What are you twitterpated about?

How can your advocacy and passion embark your journey of empowerment for this amazing world we live in?

Theresa Staley


"We are all here to make a difference, so let's do just that."

This blog is created to share my ideas and inspiration with fellow educators and our world.

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