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What Would MLK Say? Making His Dream Come True

Posted by on in Education Leadership
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Tonight my heart is filled with joy. As we welcome the successes of the New Year, I have faith in the future of our public schools. This is the perfect time to celebrate!

Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday, January 15th is almost here. This date marks my 45th year as a teacher. It doesn't get better than that.

I was born on Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday. Perhaps that is why I have always had such a strong social conscience.  I've been teaching reading nearly my whole life. When I was six, I was dragging neighborhood kids into my 'schoolroom'. Being a Principal was logical and a highlight of my career.

I was involved with literacy-related boards and organizations, including Literacy Volunteers of America, Neighborhood Study Centers, Laubach Literacy, Homeless Coalition, etc. We walk in the footsteps of greatness, angels making a difference in the learning lives of children. 

Dr. King, revered as a grand humanitarian, had a dream that all children have access to a great education and better world. Those aspirations hold true today. 

I worked as a Title I program evaluator for many years. This has always been a great program, a landmark act dedicated to helping needy kids. The intent was to bridge the achievement gap between underachieving, underserved American schoolchildren. For many years money funded special teachers and programs, before, during and after school. The sad news is the ethnic black-white gap has widened since No Child Left Behind (NCLB) with twelfth grade black children scoring lower in 2013 than 1992. Newest scores are not much better.

With so many schools under Improvement status, and many states getting waivers, obviously there needed to be a rewrite of this legislation. It's always good to step back and see what's working and what's not. And high stakes testing was not working to improve instruction. ESSA gives us a fresh start and new wave of academic optimism!

In my bleak moments I find myself dwelling on the poor test scores of our nation's children in reading. In particular, the realization that black children have not advanced, despite best intentions, due to a wide variety of factors, poverty being a big one, is heartbreaking to the core of my being.

Dr. King had a noble dream. We all share that dream.  Every voice is significant. Great leaders excel in motivating excellence. And great leaders are everywhere.

Margaret Mead offered my favorite insight: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." 

Dr. King's dream was and is achievable. It's the perfect time to help create capable students, in particular, confident readers and writers.

Teachers are so advanced in technology, even more important, the art and craft of teaching. It appears to me, this professional cadre is the most outstanding group of professional teachers, ever. Dr. King's dream is coming true, thanks to you!

What seems to matter most remains interdisciplinary curriculum, formative ways of measuring, direct experience with real life questions and problems solved by applying skills across disciplines. Offering students leadership opportunities as learners, helps them make connections and builds self esteem.

The metacognition or thinking about thinking modeled by teachers soon becomes a natural feature of student learning. 

I believe that these elements are critical factors to achieving Dr. King's dream:

  1. Create thoughtful curricular alignment with expected outcomes.
  2. Find appropriate assessment tools to gather baseline data.
  3. Determine what skills to teach next based on mastery and interest.
  4. Instruct skills within targeted instructional strands.
  5. Measure achievement with tools that assist instruction.
  6. Offer teachers opportunity to determine their preferred pedagogy.
  7. Put the money into classrooms, not testing.

Tremendously exciting, students, as directors of their learning in student-centered classrooms discover what they want and need to know. Teachers engage kids in a multitude of fantastic learning opportunities, unimaginable only a few years ago. We are entering the schools of the future right now, and that is certainly a good thing for all kids.

So I am totally optimistic we will succeed, Dr. King. Your dream is coming true.

When Dr. King offered his wisdom and dream, we see his optimism, hear the fervor and acknowledge the importance of his legacy. 

My goal is to motivate and inspire you, shining a spotlight on literacy. Our hopes and dreams for children everywhere highlight the intense need and efforts made by schools to meet and exceed the most humble goals, to the sublime.

Reading research is abundant. Best practices are research-based, evidence driven and the product of tried and true, common sense classroom strategies modeled by coaches and teachers.

If we truly are to become a nation of readers, let's continue highlighting what's working and replicate the best. This is happening now within our educational community, especially through social media. 

I've never been more optimistic. Every day we read stories of academic, intellectual bravery and courage. Dr. King would be proud, I think regarding the generosity of various literacy-based foundations and individuals contributing to the cause, in large and small worthy, noble acts.

There was the story of the barber who cut childrens' hair for free when presented good report cards. Stories of athletes and personalities donating books and backpacks to needy children. How about the librarians on bikes and book buses getting to kiddos who have no resources? I hope we can get more internet access to children. 

Most obviously, teachers feed hungry children, buy classroom supplies and materials, Principals ensure children's basic needs are met and motivate and inspire school staff to continue professional learning.

It's true. Test sores are not where they should be. If we get stuck that the achievement gap was not bridged and goals unmet, we negate the bright future promise of student achievement. Assuming it's true 51% of public school children live in poverty and more are certainly on the edge, I believe schools are meeting the challenge admirably.

It is with the greatest respect tonight I thank America's school leaders for tackling daily challenges with grace and dignity. Teachers are creating wonderful classroom environments with little money, sometimes in small cramped spaces, and instructing haunting, hungry children yearning for stability.

Loving teachers make a lifelong difference that cannot be measured by summative test scores.

We certainly are accomplishing what Dr. King hoped for. We may not be there yet, but are well on the way. Don't you agree?  


Leaving footprints on your reading hearts, Rita















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Modeling the art and craft of teaching reading for 45 years, Mrs. Wirtz taught language arts, speech and reading at all levels preschool-adult, including penal. She served as Pre-school and K-6 Principal. Rita was also a Curriculum Consultant, ESEA, Title I Program Evaluator and literacy trainer. At the university level she taught school administration in the Bilingual Cohort at CSUS and National University, Sacto. Mrs. Wirtz also taught all reading courses for Chapman University for many years in Sacramento and Placerville, Ca., and mentored student teachers. On the national level she was a well known motivational Keynote Speaker and Seminar Leader. Most importantly, Rita walked the talk, teaching with teachers in more than 500 K-12 and special needs classrooms. Rita authored books, publications and Pre- YouTube, videos were filmed by San Diego County Office of Education. Calif. ASCD authored companion book guides, and Calif. school districts correlated her basic skills instruction with State Standards. Mrs. Wirtz' newest book is Reading Champs! Teaching Reading Made Easy, a review of the basic building blocks of English and Reading. Find Mrs. Wirtz on Twitter @RitaWirtz, Facebook and website- www.ritawirtz.com.

  • Guest
    Maggie Hufstedler Saturday, 16 January 2016

    Rita, your message struck several chords in my own experience and beliefs as a teacher. I can't imagine this being more important than in an early childhood classroom. It is both a duty and an honor to teach fairness. Happy "belated" Birthday to you and Dr. King!

  • Rita Wirtz |  @RitaWirtz
    Rita Wirtz | @RitaWirtz Saturday, 16 January 2016

    Many blessings to a truly great teacher. What you do makes a difference and that's what matters.

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