PRH Education was thrilled to host its inaugural High School Teacher Advisory Board Meeting on February 18th at the Penguin Random House headquarters. The nine board members—six women and three men—hailed from a range of geographic locations, from Southern California to Central Illinois to the Bronx in Manhattan. The board included six English and social studies teachers, one librarian, and two professors of education, and collectively brought decades of teaching experience and expertise.
After welcome remarks and introductions, PRH Education staff and board members discussed several topics during a session called “Using Authentic Texts in the High School Classroom.” Members explored the challenges of using core reading programs and textbooks, and agreed that student choice matters in engaged reading and literacy. Mellonee’ Davis, a 28-year teaching veteran from Houston and Fort Bend ISD in Texas, further emphasized the importance of recognizing and meeting the different needs of individual classrooms. The group discussed the possibility of producing new research on how authentic texts can improve literacy, and it was noted that publishers can help encourage teachers to teach books outside the traditional canon by pairing contemporary works with classics, including YA literature.
This is also a helpful exercise when introducing students to diverse and inclusive texts, which everyone felt there was a great need to further incorporate in high schools. Dr. Kim Parker, who co-founded of #DisruptTexts and currently prepares preservice teachers at the Shady Hill School in Cambridge, MA, offered suggestions to help teachers get started, such as committing to an antiracist pedagogy and offering alternative texts to the classics. It was also mentioned that educators who currently teach diverse texts could mentor interested peers with less experience. Dr. Victor Malo-Juvera, Associate Professor of English Education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, will be hosting a session during the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Annual Convention 2020 for educators who are beginning to teach diverse texts.
One of the final topics discussed were libraries and classroom libraries, which are key in fostering independent readers. Caroline Bartels, Head Librarian at the Horace Mann School, commented that her students were always in the library, which saw high circulation rates, because “it’s also a hangout space.” The board members whose schools did not have a central library described the challenges of maintaining their own classroom libraries, which were not funded by their schools and were stocked with their own personal copies, as well as donated books.
At the end of the afternoon, the board crafted its own Advisory Board Mission Statement, which will help guide their activity over the next year. It read as follows:
We, the Penguin Random House High School Teacher Advisory Board, are passionate professionals invested in a reader-centered community that is a collaboration among students, teachers, and publishers.
We are committed to supporting teachers, administrators, and schools in consideration of best practices by curating diverse literature and related resources, developing outreach and programming, and prioritizing student choice.
The board members have agreed to serve for one full year, which will include quarterly conference calls and gatherings at education conferences, such as the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) 2020 Annual Convention in Denver, CO, as well as occasional exchanges on key topics.
Inaugural Penguin Random House High School Teacher Advisory Board (in alphabetical order):
Sarah Anderson, High School English Teacher, Fenton High School, Fenton, MI
Caroline Bartels, Head Librarian & Director of Summer School & Director of Student Activities, Horace Mann School, New York, NY
Joel Brigham, High School English Teacher, Olympia High School, Stanford, IL
Mellonee’ Davis, High School English Teacher and Department Chair, Fort Bend Independent School District, Sugar Land, TX
Jason Griffith, Assistant Professor of Language and Literacy Education, Penn State University, University Park, PA
Sarah Mulhern Gross, High School English Teacher, High Technology High School, Lincroft, NJ
Victor Malo-Juvera, Associate Professor of English Education, University of North Carolina Wilmington, Wilmington, NC
Kim Parker, Assistant Director of the Teacher Training Center, Shady Hill High School, Cambridge, MA
Taunya Robinson, High School Social Studies Teacher, Patrick Henry High School, San Diego, CA