Collaboration as a Vehicle for Critical Inquiry & Engagement in Literacies (Part 4 of 4)
How does collaboration promote critical inquiry and engagement in literacies for educators and students? This is the common question introduced in my first blog post of this series, which connects three practitioner spotlights (parts 2 thru 4 of the series). The spotlights read like an interview with questions and responses. In the part 2 post, readers were introduced to Karen Martin of Denali Borough School District in Alaska. In the part 3 post, readers were introduced to Ayana Bass, a Rhode Island Elementary, Special Education certified educator and Education Partner at The Equity Institute.
This week, the fourth and final post of this series, I’m honored to introduce you to Jalyn Alves. Jalyn is a first-year kindergarten teacher in East Providence, Rhode Island. Check out her full bio below!
Describe a collaborative activity/model/design that you have been involved in or led that was connected to literacies.
As a first-year teacher, one of the first questions that I asked when applying for teaching positions was along the lines of: “How will you support me as a first year teacher?” When I received an email about the Rhode Island Department of Education’s (RIDE) Beginning Educator Professional Learning Network (BE-PLN), I immediately jumped at the opportunity because I knew that in order to grow as an educator, I would need the support of those in the same shoes as me. In the BE-PLN, I was grouped with other early childhood educators. We met in our sub-group during BE-PLN sessions, and also on our own, and having this dedicated time for collaboration made a world of difference for me. I teach kindergarten, and it’s very common to participate in professional development or conferences that don’t relate well to the teaching and learning happening each and every day with my students. Our school utilizes a literacy-heavy curriculum, and participating in BE-PLN sessions allowed me to dig deeper to think about how I can encourage and support higher-order thinking for and with my kindergarteners.
How did collaborating help you to grow as an educator?
Throughout this past academic year, it has been a blessing to be able to learn from and with the knowledge and experience of the seasoned Rhode Island District Teachers of the Year (DTOYs) who joined us, as well as the keynote speakers. Having the opportunity to collaborate with them alongside first-year teachers in RI was an experience that I feel all first-year teachers should take advantage of. Participating in the BE-PLN helped to build my confidence as an educator because I was excited to share my successes, but I was also comfortable enough to seek out advice, especially from the DTOYs. Being able to collaborate with other early childhood educators was key for me, as it’s not often that the opportunity arises when you get to work (virtually) alongside other educators doing similar work, especially when navigating the challenges of COVID-19. Knowing that I had a group that understood me, and that I had an understanding of them, made all the difference in building trust and supporting one another through shared inquiry. Not only were we all first-year teachers, but we were first-year teachers during a pandemic. Tears were shed and heads were nodded in support because we understood each other and our situations. We shared our stressors, but we also shared our ideas and successes.
How did collaborating benefit your students and their literacy learning?
Collaborating was beneficial not only to me, but also to my students and their literacy learning because I could take back to my classroom what stuck out to me in a session. If a suggestion was made or a strategy was offered that didn’t directly connect to my classroom this year, then I could share it with another educator who could benefit from that support. We covered topics of equity, classroom culture, and working with multilingual learners (MLLs) and students with disabilities. We had the opportunity to listen to Dr. Rich Milner, through a partnership with the Center for Leadership and Educational Equity (CLEE), to learn about the “null” curriculum, which fired me up and resulted in me bringing back a number of ideas to my classroom, my team, my school, and my district. I would listen in the sessions and think of a particular student or students in my classroom and ways that I could support them further. The sessions made me want to be a better teacher, and I continued to recognize just how important my role is in teaching 5 and 6 year olds. For most of my students, this was their first full in-person year of school. With the challenges of COVID, I owed it to them to give them all that I could, and that meant continuing to be the lifelong learner that I am to support my development as a beginning educator.
What were some "lessons learned" by collaborating? Anything you would share or recommend with other educators?
The biggest lesson learned from collaborating with the BE-PLN was that whether it was a day when I felt it was all too much or a day when I realized this work was exactly what I was supposed to be doing, I had someone to share it with. I lucked out this year, as a member in my BE-PLN early childhood sub-group works across the hallway from me. I essentially am able to collaborate with my “sub-group” daily and it has saved me this school year. I think that every first-year educator should seek out and join a professional learning network (PLN) or collaborative opportunity, whether it be specifically for beginning educators or geared toward their teaching discipline(s). There is so much to gain when you become vulnerable enough to share and learn from others. Listening to those who are professionals in their fields, listening to those who have been doing this work for a number of years, they provided a model and encouraged me (and hopefully will encourage you!) to strive to follow in their shoes. Collaborating is a win-win for all involved. This experience has helped me to grow professionally and personally. The BE-PLN has created relationships and partnerships that I never would have anticipated and has introduced me to professionals that I want to continue to learn from long after this academic year is complete.
Thank you to Jalyn for making her collaboration and literacy teaching and learning visible to us in this post! Jalyn has participated in and helped lead a number of collaborative educational efforts in Rhode Island -- see her bio below for full details. Give Jalyn a follow on Twitter at @MissAlves5.
And thanks to you, ND CLE blog readers, for following this series these past weeks. I’m so grateful to Karen, Ayana, and Jalyn for being willing to be spotlighted to share their great work with us. And I would love to hear how you collaborate for critical inquiry and engagement in literacies. Please feel welcome to share your story with me and the Notre Dame Center for Literacy Education community on Twitter by tagging our handles.
Happy collaborating (and reading, too, of course!),
Jalyn Alves is a first-year kindergarten teacher in East Providence, Rhode Island. Born and raised in East Providence, Jalyn is lucky enough to teach in her hometown. Jalyn has a Bachelor’s of Art in Psychology with a minor in Human Development and Family Studies from the University of Rhode Island (2015). In 2018, Jalyn went back to school at Rhode Island College to enroll in their second Bachelor's program, receiving a Bachelor’s of Art in Early Childhood Education in 2020.
Prior to obtaining her teaching license, she worked in early intervention for five years, supporting families of children aged birth to three with varying developmental delays. In East Providence, Jalyn co-runs a mentoring program, pairing students from high school with a student in elementary school to support a one-to-one relationship encouraging academic opportunity. She was awarded the 2020 Community Service Award from EPLAC (East Providence Local Advisory Committee for Special Education). Her next big goal and endeavor is to feed into her passion for children’s literature and fill classrooms and school libraries with diverse books, storylines, characters, and authors!