Last month at the International Literacy Association's 2016 Conference in Boston, Heinemann held a reception for its authors. Heinemann Fellows from the inaugural cohort were in attendance. Jessica Lifshitz, a teacher of that outgoing cohort, welcomed the newest group of Fellows and gave a short, powerful speech about empowerment and autonomy that we are reproducing here with her permission. Please enjoy!
By Jessica Lifshitz
Being a Heinemann Fellow has shown me just how much Heinemann believes in teachers. They believe that believing in teachers is what is going to change education for the better. They believe that changing education for the better is what is going to change our world for the better. And clearly our world is in desperate need of changing.
During our Fellowship, each one of us took on an action research project. These projects reminded each of us of the power we have as educators to make changes in our schools. These projects reminded us that when we see things that need fixing, we are the ones who have the power to fix them. Heinemann guided us as we read and learned and experimented and failed and tried again in order to create better places of learning and loving. Just like when we empower our students, when we Fellows felt empowered, we were more willing to take risks, to make big changes, to grapple with the things that scared us the most, and ultimately, to believe that we could create positive change in this world.
Feeling empowered to create change is no small thing.
And that empowerment cannot be contained or restricted to this one set of action research projects. The Fellowship created a group who now feels that we can join hands with our students and tackle the problems that we see in front of us in this world.
In the past few months, we have seen a lot of hate in our world and we have seen its devastating and destructive powers. It is so easy to feel helpless in the face of all of that. But we Fellows—and so many of us in the world—we know better. We know that we are not helpless. We know that by leaning into our discomfort, by starting in the places we feel the most uncertain, by reading the words of others, by making small changes that lead to bigger ones, and by seeing the goodness inherent in children who come to us each day, we are not helpless.
We do not need to sit and wait for lawmakers or politicians or government officials to make our world better. We can start to do that ourselves. We can make our small worlds better, and being a Heinemann Fellow helped me to realize that.
So to Vicki, and Lisa, and Stephen, and Mim and all of our editors, and to Ellin, we thank you so deeply for giving us this chance and for guiding us so lovingly along this journey towards empowerment and betterment.
And to my fellow Fellows, thank you. Thank you, time and time again, for reminding me of the goodness of this world and the power of a small group of dedicated individuals.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Jessica Lifshitz is an educator from Skokie, Illinois and was a member of the 2014–2016 cohort of Heinemann Fellows. She blogs regularly at Crawling Out of the Classroom.