Becoming a Reader Institute Recap by Julianne Demmel, RLTA Alumni


I first heard about the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award (RLTA) from a colleague during my first year of teaching. She had a classroom library any veteran teacher would be envious of and she was well-versed on all things literacy. Needless to say, she was a wonderful mentor to have when I was planning for my literacy block. As time progressed, I learned that much of her knowledge surrounding literacy came from the professional development workshops she participated in through RLTA. I decided I must be a part of this program to better myself as an educator, and I applied and was accepted the following year.


As part of my requirements for RLTA, I attended a workshop called the Becoming Readers Institute (BRI), a two-day deep-dive into an adult-level work for fiction. I walked into the first day of BRI with a pen and a blank notebook in hand, ready to fill the pages with new and useful strategies I could use in my classroom. I quickly learned that I was wrong to expect transferable strategies from BRI. BRi is a time for educators to take off their ‘teacher hat’ and put on our old, weathered, well-loved ‘reader hats’. We were encouraged and guided to get back in touch with our inner reader and to bring the joy and love to reading back to our classrooms. We all came to BRI prepared by having read the same book, but instead of dissecting the novel to find ways we could teach it, we just discussed it – our personal thoughts, reactions and any questions that would have otherwise been left on the page. Through our discussions, we saw the book through different eyes and felt different ways. We were made to think twice about our own reactions to the novel. Ultimately, it helped RLTA awardees stay connected and engaged as readers so we could take that love of reading and foster it in a classroom setting with our students. I walked away from the workshop with my passion for reading reignited.


I really enjoyed my experience as a BRI participant, so I was excited when I was asked to facilitate a session of BRI this summer. I read Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng, along with 70 participants, eight facilitators, and six other WITS staffers. I journaled through the process so I could bring my thoughts and reaction to the other facilitators and participants. The story of Everything I Never Told You is one of family identity, loss, racial bias, societal roles, and dreams deferred. Ng writes about a Chinese-American family that experiences the death of a child and must come to terms with the stories we tell each other and the stories the world writes about us. Through our discussion in BRI, we dove into the price we pay when we keep secretes like the Lee family and how we wished the characters would have been more open and honest with each other. We debated Lydia’s death and whether or not it was a suicide or a failing of hope. And poor sister Hannah – could her story have been any different? As teachers, we spend so much time thinking about what we can do to improve our teaching practice that we often forget to allow ourselves the space to enjoy learning and reading. I am very grateful that BRI allowed me to remember just how much I love reading, and, because of this, I will be better able to stir up a love for reading in my students this year.


Julianne Demmel