Category Archives: Learning Communities

Doing the Work to Support Transgender Students

This post is written by NCTE member sj Miller.

UPDATE: Watch this CBS news interview with sj Miller from February 23.

In May 2016, federal guidelines were put into place to protect transgender student rights. As of last night, these guidelines were revoked, leaving uncertainty about what trans students’ rights will be in schools.* Regardless of the actions of the new administration or any Supreme Court ruling, some schools have policies in place that will continue to support the rights of trans students. In fact, where state and local laws or protections protect trans students, federal protections are eroded. But protecting these rights is critical and there are things we can do as educators to take action immediately.

The model of support for transgender youth detailed below offers suggestions for doing the work.
A framework for supporting transgender students by sj Miller.

Community Work

In each of our different communities, whether locally, nationally, internationally, cyberspace, and/or across contexts, we can take up the work of acting on behalf of transgender students’ rights. This work can be done by different and cross-age levels, as well as by, with, and for different stakeholders:

  • Coalition Building: We can create different kinds of coalitions and for different purposes (e.g., local, state, and/or national policy advocacy; body safety; documentation; physical and mental health care; immigration/asylum rights) and work together in our communities, as well as uniting with different constituents across our states and the country.
  • Protest and Demonstrations: We can walk in the streets, gather in airports, speak out, speak up, be loud, be concise, be where we need to be, and stand in solidarity.
  • Sing and Chant: We can remind ourselves and one another of the important quotes and turns of phrase that inspire us.
  • Revisit the Visionaries: We can reread (or read for the first time) works of the great thinkers, activists, spiritual guides, artists, etc., who can help to guide each of us down these roads that we are co-creating.
District and School Work

In our schools and districts, we can work to teach, affirm, and recognize dynamic, expansive transgender and gender creative youth (Miller, 2016) in our program areas, departments, and across schools with different constituents and for different stakeholders. The work can also be taken up at the state level. The following means are provided as possibilities for taking up this activism:

  • Curriculum and Pedagogical Strategies: Include a continuum of possibilities that makes (a)gender ordinary in the classroom. This can include but not be limited to genres of books, plays, short stories, poetry, writing assignments, histories, political victories, trailblazers, photos, pictures, artists, musicians, athletes, varieties of professionals, and media icons. Students (all stakeholders) should have ample options for chosen names, (a)pronouns, and (a)gender identifications.
  • Connect to Community Organizations: Address transgender, (a)gender, and gender violence (through, for instance, rape crisis centers, LGBT or gender identity nonprofits, mental health and health care practitioners) to develop a deeper understanding of the issues facing transgender and (a)gender youth.
  • Families: Work alongside families to learn from and with their experiences and to develop support groups.
  • District Curriculum Specialists: Work alongside classroom teachers to educate one another about the classroom and schooling experiences of transgender and (a)gender youth.
  • Change and Update District and School Policies: Revise codes of conduct, enumerate bullying policies, create safe bathrooms and locker rooms, consider issues about participation in sports and physical education classes—all of these are typical spaces for extreme harassment, so reflect on how to create a school environment that can help to foster external safety.

In university spaces, activism can be embedded in our program areas, departments, colleges, and across campus in different organizations and with different constituents and stakeholders. Universities can do this work across their state, national, and international affiliates and college campuses by creating focus groups and coalitions. Potential groups for embedding this work include:

  • Preservice Teacher Education Cohorts: Introduce (a)gender identity topics in early childhood education and throughout elementary, middle, and secondary coursework and across disciplinary programs. Program leaders should decide in which courses such uptake would best fit.
  • Teacher Educators: Address gaps in teacher education, working closely to deepen and develop the efficacy of pedagogies through strategies that affirm and recognize the intersectional realities facing transgender and (a)gender youth; work closely with school districts to develop professional learning models that can support curriculum specialists and teachers in their ongoing awareness of how to meet the needs of transgender and (a)gender youth; and create opportunities for participatory action research.
  • Caucuses: Teacher educators, districts, schools, community organizations, and families should caucus with legislatures to change state policy about transgender rights to be more inclusive of health care needs, identification changes, and bullying policies.
Individual Work

Individual actions can include reading the links below, sending them to listservs, making handouts and fliers, writing blogs and op-eds, forming study groups, and speaking up and out at different community, state, and national events, to name a few. Each of the following links is annotated to help explain the important work at hand.

Transgender National Center for Equality: A comprehensive website that provides an overview of current concerns under the Trump administration, tips for strategizing, an overview of current protections, links to key federal and state documents, guidelines for Title IX coordinators, key court cases, and a list of all organizations and key figures who stand with transgender students.

Fact Sheet on U.S. Department of Education Policy Letter on Transgender Students: A document providing an overview of current facts, rights, and exemptions from the law.

Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students: A letter to give out to your peers that explains changes and rights for transgender students under Title IX; this model letter was implemented during Barack Obama’s presidency.

Know Your Rights | Schools: A document outlining the rights of transgender students in schools, how to file a complaint, and who to go to for support.

Examples of Policies and Emerging Practices for Supporting Transgender Students: The examples in this document show different approaches schools across the country have taken across a range of issues.

Federal Guidance on Bullying and Harassment: Guidance on how to deal with bullying, including gender-based and anti-transgender bullying.

Model District Policy on Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students: These detailed policies are from NCTE and GLSEN and include policies that school districts can adopt to support trans students.

Schools in Transition: This is a practical six-chapter guide to help school officials address issues affecting trans students. It covers gender basics; why this work matters; key considerations (e.g., planning, timing, age and grade level, privacy and disclosure, and public and private transitions); key elements and practical tips (e.g., student records and information systems, names and pronouns, dress code, sex-separated facilities, activities and programs, discrimination, harassment and bullying); complex issues; legal landscape; and creating an affirming school for all; it also has a rich resource guide filled with appendixes and practical applications of the chapters:

FAQ on Transgender Students and School Bathrooms: A document that addresses common questions school officials may have about restroom access.

Changes can happen, but it will take a collective to do this work and from within multiple contexts and through myriad means. I hope you will consider passing this blog along to colleagues, listservs, friends, and family, speaking out and up, and if you are teaching, ask your peers and students to write letters in support of transgender youth. As James Baldwin once wrote, “The paradox of education is precisely this—that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated,” and we have so, so much work to do and to stay committed to, now and for years, if not decades, to come.

Miller, s. (Ed.). (2016). Teaching, affirming, and recognizing trans and gender creative youth: A queer literacy framework. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

*Special Note: NCTE has joined other education leaders in a joint statement on the administration’s decision to rescind guidance on federal protections for transgender students.

Collaboration, Innovation, and Contextualization: Enduring Themes in an Era of Digital Literacy

This post, written by members Julie Gorlewski and David Gorlewski, is a reprint of “From the Editors” from the January 2017 English Journal.

ejjan17coverOne of the benefits of editing English Journal is that we are entrusted with bound copies of every issue ever printed. These journals, displayed in shelves in the journal office, remind us of the constancy and the relentless change that marks our field. Times have changed; that is certain. In some ways, contemporary classrooms would be unrecognizable to educators teaching English in 1911, when the journal was established. And yet many of the debates and challenges prevalent in classrooms 100 years ago remain relevant today. Our work still centers on learners, teacher, and texts.

This remarkable collection of articles, curated by Suzanne Miller and David Bruce, attests to the complexity of this work as well as our need to adapt and evolve even as we sustain our principles and vision. Throughout this issue, the guest editors and authors remind us that we consume and produce various kinds of media on a daily basis.
Acts of consumption and production are mutually influential; what we consume affects what (and how) we produce, and what we produce affects what (and how) we consume. Moreover, contributors inspire us to extend our own learning in order to model for students the importance of stretching past comfortable practices and materials.

As we read and thought about the articles, with a century’s worth of EJ infusing the air that we breathed, three themes emerged. These themes reflect the intersections of innovation and tradition, and are as present in the bound journals as they are in the 21st century literacies emphasized in this issue. The first theme is collaboration. Teachers and students thrive in environments when collaborative opportunities abound. Multimodal literacies are particularly well-suited for students and teachers to become partnered in the learning process, and for teachers to experience the joys and frustrations of exploring new media and technologies. The second theme, innovation, is generally associated with bold new initiatives. While such initiatives are seductive, it is instructive to note that the word “innovation” is not defined strictly as a product; it is also a process – a process that builds upon what already exists. The third theme we noted is contextualization. Now, as always, the contexts in which teaching and learning occurs are critical. As our lives, inside and outside of the classroom, become increasingly digital, we must maintain our focus on learners and teachers as embodied human and social creatures.

We deeply appreciate the generosity of Suzanne Miller and David Bruce in developing this special issue. We trust that readers will be inspired, exhilarated, and revitalized by the ideas shared throughout. Educators who embrace the principles of collaboration, innovation, and contextualization flourished in 1911 and, with luck, will be flourishing still in 3011.

JulieGorlewskiJulie Gorlewski is chair of the Department of Teaching and Learning at Virginia Commonwealth University.



DavidGorlewskiDavid Gorlewski works with preservice and practicing teachers and conducts research on professional dispositions. Both are former secondary English teachers and members of NCTE.

Cultivating New Voices: A Model of True Academic Fellowship

This post is written by member Joanna Wong. 

joannawongAs a daughter of Chinese immigrants growing up in a working-class Oakland neighborhood in California, I learned to value cultural and linguistic diversity early in life. I also grew up keenly aware of racial and socioeconomic injustices and how these impacted my own and my peers’ schooling opportunities. This consciousness fueled in me a desire to positively affect educational opportunities and academic achievement for historically underserved communities. I began teaching elementary students and participating in educational reform efforts. Feeling as though I held too many unanswered questions, I pursued a PhD in language, literacy, and culture. My research addresses the writing opportunities and experiences of bilingual elementary students as well as teacher preparation to serve culturally and linguistically diverse students.

Days before walking across the University of California, Davis stage in my doctoral regalia, I received notification that I would be joining the 2014–2016 NCTE Cultivating New Voices among Scholars of Color cohort. While completion of my doctoral degree felt like a monumental achievement, the journey forward remained daunting. However, knowing that I would have the NCTE CNV program to support me over two critical years in my transition from newly minted PhD to (potentially) a new academic faculty member filled me with elation and eased many fears.

Over my fellowship years, this generous community of literacy scholars acted as a vital anchor for me. We convened twice each year, at the NCTE Annual Convention in the fall and on a university campus for the Spring Institute. Our meetings included forums for fellows’ research presentations as well as special topics presentations by mentors and other established scholars. These presentations helped to advance my understanding of research and theories in the field. I valued fellows’ and mentors’ advice, openness in sharing experiences and insights, and constructive feedback to advance fellows’ scholarship.

Another keystone of the CNV program is the partnering of a fellow with an established scholar in the field. Working with Dr. Sarah Warshauer Freedman was a dream come true. I had long admired her scholarship in the field of writing research and writing pedagogy. While I was on the job market during my first fellowship year, Dr. Freedman provided support at all phases of the job search, from reviewing teaching and research statements to helping me to prepare for campus interviews. By fellowship year 2, I had joined the Department of Education and Leadership at California State University, Monterey Bay. During that year, I turned to Dr. Freedman for advice on navigating professional relationships and balancing responsibilities within the university. She also supported me in developing a manuscript from my dissertation that examines the relationship between teacher expectations and fourth-grade bilingual Latinx students’ writing development.

CNV is a family of early and established scholars who actively manifest compassion and cultivate humanizing practices in teaching and learning, in scholarship, and within our academic lives. CNV is a model of true fellowship in the academy. I am so grateful to be part of the CNV family.

Dr. Joanna Wong, assistant professor in the CSUMB Elementary Education Program, is committed to preparing teachers to provide culturally and linguistically responsive language and literacy education to diverse students. She grounds her teaching and research in more than 14 years of experience working as an educator in the Oakland Unified School District. 

CCCC 2017: Cultivating Capacity, Creating Change

This post is written by CCCC Associate Chair Carolyn Calhoon-Dillahunt. 

2017 cccc logoIt’s hard to believe it’s already been a year since I developed the call for the 68th Annual Convention of the Conference on College Composition and Communication. I started with a concept—“cultivate”—and a vision of using the convention space to engage as a conference in working exchanges.

In the time between, over 1,900 proposals were submitted and later peer reviewed by a smart, thoughtful, and generous group of Stage I and Stage II reviewers. Using the reviewers’ feedback and scores—and capitalizing on the amount of space available in Portland’s beautiful Oregon Convention Center—I selected nearly 700 concurrent sessions, roundtables, poster sessions, and workshops for the program. Then, through summer and fall, the complex work of scheduling began, adding Special Interest Groups (SIGs), Standing Group–sponsored sessions, committee meetings, and other activities into the mix.

An innovation for CCCC 2017 is featured “Cultivate” programming. I have introduced two new types of highly interactive sessions: Cultivate sessions and Think Tank sessions. Two or three such sessions are showcased in each time block throughout the convention. These facilitated sessions, selected from over 85 member-generated proposals received in a fall secondary call, are designed to provide space for members to “cultivate capacity” and “create change” around organizational, professional, or disciplinary issues or concerns. I urge attendees to participate in one—or several!


This year’s Action Hub, a large open space in the Pre-Function E area, near the exhibit hall, enables attendees to participate in organized activities, peruse various informational displays, or simply meet at open tables to talk and work together. See the app or the program for more specific details.

Conventiongoers also have the opportunity to “Cs the Day,” attend SIG and Caucus meetings, engage with the Computer Connection and Digital Pedagogy Posters, play in the Gaming Lounge, visit the exhibit hall, celebrate colleagues’ achievements at the Awards Recognition Reception, and much more!

Needless to say, with more than 50 Cultivate or Think Tank sessions, concurrent sessions, roundtables, and peer-reviewed poster sessions from which to select in every session time slot and a wide array of other activities taking place before, after, and during the regular convention schedule each day, the hardest part of negotiating CCCC 2017 for many of you will be choosing from among the many high-interest options happening at the same time.

jose-antonio-vargasAnd that’s not all! To maintain the convention energy from beginning to end, I’ve planned a full day of activities for Saturday as well. Saturday’s General Session will feature keynote speaker Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, filmmaker, and media entrepreneur whose work centers on the changing American identity and US immigration reform. Vargas’s work embodies “cultivating capacity, creating change” through writing and digital media. After Saturday’s concurrent sessions, which feature topics related to high school–college connections, library partnerships, writing/literacy pedagogy, and two-year colleges, a selection of free, half-day postconvention workshops will be available to all convention registrants. Also, in an effort to bring CCCC to a broader audience, including area high school teachers and adjunct and contingent faculty, special Saturday-only convention rates of $85 will be offered.


Few spaces are more generative and regenerative than conferences; they are sites of possibility and productivity. And what better place than Portland, the city that embodies the notion of environmental sustainability, to work together to find answers about how to sustain ourselves? I invite you to CCCC 2017, March 15–18, 2017, and look forward to the opportunity not only to learn together and enjoy some camaraderie, but also to build our capacity, individually and collectively, to address the issues we face and to create conditions for change, in higher education and beyond.

Carolyn Calhoon-Dillahunt, CCCC Associate Chair, is the program chair for CCCC 2017 in Portland, Oregon. She teaches English at Yakima Valley College in Washington state. Carolyn can be contacted at or

The New England CCCC Summer Conference: Sharing Best Practices

This post is written by member Matthew Parfitt. 

newenglandccccOn May 24-25, 2017, Boston University will host the first New England CCCC Summer Conference. With the theme “Sharing Best Practices,” it will feature panels and roundtables that focus on sharing results from teacher research, the cultivation of scholarly practices for writing instructors, and practical, evidence-based ideas for teaching writing. The organizers (Neal Lerner and Cecelia Musselman of Northeastern University; Joe Bizup and I of Boston University) are expecting about 125 participants.

The registration fee is low ($50 for full-time tenure-track faculty, and $25 for others) and lodging will be available at a reasonable cost. A reception and shared meals (included in registration) will offer additional opportunities for unstructured conversation and allow participants to meet fellow professionals in the region and develop their professional networks.

We are delighted to announce that Richard E. Miller and Ellen Cushman will be giving keynote addresses. Prof. Miller is Chair of the English Department at Rutgers University, and author of Writing at the End of the World (2005) and coauthor, with Ann Jurecic, of Habits of the Creative Mind (2015). Prof. Cushman is Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, Diversity and Inclusion in the College of Social Sciences and Humanities at Northeastern University, and author of several books, most recently The Cherokee Syllabary: Writing the People’s Perseverance (2011). She also co-edits Research in the Teaching of English.

New England is home to about 250 institutions of higher education, with about 1.25 million enrolled students. I’m not sure how many writing instructors work in this area, but the number is large and the vast majority are non-tenure-track, adjuncts, part-timers, or graduate students. Most are unable to attend the national CCCC conference, but there’s a hunger for opportunities to talk with and learn from others in the area who do similar work. We’re excited about this opportunity to come together with other writing instructors and share our research, ideas, experiences, and questions.

It’s not too late to propose a presentation or a panel for the conference (the deadline is February 1), so please consider it. The link for the call for proposals is here and you can submit a proposal here. For the latest news, please “like” our Facebook page. And follow us on Twitter: @necccc17. If you have any questions, please send them to We’ll try to reply within a couple of days.

Matthew Parfitt is associate professor in the Rhetoric Division at the College of General Studies, Boston University. He is the author of Writing in Response (Bedford/St Martins, 2015) and, with Dawn Skorczewski, Pursuing Happiness: A Bedford Spotlight Reader (Bedford/St Martins, 2016). Twitter: @haplologist