In Times of Uncertainty…

Shawna Coppola🏳️‍🌈
3 min readAug 8, 2020


Malcolm Locker, Lightsmiths Photography

While there is so much uncertainty for many of us around school reopening plans, effective practices for building online communities (especially when the cameras are off and the mics are muted), and even how to plan for tomorrow, let alone next week–

there is certainty around the need for us, as a collective community of educators, consultants, and coaches, to understand the true history behind our most pervasive literacy practices and policies–and also to embrace the need to unlearn what so many of us have been socialized to see as “truth” for far too long.

For one: we must remember how, although liberatory in its ability to help all individuals gain freedom, joy, access, and power, literacy has also been used since its very inception to oppress, to disenfranchise, and to punish folks who, all too often, have been deemed unworthy and undeserving of this freedom, joy, access, and power.

We must remember and re-contextualize the ways in which literacy assessment practices in the United States have been used to prevent Indigenous, Black, and people of color from utilizing their civic power;

have ensured the maintenance of a so-called “gap” between those who are deemed “proficient” in their ability to read and write and those who are not;

and have largely been both designed and implemented by gatekeepers whose social, cultural, and financial stronghold depends on maintaining such a gap.

We must unlearn what we have been socialized to believe are “standard” and “academic” ways of speaking and using language that devalue the rich languages and dialects of our Indigenous, Black, and students of color.

We must redefine what it means to compose text that largely privileges the literacies of a dominant culture,

that creates false and unnatural divisions between in-school and out-of-school literacies,

and that serves to invite only a select few into the “writing club”–

when all voices, all stories, and all ways of making meaning deserve to be taught, valued, and amplified.

We must reject widely-held ideas like the “30 Million Word Gap” and the so-called “reading crisis” that have proven time and again to be based upon racist and classist notions of what constitutes “appropriate” language and reading development and, instead,

work to expand and build upon the knowledges and skills that children and youth already bring to our classroom spaces regardless of whether they are deemed “ready.”

We must unlearn coded language like “disadvantaged,” “struggling,” and “at-risk” which frame children and youth within a deficit lens and which place the onus to “improve” or “progress” on the individual rather than on the systems of oppression that create disadvantage, that create struggle, and that place students at risk.

At the same time, we must unlearn phrases like “gifted and talented” and “advanced” that perpetuate white cultural norms around literacy “achievement” at the expense of the varied and rich literacy practices of our Indigenous, Black, and brown children.

In addition to all of this, there is certainty around…

the need to recognize the excellence that emanates from these same children on a daily basis;

around the complexity that can be found in the compositional practices of those who are dyslexic, or whose literacies do not match those that are most commonly privileged in school spaces;

there is certainty around the necessity to recognize the fluency and the brilliance of those children and youth who engage in translanguaging practices;

around the benefit of immersing ourselves in the work and scholarship of Dr. Gholdy Muhammad, Dr. Jamilla Lyiscott, Dr. Debbie Reese, Dr. Nelson Flores, Dr. Anne Haas Dyson, Dr. Carol Anderson, Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, Valeria Brown, Shana V. White, Aeriale Johnson, Dr. Tracey Flores, Dr. April Baker-Bell, Dr. Kris Gutierrez, Dr. Asao B. Inoue, Dr. Eve L. Ewing, Children of the Glades, Akiea “Ki” Gross, and many, many others;

and finally, there is certainty around understanding the power and the privilege we have as literacy educators to enact widespread change,

to disrupt the status quo,

and to create opportunities within which all of our students can shine.

Originally spoken at the inaugural Teaching Literacy in Times of Change and Uncertainty conference, 8.8.20



Shawna Coppola🏳️‍🌈

I am an educator, a writer, an artist, & a troublemaker. Website: Twitter: @shawnacoppola #blacklivesmatter She/Her/Hers