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From Theory to Practice: Bethel Educators on Implementing Change and Working With the WREN

Updated: Feb 14

Juliauna Greene (left) and Talor Kirk (right) pause for a photo outside their Fairfield Elementary classrooms.(Photo: Cameron Yee)

Note: This article originally appeared in the Bright Spots December 2022 quarterly newsletter.

Two summers ago, Juliauna Greene and Talor Kirk, teachers at Fairfield Elementary in the Bethel School District in Eugene, took a summer workshop on Critical Literacy Pedagogy (CLP). Taught by University of Oregon College of Education Professor Audrey Lucero, funded by the Roundhouse Foundation, and promoted by the Western Regional Educator Network (WREN), the training provided a framework for Greene and Kirk to facilitate conversations about race and equity with their students, through the use of culturally diverse children’s literature. With WREN financial support and improvement science coaching, the pair spent most of the 21-22 school year exploring ways to implement CLP in their classrooms, and ultimately got to where they could share their knowledge with other educators in the district. Last month, I attended Greene and Kirk’s first training session for their Bethel colleagues and talked with them afterward about their journey from learning and practicing CLP to teaching it.

Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

How did you first learn about CLP?

Greene: I was first exposed to it in college. However, four years later, I didn't really put much of it into practice or give it much thought outside of the class I took. And then Talor and I took the summer CLP course and we both found a lot of value from what we learned.

Kirk: I also went to the UOTeach program and I had put some of the CLP principles into practice in my classroom, when I saw time and space to do it. But taking the summer course with Juliauna was super important because then I had a co-conspirator – having someone you can do the work with so you're not in isolation, because our experiences trying to implement it independently weren't super successful. But when you have someone who can hold you accountable, you can also brainstorm ideas, solutions, and opportunities together – I think it's so important to make this work successful.

Greene: Because of that accountability, almost two years later, we are still doing this work, because we were able to make sure we were implementing everything we learned and eventually share this with others.

As graduate students, what was your first reaction to CLP?

Greene: Since critical literacy doesn't have a set definition, I had a really hard time conceptualizing what it was or how to put it into practice. What we learned was more theory. We did examine fiction books and do other practice activities, but I still had a hard time grasping what it meant for my classroom of third grade students. Through this work, I've been able to figure out what critical literacy means to me and what it means for my students.

Kirk: Something we hear a lot from other educators is, “I don't have time for the planning, it takes so much to plan and do well, and it takes so long to teach.” Having tools and practicing together showed us it doesn't have to be so time consuming. You can implement these practices in your classroom every day, and it doesn't have to be a 45-minute long conversation about one page in a book. You can apply it to everything you're doing with the students.

Greene: We want people to walk away with the understanding that critical literacy is a practice or lens you can apply throughout your life rather than a subject you teach. And that's what's made it more sustainable for us – thinking of it as skills we're instilling in our students, rather than something we're planning each day. So whether we're using a storybook or the district’s curriculum, we can use CLP’s questioning techniques as a way to bring this type of pedagogy to our students.

So last year it was just the two of you working on how to implement CLP?

Kirk: Yeah, it was just the two of us. We had both previously worked with [WREN Continuous Improvement Coach] Aly Nestler through the OEA Empowerment Academy and when she was starting to bring in design teams and change projects for the WREN, she asked, “Why don't you two do something?” and we said, “We want to work on this.” and it snowballed from there. We did four cycles of PDSAs in that first year.

Greene: What’s nice about the WREN is they really empowered us to figure out what this project should look like, or what it could look like. They didn't say, “We want you to lead a CLP PD one day.” It was more, “How can you take what you learned from this course and apply it to your practice?”

At what point did you feel ready to take it beyond your classrooms?

Greene: Once we found Layers of Learning, that was a resource both of us felt really good about and felt other educators would use and continue to use far past their work with us. Because of our own successes with it, by the end of last year, we thought, “Maybe next year we bring this to more people.”

Kirk: As soon as we got the book, we were like, “This is amazing! Everyone in our building needs this!” I went to the principal – “Look at this book, it's so exciting, all the resources, we have to do this!” But then teaching it to other people, you need to know what you're actually doing. So by the end of the year, we started asking our co-teachers to try some of the lessons we were planning, and they felt excited and successful. Then last spring, Juliauna called me and said, “I think we should do professional development next year, on Layers of Learning.” So she's not giving herself enough credit. This is really her baby.

For the next phase, Greene and Kirk had a couple options for funding. Greene was already part of a fellowship with the Educator Advancement Council that would have supported their efforts, but they saw more opportunities by working with the WREN.

Greene: They have this whole network. If we had done it through my fellowship, it might have been just for the people in our school. I don't think we would have been able to reach as many people. But with the WREN, our goal is to hopefully open this up to people outside our district.

Kirk: That was a big piece for us – getting the WREN’s support for the sustainability of the project and the access to resources. The WREN empowers educators because we know what we need and we know what our fellow educators need. So when it's teachers developing and providing professional development, it's more meaningful to the educators we're giving it to. Because we're there, we've been there, we know what it looks like. Once we decided to move forward and applied [for the WREN Design Your Own Change Project], we checked in with our principal, who already knew we were doing this sort of thing, and she was totally on board with everything we wanted to do.

What kind of response have you heard so far from your colleagues?

Kirk: What we’ve heard from conversations with people throughout the district, and educators in general, is they know there's an issue with the text and they know we need to diversify, but how do we do that in the classroom? What does that look like? Where do we even get started? And especially in a year when we’re using a new reading curriculum, people are up to their eyeballs in reading and don’t know how to fit in different pieces.

Greene: And that's another thing Talor and I spoke about was: How can we frame this in a way that makes people feel they can use this with their curriculum? Even if you're not straight up replacing a text? Can you still have conversations around this unit or this story? And what perspective is missing or present? How do you take these ideas and use them in your curriculum? Doing that also makes it much more accessible to teachers, because we are so overwhelmed with all the things we have to do. Adding something, like the layers of finding text, can be hard for some teachers. So this way, at least they can still use it without feeling like it’s “one more thing.”

So what's the vision for next steps?

Greene: I think it would be cool if our district would start using Layers of Learning, encouraging it or even purchasing it for everyone and making it a part of our curriculum. But also having more PD like this for other audiences, even if it’s just offered a second time for Bethel staff. I had a lot of people today tell me this felt so much more meaningful than the other PD they've done and they're really excited about it. And so when it is time for the WREN to take a step back and for the district, in theory, to take over this project, I hope they see its value and dedicate the time, the funds, and the resources that it takes to continue making it sustainable.

For the rest of the school year, Greene and Kirk will continue refining their project based on feedback they receive from training participants as well as continued improvement coaching from the WREN. This may lead to additional training sessions for their colleagues in Bethel or providing the training for other educators in the WREN region.

To learn more about CLP, start with Key Aspects of Critical Literacy by Vivian Maria Vasquez, as well as her book Critical Literacy Across the K-6 Curriculum. More information about the WREN’s Design Your Own Change Project is found on the WREN website at



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