Dwaine Millard is Senior Vice President, General Manager, Literacy Initiatives/Family and Community Engagement at Scholastic Education Solutions. Here, he shares his personal story and how his family shaped his journey as a lifelong learner.
As I listen and watch my beautiful daughter’s daughter (I am still in denial of the “G word”) read a book, I am overcome with so many emotions—the parent in me is in awe, while also holding back laughter. The educator in me can’t help but recognize how my daughter’s daughter reads with inflections in her sentences, points with word identification, and matches the words and story to the pictures. She is telling stories with an awareness of beginning, middle, and end and even taking in the model of storytelling. She is truly moving along the path of being competent in foundational skills in her early third year of being.
Watching this interaction has me reflecting on my own path. Here is the privilege in my story: I am a college graduate who focused on education and business. I taught middle school for five years and have worked in the literacy space for more than two decades. I understand meta-cognition and I read and listen to audiobooks and podcasts about how the brain works, student learning, the science of motivation and engagement, social theory, and more. I have expert educator friends all around me and I know how to be resourceful in this space without becoming overwhelmed. Because of my background, I am always trying to pass along knowledge in fun and digestible chunks to my daughter and, yes, my amazing granddaughter. However, today, the amazing part is now observing my daughter take my same passion in participating, advocating, and helping her daughter enjoy the process of becoming a learner.
Now let’s juxtapose this to my PreK and elementary experience. I grew up in an amazing multi-generational family with my father, aunts, grandparents, and great grandparents who were my backbone and foundation during my early developmental period. We didn’t have much financially, however we compensated well through innovation, interdependence, being ambitious, creative, and having high expectations. They taught me how to be organized, entrepreneurial, disciplined, and focused on a task. Some of my family graduated K–12; however even with a diploma, understanding how to academically educate at home wasn’t a base of knowledge. What they did have were high expectations, confidence, and a belief in me which made me want to do well for them and myself; therefore I focused and when I met a challenge I used strategic grit. At the time, I saw that perseverance is digging deep within and marshalling my own resources. Now, in part through my work with the Yale Child Study Center on building resilience, I understand that my persistence stemmed not just from within, but from all of that loving support I received. (Tominey, Leslie, Southwick, and Mayes 2012).
I want to share my experience to give us all a chance to reflect and think about how we learned skills, how we learned to be resilient, and how we learned how learning works. I share this because there are two sides of parent involvement, and sometimes we as educators become over dependent on one side without building from the value-add of all families as our first goal.
The true foundation of learning is not first foundational skills—it’s first developing attitudes, beliefs, and mindsets. The foundations of learning develop emotional skills and competencies, and social and interpersonal skills. When you break these skills down, they represents what I was fortunate to have from my multi-generational family upbringing, and this made all the difference in preparing me for school and future career success. My family provided this because they were passionate about me becoming my greatest self. Imagine if there was more reinforcement of these natural family strengths throughout school and community development. Imagine if we all embraced the connections to academics that this provides, and built the capacities of families in tandem with the capacity of our schools to surround each child with academic and emotional supports (Bergman and Mapp 2019).
When families become more metacognitive in how to foster the social-emotional and academic skills of their children outside of school and become more aware of the connection to school success, they can see their value. When families see their value in their children’s learning, it becomes easier to become “beginners” again in learning how to teach at home. As Tom Vanderbilt explains in his book Beginners, “Sometimes we have to relearn what we are teaching.” With this mentality, families can embrace the experience by helping children develop new skills, perspectives, and competencies while simultaneously empowering themselves to become better support systems outside of the classroom.
Mapp, K. L. and E Bergman. 2019. “Dual capacity-building framework for family-school partnerships (Version 2)”. www.dualcapacity.org.
Tominey, Shauna L., Tonya A. Leslie, Steven M. Southwick, and Linda C. Mayes, 2012. Using Literacy-Based Approaches to Promote Social Competence and Foster Resilience. Scholastic and Yale Child Study Center.
Vanderbilt, Tom. 2021. Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning. New York: Knopf.
Photo courtesy of Dwaine Millard