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TIES Staff Q&A: DONNA CLARKE, Literacy Centre of Expertise Lead

March 7, 2024

Staff Spotlight

Introducing our “Meet the Team” series, where we showcase TIES members shaping our programs and driving our mission forward. In this interview, we are privileged to feature Donna Clarke, the lead for the Literacy Centre of Expertise. Donna shares her journey since joining TIES in 2009, her passionate advocacy for literacy learners, and the much anticipated For The Love of Literacy Conference 2024.

What motivated you to join TIES in 2009, and how has your role evolved since then?

I joined TIES (CIES then) in 2009 shortly after returning to Canada from teaching EFL in Taiwan for 10 years. Back then, TIES had only one school and no dedicated literacy classes. I was teaching students with PhDs, along with students who had zero years of formal education in their first language. Over the last 15 years, we have progressed from having no literacy classes to 22 classes at three locations, teaching foundation to Literacy 4. In 2020, The Literacy Centre of Expertise started, with Jeremy Wilson and myself as initial members. We have grown to three people with the recent addition of John Vasquez. We have plans for more expansion in the future and a never-ending list of resources that we hope to create.

Describe the mission of the Literacy Centre of Expertise (LCE). What led to its creation?

There have always been literacy classes scattered across the country, but we didn’t know who each other was. We needed a community to share ideas, resources, and stories. There is limited research about teaching adults to read for the first time, so it was also important to share our challenges and successes. Hence, our mission is to be a collaborative hub and information centre supporting ESL literacy service providers in Calgary, Alberta and beyond. Through collaboration, we serve students and teachers by sharing research-based best practices, resulting in a consistent and client-centred approach to literacy.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I seriously love all aspects of my job, but what makes it all worthwhile are the students that I have the privilege of sharing my days with. These adult students who are learning to navigate a new country come to school every day with a smile on their face and gratitude for the opportunity to finally learn to read and write for the first time in a second language.

What’s the most challenging part?

There are simply not enough hours in the day to do everything we want to do in the Literacy Centre. We are currently a team of three and have ideas and plans that could keep 10 people busy for the next 10 years!

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned so far?

You don’t shoot, you don’t score! It never hurts to ask. Advocating for literacy learners is a worthwhile pursuit. I have been suggesting improvements to literacy programming and training for many years. Each year, we get to implement some changes to benefit the students and help them on the road to success.

What are your hopes for Literacy teaching and learning in Alberta?

That we grow our community, continue to develop dedicated literacy resources and have standardized teacher training for Literacy instruction.

LCE is hosting the 2nd For The Love of Literacy Conference on January 27. What can attendees expect from this event?

The conference is a space to share best practices, build community and tell our stories. Teaching EAL literacy can be a very isolating experience if you are in a smaller centre or are the only literacy instructor in your school. We need each other. The conference is free, online and features a fantastic line up of speakers from coast to coast.

Do you have a favourite quote you can share?

Below are the first three lines of a poem by Glennice L. Harmon that speaks to me. I do think that I could not ask for any better company than the students I have the honour and privilege of interacting with daily.

They Ask Me Why I Teach

by Glennice L. Harmon (1907-1979)

They ask me why I teach,
And I reply,
Where could I find more splendid company?

For the Love of Literacy Conference 2024

On January 27, 2024, the Literacy Centre of Expertise is hosting its second For the Love of Literacy Conference. It will be a free online event dedicated to EAL/ESL Literacy for the settlement sector!

One of the highlights of the conference will be a presentation by Donna Clarke and Jeremy Wilson titled “Adults Learn to Read with Phonics-Based Readers”.

Click here to check out the full conference program and lineup of speakers. Click here to register for free.

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