How to Become a Reading & Literacy Educator

Dr. Kristen Swanson is a well-renowned expert in the field of education, in the particular fields of transfer and information literacy. She works for Authentic Education via the iZone Project in New York City, a citywide endeavor which seeks to augment K-12 grade student accomplishments. Dr. Swanson is also affiliated with the Edcamp Foundation, which sparks professional learning “(un)conferences” for K-12 teachers across the globe. Interested in education, particularly for reading and literacy? Read on, and enjoy.

Could you define the concept of information literacy for our students?

Information literacy is best defined as one’s ability to navigate the plethora of data (text, video, hyperlinks, images, etc.) that surround us. Being able to determine what’s credible, where it is stored, and how to access information are a few elements of informational literacy. More importantly, informational literacy requires that we use information selectively and with impact. Knowing how to use information is just as important as finding it!

What are your favorite, and least favorite, aspects of your career?

The favorite aspect of my career is my ability to interact with other educators and students on a regular basis. I love teaching and sharing. I also enjoy building on someone’s strengths and seeing their success. With that being said, the least favorite aspect of my career is working with individuals who “never get out of crisis mode.” It can be hard to create change in these circumstances.

You’ve been involved with educational development from a local level (NYC’s iZone Project) to the global scale (the Edcamp Foundation). How did your own education prepare you for such widespread impact?

My educational experiences taught me that failure is a necessary component of innovation. Therefore, when I faced large challenges, whether they were local or global, I prepared for a messy, nonlinear process. Further, my education required me to collaborate in lots of different ways. Every professional setting I’ve ever encountered has required me to collaborate successfully with others.

You’ve earned graduate degrees in both instructional technology and educational leadership. How do these disciplines inform one another? How has this education influenced your career currently?

Today’s educational leaders must be knowledgeable about best practices with instructional technology. Today’s youngest students come to us without knowledge of life before mobile devices and the Internet. To help create environments and systems that “meet students where they are,” it is necessary to be skilled in both instructional technology and educational leadership.

My educational experiences have deeply influenced my career. I currently serve as a curriculum consultant on the iZone project in New York City. This job requires me to help teachers and educational leaders craft instruction that prepares students for the challenges they will face in the real world, given the rapid rise of information technology.

What level of degree is required to have a successful career in reading and literacy education? What other majors or disciplines could help your career?

Teachers, literacy specialists, and other educational leaders need to be continuous learners. The degrees are less important than the passion to personally improve to better serve children. However, it is important to note that some states have very specific requirements about the educational levels and certifications required to hold specific positions. In Pennsylvania, for example, literacy specialists and librarians must hold both a specialized certificate and a master’s degree. Consider the positions for which you are interested and do a little bit of research in your state. There are many paths to inform careers related to information literacy.

Your Internet presence is quite remarkable. How has social networking supported your career?

Social networking has been extremely important to the development and refinement of my career. I joined Twitter in 2008, and I haven’t looked back since. Social media has allowed me to connect with other educators like myself, and it has also allowed me to consider unique perspectives beyond my local situation.

Each day, I look forward to “checking in” with my personal learning network to curate and contribute from the community. Further, social media has allowed me to create a space where I can receive feedback on my learning. In short, social media has amplified my ability to build relationships with talented educators in my field.

What character qualities should students have who are interested in careers focused on educational leadership or literacy education?

Students who are interested in careers focused on educational leadership or literacy education should be persistent, empathetic, and people-centered. To quote Marzano and Dufour, “School improvement is people improvement.” Individuals who want to work with teachers and students need to successfully cultivate environments where all parties can mature and learn safely and productively.

Do you think that information literacy and educational leadership are subjects that can be studied online, or is a traditional classroom environment ideal?

Learning should not be confined to a particular space. I have learned significant amounts both in face-to-face settings as well as virtual settings. The best learning experiences include both opportunities to learn in online spaces and with others in collaboration. It’s also important for learners to realize and understand how they learn best. Some people prefer online settings, and others prefer face-to-face instruction. Having experience in both settings would certainly make you a well-rounded leader.

What advice would you give to current high school or college students interested in pursuing a dynamic career in education?

My advice to anyone pursuing a dynamic career in education would be to connect to practicing educators as early as possible. Whether it is through volunteer work or social media, find mentors and instructional idols. These relationships will serve you well as you progress throughout you career.