Laurie Elish-Piper is a model of multi-dimensional success.
At NIU, she is a Presidential Teaching Professor of Literacy Education, director of the Literacy Clinic and co-director of the Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Language and Literacy. She also was recently elected to the board of directors of the International Reading Association (IRA).
Established in 1956, the IRA is a prestigious professional organization that consists of more than 60,000 members The IRA helps with the instruction of reading, assists in the progress of research on reading and promotes reading in both academic and leisurely settings.
“I would like to see IRA’s voice strengthened in the advocacy role for effective literacy education practices and initiatives. I would also like to see IRA partner with other professional organizations to strengthen their impact on educational policies,” Elish-Piper said.
“All professional organizations in education are experiencing serious challenges right now. There have been decreases in school funding, and teaching positions have been cut in some schools and districts,” she added.
“Younger teachers are looking for more on-demand and online support. I would like to look at what our new members are seeking while keeping seasoned members engaged. We need to grow and evolve with our members.”
Elish-Piper’s success has been progressing since she first arrived at NIU in 1995. At that time, her mentor was Jerry Johns, NIU Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus and former president of the IRA.
“He has been helpful and supportive in a number of different ways,” Elish-Piper said. “When I was nominated for the board, Jerry was helpful in assisting me in understanding the process. He helped me have a strong presence when nominated.”
Johns has assisted many other aspiring professionals, including Steve Layne, who is also on the IRA board of directors. Layne is currently a professor at Judson University as well as the director of the Master of Education in Literacy program.
Another previous IRA board member, Susan Lenski, graduated from NIU’s doctoral program of reading and is now a professor at Portland State University. Johns was her dissertation director.
With so many NIU affiliates serving the IRA, Elish-Piper believes that the university has a strong presence in the field of literacy education.
“It is another example of how Northern Illinois University continues to have a strong voice and representation in professional organizations. We are very connected to the IRA and have a large impact on priorities that it sets,” she said.
While on the board, Elish-Piper would like to help the organization become more strategic in efforts of promoting literacy programs. This opportunity will allow her to provide another kind of service to the field at the international level, she said.
“I would like to see us target literacy programs and training initiatives so that we can have a greater impact. Literacy is a core ability that affects people’s life trajectories. Making literacy more available to people around the world can help improve lives and opportunities, inside and outside of the educational world.”
Literacy itself is also changing, she said: “Literacy is clearly changing. It is not as just the ability to read and write. We now are looking at multiple literacies.”
With all of the new technology, from tablets and Google to smartphones and texting, how can teachers stay on top of the mission to teach literacy?
“These changes can make information readily accessible to us. It is exciting to the literacy field and provides opportunities and expansion of how we can use reading and writing for multiple purposes in our lives,” Elish-Piper said.
“It provides challenges, but we just need to teach students how to comprehend and understand these electronic texts. sometimes we believe because people know how to interact with technology that they know how to use it for educational purposes,” she added. “It is definitely an exciting time. Literacy is the core of the curriculum, regardless of level or discipline. It is the ‘hub’ of the curriculum.”
by Jeanette Gaudio