A message from Executive Director Joel Zarrow, PhD: “This, I Believe”

In my first several weeks as Executive Director of Children’s Literacy Initiative, I have had the opportunity to introduce myself to a lot of new people. It is important to me to convey aspects of myself that aren’t necessarily apparent from my resume or some surreptitious Google search that we might do when we want to find out about the new person joining the team. I want people to get a sense of my values and beliefs that guide me in my work.

It made me think about the NPR segment called, “This, I Believe,” where ordinary and not so ordinary people talk about what matters to them, what they believe in. Here is my take on “This, I Believe.”

I believe in CLI’s mission. I believe that in education, there is nothing more important than ensuring kids can read and write at grade-level by third grade. I agree with those who stand up and say that equity in education is one of the civil rights issues of our time. CLI is turning what is so often rhetoric into action and impact.

I believe we can get it done. Kids are able to learn to read. We, the collective field of education, may argue about which methodology is better than another, but it’s not like we need a breakthrough discovery to unlock the secrets of best practice. At CLI, we are proving that regardless of the classroom, with certain specific practices and supports, teachers can accelerate students to grade level reading and writing. I believe that it is within our reach to impact literacy rates nationally in ways that will contribute to a more just and equitable society.

I believe people want to contribute. I believe teachers want to contribute. I believe funders and politicians and the neighbor down the street all want to contribute. I believe you want to contribute. I don’t just mean money. Getting children to read and write by third-grade is an unassailably compelling mission. I believe people will give of themselves, in whatever ways they can, as long as we are clear about how they can contribute.

I believe in aspirational goals. I believe we are more likely to accomplish great things when we are clear about what it is we want to accomplish. I believe we need to be bold in our declaration about what the future can and will look like when we all pull together to make it happen. We may not always be completely clear about how to achieve such aspirational goals, but out of our commitment and determination to make it happen comes the learning and growing necessary to do so.

I believe in team. Transforming the literacy landscape is not a solo sport. It requires the collective efforts of determined and capable individuals brought together by a shared purpose, trust and high expectations of themselves and each other. I believe in the power of listening to and learning from a range of perspectives from people with all kinds of backgrounds and experiences. I believe that teams can achieve the extraordinary.

With these beliefs at the core of who I am and how I strive to be, I look forward to leading CLI to a bright future of helping all children learn to read by 3rd grade.

How does that align with your own beliefs? How will it guide your actions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me at ExecutiveDirector@cli.org with your thoughts.

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