A Children’s Literature Educator Champions the Humanizing Classroom Experience

Kelly Wissman in front of a large tree branch and green foliage

ALBANY, N.Y. (Aug. 5, 2021) — Kelly Wissman’s core belief as an educator is in the potential for children’s literature, the arts and writing to create more socially just learning spaces for young people. Her effectiveness in conveying this concept to university students of education has now earned her a prestigious prize from one of the world’s leading organizations supporting reading instruction.

Wissman, an associate professor who joined the Department of Literacy Teaching & Learning in 2006, is the 2021 recipient of the Jerry Johns Outstanding Teacher Educator in Reading Award, given by the International Literacy Association to honor an outstanding college or university teacher of reading methods or reading-related courses.

“This honor recognizes Dr. Wissman’s outstanding teaching contributions at the University at Albany and in the Capital Region as well as her dedication, engagement, and commitment to excellence in teaching,” said Virginia Goatley, dean of the School of Education (SOE).

Goatley, noting that Wissman’s departmental colleague Associate Professor Cheryl Dozier also received the Johns Award in 2013, commented: “It is quite an accomplishment to have two recipients from the University.”  

Engaging Students to Re-Imagine

Dozier called Wissman “an outstanding educator who engages students as they re-imagine their previous understandings of literacy, learners and teaching. In her courses, I have always been impressed to see the range of ways Kelly supports students to explore how their own cultural backgrounds and identities impact their teaching and learning.”

Wissman called it “a bit unbelievable” to have received the prestigious honor. “I already feel lucky to have found a profession where I can dwell in the possibility of children’s literature and where I can create professional learning contexts for teachers to do the same. It is an extraordinarily meaningful and uncommonly beautiful way to spend one’s life.”

A SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching winner in 2017, Wissman has for many years taught SOE’s course offerings in Children’s Literature and Literacy in Society. In recent years, she also has taught courses in qualitative and participatory action research, which focus on how practitioners and researchers can design and conduct studies in the service of educational equity.

She has also been recognized for her work as director of the Capital District Writing Project, which won a 2020 President’s Award for Exemplary Public Engagement.

A Sense of Shared Inquiry

Wissman said her aim is to use literature to create a more humanizing classroom experience. “Whether I’m working with elementary school students or their future teachers, I try to cultivate a sense of shared inquiry into how words, stories and art can help us understand ourselves and our world,” she said. “No matter their age, my students amaze me with their powers of observation and their shared determination to create more equitable worlds.”

She recalled one of her earliest teaching experiences, co-creating a poetry and photography course with adolescent girls. “They taught me that if I brought them a poem pulsing with life or invited them to craft a self-portrait, they would take up every opportunity and more,” she said. “I learned then that teaching was reciprocal, that it was based in relationships, and that it had so much more power when it was grounded in our shared humanity.”