“This book began when our small group started working together to become better teachers—to help the children, each other, and ourselves.”
In the new book, Engaging Literate Minds, we are introduced to seven colleagues who set out to think deeply together about how to create intellectually, socially, and emotionally healthy classrooms. With Peter Johnston and his books, Opening Minds and Choice Words as their guide, they spent the last ten years challenging themselves and each other to hone their instruction and promote a school curriculum that is thoroughly permeable to children’s interests and proclivities. They combined their stories into this professional learning resource. Let’s meet them!
Peter H. Johnston
Peter H. Johnston grew up in New Zealand, taught elementary school, and came to the United States to do his PhD in educational psychology. He has published over eighty scholarly articles and a dozen books, some now in multiple languages. Recognition for his work includes the Albert Harris Award from the International Literacy Association for contributions to the understanding of reading disability, and the State University of New York Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Research. Most recently, the Literacy Research Association honored him with the P. David Pearson Scholarly Influence Award, citing his book Choice Words as having “demonstrably and positively influenced literacy teaching in classrooms and districts nationally,” and the Oscar Causey Award for outstanding contributions to reading research. He is a member of the Reading Hall of Fame. Peter’s research and writing spring from his fascination with, and admiration for, children’s learning and, no less, teachers’ teaching.
Without a doubt, Kathy Champeau loves being a teacher. Starting out forty years ago as a first-grade teacher, it was apparent that she had a lot to learn about helping her students become literate. This insatiable quest to learn drove her to become a Title I reading teacher, reading specialist, adjunct instructor at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and a past president of the Wisconsin State Reading Association, where she has been acknowledged for her contributions to literacy in the state. Kathy served on Governor Walker’s Read to Lead Task Force and is an Herb Kohl Teaching Fellow recipient. As a consultant learning alongside students, teachers, and literacy researchers, she is a strong advocate for teachers as thinking professionals and values how the research and practitioner worlds need to be inextricably connected in intellectually stimulating ways. She presents locally, nationally, and internationally on the lessons learned through this journey.
Andrea Hartwig earned her undergraduate teaching degree from St. Norbert College and her master’s degree in reading from Alverno College. She has spent ten years teaching first and second grade in southeastern Wisconsin. Andrea enjoys traveling; she lived with her family in Galway, Ireland, for a year when she was in elementary school and spent her preservice teaching period in Accra, Ghana. Andrea currently lives in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, with her husband, Brian, who is also an educator, and their two young daughters. In addition to spending time with her family and friends, Andrea enjoys reading, baking, and crafting.
Sarah Helmer earned her teaching degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has taught kindergarten and first- and second-grade multiage classes in southeastern Wisconsin. Although she has written many books in writers’ workshop, this is Sarah’s first time being published. Her passion for emergent literacy and what is possible for our youngest learners has truly been nurtured by her collaborative partnership with these teachers, whom she is proud to call her mentors, colleagues, and friends. She currently lives in New Berlin, Wisconsin, with her husband, Mitch, and two young children. Besides her family and teaching, Sarah also loves decorating cakes, drinking coffee, and shopping at Target.
Merry Komar was born and raised in Hawaii, which is where she began her teaching career and received her master’s degree. As a teacher there, she had extensive literacy training as a participant in the Kamehameha Elementary Education Program (KEEP) for at-risk students, which included strategies for effective language instruction with a focus on writing as well as classroom management and organization. She was selected to be part of the KEEP Demonstration Classroom Project, which required careful monitoring of instruction and student progress using portfolio assessments. She received commendation for the success of her students, her innovation, and her reflective practices.
She taught in Hawaii for five years before they moved to Wisconsin. She has taught in Wisconsin for two decades plus, and it is where she and her husband, Vince, raised their two children. She and her husband are now happily empty nesters and are enjoying this new season in their lives. She currently teaches third grade in Wisconsin.
Tara Krueger always knew she wanted to be a teacher. Her teaching journey began at the University of Minnesota where she received a Master of Education degree. She began her teaching career as a Title I reading and math interventionist at a K–8 school in Milwaukee. Working with mostly English language learners, Tara was able to utilize her Spanish skills to support student learning and continue to develop her passion for education. With a strong desire to be a classroom teacher, Tara continued her career as a multi-age first- and second-grade teacher in Muskego-Norway School district. That position led her to work closely with this wonderful team who enabled her to truly envision new possibilities for teaching and learning.
Tara currently serves a diverse student population as a reading teacher in the city of Denver. She leads the reading intervention program at her school as well as early literacy professional development for staff.
An avid equestrian, wife, and mother of two, Laurie McCarthy received her undergraduate early childhood degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and master’s degree in critical literacy from Carroll University. For the past fifteen years, she has worked as a multiage first- and second-grade teacher in the Muskego-Norway School District. In 2018, Laurie was recognized in her district receiving the Compass Award for her positive impact on students, staff, parents, and community; her commitment to continuous improvement; her leadership and service; as well as for being a champion for innovation, creativity, and best practices. Laurie and her family currently reside in Eagle, Wisconsin.