International Reading Association Leadership Academy Highlights

Recently, four members of the NCRA leadership team (Jeanne Swafford, President; Danna Knight, State Coordinator; Jane Kline, President elect; and Karyn Gloden, Vice President) attended the IRA Leadership Academy in Tampa, FL. The purposes of the academy were to provide guidance and support for leaders of local state councils as we face declining membership,changes in members’ demographics, changes in how professional development is delivered, and what PD is sanctioned by local districts. Certainly government mandates and digital technology have changed how educators “do business” and how NCRA and IRA can support educators. 

To address these and other challenges, IRA has worked for two years to develop a strategic plan that is “contemporary and compelling, and that clearly and instantly communicates our cause to the professional literacy community, including practitioners and policymakers, and to the public at large” ( 

Two of the major changes that might interest you will be rolled out at the July 2015 annual conference in St. Louis, MO. First is the new mission statement: transforming lives through literacy. The second is the name change to International Literacy Association.

Now that the leaders of our parent organization have worked (and continue to work) through these and other issues, IRA leadership is in a better position to support state councils as they, too, address some of the issues noted above. IRA is not mandating changes to state councils but is providing practical support as we address our own challenges. 

Below you will find reflections from members of the team who attended the IRA Leadership Academy. 

Jeanne Swafford: President

The major topics addressed at the leadership academy that were particularly meaningful to me as the president of NCRA in 2014-2015 were 1) communication, 2) membership, and 3) strategic planning. 

Communication: Of course, we all know the importance of communication but I hadn’t thought much about who we need to communicate with besides our members. We also need to consider how we communicate with potential members. Then we need to determine how our potential audiences receive information (e.g., website, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pintrest, face-to-face meetings, Skype). Clearly NCRA needs to consider using more social media and electronic communication.

What can you do to support communication with different audiences?  Send an email to Jean House and Anita Stack (executive assistants) about the amazing things your council does to support literacy. Just a paragraph and maybe a photo would be great information to share. (Make sure you have a signed release form for photographs in which children can be identified.) This information will help promote your council, what you do, and why you do it. (See Leaders tab, Executive Committee, scroll down to Executive Assistants. Click on the link to email Jean and Anita.) 

Membership: It seems that IRA and state councils across the nation are concerned about declining membership and keeping members. Questions I found helpful when thinking about membership follow: What is the value of being a member of NCRA and local councils? What services can we provide that other entities do not? Is our purpose important to our members and potential members? A quote I want to remember: “It’s not what you do but why you do it!” 

Strategic Planning: The importance of having (and using) a strategic plan to guide the organization was also important to me. The NCRA leadership team is in the process of developing a strategic plan this year. Questions related to strategic planning that important to me are: 

Why are we here? (What is organization designed to do?)

What is our mission? (Keep it short.)

What do we want to accomplish as an organization?

What would happen if NCRA and/or local council ceased to exist? 

What difference do we make? (What’s the impact on educators, students, families, businesses?)

What are members of the organization passionate about?

What are we best at and in what areas do we want to continue to excel?

Who will members be five years from now?

What will be important for us to deliver to best serve our future members? 

What does a SWOT analysis reveal?

What are our

– strengths (e.g., strong reputation in the state, Project Grants, conference)?

– weaknesses (e.g., unclear mission, lack of resources or active membership)?

– opportunities (member’s  needs, potential partnerships with other organizations, current issues in education)?

– threats (What would cause serious damage to the organization?)

These questions above could also help local council leaders as they plan for the future.

Danna Knight: State Coordinator (SC)

There are a lot of exciting adjustments coming to the state coordinator’s position in the near future.  The council advisers, Tiffany Sears and Angela Rivell, met with many state coordinators from around the country and surveyed their current position responsibilities. They will use this information to create a SC Manual that will guide our yearly responsibilities.  One of the big changes is that the SC will submit a yearly report to IRA regarding all the activities that happen throughout the year that support the goals of “Transforming Lives Through Literacy“.  This manual will be available in September and will shared on the NCRA’s website. 

Jane Kline: President-elect

I attended with two major goals and both were achieved!  First, I wanted the NCRA Team to have some time to work on ideas for a strategic plan. Not only were we creative in carving out time to do this from a very busy IRA agenda, but we actually developed a draft that we are all working to refine before we present at September’s Board of Directors (BOD) meeting. 

My second goal, as Chair of an Ad Hoc Committee, was to research the possibilities of NCRA establishing its own chapters, in addition to IRA chartered councils. I spoke with the “big three” (Executive Director of IRA, Assistant Director and Director of Finance) and was assured this does not conflict with our affiliation guidelines with IRA but does require specific finance and budget considerations. The Ad Hoc Committee will report in September to the BOD.   

Karyn Gloden: Vice President

Like the rest of the leadership team attending the leadership academy, I found the sessions to be valuable and helpful in thinking about a strategic plan for NCRA. The role of social media is becoming more and more important at the national, state, and local levels in terms of branding and marketing strategies. Our team discussed the need to increase NCRA’s presence on social media sites and we will work this year to make our webpage more inviting and informative for our members. Additionally, we will increase our postings on Facebook and Twitter with timely and relevant updates on NCRA events with a goal of supporting current members and attracting potential members as well as community partners. We welcome ideas from all of our members regarding ways to make the NCRA social media sites more valuable and user friendly.

As you can see, we have lots of plans this year for supporting the local councils! We are looking forward to a great year as we serve North Carolina as a “beacon for literacy and lifelong learning.”