The William & Mary School of Education’s Literacy Leadership Program recently celebrated the success of the first cohort to complete its Reading Specialist Certificate.

The Nov. 4 event marked a significant milestone for the teachers completing the endorsement and a step forward in meeting demand for skilled literacy educators in Virginia.

The Reading Specialist Certificate, developed by Literacy Leadership Program Coordinator Denise Johnson, addresses a statewide shortage of reading specialists. Designed for certified teachers who hold master’s degrees in education, the program offers a faster pathway to becoming a reading specialist. The seven-course certificate is offered fully online and incorporates both synchronous meetings and asynchronous work, providing flexibility for working professionals.

“Our certificate program at William & Mary provides an innovative approach to preparing reading specialists,” said Lindy Johnson, department chair of curriculum & instruction. “We offer a flexible schedule for busy educators, a comprehensive curriculum grounded in cutting-edge research, and practical training from dedicated professors.”

Denise Johnson (left), Kristin Conradi Smith (far right), and Tamara Williams (second from right) join a small group of the cohort for a picture. (School of Education photo)

At the recognition ceremony, Denise Johnson offered opening remarks followed by a moving video montage created by Clinical Instructor Tamara Williams. The video featured Dean Knoeppel and other faculty members reading the inspirational picture book, “A Teacher Like You,” by Frank Murphy and Barbara Dan. Interspersed with these segments were video lessons submitted by each teacher, creating a highly personalized tribute to their commitment and dedication.

“What truly stood out for me was the ‘aha’ moment when I saw my clinical work featured in the video, beautifully paired with the book,” said Tyesha Evans, one of the students who completed the certificate. “The professors had invested time and effort to ensure that we felt genuinely special.”

“We wanted teachers to be proud of their accomplishments,” said Associate Professor Kristin Conradi Smith. “This program is intense, and our goal was to take a moment to celebrate.”  

Williams shared the same sentiment: “It’s no small feat to take graduate-level courses while teaching. I am so honored to be a part of this program and get to work with the amazing students in this cohort. They inspired me with their insights, questions, and enthusiasm to immediately put into practice the concepts they learned in class, and I feel privileged to be a part of their journey as future literacy leaders.”

The event included a reading of “A Teacher Like You.” (School of Education photo)

The Reading Specialist Certificate at William & Mary not only meets the critical need for skilled literacy educators but also empowers teachers to take on leadership roles to improve literacy outcomes across Virginia. Members of the inaugural cohort, equipped with valuable skills and knowledge, are now prepared to make a meaningful impact on the the lives of students and teachers alike.

“Having been a part of the Reading Specialist cohort, I’ve observed significant personal growth and an unwavering commitment to imparting the science of reading knowledge I’ve acquired to the next generation of students,” said Evans. “Like any life challenge, there were demanding moments in coursework, but the professors’ support was helpful and timely. Through this experience, I gained a deeper understanding of my strengths and weaknesses in the realm of effective reading instruction.”

Katy Branscomb, another participant, also expressed a deep appreciation for the knowledge and resources gained in the program.

“My experience in the cohort could not have been more meaningful as it relates to the educational shift in literacy instruction and leadership. I can only imagine the countless number of students (and teachers) we will empower moving forward,” she said.

The program’s success is evident as it continues to grow in popularity. Two additional cohorts have been added since last fall, with participants praising the program’s collaborative nature and valuable coursework.