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Marilyn Scudder Barnwell: Compassion, Empowerment, and Respect

Celebrated administrator observes and learns from each teacher, sends message to families, “We will learn from you and we will learn with you.”


If Marilyn Scudder Barnwell were a super hero, she would be the Compassionator. As for her fatal flaw (because every hero has one), perhaps it would be a humility so deep that it renders her short-sighted about her own accomplishments. The evidence? When Dinah Volk, chair of NCTE’s Early Childhood Education Assembly (ECEA), tried to nominate her for ECEA’s 2015 Early Literacy Educator of the Year Award, she refused it.

Barnwell, the education director for the Bloomingdale Head Start Family Program, a bilingual, multicultural, inclusive, family-centered program in New York City, is the first administrator to receive this award. The past recipients have been research faculty or classroom teachers.

“At first I declined, because I didn’t do research or teaching,” she says. “But then there was a mutiny at the school. They forced me to reflect on what I do [and to see] I don’t value it the way others do.”


As the education director, Barnwell oversees and supports the school’s approximately two dozen teachers. She encourages her teachers to be lifelong learners, supporting them as they earn degrees and helping them set aside time to study. The respect, trust, and compassion with which she treats every teacher creates a nurturing and supportive environment that, in turn, empowers children and their families.

Honoring Barnwell “is a great way to open up the conversation and say, ‘look at how an administrator is one of the most profound literacy educators in the lives of young children,’” says Dana Bentley, a teacher and member of the nominating committee.

“I love the idea that literacy is something that happens in all facets of education. When we confine it to just the teacher/educator, or just the classroom teacher, we really narrow the meaning of literacy in education as a whole.” 


NCTE member? Read Deb Aronson's full interview from the March Council Chronicle page.  

Thinking about joining? Learn what it means to be part of the NCTE community here.



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NCTE - The National Council of Teachers Of English

A Professional Association of Educators in English Studies, Literacy, and Language Arts