Interview with Brent Novodvorski: Leading by Example Series

Monday Inspiration Series: Literacy and Language Professionals who Lead by Example

Brent David Novodvorski, a Deaf teacher of ASL and ESL to local immigrants.

This new series is dedicated to highlighting the impact made by exemplary literacy and language professionals who lead by example. The series features interviews with each of our leaders, sharing their inspirations, stories and tips. Today, I’m pleased to share an interview with Brent David Novodvorski.

I worked with Brent in 2009. Together we worked on “Literacy for Deaf Immigrant Adults: A Symposium for Collaboration and Learning”, the first event of its kind in Western Canada. The symposium brought together members of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community, as well as those from immigrant-service agencies in Calgary to talk about the needs of Deaf and Hard of Hearing immigrants in our city. The final report for the symposium was published by the National Adult Literacy Database (NALD). You can find it here.

From working side-by-side with Brent at that amazing event, I can say that he is truly a leader in his field. He is Deaf and works with local immigrants, teaching them American Sign Language (ASL) and English as a Second Language (ESL).

1. What is your name, affiliation, and connection to language learning?

My name is Brent David Novodvorski.  I work in a community college in Western Canada with an excellent reputation for innovative work and sustainability in literacy and languages.  I also work as an independent scholar.  I offer an array of connections to language learning: research, curriculum development, building instructional strategies and methods to reflect teachings.  The outcome of my work advances language learning on three levels: teacher, student and environment.  My specialities are: sign language, English, English as a second language and bilingualism.

2.  What are your thoughts about leadership and language learning?

Leadership is a delicate term, especially in communities not valued for their uniqueness and indigenous and linguistic knowledge.  Leaders have a presence. I have taught sign language poetry and the students shared poems about their experience.  These students are from other countries where sign language is considered primitive and subordinate to vocal languages.  The teacher as leader was present when I taught poetry but when I brought the students to the community to share their work – my leadership was taken to a new level – students formed new connections with other members of the community and created new poems!

3.  In your opinion, what’s the most important aspect of a language teacher’s job?

Language teachers need to recognize and appreciate what knowledge and skills are valued, celebrated and carried in communities – workplace, ethnic cultures, and linguistic.  Although, it is varied; the curriculum has the unique position to be evolutionary and reflective of the changing world.  The curriculum is the site, or a workbench, for language teachers to weld the values of membership in communities.  I do not visualize this work in isolation; teachers share their craft in a community of practice.  Therefore, I am an advocate of literacy and languages as an accessible medium for social, democratic and economic participation.

4.  What are some of the projects you’ve been involved with that you would like to share?

There are several projects I have been involved with:

  1. “Effective teaching approaches and materials for Deaf and hard of hearing immigrant adults in bilingual education.”
  2. “Bridging classroom experience to community: a literature review of sign language in learning contexts.”
  3. “Small Gestures: Improving access to education for Deaf and hard of hearing adult immigrants during the settlement process.”

5.  What do you see as three new directions in language learning?

1.     What Mother Tongue?

With the rapid development of technology and communication connections, the world is becoming, metaphorically, flat.  This means there are more linguistic contacts with different parts of the world. People learn languages other than your mother tongue! I see many language teachers with knowledge of more than two or three languages.

2.     Deaf Professionals

Leaders are increasingly focused on assets of the people they work with.  This is good news for Deaf workers who often struggle to move beyond tokenship towards equal opportunities that capitalizes on assets. I see Deaf professionals as an extraordinary asset to the fabric of leadership.

3.     Framework based on Knowledge of the Community

Research framework has evolved from a researcher-centered way of thinking to include the learner’s knowledge and ‘life’ of the community.  This has an impact on the ways of doing research, as well as how research results are shared and disseminated.  Hands-on workshops are slowly replacing the traditional ‘stand and talk’. I see a framework based on individuals and meaningful connections in communities.

As a side note from me, I wanted to add that Brent is also the brains behind Calgary’s first International Sign Language Celebration Day (ISLCD), which will be held in on September 24. This day is chock-a-block with performances and opportunities for everyone in the community to experience the richness of international sign language and Deaf culture.


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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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