Sonja Cherry-Paul

Sonja and student

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” ~ Nelson Mandela

As a child, my mother thought I would grow up and become a lawyer. I was full of questions about people, their behaviors and the choices they made. Also, I had strong opinions about fairness and equality. She wasn’t far off, but it was my grandfather’s prediction that ultimately proved correct. When I was 12, he proclaimed that I would be a teacher. His logic was that anyone who loved books as much as I did would surely need to share her wisdom with others.  My work as an educator encompasses both issues related to social justice and literacy.

For the past seventeen years, I’ve taught 5th, 6th, and 7th grades in a middle school in Westchester, NY. I’ve continually sought opportunities to hone my craft as an educator, particularly in English Language Arts instruction. I hold a master’s degree in education, a master’s degree in literacy, and I’m currently working to complete a doctorate at Teachers College, Columbia University. Throughout my educational experiences, I’ve been able to engage in coursework that has provided me with opportunities to think deeply about literacy instruction and the teaching of children’s literature.

One of the most powerful uses of literature in the classroom is helping students move from literal understandings to identification of universal themes. I am particularly interested in helping students to develop a critical stance toward reading by thinking about issues related to social justice and how these issues influence others as well as themselves.

My work for social justice extends beyond the classroom. For the past several years, I’ve represented the U.S. northeast as a member on the Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards. I work with a group of intelligent, diverse, committed educators across the country to read and discuss books by authors and illustrators whose work addresses issues related to social justice. As a result, I read dozens of children’s books each year and analyze their content, quality, and ability to inform children about historical events both past and present. Additional information about the JACBA and the books that have received this award can be found at:

Within each of the contexts I work in, I am fortunate to engage in discourses about literacy instruction and study alongside remarkable educators. It is a privilege to be immersed in the process of reflection and learning effective strategies that improves teaching. Subsequently, I continually raise the question, how can the work I do as a scholar, provide teachers and administrators with the analytic tools needed to continually inform and transform curriculum? I hope my pursuit of answers to this question is demonstrated in my work and that it contributes to the field of education by creating a space of dialogue and reflection about best practice. Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning published by Heinemann, is my first book co-authored with Dana Johansen and Flip Your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach is my second.

Sonja Cherry-Paul