Connecting for literacy at Decoda Conference

Through laughter and a few tears, more than 200 literacy practitioners representing communities from across BC and Canada gathered May 4-6 for professional development and connection at the Decoda Literacy Conference in Richmond, BC.

It’s been three years since the last conference. This passionate group of people – mostly women – work in a variety of literacy roles in cities and in remote communities. Many had met through Zoom meetings and webinars but were meeting each other in person for the first time. While some longtime literacy practitioners connected with old friends, new friendships were also made within hours.

The energy, inspiration, connection and learning during the three days are sure to have a ripple effect on community literacy programs all over BC.

“Literacy organizations have really stepped up during the pandemic, adapting to new technologies and delivery models, and providing new services,” said Margaret Sutherland, Decoda’s executive director. “Connecting in person again, to learn from each other and share stories and programs, will help strengthen BC communities as we recover from the pandemic.”

The day before the general conference, two groups gathered to focus on specific literacy projects and programs supported by Decoda.

Training facilitators for Parents As Literacy Supporters (PALS) programs

PALS facilitator training welcomed 28 program facilitators who spent the day learning about Parents As Literacy Supporters programs. The program provides new strategies for families to support their preschool and kindergarten-aged children’s learning in fun and interactive ways, with a focus on learning through play.

“The PALS training was a great refresher, I got new ideas and we all got to learn from each other,” said Sarah Tabatabaee, a settlement worker at Impact North Shore in North Vancouver.

“I also went to the Legal Aid BC workshop and learned about so many great resources I can share with our clients,” she said. “I learned some great strategies in the trauma-informed care class. The connection I made with others is the best part of the conference.”

A group of women sit and stand together in four rows inside a conference room. Tables are in the foreground.

Increasing literacy and essential skills to support workers

For the past year, eleven sites across the country have beta-tested literacy programs and developed resources to help support people seeking jobs as part of the Displaced Worker Project. Thirty project staff and advisors gathered to share findings, evaluate their outcomes and discuss next steps.

A group of people sit and stand together in four rows inside a conference room.

It was Nickka Hutton’s first literacy conference. She is a new community adult literacy program coordinator at Mount Waddington Family Literacy Society, who was also involved in beta-testing a digital literacy program in three communities on North Vancouver Island.

“With our CALP program in its infancy, the chance to connect with really experienced people in the field was absolutely invaluable,” said Nickka. “It also confirmed the importance of digital literacy, and how it prevents people from fully participating in society.”

Indigenous welcome

On Thursday, May 5, the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, the general conference began with a welcome from Sheryl Rivers, Knowledge Keeper from the Squamish Nation and the City of North Vancouver’s Museum and Archives Commissioner.

Sheryl Rivers gives a traditional welcome on the stage.

More funding for adult literacy announced

BC Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training Anne Kang announced via Zoom that annual funding for community adult literacy programs (CALPS) would increase to $3.4 million annually.

“Thanks to all the literacy workers and Decoda for their work and determination in moving people forward,” said Minister Kang.

A large group of people sit in a ballroom at tables looking at two screen showing Minister Anne Kang.

What is to be done?

Decoda board director Dr. Ralf St. Clair gave a heartfelt keynote speech that focused on the next steps the literacy field can take to move literacy forward. “What is to be done?” he asked.

Dr. Ralf St. Clair speaking at a microphone with a screen in the background reading, "What is to be done?"

Workshops support a variety of literacy programs

With 31 workshops to choose from, some main themes included:

  • Digital literacy and online learning
  • Clear language and design
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Building learner and community connections
  • Reading and writing workshops
  • Plus, fun programs like Cooking on a Budget, book clubs and StoryWalks®

Writing a winning grant proposal was the first workshop to fill – finding funds is a big part of literacy work.

Break times were buzzing with follow-up conversations and exploration of the vendors’ exhibition.

A woman browses books and games on a table.

Journalist informs on Indigenous media bias

On Thursday afternoon, award-winning CBC journalist, author and artist from the Gitanmaax Band of the Gitxsan Nation Angela Sterritt Zoomed into the conference for her keynote speech.

“Media literacy is so critical. Just as important is Indigenous reality literacy. I’m trying to turn the tide when it comes to reporting about Indigenous people.”

Angela Sterritt speaking via Zoom on a large screen in front of a crowd.

Economist points to literacy as key to future success

On Friday morning, Canadian executive and economist Craig Alexander gave the keynote speech about the connection between literacy and the economy.

“I want to emphasize how literacy can actually be a major policy point to address many other issues that Canada is dealing with,” he said. “I think literacy is the great enabler when it comes to unlocking the potential of individuals, but it also has a domino effect in terms of enormous economic and social benefits that are tied to other policy issues.”

Kat Eddy, executive director of Campbell River Literacy, has been in the literacy field for 20 years.

“We as a field need to describe to policy makers that literacy is a core part of the ecosystem of support for underrepresented Canadians,”  said Kat. “And that building literacy skills in the workforce will increase productivity as a whole. We need to push policy makers to take action.”

Canadian literacy expert and As I was saying blogger Brigid Hayes moderated a provincial panel discussion with literacy leaders from across the country.

“It’s been an exciting conference,” said Brigid. “I’m really impressed with the range of topics discussed, like digital justice and trauma-informed practice. I’ve learned an awful lot here. And talking to people on breaks and at lunch – that stuff you can’t do on Zoom. It’s just so refreshing to meet in person again, and I want to thank Decoda for having me.”

A group of women sit on a stage with a crowd seated at tables in front of them,

Literacy supporters

Decoda is grateful to our supporters for making the Decoda Literacy Conference possible:

Legal Aid BC also presented their free services and resources that help people resolve their legal problems. They include infographics, fact sheets and illustrated booklets.

“I’m so glad we were able to host the conference this year,” said Margaret. “It’s so important – especially for rural and remote practitioners – to access professional development and network with other literacy practitioners. We’re all working together for literacy to support the vision of a British Columbia where everyone has the literacy skills they need.”

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