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Meet Heather Cato, CISD Director of Language Arts

October 16, 2013

Heather CatoHeather Cato, CISD’s new Director of Language Arts, came to CISD from Grapevine/Colleyville ISD. She has her Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis on literary studies from UT Arlington, and received her undergraduate in Multidisciplinary studies from Texas Tech. She was named the 2012 Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts Middle School Teacher of the Year. When she isn’t reading, she and her husband (a graduate of TCU) watch a lot of college football.

Her Passion

What makes her really passionate? Helping reluctant readers and writers. “Everyone is a reader and a writer. Everyone has that inside them,” she emphasizes, “It is our job to help them find it.”

“The bottom line, at the end of the day, is all about reading and writing.” – Heather Cato, CISD Director of Language Arts

Reluctant Readers

She understands the plight of the reluctant reader – she did not enjoy reading as a child – and uses her own experience to motivate teachers and students to find that special connection to a book. “If you aren’t reading, you are separating yourself from something important. Reading opens doors that the world slams shut.” Teachers can help struggling readers by creating a safe environment that encourages independent reading, and modeling reading for pleasure. “By making reading a priority, and emphasizing that reading takes us places we’ll never get to, we can get even reluctant students to crack a book and creep into the pages.”

Many times, students have difficulty with selecting a book to read. She empathizes with the feeling of being overwhelmed by all the possibilities and encourages teachers and librarians to help guide, instead of simply telling them to freely browse the shelves. After all, “libraries are probably the scariest places in the world to any reluctant reader,” she observes. “Too many shelves. Too many books. Too many choices.” When they are unsure, students tend to follow what they know… perhaps only select the same author, the same book, or the same shelf. According to Mrs. Cato, students often need to be encouraged to discover new books, make new connections, and broaden their understanding of the world around them.

Reluctant Writers

Reluctant writers also need to be encouraged to take risks and Mrs. Cato encourages the use of technology to help students get beyond their own perceived obstacles. “Kids are so scared of the blank page, of length, of making a mistake. Yet, each of these is no longer an issue when they are at a computer,” according to Cato. Instead, a student has absolute control to create, edit, and delete without worrying about the mistakes or missteps that occur before the final product is printed.

Beyond the Walls of the Classroom

Additionally, she promotes the seamless integration of technology into the classroom as a method to make learning more relevant and “amplify the microphone of your voice” to reach a broader audience. “The classroom is no longer bound by four walls,” she maintains, encouraging students and teachers to find inspiration and affirmation through the internet. Ms. Cato uses her own blog, Three Teachers Talk (, to share her message of the importance of helping students find the writer and reader that is within.

The Importance of the Classroom Environment

“I think that some students are so scared that they will choose the wrong approach, that they avoid taking risks. Yet, often times there is more than one right way to do something. We need to encourage learners to take risks.” – Heather Cato

Reluctant readers and writers need encouragement to take risks, and they are not the only students who can limit their growth by being overly cautious.  Issues of perfectionism and risk avoidance frequently impacts gifted students. Mrs. Cato cautions that “it is common for gifted learners to feel the pressure of the world on their shoulders.” She wants classrooms to be a safe place for all students to explore, learn and grow. So what can be done? Mrs. Cato has some suggestions for creating a classroom environment that encourages students to take risks and stretch their skills.

  1. At the core, learners need to be protected from adverse consequences in the classroom. They need to know that we accept and encourage their creativity, even if their ideas are different than what we originally had in mind.
  2. Learners do not fit one mold, so we have to honor and celebrate all of the unique needs we get in the classroom.
  3. We need to meet the individual learners in the classroom where they are, and challenge them to question something they have never questioned before.

Please join us in welcoming Heather Cato to Coppell. We are eager and excited to see the direction in which she will navigate the LA curriculum at CISD. We wish her all the best in her new role.

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