Top Ten Practices for Principals to Promote Literacy in School

1. Read, Read and Read

Principals should not only be reading current research and resources about best practices in education, they should be reading children’s books as well as reading for pleasure. With children’s literature, I read the latest releases plus recommended books. My latest favorites are A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper. Books are an excellent way to relate with students. For example, I meet with a student periodically to give him some positive interaction. Yesterday, we browsed through the library and determined which Ricky Ricotto book will be his next read. Did you know there is a method to flipping the pages in order to make the robot move correctly?

With reading for pleasure, it may be the best practice we do. Consider your students. Do they read for other people, or for school alone? No, they read because they enjoy it. We should too. Your enthusiasm for reading will only build and exude from you as you share great literature when you…

2. Read aloud to students

I could write a top ten list on this topic alone (I’ll save that for another Nerdy Book Club post;). Without listing all the benefits, let me just say there are few things more important I do as a principal than sharing great literature with my students. I get to know students’ names and personalities, facilitate deep thinking through conversations, share my thinking as I read, host book talks after a novel is finished: All of my favorite parts of being in the classroom when I was a teacher! My goal is to present reading as an engaging and social experience that is too rewarding to not take part in.

3. Write, Write and Write

I bring a Moleskine book journal with me to classrooms when I have finished a longer read aloud. We write a review on the document camera as a class for that book. Then I hand out a classroom book journal. Students can write their own reviews in the journal and then share them with me in my office. After they are done reading their book reviews, I give them a pencil that states, “I Read to the Principal”. I also keep a personal journal and I blog.

4. Ask Teachers What They Are Reading

According to Todd Whitaker in Leading School Change, your first impression as a principal will set the tone for the rest of the year. For me, I started my first staff meeting in August by having teachers write down all the books they recently read in a book log. No magazines, newspapers or blogs. Just books. I then shared my list of books with them that I had read over the summer. The objective was to make clear that if we expect our students to be regular readers, we better be too.

5. Encourage Social Networking and Blogging with Staff

Social networks such as Twitter are excellent ways to network with other educators. They are great motivators for people to write. Brevity is a requirement when posting online, so the skill of summarizing is regularly practiced. Those online also have a URL in their profile that connects followers to their reflections about their experiences. This usually takes the form of a blog. Blogging is one of the best ways for principals to reflect on their current practices and make improvements. Writing truly has a purpose in this forum because there is an authentic audience. By writing online, it is very easy for the principal to encourage teachers and even students to blog, because they are practicing what they preach.

6. Display Books in Your Office

My read alouds are shelved in my office with front covers facing out. Anyone coming into my office can see them and how I value reading. When a student does come down to take a break from the classroom, I now have age-appropriate reading materials for them to peruse at the ready. Students may be removed from class, but they will always be expected to read and learn.

7. Spend Money on Books for Classrooms

Studies point out the positive correlation between the amount of text in a home and how students score on achievement tests. Classrooms should be no different. If the guided reading books that come with the district-prescribed literacy program aren’t engaging students, ditch them in favor of high-quality and high-interest literature. Also a good investment are mentor texts, stories read aloud by teachers to students that are a good model for a specific reading or writing skill. These lessons lead into shared and guided writing lessons that are relevant and authentic. This year alone, we spent over $2000 on mentor texts.

8. Use Data Only to Inform Instruction

As the saying goes, “You don’t fatten the cattle by weighing it”. The same holds true when analyzing student assessment data. This information should only be a springboard for collaborative discussions, namely about best practices for students’ needs. Taking a look at literacy standards gives teachers a common goal of what is expected of students. With knowing current reality and having an end in mind, teachers can get down to the business of planning instruction and assessment.

9. Provide Quality Professional Development for Staff

Teachers, as with other professionals, need constant professional development to keep their skills and knowledge current. In my school, we bring in a reading consultant to work with our staff on certain areas of need. Our most recent session was on word work. It is helpful for me because I don’t have the background and expertise in this area. If I attempted to lead these PD sessions it just wouldn’t hold as much weight as when she presents.

10. Read Aloud to Students

I know I mentioned this already. I am saying it again. It’s that important.

Matt Renwick


This is my twelfth year in public education.  I started as a 5th and 6th grade teacher in a country school outside of Wisconsin Rapids, WI.  After seven years of teaching, I served as a dean of students at a junior high, which developed into an assistant principalship along with my athletic director duties.  Now in my first year as an elementary principal, I am excited about getting back into the curriculum, instruction and assessment side of education.