A Principal’s Bookshelf by Sue Haney
A challenge I believe we all face as educators is how to get our students excited about reading. How do we instill that love for reading and getting lost in a book that we know can make all the difference in the lives of our students? As an elementary school principal, I feel there is little I do that is more important than to help create an environment rich in books and reading and rich in excitement and conversation about books and reading.
For me, this has come in phases. I thought one of the best things I did was to talk to kids about the importance of reading and pop in the library when they were in there to help pick out a book or to look at one of the books with them. Then, I developed a bookshelf with young adult and children’s books in my office. I found so many opportunities to talk to kids about books when they were in my office. I would take these books into classrooms to read to the kids. I started taking those books into assemblies and sharing them with kids. I thought that was the best thing I could do to encourage reading, but these books were “my books” that stayed on my shelf and in my hands.
I have an assembly every week with my students. On Wednesday mornings, we have a Collaborative Teacher Meeting with our teachers and intervention staff. One week it is grades K – 2 and the next week it is grades 3 – 5. While teachers are meeting, I have the students with me in the gym for an assembly. For us, this works best at the beginning of the school day. I have found that this is one of my favorite times of the week. I love this time with my kids. We do many things during this time. We celebrate students and their accomplishments, I share a video about a leadership or character trait, and recently we have begun watching book trailers. I always read a book to the students during our assembly. Students began borrowing the books from my shelf, and the books I had shared with them became the most popular books students were borrowing from my bookshelf. I thought this was the best thing I could do to encourage reading. I was watching my bookshelf become alive as books were taken off and put back by students.
I found that as students returned books or came in to borrow a book, they often wanted to discuss the book. I could wing it based on what I had heard about the book or read about the book. Then I started reading the books my kids are reading. Oh my goodness, now I know the best thing I can do to encourage reading with my kids. The discussions that I am having with my kids in the hallway, the office, the cafeteria, standing in front of my bookshelf have been amazing. Reading and discussing these books with my kids has to be the best single thing I can do to encourage reading.
Ultimately, we have to get books in the hands of kids. We have to discuss books, authors and characters with kids. Our kids need to see us as readers and lovers of stories and books. We can’t “wing it”. This is far too important. I am reminded why I do what I do each week when I take a stack of books into an assembly to share with students. The hands fly up as I show each book. Or when I walk into my office to find a post it note from a student asking if they can borrow a certain book when I get it back. Students have started requesting that I get certain books as they discover what they love to read. There is an excitement about reading, and I am so happy to be a part of that in our school.
Sue Haney has been an educator for 22 years including teacher, coach, counselor, curriculum director and principal. For the last 9 years she has been the principal at Parma Elementary School.