Still Sharing the Book Love by Joanne Kelleher
Why would anyone ever want to trade in teaching for administration, you might ask, especially if you love being in the classroom, as I did. When I made the change, I optimistically envisioned myself as a champion for reading throughout the building.
However, I quickly learned that promoting literacy and spreading a love of reading are not the same thing; while the former is “demanded” by the Key Shifts in the Common Core Standards for ELA, the latter was only happening in between the trouble-shooting and administrivia, the meetings and the discipline, and sometimes, not at all.
I have always noted that we schedule time to promote and celebrate many of the students’ avocations, events where everyone comes out to cheer the performances and achievements of the musicians, athletes, scientists, scholars, spellers, and so on. As a teacher, I used to imagine hosting an event where readers had a similar opportunity to show the world, “This is who I am! I’m a reader!” and also to issue the invitation, “Come join me!”
In my previous school, the superintendent had introduced a Community Read, where everyone in the school community was invited to read the same book, then come together for an evening celebration of their shared reading experience. This was just the kind of event I was looking for! A Community Read would make our reading public, and draw others into the kinship created around a book that we all had in common. For me, the joy of reading a good book is enhanced exponentially if I can discuss it with someone – we could create a community of “someones” with whom we could share our reading. We decided to bring a Community Read to our school.
In order for something to “catch on” in a school, you need a behind-the-scenes, on-the-ground team who believe in the idea – we needed a Community Read Committee. The first year that I was looking for a committee, I had not yet found my “tribe” – the fellow readers who shared the mission of growing readers. But of course there are people in a school dedicated to spreading book love, and they all showed up to be part of the new project. The English Language Arts teachers stepped up right away, as did teachers from other disciplines. Eight years in, the committee is a well-oiled machine, and the veterans, as well as the newcomers, all play a part in the success of the event.
Aside from the Community Read, we have hosted other literacy events as well. Book-to-movie adaptations always make for a great event, especially if it’s timed to coincide with the premiere of the movie. When we hosted a book talk for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, kids brought notebooks filled with HP trivia from the whole series. We also hosted a Hunger Games Trivia Contest attended by over 100 students and several teachers. It took three tie-breakers to determine a winning team. It’s clear that there are kids in our schools are just waiting for a chance to share their reading lives with someone!
This year, I started a #ReadthisBook campaign. As I walk around the school, I carry a book that I have read and that I think kids will like. I add a “Do you want to read this book?” post-it on the front of the book, and sometimes I might book talk the book at lunch tables in the cafeteria. So far, I have given out six books, including one to a teacher for his daughter’s book report. Once the students have finished the books, we’ll tweet the authors. (Thank you, @ALIbrarian and @Kpteach5, for this idea.)
Through these projects, and of course the work of many dedicated teachers, we are growing a reading community at our school. The readers are finding each other, and they are recruiting! It is joyful to watch the ripples:
Our Teachers Classroom Association starting donating money every year to buy books for the Community Read.
A teacher approached me in the hallway waving a copy Out of My Mind. “Have you read this? It took me awhile but I just finished. I was so mad when they left her in the airport! I couldn’t believe it! Ugh! Those kids!”
From a community member: I am reading a book that I think you will really like – The Thing about Jellyfish. I think it would be good for the kids here. I’ll lend it to you when I’m done.
At dismissal one day, I saw a boy holding Crossover, fanning the pages and excitedly explaining to his friend, “Y’see, it’s not really poetry. It’s basketball!” A few days later he told me that he finished the book and now his friend is reading it.
And finally –
One evening last year, Richie, one of the night custodians, caught up with me on my way out. “What’s the Community Read book this year?” he asked. I told him that it was Becoming Naomi León by Pam Muñoz Ryan. “Y’know, I don’t really read, but I read the gorilla book last year,” he said, referring to The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. “I really liked that book.”
Richie passed away unexpectedly a few months later after a day spent volunteering at his beloved local firehouse. I like to think that his life was enriched in some small way by a determined and loyal gorilla named Ivan.
This is who I am. I’m a reader. Come join me!
Joanne Kelleher (@JoanneKelle) is a former 6th grade English Language Arts teacher and is currently a middle school assistant principal in Kings Park, Long Island. She is continuously looking for ways to share the #booklove with her school community. She is an active member of the ALA (Great Web Sites committee); most recently, she was a member of the nerdcampli planning team. Between now and January, you can find her catching up on her Newbery reading.