A Principal’s Secret…But Promise You Won’t Tell the Kids… by Sheila Beckner
So here is my secret I have learned over time:
It’s not always about the kids.
Sometimes it’s about the adults.
And always…it’s about the books.
Who am I? I am an elementary principal. I am a reader. I am a reading role model – or at least that is what I try to be. Like all principals, I am driven to build a school culture that makes reading like breathing – it’s just what we do – it’s how we live.
I diligently read each Nerdy post. I have stacks of “waiting to be read” books at home and at school. I fill my office with beautifully arranged shelves and bins of books to share. As Donalyn taught us, each year I cover my office door with photo covers of books I read throughout the year. I constantly “talk” books with kids. I write morning messages to kids about books. I share what I am reading with kids. I ask kids what they are reading and what they think I should read. I added a free book library to our lobby. Right now I have a New Year’s Resolution with our kids to read twenty-three books between January and the end of the school year. One book recommended from each of the twenty-three classrooms in our school. After I read one of the books, I pop in to the classroom and we share our thoughts, wonderings and reactions to the book. In short, I simply do what all reading leaders do to try and inspire our kids to become voracious readers.
Honestly though, I have to admit that I’m not really that selfless – it’s not always about the kids. Yes, I read to connect with kids and be a reading role model. But, sometimes I read simply for me and my love of middle grade and YA books.
As our building wide reading culture has grown, I’ve also realized it’s about the amazing adults I work with who love the books too. I was reflecting on Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana and how that book created a shared reading experience for many adults in our school. Reading Upside Down I felt deeply and painfully, through the eyes of a ten year old Armani as she lived through Katrina. I was ashamed that I had never really thought of how some children lived through Katrina. I was as they say “forever changed.”
When I finished Upside Down I wasn’t quite ready to share it with anyone. I needed to live in it for a bit: the hopefulness amidst tragedy, the tenderness, the pain. Finally, I knew it had to find a new home. So Upside Down was on the move through numerous adults in our school. After each person read it we all had to share our reactions. We became connected readers with a shared experience.
And did our kids connect with it the way we adults did?
To be honest, I don’t know.
To be honest, I only talked to adults who read it.
To be honest, sometimes it’s not about the kids.
To be honest, sometimes it’s about the adults.
To be honest, sometimes it’s about the adults – the adults who inspire the kids.
And always, it’s about the books.
Just like Eleanor and Park, Counting by Sevens, Wonder, Rain Reign, The War that Saved My Life and numerous other titles, Upside Down cemented the idea that our school goal of inspiring voracious readers has built a passion for reading in our adults.
Just recently, our school nurse entered the school office fuming: “That book is awful… I stayed up too late reading. Then I had to get up early so I could read it before work.” Then she stormed into her office without another word. Our secretary and I didn’t utter a word, but we shared knowing glances. We both had read Upside Down. We loved the book. We knew the part she was reading – it was the roof scene. We knew the heartache she was feeling; we relived it with her. Our nurse finished that “awful book” and she too loved Upside Down. Next Upside Down went into our school social worker hands who quickly read it and passed it on to another adult in our school. I don’t know if Upside Down will ever make it back to a bin in my office, but even better if it doesn’t. That will just mean that it is continuing its journey into more minds and hearts.
As educators we know our charge: we work to inspire “wild readers.” But let’s be honest…it’s not always about the kids. Sometimes it’s about the adults and always it’s about the books. But promise you won’t tell the kids, ok?
Sheila Beckner is an elementary principal of an amazing school in Red Wing, Minnesota, filled with about 600 cool kids and a super charged staff that love to inspire kids. In her non- principal time she enjoys being with her husband, two boys and her not-to-be-forgotten dog Maui. She worries a lot about all the adults walking around in the world who have yet to discover the beauty of middle grade books – how empty their reading lives must be! You can find her on Twitter @principalreads.