Leading with Reading or How I Found a Career that Nurtured my Book Addiction by Liz Garden

I have discussed my book addiction with many different people.  The first step is admitting you have a problem, right?  I know I have a problem.  I just can’t say no to books.  I guess there are worse problems I could have.  I have multiple to be read piles, yet I just signed up for a book of the month club.  When I pack for a trip, the number of books might occasionally outnumber my articles of clothing.  I can look in every direction in both my home and my office, and I will see piles of books.  I have more bookshelves than any other piece of furniture in my house.  I have an intimate relationship with my Amazon cart that is always full of books just waiting for me to hit the submit button.  And while I don’t know the names of most of the streets near my neighborhood, I can tell you exactly how to get to at least six different bookstores that are within a 25 mile radius of my house.  Yes, I have a problem.  I am a readaholic.

 

Fortunately, I found the perfect job for a readaholic.  No, I don’t work at Barnes & Noble or a public library.  I am an elementary school principal.  I literally get paid to help create readers.  How cool is that?!  I get to talk about books with kids and adults all day long if I want.  I am able to have an office that looks like a library.  I can walk through the hallways with a book in my hand and pop into any class during independent reading time every day of the week.  If you walked into our school, it would not take long to see that we have created a school-wide culture of literacy.  You might say my reading addiction and our school-wide culture of literacy has evolved into a symbiotic relationship.  I feed off of the love of reading that surrounds me in our halls and classrooms and my love of reading fuels the love of literacy permeating our school.  Of course, it wasn’t always like that.

 

When I first came to my school six years ago, the principal’s office was full of filing cabinets and binders.  There were some classrooms that did not have a classroom library. (*Gasp, thinking back on those days still makes me shudder!)  The school library was full of adult-sized furniture and the entire collection was outdated.  There was no independent reading time.  Usually if you walked into a classroom during a reading block, students were doing worksheets and on average two kids who completed all of their work were actually able to have some time to read from their book bags.  Basically, it was a readaholic’s nightmare.

 

So I channeled my inner Donalyn Miller, rolled up my sleeves, and got to work transforming the culture of the building.  And as my bookaholic bestie, Donalyn Miller, would say, “Adults who read and share their love of reading with kids send a powerful message that reading matters for personal reasons, not just academic reasons.”  I knew that I needed to start sending that powerful message directly from my office.  Filing cabinets and binders were removed and replaced with bookshelves and book baskets.  I began writing a weekly blog post, often with a topic related to literacy, and one of the sections of my post was devoted to what I was currently reading.  We needed to buy more books for the school.  We needed to buy a ton of books.  Conveniently, we had a reading program that some teachers were using.  I collected all of the materials that came with the program.  All of the basal readers that drain anyone’s love of reading.  All of the teaching manuals that turn teachers into robots and kids into robot readers.  I collected it all and sold it.  And then I bought a ton of books.  (And six years later, I am still buying books!)  I reached out to our PTA to help us breath life back into our dusty, old school library.  The place where no kid wanted to go.  I put bookshelves in the staff room where people could borrow books for personal reading and bring in books to donate.  I scheduled time in every classroom where I was doing read alouds and telling every student how much I loved reading.  We planned events like ‘Dress Like Your Favorite Book Character’ day. We established a structure during literacy blocks where the expectation was that a bulk of the time would be devoted to independent reading time.  No more one or two students reading in a class.  Now, every student had his or her nose in a book during reader’s workshop.

 

 

Slowly, I began to see a shift.  Students were talking to me in the hall about book recommendations.  Staff were coming to me and asking to borrow books that I had mentioned in my weekly blog post.  Kids were rushing to the library to check out the newest books that had been purchased.  We were having staff book clubs to discuss different professional development books.  Teachers were putting signs on their doors that told everyone what books they were currently reading.  Every classroom had a classroom library.  What was once my vision of how the school should be had become a shared vision amongst all of the staff.  Books and a love reading could be found in every part of the school.  We had engaged and motivated readers, both kids and adults!

 

Yes, I have a problem.  I am a readaholic, and I am proud of that fact.  And lucky for me I have a job where I get paid to encourage others, both adults and children, to become readoholics.  I am glad that I chose the career path of leading with reading.  To all my fellow administrators and educators out there, do you have a school-wide culture of literacy in your building?  What can you do to shift the culture?  There are a lot of future readoholics out there waiting for you to fuel their addiction!

 

Liz Garden is the principal of the Florence Roche Elementary School in Groton, MA.  She has been an administrator for nine years and taught at various levels for eleven years.  She blogs regularly for her staff at www.floromondaymorningmusings.blogspot.com as well as for a group she helped form, www.momsasprincipals.wordpress.com.  Liz has presented about her love of reading at the MA Reading Association conference and the NAESP Conference.  When she is not molding future minds as an instructional leader, she is dealing with her reading addiction, keeping Amazon in business, listening to her musician husband sing, and chasing around her toddler, Emerson!  You can connect with Liz on Twitter @PrincipalGarden and on Voxer @PrincipalGarden.