December 06


Top 10 Ways to Be a Literacy Leader by Liz Garden

Whether you are a teacher leader or you are a leader of a school, you have the ability to lead with reading.  All of our students need us to be literacy leaders. We want our students to become readers. We want them to fall in love with reading.  We want them to get excited about what books and reading can do for them. All of those wants can become realities when we are all working towards becoming literacy leaders.  Here are some simple ways to spread the literacy love in your school!


  1. Read.  This may seem like common sense, but in my discussions with different schools and different educators, I hear about adults who are not actively reading.  How can we expect our students to read if we are not reading ourselves? As the principal, carry around the book you’re reading. In the classroom, let kids see you reading.  Your reading should not just be professional development books. Kids should see you choosing genres that you like to read. It makes me think of those beloved circular tales like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.  If you let kids see you reading, then they will ask you about your reading.  And if they ask you about your reading, then they will probably recommend books for you to read.  And if they are recommending books to you, well I bet you can imagine how the literacy love will keep spreading!


  • Trade in your furniture and do some remodeling.  Whether you are a principal or a teacher, chances are you have a desk in your office or classroom.  I challenge you to think about if you really need that desk. Many years ago, I decided I did not need a desk in my office.  You know what I do need? Bookcases and bins. Getting rid of a desk that took up so much space and limited the connections I could make with kids and adults was an easy decision to make.  If you are going to be a literacy leader, then your environment should represent what you value. Shelves full of books and bins filled with books and more space to read and talk about books sends a message loud and clear about what matters most to you.  The best compliment ever came from a 1st grader recently who was describing my office to another student; she said, “You remember her office, it’s the really awesome book room we visited!”




  • Provide choice.  This seems easy enough, but it’s a step that we always need to be thinking about.  Too often as educators we get drawn into prescribed or scripted teaching. We also don’t always want to let go of the reigns; we tend to feel like we need to tell kids what to do, we need to assign a specific book or a specific genre, we need everyone to be reading the same book.  In the words of everyone’s favorite Frozen character, we need to “let it go!” Kids need to be able to choose what they want to read. Being a literacy leader means being brave enough to recognize when choice is missing from your classroom or your school.  




  • Provide access.  It’s great if we are giving kids the choice of what they want to read, but then we also need to make sure that they have books readily accessible.  As literacy leaders, we need to make sure that every space in the school provides kids access to books they want to read. Office libraries and classroom libraries are not the only places where books can be found.  As literacy leaders, we need to be finding places throughout the school where kids can easily access books. Maybe it means creating some mini free library spots in areas of the building. Maybe it means making sure your school nurse has a basket of books available in her office.  Maybe it means making books available in the cafeteria.  




  • Make time for independent reading every day. Kids deserve to have independent reading in their schedule every single day.  If you are going to be a literacy leader, then you need to make sure that this time in your schedule is sacred.  As Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward, two amazing literacy leaders, said in the beginning of their book From Striving to Thriving, “…four decades of research have established that voluminous, pleasurable reading is key to literacy development.”  Students need to practice reading and build their reading stamina, and the way we make that happen is through daily independent reading time.




  • Book talk every day. Imagine if you did one book talk a day throughout the whole school year.  That’s a lot of exposure to books! Taking two to three minutes to book talk a book is a quick and easy way to have a lasting impact on a child’s interest and engagement in reading.  Once booktalking becomes the norm, you will see students book talking with their friends.  




  • Do read alouds on a daily basis.  No matter what age your students are, you should be reading aloud to them every day.  Through read alouds, you are exposing students to amazing books, enriching their vocabulary, strengthening their comprehension, and helping them hear how the book should sound in their head when they read it.  If you are the principal, be sure to make an effort to get into classrooms on a regular basis to read to the students. After all, as Ernest Morrell said, “More than all the academic benefits, the most important thing about reading aloud to a child is giving them the gift of the joy of reading,”  As literacy leaders, we can be the gift givers and the joy makers!




  • Bring reading into the homes of your families. Being a literacy leader means that you need to be spreading the literacy love beyond the walls of your school.  You need to connect with families around books and reading at home. Social media can help with this. Kids love to see their teachers and principals in video clips.  Make a recording of you doing some book talks and then send it to your families or post it on your school’s social media sites. You could also challenge families to make their own recordings of them talking about favorite bedtime stories and have them post on social media.  Another fun family challenge is to have parents catch kids reading in different places and share those pictures with the school. Also, don’t forget about encouraging your parents to be reading role models. Why not offer a book club for parents through the school?




  • Socialize around reading.  If you want kids to be excited about reading and books, then as a literacy leader, you need to show your enthusiasm for reading and books!  That could mean dressing up like a book character or hosting book clubs during lunch or before school. It could also mean hosting events like a Book Prom or Book Tasting.  The possibilities are endless! I may have once climbed into a display case during arrival to reveal the winner of the March Madness Book Bracket. We want kids to associate fun and energy with reading so we need to model that and make reading and talking about books a social experience.




  • Share your reading goals.  We want students to be setting reading goals so we as literacy leaders need to set our own reading goals.  And we need to share those goals with our students. Do you always gravitate towards memoir, but want to branch out to other genres?  Set a goal of trying different genres. Do you want to challenge yourself to read a certain number of books? Set a goal and keep track of your progress on Goodreads.  Have honest discussions with students about the goals you are setting, how you are doing, and what changes you might make to your reading goals. When literacy leaders model goal setting, then adults and kids are able to share in the experience of continual growth as readers.  



Our children are our future.  They need all of us to be literacy leaders. As Pam Allyn said, “Words change worlds.”  As a literacy leader, you are doing so much more than teaching children to read, you are helping change the future for the better.  What are you waiting for? Go lead with reading!


Liz Garden is the principal of the Dr. Leroy E Mayo Elementary School in Holden, MA.  She has been an administrator for twelve years and taught at various levels for eleven years.  She blogs regularly for her staff at  Liz has presented about her love of reading at the MA Reading Association Conference, Literacy for All Conference, and the NAESP Conference.  She serves on the Scholastic Principal Advisory Board. 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 wild child, Emerson!  You can connect with Liz on Twitter @PrincipalGarden and on Voxer @PrincipalGarden.