Author: Evan Robb

The Principal: Improve Reading Scores


Looking for a silver bullet or magic? Stop reading right now, I cannot give you these. There are no silver bullets or magic ways to improve reading scores or any test scores for that matter.   School leaders, teachers, and communities often draw incorrect conclusions about the quality of a school, teachers, principals, all the way to a superintendent based on scores from one day of testing. So, let’s learn some ways to improve reading and also scores.


First, I ask you to embrace and accept a simple assumption: if you practice, most things you do will get better.  If you practice with purpose based on proven research strategies, improvement is even more likely to happen. For students to improve reading, they need to read and read with purpose.


Here are some tips and cautions to guide a program for reading success!


Rule #1: Read Aloud: Do this every day for five to ten minutes, depending on the length of reading classes. This is an opportunity to model reading, ask probing questions, and integrate strategies which have been taught.


Reminder:  Reading a favorite book for most or all of a class period no matter how animated the instructor is will not make students better readers.


Rule #2: Instructional Reading: This is purposeful reading instruction to increase the application of strategies and skills to a text needed to be a better reader.  State standards are often a good guide for specific strategies and skills along with an abundance of research on the skills needed to be better readers.  The key is students need to read with purpose at their instructional level. Assessing students to know their lexile levels and using this information to create genre focused instructional reading units that meet the needs of students is critical for students to become better readers.


Reminder: One book for all rarely works; all students do not read on the same level.   Instructional reading must be driven by the instructional needs of each student.  If a teacher reads to students during this part of the lesson, students will not become better readers. They are not reading.  Embarrassing games that have students read aloud like popcorn reading serve no purpose to improve reading for all. They are time fillers, nothing more!


Rule #3: Independent Reading:  Is your school making a concerted effort to promote independent reading?  This can range from allocating funds for books to school wide promotion and celebration of independent reading.  Create a culture where all the students in your school are always carrying an independent reading book!. By encouraging them to read accessible books on topics they love and want to know more about, you develop their motivation to read! Students should complete thirty minutes of independent reading a night, and that should be their main homework assignment. Try to set aside two days a week for students to complete independent reading at school. Reading in a classroom is valuable!


Reminder:  If staff get hung up on how to hold students accountable for reading or how to punish students who do not read, your efforts will fail.  Find different, creative, and motivating ways to increase reading. You can have students present a brief, monthly book talk and enter completed books on a reading log. Twice a semester, students can choose a book from their log and share it with their group.


I am asking for a commitment to reading.  Yes, actual reading VS reading programs where students read passages and answer questions or face texts far above their instructional reading levels. Commit to research based reading instruction and students will become better readers. If all students read at least three self-selected books a month in addition to instructional reading texts for the course of each year, test scores will improve.


As professionals I am calling us to take back what we know makes sense and what research has proven to work. In other words, bury worksheets and have students read the finest books. Reading teachers must become experts on reading instruction, assessment, strategies and the skills needed to teach students to become better readers. Let go of practices that do not work.  If not we will continue to be palsied by slick programs from companies who have very different bottom lines than educators have.

For great information on a favorite topic of ours, Read Talk Write by Laura!

Check out my book published by Scholastic! The Principal’s Leadership Sourcebook!

Leadership: Show Your Passion For Independent Reading

My personal and professional reading life have sustained my desire to continually learn and to read for pleasure. I value the fact that I can choose what to read, reread passages that speak to me, and talk about books and articles to friends and colleagues. One of my primary goals as a middle school principal is to support the culture of independent reading that is part of my school. This means helping teachers feel comfortable setting aside time for independent reading at school. It also means that I model how much I value reading by enlarging classroom libraries, and making our school library an inviting place with comfortable spaces for students to read. I encourage teachers to share books they’ve loved with students, and I share with teachers books I am presently enjoying. For independent reading to flourish in a school, the entire community needs to rally around it.

Research supports the benefit of Independent reading. The pleasure students experience is obvious when I visit a class and observe independent reading. However, I often wonder if schools are embracing independent reading and making it an integral part of their school’s culture. Through reading, students also enlarge background knowledge and vocabulary. But more important is that students derive pleasure from their reading–pleasure in entering and living life in different worlds and cultures as well as stepping into a character’s life and pretending to be that character.

I believe in research, but I also believe in good, old fashioned common sense. To develop skill and expertise at anything in life, you need to practice. Any sport from golf to basketball, requires purposeful practice, and purposeful practice improves performance. If students want to become better readers, it makes sense for purposeful practice to be part of the improvement equation. A combination of independent reading and well-planned, differentiated instructional reading can improve reading skill. Being an excellent reader and writer are necessary for college and career readiness. In addition, it’s also important to remember that students reading below grade level need to read more than their peers who are proficient and advanced readers.

When students self-select books for independent reading, they have opportunities to “practice” the strategies and skills they’ve rehearsed during instructional reading and apply them to materials on their own. Self-selecting books gives students control of what they read which in turn develops self-confidence, literary taste, and a desire to repeat the enjoyable experience.

I am a champion of independent reading. Are you? Readers of my posts know I believe the principal sets the tone through clearly communicated expectations and words of inspiration. I am sharing five ways a principal can encourage and promote independent reading for all, staff included!

If you are new to a school, do a spot check. Are all staff encouraging independent reading? Is it being communicated to students? Are students reading independently in school?

Communicate the value of reading independently. I have known staff who feel they might get in trouble with administration if students are reading independently.

Invest in classroom libraries and your school library. Where we put our money communicates what we value. If we value books and reading, money from the school budget needs to be spent on enlarging classroom libraries and adding books to schools’ central libraries.

Independent reading is practice and should be enjoyable! I have known staff new to my school who shy away from promoting independent reading because they don’t know how to “hold kids accountable.” In my years as a teacher and principal, I have never met anyone who wants to summarize what they read in a notebook or make a shoebox diorama after completing a book. If your staff are stuck in fixed mindsets of accountability for independent reading, work with them to find more positive solutions such vlogs, blogs, or book talks.

Model independent reading! Teachers who read in front of students send a powerful message to their students: as an adult I place such a high value on reading that I read aloud to you every day. Dennis Schug, Principal of Hampton Bays Middle School, notes at the bottom of his email signature what book he is reading. This sends a strong message about the joy reading brings and that’s it’s important to his life.


As a school leader, department chair, or classroom teacher, what you value, communicate, and prioritize is like a cold, catching. My challenge, and the challenge of every principal, is to make sure students experience independent reading of self-selected books at school and at home!

Laura and I can provide free P.D. for your school- learn more at Robb Communications

Check out more of my blogs! Scholastic

Leadership:Let’s Build Our Brand!

As a new school year begins, take time to reflect on how you can promote your school to parents, staff, and students.  Reserve time to build your school’s brand!

In this blog, I am posing some questions for educators to reflect on as you think about creating and promoting your school’s brand.  Branding is the art of aligning what you want people to think about your company or school with what people actually do think about your company or school. And vice-versa. Jay Baer Convince & Convert by Jay Baer with Amber Naslund who wrote The Now Revolution.


How we communicate and how our communication is interpreted is important as you work to define your school’s brand.  Certainly, we can all find inspiration from Eric Sheninger’s well-known quote, “ Either you tell your school story or someone else will.”

How you tell your story requires you to be  intentional. Communication will happen no matter what, but without some thought and planning, it might not be the communication you want nor the type of brand you want to define your school. So, how is your school telling its story?  What do the current communication methods say about your school? How are you controlling the narrative to form and communicate your school’s brand?

Reflect on my top 7 questions and thoughts, then decide which ones you and your team do well and where you can improve.  Pick three or four new focus areas to be part of your communication and branding plan for the new school year.

  1. When a person comes to the front door of your school does signage say visitors please report to the main office or does it say visitors must report to the main office?  This may seem small but words send messages and inform people about a school.
  2. Does your front office staff give a great impression to all who enter the office?  How they communicate tells people a lot about the principal. Do office staff have training on customer service? First impressions always count. Ensure that every person who enters your main office experiences a welcome that generates positive feelings.
  3. Is there an updated calendar on your school website?  Who updates the calendar and how often?  Updated and communicated school information sends a message that you care about informing and communicating all the events and activities that are part of your school. If done well, what does this say about your school?  If done poorly, what might people conclude?
  4. If your school is using Google, are staff using Google Sites or Google Classroom?  If yes, have you communicated standards for updating and formatting?  Or are some staff using this great way to communicate while others are not?  If so, what does scattered communication say about your school and you as a leader?
  5. Does your school have a schedule for parent newsletters?  Do grade levels or teams send parent communications home on a set schedule? Consistent and coordinated communication should always be the goal. What message is sent when schedules are not followed or one group in a school communicates much more than another group?
  6. Consider a school-wide positive communication effort to connect with families.  I have no doubt that all schools have some staff who make positive calls to parents. However,  imagine the impact on parents  if all staff commit to making at least two positive calls during the year for each student they teach.
  7. Is your school using social media to effectively connect with families and tell the story of your school?  Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are all free and can communicate messages the school needs to send.  Do you have a plan for who manages social media in your school along with defined expectations including a minimum number of communications per day?  Social media communicates what you value.  If a school only Tweets out athletic information, what does this communicate about what they value? Balanced communication to celebrate all the great happenings in your school sends a powerful message!

I started my list with an easy change; the others are more challenging.  Communication is like a garden; it needs sunshine, water, and sometimes some weeding.  I suggest choosing no more than four focus areas for the year ahead.  It can be tempting to choose more.  Avoid doing too much as this can derail successful change.  


Finally, I encourage a purposeful plan to communicate in a coordinated manner.  A well-coordinated plan will advertise your school’s story and brand with a core message: “communication matters to us!”

Check out our podcasts! 

Leadership- Linus and Letting Go

Years ago I had a staff member who liked to proclaim to me how late he stayed up each night to grade student journals.  I responded by saying it did not sound productive, and I would find a new way to manage journals.  Now my response was not what he expected, but it did make him wonder whether his use of time was productive or beneficial. Reflection resulted in the teacher considering letting go of something he had held onto for a long time.

Sometimes in education, we do things for no real reason other than we have always done it that way.  Sometimes our thinking alone holds us back. Just like Linus in the Peanuts cartoon, we cling to a blanket. Our freedom to let go of any Linus blankets we hold is critical for us to prepare students for their future and find greatness. It can be hard to let go of something you love or to change how you think.  Letting go of something holding us back is almost always a good decision.

As we think about a new year it is important to remember that out plates are only so large, sometimes we need to let go of things, other times we need to change our thinking.

I am sharing ten reflective questions for you to consider.  For each, add the words, “what if” as you read through.

  1. I reflect on several practices in my school or classroom that may no longer serve a purpose?
  2. I look at my room, change the design, and make it a more interesting space for students/
  3. The way I grade was based on best practice and research?
  4. Every day I make a choice to be positive and encouraging?
  5. I try technology that I have not used before in my building or class?
  6. I start using Twitter to connect to a professional learning network?
  7. Each day I model a growth mindset to my colleagues and students?
  8. When an opportunity comes to join in, I say, “Yes”?
  9. When I encounter negative people I tell them to stop?
  10. I commit to being the educator I always thought I could be?

One of many amazing aspects of education is each year we all have a new start.  This year make a priority to foster growth in students, and expect the same for yourself!

Enjoy our podcast on independent reading!