Creating a School Culture That Values Independent Reading

By Evan Robb

Changing your staff’s attitudes toward educational practices takes time, but it’s something that you can accomplish through continual communication. Staying in touch with your teachers means attending all meetings, sending them short articles that build their educational knowledge base, providing positive feedback after walkthroughs, and meeting one-on-one with staff or in small groups to have meaningful conversations about best practice. The fifteen tips for creating change that followed enabled me to develop a school culture that made independent reading an important part of the middle school curriculum.

1. Share the research: Before asking teachers to weave independent reading into their teaching schedule, invite them to read and discuss articles on the power of independent reading of self-selected books. Without the practice that independent reading provides, students’ progress in reading and their ability to comprehend complex texts will be limited. Moreover, when students regularly read self-selected books at school, they develop a love of reading that lasts a lifetime!
2. Speak at faculty meetings and to individual teachers: Purchase, for teachers, the book whisperer by Donalyn Miller (Jossey-Bass, 2009) and invite them to organize book study groups. Extol the benefits of independent reading: students enlarge their vocabulary, build background knowledge, practice applying strategies teachers model, and find pleasure in reading about people and places from the past, present, and in the future.
3. Set aside funds for books: Each year offer teachers funds for building their classroom libraries because access to books can bring students into the reading life. Encourage the PTO to do one or two fundraisers for classroom libraries annually.
4. Encourage student self-selection of books: Explain to teachers that permitting students to choose their independent reading books means students invest in their reading.
5. Read aloud to students: Make appointments to read aloud each week to a different class.
6. Become a role model: Discuss a book you love at assembly or during a school wide broadcast.
7. Have students share books on the school’s morning broadcast: Invite teachers to choose students to share a great read with the entire school. Peer-to-peer advertising of terrific books is a topnotch way to interest other students in reading.
8. Drop into classes during independent reading: Catch students reading and loving it! Praise students and show them a book you’re reading. If you have time, join the class and read for ten to fifteen minutes.
9. Designate a weekly independent reading time for entire school: This shows students and teachers how serious you are about reading self-selected books.
10. Encourage teachers to read while students read: Explain that when teachers model that they have and enjoy a personal reading life, they inspire their students to emulate them.
11. Invite teachers to share successes: They can do this during full faculty meetings and at department or team meetings.
12. Track reading scores: Do this to show that when students have a rich, independent reading life, their scores in vocabulary and comprehension start to reflect what they do. Share progress with teachers so they feel the changes and adjustments they’ve made are supporting students’ progress.
13. Feature a student’s recommendation for independent reading in school’s newsletter: This lets parents know how much you, teachers, and students value independent reading.
14. Commend teachers and students in writing: Don’t overdo written notes, but when you see independent reading flourishing in a class, write a note to the teacher and his or her students. Noticing positive reading practices inspires teachers and students to read even more.
15. Inform parents: On back to school night let parents know the benefits of independent reading so they can foster it at home.
Evan Robb, Principal Johnson Williams Middle School and author of:
The Principal’s Leadership Sourcebook, Scholastic, 2007.
Follow Evan Robb on Twitter: @ERobbPrincipal
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