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The Principal as Lead Reader

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A love of reading is contagious. Some have found delight in reading fiction, taking a voyage into a mystery or adventure, or gaining insight into life through fictional characters. Others add to that delight an interest in non-fiction including biographies from which one can step into another's life experience. If you are a reader, you know what we mean.  Reading a book is a beautiful thing.

Engender a Love of Reading. Don't Kill It.
Not everyone is what we have come to call a "reader." There are three types of teachers.  One group are "readers."  One group are not "readers." And the third group are "either readers or not, who accidently turn children off to reading." In a post on his Brilliant or Insane website, Mark Barnes outlined 6 ways educators kill the joy of reading.  His list includes:

  • Clinging to the classroom novel
  • The "Don't-read-ahead" directive
  • Telling kids what they can't read
  • Not reading in class daily
  • Assigning worksheets and book reports
  • Not celebrating the joy of reading

These mistakes can be made by teachers no matter whether "readers" or "non-readers." There may be teachers who have not found the joy of reading a personal experience and they cannot fake it. Encouraging children to love reading requires authentic expression.  Reading and writing literacy develop in part from the practice of reading and writing. The more one reads, the better a reader one becomes.

Principals Can Create a Culture of Readers
Most of what is written about reading is focused on children, their parents and their teachers. We contend that principals can have an impact by playing a role in the development of a culture of readers by leading reading forward. As "head reader" the principal must first ask him or herself:

  • Am I a "reader"? 
  • Am I always reading a book?
  • Do I pack and read a book when I travel?
  • Do I know if my teachers are "readers"?
  • If the teachers aren't  "readers" how will I invite them to become "readers"?

The invitation for adults to discover an appreciation of reading is not that different from those strategies used with children. Here are some steps that might help principals bring reading to be a more central value. Why?  Because the more the adults value and enjoy reading, the better chance there is that will be communicated to the students.   

If the principal is NOT a "reader" the first step is to partner with a colleague or teacher who can provide and share ongoing insight into the joy of reading. A good beginning is to carry a book or e-reader at all times, have one on your desk. Be seen reading. Share thoughts about what you are reading. Begin a reading club with the intention of including every teacher. These meetings should not be "work;"rather they should be a sharing with readers among the faculty and the principal all suggesting books. Welcome suggestions from every genre. These meetings can be synchronous, face-to-face or online, in environments like Go-to-Meeting, or Google Hangout or asynchronous in a Google Doc or Wikispaces. If face-to-face, bringing food is always good. Some might be more easily reached through the reading of something that will help them in their work with their students. Others might find reading a novel a welcome diversion. The purpose is to invite teachers into becoming better at developing a love of reading in students by becoming better readers themselves. So try anything.   

Question Assumptions and Make a Difference
The principal as lead reader begins with questioning the assumption that all teachers are "readers." It includes reading and sharing the joy and the new information that results regularly. Encourage in-school reading for everyone. Read every day. Create comfortable reading spaces. Create a reading corner in the faculty room; have an organized book exchange. Encouraging a joyful reading practice is not the same thing as modeling it. As teachers work to teach students about reading and encourage them to read, the principal as lead reader can affect the teachers...and the students! It all boils down to this:  Be the change you wish to see. 

Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or by Email.

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The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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