Professional Development: Teacher Reading

By Alyson Beecher, program support specialist at Pasadena Unified School District in Pasadena, Calif.

Much of the focus of this column has been on developing a school reading community and encouraging children to engage in various reading activities. However, what does the reading life of a teacher look like? How can we as administrators encourage and support reading – especially professional reading – among our staff?

While attending a seminar or conference, have you ever bought a copy of a book for every one of your staff members? At the end of six years of being a principal, I literally had a shelf of these books. I am a bit ashamed to admit I treated many of those books with the same attitude that students have toward uninteresting required all-class novels – which is to say I barely gave them any attention unless I was required to read a part of the book for the next meeting.

Schedules for administrators and teachers fall prey to real-life demands such as urgent school site issues and the latest district mandates. Even well-intentioned staff book clubs can quickly devolve into support group meetings centered on ever-present classroom demands. Book? What book?

Here are some steps that administrators can take to help teachers achieve professional reading goals:

  • Conference with teachers – Meet individually or in grade-level teams to discuss interests and perceived needs for professional learning. Teachers, like students, are at various stages of learning and have different needs.
  • Recommend books based on individual and small-group conferencing – Just as with children, when we select a book or make a recommendation that meets a specific interest or need, the likelihood increases that the book will be read. After conferencing with teachers, develop a list of possible reading materials that address areas discussed.
  • Consider the length of a book when making a recommendation – Professional text tends to be dense with information and ideas. The longer and denser the book, the less apt teachers will use it for anything more than a doorstop. Begin with a shorter book or even a collection of articles.
  • Vary how you present information from articles and professional books – I often had to remind myself that my staff was my classroom. The same techniques that I could use to encourage students to read or present information could work for teachers. Have a grade-level team share about an article the members were assigned to read. Or during a meeting, have different groups each read different articles on the same topic, and share thoughts or post ideas on chart paper for everyone to see.
  • Do staff booktalks – Yes, we seem to be very good at booktalking a favorite novel to our students, but why do we seem to forget this when talking with adults? Scholastic Book Fairs® President Alan Boyko is one of the most well-read and passionate booktalkers I have had the privilege to meet. Whenever I hear him speak about a novel or a professional text, I immediately want to pick it up and read it.
  • Take advantage of audiobooks or DVDs – Some books are accompanied by a DVD to enhance or expand on the information, and they can be used to engage teachers with the material being presented. An example would be Choice Words by Peter H. Johnston, which is available in audiobook. Rather than reading the book in isolation, teachers can listen to Johnston read the book in a group setting and then discuss ideas being presented.
  • Model professional reading and the application of acquired knowledge – Some weeks I share a few articles, a title of a meaningful book I am reading, or links to interesting websites or web-based ideas with staff. Other weeks, I share much more. Sometimes, I share with all of the staff as a general “FYI,” and other times I send something to just one or two individuals. Encourage staff to also share the gems that they have discovered and provide them with the structure and opportunities to do this.
  • Make professional reading a priority – It is easy to let other issues crowd out our own learning. As the lead teacher and lead reader, principals must know how to help keep the focus – and to also know when to change focus.
  • Take time for fun reading as well – Though professional reading is important, don’t forget to share that special picture book or novel with staff. Reading for fun is just as important as professional development. And don’t forget to keep it enjoyable and meaningful.
Alyson Beecher has worked in early childhood, elementary, and special education at the site and district level, including six years as an elementary principal. Alyson is passionate about helping teachers and students understand the value of reading for learning as well as for pleasure. She serves on the Scholastic Book Fairs Principal Advisory Board and the Schneider Family Book Award jury. Alyson shares her insights on reading and favorite children’s titles on her blog, kidlitfrenzy.com.
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