Too often, I read about schools that base all that they do on state-created modules and think Test! Test! Test! all year. I’m thankful I don’t work in a building like that, but too many educators do. They do not have the freedom to choose what they teach and how to present it to students. When freedom is taken away from teachers, they can get frustrated and even burn out, eventually leaving the profession altogether. If only we could stop this from happening. But wait! Maybe we can! What would a school look like if every educator had the freedom to do what is best for their students?! Here is what I imagine at my dream school:
1. A focus on literacy would be the “theme” each year. I know it sounds like I am contradicting myself by saying the theme would be provided for teachers, but study after study proves that literacy is the foundation that ALL children need to be successful in school, and later in life. (If you would like some of the hundreds of articles and books that support independent reading, click here to view an amazing list that the Book Whisperer herself, Donalyn Miller, put together.) Administrators could work with the reading “experts” in the school to constantly remind their staff members about this all-important theme.
2. All teachers would promote books. Is this possible? I think so. Staff development would be provided–again by the “experts”–on how to talk about books and promote them in a variety of ways. Some teachers and administrators may start small with just putting up an “I am currently reading…” sign, and others may feel more comfortable to keep track of all the books they are reading for the school year, or present book talks to their classes. Principals would share their favorite books on the morning announcements. The possibilities are endless!
3. Students would read EVERY DAY. Schools could go about this in many different ways. A set period of time could be worked into the school day, certain subjects could devote time to it, or maybe 1st period is just 20-30 minutes longer and students read there. No matter where this time is provided, it needs to be consistent and non-negotiable. We’ve all seen the sign below about why we cannot skip reading, so at my dream school, we would make sure kids didn’t skip it!
4. Students would have the freedom to read what interests them. If we want our students to be successful in the classroom, and just in life, we need to get them to not only read, but become lifelong readers. It all starts with falling in love with reading, and that won’t happen unless we let them read books that interest them. It’s that simple.
5. All classrooms would have libraries. Sure, this might be tough on the budget for one year, but it would be worth it! If schools can’t find the money, administrators could give teachers time to create their own DonorsChoose projects. (I just got my tenth one funded, so they are not hard to create.) Some libraries would, of course, be bigger than others, but all classrooms would have some books. This way, students would see books wherever they went, and not just in the school library or an English classroom.
6. Teachers and other staff members would share what they read. If we want to get our students reading, we need to set a good example. Teachers need to read too, for how else would we be able to recommend books? Administrators could get teachers started with book clubs that meet once a month, each time about a different book. Like students, once teachers start finding a bunch of books they enjoy, they will become readers themselves!
7. Students would have the freedom to just read. This means no reading logs, Accelerated Reader tests, book reports, or essay assignments attached to reading. Students would take as long as they needed to finish a book, which means they wouldn’t be under the pressure of a deadline. All students read at different rates, so deadlines don’t work. When they finished, students would share what they thought through a one-on-one conference with a teacher, in small groups with other students, or even with the whole class. All this sharing just strengthens the school reading community.
8. Students would see books, and recommendations, everywhere! Bulletin boards and displays are everywhere in schools, and in my school they would promote books. Lockers in middle and high schools could be painted like book bindings. In my classroom, 8-10 students spent last summer painting a book binding mural of some favorite titles. I’m sure art teachers would love to get on board with something like that! The library media specialist at my school tapes up book recommendations all over the place (above drinking fountains, on doors, in the stairwells, etc.). There are countless ways to promote books.
I’m sure I could go on and on, but it all starts with dedication on the part of the staff at the school. If everyone is willing to try, students would surely reap the rewards. I’ve seen the power of reading in my own classroom, and let me tell you it’s magical!