The Power of Read Alouds
Reading to every classroom is by far one of my favorite things I do as principal. It is a fantastic opportunity to build personal relationships, set the tone for expectations, and prioritize literacy as a leader. Reading tons of books to students is one of the most important things we can do to provide equity and experiences. The poverty achievement gap begins with students who are not read to at home before they attend school in kindergarten. We must close this gap by reading as many books as possible to them which will increase vocabulary and provide experiences through literature that they may not have had otherwise.
Before my regular read alouds, I had read to classes many times, but not consistently or purposefully. Inspired and challenged by my principal peeps out there, I started reading once a month to every class in the school. It was challenging to schedule, but the impact was even more than I would have thought possible.
A common complaint about principals is that they don’t remember what it’s like to be a teacher – the hardships, the lack of support, the overwhelming nature of the job, etc. While I think in many cases that may be true and not true, getting into the classroom and working with students is a great reminder of the daily life of a teacher and student. Promoting reading and directly teaching our students is a great use of my principal time!
Now I read to individual classes mostly, but at times I read to the grade level as a whole. I began connecting the books to specific issues I want the students to grow in or reflect on. I added an activity to each book that I read to further press my message to the students and work on my classroom management skills. Big shout-out to California Principal Jessica Gomez @jgomezprincipal for sharing her system for planning her read alouds! That really helped me view this differently.
Sometimes I dressed up or had the students act out the book to make it more interactive. My list of books read is growing all the time. Before you totally adopt my list or any other’s list, don’t put too much pressure on yourself to read the perfect book. Find books that are award-winning or known books that are quality. Find books that interest you. Find books that tell a story or give a specific message that you would like to teach the students.
Tips for Principal Read Alouds
Principals need to be engaging with students in their classrooms for them to be an effective leader. It is imperative that we get a feeling of what the teachers’ and students’ lives are like in school on a regular basis. Random walkthroughs and class visits don’t always give this immersed feeling because they are quick and the administrator tends to be a bystander to the activity instead of actively engaged. Principal (or any administrator) read alouds provide an intentional and meaningful experience to the principal and the students. My buddy and award-winning elementary principal J. Kapuchuck, @principalkap, helped me reflect and brainstorm a few thoughts on the impact these read alouds have had on our leadership in our schools.
Let Students And Teachers See You Focused On Reading
The days of viewing the Principal as “The Big Bad Wolf’ are fading away slowly. Today’s principals, like our teachers, are evolving with the changes in education to meet the needs of all of our kids. Principal read alouds give us the opportunity to interact with the students in a positive way and show how we value reading. As principals we all know that one of the most effective ways to cultivate a love of reading is to read to your students, no matter what the age of the student. During many of our read alouds, we take a selfie with the group and tweet this out to the author of the book we are reading. Andy has had a handful of authors tweet him back, which the kids (and staff) find fascinating to have that direct connection. J dresses up in character for his book talks so students are fully immersed in the experience! Both give students a specific message with the readings, typically aligned with the author’s purpose, and emphasize main idea and details. Giving students a goal for listening helps to engage them into not just the story, but also the meaning behind the writing.
Build Personal Relationships With Every Child
We all know one of the most important keys to building a positive culture within a school is relationships, relationships, relationships. These monthly read alouds allow students to interact with us as principals. Often students tell personal stories that are connected to the read aloud which often leads into great discussion. It is in these times that students and principals often strengthen their relationships which can lead into many future conversations. If you listen closely, you can learn a lot about academic and attention levels of the individual students. This gives you insight into the potential needs in the classrooms or difficulties with learning content.
Take Your Time With Students Intentional
One of the best parts of our read alouds is that they are scheduled in advance. J schedules them directly with his teachers. Andy uses his secretary to schedule these with a shared calendar online. As much as principals talk about getting into every classroom and spending quality time with students, the reality is that this doesn’t always happen. The principal’s life can be chaotic with many competing interests for your time. These read alouds have to be scheduled so you can hold yourself accountable to go into rooms regularly. In fact, now that we have been doing these every month, getting into each classroom for a good chunk of time, we realize how difficult it is to squeeze this time into our schedule! That means that we were probably not getting into as many rooms as we thought! Now that you are in the rooms, don’t rush to leave. Enjoy the special moment that you set aside to build those relationships!
See Your School Through Your Teachers’ Eyes
One of the biggest complaints teachers usually have of principals is that they are out of touch, they don’t understand what teachers’ lives are like in the classroom, and don’t remember the struggles that teachers go through on a daily basis. If you are trying to be a #PrincipalsInAction, then you know that getting out of your office is a must if you want to make a difference and build relationships. Read alouds give you this moment in time where you have the students all to yourself and how they perform is on you. Don’t just talk the talk, but make sure you walk the walk and do it in front of your teachers. In fact, consider letting your teachers have a break and have the kids all to yourself! Andy and J both let their teachers leave for breaks or get other work done, but many times the teachers stay and enjoy the book with the students! This is a great time to show classroom management strategies and how the pitch, intonation, and enthusiasm of your voice can engage students. A couple of months, Andy had all of the grade level in at the same time due to the crazy schedule during the holidays. Having 130 kindergartners by yourself for 15-20 minutes really helps you be more patient with teachers when they are having a rough day!
Put On Your Game Face
Teachers have it tough. They have to manage upwards of 20-30 students all day long no matter what is going on in their personal life, even if they are sick or stressed at home. It’s easy for principals to just tell teachers to deal with it, but try it out for yourself and see how you act! It’s not so easy some days to put on your game face and leave the baggage behind. Read alouds, as simple as they are, are a great reminder and it let’s you model this for your staff, that no matter what is happening in the building with other situations, you can flip the switch into rockstar mode and be happy and enthusiastic with the students.
Build Excitement Through Book Talks
A great way to let students preview your upcoming read aloud is through a short “book talk,” or commercial, that hooks them into the book and helps them look forward to your visit. This are fun. Again, they show your love of reading. They also let your personality shine so they can get to know you better. Check out Andy’s book talks on his YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWruwNX1fHyPy2i5_bKixXw?view_as=subscriber Here is a recent book talk from J on Twitter: https://twitter.com/PrincipalKap/status/953097274929885186
- Put read alouds on your calendar or they are likely to not happen.
- Enjoy the moment. Don’t rush through it in order to leave and get to your next task.
- Let your teachers leave and have a break.
- Practice your classroom management skills to see if you still have the goods.
- During every read aloud, make an effort to build a relationship with as many individual students as you can.
- If you want to promote your read aloud, try a #30secondbooktalk and post it online for us to see!
#30SecondBookTalks – Brad Gustafson inspired me to begin using short videos as commercials for the books I read to my students. He has a great video tutorial about bring the HEAT for your book talks. As I created more videos, I found this to be really fun and engaging for myself and my entire school. I think of these as opportunities to tell a short story or share something really unique from the book and having our kids and staff involved makes it that more special. Click here for pictures and the Twitter feed of my principal read alouds. All of the videos are on my YouTube channel and linked in the spreadsheets below.
Ideas & Examples
I created a spreadsheet to summarize and plan out my books for the school year. Click on them below to see a PDF of the full version with links to each of the #30SecondBookTalk videos we created.