Excitement Fuels Stamina

I have become increasingly interested in learning more about turning students into passionate readers. I've read quite a bit on the topic and am currently in the middle of Passionate Readers by Pernille Ripp and Readicide by Kelly Gallagher. 

(Truthfully, it's not about "turning" students into passionate readers, it's about "returning" them to being passionate readers. When students first learn to read, they are excited about reading. The challenge is sustaining that excitement throughout their school years and beyond.)

This morning, while listening to a podcast, one teacher said that "excitement fuels stamina." This got me thinking about how excitement also fuels sustained interest - especially genuine, authentic interest. In essence, excitement fuels the development of passionate readers. 

I believe the reflection which should come from this would be which of our current practices generates excitement about literature? How often do we allow students the opportunity to talk about what they read? How often do we talk to our students about what we're reading?

This is a deep, complex topic, but I hope the thoughts here help spur some reflection for you as it has for me.

Thanks for reading!

(This post was an email sent to staff on January 7, 2020.)

Doug Dunn is superintendent and principal of a small K-8 school in rural, south central Missouri. He can be found on Twitter at DougDunnEdS.

Hiring Passionate (Reading) Teachers

One common theme that keeps presenting itself when reading the works of both Donalyn Miller and Pernille Ripp is the importance of the classroom teacher being the lead reader in the classroom. Donalyn Miller writes in The Book Whisperer that "Teachers who love reading and see it as a gift have a greater impact on students than those who don't read and see reading as a skill to be mastered." When it comes to teaching students how to read (and enjoy it), our children deserve to have teachers who can maximize their impact in the short amount of time they have. As a parent, my preference is for my daughters' teachers to be passionate about literacy and learning.

I was recently listening to Pernille Ripp's book Passionate Readers in the car. The passion she has for literacy caused reflection as both a father and school administrator. As a father, my desire is for my daughters to be taught by passionate readers. As a school administrator, I desire for every student to share the same experience. 

My role in recruiting, hiring, and retaining great teachers is one of the greatest responsibilities I have. In listening to Passionate Readers, my mind wondered to a sports analogy for the hiring process.

Suppose you were charged with hiring a new coach for your school's basketball team. Expectations are high, so you want to be sure to find the best coach to achieve the greatest results possible. One candidate's credentials are the following:
  • Never played organized basketball
  • Only played in school when required to do so for PE class
  • Went to college to be a teacher and decided to pursue coaching
  • Took a couple of required coaching classes
  • Doesn't really care much for the game of basketball

Would you consider hiring this candidate? Would this candidate even get an interview?

Another thought you may have is if the students deserve to have a coach who has never really shown a passion for the sport. Would this candidate be able to effectively develop basketball talent? Keep in mind, expectations are high for this basketball team.

Now, assume you are responsible for hiring a teacher for your building. For this scenario, the level is irrelevant. Literacy is equally important across all levels and content areas in elementary, middle school, and high school. And, expectations for students' literacy development is high. Consider the following applicant:
  • Never really enjoyed reading in school. 
  • Only read if it was required for a grade. Likely used Cliffs Notes whenever possible.
  • Went to college to be a teacher. Only read when it was required for Young Adult and Children's Literature courses.
  • Hasn't read a book since those classes in college and currently has no plans to do so.

Much of this is likely to present itself during an interview - if the interviewer has carefully selected questions to draw out such information. Keep in mind, developing literacy in your school is of utmost importance. How would this candidate fare if you were the one responsible for hiring?

If you were choosing your child's teacher, would you choose this candidate?

Yes, there are sometimes multiple factors in play when making hiring decisions. Sometimes there are things out of our control. And, teacher shortages are real. Qualified applicant pools are often small. 

Every student deserves a great teacher. Hiring teachers who are passionate about reading and learning should be a top priority. Finding these teachers takes a determined, intentional effort - including the questions selected for the interview process.

It is likely that few schools would hire the coaching candidate above - especially if there were high expectations for the team. I'm concerned that sometimes the standards we have for hiring athletic coaches and teachers are not the same. Yes, many coaches are outstanding teachers. Please do not miss my point. My point is about the passions we bring to the table as educators. Are our passions contagious? Do they help our students grow and develop their own passions? In this case, what impact can we expect to have with students' literacy development if we have very little passion for reading?

If literacy is important in schools, it must be a priority in the hiring process. 

I'll conclude with a quote from Donalyn Miller...

"Being a master reading teacher begins with being a master reader."

Doug Dunn is superintendent and principal of a small K-8 school in rural, south central Missouri. He can be found on Twitter at DougDunnEdS.