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The Story behind the Stories

There are so many good things happening in education that there's really no excuse for a leader NOT to highlight the work of students, staff, and the community. Our school is no exception. I see our team working really hard, and their commitment has led to world-class learning experiences for our students.

One of the challenges with sharing some of these pinnacle experiences is that they can leave people who have not been connected to the journey feeling like the work is unattainable.

I've always tried to balance the sharing of successful staff stories with some of my own leadership failures. Some of the struggles I've shared have involved humorous leadership oversights, and other times I've shared more vulnerable moments where my own mistakes impacted the people I serve in a manner I did not intend.

When I wrote Renegade Leadership: Creating Innovative Schools for Digital-Age Students, I was careful to be transparent about my missteps while also highlighting the incredible effort other educators are leading. The goal is always learning, reflection, and integrity. In the same spirit of transparency, I thought I'd share how my own leadership and learning are continuing to evolve via a short story.

Recently, my passion for creating a culture of literacy has really intensified. Of course, this means that my missteps, growth, and learning have also intensified.

I've always enjoyed talking about the books I love. When I visit classrooms to share read-alouds, I typically start by sharing a short preview or "hook" for my book. Sometimes I'll even send a 30 second video preview to get kids excited before I even visit their classrooms. (Click HERE for an example of a #30SecondBookTalk video.)

Several months ago, I was asked to lead a literacy session at a Scholastic Reading Summit outside of Washington, D.C. The session was on "booktalks" and I was happy to help out. In the weeks leading up to the Reading Summit, I was fortunate to connect with somebody who had facilitated a similar session in the past.

At one point in our conversation she was sharing about a myriad of new titles that had been released or were scheduled for release in the near future. And that's when it happened. In the most positive and affirming way possible, she asked me if I had read most of the titles she was talking about.

After a moment of silent reflection, I confessed that I had not read the majority of the titles. In fact, I didn't even know several of the authors she was referencing.

I've reflected on this conversation quite a bit since then, and can now confess that my reading life had shifted heavily towards professional leadership publications and PD-related books. As a principal, I had fallen into a bit of a reading rut and I was definitely drawing upon an antiquated repertoire of children's books during my read-alouds.

I've come to realize that I cannot champion a culture of reading where all students are in love with the books they are choosing if I'm not choosing to read some of the same books myself.

You might be thinking that it's possible to share the joy of reading even if a person restricts their reading to professional journals (and to a certain degree I agree with you). However, there is another level of joy found in turning the same pages and interacting with the same adventures that our students should have the choice to read. I digress.

A week or so after my confession, a large box of books arrived on my front porch. I will admit that the site of all those books drew mixed emotions. I was filled with joy because I love reading. I love rifling through a good stack of books and choosing the titles that speak to me. I love following up on the recommendations of friends, and then talking about same stories with the people who cared enough to recommend them to me.

BUT, I was also filled with full-fledged anxiety when I realized that it was going to be impossible to read ALL those books prior to my presentation at the Reading Summit. I remember feeling as if it would be a long-shot to find time to fit ONE of those novels into my schedule (let alone an entire box full of books). I should also point out that the box was not an assignment; it contained many titles and I was under no obligation to read any of them. (Had the reading been a mandate, I can predict my response would be different than what I'm about to describe.)

I dug into that box of books with fervor and haven't looked back since. In fact, I have not been able to stop. The photo at the top of this blog post contains several of my new favorite titles from this summer. It was difficult to boil things down to those select few titles, but I'm trying to share "only the best" with you…my new reading friends.

The reason I share this story is to help everyone understand that growth really is a process.

When I share glimpses of my reading life on Instagram, people may not recognize that along with this emerging passion came a real gut check. With each book pic I share there was a time when reading a children's book or young adult novel was not even on my radar. I’m just glad my radar has been recalibrated.

And that's the story behind the stories.



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