Kids Deserve It

I had the wonderful opportunity to be featured on an episode of a weekly “Kids Deserve It” podcast/videocast. These sessions are hosted weekly by the authors of “Kids Deserve It,” Adam Welcome and Todd Nesloney. I read their book while ago and was a quick fan at their message to support kids, build relationships, and make schools a memorable place for students.

It’s a simple philosophy that we drives my work as an administrator and lead learner. It is also a message that we continually need to focus on in our work as educators.  We were able to connect at the Illinois Computing Educator’s Conference in February 2017 and I’ve enjoyed watching them spread the positive message through twitter, instagram, remind, voxer, and in any and all ways possible.
Our conversation was able to focus on one of my favorite topics and passions: literacy and developing a culture of readers! I shared a simple challenge with the viewers… Connect kids with books with no strings attached. I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below. Tell me how your school or classroom fosters a love of reading!

Some ideas I suggested for connecting kids to books during the summer months:

  • Host a story time at school during the summer months. Think of a fun theme to engage kids. We’re hosting a “Popsicle with the Principal” and “Donuts and Pajamas.” Each one includes a story, treat, and playtime on our playground. Simple, easy and fun! I even solicited our Scholastic representative to loan us their Clifford Costume for one of the events:)
  • Record a read aloud and post it to your school facebook page or social media site. Go further and have members of your staff each record a read aloud on a flip grid and share them periodically.
  • Send a book in the mail to students! Make sure to leave a special inscription.
  • Show up to your local library’s story time and see what students are there! Ask to read with them!
  • Create a Little Free Library on your playground or outside your school. Consider placing one in a neighborhood or area of town that could benefit from it. Place “honor book” baskets in local restaurants and coffee shops with your logo and encourage kids to read!
  • Create a summer reading blog and have students share their reading reflections throughout the summer and comment on each other’s posts!

Our conversation also focused on developing relationships with kids by remembering to have FUN with them. Whereas I will always encourage staff to be safe, use their professional judgement, and follow district policy, it is also important to have a little fun with kids. This can include:

  • Sitting down and eating lunch with them.
  • Getting a HULK Hand and giving High Fives
  • Using a bicycle horn to send them on their ways or to walk into a classroom
  • Having fun at recess and taking time to chat with kids! They love when they can show you their newest trick on the monkey bars or play a game of catch with you.
  • Wear a crazy hat or head piece.
  • You can read 75 MORE ideas at a previous blog post of mine HERE 

The point is… go out there… be a champion for kids!

Thanks Todd and Adam for allowing me the honor of being #77!

Literacy PD: Book Bingo

A key goal of any school should be to promote an environment that promotes lifelong literacy. I am not talking about just on paper or in an SIP plan and not just through the delivery of the reading curriculum to meet the standards, but in a way that deepens a love of reading and enhances a child’s life as a reader. I firmly believe that educational leaders must be readers. Readers are leaders. This models the importance of literacy for staff, students and parents. Continuous reading (writing and reflecting) refines practices, provides a basis for continuous improvements, and fosters lifelong learning habits that can be instilled in staff and students. Not only do I talk books, but I share them in my weekly memos to staff, as recommendations to parents and staff, and with our students. Rewards and incentives for reading are… you guessed it… books! Books are available readily to students in the hallways, classrooms and library. If students come into the office when they aren’t feeling well, are waiting for a parent, or need to make a phone call, there is a basket of books just waiting to be picked up and read. As students wait in the foyer to be picked up after school, there are shelves of books filled and available to students. No strings attached!

But having books accessible to students is just one part of the greater picture. Teachers need to have the professional knowledge and capacity in addition to the relationships and rapport with students to match the correct text with the right reader. “There are no such things as students that don’t like to read. There are just kids that haven’t found a book that is right for them.” Knowing a child’s reading level, personal interests, stamina for reading, and preferred genres can help teachers create a love of reading. That being said, there are so many books available, that it takes time and energy to sift through all the options to find that one right fit book for each child.

A key school goal of Dunlap Grade is “To create a culture of readers.” If you are at DGS, you hear and see this often. This is quantified like any SIP plan with data and statistics, but it is also woven into the fabric of our school composite. We monitor our progress through assessment, charts, graphs, and in PLC meetings, but we also do something simple. We talk about books. We share our reading lives with our students. We share book recommendations with each other. We put books in the hands of our students in numerous ways.

So, when our regularly scheduled staff meeting approached, it came as no surprise that the focus would be on literacy (although it does rotate with other key curricular areas). Knowing that the staff is versed in reviewing data and making instructional decisions about that data, I wanted to build their capacity as reading teachers in the simplest and purest form: to build their knowledge of books that have touched the lives and hearts of their colleagues and in the classrooms in our school. Born was “Book Bingo.”


Staff was asked to bring a title, series or author to share with their colleagues at the staff meeting. They came prepared with the book and a short 1-2 minute summary of the book and why they chose it. In a short period of time, staff built their repertoire of book titles to add to their classroom libraries as resources or read alouds. As staff shared their books, they were recorded on a white board and individual teachers wrote the titles at random on a blank bingo board. As teachers talked about their books they asked questions, made text-to-text connections, and grew their knowledge of titles and genres that they could refer to to recommend to another child, teacher or parent. Books that were discussed included graphic novels, series, award-winning picture books, humorous read-alouds, books that promote empathy, titles that dug into deeper emotional concepts, and more. Several times I heard, “That reminds of another great title…” or “You should read this book…” or “Can I borrow that in my classroom…” and “I need to add that to my personal reading list.”
As titles were discussed and teachers filled their bingo boards, we then finished with a quick game of bingo, calling the names of books that had been discussed. The beauty was that all teachers were winners and were able to select new titles of books for their classroom libraries as they left the meeting thanks to donations from individual parents and our Parent’s Club Organization. There’s no happier words a principal can hear than “I love getting new books for my classroom!” from a teacher.




book bingo

book bingo

Professional development does not need to be overthought, but it does need to be strategic and meaningful. A balanced approach to the emotional and academic domains of teaching and learning reading need to be considered and attended to. Teachers need to have the time to share effective and meaningful books in order to truly promote a love of reading in their classrooms and among students.

You can read more about promoting a love of literacy at:

Reading Resolutions 2016

At this time last year, I set out some 2015 Reading Resolutions. My resolutions last year included:

  1. Read a professional book (or journal/article) monthly and share reflections with you.  I ended up reading nearly 4o professional books last year and loved the knowledge of best practices in teaching, learning, and leading I gleaned from them. I also enjoyed sharing these with you through blog posts, conversations, and emails!
  2. Have family “read to self” time
  3. Read at least once a week to students at lunch time
  4. Continue on the Newberry Challenge

As part of the twitter #oneword challenge, I set my focus word for the year to “PROGRESSIVE.” I wanted this word to support the fact that we already have a lot of wonderful strategies, plans, and goals in place, but our focus should be on constant renewal, improvement, and progress on the things we are good at and want to make better in all areas of our school community. I want to ensure that my practices reflect that word and reading is one way to continuously learn and grow as an educator. Being progressive and making progress in all areas in rejuvenating, rewarding, and reinvigorating. The New Year is a time for Renewal.

Whereas the word “Progressive” applies to all areas, my blog today is focused on reading. Readers are Leaders. Leaders are Readers.

I successfully kept my resolutions and am happy to set new or continue them from last year. This year, my resolutions include:

  1. Read a professional book monthly and blog my reflections as well as update the sign outside the office with the current titles.
  2. Continue to develop a culture of readers in my own home
  3. Read weekly to students at lunch or in the classrooms
  4. Continue the Newberry Challenge (and update that on my door outside the office)
  5. Create a “Reading Flood Zone”
  6. Consider other environments in the building to share professional reading materials with staff. New articles will be displayed in the bathroom and lounge for reading at leisure.

I encourage you to set and share your reading resolutions with your students and colleagues. You may also choose to have students make resolutions as we develop a culture of readers!

Some resources to get you started can be found at:


DGS Literacy Harvest

Dunlap Grade School teachers hosted the first Literacy Harvest to provide parents relevant resources and book titles to support the development of a culture of readers in the home. As part of this evening program, teachers reviewed current and beneficial technological applications or websites and current book titles or authors for parents. Parents accessed available technological devices to browse each resource and analyze potential uses for their child.

The following applications we reviewed and serve as recommended resources for parents to access at home with their child


News-o-Matic: features daily news stories and current events and serves as a resource for non-fiction texts.

Starfall: offers early reading activities, texts, and resources for developing readers in K-2. Vivid images and animated text makes it engaging for young learners. The navigation is simple for little learners.

Goodreads: allows readers to document their reading life, connect with other readers, write reviews, and develop a reading plans. Students could benefit from authentic reading and writing audiences.

Kids Learn to Blog: provides the structure and information for children to learn to blog. Blogging provides an authentic audience and purpose for writing that can enrich students’ writing experiences or allow them to share with an audience experiences.

Read.Write.Think.: provides several resources for home and school that includes writing templates and generators that are easy to use.

Wonderopolis: Is a favorite at DGS for students to search ‘wonders’ and find answers to questions like “What is a Hot Dog” or “How is a Telescope Made.” Students can search particular topics or ask their own ‘wonders.’ Answers provide kid-friendly responses with multi-media pictures or videos.

Word Salad: This app is available in iTunes at A word cloud generator that can support the development of a reader’s ability to determine importance, synthesize or text, or expand their knowledge of vocabulary.

Newsela features engaging non-fiction texts and serves as a resource for non-fiction texts that allows the teacher or parent to differentiate text by lexile level.

AR Home Book Finder: search to determine a particular book is an AR book, determine book level, or find related books to a particular keyword.

In addition to reviewing the applications, staff reviewed ways parents could assist their child in choosing relevant and meaningful book titles. Parents “Bobbed for Books” as we provided parents complimentary copies of a few of our favorite titles and spoke to our decision for including them in why they were chosen. Of the book titles shared, we focused on the variety of ways to choose appropriate and engaging books:


  1. Balance your reading diet with a combination of fiction and non-fiction texts across genres
  2. Picture books may require higher levels of critical thinking and are appropriate to use across grade levels to engage learners in inferences of pictures, plot, and character development.
  3. Texts that tell a strong story can also be great examples for other literacy elements.
  4. Graphic Novels are popular, engaging, and appealing to readers. It is ok to encourage these.
  5. The “Who Am I” series provides students access to biographies at a grade and age-appropriate level.
  6. Accessing the Newberry or Caldecott honor lists can provide an instant list of books that are award winning for their contribution to children’s literature or illustrations.
  7. Books written by the same author or included in the same series can provide students structure in character development or plot structure; however, some authors write texts that are very different in theme, level, or content.



Thanks to Stefanie Pitzer and Samantha Mahrt for their planning, preparation, and delivery of the important content that was shared with families!

A True Reading Emergency


For the first time in my tenure as a parent, I was confronted with x-rays, a fractured ankle, and a cast that came along with too much fun on a trampoline. With little outside or physical activity as an option, my daughter initiated a literal reading emergency. This emergency precipitated my reflection of how we develop readers in our home and at school. So often we refer to ‘reading emergencies’ at Dunlap Grade. Reading emergencies are glimpses of time that students grab a hold of to maximize their opportunities to read throughout the day. Our staff learned about this concept after reading books by Donalyn Miller; both the Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild. You can read more about her at

Her books have become cornerstones of my professional reading library as well as helped in form our philosophy of teaching reading and developing a culture of readers at Dunlap Grade School. In addition to Donalyn Miller, we’ve been heavily influenced by the literacy work of Regie Routman. Both educators stress the importance of student choice, modeling reading, and engaging students in books that are appropriate, entertaining, and balanced.

Children need to love reading and books to become readers. Many may assume that the home of an educator includes pocket charts on the wall, strict visual schedules to follow, and stickers charts that reward positive behavior, but that doesn’t apply in our home. When I look at developing readers in my own children, it relies on some simple concepts that were made evident today following my daughter’s fractured ankle mishap.  As we came home from the doctor’s office, her only choices for entertainment, due to her mobility constraints, were to read or color. She chose reading as she often does. I don’t drill her with flashcards, sight word practice, letter tiles, or word walls, rather, we foster a love of reading with a few simple principles.

For children to become lifelong readers:

1. They need to have access to a variety of books. Our shelves in our home are filled with book titles that span a variety of genres, reading levels, and topics. The shelves are centered in one particular location, but are rather filtered throughout the house. Our children have access to a wide range of reading material in the living room, basement, toy room, and their bedrooms. We even have a tub of books in the middle of the backseat for car rides and a book that consistently stays in the backpack for reading emergencies in the car or at school. Whereas our bookshelves aren’t pretty and organized by genre, our children are free to read a book, replace it in a location, and are often the first to be able to locate a particular title. Reading materials include board books that my 6 year confidently reads to our 15 month old daughter, highlights magazines, picture books, and beginners chapter books. It’s ok if your child goes through a “Fly Guy” phase or loves all the books in the Clifford Series. In fact, I just ordered a few more books in the Mercy Watson series as it is recently become a new favorite of ours. It’s okay (and in fact awesome) if your child loves to re-read the same book over and over. Those behaviors and reading choices lay the foundation for developing an independent reader. Babies and toddlers also benefit from access to a variety of books. Our youngest daughter loves pulling our 6 year old daughter’s books off the shelves and thumbing through the pages as much as she loves looking at pictures and connecting them to words in board books.

If you look closely, some of my reading material has also made it’s way to these shelves, and although they don’t read the words or understand the content in these books yet, it leads me to my next principle:

IMG_2704 IMG_2705 IMG_2706 IMG_2707 IMG_2708

2. Children need to see models of lifelong learning and reading in the adults in their lives. Just as often as I sit and read a book to my daughter or have her read a book to me, I sit parallel to her and we individually read our own books. I document my reading life on and enjoy talking about the books I am reading with her. We consistently read the newspaper, articles, and mail in front of our children and model the importance of non-fiction text features in the mail we receive or articles we are reading. We need to ‘practice what we preach.’

3. Children benefit from real-world experiences that they can make connections to as they read later on. Those trips to the zoo, children’s museum or park are not only quality time spent as a family, but they provide children a context for reading later on. When they pull out a book, they can make important real world connections and apply their individual experiences to the contents of the text. Our children enjoy going to many community events that builds our bond as a family, but also develops their background knowledge that can/will be applied to their reading lives.

4. Children need time to read, immerse themselves in a book, and enjoy the tenants of reading. I am just as guilty as others of filling our schedule with sports, activities, and events. Whereas these all have tangible social and emotional benefits, it is also important to provide ample downtime that supports and encourages reading. We try to conserve the time before bed as our sanctuary for reading, but have also grown to love talking about or reading books in the car in between these activities. We try not to make reading “a chore,” but rather a time together that we look forward to and enjoy on a regular and consistent basis that is embedded into our schedule just as dinner time, bath time, and brushing your teeth are.




Whereas developing reading skills can be a complex process as students emerge from pre-reading skills in phonics to developing fluency and comprehension skills, the most important tenant is that we foster a love of print. Whereas I am sad that my daughter endured the pain of a fractured ankle and the inconveniences it will cause her in the next few weeks, I’m thankful to take a step back and see how the little, strategic elements of our home environment have fostered her love of reading and learning.

Developing a Culture of Readers

District Strategic Goal #1:
Continuously Improve Student Growth and Achievement
Dunlap Grade School teachers have been participating in weekly breakfast meetings to develop professionally in the area of reading. This voluntary time commitment is focused on developing strong readers in every classroom. Our conversations have focused on developing independent readers, modeling our lives as readers, and sharing with students the power of understanding what we read. We have used the research and philosophy of renowned researcher, Regie Routman ( to drive our conversations and professional development in this 14 week long professional development residency.
Part of developing strong readers is encouraging them to choose a “Just Right” book. Students are encouraged to develop a list of strategies for choosing an appropriate book. The example below demonstrates how first graders at DGS determined how to choose a “Just Right” book.
One of the staff favorite ways to encourage reading, is to share their reading lives with the students. All teachers are maintaining their own professional and personal reading logs to reflect on their reading. Teachers share with students their purpose for reading, why they read, and strategies for choosing a book.
Students in first grade experienced developing a system for organizing their classroom library. This activity generated powerful conversations amongst some of our youngest students as they collaborated to develop genre lists or debated why certain books belonged in a particular genre. The conversations focused on features of the text and negotiated understandings of those features.
Regie Routman writes, “When students help create the library, they use it more. Too often, we teachers do all the
work. Not only does that take lots of teacher time that could be better spent elsewhere, but
also students are less likely to find material they like, which, in turn, affects how much they
read. I have watched some teachers work hard to create lovely looking libraries. But they
organize these spaces for themselves, and the books are often not easily accessible to
students—in terms of the types of reading materials that have been chosen and the way
they are displayed and located. However, once teachers give up some control and let their
students help make the decisions, pleasant surprises await. With demonstrations and guid-
ance, even first graders can take full responsibility for categorizing, sorting, and organizing
books and returning them to agreed-on places—and they love doing so. (Note a third-
grade class’s worksheet below for determining what categories and authors to include in
their class library.) Not only that, students begin to take pride in “their” library.”