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Professional Development: Starting a Faculty Book Club

Jordan Catapano

This article originally appeared in TeachHUB Magazine, which you can download for FREE!

Do you like reading books about education? Do you feel like reading and discussing the latest educational books makes you a better teacher and can add to your professional development? Do you want to formally begin a Faculty Book Club in your school? Then read on!

We have had the fortune this year of beginning such a club at our school. It has been “Years,” teachers said, “Since anyone organized something like this.” A faculty book club is one of those good ideas that everyone wants to do, but so few have the time to organize or participate in.

So how do you make one happen? Well, I don’t have a magic mix of tricks that will guarantee that your school will successfully get one off the ground, but I can offer you a few ideas that might assist you in your trek. First of all, believe that a faculty book club is worthwhile and believe that you can succeed in putting one together. If you at least start there, then anything can happen!

Professional Development: Find the Others

Chances are that there are other teachers in your building who are just as interested in starting a faculty book club. You know who they are – they’re those teachers who are the go-getters, the ones who automatically seek to make themselves better via professional development, the ones who want to contribute to the grander success of the school. Your first step is to approach them about their potential interest in helping organize a book club.

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Once you get together with these other interested folks, you’ve got your leadership core. It’s time to brainstorm what it is you want this club to look like and how you’ll operate. Get a loose plan together and consider how you’d most like to put it into action.

Communicate with Administration

At some point early in the process, meet with your principal or other appropriate administrator and let them know what you’re thinking. You definitely don’t want to implement something without your leadership knowing about it or miss an opportunity to include a vital partner for the project’s success.

Administrators are by-and-large supportive of teacher-led staff development opportunities, and your proposal will in all likelihood be met with a positive response. Make sure that you don’t just list your demands or inform the administrator of what you’re going to do with or without them. Instead, take this opportunity to pull in your school leader as a teammate in the process. Ask for their advice, feedback, and support. Your administrator should have a good understanding of what might work best for the staff, and can provide essential guidance and support. Better yet, ask them to read the book and participate in the discussions with the staff – having them lead by example goes a long, long way towards giving the project additional validity.

As the faculty book club progresses, continue to keep your administrator in the loop.

Select the Book or Books

It can be tricky to select a text for an entire staff. Some educational texts suit one teacher better than others, so finding one that’s the right fit for your colleagues takes some time and consideration.

Instead of starting with a book list, start with a “Needs” list. What are the greatest needs of your students and staff right now? Your answers to this question will help guide you towards potential books that might be appropriate. Speak with your committee, your colleagues, and your school leadership to determine what those needs are, and then curate a small list of books that you feel could help in those areas of need.

When rolling out the book club to your staff, you have a choice: Do you want to select ONE book that everyone agrees to read, or do you want to offer a LIST that interested teachers will vote on?

Promote the Opportunity

So this is where the rubber meets the road. You and your team have done the planning, but now it’s time to reveal the club to your staff and begin finding interested teachers to join in. How do you do it?

It’s all in the marketing. A surprising amount of leadership relates to marketing, and that’s especially true when asking teachers to volunteer their time to do something additional.

And this is where you, your team, and your administration get creative. The key is to tap into the content of your book and the needs of your school to promote the opportunity. Here are a few ideas that might help your discussion:

  • Create enticing posters to be hung in department offices, faculty cafeterias, etc.
  • Post or e-mail thought-provoking quotes from the book-of-choice.
  • Go from department to department with your team and personally invite teachers to join in.
  • Dress up in a costume related to your book (this, of course, depends on the book).
  • Offer some kind of incentive for participating: Free lunch, cool t-shirt, etc.
  • Promote how many people have committed to participate (“Fifteen teachers have already signed up!”).
  • Take pictures of people from your team and/or leadership reading the book.
  • Create a promotional video.
  • Connect the content of the book selection to the real needs of staff and students.
  • If possible, offer professional development credits to participants.

Schedule the Discussions

Now, once you’ve asked teachers to commit, it’s time to acquire copies of the book and figure out when you’re going to actually meet as a club.

You have a few options when it comes to getting copies of the book. First, perhaps your administration or school library can use professional development funds to purchase staff copies. To save costs, perhaps there are digital copies available for a lesser price than a hard copy. You can also ask teachers to buy, borrow, or rent their own copy of the book. Or teachers can work out a sharing system where they trade copies after reading certain portions.

There ought to be a predetermined schedule for both the readings and the discussions so that participants know what they’re committing to. Work with your committee and staff participants to determine what may be best for them all. It may even be wise to host a variety of discussions, before, during, and after school, so that staff can attend at a time that best suits them. If you have staff that enjoys using social media, you might consider hosting a digital discussion as well. Also consider if there are existing staff development meetings prescheduled that could be allocated towards a book club meeting!

Perpetuate the Positives

So as your faculty book club gains momentum from your team framework, your support from leadership, your marketing, and your friendly pacing of discussions, how do you keep this momentum going?

If the book you’ve read truly is effective, then teachers should be champing at the bit to apply its concepts to their classrooms. This is the first and most natural step. You have a core group of educators who are beginning to embrace the concepts of the book, and their application of it should be encouraged. But beyond just applying these ideas themselves, consider how your faculty book club participants can share the good news with others.

Ask them to summarize what they’ve learned and note specific ways they’re applying it. Then, encourage them to share this information with colleagues who haven’t participated in the club. If good ideas truly emerge from the book club, then they deserve to be spread around.

Also, as a committee, you might consider ways you can more publically spotlight individuals who have embraced some of the book’s concepts. Perhaps newsletters or short interview videos are enough to nonintrusively spread the word about these teaching ideas. Or perhaps, if your faculty book club participants enjoyed the book enough, they could recruit a new set of teachers to participate in a second book club. Don’t hesitate to reward teachers who engage in discussions, attend meetings, and applying principles – everyone loves those little extras, too.

Honestly, it’s a difficult task to rally enthusiasm and form a voluntary faculty book club. But it will never happen unless someone like you dives in and figures out how to make it work. Take the steps above as a general guideline, and discover how you might turn yourself from being a book-lover into a genuine leader.

Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.