It Takes a Reader To Grow a Reader: When Adults Don't Read, Kids Lose

Jennifer LaGarde and Todd Nesloney believe every student needs and deserves an independent reading champion.

Helping students create and grow authentic reading lives, is one of our most important jobs as educators. The research on this topic is very clear: Children between the ages of 10 and 16 who read for pleasure make more progress in vocabulary, spelling, and math than those who rarely read. (Sullivan & Brown, 2013) Further, we know that volume matters. Students need enormous quantities of successful reading to become independent, proficient readers. (Atwell, 2007; Worthy & Roser, 2010; Gallagher, 2009; Kittle, 2013; Miller, 2009; 2013) This is important.

The recipe for growing readers really isn’t that complicated. First, give students access to many, many books. Then allow them to select the titles that interest them and with which they will experience great success. And then, let them read. Boom! As the old saying goes, this isn’t rocket science, y’all.

And yet, in schools across America, students are being subjected to prescribed reading programs that we know don’t work. (Krashen 2003) These programs often require students to select books based on computer or teacher generated levels. Further, they reduce reading to a task that only matters if it’s accompanied by an assessment. What’s more, they allow teachers to assign texts to students without having a knowledge of children’s or young adult literature and, most crucially, without ever having a conversation about books and reading with their students.

And while some innovative and brave school leaders are eradicating these programs from their schools (“Why We Are Moving on From AR” and “No AR? No Big Deal”) in favor of more authentic approaches, too many still cling to the familiarity of prescribed reading programs, which leaves us with one nagging question…. WHY?

Obviously, there are probably many answers to this question, but one possible reason may lie in the reality that far too many educators don’t have reading lives of their own. In short, it takes a reader to grow a reader. That said, we get it: educators are busy. But that’s no excuse. The reality is, we prioritize what we value. We all make time for the things we know are important. But here’s the thing, y’all: this is important.  It’s time for educators to make their own reading lives a priority so that they can, in turn, help students grow their own. Here are a few tips to help all educators unlock the reader inside them that’s just waiting to get out!

  • Increase your own access to books:

    • Visit your school library and become BFFs with the librarian. He or she will hook you up with the titles your students can’t get enough of.

    • Get a public library card!

    • Join a service like Owlcrate and just wait for new books to arrive at your doorstep!

    • Visit (or create!) a Little Free Library in your neighborhood!

    • Create an Audible account and start listening to books on your commute!

  • Schedule time for reading:

    • When something is important to us, we put it on our calendars. Just as you block out time to go to the gym or to get a haircut, devote some time to reading. Just a few minutes a day is enough to get you on your way! It won’t be long before reading just becomes a regular and important part of your routine.

  • Harness the power of social media to create a reading community:

    • Join a traditional or virtual book club. Follow hashtags like #booksnaps, #2jennsbookclub #nerdybookclub #sparksinthedark #booklove #yearofYA or #bookaday for book inspiration and recommendations OR to share your own!

  • Forget your reading level:

    • Real readers do not select books on their “reading level.” When you go to the book store, there are no dots on the spine to let you know if the book is appropriate for you. Pick books based on what you love, or what you think your students would love. Let your interests be your guide and you won’t go wrong, but…

  • Move on from those books that you start reading but aren’t enjoying:

    • You’ll know when you’ve found a book that just isn’t for you. Give yourself permission to move onto the next one. There’s no shame in your game.

  • Always have a book with you:

    • If you always have a (physical, digital or audio) book with you, when some time presents itself, you’ll be ready!

  • Let your reading geek flag fly:

    • Passion is contagious! And while your students (or other colleagues) might not love all of the same books you do, they WILL love how passionate you are about them. What’s more, they’ll learn through your example that it’s okay to love something enough to completely geek out about it!

  • Talk about what you’re reading with others:

    • Reading is a social activity. While reading alone in a comfy chair may be really satisfying, the moment we happen upon a passage or character that moves us, makes us laugh/cry or challenges us in some way, our first instinct is to share it. So,  find some friends and get your chat on!

    • Create a Goodreads account.

    • Start (or join) a Voxer group to chat about what you’re reading!

  • Advertise the books you’re currently reading:

    • Put a sign on your classroom door.

    • Add a line to your email signature.

    • Wear a sticker on your shirt (Mr. Schu Style!).

    • Make the cover of your current read your cover image on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, etc.

  • Understand that listening to an audio book is also reading:

    • Listening to a book is not cheating. Plus, it helps you utilize all the time you spend in the car or on the treadmill.

    • Many public libraries have digital audiobooks available for checkout, or…

    • Skip that latte a couple of times a week and splurge on an audible account instead!

  • Ask others for advice on what books to read:

    • Find some people whose recommendations you trust and ask them what to read next.

    • Be that person for someone else.

  • Finally, remember that all of these tips are good for students too! A good rule of thumb is this: if you wouldn’t do it as a real reader, you shouldn’t ask your students to do it. OR if you must employ some scaffolding to help students develop the skills they need to grow authentic reading lives, remember, scaffolding is meant to come down.


The bottom line is this: your students need and deserve for you to be their independent reading champion.  Reading changes lives. Not only is reading the fundamental skill that underpins all learning, but it’s also a crucial component in the development in a curious mind, a gentle spirit and a loving and empathetic heart. And our world desperately needs more of those things. It only takes finding that one book to help a child understand, for the first time, that it’s okay to be who they are. Or conversely, that it’s also okay to be completely different.  Books open worlds of hope and possibility. When a child (or adult) is immersed in characters and stories, they are immersed in everything that makes up the vast human experience. And it is through that immersion that we become better at understanding both ourselves and others.


So.. are you ready to become an independent reading evangelist for the educators you work with? Here are some resources to help! To help make our list of tips a bit more shareable, we’ve created an infographic that can be printed and hung up in the hallways, teachers lounge, faculty restroom or anywhere else you think you’ve got a captive audience. You can download a high resolution version of the infographic (as both a .png and .pdf) here.

We also created a small sign that teachers or administrators could print and post on their classroom doors to share what they are reading. Feel free to download and share these as a way to celebrate reading as a part of your staffs’ lives!


Whether you use these resources or not, as reader leaders it’s critical that we make helping our colleagues who do not yet have rich and authentic reading lives, discover what they’re missing! As Todd and I said in our original post, it takes a reader to grow a reader. And ALL of our students deserve to have adults in their lives who can champion reading as a life changing experience because they themselves have been changed by stories. Now more than ever, the young people we work with need to be reminded of all the things that connect us as residents of this big blue planet. They need examples of how our shared humanity makes us more alike than different. They need to see how stories connect us.  


In her acceptance speech for the 2017 Newbery Award (for The Girl Who Drank The Moon), Kelly Barnhill famously said, “We need stories that are mirrors so that any kid can see herself clearly. We need stories that are bright lamps, shining hope and light in a troubled world. We need stories that are bridges and roads, connecting that which we know to that which we do not; stories that are safe harbors and welcoming sanctuaries; stories that are armor and shield, friend and companion; stories that free prisoners, heal the harmed, teach the ignorant, and feed our aching souls.” To that we would add that we also need teachers, whose lives are rich with stories, so that they might be the thing that connects children to that very singular and crucial light.

Jennifer LaGarde (aka library girl!) is a lifelong educator and learner. With over twenty years of experience in public education,  Jennifer  has served as a classroom teacher, a teacher librarian, digital teaching and learning specialist, district level support staff and state wide leader as a consultant for both the NC Dept of Public Instruction and the Friday Institute for Instructional Innovation. Jennifer is a past winner of the  ALA, New York Times and Carnegie Corporation’s  "I Love My Librarian Award" and she was also named a Library Journal "Mover and Shaker” for her efforts as a school library advocate. Jennifer earned her bachelor's degree in Secondary Education with a concentration in English/Language Arts from the University of NC at Wilmington. And she earned her Master’s in Library Science from the Appalachian State University. She also holds National Board Certification in the area of School Library Media. Jennifer currently works with teachers, librarians, instructional technologists, instructional coaches and both building and district level leaders, around the world, to develop innovative instructional practices that both serve the literacy needs of students and that infuse technology in meaningful ways. Jennifer has published numerous articles on best educational practices for journals like Teacher Librarian, ISTE, School Library Connections and Knowledge Quest. Jennifer currently resides in Olympia, Washington where she spends time chasing after her three dogs and updating her award winning blog The Adventures of Library Girl where she proves you don’t have to be super hero to be a teacher librarian, but having a cape sure helps.

Todd Nesloney is the Principal/Lead Learner at a PreK-5 school in Texas. He is an award-winning author for his work in co-authoring Kids Deserve It! and Flipping 2.0: Practical Strategies for Flipping Your Class. Todd has also been recognized by the National School Board Association as one of the “20 to Watch” in Education, by the Center for Digital Education as one of their “Top 40 Innovators in Education”, by the BAMMYs as the “National Elementary Principal of the Year” and the “National Elementary Teacher of the Year”, by the Texas Computer Education Association as their “Texas Elementary Teacher of the Year”, and by the White House as a Connected Educator “Champion of Change”.