One thing I noticed about my new school was that the culture was very different from the elementary level. Teachers mostly kept to their own departments and there wasn’t much of a collaborative culture. I wanted the library to be the heart of the school so I focused on ways that I could create a positive culture in the library that would hopefully influence other areas of the school. I started Instagram and Twitter accounts for the library and took advantage of our new switch to Google Apps for Education to make a new library website. Once I created an online space for the library, I wanted to update the physical space. I painted over the existing brown cork boards with chalkboard paint and put out colorful chalk to encourage students and staff to write down their current reads right in the library entrance. A Special Education teacher was running a free “store” in her classroom where students could take clothes that were donated but since her room was being used most of the day as a classroom I offered to move it to the back corner of the library so it would be accessible to everyone throughout the day. The IT specialist for our school moved his office to the library so we could be a one stop shop for tech support.
A couple of English teachers and I came up with our own 10 categories;
- a Morris award winner/nominee
- a book from the PVMHS summer reading list
- a book that was made into a movie or TV show
- any banned book
- a collection of short stories
- a book about or written by an LGBTQ+ person
- a genre you don’t usually read
- a book that has been on your #TBR (to be read list)
- any book from a series
- and a format you don’t usually read (graphic novel, e/audiobook, book in verse, etc.).
I put up my own notecards and encouraged my library regulars (students and teachers) to do the same. If someone was stuck on a category they could look at the notecards to see what their peers read for it. Some English teachers who visit the library monthly with their classes to get independent reading books offered some extra credit points to anyone who completed the challenge. The walls began to get so covered in notecards that it was hard to see the first layer. The Reading Challenge operates on the honor system; I’m not out to “catch” students with an assessment. I just want them to proudly share all the different books they’ve read this school year.
The biggest joy for me was seeing kids smile and genuinely get excited about the books they were reading. Since building a positive culture was my overall goal I am very flexible with what people can put within the categories. I’ve changed the categories a little bit each year (let me know if you have any suggestions!). In my mind the real “challenge” is to read 10 books which for most of my students is very daunting. For that reason it is that much more rewarding at the end to see their huge accomplishment, and to contribute to an overall culture of positivity in my school. The PVMHS Reading Challenge has created a way for students and staff to come together over a common success.