I’ve grown into being an administrator. When I first started the job, I found myself overwhelmed and perhaps regretting the decision to leave the classroom. (See my last admin-centered post) Over time, I’ve settled in and gotten more comfortable and confident in the AP role. So, while I no longer feel like a dog stuck in a tree, there are a few things I still really, really miss about being in the classroom. And by far the biggest is building relationships with kids.
The past ten months have been ridiculously challenging in the world of education, and I found myself depressed. I hated the idea of interacting with kids through screens. I needed to do something, but my hands were tied in so many ways. So, I borrowed from Erin and from Penguin Random House’s Instagram page, and I started First Chapter Friday.
The idea of First Chapter Friday is simple: each Friday you read aloud the first chapter of a different book. The goal is to introduce your students to new titles and authors, pique their curiosity, get them excited and wanting to read.
(Authors and publishers have continued to clear our paths, removing legal barriers that once existed when sharing books. Chalk one up in the pandemic PRO column! Click here for guidelines provided by publishing houses - current as of Nov. 2020.)
“Welcome to my office! No, you’re not in trouble. I just want to read with you!” (Note the 6-foot distance measuring stick in the background.)
Since I don’t have a classroom like Erin or a social media following like PRH, I recorded myself reading and shared the videos with Literacy teachers in my school. I told them I had no expectation that they would use the videos, but that I was doing it to keep myself sane. I said I hoped they would find it helpful - 20 minutes of class each week that they didn't have to plan. I held my breath and crossed my fingers and clicked “share.”
Best. Decision. Ever.
At first, it was a trickle. A student doing a double take when they saw me in the cafeteria, smiling under my mask. Another one complimenting me on my reading skills. A student throwing over their shoulder, “I really liked that book you read” while scurrying past in the halls. Then the emails started coming asking to borrow books. Then it was kids arguing with each other over who should get to borrow the book first, which book they liked better.
Teachers shared with me how much their students enjoyed the chapters and asked me to come read to their classes in person. They politely asked me, “Please don’t stop,” the panic of teaching in 2020 creeping into their tone.
On picture day for our remote students, I staffed the check-in table. These are students who learn full time at home and don’t see me daily in the halls and cafeteria. But they *had* seen me on the first chapter Friday videos, and one after another thanked me for reading and asked about borrowing books. I even had a parent come back into the building after leaving to say, “I had to make sure it was really you. I thought your cockney accent was EXCELLENT.”
So, I achieved my selfish goal...I made myself feel better. And honestly, in terms of making recommendations to administrators, I feel like I could just stop right here. “Do this and you’ll feel good about yourself” is a damn fine recommendation, I think. So, please feel free to steal this idea and stop reading here.
“Hmmmm...five little body icons. I wonder what that could be? Maybe the map key will tell us!” Teaching text features and active reading under the guise of First Chapter Friday.
For those of you still with me, let me explain a few other take-aways.
It gives students an opportunity to see me in a different light. The majority of my chapters are recorded in my office. That means, should a student be sent to my office, they won’t be walking into unfamiliar territory speaking to a scary assistant principal. They’ll be in Ms. Cotillo’s office talking to the lady who reads in a bad English accent. It makes me so much more human.
1a. Speaking of human - they get to see me with my mask off.
It gives us something to talk about. Pre-First-Chapter-Friday I would desperately try to engage in conversation by asking kids what Wordly Wise lesson they’re on. (I’m not kidding...I’m running out of ideas here, folks). Now, students start talking with me about the chapters they’ve just heard. I gush over how much I loved it too, and the conversation about books is underway.
Students are borrowing my books...which means they return my books and we get to talk about whether or not they liked them. More relationship building!
The teachers are appreciative. They've sent me emails and thank me in the hallways and tell me how much the kids look forward to the readings and talk about the books. I’ve had teachers assign listening to a chapter as part of their sub plans. I mean, any time I can help make sub plans easier, I feel pretty dang supportive.
To sum up: Administrators, if you’re looking for a relationship building tool, First Chapter Friday is going to pay HUGE dividends with both students and staff.
A few super quick logistics notes:
Prior to beginning my reading, I shared a list of books with my school librarian, and she ordered copies of anything she didn’t already have. That way we’re able to meet student demand for books. I’m also comfortable sharing my personal books.
I recorded four chapters before realizing the audio-only content might not be accessible to all students. Since then, I’ve recorded 13 more, and I project the book while I read. I use Kindle books on the Kindle Cloud Reader in one tab and Screencastify in a second tab. I split my screen and record the desktop. It works perfectly.
“Call me Clauuuuudia!” It’s hard for kids to be scared of me when I make a fool out of myself reading once a week.
Erin and I have made our thoughts on this super clear -the best way to build relationships with kids is through books - so, you really gotta wonder what took me so long to apply it to administrative life. SMH. But, hey, better late than never.