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Staff Book Clubs Enhance Professional Development

When funding became available for staff book clubs, educators in Hamilton County, Tennessee, jumped at the chance to read professional literature. Teachers continue to read and discuss books about instructional and professional development strategies. Included: Examples of book club topics.

One district has found a way to get most of the school staff on the same page -- literally. Thanks to a gift from an anonymous donor to the Hamilton County, Tennessee, Public Education Foundation, schools in the Hamilton County School District have established staff book clubs. Teachers and administrators read and discuss books that are related to professional development topics or instructional strategies.

Our teachers read a lot of professional literature and I do, too, said Robin Cayce, assistant principal at the Normal Park Upper School, a district magnet school. I thought this was a good chance to get quality material that all the teachers could read at the same time and get ideas we could implement on our campuses.

Were trying to pull the faculty together, added Cayce.


The book club program is in its second year. Last year about 12 schools participated, and this year the number jumped to 44, a little more than half of the district schools, said Frances Haman-Prewitt, the foundations director of communications. The clubs are funded by donations. Each participating school can receive as much as $1,000; to take part, someone from the school must submit a proposal about what the club is trying to accomplish.

We have an anonymous donor who believes strongly in book clubs, Haman-Prewitt told Education World. Hes a voracious reader and feels there is a lot of power in that. He leaves books on our desks all the time.

I thought this was a good chance to get quality material that all the teachers could read at the same time and get ideas we could implement on our campuses.

Some clubs read one book during the year, while others tackle three or four. A staff member facilitates the discussions, which are held at least once a month. In some schools all teachers participate, while in others only some do, Haman-Prewitt said. While the clubs primarily are for educators, some have included students as well.

The feedback seems to be very positive, Haman-Prewitt told Education World. We are grateful for the opportunity and pleased and proud weve been able to offer this.


Staff members at two of the schools conducting book clubs said they have been well-received and offer a chance for most of the faculty to discuss and experiment with new strategies.

This years group at by Robyn Jackson to learn about ways to engage students in hands-on learning, said facilitator Charlene Lewis, an academic coach at the school. Teachers in general are overworked, Lewis told Education World. A lot of times we do a lot of work and preparation and all students have to do is sit back and cruise. Instead of teachers doing Power Point presentations and formulating questions, have the kids do it.

This years program drew 50 people so Lewis divided people into groups of ten to 15 to read different chapters of the book, answer questions, and then come together to share information. I enjoy books that really give me hands-on applications, Lewis explained. This book has a lot of good strategies for helping students do hands-on activities in which teachers serve as facilitators.

Teachers also have been able to reach out to colleagues for support. A teacher who has trouble with a particular student in class can observe the same student in another teachers class in which the student is well-behaved. The teacher who finds the student difficult can pick up tips or strategies from the teacher who is having success with that youngster, Lewis noted.


Staff members at Normal Park Upper School are using the club to learn about and practice the professional development approach called instructional rounds, said Cayce, by reading the book Instructional rounds is a strategy in which groups of teachers observe a classroom teacher and discuss what they saw. We already have some peer observations that just involve one teacher, Cayce explained. We wanted to read the book to get some depth into our program.

I think it is re-affirming for teachers to be in a professional book club -- they have been able to realize they are still learning.

Teachers have participated in mini-rounds, during which several teachers spend an hour observing a class and then 15 minutes discussing their observations. Cayce said the goal is to have teams of four teachers do observations. The school has a week-long teachers institute scheduled for June, and the reading group plans to share what it learned from the book and how the information might be used at Normal Park.

About 24 of the schools 85 teachers are participating, and more would have joined the club if there was money to buy more books, she said. With everyones hectic schedules, this is a chance to read quality professional books, Cayce noted.

Both Lewis and Cayce would like to continue the reading clubs next year. Cayce is considering dividing people into groups to read different books, while Lewis joked that teachers already are talking about possible books for next year.

It has served lots of purposes, said Cayce in discussing the book club. It has been a huge factor in increasing staff cohesiveness and helped us to create common language for complicated concepts. I think it is re-affirming for teachers to be in a professional book club -- they have been able to realize they are still learning.


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Article by Ellen R. Delisio
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