The new 2019-2020 school year is in full swing. We took a moment to catch up with Michael Haggen, Chief Academic Officer, Scholastic Education to learn what’s on his mind this new school year.
He shared crucial ideas principals can be thinking about in addition to guidance for building robust classroom libraries. Read the full interview below!
Q: Thank you for sitting down with us Michael. Can you share some highlights from your summer?
Michael Haggen: I was so energized this summer by an important project I’m working on, a collection of books celebrating boys of color called Rising Voices Library. My team and I were able to work on this with David C. Banks, the President/CEO of The Eagle Academy Foundation. He founded The Eagle Academy for Young Men, the first school in a network of innovative all-boys public schools in New York City, which has since grown to encompass a total of six schools. To create Rising Voices, we poured over about 800 books with Latino or African-American main protagonists to ensure the students are able to see boys of colors in a way that presents “windows” for all students and “mirrors” for Latino and Black boys. It’s a deliberate focus given to enhancing classroom libraries to better reflect our current schools and as part of that, each book comes with teaching cards so educators can guide engaging conversations.
The summer was also a great time to keep track of how many minutes students were reading around the world in the Scholastic Read-a-Palooza. Seeing the minutes go up and up encouraged me to read more independently myself and, to me, exemplified the powerful data from the Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report™ that shows kids do in fact enjoy summer reading. It’s critical we support this and even start planning for next summer soon. Students reading over break extends what was taught over the school year and research like our work with Public Education Partners in Greenville, SC shows that students are more likely to maintain or increase their reading skills when they have access to books and when families are engaged during the summer.
Finally, a joy for me was visiting LitCamps across the country. Students were building social-emotional skills and reading stamina while enjoying a reading and writing experience that was different than their traditional classrooms.
Q: As school leaders, how can principals prepare to foster a culture of literacy in the new school year?
MH: Michael Fullan talks about this idea that we should be the lead learners—we’re always learning. When I was an administrator, I would share with my principals and central office team what I was reading for my own learning. Then, I asked them if they wanted to read the same book or article, or share something they’re reading independently, and then to share with their teachers. In turn, they asked the teachers to read, and share what they’re reading with their students.
I believe the key to making this successful is selecting reading materials that are interesting and relevant to you, which is the same idea that we share with students—encouraging them to self-select books. I would find an excerpt in the book I was reading and share that aloud, which was basically a read-aloud for the staff modeling what I wanted them to do for their teachers and in return, what I wanted the teachers to do for their students. Even though I was doing formal professional learning for my principals, I was constantly learning from this feedback loop and witnessing rich conversation. As a district, we were modeling the importance of independent reading and self-learning. What a great way to start the school year and ensure morale continues all year long.
Q: What other important things can principals be doing to support their teachers?
MH: I recommend for principals to really look at their communities—where are the local storefronts, gas stations, hair salons, grocery stores, churches, social service agencies, supplemental education supports, etc.? Understand your students’ families, their backgrounds and who they are. Use this to come together in an authentic way. Quarterly, bring community members, businesses, and families together for true engagement. This is an opportunity for all these groups of people to talk about the services they can provide to support the school, what that support looks like, and ensure the services aren’t duplicated.
At Scholastic, we call that Learning Supports—looking at all the services the school has to offer and what’s being brought to the school, and bringing those two concepts together to determine how there can be deliberate collaboration and support. Once this communication is happening, break off into sub-committees to decide how to better support families, teachers, and students long-term.
Q: How can teachers evaluate their classroom libraries and daily instruction to help students become skillful, lifelong readers?
MH: Classroom libraries, should reflect the individual needs and interests of your students. So, I highly recommend principals work with teachers to support them and look at what’s currently in their libraries. Regardless of socioeconomic status, access to books is critical for student achievement. In fact, we saw in the Kids & Family Reading Report that kids who have robust classroom libraries are more likely to be frequent readers.
If we’re asking students to self-select books, we should have books in the library that they feel comfortable selecting—a range of genres, reading levels, formats, and when possible, as with Rising Voices, books that have characters and authors that look like the readers that are selecting them so they can see themselves and learn about others. It’s critical for principals and teachers to work closely together to decide what their classroom libraries should look like.
Q: Looking ahead, what movement or topic are you most excited about in education right now?
MH: Often in the education space, we focus on students who need extra support, and students who are excelling. Then, there’s the students in the middle—they’re sometimes forgotten about. These students in elementary and middle school may not quite be a year behind but they still need targeted support to catch up.
What I am most excited about right now is working closely with Jan Richardson to create materials to support those students to increase their skills during small group instruction. In particular, the students who are striving around their foundational skills in grades K–2 and may need extra support in their phonics and vocabulary so they can fuel their comprehension. These materials will give students highly engaging reading materials, while meeting them where they are as they grow and simultaneously rotate into whole class instruction and independent learning.
Q: Our final question… What are you reading?
MH: I am reading a James Baldwin novel called If Beale Street Could Talk. It’s a fascinating, beautiful book and I recently saw the movie as well. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t read and enjoy doing it!