Build a strong community of readers: 5 ways to get started in your school or district

Literacy opens doors. It is the entry point to every child’s brighter future and the key to every community’s future development. Literacy rates—largely stagnant in recent years for a myriad of reasons—impact students, families, schools, and entire communities.

What can you do to achieve greater literacy growth in your school or district?

Although parental involvement can improve a child’s success, parents are just one part of the larger community. When it comes to increasing literacy rates, there is power in partnerships. A community reading model provides support to engage students and their families in literacy-rich environments.

School and district leaders who form solid partnerships with community organizations, libraries, businesses, government entities, hospitals, and nonprofits can help ensure that all students achieve literacy growth.

A Collective Impact Model builds on resources of community partners, sponsors, and reading champions to focus wider attention on literacy. Schools, districts, and partners collaborate to set goals, provide equity and access for all students, and share responsibility for literacy growth.

You can imagine the difference it would make to strive for consistent and substantial reading growth as a larger community. A Collective Impact Model saves time and resources, extending the effectiveness of reading practice by adding individuals and groups to help students and families access books and learn to use digital technology.

But how do you extend support for literacy beyond school walls, beyond students’ homes, and into the community?

Here are five steps to help you get started.

1. Establish a school or district literacy leadership team

Get your community model off to a great start by putting in place a literacy leadership team and defining the roles and responsibilities of individuals. This team will help build a strong base from which to launch your community model. This group might include the following:

  • Supportive superintendent or assistant superintendent

  • Curriculum director to help drive strategy and implementation

  • Dedicated innovation team with tech team members, champion teachers, librarians, and media specialists

  • Leader of the PTA/PTO (if applicable)

2. Form partnerships with local leaders and organizations

In a community model, partnerships support your literacy efforts, helping create literacy-rich environments for children and families by:

  • Providing year-round support and opportunities for students and families to read within and beyond their classrooms and schools

  • Contributing financial and fund-raising support, volunteer hours, and in-kind contributions of equipment or space

  • Helping build excitement with outreach activities

Typically, local leaders and organizations want to help school leaders create opportunities to involve students and families in literacy. Often, they simply don’t know how to get involved. Invite them to the table, and then sit down and strive for everyone to agree on a shared goal for literacy growth.

School leaders often begin forming partnerships by approaching organizations that already have a mission to support children and teens. Examples include Rotary Clubs, Ys, the United Way, county/municipal library systems, Boys & Girls Clubs, and housing boards. Ongoing communication with partners will strengthen the relationships and foster growth in students, families, and the overall community effort.

3. Launch with specific community-wide goals

Establishing and sharing specific goals for your community of readers will give your initiative visibility, credibility, and continuity.

Not every community kick-off initiative is going to be the same. Perhaps your goal is to reduce the adult illiteracy rate in your community by a certain percentage by a specific date. Perhaps your goal is help ensure all students in your district learn to read by grade 3.

As an example, Mission CISD Reads launched a community-wide reading program, partnering with three cities, school boards, business leaders, and government officials. Their goal was to reduce the 50% illiteracy rate in the wider community.

Once the public is aware of the community-wide initiative and the goals its partners share, it becomes easier to engage them in contributing to your efforts to create a literacy-rich environment.

4. Provide opportunities to read both print and digital books

Giving students access to both print and digital books, and providing many choices, will keep students and families engaged and moving forward. An effective community model often includes a personalized literacy initiative that enables young readers and families to read both print and digital texts outside the classroom and school.

Your personalized literacy initiative might involve:

  • Providing wider access to both fiction and nonfiction texts

  • Collaborating with partners to provide equitable access to digital books and devices as well as print books

  • Enabling students to sharpen digital literacy skills through purposeful activities

Districts with limited budget or bandwidth can offer digital libraries that students can access on smartphones and tablets. Providing an opportunity for students to read at home, on the bus, at community centers, or in any location they visit can provide the literary foundation that all students need to achieve growth.

5. Include professional development in your community plan

For a literacy program to succeed in the community, it must also succeed in the school. When recruiting partners for a collaborative effort, you’ll want to be able to provide evidence that the reading programs you use are effective. Along with research pointing to a program’s effectiveness, the best way to provide evidence is with a commitment to professional development.

Just as you make it part of your “getting started strategy” to provide teachers, librarians, and media specialists the support and professional learning to implement best practices, you may want to also consider coordinating a professional development plan for community volunteers.

Professional development can help you showcase your literacy implementation in the best light for potential community partners—and help guarantee that staff and volunteers are using available literacy resources effectively to foster growth and achievement for all learners.

Renaissance provides professional development to help ensure educators implement our literacy growth products with fidelity. As your community model grows, the improved student outcome data that comes with effective implementation of the programs you’re using can strengthen the commitment of community partners.

Discover what a successful community model looks like

Literacy is the key to the economic development and stability of every community. Visit our site dedicated to helping you build a community of readers. You’ll find a sample community model and examples of how a coalition of partners works together.

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