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All-School Read, Common Read, One Book - One School. Whatever you call it, creating and implementing a successful community read program is often a year-long process involving a number of people. This guide will walk you through the process of how we craft our program here at Berkshire School. On this page you will find the general steps to design a successful program. Additional resources can be found by clicking on the tabs above.
How well do you know the culture of your school? The first step in creating a successful All-School Read program is understanding who you are and what is unique to the culture of your school. This cannot be stressed strongly enough. What is the mission statement for your school? What dreams and aspirations do you have for your students, faculty, and staff? Is your curriculum traditional or project based, does your faculty prefer the Socratic Method, how does your school address controversial topics? It's possible to choose an amazing book, but if the book and the corresponding program you design don't align with and support your overall school mission and culture, it may not be as successful as you hope.
The success of your All-School Read depends on the work of your committee. You will need a Chair who is able and willing to do the organizational heavy lifting needed to get your members to meet on an ongoing, regular basis. The committee composition that has worked for us includes the following people: English Department Chair, Academic Dean, Library Director, Alumni Office, Communications, and Dean of Diversity, as well as others who have a demonstrated interest in the ASR. Our ASR committee starts meeting in September and continues through January or February depending on when we reach a consensus on the book.
Like any effective mission statement, your all-school read program statement will help to focus your selection and inform the program you design. For example, the Berkshire School All-School Read Mission Statement states:
"The All-School Read (ASR) is an opportunity for the entire Berkshire community, from students to alumni, to engage in a body of work from a traditional literary perspective as well as a scientific, economic or historical one. It’s a chance for students to interact with talented authors and thinkers, while considering a given topic in a real-world context. This examination promotes critical thinking and provides an opportunity for a collective conversation on campus."
Having a timeline in place with specific benchmarks will help keep your committee on track and moving forward. You will need to consider your school schedule and the commitments of your committee members when setting these goals. For example, our ASR Chair is responsible for our Alumni Bulletin, so she needed to take printing deadlines for those publications into consideration. Many of the decisions you need to make, such as signing a contract for a keynote speaker, can make or break your program. Popular speakers frequently are booked a year or more in advance. Benchmarks to consider are: selecting the committee, coming up with a long and short list of titles, hiring a speaker, setting a date for your book day on the school calendar, designing the actual day, finding faculty, alums, students as presenters, etc. The list is quite extensive and creating a timeline will help reduce the stress of last minute complications.
While it may seem fairly straightforward, this step can take quite a bit of time since you need to reach a group consensus. It helps to settle on a theme that aligns with your mission, addresses an issue within your community, furthers your community's understanding of a local, national, or global issue. Following a year when significant divisions among people developed leading up to and following the 2016 presidential election, our committee felt the community would benefit from learning how to bridge divisions, find common ground, master civil discourse. It seemed to us, that if we could learn to really listen to each other, especially by sharing our personal stories, we might find ways to connect with others even if we disagreed in fundamental ways. So with this in mind, we set out to find a book that would help us do that.
Once you settle on a theme, you can focus on finding the right book. Start by compiling a long list of possible books. A great way to dive into this process is by reviewing publishers' catalogs of Common Reads. These are books that publishers have identified as being appropriate for (generally) a college-level, first-year group read. The catalogs include a combination of fiction and nonfiction, contemporary books and classics, that span a variety of genres. Here are links to two greats ones that you can use as a jumping off point:Knopf Doubledayand Penguin. We have found that you don't need to read an entire book to decide if it will make the cut to the shortlist. If you aren't engaged by the second chapter or so, it's a good chance that your students won't be either. Don't continue with a book that doesn't grab you; it's a waste of precious time if you have 20 or 30 books to review. A shared Google Doc is helpful for compiling your list, as is setting clear expectations that members come to meetings prepared to "pitch" at least one or two books. Continue culling your long list until you have between three or four serious contenders and then commit to each member reading all of the choices. If your group is having a hard time reaching a consensus, compiling a pro/con list can help. Don't worry, you will eventually choose your book! Again, this is where your timeline will come in handy; you probably don't want to leave for March Break not having made a decision.
Once you decide on a book, you can either continue with your whole committee or break into a smaller sub-group. You will need to decide what type of program will support your goals within your program budget. If your goal is to weave the theme throughout the school year, your planning will be different than if you plan a culminating day. Either way, you will have any number of moving parts to worry about. It helps to reconvene as a whole committee to discuss possible options if a sub-group is planning the event(s). Tap into resources you already have at your school; perhaps you have a committee at the school who is in charge of speakers? Alumni are an invaluable source for panel discussions, so consider recruiting the Alumni Office to help. There are too many programming possibilities to list, but do consider your community, your mission, and your school culture. And definitely think outside the box. This year, we decided to have Andrew Forsthoefel, the author of our 2017 ASR, Walking to Listen, come in May to roll out the book. Our students were thrilled with him and the opportunity to spend time with him after his talk. Now, when they read the book, they already have a connection. He will return in the fall for two days and our students are looking forward to working with him again. It is hard to imagine our students getting this excited if the committee announced the book in place of the author.
Once your program is finalized, it's important to begin marketing it. Your school probably has a procedure for how information is disseminated and which office coordinates that. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or other forms of social media, direct email, news stories posted on your school website are just a few of the ways to generate excitement. Posters around campus and displays in the library help to engage your community. Involve students in the creation of multi-media and written responses to the text and overall message/theme. Your current students will know about your program, but not new students, so make sure they are part of the program as well. Communicating with them directly is key. We send out an email and postcard with information on the ASR with links to our online guide. If your faculty will be asked to facilitate group discussions, make sure they know what is expected. The same goes for presentations. Again, your timeline is important as you want to make sure anyone involved in programming has enough lead time to prepare. The success of your program depends, in part, on getting your faculty and staff on board.
There are any number of ways to measure success in a program of this scope: did the students engage with the book, did it encourage thoughtful discussion, were there transferrable skills or knowledge that benefited the student and the community? You will probably get spontaneous feedback, both positive and negative from students, faculty, parents, and alumni. Solicit more formal feedback through surveys or discussions. Remember, some of your programs will be more successful than others. Try to be open to feedback and document suggestions before you complete planning for next year's ASR. Remember, you are often still completing programming for one ASR while planning for the next years! Savor your successes and use the knowledge gained from feedback to improve next year's program.