Nourishing a Culture of Reading

What is the most important skill you learn at school? Is it the social skills: taking turns, sharing and asking questions? Or perhaps numeric skills: how to add and subtract and discovering more complicated solutions to math problems? What about reading?

Reading impacts everything we do in our lives – DAILY

When I was the Elementary Principal at the International School Bangkok, we made it a point to tackle reading. We researched the latest theories on reading, we taught our teachers how to teach reading, we taught our parent community how to support their children in learning how to read and we focused on sharing our passion for reading with the kids – nourishing in them a love of reading.

The results were remarkable. We created a culture of reading. Everyone read – everyday.

As the principal, I too made every effort to share my love of reading and modeled for my students its value. By the end of the second year, our library had checked out more than 100,000 books for a student population of 700, an average of more than 140 books per person!

When I arrived at Lakefield College School, it was a big change. High school students have many subjects and extra and co-curricular activities competing for their time, on top of social demands. I also noticed the remarkable amount of time our students (and most young people today) spent on their iPhones, Galaxies and Androids. While our students were reading in their classes and supported by passionate teachers, they were not choosing to read during unstructured time.

Why does reading matter?

Research shows us that reading is the number one transferable skill to all academic and learning areas. Reading, for pleasure, is both an escape and a porthole to imagination and creativity, one of the key 21st Century Learning traits.  It expands the brain like no other cognitive excercise and even helps to build empathy – an important characteristic aligned with the school’s values. See Scholastic’s website for an interesting summary on the topic. There are also interesting  studies looking at the value of reading books (print text) and how this may lead to a deeper engagement with the content being read. (See Can Students “Go Deep” with Digital Reading or Student to e-textbooks: no thanks!).

How do you establish a culture of reading in a high school?

At LCS nourishing a culture of reading is an important goal for us and a work in progress.   Thanks to the passionate leadership of Dave Krocker, Curriculum Leader: Humanities and our English team, a shift is starting to happen. From read-alouds in Chapel, to dedicated reading time during Grove Time, to providing multiple text options for students in English class and launching school-wide reading challenges, we are slowly seeing a shift toward our culture of reading.

Another way students and staff share their favourite reads: the LCS Featured Readers section of the library.

It began two summers ago with a revamped summer reading program that elicited great response. Based on a “voice and choice” model, the program moved away from teachers prescribing one title, to students picking their own. At the same time, the “LCS Staff Picks” list was born: encouraging staff to share their personal passion for reading, and favourite book titles, with students. Students (and parents) have responded very positively to the program. Many students use this link (soon to be expanded to include picks from the broader community), and other recommended lists, throughout the academic year to find books they connect with.  The “voice and choice” model is also used in many classes. The freedom to follow their own passion and interests has helped more reticent readers to have powerful reading experiences.

This past Mid-Term Break David Krocker initiated our first ever “reading challenge,” which saw over 26 participants reading over 30 minutes a day every day during the break. Teaching Fellow Nichola Bendle is leading this December’s Holiday Break Reading Challenge (to read for 30 minutes a day, for 16 days – December 20 until January 4). With 120 readers (students, staff and parents) already signed up, the momentum is growing!

As a school that values so highly teaching and learning through relationships – we can’t help but be excited by the impromptu connections and conversations that occur between students and staff around the topic of books – sharing what we read and why we love it!

We still have a long way to go. Competing with technology is hard. Our kids are wired differently today than they were in the past. We need to continue to make reading important and attractive. We need to show students that reading is the most important skill they will pick up at school.

The Lakefield Educator’s Apprenticeship Program

Nourishing our teachers within an exemplary learning community

“Every year’s a LEAP year at Lakefield College School!”  It’s the expression a beaming Joe Bettencourt, Assistant Head: Academics, used last Wednesday at our program meeting as he shared the many successes of our newest initiative: the Lakefield Educator’s Apprenticeship Program (LEAP).

Coming out of a very successful pilot launch in 2013/14, LEAP is well into its second year with equally strong results. In addition to strengthening and advancing the 21st century learning experience for our boarding and day students, the purpose of LEAP is to support new teachers as they begin their professional career as educators. Through a competitive process attracting some of the best teacher graduates from across Ontario, four outstanding candidates are selected each year to participate in our program.

“One of the many traditions enjoyed by LCS graduates – leaping into Lake Katchewanooka immediately following their last high school exam. It’s a unique rite of passage, celebrating both the ending and beginning of an era, that provided a great metaphor and inspiration (in more ways then one) for the Lakefield Educator’s Apprenticeship Program (LEAP).”  ~Joe Bettencourt

Teaching Fellows contribute fresh talent, resources and support to our greater LCS faculty team who, in turn, provide mentorship and coaching as the new teachers explore their career paths. Inherent in this collaborative partnership are many professional learning moments that occur on both sides.

“Participating in the Lakefield Educator’s Apprenticeship Program offers a great opportunity for staff learning and professional development. It encourages a partnership – between Teaching Fellows and Mentors – that models the same type of learning we seek to encourage in our students: taking risks, being creative, learning how to collaborate and reflecting on our practice.”   ~ Joe Bettencourt

A professional leadership learning opportunity

The program offers a new learning opportunity for Lakefield College School faculty who seek to develop their professional leadership and coaching capacity. Teaching and learning alongside Teaching Fellows, our Teaching Mentors grow their professional practice while supporting the learning of our students through a team teaching approach. Joe describes these as “experiential professional leadership learning opportunities” that involve co-planning, co-facilitating and co-assessing learning. Every hour LCS Teaching Mentors invest in this program brings simultaneous dividends to our Teaching Fellows, our students, and the mentors themselves.

A unique program for teachers in Ontario

“LEAP is one more way LCS nourishes its people and distinguishes itself as an exemplary learning community,” says Joe, “there are no educational apprenticeships like it in Ontario.” Fully engaged in classes and co-curriculars, Teaching Fellows co-teach alongside their Teacher Mentors in a yearlong commitment. They gain a full year of continuous day-to-day professional experience with their students, while providing valuable support to the school. In many of the classes where they are involved, average student to teacher ratios are less than 10:1. Our students have had an overwhelmingly positive response to the benefits of the “two-teacher” model, which, during a 70-minute class, means more one-on-one time between students and teachers and dynamic class lessons shared between two individuals. They are important benefits of the program.

When asked about LEAP outcomes thus far, Joe is quick to say:

“I’m so pleased with how well the collaborative relationships are taking root. Our Teaching Fellows are forming a great professional teaching community amongst themselves and with the LCS faculty mentors they are partnered with. In fact, some of our Teaching Fellows last year had a hard time saying goodbye. They became an integral part of our community of students and teachers. Even after they had finished the program, some returned to campus to attend events like Fall Fair, to catch up on news and keep in touch. And our students and teachers feel the same way about them.”

We are proud to say that within the broader educational community, Lakefield College School is strengthening its reputation for providing a coveted pool of qualified and experienced young professionals for hire – many being hired by private boarding and day schools (including LCS). First, through our long-standing two year Assistant Head of House (residential life) program, and now through our very successful Lakefield Educator’s Apprenticeship Program.



What Great Boarding Schools Have in Common

Every day at LCS, we look for those things that inspire and energize us, teachers and students alike. The more we share and collaborate, the more motivated we become and the more we learn – together. We often describe the process as “learning through relationships,” a keystone to developing and strengthening habits of lifelong learning.

Head of Lakefield College School Struan Robertson chats with LCS students in the hallway
My favourite part of the day – catching up with our students in the hallway.

I recently came upon an article, written by two leaders in the private education sphere, highlighting the qualities and priorities that boarding schools like LCS, “built to last,” tend to share: 25 Factors Great Boarding Schools Have in Common. In it, the authors write:

“Great boarding schools persist over time because they appeal to families seeking an education of deep impact, focused not only on academic training, but also on the formation of good character, habits of lifelong learning, and active citizenship.”

The article lists so many qualities that resonate with the richness of learning experienced at LCS. Among others, ideas around experiential learning, building resilience through challenge, andgraduating students who are both ‘good and smart,’” are themes often discussed at our school.

As such, 25 Factors Great Boarding Schools Have in Common  provides an interesting basis for our own self-reflection as a school. Last week, I shared the article with the school’s Leadership Team asking them to identify the top 3 strengths and top 3 weaknesses for LCS. The results were very interesting. In the coming week, I will share the same questions with our faculty and school board. I believe it will be a great exercise – rich with insights and perspectives of our various members – that will continue to feed our processes as we improve and seek to fulfil our goal of being “Canada’s finest boarding school, preparing students best for life in the 21st century.”   ~ Our Way | More Intentionally Lakefield

I encourage you to read the article and determine for yourself the qualities you most value in a great boarding school education. I also hope that you will continue to follow LCS Learns, where we will share the stories of our students and staff, and that which inspires and motivates them.