Creating the Conditions: A Love of Reading

A gr. 6 student reads aloud to gr. 2 students during lunch.

This is the second part of a series on motivation called “Creating the Conditions”. For part one on student discipline, click here.

No charts. No stickers. No pizza parties. No awards. No certificates…. and LOTS of reading!

Following the post by Joe Bower, “Daddy, I Want a Book Buck!“, Joe and William Chamberlain encouraged me to share the story of how Kent School has created a positive culture of reading without the use of prizes and incentives programs.  It is difficult to sum up in a few paragraphs but I will make my best attempt to remember the MANY things that the staff and community of Kent School have done to create the conditions for students to motivate themselves to learn through an interest in reading.

In the past year there have been many moments that have made me step back and take note. Here are a few:

  • A student running into me as I walked down the hall because he was so into reading the book he just checked out from the library.
  • Our teacher-librarian shouting out to a primary student passing by, “Leila, I found some more books on pixies for you” and the student responding, “Yay, I will come see them in the morning!”.
  • A student, who less than 2 years ago was a non-reader, coming into the library and asking for any more Dav Pilkey books.
  • Seeing and being part of the seemingly endless activities in our “For the Love of Books” month. Please check out our teacher-librarian’s blog posts on “For the Love of Books”.
  • Getting the results back from our student survey that asked: do you like to read? 97% said  YES
  • Seeing a teacher holding up a huge poster board that had all the book and author recommendations from students from the previous year.
  • Seeing EVERY teacher in the school reading aloud to their students on a consistent basis.
  • Being part of numerous author and illustrator visits.
  • Checking out all the teacher “Hot Picks” books on display outside their doors.
  • Hearing teachers ask powerful questions about reading; also observing teachers trying new things (to our school – like the Daily 5/CAFE) to help teach and encourage reading.
  • Have a teacher-librarian working virtually side by side with our community-librarian to promote reading.
  • Seeing a line up of kids so excited to read with our volunteer community readers on Tuesday and Thursday mornings before school.
  • Seeing students so excited to write letters to their favourite authors
  • Observing our grade 6 lunch leaders reading aloud to both groups and individual students.
  • Being part of a school-wide “Read-In” in which all our students packed into the library (in shifts) to read.
  • Watching children aged 4 and under take out books in an area of their interest as part of our Family Library Card program.
  • Walking into a classroom and seeing kids sprawled everywhere – in every corner and even in cupboards – choosing a spot in which they LOVE to read.
  • Discussing the idea of our kindergarten students walking to our senior care facilities to have our elders read to them.
  • Seeing students so excited about our book swap and book shops in our library.
  • Observing our teacher-librarian read to our Strong-Start (birth to age 5) students each Friday afternoon.
  • Hearing our staff state how important the teacher-librarian position is to our school and using their voice to ensure that we maintain this in our budget. (although I need very little nudging to keep this as a key part of our budget ;-)).
  • Having our previous librarian choose to go back to the classroom to share her passion with reading with her students AND state that she felt the position should go to our current teacher-librarian who was completing the TL program and was excited for the opportunity.
  • Seeing our buddy readers march from the intermediate end down to the primary end each Friday.
  • Having a student so excited to say to me, “Mr. Wejr – I finally got a book on girls’ hockey!”
  • Knowing that every teacher is committed to DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) time – and students are not forced to read books in which they have no interest.  Not enjoying the book? Head on down to the library and get a different one.
  • Watching groups of teachers and staff members meet and discuss on their own time how we need to work to create a culture of reading at our school.

I am sure there are so many things and conversations that occur in our classrooms and libararies that I do not see but the items in the list above have significant impact on our kids’ interest in books. The best part of all of this is that I have had very little to do with leading this culture of reading.  Teachers have used their professional autonomy to meet during professional development time (and beyond) to discuss and implement many ideas to help our students become more engaged readers. One group of teachers used Steven Layne’s book, Igniting a Passion For Reading, to fuel professional dialogue around doing just what the title has stated; these conversations have spread to the staff room, staff meetings and into other classrooms.  At our school, I am so proud to share that we have large number of teachers who are truly excited about reading – they model this in how they teach and what they do every day.  We also strongly believe in the role of the teacher-librarian in our school; our library is slowly converting into a learning commons area and is definitely the literacy and learning hub of our school.

Although this post is primarily to share the story of how a staff can create a positive culture of reading without the use of prizes and other extrinsic rewards, there are embedded stories about the importance of professional autonomy, tapping into the strengths of teachers, teacher leadership, student motivation, staff collaboration, and the power of a school library with a passionate teacher-librarian.

I often hear that students with little home support NEED extra incentives to get them to read.  The staff of Kent school have worked hard to prove this theory incorrect. It is not about pizza parties, book bucks, and stickers – it is about creating the conditions for students to develop a love of reading.

Thank you to the students and staff of Kent School for all they have taught me about the power of promoting a real love of books. Images are a powerful way of sharing stories; please check out the video below for images of what we do to encourage reading at our school (I realize here is a spelling mistake as I could not fit the title in :-)).

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Chris Wejr

Proud father of twin girls and a son. Currently working as the Principal of Shortreed Elementary School (K-5) in Aldergove, BC, Canada. Passionate about instruction, strengths-based education and leadership, reconciliation, assessment, and human motivation.


  1. Chris
    This is a great example of how you, as principal, can inspire others to make meaningful change by sharing your “narrative”.
    Congrats to your community and continued success

  2. I love this, Chris! We have, in addition to classroom reading, an all-school reading time every single day. When that time ends, kids usually ask for “5 more minutes!” or something to that effect, because they are so into their books.

    That kind of culture is so simple to cultivate. Our kids choose the books they read during that time, and I’m amazed often by what they want to read. They also share how much they’re reading at home… BY CHOICE. Love, love, love!

    Thanks for addressing the Book Bucks, pizza parties, etc. We operate under a philosophy of “Why should we be rewarded for things we should already be doing?” The kids are really starting to internalize that. They still ask for rewards occasionally, but I think they’re on the right track.

    Kudos to you and your school community!

    • Love that philosophy… although it often takes more time and energy to encourage internalizing things, I believe it is worth it in the end.

  3. I find it difficult to read white on black type and almost impossible to read gray on black.

  4. Such a great improvement over years… I remember when you took a sports autobiography to read in SSR in high school and you weren’t allowed to read it in school… unacceptable reading material, you were told. So glad your staff, students, and parents are practicing, supporting and encouraging reading. Reading they want to read, what they are interested in learning more about… that’s how they learn to ‘love to’ read.

    • Funny you bring that up, Mom – I use this as an example of when we discuss the power of student choice. I remember “sneaking” the Tiger Williams story into class to read. What a rebel… haha 🙂

  5. This sounds so exciting. I really believe that a love of reading is the foundation of lifelong learning (and pure enjoyment). Thanks for sharing the many things that contribute to a culture of reading in your school. I’ll be borrowing some ideas and I hope my own kids will catch the excitement.

  6. I love what your school is doing!!

    My kindergarten son LOVES being read to, but he sure does coloring in his little pizzas for Book-It every morning after the night before’s story. It’s an extra “cherry” for him, who already loved story time…. but what about those who do not? Great job!

    • Hey Christina – this is a common question and there is an assumption that we need the extra perks to get kids to read. We are a rural school with a high population of students at or below the poverty line and many with varying levels of home support. We have found that helping students to learn how to select books at their level and in an area of interest… and doing many of the things mentioned in the post has lasting effects on kids. When we throw in the incentives, kids often read whatever (maybe or maybe not books in an area of their interest) just to get the treat. Over time, when the treats are gone, the enjoyment of reading can potentially be lost. It is important that we continue to think big picture and long term as to develop a true interest in books for kids. For some, it takes much longer that others but I have seen the unintentional damage that can be done when we offer treats for students to do things… rather than creating the conditions for them to see the pleasure and benefit of the skill/task alone. Thanks so much for bringing up this important point.

  7. Any discussion about how to get kids reading more is ALWAYS a positive one. Like you said, Chris, the key is developing a lifelong love of reading–no matter the material or format–this is the key to getting kids to WANT to read. Cheers!

  8. This is an important post that needs to go viral. It’s true that there are many reluctant readers out there who come from less than optimal learning conditions — but it’s also true that too many people assume that we have to resort to a culture of rewards and manipulation in order to inspire a love for reading and books.

    It makes little sense to me that we would create a love for reading by creating a culture of rewards. A love of reading can only come from a culture of reading.

    I explore some of these topics in another post called: Rewarding Reading, Ruining Readers http://www.joebower.org/2012/10/rewarding-reading-ruining-readers.html

  9. This is such an encouraging post. I remember the passion of my 7th and 8th grade language arts teacher. I remember how her passion for reading spread like fire through each of us. She would read the same books we did and as she discovered something new and exciting she would preview it by reading the first few chapters aloud. Then it would be a mad dash to check that particular book out. It just shows how we can influence our readers just by being an example!

    • What a great addition to this conversation, Ashley! Such a simple idea but something that the teachers in our school have recently taught me too. I am reading one kids book a week to help in this too.

  10. I’ve never found a need to use incentives to get my kids reading–they love reading as long as I let them choose most (or all) of the things they read. They are so interested in reading the books their friends are reading, or the books that I hold up and offer at the beginning of the day when “new” books arrive in our classroom (or are pulled off of shelves in my closet). Often, the read-alouds I share are the most popular books to read. However, I have had parents share that their children are not as excited to read when they get home. I wonder if your school has also had success with at-home reading, and what the reasons might be for that?

    • You ask a very important question and one that I would not like to find the answer to… I know our family library card and home reading (with choice) have been successful but we often only hear from those parents with kids that love to read. Will discuss this with our teacher-librarian to see if we can come up with a survey for our parents. Thanks for the question… and the push!

  11. Great post Wejr. I am in the middle of reading “The Book Whisperer-Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child” It was highly recommended during the Middle School Conference this past week.

    • Hey Kempy! That is on my list to read too. I follow Donalyn on Twitter but have not read her book. One of our teachers recently recommended it – thanks for the push to read this one!

  12. Chris, this post of yours makes me so excited! I absolutely love reading, and it always upsets me when I hear about students that don’t enjoy it. It’s great to hear how your staff has helped create a culture of “reading for the love it,” and I really appreciate all of the information you shared here. I’m going to share this post with the other teachers at my school. I think it will inspire them as well.

    I have a question for you though: what would you recommend doing if you don’t have a full-time librarian? At our school, we have a 0.2 librarian, and she’s actually my teaching partner in Grade 6. She’s not in the library much, and while we do have some open library times, and teachers can sign-up to take their students down to the library at other times, the library is definitely not as “open” as it seems to be in your school. Have you experienced this before? What would you suggest to still make the library available to students when they want to go? If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them!

    Thanks for such an inspiring post!

  13. Hey Aviva – and great question. Long term? Push for more library time. I am a big believer in this but so is our staff – they make our library time a priority. Short term (and long term)? I would look at the many ideas in Layne’s book – like “book buzz” and “book trailers”, etc to market books for kids. The other thing I have seen is teachers combining their classroom libraries to create more selection for students. One other thing that our librarian and teachers do is a book shop in which students tour the library and complete a wish list of books they would like. Once they have completed this list, then you and the librarian can work together to have off-times to take out these books (more work, I know). We implemented an online library catalogue so kids can see which books are available from anywhere that has a computer – this helps too and was fairly reasonable in cost.

    Let me know how things go – would love to hear the ideas that you come up with too!

  14. Chris, thank you so much for sharing these ideas! I’m happy to say that we do have an online catalogue and that helps a lot. I love the “book buzz” and “book trailer” idea. Now you have me thinking! 🙂 Combining classroom libraries is a wonderful idea as well. I’m going to share your post with the teachers at my school. Maybe they can come up with some more ideas. We may have limited library time right now, but it would be great to see what other options we can explore in the meantime.


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