Why No Teacher Should Pay for Professional Growth Books

Updated: Aug 19

In yesterday’s blog entry I discussed why no teacher should pay for basic classroom supplies.

Today I’m going to take this mentality a step further, explaining why no teacher should pay for books associated with professional growth.

According to Stephen Covey, "There’s no better way to inform and expand your mind on a regular basis than to get into the habit of reading good literature - you can get into the best minds that are now or have ever been in the world."

Continued professional advancement builds employee confidence and helps staff reach their full potential. Teachers who discover innovative concepts and fresh ideas through reading experience bursts of enthusiasm that last for months.

Here's the problem: While most educational leaders publicly support lifelong learning, few operationalize this attitude in day-to-day operations.

How many times have you seen the following scenario: An administrator tells a group of teachers, "this would be a great book for you to read" but there is no follow-through from the leader to purchase the book. Essentially, that person is saying, "I think this is a good idea, but you need to spend your own money if you want to make it happen."

As a school administrator, I have removed this barrier by creating the following expectation: When a teacher wants a book for professional development purposes, the district will purchase the book. No questions asked.

I realize this outside the box thinking may pose some questions. Three of those concerns are addressed below:

  • What will the teacher do in return? My answer is simple: Nothing. Some believe teachers need to participate in a book study or turn in a report to justify book purchases. How about we trust our staff and not treat them like high school students? If employees take initiative to request a book, let's assume they will read the book and implement their takeaways without leadership micromanaging.

  • Is this an appropriate use of public funds? I've spent considerable time looking through public dollar spending guidance. Purchasing professional books for staff development falls under a number of categories that will keep your auditor happy. Consider using your Professional Development budget, a common fund for most school districts around the country.

  • Does this approach get expensive? I've offered this “free books for all” option in two different districts and have yet to go broke. Teachers are respectful of the process. And if you have too many teachers wanting to read … is this really a bad problem? The simple gesture of supporting employee personal growth is well-worth the investment.

Speaking of investments, one example of how we implemented this mindset was when we purchased Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators by Elena Aguilar for any staff member (teacher or support staff) who was interested.

Aguilar’s book was selected because we felt she accurately discussed many of the challenges our district employees encounter. Furthermore, we also believed the book aligned with several of our district strategic anchors and core values.

We were pleasantly surprised when nearly 70 staff members requested their free copy of the book.

As the requests poured in, I was concerned with the cost to the district. Is this the best use of money? What will our business office think when they see we spent $1500 on books?

Once I got over the initial shock, I realized the following: If a $1500 investment will result in 70 staff members more excited about their job, further engaged in our district, and better prepared to teach our students … then heck yes we're going to spend $1500. What a bargain!

The best leaders don’t just give lip service to lifelong learning. They create systems where all barriers to lifelong learning are removed.

In a profession where employees are given few perks, let’s seize the opportunity to purchase professional books for our staff.

Copyright © 2019 by Dr. Jared Smith LLC.  Specializing in Leadership, Education, and Personal Growth.