In a recent article, I discussed how teachers should not be asked to use their own money to purchase basic classroom supplies for their classroom. I'm going to take this mindset a step further, proposing that teachers should never have to use their own money to purchase books for personal professional development.
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."
Clearly, if you've read my previous posts you realize I'm a big fan of lifelong learning. I believe continued professional growth helps build confidence and allows you to reach your full potential.
While it's important to suggest that lifelong learning is important, educational leaders must practice what they preach in their day-to-day operations. One way to do this is to remove all barriers to professional learning.
How many times have you seen the following scenario: A school leader tells a group of teachers "this would be a great book for you to read" but there is no commitment form the leader to purchase the book. Essentially, the leader 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 principal and now a superintendent, I have tried to remove this barrier by creating the following expectation: When a teacher wants a book for professional development purposes, the district will purchase the book.
I realize this thinking is outside the box and there could be a few concerns about this approach. Allow me to address those questions below:
What does the staff member do in return? Some believe teachers need to participate in a book study, turn in a report, or detail how they will use the book to justify book purchases. I don't believe this is necessary. Let's trust our staff. If employees take initiative to request a book, let's assume they will read the book and implement their takeaways without us micromanaging. Remember our teachers should be treated like professionals, not like students in our 9th Grade English class.
This isn't an appropriate use of public funds. I've spent a good deal of time looked through guidance on public dollar spending. Purchasing books for staff development falls under a number of categories that will keep your auditors happy. If nothing else, consider using your Professional Development budget, a common fund for most school districts around the country.
This approach is too expensive. I've offered this option in two different districts and have yet to run into an issue. If you ask me, having too many teachers asking for a book that will help them grow personally and professionally is a good problem to have. Furthermore, the gesture of showing staff members you are happy to support their personal growth is well-worth the investment.
Speaking of investments, one personal example I can share is when we asked our staff who might be interested in reading Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators by Elena Aguilar. Not only is the topic extremely relevant for our teachers, the book clearly aligns to our district mission of attracting and retaining outstanding staff members.
We were pleasantly surprised when nearly 60 staff members asked for a copy of the book. As the requests started to pour in I was a little concerned about how much this would cost the district. However, the more I reflected I realized the following: If spending $1000 to purchase books will make 60 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 $1000.
For school leaders who promote lifelong learning, I encourage you to put your money where your mouth is and consider purchasing professional books for staff members.
Looking for another great book discussing the importance of reading and lifelong learning? Consider reading The 5 AM Club by Robin Sharma.