Teacher Wellness

Organizing a Faculty Summer Book Club

It’s not too late to get started on implementing a book group that can help keep colleagues connected during the long break.

June 25, 2024
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A summer book club can be a way to foster communication among teachers over break, enhance professional knowledge, and raise important pedagogical issues for educators to discuss. Teachers can be atomized during the school year, living in their own silos. A book club, centering on one book, gives teachers the chance to talk, discuss, even debate, in a safe and fun environment. It’s not too late to get started now for a midsummer option.

This will be my second year overseeing our summer book club, and I have a few ideas and opinions to share with educators who might be interested in starting a summer book club. 

First steps

Before moving forward with a summer book club for faculty, decide its purpose. Is the goal of the book club to get teachers together, enhance morale, or build community? All of these are valuable objectives that may lend themselves to choosing a more fast-paced, lighthearted book, one that can be read quickly and elicit good-humored discussion. On the other hand, perhaps the point of the book club is twofold: bring staff together and have important discussions. To this end, summer book clubs can be a means for professional development.

I have a tendency to pick nonfiction books. Our book club is reading Jonathan Haidt’s The Anxious Generation this summer. This will undoubtedly lead to discussions about teaching in our hyperconnected age, the use of technology as pedagogical tools, and cell phones in schools—all hot-button topics. Last summer, our club read The Teachers, by Alexandra Robbins. This led us to discuss disciplinary policies in our own school. Consider what you hope to achieve with your book club before taking the next steps.

The second rule of any faculty book club taking place over the summer? Make it easy to participate. You don’t want too many meetings, deadlines, or responsibilities. It’s summer, after all. People go on vacation, or they might just want a little time to themselves without too many school-related responsibilities.

With this in mind, we meet once during the summer. Choose a location that would be amenable to the most people regarding menu and atmosphere. Use your school’s facility if that’s the simplest, easiest option. You may wish to give teachers a list of questions to reflect on during or after reading the book. This can help bring focus and clarity to any discussion. However, don’t make answering the questions mandatory. Any work beyond reading the chosen text should serve merely as a suggestion.

Third, be intentional with whom you invite. I work at a relatively small high school, so I chose to invite the whole school (both staff and teachers). It worked in my situation, but this could get unwieldy at a larger school. There are several options to weigh: invite teachers and staff, invite all teachers, or invite only one or two departments. If the book you chose is content-specific, you may decide to center your book club around your department. If the book’s subject matter offers cross-curricular opportunities, invite more than one department. Invite all teachers if the book has something to offer everyone. Also, consider your objectives when choosing the size and scope of your book club.

Additionally, make sure you get administrators involved. Many of them may want to join, and this is the perfect opportunity for teachers and building leaders to talk in a relaxed environment. It’s nice to see all types of educators outside of the building; it gives us a fresh, more casual perspective on one another, especially if we aren’t communicating regularly during the school year. Administration can also help secure funding for venues and food, if that’s a possibility. This is what happened in our case. 

Try to get as much information about the event to participants prior to the conclusion of the school year as possible. This can be difficult, since many educators, as we all know, have the tendency to tune out in the summer. Bearing this in mind, it’s wise to have most of the logistics planned out prior to everyone rushing out for summer break. Make sure that everyone knows where you’re meeting, the book you’ve chosen, and the date and time. If possible, try to pin down the number of participants, especially if you are providing food. 

You may wish to invite the book club members to meet during the school year one or more times, after the initial summer meeting. Think about inviting the group just to have doughnuts or coffee. Ask if anyone has had any more thoughts about the book and its content after having begun the year. This keeps the group talking. Another possibility is having one or more participants discuss the book club at the year’s first faculty meeting. Speakers could talk about what they read and the discussions the club had at the summer meeting. This encourages others to join the next book club. 

A summer book club is a fun, informal way of fostering conversation and building friendships among staff. It’s enjoyable to see other educators with whom we work outside of the building; it gives us a fresh, casual perspective on one another. Book clubs also allow educators to contemplate some of the big questions of our field in a tolerant and friendly atmosphere.

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