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Online Teacher Book Clubs: Promoting a Culture of Professional Development

Cheryl Boes

Media Specialist
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Room of seated adults surrounded by book shelves with four people front and center speaking

Creating a culture of sharing and professional dialogue is an essential element for school success. Teachers who read, discuss, and implement current educational research are more engaged and ready to take on the challenges in their classroom. But the reality is that teachers lead busy lives, making it difficult to find time for these valuable discussions. Learn how creating an online book club for sharing ideas can invigorate teachers and encourage professional reading and conversations. One advantage is that a blog is always available anywhere that a teacher has web access.

Getting Started

There are a number of things to consider before you start your online book club. What book or article would you like to discuss? Will you involve the entire staff or a small group of teachers? What site will you utilize to host your online conversation? Who will be the moderator? Setting up a book club is quite simple. Just follow these basic guidelines and make adjustments to best meet the needs of your school community.

Step 1: Select a Book

Is your school launching a new program or initiative? That may be a great place to start. Purchase books for the teachers. Maybe you could draw on a professional development fund, since the online book club is definitely a strategy that encourages professional growth. If funds are not available, you can find free educational articles online or purchase a few copies of a book to place in a professional library for teachers check out and share.

"I think it brought our staff together on one unified front. We all were thinking and talking about the same concept, and some put forth an idea that I never would have thought of or experienced." (Teacher feedback)

Step 2: Establish and Share a Schedule

Choose a start date, and create a reading schedule for your chosen book or article. It's important for all members of the book club to be ready to discuss chapters or sections at the same time. While quick readers may read ahead, a schedule allows everyone to stay focused on the topics to be discussed for each online post. A strategy that has worked for our school is for the group facilitator to post a weekly discussion topic on the blog. Some teachers will be new to blogging and book clubs, so the weekly question serves as springboard to guide their responses to the text. Set the tone for an online culture that accepts all ideas and encourages teachers to elaborate on how they are using this new information to make a difference in their classroom.

"The blog format does help with busy schedules because you can answer whenever you want." (Teacher feedback)

Step 3: Choose an Online Hosting Site

There are a number of free blogging sites for educators. If you plan to create an online book club for your school, explore a few options before you get started. First, check with your administrator or technology department to see whether your school is already subscribing to tools that you can use. Does your district have an existing website or blog that could work as a hosting site? You may want to host the book blog on another site if the content wouldn't be relevant for the entire school community (parents, students, etc.) We chose Weebly as the hosting site for our online book blog, and we didn't connect it with our school website because we wanted a safe place for teachers to share their ideas and reactions to a book that wasn't pertinent for parents and students. Edublogs, Wix, and Wordpress are just a few sites that you can visit to create your own free online space. The Educational Technology and Mobile Learning website is a great source for more ideas.

Tips for the Moderator

The success of your book club and blog will increase if you have a moderator. His or her main role is setting up and overseeing the blog. Many books have discussion guides that can be purchased or downloaded online. These guides assist the moderator with creating discussion topics to post. He or she will post discussion questions that follow the schedule shared with teachers, and respond to questions on the blog or in person if a teacher is having trouble adding a comment. Periodically, set up a face-to-face meeting before or after school, or even during lunch, where teachers can share their ideas in person in addition to the conversations that have occurred online.

Book Ideas

Here are a few books that have been successful for us. The possibilities are endless!

  1. What Great Teachers Do Differently: 17 Things That Matter Most by Todd Whitaker
  2. The Core Six: Essential Strategies for Achieving Excellence with the Common Core by Harvey F. Silver, R. Thomas Dewing, & Matthew J. Perini
  3. The Leader in Me by Stephen R. Covey

Outcomes

Teachers will participate a multitude of ways when you establish an online book-sharing community. Some teachers will post every time a new discussion topic is shared, and some will monitor the posts of others and only post occasionally. We found that our teachers were motivated and inspired to share and try new strategies.

"I like the online book clubs because I could read and respond at the times that were convenient for me, yet I still had the opportunity to share and learn from others." (Teacher feedback)

Does your school have an online book club? If not, how do you think your team might benefit? Please share your thoughts below in the comments section.

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Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

I love the idea of book clubs, but I've found that the online variety just doesn't do it for me. For some reason I need the face-to-face to make it work (which is odd because I loved the online classes I've taken.) I'd like to hear from folks who've had great experiences with them. I know ISTE is doing one right now using Voxer- they seem very busy (I know because I enrolled but have yet to crack the book or post anything, but I get all the notifications on my phone. Lots of people really seem to be enjoying it!) I'm hopeful that one of these days I'll be able to participate successfully in one! Thanks for a great post!

Cheryl Boes's picture
Cheryl Boes
Media Specialist

Thanks Laura for sharing your experiences with book clubs. Our first online book club took place during the summer months so the book blog was a perfect way for everyone to stay connected and share their thoughts, opinions and applications regarding the book we were reading. I agree that face-to-face communication is always best since you have opportunities to have in-depth conversations and debates. However, the online option can be useful too. There are some book club members that feel more comfortable sharing their ideas online because they can think it through and also read the comments from other members before posting. We definitely had the best of both worlds since our book club members were also colleagues and after the summer ended we were able to discuss the book in person at school. We continue to host our book club online and if needed we discuss important topics from the books during staff meetings or lunch gatherings.

Alanna King's picture

A friend and colleague just shared your post to me as I've just launched an online book club that I've been planning for months. #BIT15Reads will have one face-to-face meeting at the Bring IT Together conference, November 4 to 6 in Niagara Falls, ON. In 2 weeks with a launch on Twitter we have 50 members already. I'm using Goodreads for discussions, and member blogs for deeper review of personal reactions. However, I'm breaking your rule about scheduling and books. I'm modelling this first round on Canada Reads which asks for nominations of books in a category, and then everyone votes over a few weeks. So our category is best non-fiction books of 2014 that highlight technology's role in education. We have about 9 weeks, and 12 books to choose from (so far). I'm asking the most enthusiastic club members to take a lead on reviewing, and moderating discussions. We've already solicited review copies from publishers and reached out to authors. My hope is to have scheduled Twitter chats, Google hangouts with authors and each other. It's a huge leap of faith but the point is to establish a community for the conference attendees that lasts all year and to deepen our professional development. So far the response is overwhelming from a group of very savvy people. Have you ever used analytics to see how members are using your platform...time of day, etc.? Is there anything else you do to encourage participation?

Cheryl Boes's picture
Cheryl Boes
Media Specialist

This sounds very exciting, Alanna. I have not done an in-depth study as to when teachers log in and make comments but I do have it set up to email me each time a comment is made. From this informal information I can tell you that teachers leave comments all hours of the day. I love your idea of using the conference as an opportunity to meet face-to-face. Collaborating online is great but it really does make a difference when you can meet someone in person. Your enthusiasm and the preparation you have already put into this will definitely contribute to the success of your online book club.

jkiss2's picture

I love and appreciate anything that has an online feel because there never seems to be enough hours in the day to drive to a venue, then sit for an hour, and drive back home. Working in an online setting is definitely the way to go...for me. I understand others feel to have face-to-face contact, therefore I am respectful of that fact. By the way just a little reminder that online does not necessarily mean non-face-to-face when there are venues such as Yahoo messenger and Skype in case you need that visual feel. Awesome conversation. Thank you.

Jaime Lozano's picture

Thank you for the great information. Years ago my principal started a book dialogue as part of professional development. Unfortunately, not everyone was on board with the idea. With the use of social media tools book clubs can be easier to manage. As you all know a teacher's schedule is always full during the school year, adding another thing to the schedule can be daunting. Your advice on how to go about participating and managing a book club is realistic.

jkiss2's picture

One more thing I wanted to add to the positive in any online platform is that we are able to experience the views of others globally.

Cheryl Boes's picture
Cheryl Boes
Media Specialist

We definitely found that the online book club was much more manageable with busy schedules. It is also great to have an archive of all of our online discussions and books read. It is interesting to look back over the comments and see how we have grown as a staff.

Cheryl Boes's picture
Cheryl Boes
Media Specialist

Thank you for bringing up the fact that online book clubs can include face-to-face dialogue if you have access to Skype, Google Hangouts, FaceTime or other tools that make connecting with others quite simple.

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