Read to Grow: the power to know

A blog by National Blogging Collaborative co-found and coach, Christopher Bronke (@mrbronke)

If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Steve Jobs. Melinda Gates. Warren Buffett. Oprah Winfrey. Barack Obama. Ted Turner. Hillary Clinton. Richard Branson. Mark Cuban.

These are men and women of great intellect and tremendous success. Business icons, technology inventors, NBA champions, and US presidents, but aside from their rare intellect, this powerful group has one simple yet time-tested key to success: They read…a lot.

Recently, I had the chance to listen to Melinda Gates deliver a Q&A session to over 400 teachers, and what struck me wasn’t what she had to say about education or the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation (although her thoughts on both were enlightening), it was about how much she talked about reading. She vividly recalled some of her favorite books (including classics like The Great Gatsby and Man’s Search for Meaning), and she talked excitedly about how she and Bill always agree to read the same book (often times aloud to one another) while on vacation. As the session went on, Melinda shared the prominent role reading plays in her kids’ lives, too. In reflecting back on this experience, one thing became clear: in large part, successful people are successful because they read; it is that simple.

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go

— Dr. Seuss

Teachers are busy; there is no doubt about that. And what worries many is that the demands are not getting any easier. In fact, if one were to analyze trends, teachers are getting busier by the year. That said, we must make time to read, consistently. Think about it: we ask our students read almost nightly; we get frustrated when they don’t, and we like to profess that reading makes us more human, filled with empathy that only the power of story can instill, and yet, all too often, with the chaos of grading and planning and trying to have a life, we forego making reading a commitment in our lives. I still remember one of the most embarrassing things I said as a young teacher. When someone asked me what I was currently reading I said, “I don’t have time to read; I get paid to read student papers.” Looking back on that, I am appalled at my young teacher-self.

However, when asked that same question today, I can share what two books I am reading (always engaged in two at a time), what my last five were and what my next three or four will be. So, as this school year ramps up, remember, “the more you read, the more things you will know…”

It is what you read when you do not have to that determines what you will be when you cannot help it

— Oscar Wilde

There is often debate, especially amongst my English teaching colleagues, about what constitutes “good reading.” We banter about if one must, even somewhat consistently, be engaged with the classics or contemporary classics in order to be a serious reader. I try to avoid these debates as I think Wilde put it best in the quote above. The reality is that because of how busy we are, simply reading when you don’t “have to” makes us better. Penny Kittle puts it best in her book, Book Love when she encourages us to make sure our classrooms have “roller coaster” reading; moving up and down in rigor, content, theme, style, genre, authors, and any other factors of text, and I think it only makes sense that we try to do the same as adult readers both to model this practice for our kids but also to make reading fun for ourselves. So next time you are not having fun with a book, don’t give up on reading…just give up on that book and take a new turn on your reading rollercoaster.

Until I feared I would lost it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.

— Harper Lee

It is important to remember what a gift we have been given (and we give our students) in the ability to read. While the world’s literacy rate is 84% (which is still WAY too low), countries like Afghanistan have a literacy rate of 28%. Too often we take for granted the tremendous power inherent in literacy, in reading, in allowing our hearts and minds to be enwrapped in and captivated by the magic of the human experience told in story. And remember, like the work of a great teacher:

A good book has no ending

— R.D. Cumming