Sunday, December 13, 2009

One Book, One School

Seneca once said, "The best ideas are common property."

Isn't that the truth in teaching? In my school district, great ideas are passed up and down the hallways and in between school buildings. And thanks to the many kinds of electronic communication, lesson ideas are spreading instantaneously from up the street and around the world.

One Book, One School was one of those "common property" ideas for me. Let me explain.

I belong to a PLC that consists of Heinemann authors and consultants. Once a year we meet face to face, but mostly we connect via Elluminate and conference calls. Colleen Buddy is one of my colleagues in this PLC. She is truly an idea person! During one of our Heinemann retreats, Colleen shared an idea that brought her school closer together. The initiative was called One Book, One School. I listened to Colleen, scribbled down some notes, and went home ready to share. One Book, One School is simple. Inexpensive. Powerful. Here's how we made it work for us.

I met with our eight elementary principals, suggesting that we all read the same book at the same time, in every grade level at each school. The goal here is unity around a meaningful theme. And the coolest part about it is that it all begins with picture book.

As Colleen recommended, we settled on The Golden Rule for our first attempt. Written by Ilene Cooper and illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska, this beautiful book reminds us all to treat others with the dignity and respect we want for ourselves. What greater message could be shared with our students?

Now we don't have a lot of money to spare, so in most cases we purchased a copy of The Golden Rule to be shared by each grade level at each school. During the first week of the school year, every child heard and discussed The Golden Rule with their classmates and teacher. Principals could stop in any classroom after the first few days of school and strike up a conversation about this age-old concept. The book's theme perfectly supported our district's anti-bullying initiative and classroom management plans.

We didn't stop there. Soon students were writing connections to the text and posting them in the hallways for all to see. Articles about The Golden Rule appeared in school-to-home newsletters and on school websites. Classroom teachers and their students brainstormed ways to practice The Golden Rule at school, on the bus and at home. Talking about The Golden Rule became part of weekly class meetings in the classrooms.
Several of our schools held additional One Book, One School weeks during the school year, like right after winter break and right before our high-stakes test week. The possibilities are endless!

With our hectic school schedules and filled-to-the-brim planning time, it is sometimes hard to come together around a common idea. One Book, One School is a wonderful, easy way to to do just that. It worked for us! And now this idea is officially "common property", just as Seneca said.

For more information, read this Education World article.



  1. Love this idea! I am going to propose it to our staff our first day back at school. I am curious to learn which other books you used during the year. Could you please share?

  2. Another book that some of our schools used for "One Book, One School" is Dr. Seuss' classic, Hooray For Diffendoofer Day!

    This book encourages us to think, and reminds us that we can take tests with confidence if we do our best thinking.

    P.S. 160 in Brooklyn, NY has a "Book of the Month Club" where they share a common read many times throughout the year. I have requested a list of the titles they have recently used. I'll post these titles to the blog when I receive them.