Episode 48 of The Teaching Space Podcast explores the benefits of setting up a book club and how to do so.
In the last episode (47 How to Make Time to Read More) I mentioned setting up a professional development book club at my college. This week I will walk you through the process, step-by-step, hoping you might consider doing something similar.
Before we delve into the practical aspects of setting up a book club, let’s consider why it’s a good idea.
Why Set Up a Book Club?
Towards the end of last year, I took on a new role at my college: CPD Manager and Scholarly Lead. One of my responsibilities is coordinating professional development for all staff (teaching and non-teaching). While I expected some resistance to PD activities, I was a little surprised at the level of resistance some colleagues demonstrated (this is will be covered in a future podcast episode).
For me, professional development is at the heart of the teaching profession. How can we be great teachers without loving learning?
Does any teacher or trainer genuinely think it’s OK to teach in exactly the same way they did 10 years ago and not try be better, or at least, current? Would you let a surgeon using 10-year old methods operate on you? I think probably not.
Reading can be a relatively low-friction gateway to professional development for some. It’s not for everyone, but given the rising popularity of audiobooks and the relatively low price of ebooks, it’s an accessible gateway. With this in mind, I started a book club for colleagues.
Before I started, here are some questions I asked myself:
Questions to Ask Yourself
1. Who is the book club for?
My book club is for all staff - teaching and non-teaching. This felt important as so often, PD activities in colleges or schools feel aimed at teaching staff only.
If you are a freelance trainer, you might consider organising a book club for other people in a similar position to you.
2. What kind of books will you read?
Considering my response to the first question, I’ve been very careful to choose a variety of personal and professional development titles. Some are education-based, but most focus on general personal development. For example, our first book choice was Atomic Habits by James Clear. I will talk a little more about that particular booking next week’s episode.
I have categorised each book choice to ensure variety.
3. Who will choose the books?
I have collaborated with my college librarian to organise this book club so at the moment; we are choosing book titles. However, it is my aim that club members will eventually take on the responsibility. I want it to be their book club.
4. How will you advertise the book club?
I send out a weekly email to colleagues called PD Weekly. I advertise the book club in this email, and on my own internal website. The website is a Google Site and I have a page for the book club. You can see a screenshot below.
The page includes information about the club (e.g. who it is for and how frequently we read, meet etc). There’s also an emphasis on the fact that the club is low commitment. Staff can dip in and out when they want.
There’s an embedded Google Sheet which shows book choices, meeting dates, links to where to get the book, etc.
There is also a Google Group/Online discussion forum embedded on the site.
5. When and where will you meet?
My college is spread across three campuses so the plan is to rotate locations. Generally, we are based in the library. We meet monthly - I’ll delve into date logistics in a moment.
6. How long will you give people to read the book?
Actually this is one of the most important logistically bits to decide. Here’s what we do:
1st week of the month: announce book title
Last Thursday of the month: meet to discuss the book
This gives participants just under a month to read the book. Of course, sometimes things don’t work out that way with school holidays, so the schedule is adjusted to accommodate. All dates are share on the website.
7. What can you do to help people access the book?
It’s important to remove as many barriers to participation as possible. Whereas some participants will want to buy their own copy of the book or like me, they might have Audible credits to use, others will not. As I mentioned earlier, I have collaborated with our college librarian to organise this book club, so she ensures there are copies of the book available in campus libraries. This has worked really well so far.
When you start your book club it is a good idea to plan your first six titles in advance. This is especially helpful if your librarian needs to order (and budget for) multiple book copies.
8. Will you meet face-to-face, online, or both?
My club does both. The main club element is face-to-face, but those who cannot attend can share their thoughts on the book in our online forum.
9. Will you set discussion questions? If yes, when will these be released?
So far, I’ve opted to keep this fairly simple and just issued one question when the book title is released. So, for example, with Atomic Habits, I asked, ‘what is one action you plan to take having read this book?’ This started the conversation going, and we branched off into different areas from there.
Think about how much structure you want the conversation to have. For some groups, a very structured conversation will work well - for example, six questions, one every 10 minutes, etc. For my group, one question was enough. This might change as time goes on.
However structured you make the discussion, I suggest someone (you perhaps) take the role of informal chairman. You can move the conversation along as needed and ensure all are involved and get a say.
10. Who will help you?
If you can collaborate with a librarian then that works really well. If not, find a colleague or peer who would be happy to work with you on the project. It’s helpful to share the workload.
I hope you enjoyed this episode and it has inspired you to either start your own professional development book club or find one to join.
Please check out my new book, The Productive Teacher at theproductiveteacherbook.com.