By Jennifer Allen
We often don’t know the ripple effect that occurs when we share our passions and loves with others.
A year ago, I wrote to author Andrew Clements asking if he would like to be a guest at our bi-annual Writer’s Day. Mr. Clements responded with a beautiful letter that he would be honored to be part of the event. In his letter he stated that he did not want to take a speaking fee, but asked that we take the money that we would use for his fee and put it towards books for classroom libraries. He also asked that we use an independent bookstore for the purchases.
At the start of school this year, I shared with staff the news that Andrew Clements would be coming to our school. He held star power for staff and students. I shared his proposition of not taking a speaking fee but that we use the money for our classroom libraries. It was because of him that each teacher would get money to spend on their classroom libraries.
The next part of Mr. Clements’s request was that we use an independent bookstore. This part was easy since we have an amazing bookstore right in town, walking distance from the school. I called Ellen, the owner, asking if we could do grade level teacher field trips to the store. Ellen was beyond grateful. She shared that January is her slowest month and that this support would help her get through the tougher winter months.
Teacher field trips were set up. Instead of after school grade level meetings, teachers rotated through the store as grade level teams on two different Monday afternoons. Teachers spent their meeting time in the bookstore talking about books with one another, finding books to match their students’ interests, and discovering new authors and titles. The conversations were rich and meaningful. I watched as books were handed off from one teacher to the next. If one teacher ran out of money, another often scooped up the books into their own piles to purchase. The experience was one of sharing and collaboration. It was a reminder to me the importance of getting into bookstores and physically browsing through the stacks.
Unfortunately, Mr. Clements passed away last November.
He won’t be a part of our school Writer’s Day, or get to see all the books we purchased in his honor for our classroom libraries, or get his personal thank you from Ellen who still says when I see her,” I wish I could have thanked Andrew for what he did.”
He also won’t know that because of those field trips, we extended the idea to two other grade levels at our K-3 elementary school and that we were able to get even more teachers into our local bookstore, and even more books into our classrooms.
Mr. Clements won’t know that we have already budgeted for field trips to take place next year for all K-5 teachers at our two elementary schools (about 40 teachers). The trips are planned for next January when teachers know their students as readers and can find the just right books for them with school funds to support their purchases. The trips are also intentionally planned for January so that the winter months won’t be so hard on our local bookstore.
What started as a simple gesture of an author payment, has turned into a reminder of the importance of books to our schools, students, and teachers. I suppose that Mr. Clements knew that when he sat down and penned his letter to me last year.
I am grateful for the ripple effects of Mr. Clements love of books and his wishes to support our classroom libraries. Ultimately, our classrooms, our schools, and our professional collaboration were enhanced and renewed.
Thank you Mr. Clements.
Jennifer Allen is a literacy specialist in Waterville, Maine. She has worked in education for the last twenty-five years. Jennifer started as a classroom teacher in the primary grades and has been working in this position as a literacy/specialist coach for the last sixteen years. She is the author of Becoming a Literacy Leader and A Sense of Belonging, both published by Stenhouse.