The Literacy Lever: Every Reader, Every Leader, Whatever It Takes

Session notes from "The Literacy Lever: Every Reader, Every Leader, Whatever It Takes," by Brad Gustafson.

What were the speaker’s main messages?

Rehbein: Administrators are the lever on two key points: Teach all kids how to read and want to read. Ideas presented are flexible and easy to implement with what is already happening in your school.

Cosentino: How are you, as an instructional leader, inspiring your staff and students around the love of reading? How can you create a literacy culture where every student is seen and valued?

What were the speaker’s best quotes?


  • “I have to stop looking everywhere else. I have to get a mirror and support literacy in ways I haven’t in the past.”
  • “Reading is a relationship.”

What were the top ideas from the session?

Rehbein and Cosentino:

Gustafson outlined six literacy levers. They are:

 1. The Compass

  • Visual representation about your school’s beliefs and vision about literacy
  • Collaborate with your team to create or update your vision for literacy
  • Look for a meaningful way to display your shared beliefs, then live it

2. The Invitation

  • Authentic to students
  • An organic conversation, meeting, or moment that is inclusive in nature or a space, gesture, or feeling that is genuinely welcoming
  • Give students choice; do not “make” anyone

3. The Walking Stick

Definition: A metaphor for the questions you will carry. Examples:

  • Will this help others lean further into their identity as readers?
  • How might we make this more authentic and intrinsically motivating?
  • Is this producing positive results and teaching students to read?
  • Would I choose this for myself as a reader?
  • Who might not be represented in this and is anyone misrepresented?

4. The Utility Knife

To promote wide reading outside the school day, students need recommendations. Book talks from trusted adults and peers can spur voluntary reading. What is a booktalk? The “Swiss-Army knife” of literacy. Three ways to promote conversations: Ask a question, be honest about why you laughed or cried, and connect the book to another person’s passion

5. The Catapult

Relationships, connection, community. Relate reading to what you’re already doing in your building. Examples:

  • School pictures: Hold up a book and create a staff composite of the picture
  • Fall: Paint pictures and scenes from books onto pumpkins
  • Principal’s message in a yearbook with a literacy slant

6. The Collage

The collection of reading experiences

What is one strategy that you will implement immediately?

Rehbein: Leave sticky notes on students’ (and teachers’) desks with the name of a book and author to read next.

Cosentino: Knowing each student as a reader is essential to help tap students’ interest in reading.

What is one strategy that will help you with instructional leadership?

Rehbein: Carrying a book with me throughout the day and modeling a positive reading identity for staff and students.

Cosentino: This was an excellent session to help me reevaluate how we promote the love of reading with our entire school community.

What are resources you will check out?


  • #literacylever
  • John Schu on Twitter
  • Pernille Ripp Global Read Aloud


What ideas do you want to learn more about?


  • Principal’s Book Club
  • Join the Principals’ clubhouse
  • Bring a book for your individual staff picture
  • Powerful staff read alouds

I can’t wait to tell my teachers about this idea:

Rehbein: #7daybookcoverchallenge

Cosentino: Wow, Reading Legacy Board!

What are some relevant or surprising stats you learned?

Rehbein and Cosentino: 

  • “The longer students are in school the less they enjoy reading.” (Wigfield, Gladstone, and Tunic, 2016)
  • “Reading for pleasure is more important to cognitive development in adolescence than parents’ level of education.” (Jacobson, 2017; Sullivan & Brown, 2015)
  • “Successful readers have the capacity to be more successful in nearly every other academic endeavor.” (Irvin, 2010)

 Notes by Tiffany L. Rehbein, principal, Bain Elementary School in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and Ed Cosentino, principal, Clemens Crossing Elementary School in Columbia, Maryland.