A good friend is married to a teacher who is a complete bibliophile. She loves books, loves getting her students excited about books, and looks forward every year to the state's new book list, the Sunshine State Young Reader's Awards. So when the list came out for next school year, he hopped online and ordered all fifteen titles for her as a gift. He was so proud of the gift that he mentioned it at lunch with his collegues the next day. One of the administrators at the elementary school where he works, upon hearing him tell about the gift, made the following comment: "That's like getting her a vacuum cleaner!"
Now, besides the obvious (this administrator has never met the wife, so how would she know better than the husband who has known his wife for twenty years?), this points to a bigger issue in my mind. By comparing the gift of book to a vacuum cleaner, this school administrator has basically implied that reading is a chore. Not a pleasure, not a gift, but something that one simply must do because it is required, much like cleaning a house.
In my experience as a teacher, I have seen how important the attitude coming from the top (administration) is in setting the tone of the school itself. If this is how that particular administrator feels about books and reading, then what are her words and actions telling her teachers and the students of the school? Do her eyes light up when she talks about reading? Probably not. Does she read books and share them with those around her? Probably not. Applegate & Applegate (2004) discuss the Peter Effect (you cannot give what you do not have) in relationship to motivation to read. Although the research indicates that this applies to teachers and thier ability to motivate their students to read, I wonder - how does this translate to administration's impact on the reading motivation of students in the school. How do the choices of an amotivated reader in an administrative position differ from those of a motivated reader?
Applegate, A.J., & Applegate, M.K. (2004). The peter effect: Reading habits and attitudes of preservice teachers. The Reading Teacher, 57(6), 554-563.