A Faculty “Book” Club Rebrand

If you take one fact from this post, let it be this. I have a favorite punctuation mark. While polarizing, I personally like the way the “scare quote” stretches the possible interpretations of words on a page. Plus, incorrectly-used scare quotes are common and laugh out loud funny. Next up for debate:

The ultimate type to hate….

Or we can move to this month’s faculty book club. We are scheduled to meet once per interim, though we’re still rebuilding this year after several years of COVID restrictions. The most recent faculty “book” club had a rebranding, a 34 minute podcast rather than a shared book. This seems fitting as the former sponsor of my school’s “no reading required” book club. Students who liked books gathered together each month to discuss books in a specific genre even if they had been too busy (or “too busy”) to read that month.

from their advertising campaign…

The podcast for our faculty book club was Simon Sinek’s Bit of Optimism interview with Dr. Tracy Dennis-Tiwary, a clinical psychologist whose work researches the evolutionary reasons for anxiety. Rather than pathologizing all anxiety, she reframes it as an emotion that can help us prepare for an uncertain future. Like many schools, our students seem more anxious than in past years and less comfortable knowing how to handle that discomfort on their own. Dennis-Tiwary believes there is value in going through these anxious feelings, emotions that are on a continuum with excitement, rather than trying to minimize or avoid them. Her specific suggestion is to follow the 3 L’s: Listen, Leverage, and Let Go. If this is an idea that intrigues you, here is her interview with Sinek on “The Wisdom of Anxiety” and a link to her book Future Tense: Why anxiety is good for you (even though it feels bad).

The book club averages 12-15 members, about 10 of whom come regularly. Looking around at some new faces this meeting, we started with a question unrelated to the subject at hand. “Did you come for the topic we are discussing or for shared discussion with your colleagues?” The regulars all said they were interested in discussions on any subject, while the several newer participants indicated that the topic of managing anxiety in a more productive way was interesting both personally and as an educator. More importantly, the shorter time commitment, audio format, and universal free availability increased participation. Most importantly, 34 minutes of content provided far more than we could discuss in an hour! We didn’t need an entire book!

Who doesn’t identify with this pufferfish sometimes?

While I make a discussion guide for each meeting as a part of my parsing of material, we tend to let conversations roll more naturally from topic to topic. Everyone is familiar with anxiety and with trying to comfort anxious students. We brought our own experiences and talked about what anxieties look like to children at various ages. What do we do as teachers (and parents) as students move from childhood anxieties like thunderstorms to teen anxieties about college admissions? How can we build on the idea of community and service, and thus a connected identity of community service?

So many meetings are focused on next steps forward and decision making. An afterschool “meeting” sounds less fun than an afterschool “club.” Sometimes we need a time to discuss our concerns or formulate new ideas in a more casual, low-stakes environment; a time to come together with donuts and laughter and thoughtful conversation; a time to think of our colleagues not just as math or English teachers, but as teammates (or parents or friends) who ask the same questions as we meander together without needing one “answer.”

10 thoughts on “A Faculty “Book” Club Rebrand

  1. I love this! I’m going to suggest it to my school as an alternative to our current PD program…or a thread of the PD program. Just a great low-pressure conversation, acknowledging how overscheduled we all are. I love it. Thank you for sharing, Christina!

    • While there’s a benefit to joining a specific group and having that sense of identity, many of our teachers are so overscheduled after school. I like this as an alternative that is open to all!

  2. Oh, Christina, how perfect is this? I have often wondered if it’s just the opportunity for fellowship together that draws people…discussing something like anxiety when there’s no policy to be made or no student to dissect allows us to be vulnerable (if desired) and to chat about an important subject without pressure. I will give this a try here…an inviting change of pace for tired boarding school arts instructors.

    • I really had wondered so often in the past if the selection of the material mattered half as much as connection. Both can be true, though the latter seems truer here. Let me know how it goes with your faculty.

  3. Christina, I love the idea of a podcast and book or just a podcast group! I am going back to your font question. I hate both. However, apparently Comic Sans falls in the other good fonts for dyslexia. The top four being: Arial, Courier, Helvetica, and Verdana. So, I will go with Papyrus for the Ultimate Worst Font 🙂

      • I have started the After Hours Book Group for interested faculty. We come and talk about whatever we are reading, loving, hating, have to share. We started by talking about our favorite genres too.

        • The library where I interned in grad school had a Literary Salon like this, which is what I used as a model. It helps create a culture of reading and learning. Librarians often drift between the silos of faculty, and we can make those connections between people who are having similar ideas in different departments on campus. We are likely reimagining again, but in COVID we moved towards free reading for faculty professional summer reading, and then we recommended books to each other in August.

  4. Great post! I love the idea of using a podcast and asking attendees if they came to discuss the content from the podcast or the topic with their colleagues.

    I am looking to bring our Faculty Book Club back from its Covid Hiatus but am reluctant because I didn’t feel like the club was serving much of a purpose You’ve given me some fresh ideas! I have a few questions regarding how you select what to read (or in this case, listen to). Do you typically pick it yourself, ask for recommendations, provide a list then have the group vote? Also, do you stick to nonfiction or do you incorporate fiction as well?

    Thanks again for posting!

    • I hope you find something that works for you. My short answer about selecting is “all of the above.” We have a faculty that is pretty collaborative, and people know that I am an insatiable procurer of information. So there are always a lot of ideas shared back and forth among faculty. In emails, I ask for suggestions, and I also pay attention to the conversations taking place in faculty rooms and seek out those kinds of topics. This podcast built on conversations we have been having about “normal” anxieties and provided a fresh approach. Our Associate Head found this podcast and shared initially.

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