Be a Reader Yourself: Lessons from the Branding World

Let’s begin with a short exercise:  What do you think of when you think, “Nike”?  
Take a moment.
Okay, did you think, Sports? Excellence? Michael Jordan? Shoes? Athletics? Expensive?  If any or all of those concepts came to your mind, that is due, at least partially, to a phenomenon called “Branding”.  A quick Google search defines branding as, “a brand name, logo, slogan, and/or design scheme associated with a product or service.” Or, “The act of imprinting or engraving a brand name or symbol onto a product.”  In talking with my wife (who is in this business), she would say your personal brand—at its best—is all about finding what matters to you and telling your story in a way that resonates with others.
But what does branding have to do with being a reading mentor? Three years ago,  Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer, invited my friend and colleague Chris Lehman to write a fabulous post on the Education Week blog entitled, What the Kardashians Taught Me About Reading Instruction.  In his post, Chris makes a fascinating comparison about how and why teachers might brand themselves like the Kardashians have branded themselves.  He writes about how those who have successfully branded themselves (like the Kardashians, love them or hate them) have succeeded in providing visions some can or might aspire to.
The truth is, when we brand ourselves, others begin to associate us with a story, a passion, or a way of thinking.  So when considering how we might become an effective reading mentor for a young person in our lives, we might think about how we might go about branding ourselves.
The best brands are driven by an idea and do not just seek out what’s popular.  Rather, when thinking about how to brand ourselves as reading mentor, it is probably most important to consider branding ourselves as READERS (the way Chris Lehman suggests).  Here are some ways you might consider:
  1. See yourself as a reader– It begins with developing a reading identity.  You might begin, as my colleague Jennifer Serravallo suggests, by jotting down the top five books you have ever read in your lifetime.  Then reflect on your list—what is present?  What is missing?  What does this list say about you as a reader?  You may already see yourself this way…great!  Now, read on…

  1. Help others see you as a reader– This year I have taken on reading as many of the Nutmeg Nominee books as I can.  Currently, I am reading Liesl and Po by Lauren Oliver, illustrated by Kei Acedera.  I make sure my four and six year-old daughters see me reading this book at least sometimes (I generally read at night after the kids are in bed), as this is important for visibility of my brand as reader.  One small anecdote: apparently, there is a Liesl and Po poster on the wall at my daughters’ school.  My wife overheard the girls telling whoever would listen, “My dad is reading that book!” (cue, beam with pride with soundtrack).  The point is to make reading—literally—a visible part of your life.  This adds to the authenticity of your brand, which leads to the next point…

  1. Be authentic One of my favorite authors, Katie Wood Ray, writes books for teachers.  In the following quote, she is talking about writing; but watch as I substitute the word ‘read’ for ‘write’.  I think this works:   Either we can be walking, breathing, talking examples of all we advocate for our students, or we can have them sitting around wondering why we are trying to get them into something that we are obviously not into ourselves.  They see me as someone who [reads], which is how I’m asking them to see themselves, and this is a key ingredient to learning anything.  They listen to me because they can see that I know what I’m talking about.  You can’t get that if you don’t [read].” – Katie Wood Ray, 2012. Oftentimes as adults it is all too easy to take the “Do as I say, not as I do” approach to situations involving the young readers/writers in our lives.  But kids tend to have an astute “bull-puckey” detector; they know when we aren’t being what we profess to believe, and can usually tell when we’re just saying it.  This matters. So working to bring authenticity to your brand by knowing what you’re talking about can go a long way in branding yourself as a reading mentor.  You might:
    1. Read a hot book that kids are reading right now (say, the Insignia series by S.J Kincaid).
    2. Bring up a book or article you’ve read recently in conversations with a young reader.
    3. Make reading a regular part of your everyday routine and broadcast it.  I think one of the best ways to do that is to read something in print, not just off a device.  This way, the translation is much more tangible– it’s clear you’re not on FaceBook, checking email, or texting.

There are so many different reasons we read.  What are yours?  Do you read to learn more about topics you are interested in?  Do you read to savor the beauty of the printed word?  Do you read to become more knowledgeable about the world around you?  Do you read because you love to puzzle out mysteries or study the human condition? Why do you read?

  1. Be passionate– Passion is a key ingredient, in my opinion, to the success of anything. Branding expert Simon Sinek once said, “People don’t buy what you do.  They buy why you do it.  What you do just proves what you believe.”  If we do nothing else in regards to branding ourselves as reading mentors, we ought to exude passion.  Passion tends to be contagious.  Share your why.  Expose it.  Sharing why you’re reading something (as well as what has drawn you to that text) can create a layer of authenticity that allows your kids to connect you as a reader.  In turn, that is going to allow kids to make the connection as to why they might read something.  Young people need to learn that ‘I like it’ is not the only reason we read.

  1. Make it sticky– In his seminal book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell discusses the important factors that have led to the astonishing success of certain brands.  One of those factors is called the “Stickiness Factor”.  Essentially, the stickiness factor is the something that helps to make a brand somehow memorable.  It’s that thing that makes the brand stick in the mind of a person.  On the digital Comprehensive Guide to the Tipping Point, an example is provided about why the children’s television show “Blues Clues” is substantially more appealing than the popular “Sesame Street.”  In our reading context, we might take the following lessons away with us:

    1. Know your audience– When working to develop your brand as reading mentor through conversations, avoid talking over kids’ heads.  Talk at their level in a way they are able to engage. I tend to avoid phrases like, “Well, when I was in school we had to read way more than you guys do and the books were way harder and…”  No.  Adopt an invitational tone in your conversation.  “Oh, that sounds like such a cool book!  I can’t wait to hear more about it!” Of course, converse as you would authentically.  But it might help to engage kids with a positive, invitational tone.
    2. Repetition-  One of the key ingredients to learning anything is repetition.  Your brand will only “stick” if your young readers are exposed to it over and over.  That means it’s not enough to have kids see you as a reader once; it’s not enough to talk to them about a book you are loving just once; it’s not enough to exude your passion for an author just once.  In order for your brand to possess a stickiness factor, it must be repeatedly visible to the audience.
So take a moment.  When the young readers in your life think of you, what do they think?  Okay, that can be terrifying, right? Especially when they are in middle school!  But I invite you to think, “Would he think ‘reader’ when he thinks of me? Would he really?”  If you’ve accomplished that, you have accomplished something big.  Something worthwhile.  And it really is a gift you’re giving your kids.  Statistics now show that the average college graduate reads about one book per year.  One book!  This issue is, in part, due to the fact that kids do not see themselves enough as readers at an early age.  They may have been told to read, but they haven’t been shown to read.  If we can turn ourselves into authentic, branded models of reading, what might be possible is helping to create a lifelong reader.

  • A huge thank you to my friend and colleague Chris Lehman at the Educator Collaborative for the inspiration on this post.

Author: Lanny Ball

For more than 29 years, Lanny has taught, coached, presented, staff developed, and consulted within the exciting and enigmatic world of literacy. With unyielding passion and belief in the possibility of workshop teaching, Lanny has worked to support students, teachers, and school administrators around the country in outgrowing themselves as both writers and readers. Working first as a classroom teacher, then as a coach and TCRWP Staff Developer, Lanny is now a literacy specialist, working and living in the great state of Connecticut. Outside of literacy, he enjoys raising his three ambitious young daughters with his wife, and playing the piano. Find him on this blog, as well as on Twitter @LannyBall. Lanny is also a former co-author of a blog dedicated to supporting writing teachers and coaches that maintain classroom writing workshops,

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