For over 25 years, Paige Kinnaird has been a leader in the education space, from advocating for early childhood education to supporting educators and school leaders improvement in their own professional practices. Her greatest joy comes from contributing in a manner that adds value to the community, nurturing relationships, and fostering growth. Always making a ruckus.
Daniel: One of my favorite memories of my godmother was her reading, Shel Silverstein poems to me and my sIS at night, when we would sleep over at her house. She read to us all the time and did the most amazing voices and characters. She made the stories come to life. Believe it or not that isn't every kid's experience. Mine was rich with books. There were books all around during my younger years, I hated reading them, but I loved looking at the pictures and Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, and my dinosaur books. Today's guest also had books all over her house and she read to her kids constantly while working in her local community and visiting other people's homes. She noticed that many kids didn't even have one book in their house. So like any Ruckus Maker, she stepped up and solved the problem. Her red bookshelves can be seen all over upstate New York.
Daniel: Paige has helped provide thousands of books to kids who needed them. There's something magical when a kid asks for a book and you say, go ahead, take it. It's yours. Even if that young person like me just flips through the pages, that's where the love of learning starts and how my friend Paige address this challenge in her community is where our conversation begins. Hey, it's Daniel and welcome to the better leaders, better schools, podcast, a show for Ruckus Makers, those out of the box leaders making change happen in education. And we'll be right back after these messages from our show's sponsors.
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: Paige Kinnaird has been a leader in the education space from advocating for early childhood education to supporting educators and school leaders improvement in their own professional practices. Her greatest joy comes from contributing in a manner that adds value to the community, nurturing relationships and fostering growth, always making a ruckus. Welcome to the show Paige purple cow Paige, I should say.
Paige: Thank you. It's great to be a purple cow, I will say.
Daniel: Yeah, we'll get into that a little later in the conversation for sure. I want to talk to about a really interesting reading program and partnership that you started. I think my notes say you started in 2001 and the program was called The Family Reading Partnership of Shamong Valley, and it got books in the hands of children and not just a few books, hundreds of thousands of books were provided to families who didn't have those books. Can you take us back to that time and tell us a bit about why you started that program?
Paige: Yeah, just like a lot of things that we do in our lives, it starts from a personal connection. So in the early nineties, I worked in a program where I would go into people's homes and provide developmental information. It was a birth to five program to provide some key developmental information to parents, to help their child get ready for school. At that time I was also the mother of two small children, myself. My children were born in the early nineties. I started to notice that we had books in every single room of our house and so many of these homes that I went into, they had no books. When I came to visit, I always brought books to read and it was such an amazing novelty for so many kids. My husband got a new job and we moved to a different community, but I saw the same thing.
Paige: I was working as a daycare center director. And then I started working for the Elmira city school district, which is a small city school district in New York State. And I just noticed that there were so many kids that were not having the advantage of books in their homes. So I heard of this program called First Book run federally, where you could buy high quality books for a dollar a piece. So I started to reach out and find some people in the community that were also passionate about providing books to kids. I ended up getting hooked up with three pediatrician doctors, Dr. Felix, Dr. Wall and Dr. Moore. Those three gentlemen loved to give me direction on what to do, but they were also looking for ways to provide books to kids that came to their pediatric practice. So we started a program called the family reading partnership of Shamong Valley that was modeled after a program that had been started in Ithaca, New York by a woman named Bridget Hubbarman.
Paige: We scheduled our first meeting and like politicians came and the editor for the newspaper and I was like, Oh, Paige, I think you stepped into something that's going to be bigger than what you thought. Then a local author in Elmira, Ted Arnold, he is a children's author and illustrator became part of our project. And what we started to do was to collect from the community, gently use children's books and we had bookshelves made by tech students at our loca, in York state, it's called Bossi, at our local Bossi center that we painted bright red. We started putting these bookshelves at all these places in the community. And then I had volunteers that would put gently used books on the bookshelves, and then anybody could take those books. We had them in the WIC center and the County Health Department at Headstart and pre-K classrooms and the pediatrician center.
Paige: We started every Wednesday in the Elmira community. There was a farmer's market and we set up a tent at the farmer's market with tables. We had people that would come in and do guests readings and kids would just gather around, for like story time. Ted Arnold was always there supporting and reading stories to kids. What started as just a passion of mine to get books into the hands of kids. Since we started the project in like 2002 around there, they've given out hundreds of thousands of books from the program. It also morphed into what's called Books at Birth. So I had ladies who loved to sell from the local senior centers, which sold these beautiful fabric bags, and we put a hardcover book, a brand new book in there, and every mom that had a baby at the hospital got a book.
Paige: We had a traveling book shelf program that went into home daycares and rotated out books for kids in the Elmira community at that time, it was estimated that only 25% of the population read above a sixth grade level. And so for me, it was about getting books into the hands of kids, but also providing those books so that parents could read to their children and have that bonding experience. When you read to your child, like I had with my kids when they were little. So, and now I'm in a different school district in a little bit different part of the state. This year started a bright red bookshelf at my own school building, just using the books that were going to be discarded from the school library. I've set up a couple of bookshelves at our middle high school and students can just walk by during their travels in the hallway and just grab free books. It's just important, I think, to instill the love of reading in everyone and provide those opportunities for kids to have books,
Daniel: Love that story. A couple of things, I went unpack for the Ruckus Maker, listening, first of all, is when you lead doing stuff that matters to you, something you're passionate about and you're thinking of the special times you shared with your children, reading with them and what a gift that was instilling that love of learning. As you were going into people's homes and seeing that they didn't have books, and when you had one with you and there was a magical experience, you're like, Oh man, how do I help? It's such a great story too, because then you decided to leap in and had a huge impact that you never imagined having, which I want to come back to that thread a little bit, but other stuff too, which is a leadership lesson, meeting people where they're at, right?
Daniel: In some ways the, the bright red bookshelves and in the program you started is in some respects an extension of a library. Instead of having to go to the library, having to check it out, having a card and all this kind of stuff, where people go? They're going to the pediatrician or they're going to the grocery store and there's a bright red shelf. What's it for? Just grab a book and so you're meeting people exactly where they're at making it easy. You're removing obstacles and barriers, which is a great leadership lesson. The last point I want to highlight for the Ruckus Maker is how you use the resources within the community. You're repurposing gently used books, but also, I forget what you called them, but the ladies that were knitting and sewing, that they could create something of value for these new moms and give them this gift bag. I can only imagine how good that felt for them to be creating something for a new mom. You're looking and connecting people, helping them do something much bigger than themselves. And you're having this huge ripple effect. So let's go back to that. You said, Oh boy, Paige, I don't know what I've started, but it seems to be bigger than what I thought. Take us to that moment when you're realizing that as a leader, what are some of the things going through your head? What's next then because it was just a little passion project. You probably thought a few people would benefit and now hundreds of thousands of people and books have been shared.
Paige: When we first started it, I contacted the teacher's union in the district and I was like, can you guys help? Is there a way that you could help sponsor a book drive? We just need some books to really get this off the ground. I remember getting a phone call from one of the ladies, one of the teachers who was in the union in a leadership role and she's like, okay, Paige, we did a book drive and my garage is filled with about 60 boxes of books. When can you come pick them up? I was like, Oh, snap. Right. So then the hard part too, was just finding a place to keep all those books, right? Like you think, Oh, I worked in a school district, but we all know those of us that work in school districts, the Ruckus Makers, there's very little extra space, right?
Paige: There wasn't like this big room to store all Paige's books. Oh my God, we stored them. There were so many places in the community where we had to store those books, but it's the ripple effect if I had started this program and thought, okay, my goal is to get hundreds of thousands of books into the hands of kids and we're going to have five programs and I need this many volunteers. It probably never would have happened. It was just this small idea. Let's collect some books and give them out to kids and it just kept growing and growing and growing. What's really great for me too, is that I've been gone from the Almira community now going on five years. But that program is just as strong now as it was then.
Paige: And Danny, it was really funny about, Oh, I don't know, it was probably six or seven years ago now I was at a community event and this woman comes up to me. I was standing with my friend, Ellen Hicks. She calls herself my alpha mother because she likes to boss me around. She and I were standing there together. This woman comes up to me and she starts explaining to me the bright red bookshelf and the family reading partnership among Valley. I'm looking at her and I'm nodding and I'm nodding and she goes, have you heard of this program? I go, yeah, I started it and she's like, Oh!? it was, it was pretty funny but I think that sometimes, too is you're right. We don't realize the ripple effects that it can have and just the joy of a child taking a book off a bookshelf and looking at you and saying, I can keep this and you're like, yeah, you don't have to bring it back and they're like my own book. It's just those small things that I think sometimes we forget to do in education that really impact families in a profound way
Daniel: I remember going when there was a book fair night when I was in grade school and they'd also give us like a little catalog right with the prices and I would have like 90% of it checked like, mom, can I have all these? Of course I couldn't get them all, but there's a special moment and kids know how important books are. So I had to ask you about the continued impact because leaders build amazing things, but sometimes they fizzle out because it's built around that leader's personality. You mentioned you've left the Elmira county. Now it's been five years or so, and it's still going strong. So if we reflect right now on that, do you have any idea why it's survived and thrived even though you're not there?
Paige: I guess one thing would be that the whole time that I was part of the organization from its inception, until I left the community, is that logistically it was structured with a great deal of flexibility. The organization wasn't overly rigid in our processes and our procedures. It was, we do a book drive, we get 3000 books. We put out a call to volunteers. They show up, we label the books, sort them. I just think we made it a welcoming environment, but without a lot of expectations you could do with it, what you wanted. I think the biggest part was that literacy and books transcends all other barriers that we have in our communities. It doesn't matter if you're from this side of the tracks or that side of the tracks or what school you go to or who your mom is or where your dad works. Literacy and reading is something that everyone enjoys or could enjoy and sees value in. I think that's one of the main differences for this project because all the people that are part of it still realize one, the importance of reading and two, that it's just the simple things that can bring joy to a child.
Daniel: Can you tell us a little more about that flexibility piece you mentioned before the literacy that transcends, which I think is an important point, right? It's something of value for all people, but you talked about how it's not so rigid and it's more flexible in how you built the program. Can you tell us a little more about that?
Paige: When all of this started the assistant superintendent in my school district was a gentlemen named Don Cadel. Mr. Cadel was just one of the biggest advocates for children I've ever met.It was great that he allowed me in my job with the school district to bring the family reading partnership and make it part of what I did at my job. In education, I've always felt that we have this tendency to have an idea for a program or an initiative that we want to bring to our schools and we go too big, too fast. Let's say I'm going to bring a math curriculum to my district. We're going to do it K-five. Sometimes it's better to just start with K and see how it goes and work out the kinks and grow from there and because that's my overall philosophy on those sorts of things, I did the same thing with the family reading partnership. I knew that the program in Ithaca, New York had like 9 or 10 different facets of their program or different initiatives that they ran. We decided to start with just one, which was the bright red bookshelf and then when we got that going we added the Books at Birth and when that was going, okay, then we added the Traveling Books. So I think that allowed us to work out kinks and it allowed us to just grow organically. It did help that the publisher for the local newspaper was really active and he would write about us in the paper in his op ed column. So that also helps spread the word and just bring in different individuals from the community that I didn't know, or wouldn't have had the opportunity to reach out to it just undulated and grew in that way that I think that's what helped it survival.
Daniel: I'm glad we landed at that point. The importance of starting small before going too big, too fast. Another point, I want to reiterate for the Ruckus Makers, that Derek Sivers quote, "What's ordinary to you is extraordinary to me. You were passionate about literacy and reading with your kids and just trying to help one more family and then it grew from there. Our conversation right now, the podcast that has a very big impact started just out of a desire to help myself and then I was focused on helping that's a new word, helping listeners and then from there the Mastermind group. So start small, start with that one person in your mind and who knows the kind of impact you might have, but let's pause here, Paige for, a message from our sponsors. And when we get back, I'd love to talk to you a bit about your Mastermind experience.
Daniel: Today's show is brought to you by organized binder. Organized binder, develops the skills and habits all students need for success. During these uncertain times of distance learning and hybrid education settings, organized binder, equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning routines so that all students have an opportunity to succeed whether at home or in the classroom. Learn more at organizedbinder.com. Are you automatically tracking online student participation data during COVID? Innovative school across the country have started tracking online student participation using TeachFX because it's one of the most powerful ways to improve student outcomes during COVID, especially for English learners and students of color. Learn more about Teach Fx and get a special offer at Teachfx.com/BLBS that's tTeachfx.com/BLBS.
Daniel: Alright, and we're back with Paige Kinnaird and so thankful that you're here, you scheduled time to have this conversation with me, and it was fascinating to hear about that reading partnership and the book program that you started. I'd love to ask you about your Mastermind experience. Each Mastermind cohort has a special name. You're a purple cow,and you've been a purple cow for years now. So thank you for your membership, you've been an incredible voice. In addition, you bring so much value to our group. I remember when you joined way back when, and you did something I hadn't seen a member ever do, and you branded our agendas, which was cool, and we've kept it that way, right? Beause we just keep copying the same agenda over and over. But then here in I think it was Scotland. I've got a postcard from you all the way from New York and had purple cow stuff on it and it was wonderful. It's actually right over there in my little desk organizer. But tell us why you did that. Was that taught to you? Is that something that is unique to your personality, but that was a really nice.
Paige: So that's a hard question, Danny. When I first joined the Mastermind, I was really looking for an opportunity to be with administrators who were as dedicated to their own professional growth as I am for mine. We all know that sometimes depending on the district you work with or who your colleagues are, that you don't always have those opportunities within your own school structure. I came to the first Mastermind and I was so intimidated. I was like, Oh, these people have all this knowledge I don't have and these experiences I don't have. And then the first couple of meetings, I was pretty quiet, which some people would say is not my normal, but then it wasn't just like a couple of weeks. All of a sudden I'm like, I have to be the facilitator of the Mastermind?
Paige: I'm like, Oh my God, I felt more pressure than leading professional development in my district for like 300 people. I decided that I wanted to kind of set the tone for my facilitation. I sent a personal note to everyone that was in the Mastermind, in the purple cows at that time. And yeah, it was just, for me, it's always, when I'm joining something or I'm leading something, I always try to come up with an idea or an Avenue that is just different and will set a tone of collaboration and comradery. It was really fun when I was able to tweak the agenda and I was like, Oh, I hope nobody minds that I'm adding all these things to it. But yeah, I really enjoy, I really enjoy the Mastermind. It's it allows you to be yourself in a very safe environment where all the members of the Mastermind want nothing more than for all the other members to reach their full potential and to create that collegial atmosphere that you have the support you need, even if, as a Ruckus Maker, you're not getting that in other areas of your professional life.
Paige: So go purple cows.
Daniel: Thank you. Go Purple cows. Moomoo. That's all right. Conversation kind of went full circle there in some respects, because I think I try to build a Mastermind in a flexible way to some extent, and that agenda and how you set the tone. And of course, I mean, that was on you to do the postcards, but how you made the agenda, your own. That's something that we've fully encouraged. So I so appreciate that. You did that. One more Mastermind question. I'm curious is there anything in terms of the value of it that you didn't necessarily expect, but after becoming a member, you realized, wow, this is pretty cool that this happens here.
Paige: Yeah, I guess I would say that one of the things that I didn't expect was to begin to see some of the members of the Mastermind as friends who I've never met, like in person and your use of the tool Voxer that allows us as Mastermind members to one continue the conversations from each week, if we, if something occurs to us, we can post it in Voxer and share more of what we were talking about, but it also allows us as Mastermind members to connect to one another, because of something that we've realized we have in common or an initiative that we're working on and we can take those conversations to that next level. I'm currently, I'm a doctoral student at the University of Buffalo and there's another member of our Purple Cow Mastermind who is also working on her doctorate.
Paige: And so Renee and I connect on Voxer and support each other in that way. That is something that I wouldn't have had if the Mastermind didn't allow us to build connections and relationships with one another, I wasn't expecting from the Mastermind. What I saw as high quality professional development, the conversations, the books we read and discussed, which I love the books that you choose for us, because it takes us in a different direction than just the books that we normally read as administrators about education. But that connection piece at a deeper level, with members of your group, that that was something I wasn't expecting, but I'm very thankful for that.
Daniel: Cool. I'm thankful that you're getting that value. Let me, pivot us to the last questions I asked all my wonderful guests and you made it this far. So Paige, what message would you put on all school marquees across the globe, if you could do so for one day.
Paige: Man, I knew you asked this question like, okay, what I would put on there is just be kind. We just, man, we just need to be kind to one another and it's not something I ever thought we'd have to be teaching in school and reminding people. But, it's more than the students. It's our communities as well. Just be kind to one another
Daniel: Paige, you're building a school from the ground up. You're not limited by any resources, you're only limitation is your imagination. How would you build your dream school and what would be your top three priorities?
Paige: So my top three priorities, and I know when I listened to your podcasts, a lot of guests talk about the space, but I'm not a spatial person, so you're not going to get that from me. My top three priorities would be. I would like to see schools built with master schedules that are built around the students who need support the most first and then all the other students after we have a tendency in schools to like base our schedules around the advanced courses. And I really think that we should, we should look at our, how we build our days to better meet the needs of kids as opposed to meeting the needs of the adults. The second thing I would do would really focus on my school's hiring practices and making sure that the people that come to work at that school, whether your, the attendance clerk in the main office, a bus driver, a custodian, any cafeteria food services worker, that you have a passion to be there, and you are doing it because you are able to connect with kids.
Paige: And each of those people that I would hire for my school would all be assigned that they would help to mentor. We put a lot of social, emotional learning, um, demands on teachers. But I think every member of the staff of a school should have the opportunity to work with kids and grow with kids in a very, um, community-based way. And the third thing that I would make sure that we do is to provide opportunities for students to explore their passions and what they love in a way that does not detract from what we are required to do as educators. I love used to do this with some of my classes. It's the genius hour where you spend 80% of the class time doing what you're required and 20%, allowing the students to explore what they love. Um, those were some pretty interesting, uh, presentations in my classroom when I was a teacher. So yeah, I think it all comes down to, , we talk a lot about what schools are, but when you boil it down to the basic schools are all about relationships. And so how can you build a school? That from the very moment you walk through the door, every person is working in building relationships that are going to help all students be successful.
Daniel: Thank you so much for being a part of the better leaders, better schools, podcast of everything we've talked about today. What's the one thing you want to Ruckus Maker to remember?
Paige: I want a Ruckus Maker to remember that. Not everyone's going to like the ruckus you make, but you just got to keep making it.
Daniel: Thanks for listening to the better leaders, better schools podcast from Ruckus Maker. If you have a question or would like to connect my email, Daniel F better leaders, better schools.com or hit me up on Twitter @alien earbud. If the better leaders better schools, podcast is helping you grow as a school leader, then please help us serve more Ruckus Makers like you. You can subscribe, leave an honest rating and review or share on social media with your biggest takeaway from the episode, extra credit for tagging me on Twitter at alien earbud and using the hashtag #BLBS level up your leadership at better leaders, better schools.com and talk to you next time until then class dismissed.
- Red bookshelves changes literacy and opportunity in children’s lives
- Meeting people where they are by removing these obstacles
- The ripple effect of a small idea on hundreds of thousands families
- The small things we forget to do in education that impact families in a profound way
- Flexibility, organic growth, and the voice of different individuals from the community are essential ingredients for programs built to last
- Purple cows will set a tone of collaboration and comradery
“I just think we made it a welcoming environment, but without a lot of expectations you could do with it, what you wanted. I think the biggest part was that literacy and books transcends all other barriers that we have in our communities. It doesn’t matter if you’re from this side of the tracks or that side of the tracks or what school you go to or who your mom is or where your dad works. Literacy and reading is something that everyone enjoys or could enjoy and sees value in.I think that’s one of the main differences for this project because all the people that are part of it still realize one, the importance of reading and two, that it’s just the simple things that can bring joy to a child.”
– Paige Kinnaird
“What I saw as high quality professional development, the conversations, the books we read and discussed, which I love the books that you choose for us, because it takes us in a different direction than just the books that we normally read as administrators about education. But that connection piece at a deeper level, with members of your group, that, that was something I wasn’t expecting, but I’m very thankful for that.”
– Paige Kinnaird
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