Illustration of tree with textLiteracy is the foundation of all learning, yet literacy instruction is often viewed as the purview of elementary educators. Beyond that, those skills are often relegated to language arts classrooms. But administrators of successful secondary schools understand the importance of supporting literacy instruction across the content areas, straight through to graduation. They create a culture of literacy by providing all educators, regardless of discipline, with the necessary resources and support to promote these crucial 21st-century skills.

International Literacy Day, which takes place each year on September 8, provides the perfect opportunity for you to renew your commitment to literacy. Literacy Day was established by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1965 to draw attention to global literacy needs. Even today, 781 million adults in the world and 126 million youth do not know how to read or write.

And those numbers don’t even begin to show the whole picture, as they do not include the scores of underliterate-those who possess below-minimum levels of literacy. As you know all too well, students with underdeveloped literacy skills are less likely to graduate from high school. According to America’s Promise Alliance, nearly one in three U.S. high school students fails to earn a diploma, and approximately 1.2 million students drop out annually.

Keys to Success

To begin building a culture of literacy in your school, consider the following:


Become a reading role model. Start by asking staff what they’re reading, and share what you’ve got on your bedside table. Consider organizing a faculty book club that’s about leisure reading and fostering a love of the written word. Bonus points if you can add staff reading recommendations to your school’s blog or newsletter!

Ask educators to provide daily opportunities for leisure reading. This is something that’s often overlooked when it comes to secondary students. Research shows that reading for pleasure enhances comprehension, vocabulary development, and general knowledge. And don’t discount read-alouds-we know the practice to be just as effective with older students as it is with younger ones.

Make sure your school’s library 
media center is well stocked. Adolescents deserve access to a wide variety of print and nonprint materials. (For some current recommendations, visit www.literacyworldwide.org/choices.)

Implement an engaging schoolwide literacy program. Whether you plan an event for International Literacy Day (see “Activity Kits” below) or opt for a longer-​term, whole-school reading program, you’re demonstrating to faculty, students, and their families that literacy is something to celebrate.

Encourage families to get involved. We can’t ignore the central role families play in promoting literacy.

Whether you opt for a faculty book club or plan an International Literacy Day event, don’t forget to share updates on social media. Write a blog post, tweet a book selection, or upload photos that show all the good work you’re doing-you never know who you’ll inspire to follow suit!

Marcie Craig Post is the executive director of the International Literacy Association. She can be reached at mpost@reading.org.

Sidebar: Activity Kits

Each year for International Literacy Day, the International Literacy Association publishes an activity kit promoting literacy across the content areas.

This year’s kit, “The Power of People: Start a Literacy Movement,” focuses on the transformational power of literacy and the importance of collective action.
The activities shine the spotlight on a country whose rich history and impressive levels of literacy are inspirational-the Philippines. In addition to providing activities for all ages, the kit offers a reading list and suggestions for global classroom collaboration, among other things.

One new addition to this year’s program is a service learning component. For 2015, the International Literacy Association partnered with Little Free Library to encourage people to work together to construct a take-one, leave-one library for their community. A free, downloadable kit that includes instructions for building and maintaining a Little Free Library can be found at www.literacyworldwide.org/littlefreelibrary.

Sign up for your free, downloadable activity kit at www.literacyworldwide.org/ild.