Want to see more like this? Mister Carlson's neighborhood: principal finds joy in connecting with students Want to see more like this?

Want to see more like this? Mister Carlson's neighborhood: principal finds joy in connecting with students Want to see more like this?

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A good storyteller entertains their audience. A great storyteller brings joy and teaches others life lessons. Mr. Carlson is one of the "greats."

Central Springs Elementary School Principal Bill Carlson wants to make the lives of the students that he sees over a little brighter, and one way he tries to do this is through his charismatic readings of picture books.

Carlson likes to be a principal of action, walking around and talking with elementary students. Reading to students is one of the ways that Carlson interacts with students.

“I guess my big thing for me, I really just want them to smile. Hopefully (reading to students) gives them a little bit of joy for that day, maybe for that hour, maybe for that week. Whatever it is in the world, that I can give them some joy,” said Carlson.

With each story Carlson reads, he puts on a small, engaging performance through the use of different voices or cadences. Occasionally, he points out details in the illustrations and adds his own reaction to the narratives. Little ones who hear Carlson read widen their eyes, gasp, and giggle as he goes through the story.

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“He says a lot of funny things,” said second-grade student Cade Davison when asked what made Carlson a good storyteller. “He tries to make an accent,” said kindergartner Addy Mayer.

“He’s a funny character and he loves to read books. He makes the books come alive,” said kindergarten teacher Deb Hamand. “He just has that way of doing that. There are good storytellers; he is a great storyteller.”

When the pandemic started, Carlson took to reading live on the Central Springs' Facebook page. He said that because of how suddenly the world went upside down for students, it was a way to continue to reach out to the kids.

“We went on spring break and then just never came back. For me, I felt like there was no closure for kids and it was kind of traumatic,” Carlson said of the abrupt manner schools were shut down at the onset of COVID-19 in the spring of 2020. “I felt that kids or that people needed something.”

After checking in with publishing companies for the go-ahead to read stories over the internet, Carlson set a schedule to regularly stream. The first live reading was a surprise for everyone, Carlson said.

Carlson’s first Facebook Live stream has close to 10,000 views and a collection of comments from his students. The stream was viewed by and received support from elementary students from other North Iowa school districts and from out-of-state viewers as well. “(The video) went a lot of different places, and I was kind of caught off guard. I was an exchange student in high school and so some of my friends from Australia actually saw it and commented back,” said Carlson.

Carlson received feedback from families thanking him and noting the difference he was making in kids’ lives. The other piece of feedback he also received was asking when the next reading would be.

“I just know the kids were really excited about (the Facebook Lives) and they would talk about it,” said Hamand. “I think that helped them think reading is cool.”

Hamand said Carlson’s readings were an opportunity for some to hear new stories and have access to books while libraries were shut down during the pandemic.

Carlson’s book selections are a combination of music-based narratives, such as one with the lyrics to hard rock band Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” printed alongside whimsical illustrations of a mother and daughter, and ones he could create educational activities from. For example, when he read Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons, Carlson asked the kids to find shirts with buttons and count how many they have.

“I just chose books that would be fun to read and I tried to make it educational,” said Carlson.

Want to see more like this? Mister Carlson's neighborhood: principal finds joy in connecting with students Want to see more like this?

With how life was for many at the height of the pandemic, Carlson said he hoped he was making a moment of peace for families, adding that reading created a little piece of joy for him as well.

“...I believe when you go back to your roots, you connect with kids. Even though it’s tough connecting with kids, [reading] gets back to your soul and brings you back to what you’re doing and why you are in education,” says Carlson.

As kids returned to in-person learning, Carlson said the Facebook Live readings had given the kids a familiar face to look to. Students, especially pre-k students, were able to find comfort seeing and hearing the guy that read to them “I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More” and “Stuck in the Mud''while they had been in lockdown.

Today, Carlson has students who practice their writing skills by sending him written requests to come to their classrooms and read to them. Carlson added he always tries to reply to these requests.

“I get down there and I’ll say ‘I’m kind of busy, I probably just have one book to read.’ It usually ends up being two, sometimes three,” said Carlson chuckled. “It is a good time for me to connect with kids.”

Carlson says he will keep on doing Facebook Live readings whenever he thinks it’s needed, like during breaks and when the weather keeps kids inside.

The big takeaway for Carlson and his reading to others is that he can bring a little bit of joy to others and that they take away a lesson from it. Carlson said he is hoping he is a role model to those around him like his childhood role model, Mister Rogers. Much like Mister Rogers, Carlson always leaves his students and online audience with what he believes is a key message.

“I always ended it with, just like I would say at school, ‘it doesn’t matter if you’re at home or if you’re in your living room or if you’re watching T.V. in your bedroom.’ (I’d say) 'you’re in charge of your own body. Say it with me' — and I could ‘hear’ kids even though I couldn’t (really) hear them — 'make good choices!’” said Carlson.

Abby covers education and public safety for the Globe Gazette. Follow her on Twitter at @MkayAbby. Email her at Abby.Koch@GlobeGazette.com



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