Recently, 26-year teaching veteran Sara Medalen came home from school and heard her teenaged son call from upstairs, “Mom! Come here! You’ve gone viral.”
It was true. Tens of thousands of people had read about Sara’s Books & Braids “hair salon” at Sunnyside Elementary in Minot, North Dakota, a Title 1 school where Sara is a reading specialist teacher for kids in grades K–5.
It was a surprise to Sara that her story spread like wildfire. “I see what people are doing every day,” she said. “I see teachers doing great and innovative things all the time. The surprise was that so many people picked up on this one story.”
Books & Braids works like this. In the morning before her contract hours begin, Sara runs a little salon in the classroom. Customers—students, usually girls—who have appointments sit down in a chair and are covered with a little cape like the ones used in real salons. Then Sara brushes and braids their hair as the student reads aloud from a book. That’s it.
“I really take myself out of the teacher role and try to make them feel like they are at a salon,” Sara explained. She even made a fancy appointment book for students to sign.
“I just listen to them read. I don’t teach vocab or comprehension, so they read without the stress that sometimes comes with reading at school. The boys have been interested too. One boy said, ‘I don’t think it’s long enough to be braided.’ I said, ‘You can just come read to me and I’ll fix your hair.’”
How She Made It Happen
Teachers nationwide who’ve read Sara’s story want to know how she got principal and parental permission to braid students’ hair.
“A few years back,” Sara said, “our principal told us, ‘Let’s not worry about test scores. Let’s worry about how we make them feel. If we invest in connecting with students and building relationships, the learning will come.’” So when Sara brought up the Books & Braids idea, her principal said yes right away. That was a Thursday, and the in-school reading salon was up and running by the following Monday.
The morning school coordinator has reported to Sara that the students are all abuzz with giddy anticipation about their upcoming appointments with Books & Braids. They talk and talk about it in the three days leading up to their appointment, then spend another day or two after an appointment reminiscing. Sara buys combs for each child, which the children get to keep.
Sara’s many nieces inspired the Books & Braids concept. “In the summer at the lake, kids will line up on the dock and I’ll just braid their hair.”