Readers Are Leaders | Donner Trail Elementary Principal Susan Phebus encourages exploration, adventure |

Readers Are Leaders | Donner Trail Elementary Principal Susan Phebus encourages exploration, adventure

Susan Phebus enjoys reading on a beach with background summer noises.
Courtesy Tom Lippert |

Donner Trail Elementary Principal Susan Phebus is featured in this week’s Readers Are Leaders, a series of interviews about the impact of reading in the lives and careers of local leaders. To read past interviews with leaders who are readers, visit, search “Readers.”

Is reading important in your life/career? How so?

Reading is extremely important in my life as well as my career. Pleasure reading provides me with a much-needed diversion from my day-to-day work life. It sends me on adventures to new places and I am able to don many different characters. Without the ability to read, think and discuss information, I could not do my job nor be in a cycle of continuous improvement and be the best I can be as a principal.

Why do you think readers are leaders?

In order to become a leader, you have to be a reader. By reading you gain knowledge/ideas that help you perfect your leadership. I recently read “Multiplier” and a second called “The Multiplier Effect.” Every time I read a book, I believe it gives me another tool in my bag to become a better leader as well as develop an appreciation of those with whom I work.

What is your favorite children’s book and why?

I really like “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” by Dr. Seuss. Seuss engages children with his quirky characters and lyrical writing style, but I also particularly like the message of this book because it encourages kids to get out and explore the world, whether far away or right outside your door, “Today is your day … your mountain is waiting, so … get on your way!”

Furthermore, it places no limits on children and no mountain is too high … you can attain your dream!

Where is your favorite place to read/when is your favorite time to read?

My very, very favorite place to read is at the beach with a background noise of waves crashing against the shore. It is my other beat! I also like to cuddle up on the couch at home with a warm throw and be transported to a different time and place.


Suzi Phebus, who is also principal of Alder Creek Middle School, cites the book “Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter” by Liz Wiseman with Greg McKeown.

Not being familiar with this book, I looked up reviews and found this summary from Booklist: “Why do some genius-level leaders seem to drain intelligence and performance out of the people around them, while others stimulate, motivate and get so much more out of their work associates?

“Wiseman labels the former group, people who need to be the smartest person in the room, as diminishers, while the latter are multipliers, people who use their smarts to stimulate and enhance the creativity of the group.”

Phebus, as leader of two schools, has a huge impact on not only teachers and staff, but on hundreds of students.

“Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” is naturally a Phebus favorite. Thirty years ago Phebus was a teacher at Truckee High School and personified that message. She was already employing a “Multiplier” leadership style, encouraging students to think big and work hard to attain deeper levels of academic achievement.

My own daughter Buzzy Jackson was Phebus’ student and derived great benefit from her teaching.

After graduating from THS, Buzzy earned a Ph.D. at Berkeley and is now enjoying a successful career. When I asked her about her about high school teachers who most influenced her, Suzi was one of those, “Mrs. Phebus was a wonderful presence in the lives of the high schoolers fortunate to have her as a teacher at Tahoe Truckee High School. She brought a level of seriousness to the work we did in her class, insisting on high standards and assuming we would do high-quality work. A teacher’s high expectations can be a form of encouragement and hers certainly were. Of course we had fun in her class, too; Mrs. Phebus’s dry wit helped us get through some of those long high school days!”


To be a literacy multiplier for young children is critical at home and in the classroom to develop literacy. When reading stories to children, the approach is critical to the development of vocabulary, sound structure and a love of reading.

When an adult reads to children as a “diminisher,” she controls the book, the story and reads to a passive audience. The children are not encouraged to apply observations or creative thinking. By contrast, the adult reading as a “multiplier” utilizes dialogic reading.

Dialogic reading is a two-sided conversation between adult and child about a book. Using this method, children also become storytellers and their active input, observations and creativity are carefully nurtured throughout the reading.

Dialogic reading incudes adults asking questions — if a child is looking at a picture of a dog, the adult might ask, “What color is the dog?”

Children can also end a sentence, such as, “It looks like the dog is going to bury the ______.” The child, looking at the picture, supplies the word “bone.” If a child is already familiar with a book, an adult can ask “What do you think will happen next.””

These methods help children pay attention to detail, help self-expression and build confidence and self-esteem. And, as in the “Multiplier Effect,” adults are not simply reading and children listening, they are using dialogic reading to help stimulate creativity, critical thinking and early literacy.

Ruth Jackson Hall is the Early Learning Coordinator for the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District.

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