School Librarians and Achieving Equity in Fall 2020

Image shows a traffic light: red (problem), yellow (analysis), green (solution)As I review my blog posts since this spring, I notice a reoccurring theme: equity. A majority of school librarians, classroom teachers, and administrators have long been concerned with all K-12 students’ access to an equitable, relevant, culturally responsive education. For many education decision-makers and members of the general public, the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement have put the inequities in K-12 students’ access to equity in public schools into sharper focus.

At the same time, many education decision-makers seem to lack an understanding of how school librarians and libraries serve academic programs and our non-negotiable commitment to equitable access. There are currently schools, districts, and entire states discussing how school libraries will be repurposed and how school librarians will be reassigned to classroom teacher, teacher substitute, or other positions when library spaces are used to achieve social distancing, study halls, or childcare during school hours if schooling is held in person.

Reaping the Results of Spring, 2020
If schooling in fall, 2020, is remote, decision makers must be aware of the importance of school librarians’ roles as leaders in classroom-library collaboration for online instruction, advocates who get physical books into the hands of students and families even when the library is closed, technology mentors and troubleshooters, virtual book and other club sponsors, and more. School librarians who served on school and district decision-making leadership teams in spring, 2020, had the critical opportunity to ensure that the work of school librarians and the affordances of the library program were part of the solution to a crisis situation.

If school librarians demonstrated essential services in spring, 2020, then they have solid grounds on which to advocate for their continued role in their schools’ academic program. They can document their work and will have engendered advocates among students, colleagues, administrators, and families for having stepped up during a crisis. If, on the other hand, they, as one high school librarian told me, “didn’t do much,” then they will not be on firm ground going forward.

Changing School Paradigms
As I noted in my May 15, 2020, Arizona Daily Star op-ed “What the pandemic has taught us about K-12 schooling in Arizona,” many schools, districts, and states across this country and around the world should have paid heed to the academic as well as social services schools and educators, including school librarians, provide in their communities. The lack of access to an equitable education for all U.S. K-12 school students should be glaringly evident.

In his 6/20/20 blog post “Reopening Schools with a Focus on Equity,” Dr. Pedro Noguera asks a question that all education decision-makers should be asking themselves as they plan for fall, 2020: “Is American education ready to respond to the urgent needs that have been exposed?” In his post, Noguera challenges readers (educators and others) with a thought-provoking list of dominant paradigms in critical need of change, including “deep and persistent disparities in achievement based on race and class” and learning characterized by covering the material rather than deep engagement, curiosity, and stimulation. While I believe school librarians can be leaders in responding to Dr. Noguera’s entire list of needs for change, these two, in particular, are offer specific and direct ways school librarians can lead in transforming schooling.

The Achievement Gap, Curiosity, and Simulation
When we look at the achievement gap, we traditionally look at standardized test scores in reading and math. For the most part, school librarians have a greater opportunity to impact achievement in reading than in math. In the area of reading, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test, for example, focuses on three types of literary texts and three broad categories of informational texts that vary by grade level. (The test is given to a sample of fourth- and eighth-grade students.)

Looking at our own research in school librarianship, we can make a strong case for how our work helps reduce the reading achievement gap. “School librarians provide critical support to teachers and administration by recommending and teaching strategies and sources that develop reading comprehension and analysis of informational text in all content areas” (Gretes 2013, 3). If it’s not already, this must be a focus on school librarians’ work going forward.

Inquiry learning, which puts students’ own questions at the center of the process, is designed to simulate their curiosity to pursue personally meaningful answers to questions and solutions to problems. As co-designers of inquiry learning, collaborating school librarians have the opportunity to work with classroom teachers and specialists, whether face to face or online, to increase students’ motivation to engage in standards-based inquiry. We can also teach and co-teach specific skills used during inquiry, such as searching skills, bibliography formats, and resource analysis, and monitor students’ progress. We can model and guide students in using information and ideas ethically. We can help students select the most effective technology tools for demonstrating their new knowledge. Alongside classroom teachers, we can co-assess students learning in all of these areas.

Advocacy and Meeting Other People’s Needs
The best way to build advocates for the work we do it to help others meet their needs. Being an integral part of the success of administrators, classroom teachers, students, and families during spring, 2020, positioned school librarians to grow advocates and secure their rightful place in the future of K-12 education. As schools prepare to reopen physically or online, we will reap the benefits (or consequences) of the actions we took during school closures.

As a former school librarian and a retired school librarian educator, I can only spur you on from the sidelines. My greatest hope is that the critical roles of school librarians will not be lost in the conversations about reopening schools–that our contributions to student learning and teachers’ teaching, and our profession will thrive long into the future.

Work Cited

Gretes, Frances. 2013. “School Library Impact Studies: A Review of Findings and Guide to Sources.” Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Foundation. http://bit.ly/2USKkQ9.

Image Credit

geralt. “Traffic Lights Problem Analysis,” Pixabay.com. https://pixabay.com/illustrations/traffic-lights-problem-analysis-466950/

Spotlight on the ALA Book Award Celebration

Four Book Jackets of Titles that earned 2020 Coretta Scott King AwardsDear School Librarian Leadership Readers,

It seems most appropriate that we celebrate children’s and young adult literature by watching the YouTube videos the American Library Association and the Association for Library Service to Children have posted online.

Check out the Book Award Celebration!

I started my listening feast with the 2020 Coretta Scott King Award videos. I highly recommend listening to all of the speeches of these amazing award-winning authors and illustrators. That said, you should definitely not miss the award speeches by Jerry Craft for his graphic novel The New Kid and Kadir Nelson for the illustrations in The Undefeated. Mildred D. Taylor, who earned the Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award, was unable to participate. (Her slim and powerful stories The Friendship and The Gold Cadillac engendered deep meaningful conversations among the fifth-grade students in my classroom over thirty years ago. I deeply appreciate her work.)

Although I sorely missed dining with friends at the 2020 Newbery-Caldecott-Legacy Award Banquet, I believe giving association members and everyone (!) across the globe access to these inspiring speeches is a gift we should not pass up. I will treat myself to all of the speeches throughout this week.

If you haven’t already, I hope you will make time to tune in and experience the joy and hope expressed by the creators of children’s and young adult literature and re-experience the call to share the love with the youth and educators in your care.

Image: Selected 2020 Coretta Scott King Award Winners

 

A Conversation with Calvert County School Librarians

Last week, I had the pleasure of an online conversation with a cadre of outstanding Calvert County Public School (CCPS) school librarians and their district-level Specialist for School Libraries and Digital Learning Jennifer Sturge. This team of librarians serving students in Maryland, led by their colleague Monique, were in the process of a professional book study focused on Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy.

After last week’s blog post “School Librarianship in the Time of Coronavirus, Part 2,” their voices from the field were critical to furthering my understanding of ways to increase school librarians’ service to their learning communities—whether or not our physical library facilities are open. Note: Selected indicators interjected into this post are from the 6/15/20 post and demonstrate the roles effective school librarians fill in their learning communities as leaders, instructional partners, teachers, information specialists, and program administrators.

Photograph of a reflection in a pond sending ripples out from a single pointAs a way to engage in reflection, I launched our conversation by posing a “what if” question: “If you are serving your school learning community remotely in fall 2020, what would you do differently from your practice this past spring?” The librarians’ responses fell into four categories: getting physical books in the hands of students, increasing rigor through inquiry learning, communication and collaboration, and working with principals. Although more than one librarian addressed these topics, I have identified one or two people who took the lead in the discussion in each area.

Book Checkout
Many school librarians across the country and around the globe did not have the opportunity to plan for the best ways to get physical books into the hands of K-12 students before schools closed. Theresa shared how she is strategizing some effective ways to checkout and deliver/send books directly to students, especially if they cannot access the physical space of the library. I suspect all of us in the “room” agreed that getting high-quality, diverse books into the hands of youth helps keep their minds engaged in learning and growing as thinking and empathic people. (If you haven’t yet seen it or if you need another smile, checkout Nashville Public Library’s PSA “Curb Side, Baby” | What You Need to Know about NPL’s Curbside Service.”)

For me, this goal reinforces a key indicator in “Reading and Information Literacy Instruction:”

  • Promote reading for information and for personal enjoyment.

Inquiry Learning
Inquiry learning is a core practice in CCPS. High school librarian Donna would like to see increased rigor in remote learning through a greater emphasis on inquiry. School librarians have a strong commitment to inquiry learning as a way to honor student choice and voice. As authentic learning, inquiry prepares young people for lifelong learning. Classroom-library collaboration for instruction and shared responsibility for guiding students’ inquiry projects could improve student success even more when teaching and learning are conducted online.

Promoting inquiry in the online classroom/library is an essential aspect of “Integrated, Collaborative Teaching;”

  • Coteach with other educators whether face to face or online to engage students in critical thinking and deep learning.
  • Co-assess student learning outcomes with other educators to improve instructional strategies and resources and ensure continuous improvement for students and educators.

Communication/Collaboration
Mary Brooke shared her experience of the importance of school librarians communicating with a collective strong voice. She talked about the previously planned lessons that were ready to implement when learning when online. In addition to the lessons created by CCPS librarians, we talked briefly about accessing published lessons and units of instruction in order to fast-track instruction when time for planning is even shorter than usual.

Later in the conversation, we talked about the challenges of carving out collaborative planning time. While most educators agree that time is in short supply, using online tools for collaborative work is essential whether our academic program is face to face or virtual. School librarians who have developed strategies for using online tools to plan may have been ahead of the curve in meeting the needs of colleagues in spring 2020. In addition, educators must encourage school principals to create dedicated planning time for classroom and classroom-library collaboration, which in turn establishes a value for collaborative teaching.

For me, this conversation reinforced the indicators under “Collaborative Planning:”

  • Reach out to teaching teams and attend face-to-face and virtual team meetings to support colleagues’ teaching goals.
  • Reach out to classroom teachers and specialists to coplan and integrate the resources of the library into the classroom curriculum.

Working with Administrators
Again, I believe everyone in the room understood the importance of positive and strong relationships between principals and school librarians. Both Anne and Monique shared their value for working with administrators to address the teaching and learning needs of faculty and students. This spring, many principals and other decision-makers may have been overwhelmed. Anne noted the importance of sensitivity to other people’s stress and monitoring one’s communication accordingly. Monique shared how she worked collaboratively with classroom teachers online this spring. In the process, she created advocates for the library program who may be poised to speak up for the impact of classroom-library collaboration on student learning outcomes.

For me, this is an excellent example of “Library Advocacy & Support:”

  • Collaborate with administrators to assess students’ and classroom teachers’ needs and develop and implement plans to address them.

Learning from Spring 2020
A belief attributed to John Dewey based on this writing in Experience and Education (1938) can be our guide as we prepare for the 2020-2021 academic year: “We do not learn from our experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” Reflecting on our practice as school librarians is essential and the change and challenge thrust upon educators in spring 2020 created a golden opportunity to learn from our reflection.

Thank you to Jen and the Calvert County Public School Librarians for sharing your reflective process.

Image Credit

From the Personal Collection of Judi Moreillon

School Librarianship in the Time of Coronavirus, Part 2

Image: Equity spelled out in Scrabble letters.I believe a high-quality education is a human right, and literacy is the foundation for all learning. From my perspective, every student and educator in every school across the country and around the globe deserves to have a literacy learning leader in the person of a certified school librarian. However, lack of funding and misplaced priorities at the state-, district-, and school-site levels have resulted in fewer and fewer professional school librarians and a loss of equitable education for all.

Over the past decade, and in some cases longer, many state legislatures have chipped away at district public school funding. (For the unconscionable situation in my state, see the Arizona Center for Economic Progress’s 5/27/20 “K12 Budget Webinar.”) With ever-shrinking funds, school districts have been put in the position of making difficult choices and far too many times school librarian positions have been seen as “extras” and have been eliminated.

In addition, and as unfortunate, our local reliance on property tax-based funding for public schools undermines an equitable education for all. This perpetuates a system that results in “have” and “have not” districts. Districts with less tax revenue struggle to provide complete academic programs, including well-resourced, fully-staffed school libraries, up-to-date technology tools, art, music, and more.

Site-based hiring practices have also negatively impacted school librarian positions. Without leadership from district-level leaders, far too many site-level administrators fail to understand the value of having a professional educator guiding the literacy learning that takes place through the largest, most well-equipped classroom in the school—the school library. If cutting librarians is based on their poor job performance, then the appropriate response would be to put them on plans of improvement or replace them rather than depriving students, educators, and families of professional library services.

What Is a Librarian to Do?
The school closures of spring 2020 created an opportunity for school librarians to demonstrate to administrators, colleagues, and families their many contributions to student learning outcomes whether or not anyone had access to the physical space of the library.

It is in that context that I share indicators that demonstrate the roles effective school librarians fill in their learning communities as leaders, instructional partners, teachers, information specialists, and program administrators. In these five roles, they:

Leader
Culture of Learning

  • Create a sense of belonging, ownership, and inclusion in the physical and virtual spaces of the library.
  • Design a welcoming and universally accessible online library presence.
  • Provide and advocate for equitable access to diverse resources representing all cultures/identities and divergent points of view in multiple genres and formats.

Library Advocacy & Support

  • Collaborate with administrators to assess students’ and classroom teachers’ needs and develop and implement plans to address them.
  • Communicate clearly and frequently with library stakeholders (students, other educators, administrators, families, and greater community) in order to share the impact of school library resources and the library program on student learning.
  • Seek learning community support for library initiatives to improve student learning.

Instructional Partner and Teacher
Collaborative Planning

  • Reach out to teaching teams and attend face-to-face and virtual team meetings to support colleagues’ teaching goals.
  • Reach out to classroom teachers and specialists to coplan and integrate the resources of the library into the classroom curriculum.

Integrated, Collaborative Teaching

  • Coteach with other educators whether face to face or online to engage students in critical thinking, deep learning, and the ethical use of ideas and information.
  • Co-assess student learning outcomes with other educators to improve instructional strategies and resources and ensure continuous improvement for students and educators.

Reading and Information Literacy Instruction

  • Promote reading for information and for personal enjoyment.
  • Coteach how to locate, find, analyze, and use information.
  • Coteach making meaning from texts in all formats (reading comprehension).

Information Specialist
Information Access and Delivery

  • Reach out to colleagues to support educators’ and students’ use of digital devices and tools and electronic resources.
  • Integrate the paper print and virtual resources of the library into the school’s face-to-face and remote academic learning program.
  • Provide instruction to support students and educators in using electronic resources ethically and safely whether from home or from school.
  • Provide online tutorials to support students and educators in using electronic resources effectively.

Program Administrator
Library Management

  • Align the library vision, mission, and goals with those of the school and the district.
  • Use library management software to generate reports and use data to improve library services.

In-School and Remote Collection Aligned to Curriculum, Classroom Teacher, and Student Needs

  • Assess and develop the paper print and electronic library collection to meet the instructional needs of colleagues.
  • Assess and develop the library collection to meet the academic and personal reading needs of students.

Funding & Budget Management

  • Write grants and seek funding to provide students and other educators with resources, including technology devices and tools.
  • Manage the library budget responsibly and help guide district-level purchases to meet the academic program and personal learning needs of students, educators, and families.

Taking Action
Serving as an effective school librarian is a complex job. It requires a passion for learning and literacy and a steadfast commitment to serve the entire learning community. There are exemplary librarians serving at this high level across the U.S. and around the globe. For two examples, see last week’s post School Librarianship in the Time of Coronavirus, Part 1.

If you are an effective school librarian or other educator, please share with me what I missed. If you are a school administrator or school librarian educator, consider how we can shore up the school librarian profession to ensure that all students, educators, and families have equitable, high-quality library services.

Image Credit

Wokandapix. “Equity Fairness Equitable Letters.” Pixabay.com. https://pixabay.com/photos/equity-fairness-equitable-letters-2355700/

School Librarianship in the Time of Coronavirus, Part 1

Perhaps like me, you are an educator who believes that part of achieving restorative social justice in the U.S. involves creating and supporting a high-quality public school system that is equitable and relevant for all preK-12 students regardless of where they live. Such a system would require at least one state-certified school librarian in every public school across this country.

It is in this context that school librarians and our state-level organizations and national association have conducted surveys, held meetings, and worked to develop flyers, posters, and other marketing tools to share how school librarians support student learning—even when the physical space of the library is shuttered and its paper print resources are, for the most part, inaccessible to students, classroom teachers, specialists, and families.

In times such as these, it is important that we look for the bright spots of success that flourish across the U.S. and around the globe as we describe school librarianship in the time of coronavirus and adapt exemplary practices to our own teaching and learning situations.

Two Brilliantly Bright Spots
Last Friday, I attended “Building Strong Partnerships with School and District Leaders,” a webinar sponsored by Future Ready Librarians®. The teacher librarians and administrators from two distinctly different districts shared how they met the challenge of school closures.

Van Meter Community School District (VMCSD) (IA) Superintendent Deron Durflinger and Shannon McClintock Miller, Future Ready Librarians® spokesperson and VMCSD K–12 district teacher librarian shared how their digital learning efforts align with the district’s vision, mission, and culture. Shannon noted that the district was able to build on the communication and collaboration practices that began when they implemented a 1:1 program eleven years ago and fine-tuned in the last few years. In VMCSD, they attribute their success to a focus on empathy and “being there” for their classroom teachers, students, and families. They also noted that having confidence in the support they would receive and “being in it together” gave educators the essential right to fail, learn, and grow.

Vancouver Public Schools (VPS) (WA) teacher librarian Traci Chun and Jeremy Tortora, Associate Principal and Athletic Director, shared how they partnered with one another and their faculty, staff, students, and families to meet the needs of their learning community during the shutdown. Although VPS has had a modified 1:1 program for ten years, it wasn’t the devices alone that Mr. Tortora attributed to their success. He noted that the district and the schools in the district focus on sustaining a culture of collaboration supported by teacher librarians. As Mr. Tortora noted, librarians know the strengths of individual educators and what they need. In addition to tech support, this knowledge helped Traci and other school leaders provide social emotional support for educators.

Both Shannon and Traci shared how the curation tools they had developed with classroom teachers and used with students prior to the pandemic were instrumental in ensuring that students, educators, and families had access to resources and were comfortable using these pathways. In both districts, teacher librarians and administrators were careful not to overwhelm classroom teachers. They provided information and support but enacted the “less is more” concept in terms of covering curriculum and implementing new digital tools.

Reoccurring Themes
As readers of this blog know, I listen and light up when I hear the words “collaboration” and “coteaching.” This webinar did not disappoint. The focus on communication and listening in both districts provided a foundation on which to build their collaborative work. At the building level and at the district level, Shannon, Traci, and all teacher librarians can share their global perspective of the learning community to support educators transitioning to remote learning as well as guide district-level tech tool purchases.

Communication was another reoccurring theme. In both districts, teacher librarians and administrators listened to other educators’ needs and responded promptly and with sensitivity for where the teachers “were at.” They monitored the frequency of their communications and carefully considered the level of support they offered based on individual educators’ needs and capacity to utilize new strategies and tools.

The emphasis on relationship building in a culture of collaboration and clear communication in both districts were in evidence throughout the webinar.

Adapting Practices
Clearly, school closures highlighted the grave injustice created by the inequitable distribution of technology devices and resources needed for students to conduct learning from their homes. In the webinar, moderator Mark Ray noted that some librarians and others listening to this webinar would be thinking about how to adapt the practices in VPS and VMCSD to their own learning environments. I was one of those.

When schools closed in Arizona, 100,000 or more students were without the necessary devices to engage in remote learning. In Tucson Unified School District (TUSD), 18,000 lacked these tools. With about 40,000 students, TUSD, the second largest district in the state, serves an urban, high-needs student population. The district scrambled to provide devices to all students and families. For more on the specifics of the situation in our state, see my 5/15/20 op-ed in the Arizona Daily Star: “What the pandemic has taught us about K-12 schooling in Arizona.”

In light of this situation, my big take-away from the FRL webinar was how many years VMCSD and VPS had been (unknowingly?) “preparing” for the pandemic. While they were ramping up their 1:1 programs and their technology tools support for students and educators, they were focused on the big picture—their districts’ vision and mission and developing a culture of learning and collaboration that carried them through this spring’s school closures.

Bottom Line
It was in this network of communication, caring, and sharing that their efforts succeeded. It was collaboration at all levels—among students, educators and teacher librarians, administrators, and families—that made their move to fully online teaching and learning a success.

Collaboration is the difference we can make… with the support of our administrators. Shannon McClintock Miller

Say, yes! and “be brave before perfect.” Traci Chun

Thank you, Shannon and Superintendent Deron Durflinger, Traci and Associate Principal Tortora for sharing your exemplary work. Thank you, Mark Ray, for moderating this webinar. I highly recommend that all school librarians view this webinar and reflect on their capacity for leadership as they plan and go forward into the 2020-21 academic year.

Image Credit: From the personal collection of Judi Moreillon

Compassion and Wisdom for Activists

Black Hands Holding a Heart Containing the Scales of JusticeIn lieu of my blog post today, I am asking School Librarian Leadership.com readers/subscribers and members of the Maximizing School Librarian Leadership Facebook group to read President Barack Obama’s support for activists/activism and strategies for moving forward from here toward social justice.

How to Make this Moment the Turning Point for Real Change”

Thank you, President Obama, and for everyone who is working toward peace and justice.

Sincerely,
Judi

Late addition to this post: Karen Jensen @TLT16 posted a collection of powerful resources on SLJ’s Teen Librarian Toolbox today: “Because Black Lives Matter, a Collection of Anti-Racist Reading Lists.”

Image Credit:

GJD. “Heart Love Passion Peace Sign.” Pixabay.com, https://pixabay.com/vectors/heart-love-passion-peace-sign-2028061

Memorial Day 2020

Image: American Flag with Peace Sign

Dear School Librarian Leadership Readers,

Rather than share a post focused on school librarianship on this Memorial Day 2020, I am asking you to read “The First Decoration Day,” an article written by American history professor Dr. David W. Blight that is accessible on the Zinn Education Project.

According to Blight’s research, the first large-scale public event to honor the 606,000 soldiers who died in the Civil War was held on May 1, 1865 in South Carolina, where the war had begun. In Charleston, 10,000 people, most of them former slaves, held a parade on a racetrack, owned by former slaveholders. The parade began with 3,000 thousand Black schoolchildren carrying arm loads of roses and singing “John Brown’s Body.” They were followed by several hundred Black women carrying baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses. Then came Black men marching in cadence, followed by contingents of Union infantry and other Black and White citizens (Blight).

As Blight notes, “Pride of place as the first large scale ritual of Decoration Day, therefore, goes to African Americans in Charleston. By their labor, their words, their songs, and their solemn parade of flowers and marching feet on their former owners’ race course, they created for themselves, and for us, the Independence Day of the Second American Revolution.”

I have often thought of national holidays as essential learning and necessary teaching if we are to preserve our democracy. For me, this article is a poignant reminder that all of us living in the U.S. today should make a heartfelt effort to know our shared history.

Memorial Day is a time to rededicate ourselves to greater respect, empathy, and commitment to one another—working together for peace and understanding at home and around the globe.

Stay well and safe.
Judi

Work Cited

Blight, David W. 2011. “The First Decoration Day.” Zinn Education Project. https://www.zinnedproject.org/materials/the-first-decoration-day/

Image Credit:

Peterson, David. “American Flag Peace Sign.” Pexels.com, https://www.pexels.com/photo/administration-america-art-banner-345092/

Teaching as Soul Work

“One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do
to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul.
Struggling souls catch light from other souls
who are fully lit and willing to show it” (Estes 1992).

A couple weeks after the state of Illinois shutdown for the coronavirus, I met via Zoom with members of the Association of Illinois School Library Educators (AISLE). Our conversation was focused on sharing children’s and young adult literature online. I had shared an early draft of the presentation with iSchool graduate students in IS445: Information Books and Resources for Youth.

The astute grad students pointed out to me that the information in the presentation was persuasive, but I hadn’t made time to access librarians’ emotions around school closures. (We devoted time in our online course for sharing and developing empathy for one another’s shelter-in-place situations, but the emotional component was missing from the presentation I had intended to share as a conversation starter.)

Answer Garden Image; odd- it is different working from home; without direction; feeling helpless and underutilize; restless; worried for my children from hard places; overwhelmed, useless, frustrated with the news/misinformation; worried about our upcoming remodel; missing interaction with othersI took students’ feedback to heart and opened the webinar by asking school librarians to share how they were feeling about their schools being closed. Most shared in the chat; some recorded their feelings on the AnswerGarden web above.

Educators’ Caring Revealed
I believe most members of the general public have been previously unaware of the depth of caring for other people’s children felt by the adults who work in schools. One would hope that the front-page stories of classroom teachers, librarians, and other educators going above and beyond for their students would have expanded the public perception of the extent of educators’ dedication to their students and how critical their work is to the health of our economic, social, and civic lives. The parades and special recognition families have shown educators is also a testimonial to how much families value educators.

That said, I’m sure that many of us have also noticed how educators are expressing their feelings of disconnection, loss, or even grief via social media. While many school districts across the country have spent decades focusing on Social Emotional Learning, or SEL (“the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions” (CASEL), there has been little talk of how the pandemic has affected the social and emotional lives of educators. (With a nod to an outstanding exception: Courtney Pentland’s 5/14/20 Knowledge Quest blog post: “It’s Important to Give Grace to Others but Also to Yourself.”

Social Emotional Teaching
What we haven’t been talking about, to the degree I believe is necessary, is Social Emotional Teaching (SET). I believe the abrupt closure of schools and the precipitous change from face-to-face to an online environment environment has brought the commitment and dedication of educators to light. And it has also resulted in educators struggling to deal with feelings that are deep rooted in all people whose work is centered in service to others, or soul work. Here are some of my ideas about applying the SEL definition to SET.

Understand and manage emotions: Through exchanging heartfelt feelings with our colleagues, families, and friends, educators can navigate the uncertainty of these times. Increasing self-awareness helps us understand and manage our emotions.

Set and achieve positive goals: Keep previous schedules (waking, working, eating, sleeping) or establish new routines to meet the changing demands of teaching from a distance while maintaining a semblance of normal in family life. Keep a journal to log both daily accomplishments and gratitude for blessings.

Feel and show empathy for others: Educators are empathy experts. The pandemic creates an opportunity for educators to express their empathy for students, families, and colleagues as well as for complete strangers. It is critical that we authentically model the importance of empathy in social and civic life. As Courtney Pentland observes, it is also a time to show empathy for ourselves.

Establish and maintain positive relationships: We must remain vigilant in noting points of light and expressing optimism when interacting with students, families, and colleagues. Stay connected–heart to heart, mind to mind, soul to soul.

And make responsible decisions: All decisions at this time are made in an environment in which credible information is evolving. Make decisions based on verifiable information and be prepared to alter decisions when new information becomes available. This may be most important for educators in terms of individual student’s ability to learn in the online environment, or the ability of families to support student learning.

Teaching Is Soul Work
The academic year has come to a close for many schools in the Southwest. Students, educators, and families deserve credit for completing this academic year in good standing.

The words on the Collier Elementary School marquee, “we miss you,” are not hollow (see 100% Online K-12 Learning). The faculty and staff in schools around the country and across the globe have been sorely missing their students and families. Many are currently missing the end of the year rituals that celebrate shared learning journeys and help students and educators transition to the next chapter in their lives.

These are among the difficult losses we are experiencing as a society.

As Courtney Pentland suggests in her blog post, let’s give grace to ourselves as well to others. Let’s stand up and show the deep caring of our educator souls and be prepared to continue serving students, families, colleagues, and our communities to the best of our ability whatever may come.

Works Cited

Collaborative for Academic, Social, Emotional Learning (CASEL). “What Is SEL?” https://casel.org/what-is-sel/

Estes, Clarissa Pinkola. 1992. Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype. New York: Ballantine Books.

Image Credit: Created with AnswerGarden.ch

100% Online K12 Learning

"We Miss You" Photograph of the Marquee at Collier Elementary School, Tucson, Arizona

Educators and education decision-makers are currently engaged in an unplanned experiment in online learning. The inequity of access to broadband and technology devices that many educators and students have experienced since the Internet came to school has been exposed and finally, one would hope, cannot be denied. Educators and students have struggled for years with the push for the “flipped classroom,” a hybrid of face-to-face and online learning, when far too many young people have not had the ability to access online resources outside of their school buildings.

But those of us on the “inside” know that broadband and devices are far from the only inequities that undermine student learning in 2020.

Like many of us who have been in the teaching profession for decades, I have been wondering and feeling concerned about how school closures are affecting student learning today and will affect learning and teaching in the future. Last week, Nancy E. Bailey posted “Reimagining Teacher Appreciation in 2020: Pushback on the Takeover of America’s School.”

Her article prompted me to post a link to her article on five Facebook Groups commonly followed by school librarians. In addition to the link, I posed this question: “Would 100% of your students (and families) thrive with 100% online K-12 learning?” This question netted 72 comments in two days. One response questioned the political nature of Nancy’s blog post and 71 replied “no” or commented about the specific ways that their students are not being served today and will not be served by 100% online learning in the future.

Learning from Home
In addition to access to individual (or equitably shared) technology devices and high-speed Internet, there are many other socioeconomic and family-specific factors that can support or hinder a student’s ability to succeed online. Here are a few:

  • Food security;
  • Healthcare access;
  • Adults’ work schedules or how losing one or more jobs has affected the family;
  • Older (responsible) siblings and adults available to support students during the times they are expected to be online;
  • Functioning relationships among all family members;
  • Older siblings’ or adults’ ability to support student learning in terms of background knowledge, language competence, and cognitive abilities;
  • Older siblings’ or adults’ ability to provide support for children with special needs;
  • Older siblings’ or adults’ willingness to maintain the routines needed for a supportive learning environment.

Of course, all of these factors were at play when students were coming into school buildings to learn, but they are and will continued to be heightened factors if learning becomes an 100% online endeavor.

Note: Please take a minute or two to read the mother’s response to Nancy’s post, number one in queue.

What Schools Provide
Schools provide a safety net for many children and teens. The pandemic should have made all U.S. adults aware of the social services our district public schools provide far beyond their academic mission and specific curriculum standards-based outcomes. Many schools provide students breakfast, lunch, and supper as well as meals over the summer. Proper nutrition reduces absenteeism and makes a difference in students’ ability to concentrate and learn. No hungry child should be expected to learn on an empty stomach.

Schools provide healthcare services, especially for families who lack sufficient medical coverage. School nurses not only apply band-aids but diagnose common childhood illnesses and refer children and families to free or low-cost providers. Educators, including counselors, notice when youth show signs of emotional stress or emotional or physical abuse. They provide support, referrals, or enact their reporting responsibilities as each child’s needs warrant.

The most effective schools expand and enrich student learning. In addition to classroom learning, those schools provide well-stocked libraries staffed by state-certified school librarians. Librarians connect students with literature that meets their individual reading as well as their academic needs. Librarians integrate the resources of the library into the classroom curriculum; they are literacy teaching partners with classroom teachers. Effective elementary schools also provide music, art, and physical education—each taught by educators with expertise in their subject area as well as child development. Secondary schools provide dance, drama, choir, orchestra, band, and more.

Learning Is Social
When students and educators are together in a classroom, library, or lab, or on the athletic field face to face and in real time, they learn with and from one another in ways that are not quantifiable on standardized tests. Social Emotional Learning (or SEL) has been a focus in many schools and districts for more than a decade. SEL is “the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions” (CASEL). For some, parents may be providing support for developing SEL in students’ homes; for others, the school environment may be better suited to this responsibility.

Schools educate the whole child. Students develop their interests and spark their passions in clubs, on sports teams, and by participating in service projects facilitated by educators and coaches. These activities provide hands-on experience in collaborating with others, working toward goals as team players, and expanding their view of post-K12 graduation possibilities. These activities prepare youth for succeeding in the workplace, building strong families, and growing their communities; they prepare young people for life.

In the most effective learning environments, students learn with classmates from diverse backgrounds and with different abilities; they have the opportunity to build understanding and empathy for others. Educators have the opportunity to model and teach respectful, civil discourse through planned discussions and spontaneous conversations that engage students in deeper learning. Turning and facing a classmate or an educator during a conversation is not the same as seeing that person’s face in a thumbnail on a computer screen. In schools, students prepare to be informed and active citizens in our democracy as well as more successful workers and future parents.

While it is unclear whether or not our schools will reopen this summer and in fall 2020, it is important for educators to clearly articulate what K-12 students would miss if they were required to conduct their schooling fully online. It is critical that educational decision-makers involve students, educators, and families in determining how schooling will be conducted in the future.

 

Work Cited

Collaborative for Academic, Social, Emotional Learning (CASEL). “What Is SEL?” https://casel.org/what-is-sel/

Image Credit: Photograph by Judi Moreillon

Advocacy Tools from the AASL School Leader Collaborative

Advocacy Word Cloud: leadership, job description, school librarians, interview questions, decision-makers, school administrators, videoThank you to the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) past-president Kathryn Roots Lewis for her presidential initiative that resulted in resources now available to school librarians and other school library advocates (see her Knowledge Quest 4/29/20 blog post “School Administrators and the Power of School Librarians”).

Kathryn’s initiative centered on championing the work of effective school librarians with educational leaders. The resulting advocacy tools are invaluable to practicing school librarians and district-level school librarian supervisors who can share them with library stakeholders, and to university-based school librarian educators who can use them in teaching preservice school librarians.

In this blog post, I shine a spotlight on three of these now essential advocacy tools.

Advocacy Video: “Administrators Partner with School Librarians
In this video, the seven members of the AASL School Leader Collaborative offer testimonials related to how their school librarians serve as leaders in their learning communities. Thank you to Shawn Arnold, superintendent, Valdez City Schools, Valdez, Alaska; Sean Doherty, superintendent, School District of Clayton, St. Louis, Missouri; April Grace, superintendent, Shawnee Public Schools, Shawnee, Oklahoma; Kelly Gustafson, principal, Pine-Richland School District, Wexford, Pennsylvania; Joel Hoag, principal, Franklin Special School District, Franklin, Tennessee; Kim Patterson, principal, Grossmont Union High School District, El Cajon, California; and Melita Walker, principal, Columbia Public Schools, Columbia, Missouri.

Some sample excerpts from the video: “I think that librarians serve as the heart of the school. I think they serve as a support system for so many different people in the buildings beyond just the students. We need to make sure that people have the right mental model about what a school librarian does for a school and make sure we are fostering that” (Sean Doherty). “The impact of the library or the librarian can only be in direct proportion to your (administrators) own willingness to elevate, encourage, and empower that person or that space as a central part of the learning experience for all of your students and staff” (April Grace). “My school librarian and librarians across districts in Pennsylvania are the ones who are feeding the administrators. My success as school principal and administrator in Pennsylvania is a product of being shaped by school librarians” (Kelly Gustafson) (AASL 2020a).

Similar to “Principals Know: School Librarians Are the Heart of the School,” this video, focused solely on the perspectives and experiences of administrators, provides school librarians with insight into how their work is perceived and valued by education decision-makers. As an advocacy tool, it can support school librarians as they speak with and encourage administrators, school board members, and community leaders to become advocates for the school librarian’s role in education for today and tomorrow.

School Librarian Interview Question Matrix
In collaboration with AASL’s 2018-2019 Presidential Initiative Task Force, the AASL School Leader Collaborative developed a set of interview questions based on the five roles of the school librarian (leader, instructional partner, information specialist, teacher, and program administrator) and organized around the six shared foundations (inquiry, include, collaborate, curate, explore, and engage) from the National Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries (AASL 2018).

These questions provide future and practicing school librarians with specific criteria around which their job description and performance could (should?) be measured. While all of these questions are illuminating in terms of the school librarian’s potential to impact the learning culture in their school, these were the questions that stood out to me in the leader role:

* Give an example of how you would build a culture of collaboration throughout the school. How would you measure success?

* Give some examples of how you have been a leader, change-maker, thought leader.

* Describe your global learning network. How do you learn about trends and best practices in education and school libraries? (AASLb).

School Librarian Job Description
The AASL School Leader Collaborative and the 2018-2019 Task Force also codeveloped a school librarian job description. These are some of the descriptors that stood out for me.

  • Collaborates and coteaches with classroom educators to establish learning objectives and assessment strategies to develop individual and group inquiry-based learning experiences.
  • Champions equity, access, and intellectual freedom for users within the physical space and beyond, including 24/7 access to the online library catalog; digital and audio books, and various information sources.
  • Models and champions digital citizenship and safety and adherence to copyright and fair use requirements.
  • Teaches all members of the learning community to engage with and use information in a global society (AASLc).

Again, this is an invaluable document that can be used in so many ways to strengthen practice and the profession at large. Having worked with the Tucson Unified School District superintendent and the TUSD human resources department in fall 2019 to revise the school librarian job description, I will review our work in light of this document.

The Value of These Documents
These resources can only reach their potential to influence and strengthen the profession if school librarians review these documents, put effective behaviors into practice, and share the resulting student learning outcomes along with these tools. Then, these tools can help us reach our capacity to serve the learning and teaching needs of all library stakeholders.

Let’s take full advantage of the opportunity and express our gratitude to Kathryn Roots Lewis, her 2018-2019 Presidential Initiative Task Force, the AASL School Leader Collaborative, and the school librarian leaders who nominated them for making these resource available to us.

Works Cited

American Association of School Librarians. 2020a. “Administrators Partner with School Librarians,” YouTube.com, https://youtu.be/9fkTsLHFkS8

AASL. 2020b. “School Librarian Interview Matrix,” AASL.org, https://standards.aasl.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/SL-Interview-Matrix.pdf

AASL. 2020c. “School Librarian Job Description,” AASL.org, https://standards.aasl.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/SL-Job-Description_3-30-2020.pdf

 

 

 

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