I have really been encouraged by Judi’s posts regarding what pre-service principals saw as the benefits to students and the benefits to educators of the school librarian as a collaborative partner with teachers. I was particularly struck by the observation that lessons co-planned, co-taught, and co-assessed with the school librarian “pushed instruction to a higher level” and provided the kinds of targeted, formative assessment essential to an evidence-based practice. The school librarian holds a pivotal position in a school’s learning culture. He or she works within the school structure to nudge instruction, assessment, and ultimately student learning to a higher quality. This type of “embedded professional development” works at a subtle, but powerful level to fundamentally change the culture of a school into a learning community.
School librarians serve in a role that might be characterized as that of “tempered radicals,” a phrase introduced by Stephanie Meyerson (2001)and recently revisited by Peter DeWitt in an Education Week blog post entitled “Education needs more tempered radicals.” Tempered radicals are those who work within the system to create small but potentially pervasive changes to the system. Working within the system, they retain their legitimacy as an insider, yet introduce difference and provoke learning. As Dewitt suggests:
Tempered radicals are those educators on the inside who make subtle changes every day. Whether it’s the way they educate students (i.e. seamlessly using technology, parent communication, grading, etc.) or how they make changes to a building through shared decision making and listening to the needs of their stakeholders. Perhaps it is a principal who gives their teachers more autonomy or someone who sends out researched based articles on instruction and discusses them at faculty meetings so they can make changes in instructional practices.
Sound familiar? School librarians are in an ideal position to serve as tempered radicals since they are recognized as members of the school staff by teachers and administrators, yet their work allows them to be in spaces of influence throughout the school as they plan with classroom teachers, converse with administrators and parents, and interact daily with students. Meyerson suggests a tempered radical “brings an entirely new set of perspectives, asks different questions, and might pose different solutions to problems” (p.17). School librarians are tempered radicals who create a climate of inquiry for administrators and teachers to “bounce ideas off of” leading toward an “evidence-based practice” focused on student learning.
Schools should be learning organizations where all members of the community value and engage in continuous learning. School librarians embedded in the fabric of the community as they co-plan, co-teach, and co-assess instruction and learning are essential catalysts for the kinds of inquiry into practice that lead the learning of both educators and those they educate. Inquiry offers a tempered approach to change because it raises essential questions and invites others to join in an exploration of answers. It’s invitational, tempered, and relational. Collaboration and inquiry are essential partners in school reform and the goal of becoming a learning culture.
DeWitt, Peter (Dec. 13, 2012). Education needs more tempered radicals [web log post]. Retrieved from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/finding_common_ground/2012/12/education_needs_more_tempered_radicals.html
Meyerson, Stephanie (2001). Tempered radicals: How people use difference to inspire change at work. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.