Collaboration:Build a Plan for Advocacy

In last week’s blog post, I outlined the scenario that has been unfolding in Vermont concerning proposed changes in the state statutes that describe school quality standards.  In the draft document, language about school libraries and staffing was eliminated, and a group of volunteers from the Vermont School Library Association (VSLA) has been collaborating to make sure that the language is reinserted.  So far, the action plan that was developed through the collective capacity of the group has been well received, and we are quite confident that our advocacy is on a successful track.

Here are a few ideas about collaborating for advocacy based on our experience:

  • Set group communication and actions-meetings face to face and virtual-Google docs, presentations, Skype, email, listserv.

Our group began meeting in late August, just as the school year was underway. Certainly, it was not a time for leisurely study of the issues, and we were aware that the Vermont Board of Education would be scheduling public hearings on the proposed changes in October. Our window of opportunity would be short.   Since we represented schools in both urban and rural areas from far corners of the state, we set up Google docs and used Skype when someone could not meet face to face.  TGFG-Thank goodness for Google!  After brainstorming a “to do” list, each person took responsibility for a piece of the action, and shared through our Google documents, presentations, and email.

  • Understand the issues, and the process, develop talking points.

Fortunately, the State Librarian was part of the group, and her contacts at the state level allowed us to move forward quickly.  The person who was the project coordinator for the revised document was very helpful in explaining the process so far, and also for helping us to understand that we still had an opportunity to suggest changes.  As a talking point, we developed a chart that compared the previous document to the proposed one. It clearly showed that all references to school libraries and library staffing had been eliminated. It included our suggested language to be reinserted, as well as, a rationale for school library programs, regionally and nationally.

  • Create a list of possible contacts, and supporters.

Brainstorming our own contacts, we came up with a list of possible people who might be in a position to help in advocacy planning.  We knew that we would need to alert our membership, but we wanted to have a clear message before we “called in the troops.”  We knew that we wanted the message to focus on the impact on students, not on our jobs.  We wanted to show what would happen if school library programs were not available for children all over the state.  Lots to think about!

  • Create a timeline of events, actions.

Through the State Librarian, we were able to schedule a meeting with the Secretary of Education, so that we could advocate for restoring language about school libraries and school library staffing to the Education Quality Standards.  After that meeting, we were assured that he would support our request with the State Board of Education during the review process.

On September 17, the president of VSLA, Denise Wentz, and I made a presentation at the monthly meeting of the State Board of Education.  Our focus was on the positive impact of school library programs in our state. See slide 22  for our concise talking points, “Why a School Library Program?”

Three public hearings will be held in October, and we are encouraging or members to bring supporters who will tell why school library programs are important to them.  Alternately, we are asking supporters to send letters or email to the Board during the public comment period.

  • Gather resources to support talking points.

Have your ducks lined up in one place that can be shared with all stakeholders. There are many resources available from a variety of organizations, experts, and bloggers.  In order to share the best of the best with our membership, we have gathered recommended “go to” sites, infographics, and documents that can be used to support school library advocacy.  We are happy to share them with everyone through this livebinders link: Advocacy for School Libraries

  •  Communicate with membership and other stakeholders.

Advocacy is an ongoing and organic process.  In VSLA, we will continue to focus on advocacy at all levels. It is not done by presenting at one meeting to administrators or school board members.  It is accomplished day to day with intentional purpose for making sure that the school library program is visible and essential for all learners.  Blogs, photos, newsletters, and websites are great vehicles for continuing to put a face on our programs.  Have a brand, have a mission, and don’t be afraid to shine.






worldThe collective capacity of a group of like-minded folks is amazing.  In past posts, we have spoken about the benefits of belonging to professional organizations, at both the national and local levels, and I would like to share how the Vermont School Library Association (VSLA) has been responding to a situation that emerged recently.  Members of the organization are working together to make a difference and bring about change in a positive manner.  In a way, these actions have been a wake up call for all of us to understand the need for ongoing advocacy for school library programs.

A little background:

Since 2000, the Vermont State Statutes that define School Quality Standards have included language that describe staffing and school library resources. Throughout the state, school districts hired school librarians and supported school libraries as a result of the legislation. At the time that these standards were established, there was a school library media consultant at the Vermont Department of Education.  During reorganization in the early 2000’s, the position was eliminated.  Administrators and school librarians had guidelines, but no one to consult for questions that concerned school library programs.  The Vermont State Librarian who oversees public libraries took schools under her umbrella, and provided many resources that have continued to be helpful, and we have been fortunate to have that commitment and support.


In October 2012, a committee was formed by the Vermont Commissioner of Education and the State Board of Education to revise the School Quality Standards to update changes in educational policy that reflect current goals and practice-now called Education Quality Standards.   The members of the committee worked diligently for months to describe an educational system that meets the needs of today’s learners in Vermont.  School leadership, professional learning, curriculum and instruction, collaboration, and personalization of learning are detailed in the document, but with no one at the table to explain the school library program and its impact on all of these  topics, language about school libraries and the role of school librarians was eliminated from the document.

Enter VSLA.  While the process was unfolding, a group of members worked together on suggested language that could be included in the document, and submitted it to the committee.  When the final document was approved by the committee, there was still no direct mention of school library programs or staffing.  The next step is for the State Board of Education to review and prepare the document for legislative action. Meanwhile, the executive board of VSLA appointed a group (of volunteers) to advocate for our proposed language.  In a meeting with the Secretary of Education, we have been assured that there was no intent to leave out school libraries, and that appropriate language would be included in the next phase. We are continuing to use this opportunity to raise awareness about how school library programs contribute to transforming learning in schools.

As a group of volunteers who have busy work and family lives, we have added another role-full time advocates for what are passionate about. The trick is to remain positive, upbeat, and to collaborate with our stakeholders.  We want our students, parents, colleagues, and administrators to think about aspects of the school library program that improve their lives.  We are encouraging them to share their thoughts with the State Board of Education through comments at public hearings, email, and letters during the month of October.  This is all happening on the fly as we develop a strategy for advocacy as a group. What we realize now is that this is a continuous process, not just for VSLA, but for each and every teacher librarian in every school, every day.

What we have learned is that collaboration for advocacy is more important than ever.  In Empowering Learners (AASL, 2009), the various roles of the school librarian have been updated to reflect the changing landscape of education in today’s world.  Leadership is a mantle that we may not willingly take on as teacher librarians, but one which we all need to embrace, and when we work towards common goals, and speak with a unified voice, change can happen.

Next week: Resources for Advocacy-Collaborating to Build the Plan


Empowering Learners.  Chicago: ALA/AASL, 2009.

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Imagine – Engage – Focus

I was interested to read Judi Moreillon’s recent post about professional learning communities.  Education is a complex endeavor, and as school librarians we belong to several communities of practice including the practices of collaborative teaching and learning in our schools.  What makes these communities of practice into learning communities for the participants?  Etienne Wenger, a major theorist regarding communities of practice discusses three modes of belonging: engagement, imagination, and alignment and suggests that an effective combination of these three can transform a community of practice into a learning community (1998).

Engagement is the work of participation. Quite simply, in a school I think of this as “showing up” and taking part in activities that are focused on student learning including planning meetings, professional development, and committee work.  It means being visible in the school: in hallways, at parent nights, in classrooms and all those spaces in a school where learning is occurring. In short: not just the library.  Wenger talks about engagement as identity work, or “gaining a lived sense of who we are” (1998, p.192). We develop this sense through our work and through our interactions with others.  In a learning community, members engage with each other through listening, speaking, and doing together.

Imagination is the process of moving beyond the present moment and seeing future possibilities and potential.  When a school librarian and teachers plan together and envision what students will know and do differently as a result of instruction, they imagine outcomes for the work of their collaboration. Together they take the raw materials of curriculum, resources, and knowledge of learners and learning to create something new.  Imagination is creative and playful and requires engagement and alignment to ground it in practice.

Alignment connects us to a broader purpose and allows us to coordinate our efforts. Content standards allow us to align our efforts as school librarians with those of classroom teachers.  A school librarian’s knowledge of content standards, the school’s mission, and even the textbooks that teachers use helps to align our efforts with the overall goals of the school and community.

Wenger sees these three modes of belonging as necessarily supportive of each other.  Alignment without imagination is blind allegiance. Imagination without engagement has no real application in the world. Engagement without alignment has no focus.  In combination, these three modes of belonging are particularly powerful. For example, imagination combined with engagement leads to a reflective practice.

Professional learning is about shared membership in a community of practice. Our responsibilities as members of a learning community involve interactions with our colleagues that are engaged, imaginative, and aligned with a shared purpose.  A community of practice framework allows us to coordinate our efforts as we engage with each other.  Collaboration is work but it can also be imaginative and playful.

Wenger, E. (1998).  Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity.  New York: Cambridge University Press.

Collaboration in the News, Part II

school_new_collaborative_culturesEarlier this week, I quoted literacy educator Regie Routman from an International Reading Association publication. I mentioned that the National Council of Teachers (NCTE) and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) are also calling for collaborative school cultures.

In this week’s NCTE’s InBox: News, Views, and Ideas You Can Use email blast kicked off the week’s communication with a link to the National Center for Literacy Education Survey and this information:

“77% of Educators Surveyed: Literacy Is Not Just the Responsibility of English Teachers. This is the #1 finding in a survey of 10,000 educators from all roles, grade levels, and subject areas, who agreed that literacy is one of the most important parts of their job.”

School librarians who have developed strategies for coteaching reading comprehension and other literacy skills can help colleagues at all grade levels and in all disciplines hone effective instruction in literacy. Meeting teachers’ self-identified needs can firmly establish the school librarian’s role in the academic program of the school.

When ASCD selected their “Best of 2012-2013” articles from the publication Educational Leadership, Rick DuFour and Mike Mattos’s article “How Do Principals Really Improve Schools?” made the cut. As long-time award-winning principals and researchers, DuFour and Mattos combine their testimonials and research when they attest that the most powerful strategy for focusing on learning is creating “the collaborative culture and collective responsibility of a professional learning community (PLC).”

These are the questions they pose for PLC team members:
• What knowledge, skills, and dispositions should all students acquire as a result of the unit we’re about to teach?
• How much time will we devote to this unit?
• How will we gather evidence of student learning throughout the unit in our classrooms and at its conclusion as a team?
• How can we use this evidence of learning to improve our individual practice and our team’s collective capacity to help students learn, to intervene for students unable to demonstrate proficiency, and to enrich the learning for students (DuFour & Mattos, 2013, p. 38).

School librarians who are skilled at instructional design and evidence-based practice are positioned to be leaders on PLCs. When your principal calls for team leaders for this year’s PLCs, will you be one of the leaders at the table?


DuFour, R., & Mattos, M. (2013). How do principals really improve schools? Educational Leadership, 70(7), 34-40.

NCTE. (2013). NCTE InBox: News, Views, and Ideas You Can Use. September 4, 2013.

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Collaboration in the News, Part I

achieving_common_scoresAs an educator and researcher focused on school librarianship, I need to stay abreast of the topics and issues classroom teachers and administrators are thinking about in order to engage in professional conversations with my colleagues. This helps me position my library work in the larger educational arena. In addition to librarian organization membership, I have maintained my memberships and read the publications of educational organizations, including the International Reading Association (IRA), National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), and Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). I am especially pleased that all three of these organizations have turned their attention to the importance of the collaborative cultures in which the most effective teachers teach and successful students learn.

In the June/July issue of Reading Today: Informed Content for Literacy Professionals, an IRA publication, long-time literacy educator Regie Routman authored an article entitled “To Raise Achievement, Let’s Celebrate Teachers Before We Evaluate Them.” In Common Core State Standards states and any district in which teacher evaluation is being discussed, the entire article is a must-read for today’s educators, principals, and district-level administrators.

However, there was one sentence that jumped off the page at me, and I must share it here: “In my forty-five years of teaching, coaching, and leading, I have never seen increased and sustained literacy achievement without a collaborative, knowledgeable, and trusting school-wide culture” (p. 10).

In my own experience serving as a classroom teacher or a librarian at three different instructional levels, in eight different schools, in four different school districts, in two different states, I totally concur. What happens in individual classrooms and libraries is affected by the school culture in which they thrive and grow or struggle and wither. Michael Fullan calls this “collective capacity.” In his book All Systems Go: The Change Imperative for Whole School Reform, Fullan notes that “collective capacity generates the emotional commitment and the technical expertise that no amount of individual capacity working alone can come close to matching” (p. xiii).

As you begin the new school year, what are your thoughts about the collective capacity in your school learning culture? What strengths do you see? What actions will you take for improvement?


Fullan, M. (2010). All systems go: The change imperative for whole school reform. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Routman, R. (2013). To raise achievement, let’s celebrate teachers before we evaluate them. Reading Today, 30(6), 10-12.