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

 

 

 

Image Created at WordItOut.com