About Judi Moreillon

Judi Moreillon, M.L.S, Ph.D., has served as a school librarian at every instructional level. In addition, she has been a classroom teacher, literacy coach, and district-level librarian mentor. Judi has taught preservice school librarians since 1995. She has taught courses in instructional partnerships and school librarian leadership, multimedia resources and services, children’s and young adult literature, and storytelling. Her research agenda focuses on the professional development of school librarians for the leadership and instructional partner roles. She has published four professional books; the most recent is Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy (ALA 2018). (See the book study on this blog.) Judi earned the American Library Association's 2019 Scholastic Library Publishing Award. She is currently editing and contributing to Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage (Libraries Unlimited 2021).

Racial Justice Challenge

Photograph of Protesters with SignsLast week, August 3rd – 7th, I participated in the Racial Justice Challenge (RJC). Perhaps you did too. I appreciate the Fogler Library folks at the University of Maine for designing, curating, and facilitating the RJC. It is not too late to participate in this work. The RJC links are live and will be accessible into the future.

Each day, for five days, I received an email with several tasks designed to “learn, listen, share, and take action regarding race, racism, and antiracism.” Along with other participants, I explored how to be antiracist (versus “not racist”), examined issues of race in the media, and designed a personalized racial justice plan. (See the Welcome page.) Some of the resources shared were new to me. I revisited others or used them as springboards to read/view other resources I had in my queue.

As a White middle-class cisgender female and a retired K-20 educator, I participated with a preK-12 educator lens and with an eye for how school librarians can be especially instrumental in antiracist activism. I am currently editing a professional book centered on core values in librarianship, including equity, diversity, and inclusion. The RJC helped me think more deeply about our work and our book.

There is no way to fully share my experience but this is a start.

Note: I am reading Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi and appreciate his decision to capitalize both Black and White in his writing. I am adopting that convention here.

Day One
I have long been an avid supporter/follower/reader/user of Teaching Tolerance resources. The RJC kicked off with an article by Cory Collins (2018) “What is White Privilege Really? Recognizing white privilege begins with truly understanding the term itself.”

(Thank you to the facilitators for this article because this gave me confidence from the first day this work would build on what I already knew from my work in K-12 and university-level teaching and research.)

In defining White privilege, Collins cites Francis E. Kendall author of Diversity in the Classroom and Understanding White Privilege: Creating Pathways to Authentic Relationships Across Race (2006): “having greater access to power and resources than people of color [in the same situation] do.” The fact that I have been privileged with the “power of normal” and the “power of the benefit of the doubt” were important reminders to me. These powers ensure systemic racism.

This concept connected for me with Dr. Kendi’s idea regarding the origins of racism in the U.S.: “racial discrimination led to racist ideas led to racist ideas led to ignorance/hate” (2016, 9).

White privilege also endows me as a White woman with the power to remain silent in the face of racial inequity. By definition, my privilege gives me the option to avoid the discomfort of confronting racism because I am “safe.”

In the NPR video: “Me and White Supremacy Helps You Do the Work of Dismantling Racism.” I was introduced to the work of Layla Saad, author of Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor (2020). Ms. Saad is an East African, Arab, British, Black, Muslim woman living in Qatar. She developed a 28-day process that she calls a “personal anti-racism tool” designed to teach those with White privilege how systemic racism works and how they can stop contributing to White supremacy in the world. I appreciate her message: Systems are made by people and can be changed by people. As with changing cultures and school cultures, in particular, there is power and greater opportunities for success in doing this work with a group of colleagues.

From the very first day of RJC, the comment board where participants shared their responses to the resources shared was, for me, one of the most informative aspects of Day 1 and every day thereafter. I appreciate how people anonymously shared their feelings, experiences, and thoughts with the group. Other people’s posts made me think harder about what I was reading.

Day Two
Day Two began with viewing Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s June 17, 2020 TED Talk: “The difference between being “not racist” and antiracist” (51 minutes). I had previously viewed this video and the one in which he is interviewed by Dr. Brené Brown. My take-aways again were reminders of definitions I believe are central to this work:

Racist = a fixed category – central to who someone is – evil/KKK/White supremacist

Not-racist = racist (denial)

Antiracist = acknowledgment of racial inequities and taking action to eliminate them – cannot be neutral, must admit privilege, be self-critical, and view racism as the problem

Again, the comment board posts were very powerful.

I glanced at the “100 Things White People Can Do to Fight Racism” article written by Corrine Shutack. While I agree with all of these actions, many of them related to political activism, there was part of me that wished these things were framed as what ALL people can and should do. Similar to advocacy in the world of librarianship, it often starts and must be sustained by “insiders” as well as the advocates we enlist to support change.

Day Three
I have shared and discussed the “single story” perspective in my university-level teaching. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s message in “The Danger of a Single Story” is supported today by #OwnVoices and #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Identifying and promoting the diversity of life experiences raises questions in my courses and in my life as an author, which are too numerous to explain here. Bottom line: I always benefit from hearing other people’s responses to this work (see the comment board).

I appreciate the menu of choices the facilitators curated for Day 3. For me, the most useful was the link to “The Best Latinx Books According to Latinx Writers.”

Where I live in Arizona, Latinx and American Indian peoples are the majority minority groups. I am always searching for ways to further educate myself about their cultures and concerns as well as their literature. From the list, I have several books in queue on my nightstand, including In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (2019) and My Time Among the Whites: Notes from an Unfinished Education by Jennine Capó Crucet (2019). I look forward to reading these and other suggestions from the list.

One question asked of participants this day was when were we first aware of our race. Again, as a White child born in 1950, I had a common experience: my world was White.

In 1999, I created a VoiceThread example for a children’s literature course I was teaching to answer “Where I’m From.” As is plain to see, I am from working class Whiteness. It wasn’t until I was around eight when we got our first TV that Black “characters” introduced me to a view of Blackness and delivered harmful stereotypes into our home. It wasn’t until I was fourteen when my nuclear family moved from St. Louis to Detroit that I became aware of the real life lived experiences of Black people.

Day Four
After reading and reflecting on the news stories and how images and print shape perceptions, I viewed “Indigenous People React to Indigenous Representation in Film and TV (Pocahontas, the Lone Ranger)” published October 14, 2019 (Indigenous Peoples’ Day). This video made it clear to me that the interviewees’ responses to various media portrayals of American Indians varied. They did not speak with a single voice and reinforced to me Louise Rosenblatt’s reader response theory that honors the experiences and background knowledge that readers/viewers bring to a text. Some of the differences I noted seemed to be generational. I was delighted to learn the video producer Lauren is of Tohono O’odham and Apache heritage. Few people across the U.S. know about the Tohono O’odham whose southeast Arizona reservation borders Tucson and extends into Mexico.

This video also prompted me to find out which U.S. states have replaced Columbus Day or adopted Indigenous Peoples’ Day. This is the list: Alaska, Hawaii (Discoverers’ Day), Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada (Aug 9), New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, Wisconsin, and dozens of cities, including Tucson. Although I already knew my state is not among them, I’m grateful to the K-20 educators who discuss this holiday in Arizona classrooms and libraries.

The Morgan Freeman meme was offensive to me. The fact that people can take someone else’s image, good name, and work and reframe them to meet their own agenda stinks. Considering the work Freeman is doing on social media, I certainly hope Freeman’s reading of Representative John Lewis’s farewell message of activism and love gets more attention.

In terms of interacting with the resources provided, I took a bit of a detour on Day 4 to watch the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA) video: “Translation of Service: How Does My School Library Program Look Now?” This video prompted me to once again confront the fact that our profession is predominantly White and that the publicizing the work of our colleagues of color is instrumental in attracting more POC to the library and education professions.

I also read “So You’ve Messed Up: Recognising Failures In Your Anti-Racism & What To Do Next” by Orla Pentelow. My goal is to be a non-optical ally. Since I have the fear of making mistakes and can respond to criticism with defensiveness, these strategies are important for me to practice.

On this day, I decided to pick up where I left off reading Kendi’s book for my free choice independent reading.

Day Five
Some participants revealed who they were on the comment board with their final reflections. One person’s post led me to her blog where I learned her school librarian position had been cut and she was, I hope temporarily, stepping away from school librarianship. (She and I have been in touch.) This was particularly disturbing news in light of the BCALA video I viewed the previous day.

I started my Racial Justice Action Plan and found it challenging to complete. I will make the commitment to continue to work on it. As a retired educator (and elderly person according to the CDC), my sphere of influence at this point in time is greatly reduced. I am not currently teaching K-12 students or preservice school librarians. My antiracist acts will mostly involve my continued efforts toward self-education and my interactions with friends and family members, in the letters to the editor and op-eds I write for the Arizona Daily Star, and in my communication with my elected representatives in Phoenix and Washington, DC.

I am, however, editing and contributing to a professional book for school librarians focused on core values in our profession: equity, diversity, inclusion, and intellectual freedom. The resources, reflection, and questions that remain from this week with the RJC will influence my thinking as I complete my introduction and chapter for the book and provide feedback to the other contributors.

Thank you to Jen Bonnet and the Challenge Team at the UMaine Fogler Library for organizing and promoting this learning experience.

Work Cited

Kendi, Ibram X. 2016. Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. New York: Nation Books.

Image Credit

Life Matters. Pexels.com. https://www.pexels.com/photo/crowd-of-protesters-holding-signs-4614165/

Professional Book Review: Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out!

Book Jacket: Lift Up Up, Don't Push Us Out!This week, August 3rd – 7th, I’m participating in the Racial Justice Challenge. Perhaps you are participating too. Each day, for five days, I’ll receive an email with several tasks designed to learn, listen, share, and take action regarding race, racism, and antiracism. Along with other participants, I will explore how to be antiracist (versus “not racist”), move beyond a single story, examine issues of race in the media, and design a personalized racial justice plan.

I will be participating with a preK-12 educator lens and with an eye for how school librarians can be instrumental in antiracist activism. I look forward to reporting my learning in next week’s blog post.

As part of my preparation, I read essays from Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out! Voices from the Front Lines of the Educational Justice Movement by Mark R. Warren (2018). I was unaware of the book when it was published and am so grateful to the contributors for sharing their experiences in striving for and achieving social justice in schools. You can also access an interview related to #LiftUsUpDontPushUsOut.

The book is divided into four sections. While all of the essays are worth reading, I’m sharing my response to four focused on race and ethnicity.

Part One: Building the Power for Change: Parent, Youth, and Community Organizers
“Speaking Up and Walking Out: Boston Students Fight for Education Justice” was written by Carlos Rojas and Glorya Wornum. Each author tells their first-person story about why and how they became involved with Youth on Board (YoB). Glorya shares how, beginning in 8th-grade, she experienced discrimination and suspensions as a Black student who asked too many questions and looked for family among angry peers. She found “positive energy among angry people” (21) through YoB. She learned how to express strong emotions in a productive way, ask questions respectfully, and lead change. Carlos shares how his life changed when he could say aloud: “I’m undocumented and unafraid.”

Both of these young people were leaders on the “Code of Conduct Advisory Committee” that help change punitive disciplinary practices to restorative justice interventions in their school, their district, and later via legislation that impacts students throughout Massachusetts. They were also involved in creating an app to help students, educators, and parents know their rights and responsibilities. They helped organize student walkouts when the Boston mayor threatened to cut school budgets that resulted in funds being restored.

Carlos and Glorya’s message: Put young people’s experiences, voices, and solutions at the center of educational social justice. While reading their essay, I made strong connections with the young activist life of Representative John Lewis. When educators make a space for student organizing, students can experience agency and advocacy that can carry them and our society forward throughout their lives.

Part Two – Broadening the Movement: Building Alliances for Systemic Change
Last month, I participated in a webinar with Diane Ravitch and Jitu Brown. (It was through that webinar that I learned of this book.) Jitu contributes an essay called “#FightforDyett: Fighting Back Against School Closings and the Journey for Justice.” He tells how school closures in Black and Brown neighborhoods increase class sizes, undermine community cohesion, and price people out of homes with the resulting gentrification. He shares how their advocacy coalition proved in court that closing schools attended by students of color is an act of racial discrimination when small schools in White neighborhoods are allowed to remain intact.

In his essay, Jitu shares how students and multiracial community organizations came together to fight the closure of Dyett High School on Chicago’s southside, a predominantly Black neighborhood. He tells how the community, led by two high school students, engaged in civil disobedience and captured the attention of the national media after the mayor announced the school would reopen as a charter school. This was unacceptable to the community; they presented their vision for a technology and arts curricular focus for their school. As the result of a hunger strike, the community succeeded in keeping the school open and are still working to see their vision come to full fruition.

Jitu’s story and work connect strongly to the challenges we face where I live in Arizona. The proliferation of charter schools has negatively impacted Tucson Unified School District (TUSD), our largest local district. Like CPS and TUSD, large urban school districts struggle to serve all students in their immediate neighborhoods when students are recruited to taxpayer-funded charters thereby reducing enrollment and funding in district public schools. Similar to the situation at Dyett, predominantly Latinx families in the Wakefield Middle School service area organized and have succeeded in reopening and revitalizing a school that was shuttered for under enrollment.

Jitu’s Message: Multiracial coalitions must be rooted in the self-determination of people of colore in order to build powerful movements that win for Black people as well as others impacted by injustice.

Part Three – Educators for Justice Movement Building in Schools, School Systems, and Universities
Sally Lee and Elana “E.M.” Eisen-Markowitz contributed the “Teachers Unite! Organizing School Communities for Transformative Justice” essay in this section. Sally is a founding organizer of New York City Public Schools’ Teachers Unite (TU), a teachers’ organization with a “mission to organize democratic school chapters under the principles of equity, voice, diversity, and action, with an eye toward changing society and building a center for radical teacher organizing” (94).

In 2008, TU co-published Teachers Talk: School Culture, Safety, and Human Rights along with the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative. TU also was involved in creating a documentary film and toolkit called Growing Fairness focused on restorative justice and resisting the racist criminalization of students, in particular.

In the essay, Sally and E.M. discuss the critical importance of a “relational approach” to organizing. This quote jumped off the page at me: “in a functioning democracy, we must slowly build consensus among diverse individuals around core values in order to transform culture” (95). This work must be done locally at each school site where all school stakeholders can lead educational justice guided by the principles of democracy and equity.

Sally and E.M.’s message: “I have seen and felt how schools can be sites of trauma and oppression as well as meaningful growth and change” (97). Let’s join them in working together to advocate and enact growth and change.

Part Four – Intersectional Organizing: Linking Social Movements to Educational Justice
In “The Same Struggle: Immigrant Rights and Educational Justice,” activist researcher and educator José Calderón begins his piece by sharing how, as a new college graduate, he joined the farmworkers movement after hearing César Chávez speak. After returning to his hometown in Colorado, José shares how he supported parents of English language learner immigrant students in marching for and succeeding in instituting bilingual education in the county. He came to understand the connection between immigrant rights and educational justice.

After earning his PhD., José joined with others in fighting English-only education as both a researcher and activist. He has also joined with various coalitions and conducted research related to voting rights, street violence, and advancing community schools. He makes a strong case for the positive outcomes of his work as an activist scholar.

José’s message: By following César Chávez’s principle of living one’s life in the service of others and forming mutually beneficial partnerships, we can look back on our lives and say that we have made meaningful contributions to improving the world.

Transforming School Culture
While I wish I had read these essays in 2018 when the book was published, I was inspired by reading them now in this time of civil unrest and conscientization with the potential of educational transformation. This reading also came to me as I work with seventeen contributors to finalize our book manuscript related to core values in school librarianship–absolutely perfect timing.

Thank you to all of the Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out! contributors.

Work Cited
Warren, Mark R. 2018. Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out! Voices from the Front Lines of the Educational Justice Movement. Boston: Beacon Press.

 

School Librarians and Election 2020

Image by Doug Cushman: Vote: Make Your Voice Heard #VoteOrTheyWin - mouse speaking forcefully to a lionAs of yesterday, it is 100 days until our national election will be held. The 2020 election provides an opportunity for educators to co-plan and co-teach lessons related to voting in our democracy. As school librarians think about the kinds of inquiry projects, they will plan in collaboration with classroom teachers, I hope civic education will be high on their list of proposals.

Whether face to face or remotely working with civics, history, and social studies educators, secondary school librarians can help students make sense of another aspect of our collective lives this fall—electoral politics! Elementary school librarians can also reach out to classroom teachers who bring current events into the social studies curriculum. And all school librarians can collaborate in the area of English language arts as students write about and present their understandings related to gathering information for civic decision-making and voting in a participatory democracy.

“School Librarians Can Save Democracy”
Last week, I viewed the archive of Michelle Luhtala’s EdWeb webinar called “School Librarians Can Save Democracy.” I appreciate that archives of her more than 100 webinars are available from EdWeb.

If you don’t yet know her work, Michelle is the library department chair at New Canaan High School in New Canaan, Connecticut. I highly recommend Michelle’s webinars. This one in particular is perfectly timed as school librarians are considering how they can collaborate with classroom teachers when school resumes—whether face to face or virtually. (She is offering a follow-up webinar on this topic in September.)

These are my brief takeaways from Michelle’s presentation and resources, which are mostly geared to secondary and college-level students.

Problems:

  • There is a perception that democracy is in jeopardy.
  • Most young adults use social media to access news information.
  • Most people respond emotionally to the news.

Solutions:

  • Promote inquiry and teach young people to think critically.
  • Read with their/our brains not their/our feelings.
  • Cultivate news literacy.

This is Michelle’s News Literacy 2020 link with the supporting resources she provided.

Dear Arizona Voter Writing Contest
Michelle’s presentation and resources make a connection to a project the Teacher Librarian Division of the Arizona Library Association is promoting this fall. We field tested the “Dear Arizona Voter Writing Contest” (DAVWC) in Fall, 2018 and are rolling it out again this year. We are hoping that more school librarians from across the state will participate. And we invite you do to something similar in your community.

DAVWC offers a way for young people to learn more about voting and express their understandings of its importance. Students’ writing can be in any genre—essays, poetry, song lyrics, letters to the editor, opinion pieces—and can be presented in traditional written format or with multimedia tools and multimodal texts.

In the DAVWC Google folder, TLD has provided a selection of resources to teach students about voting that may be most appropriate in upper elementary through high school. Other documents include a sample cover letter to classroom teachers or administrators, fast facts about school libraries, an editable certificate of participation, and the names of current state-level legislators who serve on the Arizona Senate and House Education Committees.

The folder also includes an example with photographs from 2018 provided by Melody Holehan-Kopas. At the time, Melody was the teacher librarian at Norterra Canyon School. She collaborated with 7th-grade humanities classroom teacher Kate Eastburn to coteach this unit.

This is the link to the publicly accessible DAVWC Google folder.

With the passing of Representative John Lewis, civil rights leader and tireless champion for voting rights, this inquiry is particularly timely. Creating opportunities for students to think critically about our democracy is now more important than ever. The civil unrest and protests that continue as I write this blog post call us to help empowered future voters prepare to take action—to learn to speak truth to power through critical thinking and knowledge.

Protecting and exercising the right to vote is fundamental. The voting booth is one way to have our voices heard!

Image Credit
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ member Doug Cushman provided this copyright-free image to SCBWI members in 2018. (I am one.)

Online Literature Teaching and Learning

In recent weeks, several national and state-level organizations have suggested various roles and activities for school librarians and other educators in face-to-face, hybrid, and remote learning contexts.

Image: Laptop with book shelves on the screenIn my opinion, there are roles and activities around children’s and young adult literature teaching and learning that have not been prominent or fully promoted in these documents. These are some possibilities:

  • Facilitating online book clubs for students and other educators;
  • Coplanning, coteaching, and coassessing online literature circle discussions in collaboration with classroom teachers;
  • Curating and guiding technology creation/productivity tools use and integration for students and other educators during literature studies;
  • Supporting individual readers through remote reader’s advisory for both personal and academic books and other resources.

Both as a practicing school librarian and a university-level preservice classroom teacher and librarian educator, I have been integrating technology tools into children’s and YA literature teaching for twenty years. The experiences I’m sharing in this post were hybrid, including both face-to-face and electronic communication (not necessarily in equal parts), or totally online.

What Does Technology Have to Do with It?
In spring 2000, I was a doctoral student teaching a face-to-face undergraduate children’s lit course for preservice classroom teachers at the University of Arizona (UofA). In the article cited below (which is no longer readily available online), I shared the students’ Southwest Literature website book review publications and our long-distance book discussion with preservice educators attending Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) in Traverse City, Michigan.

Then:
Each student wrote their review of a Southwest-themed children’s book and submitted them to me as Word documents; I offered the students feedback. Using my personal computer, students met with me to transfer/design their work and publish their pages and images, including book jackets and students’ artwork, on the website.

Reading and discussing in small groups, the UofA class, 60 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, and NMC students, a couple hundred miles from the U.S.-Canada border, shared our responses to and questions about Esperanza Rising (Ryan). We communicated via email. We also exchanged paper print artifacts. The geographically distant perspectives of Arizona and Michigan undergraduate students enriched our conversations around the book and issues related to immigration and migrant labor.

Now:
I believe it is important for preservice classroom teachers and school librarians to read book reviews and compose and possibly publish book reviews. The combination of reading and writing helps educators become more critical of what is included and what is left out of some book reviews. Doing professional work, such as writing/publishing book reviews, during their preservice education, can help develop the skills necessary and a commitment to share professional knowledge and experience with colleagues.

Rather than exchanging paper print artifacts–our personal photographs and photos and information about our local communities–we would exchange Google Slides or create a collaborative website or blog for sharing.

If I were teaching college-level or 4th-12th grade students today, I would still reach out for long-distance literature discussions. I believe bringing together learners from different locations (even within the same city) can bring new perspectives into the online classroom. I have not much success with this in higher education since the AZ-MI collaboration with Barb Tatarchuk, but I made several good faith 7th/8th-grade students-and-preservice classroom teacher attempts in a hybrid model while teaching at Texas Woman’s University.

Additionally, knowing that all learners had high-speed Internet access, I would support the whole class or student small groups in holding online meetings within the learning management system (LMS) or outside of it, if appropriate. I would rotate among small groups as a solo educator or as a coteacher and serve as a listener or questioner in breakout group meetings.

**Whether school is taught face-to-face, in a hybrid model, or totally online, offering both asynchronous and synchronous options is critical. Knowing the resources available to students and any other life situation-learning constraints is critical.

Learning and Teaching in WANDA Wiki Wonderland (focused on 8th-graders)
In the 2008-2009 academic year, I served as the school librarian in a combined middle and high school library facility for Emily Gray Junior High (EGJH) and Tanque Verde High School. That year, I had the pleasure of co-planning, co-implementing, and co-assessing a year-long hybrid literature circle unit of study with 8th-grade English language arts teacher Jenni Hunt.

The unit involved students in one literature circle activity each quarter. In the fall of 2008, I was also teaching Children’s and Young Adult Literature in a Multicultural Society in the School of Information and Library Science at the University of Arizona (UofA). (The article I wrote related to our collaboration is available through databases.) Unfortunately, most of the EGJH students’ responses to the books are no longer available (since Wikispaces left the Web). I have summarized two of the four circles.

Then:
First Quarter: The EGJH students who co-read and discussed books with UofA grade students selected one of ten books with Southwest settings: Hole in the Sky (Hautman), Ghost Fever/Mal de fantasma (Hayes), Downriver (Hobbs), Walker of Time (Vick), Canyons (Paulsen), Weedflower (Kodahata), The Big Wonder (Hobbs), Crossing the Wire (Hobbs), Becoming Naomi León (Ryan), and Esperanza Rising (Ryan).

The 8th-graders and grad student used the discussion feature on Wikispaces to share their responses and questions regarding the books. The UofA graduate students preserved some of the EGJH students’ responses on the Southwest Children’s and Young Adult Literature Web Site. (See the “students’ voices section of each of the EGJH titles reviewed.)

Now:
Fortunately, there are many other “Southwest” novels from which to choose today. For remote teaching, it is essential to ensure that that all students will have access to downloadable ebooks from their school or local public libraries. (In my opinion, some of the online platforms that are currently offering free ebooks lack diverse and #ownvoices titles as well as sufficient user privacy.) I would still create small groups around a particular theme or learning objective to offer choice within a framework.

Then:
Fourth Quarter: The EGJH students read one of six titles by Jacqueline Woodson. Still using the Wikispaces discussion feature, they discussed the books with members of their small groups. They also invited the twelve high school library aides to join in their discussions. 8th-graders created final projects related to their Woodson author study. Their projects were linked to their wikipages and includes tools such as: VoiceThread.com, Wordle.net, Newspaper Clipping Generator (available from Fodey.com), and other Apple and Microsoft software that was available at the time.

Now:
This year-long classroom-library collaboration literature circles unit could have been co-taught totally online. Using the discussion feature of any LMS, including Google Classroom, 8th-grade students, high school library aides, and children’s and YA lit undergrad or grad students can conduct literature circles totally in the only environment.

**I, personally, would require all students who had cameras to turn them on (the bandwidth willing). I think it is important for students to see one another in the online environment. Audio and posting in the chat or elsewhere are an option, but in my opinion, maintaining some traditions of the classroom is essential if we are to create virtual learning communities.

I believe author studies are central to literature teaching. Authors with five or more ebook titles are good candidates for online literature discussion choices. There are a number of platforms and authors who stepped up and reached out to share during the school closures of 2020. These are just a few highlights:

Companies, Organizations, and Publishers

Book Trust (United Kingdom)

Candlewick Press

Lee & Low Books

Teaching Books, especially Read-Along Audiobook Performances Collection

Authors:

Kwame Alexander (illustrations by Kadir Nelson): The Undefeated

Monica Brown: Marisol MacDonald Doesn’t Match

Grace Lin, a generous selection of her work on her YouTube channel

Jason Reynolds: from Ghosts

**I would use all of the tools students used in 2008-2009, especially VoiceThread.com which was especially effective for students’ presentations. To these, I would add any number of creativity/productivity tools spotlighted for iSchool graduate students (spring 2020), especially infographic generators, Mentimeter.com polling/word cloud generator, and brainstorming/mindmapping tools, such as Padlet.com.

I would also use Flipgrid.com for introductions, community building, and selected lit response/booktalk activities. I would use the entire Google Classroom suite or other LMS features with which students and classroom teachers are familiar.

Inquiry into Nonfiction and Informational Global Literature Focused on Prejudice and Discrimination against Children and Teens
In summer 2019 and spring 2020, I taught a fully online graduate course focused on children’s and YA nonfiction and informational books and resources. The iSchool graduate students were preservice school or public librarians.

Then and Now:
Graduate students used Flipgrid for course introductions and book or resource talks. They engaged in an author study with narrative nonfiction author and photographer Susan Kuklin. Kuklin’s body of work offered both picturebook and YA nonfiction allowing for student choice and relevance to their practice. They participated in a Zoom meeting with Ms. Kuklin and engaged in a Twitter chat focused on their reading and response to her work before and after our class meeting with her.

Library science students studied and practiced the Guided Inquiry Design framework (Kuhlthau, Maniotes, and Caspari 2012). After engaging in a whole class example, students formed small interest groups around an inquiry question. They collaborated, curated books and digital resources, and published their work on Google docs. They presented their work to the class using combinations of the spotlighted tools on the IS445 course wiki as well as their own favorite and effective tools. (I would keep adding to these tools as students bring them to my attention.)

Students also engaged in three additional Twitter chats focused on their reading. After the author study, their reading was focused predominantly on their small group inquiry questions and their final course project choice.

As one possible final project, students had the option of composing and submitting critical book reviews with the potential of publication in WOW Review. (I’m disappointed that a few of the summer 2019 students did not submit or were not published in the nonfiction and autobiographies issue.)

**With planning and preparation, author-illustrator studies and inquiry learning can be effective in the virtual environment can be successful. Identifying authors for author study takes a good amount of preparation time searching, selecting, and communication—and is so worth it.

Identifying ebooks and resources is time-consuming; collaborate with your librarian! (Side note: Finding author-created or publisher-promoted recordings of fiction genres seem to me easier to locate than nonfiction and informational book recordings, particularly international titles or those created by diverse, #ownvoices authors.)

School Librarians
With students and educators, I would also stress Applying Fair Use AND Honoring Copyright During a Crisis (or at any other time for that matter).

As national-, state-, and district-level advocacy tools are proliferating in the school librarianship world, it is clear that school librarians know their work will be tested and evaluated, especially in the upcoming school year. During this time, it is more important than ever to create access points and procedures for responding to individual students’ and classroom educators’ reader’s advisory requests. Making ourselves available via email, social media, and other messaging services is essential.

Whether we are teaching face to face in the physical library, using a hybrid model, or teaching totally online, we must show our value added and document the outcomes of our work in terms of student learning, educators’ teaching, and support for families (not addressed directly in this post). Let’s not forget that teaching literature with the support of digital tools has been and is central to our work then and now.

References

Kuhlthau, Carol C., Leslie C. Maniotes, and Ann Caspari. 2012. Guided Inquiry Design: A Framework for Inquiry in Your School. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Moreillon, Judi. 2001. “What Does Technology Have to Do with It? Integrating Technology Tools into a Children’s Literature Course.” Reading Online 5 (2). (No longer available online)

_____. 2009. “Learning and Teaching in WANDA Wiki Wonderland: Literature Circles in the Digital Commons. Teacher Librarian 37 (2): 23-28.

_____. 2019. “Inquiry into Nonfiction and Informational Global Literature Focused on Prejudice and Discrimination against Children and Teens,” 4-part Series. WOW Currents. Available from https://wowlit.org/blog/tag/judi-moreillon/

Image Credit
kalhh. “Learn Media Internet.” Pixabay.com, https://pixabay.com/illustrations/learn-media-internet-medium-977543/

School Librarian Advocacy in the Time of the Coronavirus

These are uncertain times for many school librarians across the U.S. This summer, some are fighting to keep their positions even though they went the extra mile to support students, classroom teachers, administrators, and parents during the COVID-19 spring school closures. Others are fighting to restore school librarian positions because some decision-makers have come to the understanding that the pandemic and equity/social justice require all hands on deck and that school librarians have an essential role to play in education whether learning and teaching are conducted face to face or remotely this fall.

Megaphone with School Librarian Advocacy Text

It is in this climate that advocacy for our profession is most especially welcome. And this past week, we had Virginia Spatz from CommunityUnderCovid.com (Community thru Covid) to thank for that.

Ms. Spatz conducted an interview with Elizabeth Davis, President of the Washington, D.C. Teachers Union and Kathy Carroll, President of the American Association of School Librarians. These three leaders discussed the role of school librarians on “Wednesday Act Radio.”

This is the link to the entire broadcast and this is the link to the piece with the exchange between Elizabeth Davis and Kathy Carroll (with thanks to K.C. Boyd and Debra Kachel for sharing this information on ALA Connect.)

Take-Aways
I listened to the latter and these were a few of my take-aways:

Ms. Davis gave a huge shout-out to D.C. school librarians for stepping up to the plate to help the Washington Teachers Union make the case for restoring and maintaining school librarian positions. All school librarians should have steadfast advocates like Ms. Davis. See background information below.

Ms. Davis also noted that when every D.C. school faculty includes a librarian, they must be allowed to focus on professional work; they must not be asked to do odd jobs like custodial work or “duties as assigned.”

The D.C. school librarians were proactive in aligning their work with district priorities and with standards. By advocating for school libraries and their positions, they were had a seat at the table and were able to garner advocates among the union leaders.

AASL President Kathy Carroll is an articulate and effective spokesperson for AASL’s support for professional school librarians. (AASL has supported this effort by the D.C. librarians.)

Ms. Carroll also noted the many ways school librarians supported remote learning during the spring 2020 school closures. She emphasized how the work of school librarians helps educators, administrators, and families reach their goals for youth.

Both Kathy and Elizabeth noted that listeners must vote for decision-makers who support equity in public education and library services, and school librarians for all, in particular.

The Best for Last – Gratitude and the ASK
Ms. Carroll was genuinely appreciative of Ms. Spatz for conducting the interview and for Ms. Davis’s understanding of the critical need for D.C. school librarians and her exemplary advocacy on their behalf. Kathy’s sincere gratitude was a positive way to conclude the conversation…

But Ms. Davis squeezed in the last word. She did what all advocacy campaigns must do. She made the “ask.”

She gave listeners the phone number of the Washington, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. She asked that everyone phone Mr. Mendelson and ask him for the necessary funds to adequately address the needs of D.C. students and schools, including providing funding for school librarians.

Chairman Mendelson’s number is: 202.724.8032

I made that call this morning. What about you?

Image Credit

Tumisu. “Megaphone Loud Scream,” Pixabay.com. https://pixabay.com/illustrations/megaphone-loud-scream-loudspeaker-911858/

Background information: EveryLibrary.org through SaveSchoolLibrarians.org worked with the D.C. school librarians to advocate by collecting signatures on an online petition. This effort was part of the political pressure placed on D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser who increased the 2020-21 public education budget 3% or $70M, creating an opportunity for the Washington Teachers Union to seek restoring and maintaining school librarian positions as part of their negotiations. Read the Washington Post article.

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