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).

Innovation and Leadership During Challenging Times

In writing an op-ed on the topic of the Invest in Education Act (Arizona ballot initiative Prop. 208) “Our Opportunity to Repair (Arizona) Public Education,” I wanted to be sure that I was accurately representing the work of Arizona school librarians during closures or hybrid teaching.

I connected with several Arizona school librarians and compared their testimonials to the Back-to-School Survey data collected by the American Association of School Librarians and to my conversation with North Carolina School Library Media Association (NCSLMA) Leadership Academy members.

I am proud to report that school librarians across the country have been and continue to be innovative leaders during remote and hybrid teaching and learning.

Last month, I had the opportunity to think and share with NCSLMA Leadership Academy members during an hour-long Zoom meeting. They had spent several months reading Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy (ALA 2018).

Our September conversation focused on the challenges they have faced as librarians delivering library services outside the physical spaces of libraries. We framed our conversation with quotes from George Couros’s The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead in a Culture of Creativity (2015).

These are some of my takeaways from our conversation organized around the quotes that guided our discussion.

Leadership: “Leaders, whatever their role, will more easily change if they allow others to see them taking risks, failing, recovering, and risking all over again” (Couros 2015, 59).

When we were classroom teachers, we took daily risks with our students. While students are still the primary “audience” for our teaching, school librarians work in fishbowls. When we take risks, we have witnesses: students, classroom teachers, student and adult library aides and volunteers, and administrators, too.

Remote teaching and learning during the pandemic have upped the ante. With libraries closed or in a hybrid model, we often have parents and caregivers who are supporting their children in the (Zoom) “room” just like today’s classroom teachers do. This may test our willingness to take risks, fail, recover, and risk all over again.

The NCSLMA school librarians shared their experiences with taking risks during school closures. They realize that their ability to be vulnerable has been tested in these challenging times. Those who shared expressed that their confidence has grown as they have tried new strategies for serving their learning communities remotely.

Innovation: “Innovation is not about changing everything; sometimes you only need change one thing” (Couros 2015, 60).

Striving for equity can lead to innovation. Spring semester 2020 required thinking outside the box, especially when technology devices and access to broadband were unequally distributed among our students and families. We talked briefly about how the Washington (D.C.) School District, led by Washington Teachers Union President Elizabeth Davis delivered 100% teaching via TV when they learned that 38% of students had no devices or connectivity.

One elementary NCSLMA school librarian talked about collaborating with art, music, and PE teachers to develop televised presentations that could reach all their students. This powerful experience with collaboration could provide the experience these educators need to continue offering topical or thematic connections among their disciplines into the future.

NCSLMA school librarians who were experimenting with curbside pick-up for students expresses the age-old concern of all librarians: will the books come back?

One NCSLMA high school librarian solved the equity problem at her school. She gathered all of the computers that remained in the building and set up an appropriately distanced Internet café in the auditorium. Students who lack/lacked devices or connectivity in their homes signed up to use these workstations to continue their learning.

Technology: “Technology invites us to move from engaged to empowered. It provides opportunities to go deeper into our learning by giving us the ability to consume, and, more importantly, create” (Couros 2015, 140).

The NCSLMA school librarians discussed the problem posed by an emphasis on consumption over creation in face-to-face or remote teaching and learning.

One NCSLMA school librarian mentioned a professional development plan she created in conjunction with her new principal. Their goal is to engage students in inquiry learning using “Applied Digital Skills with Google.”  The outcome and deliverable she has proposed is for 4th/5th grade students to create tech-enabled learning products.

One challenge NCSLMA school librarians identified is that when learning went remote last spring many devices were sent to students’ homes. With the return to hybrid or in-person learning, the resources that were previously in school are now dispersed.

As a result, we asked these questions: What do teaching and classroom-library collaboration look like when all the tech is in students’ homes? Could this be a return to “slow” hands-on learning? How will students respond to using pens and pencils to physically write and to use tactile materials to create learning products?

We talked about the potential of real “hands-on” learning and students working in collaborative small group pods as strategies for helping them rebuild social skills they may have lost when they had little or no face-to-face contact with their peers. We talked about how engaging small groups of students in projects such as writing and performing scripts and music could benefit the whole child/student.

We also mentioned the idea of an “emotional café,” a physical or virtual space, where school librarians can help classroom teachers stay grounded in today’s reality with its current affordances and constraints. We all agreed that leading the social-emotional health of our learning communities is important work for school librarians and other school leaders.

Collaboration: “To truly integrate new learning, it is critical to carve out time for exploration, collaboration, and reflection to allow educators to apply what they are learning. It is the application of learning that breeds innovative ideas and practices that work for your unique context and begin to make an impact for the learners across schools and classrooms” (Couros 2015, 182).

In meeting other people’s needs, school librarians are in a position to build strong collegial relationships that lead to collaboration and build advocates for the contributions we make to the learning community. Through learning with our colleagues, we will be able to apply innovative ideas and practices. We will be able to analyze the results, modify our practices, and engage in continuous improvement as we explore and integrate our own professional development.

Leadership and Vulnerability
I just finished reading Senator Kamala Harris’s autobiography, The Truths We Hold: An American Journey (2019). While I highly recommend the entire book, the “Test the Hypothesis” section near the end connected with the NCSLMA Leadership Academy conversation and with other school librarians navigating these challenging times for teaching and learning.

“Innovation is the pursuit of what can be, unburdened by what has been. And we pursue innovation not because we’re bored but because we want to make things faster, more efficient, more effective, more accurate… We expect mistakes; we just don’t want to make the same mistake twice. We expect imperfections; it’s basic for us… We know that the more we test something, the clearer we’ll understand what works and what doesn’t, and the better the final product or process will be” (Harris 2019, 253).

Thank you to the NCSLMA Leadership Academy school librarians for sharing your experiences, questions, and plans with each other and with me. I leave you with a parting quote: “Leadership requires confidence and vulnerability” (Harland and Cellucci forthcoming). You will be able to achieve a high-level of leadership if you continue to take risks, remain vulnerable, and continually increase your confidence through practice and reflection as you lead students, colleagues, and families through this challenging time.

References

Couros, George. 2015. Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead in a Culture of Creativity. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting.

Harland, Pamela, and Anita Cellucci. 2021. “Leadership.” In Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage, ed. J. Moreillon. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Harris, Kamala. 2019. The Truths We Hold: An American Journey. New York: Penguin.

Image Credit

Pixabay. “Abstract Blackboard Bulb Chalk.” Pexels.com, https://www.pexels.com/photo/abstract-blackboard-bulb-chalk-355948.

Support Arizona Students and Educators: Save School Librarians

Image: Arizona Ballot Proposition 208Arizona’s district public schools have an equity problem. Many students and educators are learning and teaching without the support of a state-certified school librarian in their school. This lack of access to the knowledge and skills of library literacy leaders is an equity issue. As a matter of social justice, all students and educators deserve the support of a highly qualified school librarian.

Proposition 208: The Invest in Education Act
This fall Arizona voters have an opportunity to help transform K-12 public schools. Proposition 208, the Invest in Education Act, will be on the ballot. The proposition levies a 3.5% state income surtax on individuals earning over $250,000/year and couples earning over $500,000 a year.

When the proposition passes, 50% of the funds collected will be earmarked for increasing salaries, hiring, and retaining educators, school librarians included. (To learn more about #INVESTInEd view the Yes on Prop. 208 video).

The fact that school districts can use these funds to hire and retain state-certified school librarians means the Arizona library community is “all-in” for this proposition. The Arizona Library Association (AzLA) and the Teacher Librarian Division (TLD) of AzLA are partnering with EveryLibrary, Investined, and the Arizona Education Association to promote voting and passage of this voter initiative.

The Problem in Context
Arizona is one of six states that has not yet recovered education funding since the last recession. In fact, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, between 2008 and 2015 Arizona’s funding for education adjusted for inflation declined 36.6%.

Even with the #20×2020 teacher salary increase passed by the Arizona Legislature in 2018 as the result of the #RedForEd movement, Arizona teachers rank 46th in the nation for average teacher pay. California is second highest and New Mexico ranks 36th. Arizona cannot retain teachers if they can earn so much more in neighboring states.

According to an Education Law Center study cited by U.S. News and World Report in January of this year, Arizona’s school funding in 2016-2017 amounted to $5,477 per pupil, falling far short of the national average, $14,046.

Clearly, K-12 education funding in Arizona is in dire straits. Underfunded schools and priorities that have not included school librarian literacy leaders have resulted with very few state-certified school librarians remaining in positions in districts throughout the state.

It will take a coalition of like-minded people and organizations and a long-term commitment to fix what is broken.

Successful Advocacy Campaigns
Successful advocacy campaigns require building partnerships with other people and organizations that share our values. AzLA and TLD members promote and provide library services to Arizona’s youth and families. Literacy and voter education are central to our mission. We care deeply about the present and future of young people’s access to high-quality education and to the health of our democracy.

Partnering with EveryLibrary is giving us the opportunity to bring something to the table when we meet with the Invest in Education Act leadership. Together, EveryLibrary, AzLA, and TLD have launched a “Take the Pledge to Vote YES! on Prop. 208” campaign.

When we work together to build support for voting and for this proposition, we will assure education stakeholders that the library community is committed to improving education funding in our state. We are committed to passing this initiative and to working together to provide literacy learning opportunities for Arizona’s youth.

If you are an Arizona voter, we invite you to Take the Pledge to Vote YES! on Prop. 208. If you live in another state and have friends or relatives in Arizona, please share the Pledge with them.

Note: In November, 2020, Prop. #208 passed with 51.7% of the vote. Since that time, it has survived lawsuits filed by the Goldwater Institute and the business community. As of this writing (2/18/21), it has so far prevailed against attempts by the Arizona Legislature to undermine this critical increase in funding to meet the needs of K-12 district public schools.

Thank you.

Image courtesy of the Arizona Library Association. Used with permission.

Banned Books Week and The Freedom to Read

Censorship is a deadend. Find your freedom to read.This week, classroom teachers, librarians, and libraries across the country are honoring the American Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom’s annual Banned (and Challenged) Books Week, September 27 – October 3, 2020.

The observance began yesterday with the publication of the Top 100 Most Banned and Challenged Books: 2010 – 2019. This list is compiled and published every decade and once again testifies to the fact that books written expressly for youth dominate the list.

The top seven books on the list were written expressly for children and young adults. Perennial “favorites” on this list, including Captain Underpants, Hunger Games, and Speak, are some of the books that young people repeatedly request, read, enjoy, share, and eagerly discuss. Those are the books that should be in the hands of our youth. (See last year’s 9/24/19 post about Speak!)

Each year, the OIF publishes the ten most frequently challenged books from the previous year. The 2019 list should cause all school librarians to pause and reflect on their own commitment to students’ intellectual freedom and right to read. Nine of the ten books were written expressly for children and young adults. Of those nine, four are nonfiction titles focused on sexuality, gender identity, or LGBTQIA+ experiences. Let me repeat. Four of the nine are informational titles: biographies or narrative nonfiction.

Why would be deny students access to information presented in age-appropriate books?

Four Book Jackets for the Books Listed Below

Four Frequently Challenged Books – 2019

#2. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin – Narrative Nonfiction

#4. Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg, illustrated by Fiona Smyth – Expository Nonfiction

# 6. I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas – Biography

#10. And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson illustrated by Henry Cole – Narrative Nonfiction

At this time in the lives of our K-12 students and in the life of our country, school librarians must raise our voices with and for young people’s access to ideas and information. For as long as I have been in the profession, school librarians have facilitated many different kinds of learning experiences centered on students’ right to read (See Banned Books Week Projects blog post 2016.)

Since 2011, school librarians have also been observing Banned Websites Awareness Day to hone a spotlight on over-restrictive filters that compromise students’ and educators’ access to information. It will be held on Wednesday, September 30, this year.

Last Thursday, I attended the ALA Connect Live: Intellectual Freedom webinar. Thank you to ALA President Julius C. Jefferson, Freedom to Read Foundation President Barbara Stripling and ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee Chair Martin L. Garnar for this program. (See information about ALA Connect Live! Programs.)

Here are some resources:

Check out the Banned Books Week Facebook page. There will be live events throughout this week.

For research related to banned books, read Banned Books: Defending Our Freedom to Read by Robert P. Doyle (2017).  ALA offers a link for members-only online access. You can also purchase the book for $15.00 from the ALA Store.

There are resources to support the popular “Dear Banned Author” program including printable and virtual postcards, author addresses, and tips for libraries in hosting virtual programs.

On Friday, October 2 at 6 p.m. CT, ALA is hosting a national watch party of “Scary Stories,” a documentary about the censorship history and impact of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz. (I cannot count the replacement copies I purchased of Schwartz’s book during the ten years I served as an elementary librarian!) Libraries can learn how to stream the film for free, or host their own watch party.

Follow these Twitter hashtags: #BannedBooksWeek; #BannedBook; #BannedAuthor

Learn more about the webinar series hosted by Intellectual Freedom Round Table, the Graphics Novels & Comics Round Table and Image Comics.

I hope you will join me in proudly wearing your “I read banned books” button and continue reading, recommending, and discussing these books with youth.

Image Credit

American Library Association. http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/bannedbooksweek/ideasandresources/freedownloads

 

#lafcon Learning

Image: Books with a sign: "So many books, so little time."

And so many sessions, so little time!

Last week, I participated in the Library Advocacy and Funding Conference.  I appreciated that the conference organizers made it so easy for people to participate. All of the sessions were pre-recorded and those of us with other obligations on these days could dip and out of the presentations that met our perceived needs. (I also appreciate the access was extended through to the end of the week. Thank you, @EveryLibrary and #lafcon sponsors.)

When I wrote a conference preview last week, I thought I would write about all of the sessions I attended. However, such a post would be too long for this blog space and I did post thank-you tweets for most of the session I attended (see @CactusWoman and #lafcon).

Instead, I want to share my take-aways from two phenomenal sessions: “Small Doors and Broken Windows” presented by Alvin Irby and an interview with Elizabeth A. Davis, president of the Washington (D.C.) Teachers Union. Each of these speakers had so much to share with school librarians, in particular; the following are just the highlights.

Alvin Irby, Small Windows and Broken Mirrors
Alvin Irby, former classroom teacher and part-time stand-up comedian, is the founder of Barbershop Books, a non-profit which he calls an “identity-based” reading program. Barbershop Books puts books selected by Black boys in child-friendly, male-spaces (barbershops) with the goal of all boys seeing themselves as readers.

Mr. Irby puts this work in a context. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 85% of Black male fourth-graders are not proficient in reading. Fewer than 2% of U.S. teachers are Black and a majority of Black boys are being raised by single mothers. Barbershop Books creates the possibility for access to books and Black role models that can help boys identify as readers.

And many of the books these boys choose for the program make them laugh! Mr. Irby cites information from the Scholastic Kids and Family Reading Report. Parents (and likely educators, too) want kids to read books that inspire them to do something good—books with good stories that make kids think and feel. And what do kids want? They want books that will make them laugh—good stories that are humorous.

In that vein, Alvin Irby delivered a critique of the books librarians honor with awards and the lists we curate for young readers. Where are the funny or gross books? You won’t see Captain Underpants or Walter the Farting Dog on these lists, but these are the kinds of books kids who are beginning to identify as readers want and need. (This may be a stinging critique for one of our sacred cows, but I think it is one to seriously consider as we rise to the challenges posed by illiteracy and aliteracy.)

There was so much in Alvin Irby’s session that was memorable and quote worthy for me. Here are two quotes:

“Cultural competency at its core is about humility. It’s about educators/librarians being humble enough to recognize that they (we) don’t know enough to recognize that they (we) don’t know everything that they (we) need to know to make that (reading) experience as relevant and engaging as it could be and that by actually taking time and making space to gain a better understanding of who the audience is and about what’s important to them…”

“If you look at a book list for any child and there are no laugh out loud books on it then I don’t even know what to say other than that book list is not allowing children to see their whole self.”

At the very end of his presentation, Mr. Irby gave librarians a critical key to success. Guest readers will read books differently. If, for example, we want to impact the reading experiences of 4th-grade Black boys, then we should invite Black readers into our libraries to share.

During the pandemic, many authors have given us the gift of reading their own books online (or giving recognizable celebrities permission to read their books). These recordings can be our guest readers. Let’s look for the ones read by Black men if we want to create relevant and engaging reading experiences for Black boys. (And the same practice will be true for any other group of library patrons.)

Whether or not you saw his #lafcon session, I highly recommend Alvin Irby’s 8-minute TED Talk: “How to Inspire Every Child to Be a Lifelong Reader.”

Elizabeth A. Davis, President of Washington Teachers Union (WTU), Washington, D.C.: Interview with John Chrastka, Executive Director, EveryLibrary.org
Ms. Davis: “Education is a civil right.” When she ran for WTU president, Ms. Davis’s platform was to transform WTU into a social justice union that would come to the table with solutions, not just problems, would amply the voices of teachers, and build respect.

She had been an activist educator who taught students how to write letters to decision-makers. In the interview, Ms. Davis tells an inspiring story of a 6th-grade student in her class in 2005 who wrote a letter to the principal asking why the library was closed. He responded that there was no librarian but he allowed the student access to the library during lunch. The girl discovered that the same books that were on the shelve in 1953, when the school was all White, were still on the shelves for her and her all Black and Brown schoolmates. After writing another letter, Representative Elijah Cummings invited the student to the Capitol to present her findings at the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education.

When schools were on the verge of closing in spring 2020, Ms. Davis asked all teachers to survey their students regarding their tech access. They found 38% did not have computers, and all of them had TVs. Using these data and a commitment to equity, Washington, D.C. schools delivered instruction via TV during spring 2020. Brilliant!

John Chrastka: “Politics is people or money.”

Fully resourced, fully staffed school libraries are a funding issue. WTU sponsors an Annual Fund Our Schools, Fund Our Futures budget campaign to activate parents to speak before the city council in support of school funding. This kind of parent activism could transform how budget decisions are made in every district across the country.

As Ms. Davis noted, leaders must listen to all education stakeholders to learn what matters to them. Ms. Davis found that in Washington D.C. “equity is the thread that connects the dots among school stakeholders.” She also noted that “if logic doesn’t work, shame does!”

I agree with Ms. Davis that educators (especially school librarians) have to realize our power. Through the students we serve in our schools, we are connected to parents, relatives, and caregivers who are voters. Educators must activate voters to change things that aren’t working. We must adopt strategies to change our daily working environments for our own and our students’ and colleagues’ benefit.

Ms. Davis’s advice to school librarians: Look at the power of the services you are providing and where those services are falling short in your school. Then, focus on how your contributions are lifting that up for students and classroom teachers.

This is the second time I’ve heard Elizabeth Davis speak about her leadership and organizing efforts. She is a wonder and her personal stories as a student and an educator are powerful. I wish there was an organization specifically for teachers’ union presidents. If there is/were one, she should be speaking at their conferences and leading their charge.

The D.C. school librarians are doing outstanding work, and it helps their cause beyond measure that they have an advocate like Ms. Davis who will stand up for them and with them and speak truth to power. She is a brilliant impassioned leader. Thank you, @EveryLibrary, for spotlighting her voice and work.

#lafcon 2020
As a no longer practicing librarian, I might not have attended #lafcon without the support of the Lilead Project. I appreciate that they gave me this opportunity.

By participating, I learned that as a literacies and libraries consultant, author, and school librarian advocate there was so much valuable information in the conference for someone like me. Thank you to those in the School Librarians Group who posted reviews of the sessions they attended and engaged in brief exchanges in a discussion forum.

I gained a great deal of knowledge that I will apply in my consulting, writing, and advocacy work. My only wish was that I had had more time to take advantage of more of the session offerings.

Image credit:
Prettysleepy. “Books Library Education.” Pixabay.com, https://pixabay.com/illustrations/books-library-education-knowledge-5430104/

 

The Library Advocacy and Funding Conference

Illustration of a Microphone and a Woman Getting Ready to SpeakBeginning Monday, September 14, 2020, I’m participating in the Library Advocacy and Funding Conference. I appreciate that the conference organizers specifically mention helping school librarians increase our “effective organizing and power building” in order to save our profession from further erosion.

As an advocate for school librarians and libraries, there are two strands that are most compelling for me: “Advocacy” and “Library Campaigns and Elections.” I have been advocating for state-certified school librarians in every K-12 school and fully resourced high-quality school library programs for almost thirty years so this topic is a must-explore topic for me. I am currently promoting Prop. #208, The Invest in Education Act, a ballot initiative in Arizona that will put more public school funding in the hands of districts so they can hire more educators, including school librarians, and pay them better.

These are selected session topics under “Advocacy:”

  • Strategies for Nonpartisan Civic and Voter Engagement Activities
  • Personas in Action: Define Your Audience to Develop Your Message
  • Ambassadors of Truth: How Librarians Can Help Save Our Democracy This November
  • Using Video Storytelling to Get Political
  • Getting a Seat at the Table: How c3 / c4 coalitions advance policy and funding
  • Politics Isn’t a Dirty Word: Be an Effective Advocate in a Time of Uncertainty
  • Advocacy in an Election Year
  • Ballot Measures as a Tool for Advocacy
  • Leading from Within: How mission-driven organizations create policy change and pass legislation

And these are selected topics under “Library Campaigns and Elections:”

  • 8 Principles for Running A Modern, Digital Library Campaign
  • Strategies for Nonpartisan Civic and Voter Engagement Activities
  • How to Connect with Voters through Personal Stories
  • Ballot Measures as a Tool for Advocacy

When I skimmed the session offerings, these four jumped off the screen. The following are excerpts from their descriptions:

Marsha Donat – Ballot Measures as a Tool for Advocacy
501c3 or C4 organization can help support ballot initiatives for the library or take other political action. Join the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center to learn how you can utilize ballot measures as at tool and move your advocacy goals forward and create a more equitable and just society.

Caitlin Donnelly: Strategies for Nonpartisan Civic and Voter Engagement Activities
Many organizations don’t realize how much they can do to further democracy and help the community they serve to participate in voting and elections and advocate for a cause, ballot measure, or political position… One major strategy for engaging voters is making sure they understand what will appear on their ballot.

Kyle Shannon – Using Video Storytelling to Get Political
Your ability to tell the stories of your library and its value is more important than ever. Video is the best way to share the impact on your community.

Joshua Starr – American Attitudes Towards Public Education: Findings from the 2020 PDK Annual Poll
This is the 51st year of the PDK poll, which is the longest running continuous poll of American’s perspectives on public education. From school choice, to the use of standardized tests, diversity and the performance of the current administration, the PDK poll results inform the debate on public education policy and practice in unique ways.

I agree with the organizers of #lafcon that librarianship is political and that learning to be strategic in how we navigate the political world is essential for our success.

“Libraries are political when they take a stand to support topics such as first amendment rights, information access, the freedom to read and so much more. It’s also true that 98% of library funding is politically driven by the will of local voters and the will of local, state, and federal legislators. That means that if we want to see libraries funded and supported into the future then we need to understand how to navigate this world of politics” (https://www.lafcon.org/libraries_aren_t_political).

This is the link for #lafcon registration.

I look forward to using and sharing what I learned.

Image Credit:
mary1826. “Speaker Lecturer Speech Conference.” Pixabay.com, https://pixabay.com/illustrations/speaker-lecturer-speech-conference-2148213/

Free Speech and Editorial Cartoons

Image: "We the People" U.S. Constitution flanked by the U.S. flagOn this Labor Day holiday, I’m thinking about how students learn the history of our national celebrations and observances. In my experience, Labor Day could be one of the least studied of those. At this time during a pandemic, it is important that we reflect on the sacrifices being made on our behalf by first responders and front-line workers, including educators who care for the academic as well as the social-emotional health of U.S. students.

Not to diminish this holiday for U.S. workers, but considering the 2020 election cycle, Constitution Day, which is celebrated on September 17th, seems to me to be more pressing in terms of students’ needs to understand the meaning and relevance of this day of observance.

Connie Williams wrote an August 20, 2020 Knowledge Quest blog post that provides resources for educators who want to guide students as they dig deeper into the frameworks of our system of government. See her post “Integrating Constitution Day into Your School Curriculum,” including a link to information about a poster contest with an October 2, 2020 deadline.

First Amendment Rights
For me, the time is right and ripe to focus students’ attention on the First Amendment to the Constitution.

First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

With the Black Lives Matter Movement protests and counter-protests happening across the country, questioning the purpose, exercise, and limits, if there are any, of this right is relevant whether or not we are actively engaged in civil unrest.

One of the ways I have engaged students in thinking about our freedom of speech and freedom of the press is through deep dives with editorial cartoons. Not only do these texts, which are accessible online and in paper print, sharpen students critical thinking skills but they also give students the opportunity to learn and practice questioning and drawing inferences, essential reading comprehension strategies.

Free Speech
In Tucson, we are lucky to have David Fitzsimmons, a talented and “no-holds-barred” editorial cartoonist who has been sharing his opinions in the Arizona Daily Star since 1986. He’s won many awards and his cartoons are syndicated to over 700 media outlets worldwide. Like many editorial cartoonists, David shares his work via social media as well. You can find his cartoons and commentary at: @DWFitzsimmons (Notice he describes himself as an “insultant.”)

Like all editorial cartoonists, David makes no bones about the fact that he is a “biased, partisan, unfair” commentator on social and political topics. I recently attended a Star Opinion Page Reader Chat where David shared his work. (The quotes are from my notes.)

In that chat, David shared how a cartoon he penned and published on May 31, 2020 after George Floyd’s murder was used as a “political satire” text by Cooper Junior High social studies teachers in Wylie, Texas, located just north of Dallas.

According to the newspaper article in the Fort Worth Star-TelegraphWylie ISD faces backlash after assignment includes cartoon comparing police with KKK,” the students were learning about the Bill of Rights and the cartoon was not part of the district’s curriculum.

On August 26, David Fitzsimmons wrote an op-ed in the Arizona Daily Star in response to the controversy: “Fitz’s Opinion: Texas, Governor Abbott and the National FOP are not happy with this cartoonist.” I agree with David that the Fort Worth Star-Telegraph’s headline misrepresents his cartoon. I also agree with his assessment of the overall situation surrounding this incident: “Persecuting, smearing and scapegoating public school teachers for teaching truth, civic dialogue, historical context and critical thought is beyond unacceptable. It’s un-American.”

Intellectual Freedom
Intellectual freedom is a core value of librarianship. I believe school librarians have an essential role to play in bringing thought-provoking texts into the academic programs in our schools. When I served as a librarian at Sabino High School in Tucson (2001-2003), David was an engaging and effective guest speaker for social studies and history students and classroom teachers. Sadly, he reports that invitations to share with K-12 students have sharply decreased in recent years.

David gave me permission to reproduce one of his cartoons in in my book Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Secondary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact (ALA 2012). The ‘toon entitled “Asterisk” focuses on how the Constitution grants us the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights. The asterisk leads readers to a briefcase with these words printed on its side in capital letters: SPECIAL INTERESTS.

Whether teaching face to face or remotely, these widely available texts are goldmines for students. Visual texts like editorial cartoons capture today’s students’ attention. Pairing cartoons penned by editorial cartoonists with divergent viewpoints can create deep conversations. Questioning these texts and using readers’ background knowledge and evidence in the drawings and carefully selected (minimal) words in editorial cartoons to make inferences are ways to shore up students’ thinking and reading skills. Educators can also use editorial cartoons as provocative texts to launch inquiry learning, especially in the areas of civics, social studies, and history. (My hats are off to the classroom teachers in Wylie ISD.)

Additional Resources for Editorial Cartoons
David Fitzsimmons’ editorial cartoons and op-eds can be accessed via the Local Editorials and Columnists Opinion Page at Tucson.com.

The American Association of Editorial Cartoonists offers a gallery of editorial cartoonists’ work.

Many cartoonists have websites where they display their work. The Cartoonist Group site includes editorial cartoonist Clay Bennett’s work, which I use it in the “advanced questioning” lesson plan in my book.

Side note: In his 9/3/20 reader chat talk, David Fitzsimmons stated there are only 23 editorial cartoonists working in the U.S. today. He also listed the local newspapers that are on the brink of collapse. If you are as lucky as I am to still have a local paper, I hope you subscribe to it. I also hope you are integrating the paper printed or online issue of your local newspaper into your teaching. In 2017, The Washington Post adopted “Democracy Dies in Darkness” as its official slogan. It’s worth asking yourself and your students how local newspapers can be beacons that shine the light.

Image Credit:
wynpnt. “Constitution 4th of July.” Pixabay.com, https://pixabay.com/illustrations/constitution-4th-of-july-july-4th-1486010/ 

More School Librarian Advocacy 2020

Megaphone with words: School Librarian AdvocacyCongratulations, SLRI!!!

Last week, the School Librarians of Rhode Island (SLRI) Section of the Rhode Island Library Association published a one-minute trailer and a fifteen-minute video to promote the critical contributions school librarians make in today’s learning environments.

Both the trailer and the video are accessible on this page: “Overdue: The Value of School Librarians.” (Hurrah for the title, too!)

Access them directly with these links: Trailer or Video

The goal of this short documentary-style advocacy film is to show the value of school librarians. The film, directed by Alex DeCiccio, follows five Rhode Island school librarians as they teach rural and urban students of all ages, collaborate with teachers, and take on vital leadership roles in their schools.

The SLRI has made the trailer and Creative Commons public license 4.0 film available to anyone who would like to share it with their own library stakeholders. The video was funded by a Kickstarter campaign.

From the landing page, SLRI has provided additional resources such as a sample letter to stakeholders, a screening and film discussion guide, and an advocacy letter template. You can also read about the project in their press release “Rhode Island School Librarians Recognized as Essential in the Short Documentary ‘Overdue: The Value of School Librarians.’”

Here are a couple excerpts:

In the film, Tasha White, a Providence elementary school library media specialist, says. “My goal is to make library as cool as gym class and recess.” Tasha’s principal Brent Kerman extolls library media centers as places “to learn twenty-first century skills” and school librarians as “key educators in raising up the culture of the entire school.”

Library media specialist Kristin Polseno who serves Mount St. Charles Academy says, “We live in a society where there is this ever-growing sea of information, and then somebody in a position to make decisions about education comes to the decision that a librarian is a luxury. That doesn’t add up for me.”

The film sets out to ask and answer this question: “When you think of a school librarian, what comes to mind? Shushing or a compassionate educator?” “Overdue: The Value of School Librarians” responds by pushing back against stereotypes that school libraries (and librarians) are quiet/shushers, boring, or non-essential.

The testimonials in the video do not pull punches. Librarians openly share the impact of their schedules, multiple school assignments, and the barriers they overcome to do their best work for the benefit of students, other educators, administrators, and families.

The video closes with a series of research-based statements about the critical contributions of school librarians to student learning and the tragic loss of school librarian positions nationwide.

The video makes a connection to one of my all-tie favorite quotes and a likely motto as we strive for social justice.

“Do the best you can do until you know better. When you know better, do better.” Maya Angelou

When we create and promote our one-way public relations messages, we intend for all school librarian advocates, including students, education colleagues, administrators, and families, to take up our cause. We need advocates to help us do the work we are passionate about and have trained to do—to make literacy learning opportunities accessible and equitable for every young person in our schools.

“Overdue” has hit its mark.
Check it out and share it widely!

See also:

Administrators Partner with School Librarians” created by the AASL School Leader Collaborative or read about it in my May 4, 2020 blog post.

Principals Know: School Librarians Are the Heart of the School” crowdsourced by Yours Truly and Teresa Starrett

And then please, please, please advocate on!

Image Adapted from:

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

 

Statewide, Year-long Advocacy Texas Style

When I taught and lived in Texas, I had the opportunity to get involved with the vital, vibrant, and effective Texas Association of School Librarians (TASL). It was a heady experience to be a part of the largest state-level professional association for school librarians. TASL members are active and big thinkers. They offer a huge percentage of the sessions and events at the annual Texas Library Association Conference… and TASL sponsors on-going advocacy efforts that extend statewide and online via the TxASLTalks blog and #TxASLTalks, and #TxASL.

Silhouette Image of Woman Shouting into a Bullhorn

The TASL leadership has designed an awe-inspiring and inspired statewide, year-long public relations/advocacy campaign that school librarian organizations across the country can emulate. Read Brooke King’s blog post about their “Let’s Promote Libraries!” initiative. (Brooke serves on the TASL Legislative and Advocacy Committee.) In her 8/18/20 post, Brooke provides five steps for participating effectively, including how to maximize the impact of the campaign via social media to spotlight and share school librarians’ teaching, activities, and events.

If You Promote, We Can Advocate!

Aligned with the 2017 Texas School Library Program Standards, each month’s advocacy topic begins with this sentence stem: “Did you know that school libraries…” followed by one of the standards.

Let's Promote Librarians! Graphic for TASL by Brooke King

Infographic for TASL by Brooke King

TASL created this graphic that includes the questions for all nine months—September through May. As Texas school librarians consider their teaching this year, they have a heads-up on when to share and receive the most recognition for their work and the work of their colleagues.

What really impresses me about this campaign is that is stresses FIVE essential aspects of effective public relations/advocacy campaigns.

First, and perhaps foremost, it is collaborative. Collective action is more effective that individual action. Whether engaged in public relations or advocacy, school librarians will have more success when we sing together in a chorus rather than in solo performances.

Secondly, it is aligned with what matters in school librarianship. In Texas, school librarian standards are part of the Texas Administrative Code. School librarian leaders from around the state collaborated to develop these standards. “Let’s Promote Libraries!” furthers TASL’s promotion of the standards with librarians, administrators, classroom teachers, elected officials, and other community members.

Third, this initiative serves as a virtual professional development opportunity for anyone, TASL member or not, who follows their hashtags this academic year: #TxASLTalks and #TxASL. (They are also using #TxLege to reach a key target audience–the Texas Legislature.)

Fourth, “Let’s Promote Libraries!” is powered by social media AND emphasizes reciprocity. In my experience, reciprocity is often lacking among school librarians and other social media users. We may “like” another school librarian’s work but do we consistently share/retweet the outstanding work in our profession? Do we add comments that emphasize the bright spots in teaching and learning through school library programs? This is an essential aspect of advocating for one another.

Finally, the entire campaign is about connecting. It involves connecting practice to standards. It’s about connecting the work of school librarians to the essential needs of today’s students, classroom teachers, administrators, and families. It involves connecting librarians to one another and each other’s professional learning and social media networks. It’s about connecting decision-makers to information about the critical work of school librarians in educating today’s students.

One could argue that this is a public relations campaign. It is AND it provides the TASL Legislative and Advocacy Committee with foundation it needs to do its work.

On the other hand, this is an advocacy campaign in that it aims to be proactive in reaching out the local, state, and national decision-makers who have the power and authority to support school librarians and fund school libraries. Participants in “Let’s Promote Libraries!” will engender and educate advocates who will have the necessary information to speak up for school librarians and libraries in the 2021 Texas legislative session.

Brilliant, really!

I hope every school librarian in Texas will participate. I hope other states or school districts will think about how they can adapt this campaign for their own teaching and learning communities.

Image Credits:

OpenClipart-Vectors. “Bullhorn Communication Female Girl.” Pixabay.com. https://pixabay.com/vectors/bullhorn-communication-female-girl-2026013/

TASL Graphic: Thank you to TASL Chair Kristi Starr and TASL Legislative and Advocacy Committee member Brooke King for giving me permission to publish the graphic and promote this campaign via this blog post and social media.

Antiracist Early Childhood Book Audit

Book Cover: Antiracist BabyEarlier in the pandemic, I spent seven months with my infant and toddler grandchildren. In March, their family came to Tucson from California to shelter in place. At the time, the public libraries were closed and the books I had given the kids were in storage out of state. This meant we had to rely on my own collection of baby and preschool-age books… and I found it lacking.

Conducting a diversity audit of my early childhood books was a wake-up call for me. It seems I had a few board, paperback, and hardcover books for this age group on my shelves but the majority of them had animal and inanimate object characters. Although I had a few with diverse human characters, I definitely needed to expand our reading choices.

Book Jackets: More, More, More, Said the Baby; The Big Book of Famiies, Everywhere Babies, Ten, Nine, Eight, and Whoever You Are

I should add at this point that I had received some publicity regarding Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s board book Antiracist Baby illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky (2020). I immediately ordered it and then it took four months to arrive!

In the meantime, I turned first to Star Bright Books, publisher of my board book Read to Me (2004) also available in Spanish/English, Vietnamese, Vietnamese/English, and Haitian Creole/English. Star Bright is known for publishing early childhood books with diverse characters and many of their titles are bilingual or offered in diverse languages.

Due to pandemic safety measures, our infant granddaughter had not seen other babies, and our toddler grandson had not played with other children. The books below are the Star Bright Books I added to our home collection. Book Jackets: Babies, Babies!; Big Box for Ben; Clean Up, Up, Up; Eating the Rainbow; My Face Book

Next, I consulted the list of board books offered on the Social Justice Books website. I was happy to see that several of the books I owned or had recently purchased were on their list.

At some point along the way, I found the Leo and Lola series by Anna McQuinn that engaged our two-year-old grandson in seeing, hearing, and talking about babies and young children involved in everyday childhood activities. Thankfully, the public library re-opened for requests and pick-up and had these titles in their collection.

Book Jackets: Lola Plants a Garden; Leo Can Swim; Leo Loves Baby Time; Lola Loves Stories; Lola Reads to Leo

Last week, our family’s copy of Antiracist Baby arrived. At the time, I was immersed in the Racial Justice Challenge (RJC). One thing I had shared was the lack of diverse representation in the early childhood selections in our home book collection. Kendi’s book was the perfect reminder of how families, and White families in particular, can positively influence the young children in their lives with regard to normalizing diversity in books for infants and preschool children.

In his book, Kendi offers nine steps to make equity a reality. The first step is to “open your eyes to all skin colors.” During the RCJ, I also shared how my own awareness of race came later in my childhood; to the best of my recollection, I was around eight years old. It is important to me that my grandchildren not experience any delay in acknowledging and affirming difference.

Similar to my book Read to Me, the print in Kendi’s book is directed to the adult readers of his board book. While Ashley Lukashevsky’s bright, bold illustrations will catch the eyes of young children, the message and strategies Kendi offers for overcoming racism are for parents, grandparents, caregivers, and all older children and adults. Kendi invites readers to believe we can transform society and overcome racism and charges us with beginning that process with the very young.

For the foreseeable future, Antiracist Baby and Read to Me will be our family’s baby shower book selections.

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/