Maximizing Systems Thinking

In this quote from the book, I offer a critical foundation for succeeding in Maximizing School Librarian Leadership. When administrators, educators, students, and families have a collaborative mindset, they will be invested in each other’s success and in the success of the entire learning community. With a culture of collaboration as a foundation, principals and school librarian leaders will have built the necessary relationships to fully understand the system they seek to lead.

The Global View
Like principals, school librarians have a global view of the learning community. Effective school librarians and principals also reach out beyond the school walls to work with families and other community members. A close working relationship between principals and school librarians helps them share their insights into the various components of the learning community.

Systems thinking involves taking stock of the whole system before attempting to change any part of it. Systems thinking leaders search for patterns in the interdependent relationships among people and practices within the system. It is important, then, that leaders step into each other’s and every stakeholder’s shoes. School librarian leaders must ask: What does the school library program look like from the perspective of the principal(s), classroom teachers, specialists, staff, families, district-level decision-makers, and community members?

Systems thinking helps leaders identify areas of strength. These are the places in the system that support the learning community’s vision, mission, or goals. Leaders also look for stumbling blocks that may impede the school’s progress toward achieving their goals. In a collaborative culture, leaders use this information to further strengthen the system and collectively solve the challenges that could keep educators, students, and families from achieving success.

School Library Services Alignment
Collaborative school librarians seek to align their work—resources and teaching—with the classroom curriculum. Through coplanning, coteaching, and coassessing student learning outcomes they have first-hand knowledge of the instructional program from a school-wide perspective. Principals and school librarians can use that information to continually improve their own leadership as well as the success of other educators, students, and families.

Systems thinking involves working as a team. Team learning “is a discipline of group interaction. Through such techniques as dialogue and skillful discussion, small groups of people transform their collective thinking, learn to mobilize their energies and actions to achieve common goals, and draw forth an intelligence greater than the sum of individual members’ talents” (Senge et al. 2012, 8).

School librarians work with individual colleagues as well as with grade-level and disciplinary teams. This gives us the opportunity (and the responsibility) to personalize professional learning for each member of the teaching faculty. Our knowledge of the entire system, which we share with our administrators, helps school librarians collaborate with others to transform teaching and learning. It helps us know how we can capitalize on our colleagues’ individual strengths and the school’s collective strengths. It helps us develop strategies to address any policies, procedures, or practices that may be holding us back.

Systems Thinking in Education
Systems thinking is not a new idea in education. In 1992, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development published an issue of Educational Leadership called “Improving School Quality.” Frank Betts contributed an article to that issue called “How Systems Thinking Applies to Education.” As Betts notes, “Each educational system is composed of a unique set of elements arranged in a unique constellation of relationships. Furthermore, the relationships among elements, subsystems, and supra-systems are continually changing in search of equilibrium while avoiding entropy.” As the call for systemic change in education has grown even more urgent in the years since his article was published, there remains much to learned about applying systems thinking to transforming our schools.

Taking a systems thinking approach provides school leaders with the data they need to lead a change process. Strong leaders practice distributive leadership and encourage all stakeholders to actively participate in the process. Applying systems thinking and working collaboratively with others is the way to collectively take the risks necessary to maximize our effectiveness and reach for our capacity to meet the needs of today’s students.

Coming August 27th at 3:00 p.m. EST:

Your Library on Steroids: Make an Impact on System Level PrioritiesSchool Library Journal Webinar with Priscille Dando, Coordinator of Library Information Services, Fairfax County Public Schools, and Jonathan Hunt, Lead Coordinator of Library Media Services, San Diego County Office of Education

Questions for Discussion

  1. Do you feel that your school community is currently working together as a team?
  2. How do you or could you contribute to strengthening your school’s team?

Works Cited

Betts, Frank. 1992. “How Systems Thinking Applies to Education.” Educational Leadership 50 (3); 38-41.

Senge, Peter, Nelda Cambron-McCabe, Timothy Lucas, Bryan Smith, Janis Dutton, and Art Kleiner. 2012. Schools That Learn: A Fifth Discipline Fieldbook for Educators, Parents, and Everyone Who Cares about Education. New York: Crown Business.

 

From Where Does Your Authority Come?

The authority of an author is one of the first pieces of background knowledge we ask students to consider as they weigh the value, reliability, perspective, or bias in information. The importance of researching the author’s or authors’ credentials, knowledge, experience, and prior contributions to the conversation on any given topic is equally important for educators who are considering reading a professional book.

To add to what you can learn about me from this blog, my previous writing, or a Google search, I would like to share three of the defining experiences of my professional life. These experiences have charted my practice, scholarship, and service. It may come as a surprise to School Librarian Leadership blog readers who were children or who weren’t yet born in the mid-1990s, but resource-based learning, flexible library schedules, and classroom-library collaboration for instruction have been part of our school librarianship and education history for decades.Resource-based Learning
As a preservice classroom teacher in the 1980s, I was schooled in literature-based teaching. This involved developing units of instruction in all content areas based on literature text sets. These topical or thematic text sets included fiction and informational texts in all genres at a variety of reading proficiency levels. Those text sets even included media (!), which in those days focused on films (and yes, filmstrips), cassette tapes and other recordings, artifact kits, computer-based programs, and more. The goal of developing text sets was to give students choice in exploring resources to develop their literacy and increase their content knowledge.

At that time, we conducted “research.” Most often classroom teachers gave students a set of questions or tasks to complete using the text set for resources. (We did not have a school librarian in our California school.) Most often, students produced traditional reports and presented their learning orally with some type of visual aide. In my classroom, students often had choices in how they presented their learning. Some chose to write traditional reports; others wrote poems or stories, performed skits, or created highly illustrated work. (We had only one Apple IIe computer in our classroom. Its primary instructional use was our student-published class newsletter, The Hang-Ten News.)

Library Power
It wasn’t until my early years as a school librarian that I was introduced to inquiry learning. In my third year of practice, I transferred school districts and secured a position in a high-needs elementary school in a district that had received a Library Power grant. The National Library Power Project was funded with a grant from the Dewitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund. Over the course of ten years, the fund provided $45 million 700 schools in 19 school districts across the United States.

I led the team at Corbett Elementary in writing our school’s successful Library Power application. This grant likely changed the course of my career in school librarianship. All Library Power school library programs in the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) were required to operate with flexible scheduling based on classroom-library collaboration for instruction. The grants included funds for purchasing new print and electronic resources and renovating the physical spaces of our libraries. Perhaps, most importantly, Library Power districts provided professional development (PD) for classroom teachers, school librarians, and principals.

Classroom-Library Coteaching
School librarians involved with TUSD’s project participated in “Cooperative Program Planning,” a week-long training provided by Ken Haycock. This training was focused on classroom-library collaboration for instruction. In TUSD, we launched a follow-up PD series for which Library Power school librarians were required to bring a classroom teacher colleague to learn and practice coplanning strategies, and prepared to coteach in the classroom or library.

I was hooked. To be honest, I had felt inadequate as a classroom teacher working solo in my classroom. As an isolated educator, I never felt I could simultaneously address the needs of English language learners as well as the students reading and writing far above their grade level. As a school librarian coteacher, I experienced the benefits of two heads for planning, four heads and four hands for coimplementing instruction and coassessing student learning outcomes.

I achieved more satisfaction as a coteacher because I experienced the power of two educators offering students more personalized learning than one educator working alone could provide. Students were able to succeed with individual and small group inquiry projects. And my collaborators and I shared a sense of achievement in meeting students’ needs and developing our instructional expertise alongside one another.

Classroom-Library Collaboration Testimonials
It wasn’t until I transferred to another Library Power elementary school and began regularly teaching a graduate-level course in school librarianship at the University of Arizona that I realized I could be recording classsroom-library ollaboration testimonials from classroom teachers, specialists, and administrators. I began recording in 2001, and other school librarians have since contributed to this page.  The most recent video was crowdsourced and includes testimonials from principals and district-level leaders from across the U.S. regarding their experiences working with professional school librarians: “Principals Know: School Librarians Are the Heart of the School” (2014).

My goal in capturing these testimonials was to inspire preservice school librarians to help them understand the benefits of classroom-library collaboration from the perspectives of classroom teachers, specialists, and administrators. Rather than “taking time away” from classroom teachers (losing or taking planning time or classroom instructional time), I wanted to show future school librarians that other educators would welcome their instructional partnership invitations. These testimonials show that educators and administrators value what school librarians bring to the collaboration table and know how our teaching increases student learning.

Questions for Discussion

  1. What are your defining professional experiences and how have the influenced the way you teach?
  2. Whose work has guided your instructional practices, and how do you currently apply their thinking and strategies in your teaching?

Reference

Haycock, Ken. 2007. “Collaboration: Critical Success Factors for Student Learning.” School Libraries Worldwide 13 (1): 25–35.

Maximizing Leadership: Keyword = Collaboration

For the 2018-2019 academic year, I will be using my blog to support educators who are using my book Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy as a book study selection. This month (August), I blog about the information found in the preface and the introduction and the to use the book as a book study selection. In September, I will blog about Chapter 1: Building Connections for Learning and continue dedicating each month during the academic year to subsequent chapters in the book. You can find the schedule and links to these blog posts, on the book page of my blog. Each month, I will introduce that month’s chapter with a podcast.

For the month of August, I published a podcast called: Preview: School Librarian Leadership

All Podcast ScriptsPreface

In the preface of a book, authors often explain why they wrote the book. They often use the preface to establish their credibility in terms of their experience on the topic or their professional background. To apply an old term from the study of rhetoric, a preface is in a sense an “apology”: an explanation or defense.

As Simon Sinek, David Mead, and Peter Docker explain in their book Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team (2017), it is essential for people to determine their “whys.” While we may achieve “happiness” in “what” we do, our “whys” indicate the ways we achieve satisfaction. Our “whys” align with our values, our goals, our raison d’être. This book is about my “WHY.”

From a professional standpoint, “collaboration” is the skill and educational value that is primary in my heart, mind, and experience. For me to fulfill my purpose as an educator, I have chosen to collaborate with others to reach for my individual and our collective capacity to serve the needs of the students in our care. I know from experience that none of us can succeed with all students in all content areas if we choose to work in isolation from our colleagues.

Collaborative Cultures

I have served in collaborative culture schools and worked on non-collaborative faculties as well. I know the difference in terms of my ability to learn and grow. I know the difference in terms of what we can accomplish and offer students by working together. I know it takes a village to help students and educators reach their capacity.

Simply put, there is no comparison between a collaborative culture and non-collaborative culture learning community.

Culture is everything. At times in my teaching career when my collaborative purpose and the purpose of the learning community were aligned, there was absolutely no limit to what we could accomplish together—and no limit to my joy and sense of achievement. A culture of collaboration is focused on both individual and collective growth. “If every member of a team doesn’t grow together they will grow apart” (Simon, Mead, and Docker 2017, 195).

As a school librarian, I have had awesome (no exaggeration) opportunities to co-lead along with administrators and classroom teacher leaders in collaborative culture schools. These experiences have shaped me, and they shaped this book.

Maximizing School Librarian Leadership

This book represents almost thirty years of learning, seven years of intensive graduate-level teaching, and two additional years of reading, researching, and writing. During my tenure as an assistant, then associate, professor at Texas Woman’s University (TWU), I developed (from scratch), refined, and further refined a course called “Librarians as Instructional Partners” (LS5443). For me, this course offered graduate students THE reason to serve as school librarians. It offered preservice school librarians a “why” followed by “what” and “how.”

Over my seven years of service at TWU, I taught this course twelve semesters, occasionally teaching two sections in one semester. I learned a great deal from the over three hundred students who participated in the course. There were students who entered LS5443 with open minds or prior positive experiences with collaboration; they embraced coplanning, coteaching, and co-leading. There were other students who struggled to let go and trust their fellow students; they resisted collaboration. Some developed their collaborative ability over the course of the semester; others left our course adamant that they would seek library positions in which they could work alone.

When I completed this book in November of 2017, I realized that Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy, is the text I wish I had had to help guide the preservice school librarians who participated in LS5443. Perhaps this text would have helped me more effectively communicate the deep sense of purpose and satisfaction that is possible when school librarian leaders collaborate to co-create a culture of learning.

My Hope

I hope all school librarians will come to know through first-hand experience that teaching and learning within a collaborative culture of learning is the context in which they will succeed in educating students for the present as well as for their futures. When school librarians serve as culture builders, practice job-embedded professional development, and lead as changemakers, they can and will be leaders on teams that transform learning and teaching.

Questions for Discussion

  1. What is your WHY related to your career in school librarianship?
  2. What do you hope to learn, or wish you had learned in your preservice school librarian education?

Work Cited

Sinek, Simon, David Mead, and Peter Docker. 2017. Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team. New York: Penguin.

Note: I reviewed this book on my blog in two parts on October 16 and October 23, 2017.