Building Connections

Welcome to the official launch of the Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy (MSLL) 2018-2019 Book Study. I invite you to read one chapter each month and participate in weekly blog discussions throughout this school year.

Podcast – Episode 1: Building Connections for Learning

Maximizing School Librarian Leadership Facebook Group

Each chapter in the book opens with an invitation to connect your background knowledge and experience with the content of the chapter. The prompt in Chapter 1: Building Connections for Learning asks you to consider how the current culture in your school supports your personal growth and how does it support individual and collective risk-taking, problem solving, and innovation.

These may or may not be easy questions to answer. You may be new to a school, or you may be serving in a new role this year and have yet to realize the affordances of your current school culture. If that is the case, think about your previous school or work environment.

Have you served, or do you serve in a culture that supports your professional growth?

School Culture
According to the glossary in MSLL, culture is “a way of life. It is comprised of shared beliefs, values, knowledge, attitudes, language, behaviors, social interactions, and more. Cultures are created by people over time. Cultures are dynamic; they are not fixed. Cultures change as people’s needs and norms change” (Moreillon 2018, 170). For me the keywords in this definition are “people” and “dynamic.”

Building Relationships
When building a culture of learning in your school, your relationships with people are THE place to start. People who know, like, and respect each other are more likely to invest in the success of the entire learning community. As a school librarian, you make sure that the strongest relationship you form and nurture is with your principal. You will build relationships with library staff, volunteers, and student aides. You will build relationships with individual classroom teachers and specialists and with grade-level or disciplinary teams. You will build relationships with the Parent-Teacher Association/Organization leaders and students’ family members.

Simply put, you must build relationships in order to position your work and the library program at the center of the learning community.

There are many ways to build connections via relationships. With your principal(s), it may be through regular face-to-face meetings, via email or other electronic communication, by sharing lesson plans, monthly newsletters, and quarterly reports. It may be through professional development opportunities you are facilitating for faculty. Wise school librarians regularly leave invitations to see what’s happening in the library and other positive notes in their principal’s mailbox. All of these communication venues will focus on sharing how you assist your principals in meeting their goals for faculty, students, and the school.

The teachers’ lounge in any school can be a positive point of contact, or it can be a place for airing complaints. If it is the former, be sure to get out of the library and into the lounge whenever you can. Get to know about classroom teachers’ own children (grandchildren) as well as their students. Listen and learn as they share the successful happenings in their classrooms. Be on the alert for problems they might share that you can help them solve. Share yourself as well as the resources and learning experiences centered in the library. If you cannot change the teachers’ lounge into a positive place for developing relationships, steer clear of it.

Forming advisory committees that include administrators, classroom teachers, students, and families is one sure way to build relationships. Make sure these committees have a defined purpose, such as setting library procedures, overseeing the library’s Web presence, or planning a literacy event. Library student aides can become the school librarians “own kids.” Not only do they help manage the library, they also further develop literacies and give school librarians insights into possible challenges other students may be having in using and creating with information.

Building Connections
Effective school librarians build connections between professional development and practice; resources and curriculum; libraries and classrooms; inquiry and the disciplines; and future ready learning and college, career, and community readiness (see figure 1.5).  Building these connections can best be achieved in a learning commons model. This model “for the use of the library’s physical and virtual spaces, its resources, and the school librarian focuses the library program on knowledge-building by students and educators alike” (Moreillon 2018, 173).

Cultural Transformation
“Advancing progressive learning approaches requires cultural transformation. Schools must be structured to promote the exchange of fresh ideas and identify successful models with a lens toward sustainability — especially in light of inevitable leadership changes” (NMC/CoSN 2017, 4). I believe that school librarians can play a pivotal role in initiating, maintaining, and sustaining cultural transformation in their schools.

If the school library is known as a place for the open exchange of ideas, school librarians can help ensure that the school culture is a dynamic one. This open exchange will happen when there is trust among educators, students, and community members. With an exploratory and risk-taking approach, school librarians who have co-created a “learning commons” in the library will be on the forefront of identifying, testing, and developing successful strategies for transforming teaching and learning.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. What are your go-to strategies for building connections in your school learning community?
  2. How does your school library program reflect a “learning commons” model, and how can you capitalize on this model to transform learning and teaching in your school?

Works Cited

Moreillon, Judi. 2018. Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy. Chicago: American Library Association.

New Media Consortium and Consortium for School Networking. 2017. The NMC/CoSN Horizon Report: 2017 K-12 Edition. https://cdn.nmc.org/media/2017-nmc-cosn-horizon-report-k12-EN.pdf

Co-Creating a Community of Readers

“Supporting Middle School Reading: Using a Data Dashboard to Create a Community of Readers” by school librarian Kelsey Cohen appeared in the June, 2018, issue of American Libraries. Kelsey’s article is about how she engaged in a professional inquiry with assistant principal Rob Andrews, literacy coach Lisa Ramos-Hillegers, and instructional technology coach Mike Sammartano to support striving readers at Hommocks Middle School (Larchmont, New York). Their goal was to explore ways to use digital reading logs to motivate and engage more readers and further develop a reading culture in their school.

When educators engage in inquiry, they take risks together. They analyze a challenge they are facing, design, and test solutions that can help students succeed. Sometimes when they examine the outcomes, they find their solution needs to be tweaked and retested before they can achieve their goals.

In the American Libraries article, Kelsey describes an inquiry conducted by Hommocks educators. In this example, assistant principal Rob Andrews suggested the literacy team institute electronic reading logs in order to collect and use student data to improve students’ engagement and motivation. In the first year of testing the logs, the collaborators learned that the digital reading log forms were too detailed and therefore, not completed by enough students. When they revised the form, they involved the expertise of their instructional technology coach. Together, they created a data dashboard where students could access colorful graphs, charts, and lists based on their reading log data. They increased students’ and classroom teachers’ buy-in.

Kelsey displayed the data on a large monitor in the library. Readers used this information to self-assess their reading and classroom teachers used it with students during reading conferences. Along with literacy coach Lisa, Kelsey used the data specifically to reach out to striving readers. Kelsey and Lisa made sure that these students had “first dibs on new book arrivals” and they “created personalized book bins” that struggling readers could browse in their classrooms (Cohen 2018, 19).

These educators’ use of the inquiry process parallels the process that students take when they engage in inquiry learning. This strategy for learning can increase their own ability to guide students (and classrooms teachers) in inquiry learning. Kelsey and Lisa contributed voices from the field in the “Literacy Leadership and the School Librarian: Reading and Writing—Foundational Skills for Multiple Literacies” chapter of The Many Faces of School Library Leadership (2017). In that example, they collaborated with science teachers in creating classroom “wonder walls” as springboards for student-led inquiry (Moreillon 2017, 104).

As the quote from above from Kelsey attests, hers is not a “neutral” stance with regard to library services. Along with her colleagues, she creatively reached out to students who were not frequent library users. The literacy team created a tool that could be used by all Hommocks students. In addition, they targeted specific services to the readers who were most in need and helped them monitor their own reading and develop internal motivation to pursue learning. Rather than simply serve those who came to the library on their own, Kelsey and her team reached out to those who could benefit the most from the resources and expertise of the library and librarian in order to reach their potential as readers.

You can read Kelsey’s article in the magazine or online and reach her via Twitter @KelseyLCohen: “Supporting Middle School Reading: Using a Data Dashboard to Create a Community of Readers.”

With the culture of reading inquiry described in the American Libraries article, Kelsey. Lisa, and their collaborators are clearly continuing on their journey to create a culture of learning in their school. And they are using an inquiry approach to pursue their goals. Bravo to the collaborating educators at Hommocks Middle School and to Kelsey Cohen for her school librarian leadership.

Works Cited

Cohen, Kelsey. 2018. “Supporting Middle School Reading: Using a Data Dashboard to Create a Community of Readers.” American Libraries 49 (6): 28-19.

Moreillon, Judi. 2017. “Literacy Leadership and the School Librarian: Reading and Writing—Foundational Skills for Multiple Literacies.” In The Many Faces of School Library Leadership, 2nd ed., edited by Sharon Coatney and Violet H. Harada, 86-108. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Image credits:
Quote from Kelsey Cohen used with permission

Youngson, Nick. “Decision-making Highway Sign.” http://www.creative-commons-images.com/highway-signs/d/decision-making.html

School-Public Library Twitter Chat

The AASL/ALSC/YALSA “Public Library & School Library Collaboration Toolkit” was published in early February. I wrote about it on my blog that month. If you so choose, you can access the toolkit or view my summary before participating in the chat.


Tomorrow, April 24th at 8:00 p.m. Central Time, Mara Rosenberg, Natalie Romano, and I will moderate a Twitter chat hosted by #txlchat. Mara, Natalie, and I are members of the AASL/ALSC/YALSA Interdivisional Committee on School/Public Library Cooperation.

We owe a huge thank-you to #txlchat moderators for giving us this opportunity to use their Twitter channel for the chat.

We will be using these hashtags: #splctoolkit #txlchat #aasl #alsc #yalsa

These are the questions around which we will build our school-public library collaboration conversation. The questions are organized by the toolkit chapters:

Chapter 1: Getting Started
Q1. What advice would you offer to librarians beginning a new partnership w/their counterpart in a school or public library? What steps have aided in the success of your past collaborations?

Chapter 2: Why School-Public Library Partnerships Matter
Q2. How have you collaborated w/your school or public librarian colleague to prevent summer slide/summer reading loss?

Chapter 3: Successful School-Public Library Partnerships
Q3. What does your public/school library collaboration look like during the school year?

Chapter 4: Continuing the Partnerships
Q4. What tools do you use to keep up with your public or school librarian throughout the year? What works well and what could be improved?

Chapter 5: Templates and Additional Resources
Q5. Do you have templates to share that can help others further develop their school-public library #collaboration?

The toolkit process and final product are an example of how the American Library Association sister divisions can work together to create a useful resource for the benefit of all librarians who serve the literacy needs of children, young adults, and families and help co-create empowered literacy communities.

We hope you will join us for the chat and share your ideas and experiences of school-public library collaboration.

Our goal is for you to leave the chat with new ideas and inspiration for starting or strengthening a collaborative conversation with your school or public librarian counterpart who can partner with you to grow literacy in your community.

Link to #splctoolkit #txlchat 4/24 Twitter Chat Archive

Image Credit: Chat graphic created by Sharon Gullett, #txlchat Co-Founder

#SLM18 Making Community Connections

This week, School Library Month (#SLM18) activities focus on outreach with the community.  To my way of thinking, there are two communities to which effective school librarians are accountable – the community of the school and the community outside the walls of the school. The imperative to make connections in both can be the same.

When I think of the word “community,” I immediately think of the teaching of a thoughtful, influential library leader, R. David Lankes. Currently, the Director of the School of Library and Information Science, and Associate Dean, College of Information and Communications, two of his books are my go-to sources for inspiration and guidance in all things “community.”

Like Lankes, I believe “the greatest asset any library has is a librarian” (2011, 29). But librarians isolated in a library with the “stuff” and siloed away from the needs of the community cannot reach their capacity to lead. For school librarians, Lankes argues that “it is time for a new librarianship, one centered on learning and knowledge, not on books and materials, where the community is the collection, and we spend much more time in connection development instead of collection development” (2011, 9). Connection development requires leadership.

What does it mean to lead? Leadership is about influencing others. It’s about making changes in the world – small and larger – that help other people better their lives. In order to lead, school librarians must be “embedded” in the community. They must serve on essential school-based committees and in community-based organizations. When we serve, we build relationships, the essential foundation for making change—together.

According to Lankes, knowledge is created through conversations, which involve both listening and speaking. When we listen to the dreams and goals of our school-based colleagues and people in the wider community, we learn how we can help them achieve their potential. When we help others, they will reciprocate.

Through this daily practice of service, school librarians develop advocates for their programs and for their positions, which are actually one and the same. “Librarians do their job not because they are servants or because they are building a product to be consumed by the community, but ultimately to make the community better. Community members don’t support the library because they are satisfied customers, but because the library is part of who they are” (2012, 37). When the community advocates for the library, they do so because they have experienced the benefits for themselves. It’s in their self-interest.

“The difference between a good and great comes down to this: a library that seeks to serve the community is good, and a library that seeks to inspire your community to be better every day is great. You can love a good library, but you need a great library” (Lankes 2012, 111).


“…To facilitate is not to sit back and wait to be asked… no one ever changed the world waiting to be asked. No, you (the community members) should expect the facilitation of librarians and libraries to be proactive, collaborative, and transformational (bold added). Libraries and librarians facilitate knowledge creation, working to make you and your community smarter” (2012, 42-43).

For me, Lankes’ work is a call to action. Rather than simply serving our communities in a passive way, effective school librarians spread their influence into every nook and cranny of the school. They use their knowledge, expertise, and access to information resources to be proactive in helping every student, classroom teacher, specialist, administrator, and parent achieve their goals.

They form partnerships and collaborate with others in the school and in the larger community to improve the lives of everyone. Through the lens of “community as collection,” school librarians are positioned to act with purpose and passion to transform their communities.

During SLM, school librarians showcase the learning activities that can happen because of the work of an effective school librarian and a collaborative library program. Can we do more? I think so.  Let #SLM18 be a call to action. Our communities should expect more from us and we should step up our literacy leadership and go forward within our school communities and with our larger communities to create futures that benefit all.

Works Cited
Lankes, R. David. 2011. The Atlas of New Librarianship. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011.

_____. 2012. Expect More: Demanding Better Libraries for Today’s Complex World. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Image Credits
Collage created with PowerPoint.

Image Remix: Thurston, Baratunde. 2008. “I Am A Community Organizer.” Flickr.com.  https://www.flickr.com/photos/baratunde/2837373493/