Teaching as Soul Work

“One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do
to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul.
Struggling souls catch light from other souls
who are fully lit and willing to show it” (Estes 1992).

A couple weeks after the state of Illinois shutdown for the coronavirus, I met via Zoom with members of the Association of Illinois School Library Educators (AISLE). Our conversation was focused on sharing children’s and young adult literature online. I had shared an early draft of the presentation with iSchool graduate students in IS445: Information Books and Resources for Youth.

The astute grad students pointed out to me that the information in the presentation was persuasive, but I hadn’t made time to access librarians’ emotions around school closures. (We devoted time in our online course for sharing and developing empathy for one another’s shelter-in-place situations, but the emotional component was missing from the presentation I had intended to share as a conversation starter.)

Answer Garden Image; odd- it is different working from home; without direction; feeling helpless and underutilize; restless; worried for my children from hard places; overwhelmed, useless, frustrated with the news/misinformation; worried about our upcoming remodel; missing interaction with othersI took students’ feedback to heart and opened the webinar by asking school librarians to share how they were feeling about their schools being closed. Most shared in the chat; some recorded their feelings on the AnswerGarden web above.

Educators’ Caring Revealed
I believe most members of the general public have been previously unaware of the depth of caring for other people’s children felt by the adults who work in schools. One would hope that the front-page stories of classroom teachers, librarians, and other educators going above and beyond for their students would have expanded the public perception of the extent of educators’ dedication to their students and how critical their work is to the health of our economic, social, and civic lives. The parades and special recognition families have shown educators is also a testimonial to how much families value educators.

That said, I’m sure that many of us have also noticed how educators are expressing their feelings of disconnection, loss, or even grief via social media. While many school districts across the country have spent decades focusing on Social Emotional Learning, or SEL (“the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions” (CASEL), there has been little talk of how the pandemic has affected the social and emotional lives of educators. (With a nod to an outstanding exception: Courtney Pentland’s 5/14/20 Knowledge Quest blog post: “It’s Important to Give Grace to Others but Also to Yourself.”

Social Emotional Teaching
What we haven’t been talking about, to the degree I believe is necessary, is Social Emotional Teaching (SET). I believe the abrupt closure of schools and the precipitous change from face-to-face to an online environment environment has brought the commitment and dedication of educators to light. And it has also resulted in educators struggling to deal with feelings that are deep rooted in all people whose work is centered in service to others, or soul work. Here are some of my ideas about applying the SEL definition to SET.

Understand and manage emotions: Through exchanging heartfelt feelings with our colleagues, families, and friends, educators can navigate the uncertainty of these times. Increasing self-awareness helps us understand and manage our emotions.

Set and achieve positive goals: Keep previous schedules (waking, working, eating, sleeping) or establish new routines to meet the changing demands of teaching from a distance while maintaining a semblance of normal in family life. Keep a journal to log both daily accomplishments and gratitude for blessings.

Feel and show empathy for others: Educators are empathy experts. The pandemic creates an opportunity for educators to express their empathy for students, families, and colleagues as well as for complete strangers. It is critical that we authentically model the importance of empathy in social and civic life. As Courtney Pentland observes, it is also a time to show empathy for ourselves.

Establish and maintain positive relationships: We must remain vigilant in noting points of light and expressing optimism when interacting with students, families, and colleagues. Stay connected–heart to heart, mind to mind, soul to soul.

And make responsible decisions: All decisions at this time are made in an environment in which credible information is evolving. Make decisions based on verifiable information and be prepared to alter decisions when new information becomes available. This may be most important for educators in terms of individual student’s ability to learn in the online environment, or the ability of families to support student learning.

Teaching Is Soul Work
The academic year has come to a close for many schools in the Southwest. Students, educators, and families deserve credit for completing this academic year in good standing.

The words on the Collier Elementary School marquee, “we miss you,” are not hollow (see 100% Online K-12 Learning). The faculty and staff in schools around the country and across the globe have been sorely missing their students and families. Many are currently missing the end of the year rituals that celebrate shared learning journeys and help students and educators transition to the next chapter in their lives.

These are among the difficult losses we are experiencing as a society.

As Courtney Pentland suggests in her blog post, let’s give grace to ourselves as well to others. Let’s stand up and show the deep caring of our educator souls and be prepared to continue serving students, families, colleagues, and our communities to the best of our ability whatever may come.

Works Cited

Collaborative for Academic, Social, Emotional Learning (CASEL). “What Is SEL?” https://casel.org/what-is-sel/

Estes, Clarissa Pinkola. 1992. Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype. New York: Ballantine Books.

Image Credit: Created with AnswerGarden.ch

District-Level School Librarian Advocacy

This month I contributed an article focused on our effort to restore school librarian positions in Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) to School Library Connection (SLC). If you are an SLC subscriber, you can find “We Need You! Forming Effective Advocacy Coalitions” in the “Political Literacy 101” section of the site. (The article will be publicly available until the next SLC issue is published.) If you are not a subscriber, you can always access and read other articles on the “Community” page, which is the splash page for the magazine, and consider subscribing. (I hope you will.)

Too often school librarians find themselves alone in speaking up for their work. Creating the context and conditions for library stakeholders to speak for our essential role in today’s education is a top priority for school librarian leaders. (See Chapter 8: Leadership and Advocacy in Maximizing School Librarian Leadership).

When we collaborate with classroom teachers and support the initiatives of our principals, they can (and will!) become some of our staunchest allies. When families are aware of how we are contributing to their children’s literacy learning, they, too, will join the ranks of our advocates. When central office administrators, school board members, and community members speak up for our work, we have the advocates we need to realize our goals for school library programs.

The Context: Arizona
A series of poor decisions made by the Arizona Legislature for more than a decade have denied district public schools of the necessary funding to meet the needs of K-12 students and families. School districts lacking local bond and budget override support have been in the position of making difficult decisions in terms of allocating meager resources for staffing, infrastructure maintenance and improvements, learning materials, including library resources and technology tools, and more.

In addition, the continual expansion of publicly funded charter schools has siphoned off monies that would have gone to district public schools in the past. To add insult to injury (and labeled “choice”), open enrollment has allowed parents the option of leaving their neighborhood schools to attend schools in more affluent districts. The lack of funding and support for district public schools that accept all students within their boundaries and open enrollment students, too, is dire.

The Context: Tucson Unified School District
TUSD is a high-needs, urban school district. Seventy-two percent of TUSD students are from federally identified minority families. Seventy percent receive free or reduced lunch and many are eating three meals a day at school sites across the district; most schools have clothing closets. The Educational Enrichment Foundation, which was created to provide academic support for TUSD students and educators, has responded by meeting the physical needs of students with personal hygiene products and struggles to achieve its original academic mission.

I served as an elementary school librarian in TUSD from 1992-2001 and in a high school until 2003. That year, our district-level library supervisor’s position was eliminated, and my high school second librarian position was cut to half time. (About twenty other site-level librarian positions were reduced that year.)

At the time of these cuts, there were 96 state-certified school librarians serving 59,250 students, a ratio of 1 librarian to 617 students. Today, there are 13 state-certified school librarians serving (about) 44,000 students, a ratio of 1:3,385.

It is clear TUSD students, educators, and families suffer from a lack of equitable access to the literacy opportunities of a well-resourced school library led by an effective state-certified school librarian.

Central Administration Advocates
Like many urban school districts, TUSD superintendents have not remained in their positions for sufficient time to make structural improvements in the district. Since I left the district, I have been unable to connect with a superintendent who was open to considering rehiring librarians and supporting library services as a high priority in a cash-strapped district.

That was the case until 2017 when Superintendent Dr. Gabriel Trujillo was hired. Dr. Trujillo came to TUSD having had the experience of full-time, state-certified school librarians in the Phoenix Union High School District. I met with him in the summer of 2018 to convince him it was long past time to restore TUSD school librarian positions and revitalize its libraries.

Dr. Trujillo did not need convincing. Instead, I learned that he was seeking advocates to work with him to convince the school board of the necessity of effective school librarians and library programs to students’ success. “We found common ground in focusing this effort on the district’s Middle School Improvement Plans in the area of reading. (While there was no need to conduct market research to begin our project, it was critical that we established shared goals on which to build this effort)” (Moreillon 2020).

TUSD School Librarian Restoration Project and Community Advocates
I reached out into the community to form a small but mighty advocacy group. Beginning in the fall of 2018 to the present, we met with and continue to communicate with school board members; we speak at governing board meetings during the calls to the audience. Based on a recommendation from a school board member, we connected with the TUSD School Community Partnership Council. We made presentations at the Arizona Library Association conference.

Most recently, we worked with the human resources (HR) department to revise the school librarian’s job description. Five middle school positions will be advertised this spring (2020), and our advocacy group will support HR in attracting the most qualified candidates. We have offered to meet with principals of these and other schools that are considering restoring their school librarian positions.

We are encouraged by our supporters and the progress we have made. We have been surprised by some literacy organizations that informed us they do not “do advocacy.”

We believe as past ALA President Jim Neal wrote that “libraries constitute an ecology of educational, research, and community services. In this environment of inter­dependency, we, as a family of libraries, must embrace advocacy for school libraries as foundational to the success of our collective work for students who love to read, as we prepare them for college, career, and life” (Neal 2018). And so, we carry on this work.

This Visme infographic summarizes our communication strategy and is fleshed out in the SLC article. If you are in a similar situation in terms of eliminated school librarian positions, we hope you will use what we have learned to take up the call, identify advocates through points of shared purpose, and work together to restore state-certified school librarian positions in your communities.

Works Cited

Moreillon, Judi. 2020. “We Need You! Forming Effective Advocacy Coalitions.” School Library Connection (February).

Neal, Jim. 2018. “Fight for School Libraries: Student Success Depends on Them.” American Libraries Magazine (March 1). https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2018/03/01/fight-for-school-libraries/

Community Connections

I believe a school librarian’s first order of business is serving as a leader within the school building itself and then within the school district. The focus of Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy is librarian leadership that benefits students, other educators, administrators, and families within the school building and district.

That said, instructional leadership and advocacy are two areas in which school librarians’ leadership activities can extend into the community outside the school building. When the greater community is aware of the school library program, advocacy appeals for more resources, staffing, and other types of support will be supported by local businesses, non-profit and civic organizations, and by voters.

Instructional Community Connections
School librarians can be the connectors who bring the resources of the community into the school building. Human resources are often overlooked by busy educators. Bringing in guest speakers and experts in their fields builds bridges for learning and perhaps future career choices for students. School librarians can coordinate or work with a school community liaison to facilitate volunteer tutors and other services offered by individuals and non-profit groups.

Taking students and learning out into the community is another area for school librarian leadership. Field trips to public and academic libraries, museums, universities and colleges connect students to community resources that can support learning. Getting outside the school building and visiting parks and nature preserves or attending fine arts performances enriches students’ lives.

Off-campus student jobs and internships are other ways school librarians can support student learning. As a high school librarian, I wrote a number of reference letters for library aides and other students who were seeking employment or apprenticeships. Based on my experience of students’ work ethic and willingness to learn, I could confidently recommend them to business owners and community organizers.

Community Advocacy Connections
There is no question that the community outside the school building can provide powerful support in advocating for the school librarian’s position and the library program. The more students and educators are out in the community the greater the community’s knowledge of their talents and their needs. When students share their learning, musical or other talents at a school board meeting, parents, voters, and the press are there. In a small school district where I served in a combined junior high/high school library, I co-sponsored and sponsored two sets of student presentations. One was a classroom-library online literacy circles collaboration; the other was the library geek squad who researched and presented the need for computer upgrades.

Making sure the school district and local town/city press cover the contributions of the library program to student learning helps educate the community about the vital learning and teaching facilitated by the school librarian. This will take a strategic and concerted effort on the part of the school librarian and school/district administrators who understand the literacy and learning value added. If and when the school board decides to address a budget shortfall by eliminating school librarians, there should be a hue and cry.

Community and Sustainability
When the school and school library are positioned in the community as sites for literacy and learning opportunities, school library programs have a greater opportunity to survive in the ever-changing, ever-evolving education landscape. It is up to each and every school librarian to make the commitment to sustaining a program that is worthy of stakeholders. “Developing excellence in school library programs and a credible collective advocacy story is a path to sustaining the vitality, integrity, and the future of our profession” (Moreillon 2015, 26).

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. What are the benefits of maximizing community connections?
  2. What connections are you making with resources, including human resources, to bridge school and community?

Work Cited

Moreillon, Judi. 2015. “Quick Remedies Column: Collaborative Library Stories. School Library Monthly 31 (8): 25-26.

 

Continuous Learning, On-Going Assessment

Learners—of all ages—must “replace, modify, or eliminate established patterns of behavior, beliefs, or knowledge. Learning is not about reaching a specific target and then resting on one’s laurels. Rather, it is about a continuous process of building and tearing down and building up again. Transforming a learning culture requires change with a capital ‘C’” (Moreillon 2018, 19).

As centralized instructional partners, school librarians are perfectly positioned to model continuous learning. Along with administrators and teacher leaders, they can initiate, monitor, gather and analyze data, adjust, and propel any change initiative underway in their schools.

Principals’ and School Librarians’ Shared Roles
While changemaker school librarians can make a modicum of progress working with selected classroom teachers, they cannot achieve schoolwide success without the leadership and support of their principal(s). A school librarian’s relationship and communication with the school principal must be a primary focus if a change process is to succeed. School librarians who seek to open the library for additional hours, move to a flexible schedule, adopt a schoolwide inquiry process, improve school climate, culture, and more, must partner with their administrators.

“Together, they develop a culture of collaboration and continuous learning in their schools. While people have both fixed and growth mindsets in various contexts, principals can lead learning by modeling a continuous openness to growth” (Moreillon 2018, 12). Principals who position themselves a “lead learners” and practice distributed leadership may create the most conducive environment for school librarian leadership.

Principals and school librarians can then work together to nurture and sustain the supportive environment that Peter Senge and his colleagues call “schools that learn.” These schools are “places where everyone, young and old, would continuously develop and grow in each other’s company; they would be incubation sites for continuous change and growth. If we want the world to improve, in other words, then we need schools that learn” (Senge et al. 2012, 4–5).

Continuous Learning = Continuous Improvement
Maximizing School Librarian Leadership (MSLL) is intended to provide educators with instructional and cultural interventions that can “help create new norms that foster experimentation, collaboration, and continuous improvement” (Guskey 2000, x). As professional development, the information provided and strategies suggested in MSLL can serve to validate learning and teaching as currently practiced in readers’ schools.

For progressive school libraries, schools, and districts, MSLL may serve as confirmation that the transformation process currently underway is headed in the most effective direction to improve student learning and educator proficiency. For those readers, the book may also serve as a prompt to stretch themselves a bit further, to take another calculated risk, to gather and analyze additional data on their path to excellence.

For other school libraries, schools, and districts that are not as far along on their path to transformation, MSLL may provide targets, guideposts, or tools for self-assessment to further direct the change process. Using this book to clarify vision and mission or goals and objectives is a worthwhile outcome for a professional book study. Engaging in professional conversations around these topics can strengthen communication and relationships among faculty members. These conversations can provide a stronger foundation on which to build collegiality and common agreements.

Confidence
“School librarian leaders nurture, develop, and sustain relationships with all library stakeholders. They build their confidence by continuously improving their skill sets, including pedagogical strategies and technological innovations. School librarians develop their communication skills in order to listen and respond to the ever-evolving needs of learners—students and educators alike” (Moreillon 2019). Through relationships and communication, school librarians lead with confidence (Everhart and Johnston 2016).

School librarians, in particular, may find the information in MSLL will increase their confidence, their willingness, and their ability to lead. By increasing knowledge and improving skills, school librarians can shore up the necessary confidence to step out of their library-centered comfort zone and expand their influence throughout their school, their district, and beyond.

Schoolwide or districtwide goals will require collaboration with stakeholders and on-going assessment of the change process. School librarians who are armed with information and confidence can enlist their site and district administrators as strategic partners who ensure the central role of the school library program in the academic program of the school. They can ensure that state-certified highly qualified school librarians are leading through library programs across their district and their state. “Collaboration is an indispensable behavior of school librarian leaders who help all library stakeholders reach their capacity. Through leadership and collaboration, school librarians cocreate and colead future ready education” Moreillon 2019).

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. What supports are in place in your school or district that make it possible for educators to engage in continuous learning?
  2. What is your role as a school librarian in promoting continuous learning and gathering and analyzing data for on-going assessment toward school/district outcomes?

Works Cited

Everhart, Nancy, and Melissa P. Johnston. 2016. “A Proposed Theory of School Librarian Leadership: A Meta-Ethnographic Approach.” School Library Research 19.

Guskey, Thomas. 2000. Evaluating Professional Development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

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

Moreillon, Judi. 2019. “Leadership through Collaboration: Memes with Meaning.” School Library Connection Online. https://schoollibraryconnection.com/Home/Display/2193152?topicCenterId=1955261&tab=1

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.

 

Advocacy: An Essential Component of Daily Practice

Every time school librarians greet a student, family member, classroom teacher or specialist, administrator, prospective student/family, or visiting dignitary in the school library, they show the learning community that the library is a welcoming environment. Following up a warm smile with an offer of help is the first step in establishing the library as a place where a friendly staff helps others solve their problems or get their needs met. Through signage, book and resource displays, technology access and tools, the physical space of the library communicates a great deal about the values and quality of the program—and by extension the work of the school librarian.

“Our” Library
One of the most important messages the physical (and virtual) space of the library must communicate is this: the school library is an “our” place. The resources of the library and the activities that occur via the library program belong to the entire learning community. In addition to always referring to the library as “our library” and its resources as “our resources,” school librarians make a concerted effort to involve students, families, classroom teachers and specialists, and administrators in guiding the library program. The “our” should be understood by all.

Student work is an essential feature of the physical as well as the virtual library. Evidence of student learning should be front and center and obvious to anyone visiting the library or accessing the library’s website. Spotlighting and curating learning outcomes shows how the librarian contributes to the academic program of the school. In addition, the contributions of library student aides should also be evident in physical and virtual spaces.

When library stakeholders know they have ownership of the library, they are more likely to understand what makes the library program successful. As contributors to the library’s success, they have a vested interest in its smooth and effective functioning. As beneficiaries of the quality of the program, it is in their self-interest to help the librarian lead in an exciting learning environment. Involved stakeholders are more likely to support an advocacy appeal—whether it is launched by the librarian or another member of the learning community—because they have a stake in the outcome.

The Library Fishbowl
The school library is a fishbowl. Anyone in the school or community (with proper credentials) can walk into the library at any time and observe the work of the school librarian. For librarians who began their careers as classroom teachers, this can be a bit unnerving at first. A classroom teacher who appears at the library to check out some resources may sit down and watch her colleagues (a school librarian and another classroom teacher) coteach. Administrators who conduct classroom walk-throughs will also observe in the library and will often bring district-level administrators, prospective parents, and community members along with them, particularly in a state-of-the-art library.

Adult volunteers in the library have a bird’s eye view of students’ and classroom teachers’ interactions with the librarian and the library assistant. Volunteers are often students’ family members who share their observations at the Friday night football game or the Little League game on Saturday. Involving adult volunteers in the Library Advisory Committee increases their ownership in the program and will likely lead to positive public relations for the librarian and the program.

Advocacy as a Story
Advocacy is a story that is created, developed, and told in the everyday practices of the school librarian and the library staff. Involving others stakeholders as co-authors of the library story is an essential and strategic component of effective advocacy. By building connections and through collaborative partnerships, school librarians lay the foundation on which the learning community can and will come together to advocate for the library when there is a need. Every member of the community will be able to tell and retell an authentic and convincing story that illustrates the values, practices, and needs of the school library program.

The library advocacy story is not only important for an individual school community. An authentic and effective story reaches out to other schools, across districts, and out into the greater community. It can also reach across the state and around the country or the world. Together, all of our individual advocacy stories can change hearts and minds and make a difference for school librarianship as a profession. “Developing excellence in school library programs and a credible collective advocacy story is a path to sustaining the vitality, integrity, and the future of our profession” (Moreillon 2015, 26).

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. For what specific support, project, resources, or tools would you launch an advocacy appeal today?
  2. How would you frame that appeal in terms of benefits to students, classroom teachers, specialists, and/or administrators?

Work Cited

Moreillon, Judi. 2015. “Quick Remedies Column: Collaborative Library Stories.” School Library Monthly 31 (8): 25-26.

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/