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.

School Librarian Advocacy in the Time of the Coronavirus

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

Megaphone with School Librarian Advocacy Text

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chairman Mendelson’s number is: 202.724.8032

I made that call this morning. What about you?

Image Credit

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

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

School Librarianship in the Time of Coronavirus, Part 2

Image: Equity spelled out in Scrabble letters.I believe a high-quality education is a human right, and literacy is the foundation for all learning. From my perspective, every student and educator in every school across the country and around the globe deserves to have a literacy learning leader in the person of a certified school librarian. However, lack of funding and misplaced priorities at the state-, district-, and school-site levels have resulted in fewer and fewer professional school librarians and a loss of equitable education for all.

Over the past decade, and in some cases longer, many state legislatures have chipped away at district public school funding. (For the unconscionable situation in my state, see the Arizona Center for Economic Progress’s 5/27/20 “K12 Budget Webinar.”) With ever-shrinking funds, school districts have been put in the position of making difficult choices and far too many times school librarian positions have been seen as “extras” and have been eliminated.

In addition, and as unfortunate, our local reliance on property tax-based funding for public schools undermines an equitable education for all. This perpetuates a system that results in “have” and “have not” districts. Districts with less tax revenue struggle to provide complete academic programs, including well-resourced, fully-staffed school libraries, up-to-date technology tools, art, music, and more.

Site-based hiring practices have also negatively impacted school librarian positions. Without leadership from district-level leaders, far too many site-level administrators fail to understand the value of having a professional educator guiding the literacy learning that takes place through the largest, most well-equipped classroom in the school—the school library. If cutting librarians is based on their poor job performance, then the appropriate response would be to put them on plans of improvement or replace them rather than depriving students, educators, and families of professional library services.

What Is a Librarian to Do?
The school closures of spring 2020 created an opportunity for school librarians to demonstrate to administrators, colleagues, and families their many contributions to student learning outcomes whether or not anyone had access to the physical space of the library.

It is in that context that I share indicators that demonstrate the roles effective school librarians fill in their learning communities as leaders, instructional partners, teachers, information specialists, and program administrators. In these five roles, they:

Leader
Culture of Learning

  • Create a sense of belonging, ownership, and inclusion in the physical and virtual spaces of the library.
  • Design a welcoming and universally accessible online library presence.
  • Provide and advocate for equitable access to diverse resources representing all cultures/identities and divergent points of view in multiple genres and formats.

Library Advocacy & Support

  • Collaborate with administrators to assess students’ and classroom teachers’ needs and develop and implement plans to address them.
  • Communicate clearly and frequently with library stakeholders (students, other educators, administrators, families, and greater community) in order to share the impact of school library resources and the library program on student learning.
  • Seek learning community support for library initiatives to improve student learning.

Instructional Partner and Teacher
Collaborative Planning

  • Reach out to teaching teams and attend face-to-face and virtual team meetings to support colleagues’ teaching goals.
  • Reach out to classroom teachers and specialists to coplan and integrate the resources of the library into the classroom curriculum.

Integrated, Collaborative Teaching

  • Coteach with other educators whether face to face or online to engage students in critical thinking, deep learning, and the ethical use of ideas and information.
  • Co-assess student learning outcomes with other educators to improve instructional strategies and resources and ensure continuous improvement for students and educators.

Reading and Information Literacy Instruction

  • Promote reading for information and for personal enjoyment.
  • Coteach how to locate, find, analyze, and use information.
  • Coteach making meaning from texts in all formats (reading comprehension).

Information Specialist
Information Access and Delivery

  • Reach out to colleagues to support educators’ and students’ use of digital devices and tools and electronic resources.
  • Integrate the paper print and virtual resources of the library into the school’s face-to-face and remote academic learning program.
  • Provide instruction to support students and educators in using electronic resources ethically and safely whether from home or from school.
  • Provide online tutorials to support students and educators in using electronic resources effectively.

Program Administrator
Library Management

  • Align the library vision, mission, and goals with those of the school and the district.
  • Use library management software to generate reports and use data to improve library services.

In-School and Remote Collection Aligned to Curriculum, Classroom Teacher, and Student Needs

  • Assess and develop the paper print and electronic library collection to meet the instructional needs of colleagues.
  • Assess and develop the library collection to meet the academic and personal reading needs of students.

Funding & Budget Management

  • Write grants and seek funding to provide students and other educators with resources, including technology devices and tools.
  • Manage the library budget responsibly and help guide district-level purchases to meet the academic program and personal learning needs of students, educators, and families.

Taking Action
Serving as an effective school librarian is a complex job. It requires a passion for learning and literacy and a steadfast commitment to serve the entire learning community. There are exemplary librarians serving at this high level across the U.S. and around the globe. For two examples, see last week’s post School Librarianship in the Time of Coronavirus, Part 1.

If you are an effective school librarian or other educator, please share with me what I missed. If you are a school administrator or school librarian educator, consider how we can shore up the school librarian profession to ensure that all students, educators, and families have equitable, high-quality library services.

Image Credit

Wokandapix. “Equity Fairness Equitable Letters.” Pixabay.com. https://pixabay.com/photos/equity-fairness-equitable-letters-2355700/

School Librarianship in the Time of Coronavirus, Part 1

Perhaps like me, you are an educator who believes that part of achieving restorative social justice in the U.S. involves creating and supporting a high-quality public school system that is equitable and relevant for all preK-12 students regardless of where they live. Such a system would require at least one state-certified school librarian in every public school across this country.

It is in this context that school librarians and our state-level organizations and national association have conducted surveys, held meetings, and worked to develop flyers, posters, and other marketing tools to share how school librarians support student learning—even when the physical space of the library is shuttered and its paper print resources are, for the most part, inaccessible to students, classroom teachers, specialists, and families.

In times such as these, it is important that we look for the bright spots of success that flourish across the U.S. and around the globe as we describe school librarianship in the time of coronavirus and adapt exemplary practices to our own teaching and learning situations.

Two Brilliantly Bright Spots
Last Friday, I attended “Building Strong Partnerships with School and District Leaders,” a webinar sponsored by Future Ready Librarians®. The teacher librarians and administrators from two distinctly different districts shared how they met the challenge of school closures.

Van Meter Community School District (VMCSD) (IA) Superintendent Deron Durflinger and Shannon McClintock Miller, Future Ready Librarians® spokesperson and VMCSD K–12 district teacher librarian shared how their digital learning efforts align with the district’s vision, mission, and culture. Shannon noted that the district was able to build on the communication and collaboration practices that began when they implemented a 1:1 program eleven years ago and fine-tuned in the last few years. In VMCSD, they attribute their success to a focus on empathy and “being there” for their classroom teachers, students, and families. They also noted that having confidence in the support they would receive and “being in it together” gave educators the essential right to fail, learn, and grow.

Vancouver Public Schools (VPS) (WA) teacher librarian Traci Chun and Jeremy Tortora, Associate Principal and Athletic Director, shared how they partnered with one another and their faculty, staff, students, and families to meet the needs of their learning community during the shutdown. Although VPS has had a modified 1:1 program for ten years, it wasn’t the devices alone that Mr. Tortora attributed to their success. He noted that the district and the schools in the district focus on sustaining a culture of collaboration supported by teacher librarians. As Mr. Tortora noted, librarians know the strengths of individual educators and what they need. In addition to tech support, this knowledge helped Traci and other school leaders provide social emotional support for educators.

Both Shannon and Traci shared how the curation tools they had developed with classroom teachers and used with students prior to the pandemic were instrumental in ensuring that students, educators, and families had access to resources and were comfortable using these pathways. In both districts, teacher librarians and administrators were careful not to overwhelm classroom teachers. They provided information and support but enacted the “less is more” concept in terms of covering curriculum and implementing new digital tools.

Reoccurring Themes
As readers of this blog know, I listen and light up when I hear the words “collaboration” and “coteaching.” This webinar did not disappoint. The focus on communication and listening in both districts provided a foundation on which to build their collaborative work. At the building level and at the district level, Shannon, Traci, and all teacher librarians can share their global perspective of the learning community to support educators transitioning to remote learning as well as guide district-level tech tool purchases.

Communication was another reoccurring theme. In both districts, teacher librarians and administrators listened to other educators’ needs and responded promptly and with sensitivity for where the teachers “were at.” They monitored the frequency of their communications and carefully considered the level of support they offered based on individual educators’ needs and capacity to utilize new strategies and tools.

The emphasis on relationship building in a culture of collaboration and clear communication in both districts were in evidence throughout the webinar.

Adapting Practices
Clearly, school closures highlighted the grave injustice created by the inequitable distribution of technology devices and resources needed for students to conduct learning from their homes. In the webinar, moderator Mark Ray noted that some librarians and others listening to this webinar would be thinking about how to adapt the practices in VPS and VMCSD to their own learning environments. I was one of those.

When schools closed in Arizona, 100,000 or more students were without the necessary devices to engage in remote learning. In Tucson Unified School District (TUSD), 18,000 lacked these tools. With about 40,000 students, TUSD, the second largest district in the state, serves an urban, high-needs student population. The district scrambled to provide devices to all students and families. For more on the specifics of the situation in our state, see my 5/15/20 op-ed in the Arizona Daily Star: “What the pandemic has taught us about K-12 schooling in Arizona.”

In light of this situation, my big take-away from the FRL webinar was how many years VMCSD and VPS had been (unknowingly?) “preparing” for the pandemic. While they were ramping up their 1:1 programs and their technology tools support for students and educators, they were focused on the big picture—their districts’ vision and mission and developing a culture of learning and collaboration that carried them through this spring’s school closures.

Bottom Line
It was in this network of communication, caring, and sharing that their efforts succeeded. It was collaboration at all levels—among students, educators and teacher librarians, administrators, and families—that made their move to fully online teaching and learning a success.

Collaboration is the difference we can make… with the support of our administrators. Shannon McClintock Miller

Say, yes! and “be brave before perfect.” Traci Chun

Thank you, Shannon and Superintendent Deron Durflinger, Traci and Associate Principal Tortora for sharing your exemplary work. Thank you, Mark Ray, for moderating this webinar. I highly recommend that all school librarians view this webinar and reflect on their capacity for leadership as they plan and go forward into the 2020-21 academic year.

Image Credit: From the personal collection of Judi Moreillon

Professional Book Review: Dare to Lead

In her book, Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts (2018), Brené Brown sets out to answer this question: “What would it look like to combine courage, connection and meaning with the world of work?” (2018, xvii). This question could and perhaps should be asked by all of us. Brown’s research process includes conducting and analyzing interviews. When asking senior business leaders what they would change, if anything, about the ways people are leading today, they replied, “We need brave leaders and more courageous cultures” (2018, 6).

Brown defines a leader as “anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential” (2018, 4). I believe this is what school librarian leaders do as we develop our own knowledge and skills and use our toolkits to influence others to help all library stakeholders, including ourselves, to reach our potential, our capacity.

Four Skills Sets
According to Brown, there are four skill sets at the heart of daring leadership: rumbling with vulnerability, living into our values, braving trust, and learning to rise. In her book she describes each of these in detail. Here is a snapshot:

Rumbling with Vulnerability: “Courage and fear are not mutually exclusive. Most of us feel brave and afraid at the same time” (2018, 10). In a “rumble,” people show their vulnerability, risk what is important to them, in order to build, honor, and keep relationships open while solving problems (addressing the hard stuff). Learning to feel fear and refusing to let it armor or stop you helps you demonstrate courage and influence the courageous behaviors of others. Rumbling with vulnerability is taking the risk being truly “seen.”

As Brown notes, “developing a disciplined practice of rumbling with vulnerability gives leaders the strength and emotional stamina to dare greatly” (2018, 167). She shared a brief case study vignette of Dr. Sanée Bell, principal, Morton Ranch Junior High, Katy, Texas. Bell, a principal who is rumbling with vulnerability said this, “I changed the narrative of our school by growing power with people through distributive and collaborative leadership, and by empowering others to lead. Ultimately, being true to who I am as a person, respecting my journey, and owning my story have given me the opportunity to lead in a deeper, more meaningful way” (2018, 181). According to the school’s website, Ellen Barnes serves as the school librarian. I would love to talk with her about working and coleading with her principal.

Living into Our Values: I think the leading quote for this section is so very true. “Who we are is how we lead” (2018, 165). I believe that our core values in librarianship are “who we are” and are our source of strength and power. When we remain true to our values, we can respond to tough conversations and difficult situations.

As Brown writes, “living into our values means that we do more than profess our values, we practice them. We walk our talk—we are clear about what we believe and hot important and we take care that our intentions, words, thoughts, and behaviors align with those beliefs” (2018, 186). She provides three steps toward this practice. First, we must be able to clearly articulate our values. Brown defines this as integrity. “Integrity is choosing courage over comfort; it’s choosing what is right over what’s fun, fast, or easy; and it’s practicing your values not just professing them” (2018, 189). Secondly, others must see our values evidence in our behavior. And thirdly, we must develop empathy for others and cheer them on while practicing self-compassion for our own steps and missteps toward consistently practicing what we preach.

Braving Trust: Brown cites Charles Feltman who authored The Thin Book of Trust. Feltman defines trust as “choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions” (quoted in Brown 2018, 222.) Trust is at the heart of relationships and must first be given to others in order for it to develop.

She provides seven categories in her “Braving Inventory,” behaviors that demonstrate trust: establishing boundaries, reliability, accountability, value (keeping confidences), integrity, nonjudgment, and generosity (225-226). Trusting requires courage and “building courage with a partner or in a team is more powerful than doing it alone” (Brown 2018, 227).

Learning to Rise
Resilience is essential for all of us today and is especially critical for decision-makers. “Grounded confidence is the messy process of learning and unlearning, practicing and failing, and surviving a few misses” (2018, 165). Leaders will inevitably make missteps. Owning and learning from mistakes is the hallmark of a true leader.

Standing Up for Our Values
For me, Brown’s work speaks to the need for all educators and school librarians, in particular, to stand up for our values. In our role as leaders, our library values will be put to the test if decisions are made that limit students’ access to the library or threaten their privacy or confidentiality; if books or other resources are challenged or banned, or students’ choices for reading materials are restricted in some other way. When we lead from the library as the center for literacy learning, our values will be tested.

Brown writes that daring leaders who live into their values are never silent about hard things. “Our values should be so crystallized in our minds, so infallible, so precise and clear, and unassailable, that they don’t feel like a choice—they are simply a definition of who we are in our lives. In those hard moments, we know that we are going to pick what’s right, right now, over what is easy. Because that is integrity—choosing courage over comfort; it’s choosing what’s right over what’s fun, fast, or easy; and it’s practicing your values not just professing them” (2018, 189).

There is abundant food for thought in Brené Brown’s work. I invite you to dive in and find the wisdom she has collected through her research and consulting practice. Read Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts or Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone (2017). Search for her TED Talks or YouTube videos. You will find inspiration for our work.

Work Cited

Brown, Brené. 2018. Dare to Lead. Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. Vermillion: London.

Side Note: In the month of February, I will write about Brown’s Dare to Lead section focused on empathy (pp. 118 – 163). For me, this was one of the most powerful components of the book. For school librarians, her work in this area relates directly to relationships with library stakeholders as well as to collection development.

End of the Semester Reflection

Monday evening was the last virtual synchronous class session for IS516: School Library Media Center. This week iSchool graduate students will be sharing their course learning in an online discussion forum . As a co-learner in this class, I am taking the opportunity to reflect here and will share this post with the class.

Time
There never seems to be enough time to accomplish all that we set out to do in a single class. All educators must prioritize. Inevitably the instructor’s values combined with the course description and stated student learning outcomes figure into those decisions.

Course Content and Textbook
To put this course in context, IS516: School Library Media Center focuses on instruction through the library program. Currently at the iSchool, school library administration topics are addressed in students’ practicums and in a general library management course. It was this focus on instruction that led me to apply to teach this course.

This was a golden opportunity for me to use my book Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy (ALA 2018) in a graduate-level course for school librarians. I feel luck to have had this opportunity.

I believe the book offered students a framework for exemplary practice. Each of the chapters fit into a flow of knowledge, skills, and behaviors that can lead school librarians into leadership roles on their campuses. Last June at ALA, I received one of the highest compliments of my career from a colleague who teaches school librarians at another university. She said, “We recommend your book to prospective students. If they see themselves serving at this level of leadership, we encourage them to enter our program.”

For me, the downside of using my book was that we could not take full advantage of the discussion questions, activities, and reflection prompts. The book was intended to be read one chapter a month, digested, and reflected upon over a nine-month period. Some of the questions, activities, and prompts are most effective for practicing school librarians rather than candidates. That said, I hope students in IS516 and other preservice courses will keep, revisit, and use the book in their practice of school librarianship. Perhaps they will share it with a principal or other decision-maker to start a conversation about how school librarians can serve as leaders.

Pre- and Post-Course Surveys
I asked students to complete a pre-course and a post-course survey. All students completed the pre-course survey; fourteen out of nineteen completed the post-course survey at the time of this blog post.

On the survey, I listed in alphabetical order the five roles identified by the American Association of School Librarians and asked students to rank them in importance: information specialist, instructional partner, leader, program administrator, and teacher. While leader remained number one by a narrow margin, both information specialist and instructional partner increased their rankings in the number one and number two slots. I assume this was a direct result of the content of this course and the assignment tasks as well.

The survey asked: “In your role as a school librarian, who will be your most critical ally and advocate, and why?”

Position  Responses
Classroom Teachers

7

District Level Librarian Supervisor and Site Instructional Leader

1

Principals

4

Teachers and principal

2

I believe the focus on instruction in this course put the emphasis on classroom teacher colleagues. I agree that classroom teachers and school librarians must collaborate and coteach in order to move the work of the school librarian into the center of the school’s academic program. This can be started without the explicit support of the school principal. But in terms of long-term success, in my experience and in school library research, the principal’s support for the school librarian and the library program are absolutely essential.

Students’ Top Priorities and Lingering Questions
The survey asked: “What is your top priority in maximizing school librarian leadership?” It was compelling to me that many students’ top priorities and their lingering questions were directly related. Top priorities included increasing understanding and gaining respect for the roles of the school librarian, the perception of administrators and colleagues that the librarian is an equal partner with classroom teachers, building relationships, and launching collaboration.

Many lingering questions focused on how to begin collaboration conversations and launch coteaching as an expected practice in their buildings. I would ask students to return to the “diffusion of innovations” Activity 2 on page 35 in our textbook. Who are the most promising partners? Who are the most strategic in terms of their ability to influence colleagues? To students who asked about collaborating in large schools, I would recommend identifying someone in the English language arts department, preferably the chair, as a first effort since every student must take ELA-R classes. (That was my strategy when I served in a high school with 1,800 students.)

Others asked about changing school cultures, (traditional) perceptions of school librarians’ roles or teaching as a “solo” activity. Although it seems like a simplistic response, everyone is from “Missouri,” the Show Me State. If you can show the benefits of clasroom-library collaboration to classroom teachers and students, you can begin your effort to create a collaborative culture of learning. When you strengthen that effort by partnering with administrators to help every school stakeholder reach their capacity, you have a recipe for successful change.

One student also wrote about advocating for full-time state-certified school librarians in every school in their district. (I invite you to follow the progress of the Tucson Unified School District School Librarian Restoration Project). Another asked about moving to a completely flexible schedule. Again, advocates for change must demonstrate how the need for professional school librarians and schedules that allow students to access the library at the point of need make a positive difference in student learning outcomes and in classroom teachers’ satisfaction and involvement in the library program and its resources, including its most valuable resource—the librarian.

My Reflection
The first time an instructor teaches a course can involve a steep learning curve. I was happy that I could align my book’s content with assignments that are prescribed for IS516. This course combined content from three courses I have previously taught at other universities. I was able to revise and update resources from those courses and identified or created many additional resources as well.

I created checklists and rubrics for all of the assignments in the course. All teachers learn from the first time out with assessment tools. This semester was no exception for me. Thank you to students for teaching me where the gaps were and where I can (and have) made improvements for next time.

The two-hour weekly synchronous meetings were new to me in a 16-week course. I still find this format challenging in terms of ensuring interactivity in that time slot and keeping our conversations fresh over the course of the semester. I especially appreciated students’ willingness to explore Twitter chats as a learning platform. Our chats were an ideal way for everyone to share in real time. They were also a way for me to learn more about what students were gleaning from the textbook and how they were connecting it to their current and future practice. I hope students will continue to grow professionally using this tool. This semester, I also learned about some new technologies and their applications in classrooms and libraries from students’ work products.

I am grateful to the students in IS516 and for the iSchool for giving me the opportunity to teach this course. I appreciate IS516 students for co-creating a culture of collaboration within our course. From my perspective, the course focus on instruction and my emphasis on leadership through coteaching combined to make this learning experience influential for students’ current and future practice. It also offered me the opportunity to practice what I preach—continuous learning. I will apply my learning in future courses with graduate students and in my work with school librarians practicing in the field.

“The conditions are right and ripe for school librarians to maximize their leadership roles in building collaborative school cultures. There is an urgent need for students, educators, administrators, and community to work together to create dynamic learning environments” (Moreillon 2018, x).

Our profession needs the best prepared candidates to serve school library stakeholders through the library program I believe IS516 Fall 2019 students are prepared to create optimal conditions for teaching and learning and for taking leadership roles in their schools.

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

Image Credit
mrkrndvs. “Isolation vs. Collaboration.” Flickr.com, https://www.flickr.com/photos/113562593@N07/35978055230

Leadership Twitter Chat

This fall graduate students in “IS516: School Library Media Center” have participated in bimonthly Twitter chats. The chats are based on the pull quotes from chapters in Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy (ALA 2018).

We invite you to join us our final chat of the fall semester on Monday, December 9, 2019 from 7:00 to 7:30 p.m. Central Time. Chat questions are posted on this blog on the Wednesday before our Monday chats.

December 9, 2019: #is516 Twitter Chat: Leadership

 This post is adapted from the Maximizing School Librarian Leadership preview podcast.

I believe school librarians have three converging pathways that point the way to leadership. School librarians are culture builders, professional developers, and changemakers.

School librarians are culture builders.
When we create a welcoming, accepting, risk-taking space for exploration in the library, our influence can spread throughout the building. With smiles, hellos, and a service orientation toward all library users, the library, the largest classroom in the school, can be as important as the front office in creating a climate of welcome.

With resources reflecting diverse perspectives, the library can be a place where learners – of all ages – come to explore their own worldview and the worldviews of others.

And with a commitment to exploration, the school librarian can model risk-taking—accepting missteps as an essential aspect of learning and growing from mistakes in order to fail forward. A whole-school, or systems thinking, approach helps school librarians serve as effective culture-builders.

School librarians are professional developers.
Through sharing our expertise and integrating the library’s resources into the classroom curriculum, school librarians practice reciprocal mentorship with the classroom teachers and specialists with whom we form effective instructional partnerships.

Collaborators coteach multiple literacies, inquiry, deeper, and digital learning. Educators model and coteach skills, such as collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity. We model and coteach dispositions, such as flexibility, openness, and persistence.

Through coplanning, coteaching, and coassessing student learning and our own instructional proficiency, we practice the best kind of professional development—job-embedded. As collaborating educators, we develop our craft by working as equal partners; we coteach with classroom teachers, real students, actual curriculum, available resources and tools, with the real supports, and within the constraints of our everyday teaching environments.

School librarians are also changemakers.
We understand that the teaching and learning landscape is in a constant state of change. Lifelong learning is an essential behavior for all education stakeholders. Preparing students for futures that we cannot imagine takes a leap of faith and a willingness to accept change as the defining feature of all our lives.

Rather than sitting back and waiting for change to happen to us, changemakers are proactive. We strategize; we experiment; we test and retest until we create learning environments and opportunities that engage, excite, and support students as agents in their own education.

All three of these pathways to leadership require collaboration.

Effective school librarians can maximize leadership opportunities by collaborating with others—with administrators, educators, and students, and with family and community members.

#is516 Chat Questions (for copy and paste)

Q.1: How do you/can you show a commitment to continuous change/professional growth? #is516

Q.2: Why is collegiality so important? #is516

Q.3: How do you bridge Ss in-school and out-of-school lives? #is516

Q.4: How can you help develop an effective teaching force in your school? #is516

Please respond with A.1, A.2, A.3, A.4 and bring your ideas, resources, experience, questions, and dilemmas to our conversation so we can learn with and from you!

For previous chat questions and archives, visit our IS516 course wiki page.

Thank you!

Post Adapted from
Moreillon, Judi. 2018. Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Book Study: Preview Podcast. https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/moreillon/episodes/2018-08-05T19_58_04-07_00

Advocacy Twitter Chat

This fall graduate students in “IS516: School Library Media Center” are participating in bimonthly Twitter chats. The chats are based on the pull quotes from chapters in Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy (ALA 2018).

We invite you to join us our chat on Monday, November 11, 2019 from 7:00 to 7:30 p.m. Central Time. Chat questions are posted on this blog on the Wednesday before our Monday chats.

November 11, 2019: #is516 Twitter Chat: Advocacy

“Good leaders get people to work for them.
Great leaders get people to work for a cause that is greater than any of them—and then for one another in service of that cause”
(Pearce 2013, 40).

Leadership and advocacy go hand in hand; both are necessary for achieving future ready learning. Leaders seek to influence the attitudes and behaviors of the members of their team as well as other stakeholders in their endeavors. Trust is the foundation on which these changes are built. School librarians can be coleaders with principals to positively affect school climate and culture. They do so through developing trusting classroom-library instructional partnerships.

“Leadership is about social influence, enlisting the engagement and support of others in achieving a common task” (Haycock 2017, 11).  One common task of school leaders is to ensure continuous improvement in teaching and learning. Working together, school leaders and stakeholders are able to transform traditional pedagogy into future ready education for the benefit of students. This is a cause and an effort that requires the commitment and dedication of a team that includes administrators, educators, students, families, and community.

Advocacy begins when library programs are aligned with the vision, mission, and strategic plan for their schools and districts. School librarians match library programs with the agenda and priorities of library stakeholders. Working from that shared vision, mission, and plan, school librarians codevelop a vital, integrated, and results-oriented school library program.

School librarians have the responsibility to educate stakeholders about the value added by their teaching and leadership. They serve as “centralized” instructional partners who work with all school library stakeholders. This global impact gives school librarians opportunities to positively impact learning and teaching throughout the building. School librarians collect and share data and use promotional materials to educate stakeholders about the benefits that result from the learning opportunities that happen through the library program. This is the most effective way to advocate for the library program and build a cadre of advocates among library stakeholders.

#is516 Chat Questions
These are the questions that will guide our chat (for copy and paste):

Q.1: For what instructional improvement would you/are you advocating? #is516

Q.2: What does it mean to make advocacy “an organic part” of your daily practice? #is516

Q.3: How do you embrace advocacy as a long-term activity? #is516

Q.4: What does the term “future ready” learning mean to you? #is516

Please respond with A.1, A.2, A.3, A.4 and bring your ideas, resources, experience, questions, and dilemmas to our conversation so we can learn with and from you!

For previous chat questions and archives, visit our IS516 course wiki page.

Thank you!

Works Cited

Haycock, Ken. 2017. “Leadership from the Middle: Building Influence for Change.” In The Many Faces of School Library Leadership, 2nd ed., edited by Sharon Coatney and Violet H. Harada, 1–12. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Pearce, Terry. 2013. Leading Out Loud: A Guide for Engaging Others in Creating the Future, 3rd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Next Steps

Dear Maximizing School Librarianship Readers and Blog Post Followers,

We/I have come to the conclusion of a ten-month cycle of book study blog posts to support my book Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy (MSLL) (ALA 2018). When I wrote the book, composing posts and podcasts related to each chapter in the book was a commitment I made to myself and to readers. I planned for blog posts by interspersing four pull quotes in each chapter. After the introductory posts, I have based each blog post on a pull quote. The content of the podcasts evolved beyond my own recordings to include interviews with selected school librarian leaders.

This photograph was taken at a California beach in May, 2019. The smaller footprints belong to my grandson who was fifteen months old at the time. The larger footprints belong to his dad, my son-in-law. This image came to me when I was walking with them on the beach and thinking about this final MSLL blog post. I knew I wanted to address “next steps” but it wasn’t until I saw their footprints that I realized how I could so.

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” Lao Tzu

Small First Steps
It has often been said that change agents should start small; that the best strategy to sustain long-term improvements is to take measured steps. When you come to the realization that it is time for you and the library program to move forward in a new direction, you are ready to begin a change process. Aligning your steps with the goals of your administrator, school, or district is the most effective way to make sure that your “library” goals will help others succeed. Remembering the charge to serve others serves school librarians well.

Having a plan helps you chart and measure your progress. Developing your plan with school library stakeholders is a wise choice. As a team, you may take two steps forward and one step back, but if you keep your goals in mind, you will always be able to see your reality in terms of forward progress (see Chapter 9: Figure 9.3: Your Plan and Reality.) When missteps and reversals happen, having a supportive team can give you encouragement and ideas for taking a new step and moving forward again.

Each step you take—with purpose—is one that leads to your goal. Your goal may be related to students’ or classroom teachers’ equitable access to the resources of the library and your expertise. Your goal may be a flexible schedule that offers students opportunities for deeper learning through the library program. Your goal may be increasing access to and the effective use of technology tools for learning and teaching. It may involve informal or formal professional development, or grant writing, or an advocacy campaign. Whatever your goal, each step along the way can get you closer to your desired outcome.

“Anything can be achieved in small, deliberate steps. But there are times you need the courage to take a great leap;
you can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.”
Former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George

Crossing Chasms
Great leaps are possible. These steps require courage; they also require a community of support. Large-scale change in any school should be led or colead with the school principal. Again, aligning “great leaps” with initiatives underway at the site or district level gives “library initiatives” a leg up.

One leap that many elementary librarians have taken involves scheduling. Flexible scheduling allows for school librarians to reach their capacity as leaders, instructional partners, information specialists, and teachers. A flexible schedule based on classroom-library collaboration for instruction makes deeper learning for students possible. It also helps school librarians measure and document their impact on student learning outcomes. Without this evidence, school librarians’ value may not be recognized.

One leap that secondary librarians have taken involves classroom-library collaboration for instruction; it involves coteaching with classroom teachers in more than one subject-area department. Classroom teachers and school librarians plan for learning from an interdisciplinary perspective. “Each disciplinary perspective contributes specific concepts or findings as well as specific modes of thinking to shed light on a particular problem” (Wineburg and Grossman 2000, 27). This type of learning design mirrors they way people work and live outside of school (see also Chapter 5: Figure 5.1: Cross-Discipline and Discipline-Specific Questioning Matrix).

The “size” of your steps forward may be irrelevant. Their impact on teaching and learning depends on the culture and goals of the community you serve. Only you, along with library stakeholders, can decide if a step is a small one or a big one. Plan, take action, reflect, revise, and repeat in order to bring your vision into reality.

Advocacy and the School Librarian Leadership Blog
Each school librarian is the representative of the profession for the students, educators, administrators, families, and community members they serve. In your daily practice, you show others why a state-certified school librarian is an essential member of every school faculty. With your expertise and extensive literacies toolkit, you have the opportunity to fill a niche that would otherwise be lacking to the detriment of students, colleagues, and families.

The blog posts I have authored and the podcasts I have published to support a year-long book study are available and linked from the menu at the top of School Librarian Leadership. com. These resources will be available for future MSLL book readers. In many ways, for me, this feels like the end of an extra long teaching semester.

When I taught at Texas Woman’s University, I often pulled out and posted this quote at the end of each semester. (It is one that I had hanging in our library office when I was a practicing school librarian.)

“True teachers use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross; then, having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create bridges of their own.”
Nikos Kazantzakis

In your role as a school librarian leader, I know you will build bridges/connections for learning with the students, colleagues, and families you serve. I know you will reach out into the wider community of librarians and library stakeholders to move our profession forward. The school librarian profession is in good hands with professionals such as you who are continuously developing their craft, deepening their knowledge, and growing their leadership.

I invite you to use the MSLL book study posts and podcasts in any way that supports your work. I also invite you to continue following this blog. My posts from June 10th on will be aligned with the courses I’m teaching, research, events, and issues related to effective professional school librarian leadership.

Thank you for reading and listening and most of all, for leading.

Work Cited

Wineburg, Sam, and Pam Grossman. Eds. 2000. Interdisciplinary Curriculum: Challenges to Implementation. New York: Teachers College Press.

Collegiality and Teamwork

Chapter 9 Podcast: Sustaining Connections in a Collaborative Culture

Collegiality and teamwork are essential for future ready educators. In a collegial work environment, coworkers see each other as “companions” or equals. They cooperate and share responsibility for their collective goals and objectives. Collegiality implies friendship, caring, and respect for work mates. Teamwork implies that colleagues work together in an effective and efficient way to accomplish a task or achieve a goal. Members of a team may make unique contributions to the success of the work but all will take “credit” for the outcome.

Peter Senge and his colleagues note that “schools that learn” are in a continual process growth and change. As such, educators in these schools must exhibit collegiality and engage in teamwork in an open and trusting environment. Through developing shared values and common agreements, formal and informal school leaders ensure that the environment remains conducive to collective work.

Competitive Collaboration
It may seem counter-intuitive but principal leader George Couros advocates for a bit of competition among colleagues. He promotes what he calls “competitive collaboration,” in which “educators push and help one another to become better” (Couros 2015, 73). “Competitive collaboration” can help ensure that faculty learn with and from one another, cheer for each other’s achievements, support each other as team members who take risks individually and collectively, fail forward, and grow.

“Competitive collaboration” requires a high level of trust. The willingness to risk and fail in front of one’s colleagues is not easy for most adults. When principals, as lead learners, are the first to demonstrate this level of openness and transparency, it will be easier for faculty members, including librarians, to follow suit. In an environment of trust and shared commitment to each other’s growth, the result of competitive collaboration can be improved student learning and continuous improvement in educators’ instructional practices.

Sharing Data
“Along the way, faculty will share their practices and student learning outcomes data more openly. They will coplan, coteach, and collectively reflect on practice. They will build deeper and more trusting relationships in a culture of continuous learning” (Moreillon 2018, 50). If educators are to succeed at solving individual instructional challenges and schoolwide issues, they must openly share data. Again, it is not easy to actually document a misstep or failure.

Still, sharing data can be a pathway to engaging colleagues in helping individual educators reflect on their practice in new ways. Others can “show” us our teaching from another perspective and suggest strategies for revising our instruction, changing up resources, or making other improvements that can better meet students’ needs. Principals and supervisors can take this role. When we break down the walls between our classrooms and libraries, coteachers can also offer new perspectives on thorny issues.

Building Capacity
Creating the conditions in which all members of the learning community can reach capacity is a primary function of the school principal. School librarians can colead alongside their principals in capacity building. They “can serve as models for continuous learning while they engage in professional development (PD) with colleagues. School librarians help all library stakeholders reach their capacity” (Moreillon 2018, xiii).

One of the on-going challenges for school librarians is that they are not necessarily working in contexts that allow them to achieve their capacity or help students, classroom teachers, and administrators reach theirs. In a fixed schedule library where school librarians are providing planning time for classroom teachers, school librarians cannot achieve their capacity as instructional partners. School librarians who lack library staff, especially a full-time library assistant, cannot fully serve their learning communities if they spend their days doing clerical work rather than teaching. School libraries without adequate budgets cannot provide students, educators, and families with up-to-date books and resources to meet their academic and personal learning needs.

As noted in Chapter 8, leadership and advocacy go hand in hand. School librarian leaders will continuously advocate and enlist stakeholders in advocating for the most effective library scheduling, staffing, and budgets. They will use their voices and influence to build and sustain effective library programs in which collegiality and teamwork can thrive.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. What is your response to George Couros’s idea of “competitive collaboration”?
  2. What are your/your principal’s specific behaviors that build trust in your learning community?

 

Works Cited

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

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