Read or Die: A Book Review and a Call to Action

It seems appropriate to wrap up 2019 School Library Month with a book review. I met author Daphne Russell on Twitter and in an article printed in the Arizona Daily Star: “This Tucson educator is changing lives by giving students books they love.” When we met face to face, Daphne presented me with a copy of her memoir Read or Die: A Story of Survival, Hope, and How a Life Was Saved One Book at a Time. A retired middle-school reading teacher, Daphne attributes Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief with her epiphany—she needed to “teach as though books save lives.” She changed her reading curriculum from whole class text sets to individual, targeted books to motivate, inspire, and meet the literacy needs of each student.

Individualizing Reading Promotion
All educators know that trust is the basis for authentic relationships. This is especially true for students who have been marginalized in the school system (and society). By the time they reach middle school, students who are non-readers face enormous learning obstacles. In her memoir, Daphne makes a compelling case for individualizing reader’s advisory. Read or Die is a no-holds-barred sometimes gritty, sometimes irreverent depiction of everyday life for students, educators, and administrators in an urban middle school. In her gripping story, Daphne shares how the one-on-one connection between a student and an educator (her) made the difference in growing students’ confidence and self-perception as readers.

Daphne thinks of her students as “bookthreads” – baby worms who, in the past, have been unsuccessful with books. She describes her job: “to coax, prod, goad, cheer, push, shove, and beg my bookthreads to become bookworms” (83). Most students at Mission Heights Middle School (all names in the book are pseudonyms) live at or below the poverty level. They do not have books in their homes. The students in Daphne’s classes have never read an entire book. They get “behind” in school because they can’t or don’t read, do homework, or manage in-school learning and their outside-of-school lives. They skip school or ditch class. Many will dropout before high school graduation.

Student Choice
When the book opens, Abel has just joined the class. He can read, but chooses not to. He is failing his classes. “Abel is twenty-eight days behind everyone else, and I (Daphne) need to get enough books inside him to get his lungs to work again, mend his shattered heart, and kick the shit out of apathy” (7). With compassion and a take-no-prisoners plan, Daphne guides Abel one book at a time until he is reading (breathing) on his own—until he can say of an author: “Every sentence he writes it like poetry. The book speaks to me” (208).

With student choice as the answer to the question of how she can help students chart a positive life future, Daphne performs daily triage. She invites students to sit on the stool next to her desk for individual reading conferences during which they convince her they have read and understood the books she dispenses. She references what peers are reading and encourages students to recommend books to one another.

Under Daphne’s tutelage, students in her classes come to recognize how reading books changes them. They learn they have to do the work—make the commitment to read—in order for books to work their magic. Daphne celebrates their successes and yet, “a teacher’s heart is a delicate thing, tiny pieces allotted for so many kids over so many years. People ask me how I can possibly retire, but this is why. I cannot do this forever. Abel just took a giant chunk, and it is too much for a heart to take” (209).

Sad but True
Daphne taught in a school district where I served as a school librarian for ten of my thirteen years in K-12 practice. When she and I met, I described how school librarians also strive to find the “right” book for individual students and support classroom teachers in effective reading motivation and comprehension strategy instruction. She replied, “In all my (28!) years teaching, I never had a librarian like that.”

I know for a fact that for some of those years, Daphne’s schools were not staffed by professional state-certified school librarians. While paraprofessional library assistants can be excellent at getting books into the hands of kids, others do not have the knowledge or skills to do so. In fact, it’s not in their job description. I also know that for some of those years, she served in schools with professional school librarians who must not have reached out to Daphne and her students—who missed the opportunity to maximize their influence in their schools.

Promoting books and reading and providing reader’s advisory is most certainly in the school librarian’s job description. It deeply concerns me that Daphne never had a warm, friendly book-pushing, collaborating school librarian who helped her and her students succeed.

The Math
Elementary school librarians who work in a fixed schedule library “see” students regularly for approximately 40 minutes per week. If there are 36 weeks in a 180-day school year, fixed schedule school librarians see students about 24 hours for “library time” over the course of an academic year. How much individual reader’s advisory do they have time to do when, all at once at whole-class book checkout time, an entire class of students could benefit from her/his guidance? Even if students are using self-checkout… and the classroom teacher is not present to offer reader’s advisory alongside the librarian, what kind of quality time do librarians have to spend with individual students?

Elementary classroom teachers, on the other hand, teach students up to 30 hours per week (minus other “specials”), or 1,080 hours (minus specials and testing) a year. Elementary school librarians who work on a flexible schedule with open library for book checkout will teach students for in-depth periods of learning but may go weeks between classroom-library cotaught lessons or units of instruction. The number of hours these school librarians teach students will vary widely. In my experience with an open library that allows students to access library materials throughout the day, school librarians have more time to provide high-quality individualized reader’s advisory.

At middle and high schools, classroom teachers teach students up to one hour per day for 180 days per year, or 180 hours (minus testing). Like elementary school librarians on flexible schedules, secondary school librarians will teach students for in-depth periods of learning but may go weeks between classroom-library cotaught lessons or units of instruction. The number of hours these school librarians teach students will vary widely and again; with open library the opportunities are there for individualized reader’s advisory.

My takeaway from the math: Classroom teachers and school librarians do not have a great deal of time to develop students as readers, thinkers, and people who take action to create a better world.

If school librarians at any instructional level hope to influence students’ enjoyment of reading, reading proficiency, and successful quest for accurate information, they must create opportunities for individualized reader’s advisory. They must acknowledge the greater influence of the classroom teacher on student learning. They must “let” classroom teachers be the first to bring new books into the classroom to share with students. They must coplan and coteach with classroom teachers and specialists. School librarian leaders must collaborate.

National School Library Month
The theme of this year’s National School Library Month is Everybody Belongs @Your School Library. As we come to the end of the month and this annual spotlight on school libraries, it is essential that all school librarians reflect on how their work is perceived in their school learning community.

  • Are students, classroom teachers, administrators, and families comfortable when they walk through the library doors?
  • Do school library stakeholders feel ownership in “our” library?
  • Do library policies, such as those for overdue books and library fines, set up barriers to library use?
  • Do library rules, such as those regarding food, drinks, and technology use, create the impression that youth are not welcome in the library?
  • Do classroom teachers and specialists reach out for partnerships with the school librarian?

Every school librarian must commit to meeting with their School Library Advisory Committee composed of students, colleagues, administrators, and families or commit to starting such a committee. By meeting with, listening to, and taking direction from the people we serve, school libraries and librarians may go a long way toward building the relationships and developing the policies that can propel the library into the center of the learning culture in our schools.

Bottom line: Daphne Russell made independent reading the focal point of her classroom curriculum. She also taught students reading comprehension strategies to help them become more successful independent and lifelong readers. I wonder what could have happened for the students she served if she had collaborated with one or more school librarians to share her commitment to creating a culture of reading in her classroom. I suspect that by aligning their goals, pooling their resources, and acting in concert, more lifelong readers might have been made—more students may have been saved in a school-wide culture of reading.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. What is your commitment to reader’s advisory for individual students through the library program?
  2. How do you support classroom teachers as they engage in reader’s advisory with students?

Work Cited

Russell, Daphne. 2018. Read or Die: A Story of Survival, Hope, and How a Life Was Saved One Book at a Time. Tucson, AZ: Wheatmark.

For more information, follow Daphne Russel on Twitter: @gtwybookpusher or visit her non-profit Books Save Lives website: https://www.bookssavelives.org/

 

 

 

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Although I believe it is essential to regularly reflect on various aspects of our lives, the new year is just one of those times when some of us are “programmed” to take our reflections especially seriously.

This year, I owe a great debt to Dr. Maryanne Wolf for my New Year’s “professional life” reflection and commitment to future action. In the past four weeks, I have read, made notes, reflected, reread passages, and written about her latest book Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World (2018).

This is not the first time in my life that questions about reading in the digital age have kept me awake at night. In 2008, I read Dr. Wolf’s book Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. Since that time, I have often found myself wondering about how, what, and why we read is changing our personal and professional lives as well as our national and global society.

The Past: Cautionary Tales
Way back in 2010, I presented “A Time to Skim, a Time to Read, or How to Convince Surfers to Take a Deep Dive” at the School Library Journal Summit in Chicago. In that brief talk, I advocated for slow reading—what I would now call “deep reading.” (If I were sharing that talk today, I would advocate even louder!)

The next year, two books greatly influenced my thinking on reading in the digital age. William Powers’ book Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age (2011) made me think about taking time away from my devices in order to create time for reflection and perhaps access to my own imagination and creativity. Later that year, I read Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (2011) and furthered my quest to find online and offline balance in my life.

In 2012, I coauthored an article with Cassandra Barnett for Knowledge Quest in which we connected school libraries to Nicholas Carr’s work. We wrote if Carr “is correct, we should nurture the fertile thinking time that can happen between input and innovation by providing students the option of a peaceful environment in the midst of the action in the school library” (Moreillon and Barnett 2012, 2).

Sherry Turkle’s research and writing about the impact of technology on relationships and empathy also influenced my thinking that year… Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (2011) and more recently, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age (2015). Turkle’s writing and TED Talks created fertile ground for planting the seeds of Maryanne Wolf’s latest cautionary tale.

The Present: What We Don’t Yet Know
Wolf is not a technophobe. She is involved with others in developing technology tools to support young readers. TinkRBook involves something called “textual tinkerability” that encourages readers to interact with text (145). Her Curious Learning research project is looking at apps for learning oral language (147).

But Wolf stuck a chord with me when she made this observation in Reader, Come Home. “No self-respecting internal review board of any university would allow a researcher to do what our culture has already done with no adjudication or previous evidence: introduce a complete, quasi-addictive set of attention-compelling devices without knowing the possible side effects and ramifications for the subjects (our kids)” (Wolf 2018, 125).

We have indeed entered into a grand technological experiment with the minds, bodies, and futures of the youth who were/are born into a digitally dominant U.S. society. We want them to have all of the benefits that the technological world offers—access, speed, connection, and possibilities as yet unknown. Yet, we also want them to know the affordances of the analog world—a world in which information and life move at a slower pace, a space that may allow more time for critical thinking, creativity, reflection, and innovation.

If you are curious to learn more about Maryanne Wolf’s work, read her November 16, 2018 Science Friday article and then seek out a copy of her book!

The Future: Transformation (Marrying Values and Reflection with Action)
I truly believe, as Carr (2011) noted, schools and libraries are the epicenter for transforming learning. With effective, state-certified school librarian leaders serving the multiple literacy needs of students, colleagues, administrators, families, and communities, schools can reach their capacity to prepare youth for living and working in a connected world. School librarians can collaborate to ensure students can read, analyze, use, and create new knowledge online and offline. We can help them find their personal sweet spot—a balance between life on the screen and life off of it.

Transforming our schools and libraries is the school librarian’s path to creating opportunities for transforming our world. For my part, I recommit myself to the 2018-2019 Maximizing School Librarian Leadership blog-based book study, monthly podcasts, and Facebook Group as my contribution to this timely and critical goal. I will continue to learn from and think with others in my PLN, write, and make the case for the critical importance of effective school librarians and fully resourced school libraries in future ready education.

How would you describe your 2019 commitment to transforming learning and teaching through school libraries?

Wishing you all the best in the New Year,

Judi

 

Works Cited

Carr, Nicholas. 2011. The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. New York: Norton.

Moreillon, Judi. 2010. “A Time to Skim, a Time to Read, or How to Convince Surfers to Take a Deep Dive.” School Library Journal Summit, Chicago. https://tinyurl.com/time2skimtime2dive

Moreillon, Judi, and Cassandra Barnett. 2012. “April is School Library Month: You Belong @your library: A Portrait–in Words and Pictures.” Knowledge Quest 40 (4): 1-6.

Powers, William. 2011. Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age. New York. Harper.

Turkle, Sherry. 2011. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. New York: Basic.

_____. 2015. Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age. New York: Penguin.

Wolf, Maryanne. 2008. Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. New York: Harper

_____. 2018. Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World. New York: Harper.

 

Grit, Complacency, and Passion

Last summer, I published a series of professional book reviews. The titles were some of the books I read as I prepared my forthcoming book. At that time, my LM_NET colleague and friend Barb Langridge, who blogs at A Book and a Hug and recommends children’s books as a regular guest on WBALTV Channel 11 in Baltimore, sent me an email asking if I had read Tyler Cowen’s book The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream. I had not but said I would do so. Cowen’s book made be think. It also invited me to reflect on two previous books I read. (So, finally, this post is for you, Barb.)

In her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth makes a compelling case for people to follow their passion and learn perseverance. (I referenced her work in my 2018 New Year’s Resolution post.) She defines “grit” as self-discipline wedded to dedicated pursuit of a goal. In her study, Dr. Duckworth learned that highly successful people “were unusually resilient and hardworking” and they had determination and direction (Duckworth 2016, 8). If you haven’t yet take her online test, you can access her “grit scale” on her Web site.

One of her findings that was particularly meaningful to me is this. “Grittier people are dramatically more motivated than others to seek a meaningful, other-centered life. Higher scores on purpose correlate with higher scores on the Grit Scale” (Duckworth 2016, 147). People, such as school librarians, who have a moral purpose to serve others can be some of the grittiest people in terms of persevering to follow their passion. For me, this portends success for our profession.

School librarianship is complex. The exemplary practice of effective school librarians requires a wide range of knowledge, skills, behaviors, and dispositions, such those in this word cloud:

Duckworth elaborated on the Finnish concept of “sisu spirit.” Having this disposition means you understand your setbacks are temporary learning opportunities. You will tackle your challenges again no matter what. Setbacks won’t hold you back. “Grit is who you are!” (Duckworth 2016, 252). Just as the Finns do, Duckworth says we must model for and teach young people how to approach life with a “sisu spirit.”

Tyler Cowen in The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream presents readers with a U.S. culture very much in need of “sisu spirit.” Cowen’s thesis is that Americans have lost “the ability to imagine an entirely different world and physical setting altogether, and the broader opportunities for social and economic advancement that would entail” (Cowen 2017, 7). He writes that the main elements of our society are driving us toward a more static, less risk-taking America.

In terms of our young people, Cowen notes (most?) schools occupy them with safest possible activities, most of all homework. We also classify students more thoroughly through more and more testing (Cowen 2017, 19). Low-level, low-risk “activities” in K-12 schools result in students who are averse to risk-taking and unable to problem solve. They will lack the social emotional learning necessary for an entrepreneurial spirit, for a “sisu spirit.”

I believe that Duckworth’s “grit” is the answer to Cowen’s complacency prediction. Inquiry learning (see 2/22/18 post) and activism are also pieces of the puzzle.

Serving as a school librarian is not for the faint of heart. For many school librarians, their work involves bumping up against a system that may not be serving students, educators, and families well. It means influencing others through leadership—an effort that takes passion, purpose, risk-taking, and perseverance. We must have the necessary dispositions to succeed, and we must model these and co-create with classroom teachers opportunities for students to practice them.

As a current example, Carolyn Foote, district librarian for Eanes (Texas) Independent School District and Lilead Fellow, created a Resources for Planning a Peaceful March Padlet to support youth and educators who are organizing protests related to gun violence. She invited Future Ready Librarians to add resources and share this information in their learning communities.

The fact that young people across the U.S. are speaking up and out is sending a strong message to our representatives in Congress. These young people are displaying grit and passion. They are anything but complacent. It is our responsibility as educators and elders to support them and join with them in raising our voices and creating positive change.

As Randy Kosimar writes: “Following your passion is not the same as following your bliss. While passion is a font of expressive, creative energy, it won’t necessarily deliver pleasure and contentment at every moment. Success, even on your own terms, entails sacrifice and periods of very hard work” (2000, xiv).

Let’s get to work!

Works Cited

Cowen, Tyler. 2017. The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Duckworth, Angela. 2016. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. New York: Scribner.

Kosimar, Randy. 2000. The Monk and the Riddle: The Art of Crafting a Life While Making a Living. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Image Credits: Collage created at Befunky.com, Word Cloud created at Wordle.net

Find Your Why, Part 2

Last week, I posted Part 1 of a professional book review for Simon Sinek, David Mead, and Peter Docker’s Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team. The information in last week’s post focused on the first sections of the book. I found “discovering your personal why” valuable, but the information below was why I was eager to read this book.

Co-creating, nurturing, and sustaining a shared “why” is a theme running throughout my forthcoming book, Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy (ALA, June, 2018). I believe school librarians can be leaders in this process. As Sinek, Mead, and Docker write: “The why is a tool that can bring clarity to what which is fuzzy and make tangible what is abstract… The WHY can help set a vision and inspire people. The WHY can guide us to act with purpose, on purpose” (26).

Nested WHYs
Sinek, Mead, and Docker compare organizations to trees—with roots, trunk, and branches that form various subcultures. If the organization and the subcultures within it must be clear about their why in order to attract the “right” birds (new employees and leaders). Groups that pay attention to purpose and beliefs “tend to have the highest morale, are the most productive and innovative, have the best retention rates and over time are some of the highest performing groups in the company (school or district)” (87).

One reflective exercise related to embracing a nested why is for an employee (educator) to think about to the time when she/he joined the organization (or school). “What inspired you most? What inspires you to remain in the organization?” Another is to tell a specific story about a time when you were proud to work for this organization (school/district). How did this action better the lives of others?

The Tribe Approach
The authors offer a strategy for discovering a nested why. This strategy involves inviting an outside facilitator who is known and trusted by members of the “tribe.” A facilitator must be objective and a superior workshop leader.

The authors note that people should work for companies (schools) where they “fit the culture.” If an employee (faculty member) shares the values, believes in the vision, and the shared purpose of the organization, then their individual why will serve the company’s (the school’s) overarching why.

“The opportunity is not to discover the perfect company (school) for ourselves. The opportunity is to build the perfect company for each other” (19). For most of us in education, we will not have the luxury of hand-picking our coworkers. In K-12 schools, principals and colleagues will come and go.

But if we have a strong school culture with a shared purpose, we will help our new colleagues nest their whys into our learning community. They will choose to join our faculty because they share our values and seek to further their own why alongside us. I believe school librarian leaders have an essential role to play in discovering, developing, and sustaining (collaborative) school cultures.

Using Hows to Achieve Our Best Work
Sharing core values makes colleagues part of a team. Expressing those values in terms of how we achieve our values helps our teams consistently do our best work. “Hows” can help us become a “tribe.” For example, as a school culture, we may value “collaboration,” but why and how we act on that value is equally important.

Rather than a “Collaborate!” sign in our faculty lounge, we might want to post: “We coteach with one another in order to meet the needs of future-ready students while we continually improve our own instructional expertise.”

Now that’s a culture where my personal why will fit comfortably, and I will be able to contribute to the purpose of such a school. It is also a culture that is focused on growth. “If every member of a team doesn’t grow together they will grow apart” (195).

As the AASL National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries motto, Think, Create, Share, Grow, suggests, school librarians will accomplish our whys and create joyful, sharing learning communities when we grow together alongside our colleagues, administrators, students, and families.

Work Cited

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

Find Your Why: A Practical Guide

In July, I posted a two-part professional book review for Simon Sinek’s Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (Part 1 and Part 2). While traveling in the U.K. earlier this month, I slowly read and worked through Sinek’s follow-up book: Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team. He coauthored this book with David Mead and Peter Docker.

I was eager to read Find Your Why because of a nagging question from the previous title. While I truly believe everyone must find her/his own personal “why,” I also believe a “shared why” is an essential component of collaborative culture schools.

In the past, I have served in schools where faculty have a shared sense of purpose. These have been the most productive, effective, and satisfying work experiences in my career. I have also worked (hard) as a member of a faculty with no shared why. Such an environment does not foster trust, collaboration, or innovation and results in a dysfunctional environment for growth and change.

Find Your Why begins with connecting readers with the why/how/what content of the first book. In the introduction, the authors write this: “Happiness comes from what we do. Fulfillment comes from why we do it” (7). These ideas spoke to me, and I kept them in mind throughout my reading. Subsequent chapters include discovering your individual why, two chapters on strategies for “why discovery for groups,” a chapter on “hows,” and the final chapter about taking a stand for your/your tribe’s why.

Discovering Your Individual Why
Sinek, Mead, and Docker offer a compelling strategy for discovering one’s own why. It involves identifying ten impactful stories from your personal and professional life. (I used the two weeks of travel to consider, reconsider, and identify my top ten stories). The authors offer two strategies to help you select your stories: peaks and valleys and memories prompts.

After you are satisfied with ten, you identify a partner to help you explore the themes that inform and connect your stories. Your trusted partner in this process must be able to be objective (not a relative or very close long-time friend).

As you share your stories, your partner will encourage you to focus on how you felt as the events in your story were taking place. Your partner can ask questions such as “What is it about that story that really matters to you?” (51). Together, you and your partner draft your why statement: to ________ (contribution) so that ________ (impact). The authors suggest you validate your draft statement through individual conversations with friends until it feels just right. (Note: The book includes an appendix of partner tips for supporting an individual’s why discovery.)

Next Steps for Me
My ten stories are ready for prime time. Of course, I see themes and think I could compose my draft why statement today. However, I intend to follow the authors’ process. I have a short list of people to ask to serve as my partners to listen, to make notes, and to see the themes from their perspective that connect my stories. I am excited to learn what she/he sees that may be the same or different from my view.

Next week, I will reflect on the “nested WHY” information in the book. “The goal is for each individual to work for a company (with a school faculty) in which they fit the culture, values, believe in the vision and work on a team in which they feel like they are valued and valuable” (85).

Please stay tuned!

Work Cited

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

Influence and Pre-Suasion by Robert Cialdini

While authoring my forthcoming book Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy, I have read many professional books. This is the eleventh and twelfth in a series of professional book reviews–possible titles for your professional reading. The reviews are in no particular order.

Thanks to John Chrastka from EveryLibrary.org, I learned at the Lilead Project Summer Institute about the idea of expressing one’s “cause” in 27 words with 3 messages deliverable in 9 seconds. I have since been writing and revising the encapsulation of my forthcoming book in terms of 27-3-9. This is my latest version (minus the words in parentheses):

School librarians who build connections transform schools. Instructional partners (school librarians and classroom teachers) practice reciprocal mentorship when they connect inquiry and reading-writing across the disciplines with deeper and digital future-ready learning.

Many (if not most) school librarians and their advocates will need to influence the behaviors of others in order to enact these three messages (transforming through connecting, practicing reciprocal mentorship, and coteaching future-ready learning). Those “others” could be administrators, other educators, school board members and other educational decision-makers, families, and more. For this reason, Robert Cialdini’s books are invaluable to effective future-ready school librarians.

I first learned about Cialdini’s work in 2015 when I participated in the Canadian Library Association and the University of Toronto iSchool’s MOOC (Massively Open Online Course) entitled “Library Advocacy Unshushed: Values, Evidence, Action.” Throughout the six-week course, the presenters and guest speakers made multiple references to Cialdini’s book Influence: Science and Practice. While writing my forthcoming book, I reread it.

Cialdini, a social psychologist, suggests six “universal principles of influence.” Schools librarians can use these principles to achieve their goals.
1. Reciprocity – People tend to return a favor.
2. Consistency – If people commit to an idea or goal, they are more likely to follow through.
3. Consensus – People will do what other people are doing.
4. Liking – People are easily persuaded by other people whom they like.
5. Authority – People will tend to obey authority figures and experts.
6. Scarcity – Perceived scarcity fuels demand (2009).

School librarian leaders can apply these principles to enlist advocates within and beyond the school or library. Advocates can apply these principles as they speak up and out for future-ready school or library program initiatives.

Cialdini’s most recent book Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade (2016) focuses on what to do BEFORE you pitch your project plan or change initiative. I found the research and examples in this book fascinating.

Readers could think of Cialdini’s overarching concept as “foaming the runway.” He writes, “What we present first changes the way people experience what we present to them next” (2016, 4).

Before pitching a new idea, plan, or program, do your homework. Carefully select your “openers.” Be sure you know what is important to your audience. Build on connections and personalize your appeal. Tell a story, preferably a mystery that will keep them on the edge of their seats. Use metaphors. Make your appeal easily understood.

The “privileged moment” was my big take-away from this book. It is the time when the presenter has prepared the listener to receive a new idea. This snippet of an example, which I have adapted for a school environment, is one that is easy to remembered.

If you are asking for funds for a technology initiative, begin by saying, “I know we don’t have a million dollars for this project. I would be crazy to ask for that much but this is what we can do with just a fraction of that amount.” Proceed with the benefits to students, educators, families, and community of this new initiative. Tell a story; provide some data. Then close the presentation with: “Together, we can achieve all of these benefits and we’ll need only $75,000 to do it well.”

Cialdini’s ideas help readers make the most of the “privileged moment.” That moment is when the influencer creates a context in which the listener is receptive to hearing the message and acting upon it.

I recommend both of these books for those who are preparing to launch advocacy campaigns and are leading change in their schools, districts, states, or nation.

Works Cited

Cialdini, Robert B. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. 5th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2009.

Cialdini, Robert. Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016.

Guided Inquiry Design®: A Framework for Inquiry in Your School

While authoring my forthcoming book, I have read (and re-read!) many professional books. This is the tenth in a series of professional book reviews–possible titles for your professional reading. The reviews are in no particular order.

I read Carol C. Kuhlthau, Leslie K. Maniotes, and Ann K. Caspari’s book Guided Inquiry Design®: A Framework for Inquiry in Your School when it was first published in 2012. In 2012-2013, I was part of the Denton Inquiry for Lifelong Learning Project. We conducted a year-long study centered on this book. Our goal for the study was to increase the understanding and practice of inquiry learning among the various stakeholders in the Denton literacy community. Our collaborators included school librarians from Denton Independent School District, the Denton Public Library, the university libraries and graduate library schools of Texas Woman’s University and the University of North Texas.

There are eight phases in the Guided Inquiry Design (GID) Process: open, immerse, explore, identify, gather, create, share, and evaluate (2). Reflection and assessment are embedded throughout the process as a way for students and educators to monitor learning and ensure success.

The GID is intended to be co-facilitated by an inquiry team that includes two or more educators, including a classroom teacher or specialist and the school librarian. Throughout the phases, educators have shared responsibilities for designing learning experiences and collaborating with students to make school-based learning authentic, personally meaningful, and relevant to students’ lives. Educators also share responsibility for monitoring student progress and assessing student learning outcomes.

In co-facilitating inquiry learning, educators can practice and students can experience the creativity that comes from “two (or more) heads are better than one.” In addition to integrating the rich resources of the school library into inquiry learning, educators have expanded opportunities to launch the open phase creatively. With two or more educators facilitating student engagement with resources and identifying questions, students and inquiry groups will receive more personalized feedback throughout the process. With two or more educators monitoring student learning and providing interventions as needed, student success will be more assured.

Educators will also benefit personally by lowering the stress of guiding “messy” inquiry learning. They will practice reciprocal mentorship throughout the process and have the opportunity to improve their own teaching practices. They will have someone to share the joys and challenges and celebrate students’ success.

The GID clearly aligns with privileging the instructional partner role of the school librarian, my raison d’être!

How does inquiry learning align with your state standards? Although the term “research” rather than “inquiry” is used, one benefit Texas educators have is that the English Language Arts and Reading standards specifically include learning standards that align well with the phases of the GID. These include students developing open-ended questions, a “research plan,” revising research questions, applying information literacy skills (authority, reliability, validity, bias), resolving discrepancies in information, presenting their learning, and more.

When classroom teachers and school librarians coplan and coteach inquiry learning, educators can seamlessly and authentically integrate content-area, digital, and information literacies, competencies such as the Partnership for 21st Century Learning’s 4Cs (communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking), and dispositions, such as persistence and flexibility, into students’ learning experiences.

If you do not yet guide inquiry learning in your school, please read this book. Check out the model lesson plans offered at the end of each chapter focused on each phase of the GID.

If you have been teaching another inquiry or research process, compare it to the GID. I believe you will find that the GID offers you, your colleagues, and your students with a framework for guiding future-ready learning in your school.

Work Cited

Kuhlthau, Carol C., Leslie K. Maniotes, and Ann K. Caspari. Guided Inquiry Design: A Framework for Inquiry in Your School. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited, 2012. (Or the 2nd edition published in 2015)

For Further Reading

Guided Inquiry Design. http://guidedinquirydesign.com

Guided Inquiry Design Blog. http://52guidedinquiry.edublogs.org

Kuhlthau, Carol C., Leslie K. Maniotes, and Ann K. Caspari. Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century. 2nd ed. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited, 2015.

Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions

While authoring my forthcoming book, Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy, I have read many professional books. This is the ninth in a series of professional book reviews–possible titles for your professional reading. The reviews are in no particular order.

As an advocate for inquiry learning, I am in total agreement with Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana: student-led questioning is an effective way to guide students into deeper learning. When students (or adult learners, for that matter) are invested in finding out why, they are more motivated to pursue answers to their questions and solutions to the world’s pressing problems—especially when the answers are illusive, the process is difficult, and the outcome is uncertain.

In their book Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions, authors Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana note that student-led questioning helps ensure that students are learning and practicing thinking skills. Rothstein and Santana are the directors of the Right Question Institute (RQI), a 501(c)(3) educational non-profit organization.

They developed the Question Formulation Technique™ (QFT), which involves students in brainstorming questions as a way to launch an investigation. All students’ contributions are accepted and weighted equally. The question recorder documents all questions verbatim as asked without comment, response, or discussion. Statements are turned into questions as well. Students then prioritize questions to determine which are most compelling; their priorities set the learning agenda for the next class period (or subsequent lessons).

Educators can guide students in other types of questioning processes such as Question the Author (Beck, McKeown, Sandora, Kucan, and Worthy) during which students discover various aspects of the writer’s and illustrator’s craft as well as persuasive techniques and bias. When readers question the texts they encounter, they are engaged in an active learning process that has the potential to increase their content knowledge as well as improve their overall reading proficiency.

Questions are a way for students to uncover the gaps in their understanding. Questioning can also help them identify misconceptions. The ability to question, whether applied to reading and responding to literature, identifying bias in a political cartoon, or analyzing data in a scientific journal article, is an essential, lifelong-learning skill.

Santana and Rothstein call student-led questioning a “shortcut” to deeper learning. I agree. If you have not used the QFT™ in your teaching, I hope you will check out the RQI Web site and read their book. (Side note: One area RQI is exploring is “microdemocracy.” Their idea is that “ordinary encounters with public agencies are opportunities for individual citizens to ‘act democratically’ and participate effectively in decisions that affect them.” Brilliant work, if you ask me.)

That said, my experience tells me that educators who are teaching future-ready students need to do more than just this one thing to help prepare students for today and tomorrow. Honoring students’ agency and helping them explore their interests through student-led questioning is an essential and critical place to begin. Inquiry learning can be an essential part of the next steps, the “more” that future-ready students need.

Works Consulted

Beck, Isabel L., Margaret G. McKeown, Cheryl Sandora, Linda Kucan, and Jo Worthy. “Questioning the Author: A Yearlong Classroom Implementation to Engage Students with Text.” The Elementary School Journal, vol. 96, no. 4, 1996, pp. 385-414.

Rothstein, Dan, and Luz Santana. Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2015.

Start with Why, Part 2

While authoring my forthcoming book, Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy, I have read many professional books. This is part two of the eighth in a series of professional book reviews–possible titles for your summer reading. The reviews are in no particular order.

Before participating in the Lilead Project Summer Institute in Norfolk, Virginia, I had no intention of extending my review of Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why. (See Part 1 published on 7/17/17.)

But last week, twenty Cohort 2 Lilead Fellows, four Cohort 1 speakers and other supporters, the Lilead Project Team, and five mentors  (of which I am one) spent four days thinking and talking about, writing and revising our “whys” in terms of the Fellows’ Lilead projects.

Throughout this process of connecting the purpose and value of school librarianship to goals for their projects, Fellows had support for pushing their thinking and connecting their “whys” to their personal and professional values and to their school districts’ priorities.

During the week, John Chrastka from EveryLibrary shared information and strategies related to the importance of political literacy, particularly in terms of the Fellows achieving their project goals. (EveryLibrary is registered as 501(c)4 social welfare organization and supports library organizations around the country in achieving their goals.) John said this, “Our concern is on the basics: fix the disconnect in districts that say they want successful schools and fully prepared students but don’t fund their libraries or hire qualified librarians.”

John noted that for many library supporters a librarian “who cares (about other people’s literacy needs and welfare) is a proxy” for supporters’ own desire/need to care. These people comprise the “library party” and believe that the library is a transformational force in their communities. Everyone in the room agreed that passionate librarians are “true advocates for lifelong learning.” These connections apply directly to the “whys” Lilead fellows are addressing with their projects.

The Fellows were asked to write about their values related to education and librarianship, their vision for their school/district, why they do this work, and what happens if they don’t do it. All of these thinking activities connected and reconnected to their “whys.”

When the Fellows were asked to share the key ideas that frame their projects, the similarities in their “whys” were very exciting. This is what I heard in terms of key concepts: issues (access/budget/resources/staffing) related to equity (7), cultural responsiveness (2) a subset of equity, librarians as instructional/digital leaders/building capacity (5), advocacy/changing perceptions/increasing visibility (3), K-12 curriculum (2), and increasing future-ready learning spaces (1).

To “see” the Fellows’ “whys” expressed in these ways leads me to believe that the school library profession can coalesce around a shared overarching “why.” With a collective “why,” the “what” we do and “how” we do it may look different in different schools and districts but the benefit of an overarching “values-based approach” (John Chrastka) can help school librarians work within a shared values framework. It can help us identify and build coalitions. It can help the Fellows elevate their projects because they are based on authentic truths—on the school library profession’s shared values.

Thank you to Simon Sinek for giving us the “why” prompt as a stimulus to our thoughts, discussions, and the feedback we shared with and received from one another.

Thank you to John Chrastka for teaching us about political literacy and helping us apply these principles to help us achieve our goals for and with our library stakeholders. We look forward to learning more with you.

Thank you to Roger Rosen, president of Rosen Publishing, for joining us in Norfolk and for sponsoring our learning with John. We are grateful.

Resources
EveryLibrary.org. Newsletter Subscription.

Sinek, Simon. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. New York: Penguin, 2009.

Sweeney, Patrick PC, and John Chrastka. Winning Elections and Influencing Politicians for Library Funding. Chicago: ALA Editions, 2017.

 

 

 

 

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

While authoring my forthcoming book, Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy, I have read many professional books. This is the eighth in a series of professional book reviews–possible titles for your summer reading. The reviews are in no particular order.

Although I had previously listened to his TEDTalks, I did not read Simon Sinek’s Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action until it was assigned to the Lilead Project fellows. As a Lilead mentor, I am reading and learning along with the fellows.

Beginning with the dedication, I have a deep appreciation for the message Simon Sinek communicates in this book (bold added).

“There are leaders and there are those who lead.
Leaders hold a position of power or influence.
Those who lead inspire us.

Whether individuals or organizations, we follow those
Who lead not because we have to, but because we want to.
We follow those who lead not for them, but for ourselves.

This is a book for those who want to inspire others and
for those who want to find someone to inspire them” (np).

There are many in education, yours truly included, who hope to inspire others, and I, too, am always on the lookout for others who inspire me. Simon Sinek is someone who inspires me. One reason he inspires me is that I often agree with him about the critical importance of “whys,” “whats,” and “hows.”

As a former school librarian, librarian and classroom teacher educator, and now as a consultant, I truly believe that each individual must start with her or his own “why.” That said, my experience tells me that arriving at a “shared” why is a challenging proposition in many (professional) organizations and for preK-12 school faculty cultures, in particular. After reading Sinek’s book, I believe more fervently than ever that school librarians must arrive at a shared “why” in their learning communities at the site-, district- and national levels as well. I believe our profession must come to consensus on a shared “why.”

Since the school library profession does not have one single charismatic leader with an immutable sense of “why” (backed up by a flexible menu of “whats” and “hows”), arriving at a single “why” is more challenging in our organization(s).  I would like to believe our profession could come to a shared understanding – a shared “why” – a shared value that aligns with the values of other educators, administrators, and educational decision-makers and stakeholders. That “why” could speak to potential advocates and would encourage them to act on our behalf.

One of the tensions I feel is that the “what” (description of what we do) and “how” we do it different (or as Sinek says “better”) from classroom teachers is not shared by all members of our profession. There are those who are still printed books and reading promotion only school librarians. There are those who are technology above all else school librarians. The “hybrids” are growing in number but expectations in various schools and districts may contribute to this polarization that muddies our identity and the perception of others regarding our “whats” and “hows.” From my perspective, our “why” has to be larger than the resources and tools we use.

My “why” for school librarianship was born during my M.L.S. program and was crystallized during the heady days of the National Library Power Project in Tucson Unified School District (1993-97). For me, school librarians’ purpose is to colead with principals to ensure that their school communities are dynamic environments for nurturing continuous development and growth in order to improve teaching and learning.

For me, school librarians’ instructional partnership role is the most direct, assured, and documentable path to leadership. It is “how” we achieve our “why.” School librarians lead when our commitment to improving our own and our colleagues’ instructional practices builds a culture of collaboration and continuous learning in our schools. “What” we do is develop expertise and mastery with our colleagues in order to improve student learning outcomes. Why do we do this? Because “teaching is too difficult to do alone!” (from a Library Power poster, circa 1994).

With a global view of the learning community and a flexibly scheduled program based on access at the point of need, the resources of the library and the instructional expertise in their toolkits, school librarians occupy a unique niche on a school faculty. They must embody the behaviors of risk-takers and continuous learners. They must serve as models because they have the potential and responsibility to impact the learning of every member of their school learning communities—students, educators, administrators, families, and external stakeholders. They must help other reach their capacity.

I totally agree with Sinek: “Passion may need structure to survive, but for structure to grow, it needs passion” (184). I believe there is a great deal of passion in our profession, but I’m not sure we have yet developed the structure we need to help it grow. I think the Lilead Project (and Library Power before it) provide some of that structure. I think Project Connect and Future Ready Librarians are promising initiatives that provide structure. The new AASL standards and guidelines that are set to be rolled out next fall also have that potential. (I would like to think that the book I am authoring could provide some structure as well.)

As Sinek writes: “It’s the decision to never veer from your cause, to hold yourself accountable to HOW you do things; that’s the hardest part” (65). In my experience, collaborating with adults is a thousand times harder than collaborating with students. If we want to hold each other accountable for forming effective instructional partnerships that build an effective teaching force and improve student learning, we have set the bar high.

Many in our ranks continue to work in isolation from their classroom teacher and administrator colleagues. I believe what Sinek writes is true: “The only way people will know what you believe is by the things you say and do, and if you’re not consistent in the things you say or do, no one will know what you believe” (67). School librarians cannot say they are instructional partners if they still prefer to work alone—if they still refer to the library as “my” library, the collection as “my” collection, the instruction they provide as “library lesson plans.”

“A WHY is just a belief; HOWs are the actions we take to realize that belief; and WHATs are the results of those actions. When all three are in balance, trust is built and value is perceived” (85). I aspire to lead a professional life where all three are in balance. I aspire to be a part of a profession where all three are in balance—where there is a shared why and trust among the members and our value as leaders is widely perceived in the education field and beyond. I want to be part of a profession that “walks its talk.” And I will do my part to stay the course.

I am indebted to Sinek for a way I used his framework to organize Building a Culture of Collaboration: School Librarian Leadership and Advocacy. I begin every chapter in my forthcoming book with “why” that topic is essential in building a culture of collaboration. In each chapter, I specify the “what” and “how.” Although the “whats” and “hows” were always there, I strengthened the “whys” after reading Sinek’s book.

What is your “why?” How does it align with that of your site- and district-level administrators’ “whys”? How does it align with those of your classroom teacher colleagues, families, and community? Does your shared “why” make effective “whats” and “hows” possible?

Work Cited
Sinek, Simon. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. New York: Penguin, 2009.

Additional Resources
Sinek, Simon. “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” TEDTalk. September 2009, https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action

Sinek, Simon. “First Why, and Then Trust.” TEDxMaastricht. 6 April 2011. https://youtu.be/4VdO7LuoBzM