A Conversation with Calvert County School Librarians

Last week, I had the pleasure of an online conversation with a cadre of outstanding Calvert County Public School (CCPS) school librarians and their district-level Specialist for School Libraries and Digital Learning Jennifer Sturge. This team of librarians serving students in Maryland, led by their colleague Monique, were in the process of a professional book study focused on Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy.

After last week’s blog post “School Librarianship in the Time of Coronavirus, Part 2,” their voices from the field were critical to furthering my understanding of ways to increase school librarians’ service to their learning communities—whether or not our physical library facilities are open. Note: Selected indicators interjected into this post are from the 6/15/20 post and demonstrate the roles effective school librarians fill in their learning communities as leaders, instructional partners, teachers, information specialists, and program administrators.

Photograph of a reflection in a pond sending ripples out from a single pointAs a way to engage in reflection, I launched our conversation by posing a “what if” question: “If you are serving your school learning community remotely in fall 2020, what would you do differently from your practice this past spring?” The librarians’ responses fell into four categories: getting physical books in the hands of students, increasing rigor through inquiry learning, communication and collaboration, and working with principals. Although more than one librarian addressed these topics, I have identified one or two people who took the lead in the discussion in each area.

Book Checkout
Many school librarians across the country and around the globe did not have the opportunity to plan for the best ways to get physical books into the hands of K-12 students before schools closed. Theresa shared how she is strategizing some effective ways to checkout and deliver/send books directly to students, especially if they cannot access the physical space of the library. I suspect all of us in the “room” agreed that getting high-quality, diverse books into the hands of youth helps keep their minds engaged in learning and growing as thinking and empathic people. (If you haven’t yet seen it or if you need another smile, checkout Nashville Public Library’s PSA “Curb Side, Baby” | What You Need to Know about NPL’s Curbside Service.”)

For me, this goal reinforces a key indicator in “Reading and Information Literacy Instruction:”

  • Promote reading for information and for personal enjoyment.

Inquiry Learning
Inquiry learning is a core practice in CCPS. High school librarian Donna would like to see increased rigor in remote learning through a greater emphasis on inquiry. School librarians have a strong commitment to inquiry learning as a way to honor student choice and voice. As authentic learning, inquiry prepares young people for lifelong learning. Classroom-library collaboration for instruction and shared responsibility for guiding students’ inquiry projects could improve student success even more when teaching and learning are conducted online.

Promoting inquiry in the online classroom/library is an essential aspect of “Integrated, Collaborative Teaching;”

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

Communication/Collaboration
Mary Brooke shared her experience of the importance of school librarians communicating with a collective strong voice. She talked about the previously planned lessons that were ready to implement when learning when online. In addition to the lessons created by CCPS librarians, we talked briefly about accessing published lessons and units of instruction in order to fast-track instruction when time for planning is even shorter than usual.

Later in the conversation, we talked about the challenges of carving out collaborative planning time. While most educators agree that time is in short supply, using online tools for collaborative work is essential whether our academic program is face to face or virtual. School librarians who have developed strategies for using online tools to plan may have been ahead of the curve in meeting the needs of colleagues in spring 2020. In addition, educators must encourage school principals to create dedicated planning time for classroom and classroom-library collaboration, which in turn establishes a value for collaborative teaching.

For me, this conversation reinforced the indicators under “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.

Working with Administrators
Again, I believe everyone in the room understood the importance of positive and strong relationships between principals and school librarians. Both Anne and Monique shared their value for working with administrators to address the teaching and learning needs of faculty and students. This spring, many principals and other decision-makers may have been overwhelmed. Anne noted the importance of sensitivity to other people’s stress and monitoring one’s communication accordingly. Monique shared how she worked collaboratively with classroom teachers online this spring. In the process, she created advocates for the library program who may be poised to speak up for the impact of classroom-library collaboration on student learning outcomes.

For me, this is an excellent example of “Library Advocacy & Support:”

  • Collaborate with administrators to assess students’ and classroom teachers’ needs and develop and implement plans to address them.

Learning from Spring 2020
A belief attributed to John Dewey based on this writing in Experience and Education (1938) can be our guide as we prepare for the 2020-2021 academic year: “We do not learn from our experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” Reflecting on our practice as school librarians is essential and the change and challenge thrust upon educators in spring 2020 created a golden opportunity to learn from our reflection.

Thank you to Jen and the Calvert County Public School Librarians for sharing your reflective process.

Image Credit

From the Personal Collection of Judi Moreillon

Teaching as Soul Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

Image Credit: Created with AnswerGarden.ch

Inquiry into Global Information Books and Resources: Reflection

In the month of August, I have been blogging on WOW Currents. You can access today’s post “Inquiry into Global Nonfiction and Informational Literature: Student Learning Outcomes and Reflections.” This is the final WOW Currents post for this 4-part series.

Today, library science students and I will launch the second course I will be teaching for the iSchool at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. This course “School Library Media Center,” which focuses on the instructional partner and information/technology specialist roles of school librarians is in my teaching “sweet spot.” I wrote the course textbook and have been teaching similar courses since 1995…

The course I’ve been writing about and reflecting on this month, “Information Books and Resources for Youth,” was a leap out of my past experience and comfort zone. I was excited to prepare and teach it and it stretched me in “good” ways. These are my takeaways from this teaching/learning experience.

Explore Pathfinder
It is my habit to complete every assignment I assign to students. For me, that is the only way to ensure that the assignment directions are clear, the assessment is aligned with the assignment objectives, and to ensure that there is plenty of room for students to engage creatively with the project. For this course, I created an annotated pathfinder to help learners access global information books and resources to explore the question of prejudice and discrimination against children and teens.

I organized the annotated bibliography/pathfinder by genre (in order to reinforce key course vocabulary) and format of nonfiction and information books and resources as well as subtopics within each genre. Curating these resources was and will continue to be a “passion project” for me. I have since read a memoir that I will add to this resource, How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child by Sandra Ywiringiimana. It is my hope that IS445 graduate students and any educator or student who curates resources that are personally meaningful will make a commitment to continually add to their work and share it for the benefit of others.

Student Learning Products and Feedback
It was encouraging to me that fourteen out of twenty students developed final projects for the course that included global nonfiction and informational books. Please see today’s WOW Currents blog post. Although all students in the course did not embrace the value I hold for global nonfiction and informational books and resources as pathways to understanding, empathy, and compassion, most students found a new or renewed commitment to identifying compelling resources to support student learning. In addition, many embraced inquiry learning as an effective practice for student engagement, meeting curricular demands, providing student choice, and amplifying student voice.

My Reflection
When I analyzed the results of the pre- and post-course surveys, I wondered why I had asked the question about ranking genres. I gave the students a list of eleven genres and asked them to rank them from most powerful to least powerful in terms of offering readers opportunities to develop empathy, compassion, and their understanding of human diversity. Although all IS445 students reported in the post-course survey that they had moved nonfiction and informational books up in their rankings, I fully believe the impact of a text “depends.” It depends on their purpose for reading. It depends on the timing in the reader’s life—their prior experiences and their current questions. It depends on the reader’s background knowledge and connections to the topic and themes raised in the text. It depends on the reader’s familiarity with or preferences for a genre or format, or “need” for visuals, or… It just depends.

That said, similar to the students who moved their rankings up for narrative nonfiction and memoir, I also discovered/rediscovered my enjoyment and value for these genres. In particular, I have not been drawn to memoirs and will now seek out more to read and pay more attention to those that cross my path and screen. These were some students’ final reflections, used with permission.

IS445 student Sara DeGraff, 8th-grade math teacher and future school librarian, wrote this in her final course reflection: “Exposing people to stories about others in similar situations or hazardous situations could create that empathetic feeling. When you have empathy, you can have a want to take action. Reading autobiographies, memoirs, and biographies can help create that empathy. … If we continue sharing people’s stories, we can create global citizens.”

IS445 student Becky Oberhauser wrote this in response to a classmate’s reflection: “I think what we’ve learned in this class will help all of us try to take on a global perspective when building collections for kids or when doing reader’s advisory. I liked that you said that informational text is the key to help students see their common humanity… Fictional texts may prompt emotions, but students may not develop the same passions to help others from them because the stories aren’t real.”

IS445 student and middle school teacher M. Albrecht wrote this: “It was very eye-opening to even consider that non-fiction books could be used for promoting a sense of empathy within students… In the future, I will try and make nonfiction resources just as enticing to the youth in my charge as I do fiction resources, whether it be in the form of guided inquiry design, creative displays, or hooks… If we, as educators and librarians, help cultivate that empathy by providing them with resources to expand their horizons and fostering their sense of inquiry, they will be able to figure out how they as individuals can help any being anywhere in the world.”

Student Choice and Voice
This course involved students in inquiry projects in which they determined the topics for study and in small groups or individually pursued curating nonfiction and informational books and resources to share with youth. I hope students understood that my trust in their ability to chart their own learning (with support) and exercise agency (within the stated course description and objectives) was a model for how they can create guided inquiry opportunities for youth in their care.

“In the context of the age of communication, mass media, and the information revolution, criticism’s ties to discrimination is grounded on a belief that students would be empowered as they develop the capacity to discriminate and critically evaluate all kinds of texts in multiple modalities within the global flow of information” (Choo 2013, 101).

It is my sincere hope that IS445 student felt empowered in our course; I trust they will pass it on.

Work Cited

Choo, Suzanne S. 2013. Reading the World, the Globe, and the Cosmos: Approaches to Teaching Literature for the Twenty-first Century. New York: Peter Lang.

Image Credit
Altmann, Gerd. “Web Networking Earth Continents.” Pixabay.com. https://pixabay.com/illustrations/web-networking-earth-continents-3079789/

 

Educator Reflection

Just as students benefit from reflecting throughout the inquiry process, so, too, do educators. Metacognition, or thinking about one’s thinking, is an essential aspect of learning. Thinking about how we plan for instruction, monitor student progress, provide interventions, and assess our instructional expertise helps coteachers transfer prior learning to their next teaching (and learning) experience.

School librarians can engage in various types of reflection. They can reflect as individual educators. They can also reflect along with their administrator(s) or supervisor(s). They may reflect in small groups such as Professional Learning Communities or along with a cadre of job-alike colleagues. One of the most effective reflection practices in terms of its impact on student learning may be reflecting with coteaching colleagues during the planning process, during lesson/unit implementation, and post-implementation.

School Librarian Self-Assessment
The AASL National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries includes a “School Library Checklist” that covers a range of school librarian behaviors and responsibilities (2018, 174-180) I hope that it is no accident that collaborating with other educators is the first criterion on that list.

Figure 7.3 School Librarian Self-Assessment Criteria shows the keywords used by four organizations that school librarians can use to guide their reflection: AASL, Follett Project Connect, Future Ready Librarians, and International Society for Technology in Education (Educators).

“Collaborate,” “instructional partnership,” “collaborative leadership,” and “collaborator” are various terms used across these four sets of criteria on which school librarians can base one aspect of their self-assessment. Reflecting on one’s ability to lead through collaboration is an essential behavior of effective school librarians (see Leadership Requires Collaboration: Memes Have Meaning).

Different Planning/Thinking Styles
Being aware of how we think and learn can help school librarians, in particular, to be more effective in their roles as instructional partners. Perhaps, you, the librarian, are a sequential planner/thinker who is building a collaborative relationship with a random planner/thinker colleague. You will need to give up some measure of control in order to accommodate the preferences of such a coteacher. It is likely you will need to be flexible enough to think on your feet and approach planning or teaching at a different speed, via a different path or take learning in a different direction all together.

When we demonstrate our flexibility by accommodating the thinking styles of our colleagues and administrators/supervisors, we further show our readiness for future ready education. In order to meet the needs of today’s students, we must be flexible, responsive, and collaborative educators.

Strategies for Reflecting
Ensuring that reflection is a component of learning is difficult to achieve in practice. It seems that reflecting on any learning process has not yet become standard practice in many classrooms and libraries. Perhaps by including reflection time on planning forms and on lesson plans, educators can remind one another of the importance of metacognition.

For coteachers, including reflection before, during, and after an instructional intervention can help educators think, create, share, and grow. Educators may choose to write/draw/record their individual reflections. While reflecting individually is a useful strategy, reflecting together as trusting partners may be even more effective. (Sharing individual reflection documents is one way to do that.) Shared reflection can be a time for educators to express gratitude for what they are learning with and from one another. It can also be a time for coteachers to identify areas for improvement and recommit to growing together as instructional partners.

Reflection is also an important component on semi-annual or annual self-assessment or formal assessment/evaluation instruments. Keeping a journal throughout the year can help school librarians prepare to compose a comprehensive semi-annual or annual reflection. As instructional leaders in schools, administrators will want to know what educators themselves perceive as their areas of greatest strength, areas for improvement, and next steps for future learning.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. What are your strategies for ensuring that you make time to reflect on your teaching and learning?
  2. What are the advantages of reflecting with an instructional partner?

Works Cited

American Association of School Librarians. 2018. National Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries. Chicago: ALA.

Moreillon, Judi. 2019. “Leadership Requires Collaboration: Memes Have Meaning.” School Library Connection Online.