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/

 

 

 

Advocate for What Students Need to Succeed

While it is all educators’ responsibility to advocate for what students need to succeed in their futures, school librarians can use their leadership and instructional partner roles to advocate for authentic, relevant, and challenging curricula. They can colead and advocate for initiatives that result in transforming teaching and learning.

School librarians’ overarching goal is to prepare students for lifelong learning. It could be said that preK-12 educators have always prepared the next generation for their lives after high school. But the speed of technological and other change in today’s society make it more difficult to predict those needs. Education organizations have suggested various skills and competencies for educators to consider as they guide future ready students’ learning. (Competencies are applied skills; all of the standards cited in this post are intended to be applied in authentic learning experiences.)

Among those skills are the Partnership for 21st Century Learning’s 4Cs (communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity), the International Society for Technology in Education’s Student Standards, NextGen Science Standards, National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies, and more including the National Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries (AASL 2018).

In Chapter 8 in Maximizing School Librarian Leadership, I draw connections between leadership and advocacy. Both are essential behaviors of school librarians if we are indeed positioning our work at the forefront of innovation, change, and reform in education.

Leadership
“Leaders maintain an understanding of what the mission and goals of an organization are and how these can be fulfilled” (Riggs 2001). Leaders inspire and influence the thinking and behaviors of others. From the global view provided by the library—the largest classroom in the school—school librarians are stewards of the widest range and variety of resources. Their job is to develop a collection of resources that meet the needs of the learning community.

In their daily work, school librarians connect books and other resources with students in order to help them develop as strategic readers, who enjoy and choose to read for pleasure. Strategic readers use comprehension strategies to think critically, to understand an author’s purpose, separate fact from fiction, news from propaganda. They also ask probing questions, seek credible answers, and develop new knowledge that helps them make sense of the world.

School librarians connect books and other resources to the curriculum by working with classroom teachers and specialists. They help other educators extend student learning beyond the textbook and offer resources on curricular topics at multiple reading proficiency levels to help all students build their reading skills. School librarians advocate for learning experiences that give students voice and choice and set them on the path of lifelong learning.

School librarians are on the constant lookout for resources that will spark students’ curiosity while supporting classroom teachers’ required student learning objectives. In many schools, school librarians are stewards of the most up-to-date technology tools and have expertise in marshaling the power of technology to improve student learning. They have expertise with digital information, including databases. They teach digital citizenship and help students understand the implications of the digital footprint they are creating today and how it may affect their futures.

Advocacy
“Collaborating school librarians have the potential to influence teaching and learning for every classroom teacher and every student in their building. To embrace a leadership role is an opportunity to co-create a collaborative school culture of learning that truly transforms education” (Moreillon 2019). Through coplanning, coteaching, and coassessing student learning alongside classroom teacher colleagues, school librarians have the opportunity to advocate for effective instruction, relevant learning tasks, and meaningful inquiry-based learning experiences that improve student learning outcomes. This work supports administrators’ goals for their schools and their district.

“Advocacy in all its forms seeks to ensure that people, particularly those who are most vulnerable in society, are able to: Have their voice heard on issues that are important to them. Defend and safeguard their rights. Have their views and wishes genuinely considered when decisions are being made about their lives” (SAEP n.d.). When school librarians advocate for future ready students, they are advocating for students’ voices and agency, their rights, and their empowerment to pursue learning that will make a long-term impact on their readiness for college, career, and community life.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. In your way of thinking, how are leadership and advocacy linked?
  2. Describe how your passion for school librarianship, your role as a school librarian, and the role of the library in future ready learning has led you to advocating for future ready students.

Works Cited

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

Riggs, Donald E. 2001. “The Crisis and Opportunities in Library Leadership.” Journal of Library Administration 32 (3/4): 5-17.

seAp.org. “What Is Advocacy?” https://www.seap.org.uk/im-looking-for-help-or-support/what-is-advocacy.html

 

 

 

 

 

Advocacy: A Long-term, On-going Process

Chapter 8: Leadership and Advocacy Podcast: Virtual Interview with Dr. Ann Ewbank

When advocacy becomes a regular part of a school librarian’s daily practice, then the long-term, on-going nature this work becomes clear. School librarians must always serve stakeholders in such a way as to engender their support for the professional work and leadership of the school librarian and the role of the library program in student learning. The history of school librarianship is clear. School librarians can never rest on their laurels and assume that their positions, library budgets, and programs are safe from cuts when budgets get tight, district deficits loom, or national trends in education shift.

Readers of Ann Dutton Ewbank’s book Political Advocacy for School Librarians: Leveraging Your Influence (2019) can find additional support for stepping out of one’s comfort zone and developing persuasive messages. School librarians can also use the American Library Association’s Library Advocate’s Handbook (2008), which includes guidelines for telling the library story, successful speaking tips, including a speaker’s checklist, and tips for talking with the media and dealing with tough questions.

Advocating for the Program
When school librarians have formed a solid base of support for the contributions of the library program to the school community, they are able to mobilize support from stakeholders when the need arises. Keeping the library program in the spotlight through consistent services and public relations are essential. The school or library website and social media, the school or library newsletter, principals’ communications to families, and local broadcast media outlets are all venues to share the library story.

In her article “Tales of the Crypt,” elementary and middle school librarian Kelly Klober from Danville (AR) shares an exciting Living History project and event that involved students in researching the lives of people buried in the town cemetery. Adult participants in the project included classroom teachers, family members, and other volunteers from the community. Kelly included this as one of her tips for success: “Make friends with the press. We always have incredible coverage from our local newspaper, and our high school’s senior seminar class has always been kind enough to video the event” (Klober 2019, 20).

Advocating for the Position
While some argue that school librarians should not advocate for their own positions, I whole-heartedly disagree. If there were a proposal on the table in your district to eliminate all kindergarten teachers, you can bet that kinder teachers (and their first-grade colleagues, families, and more) would be frontline advocates who could clearly state the need to retain these positions. State-certified school librarian positions are no different. There is research-based evidence that supports the value of having a state-certified school librarian on every school faculty. School librarians should know this research. The following examples are from an article published in Phi Delta Kappan Online by Keith Curry Lance and Debra Kachel (2018).

Given the emphasis on literacy and reading in many schools and districts, it makes intuitive sense that students’ reading and writing scores would be better in schools with a strong library program. In a Washington state study, graduation rates and test scores in reading and math were significantly higher in schools with high-quality libraries and certified librarians, even after controlling for school size and poverty (Coker 2015). Reading and writing scores tend to be higher for all students who have a full-time certified librarian. The Pennsylvania study (2012) found that reading scores for Black students (5.5%), Latino students (5.2%), and students with disabilities (4.6%) where higher when the school had a full-time librarian. Even higher academic gains were evident among student subgroups if their schools had more library staff, larger library collections, and greater access to technology, databases, and the library itself. The 4th-grade NAEP reading data supported the Pennsylvania findings. In states that gained librarians between 2004-05 and 2008-09, average reading scores for poor students, Black students, and Latino students improved more than in states that lost librarians. In states that lost librarians, English language learners’ scores dropped by almost 3% (Lance and Schwartz 2012).

School librarians must advocate for their own positions based on research, on their own practice, and on locally collected student learning data.

Advocacy-at-Large
Inviting print and broadcast media to library program events and writing letters to the editor and op-ed pieces for local newspapers are ways to take the school library story out into the community. School librarians and their advocates can keep school libraries in the minds of the general public as preparation for advocacy appeals and initiatives that will require the support of school boards, families, and voters.

Here are two recently published op-eds that I wrote on behalf of Tucson’s school librarians, libraries, students, educators, administrators, and families.

Missing School Librarians Means Lost Literacy Learning,” Arizona Daily Star, November 3, 2017.

Literacy Matters Every Day,” Arizona Daily Star, March 6, 2019.

And as part of a School Librarian Restoration Project in Tucson Unified School District, TUSD board liaison Kristen Bury of the School Community Partnership Council and I were briefly interviewed by a local news station KGUN9.

Restoration Project Aims to Employ More Librarians for TUSD,” KGUN9 video interview and article.

This letter to the editor was published on April 18, 2019 during School Library Month. “The Library Ecosystem.”

Strategic school librarians engage and enlist others in long-term, on-going advocacy efforts to ensure that school library stakeholders will have equitable access to the resources, instructional and other services, professional expertise, and leadership school librarians and libraries provide. Keeping the public informed is essential when the time comes to seek their support for specific advocacy appeals.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. How are you engaged in long-term, on-going advocacy?
  2. Who do you need to ask to join you in this effort?

Works Cited

American Library Association. 2008. Library Advocate’s Handbook. 3rd ed. http://www.ala.org/advocacy/advocacy-university/library-advocates-handbook

Coker, Elizabeth. 2015. The Washington State School Library Study: Certified Teacher-librarians, Library Quality and Student Achievement in Washington State Public Schools. Seattle: Washington Library Media Association.

Ewbank, Ann. 2019. Political Advocacy for School Librarians: Leveraging Your Influence. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Klober, Kelly. 2019. “Tales from the Crypt.” Knowledge Quest 47 (4): 16-20.

Lance, Keith Curry, and Bill Schwarz. 2012. How Pennsylvania School Libraries Pay Off: Investments in Student Achievement and Academic Standards. PA School Library Project. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED543418.pdf

Lance, Keith Curry, and Debra Kachel. 2018. “Why School Librarians Matter: What Years of Research Tell Us.” Phi Delta Kappan Online. http://www.kappanonline.org/lance-kachel-school-librarians-matter-years-research/

Advocacy: An Essential Component of Daily Practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

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

Work Cited

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

Leading Successful Advocacy Appeals

April is School Library Month: Everyone Belongs @Your School Library

When you read Chapter 8 in Maximizing School Librarian Leadership, you will clearly make the connection between leadership and advocacy. Effective school librarians lead advocacy initiatives in order to spotlight the needs of students, classroom teachers, and administrators in relationship to the library program. Such advocacy efforts are made in light of the positive impact the program and school librarians’ teaching/coteaching have on student learning and classroom teachers’ teaching as well as in support of administrators reaching school goals.

School librarians’ own advocacy efforts can lead to increasing all library stakeholders understanding of the critical role libraries and librarians play in future ready education. In a study of school library advocacy literature published between 2001 and 2011, researchers Ann Dutton Ewbank and Ja Youn Kwon found that 83% of advocacy activities were initiated by school librarians themselves or by an individual in the school library field (2015, 240). Only 5% of the advocates mentioned in the literature were parents and just 3% were school administrators.

Advocacy Appeals Supported by Stakeholders
The “Spokane Moms” are one of the shining examples of parent advocates who have spoken up for school librarians and libraries. In 2008, they launched a website, maintained a blog, cited research and testimonials, and provided advocates with ways to support their cause. Working together, they effectively advocated to save professional school librarian positions first in their own city and then throughout the state of Washington.

Each year during April, School Library Month, the American Association of School Librarians seeks an advocate who will record a public service announcement (PSA) to promote the importance of school libraries and librarians. Author and illustrator Dav Pilkey provided this year’s PSA. His heartfelt personal story of being a child with learning challenges and parents who encouraged him to read whatever he wanted provides a powerful testimonial for librarians and librarians. School librarians and school library advocates are encouraged to download it and share it widely in their learning communities and online.

Advocacy Appeals Launched by School Librarians
We all wish our communities had the advantages of a dedicated group of advocates such as the Spokane Moms. While we can count on support from our national association and authors who are generous in making appeals for our profession, school librarians must face the reality of everyday advocacy. School librarians themselves must speak out and be their own first advocates.

Chapter 8 includes an example of a school librarian-led advocacy appeal to hire library assistants in every school—assistants who make it possible for school librarians and the program to reach their capacity to lead, teach, and provide professional development. The example guides readers through a step-by-step process that can be applied to other types librarian-led advocacy efforts.

Advocacy Goal
School librarians may launch an advocacy appeal, but our ultimate goal is for stakeholders to become knowledgeable, vocal spokespersons for the program. When stakeholders speak up on behalf of school librarians and libraries, many policy- and decision-makers will sit up and listen. And when the initiative takes on a life of its own, school librarians can help ensure the success of such efforts by leading from behind the scenes to keep the messaging strong, clear, and productive in reaching the intended outcomes.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

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

Work Cited

Ewbank, Ann Dutton, and Ja Youn Kwon. 2015. “School Library Advocacy Literature in the United States: An Exploratory Content Analysis.” Library & Information Science Research 37: 236-243.

 

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.

School Librarian Evaluation

Episode 7: Assessment (Evidence-based Practice) Virtual Podcast Interview with Kelly MillerIf school librarians are to achieve their capacity as leaders in their schools, it is their charge to influence the practices of their colleagues. As noted in Chapter 2: Job-Embedded Professional Development, coteaching is an ideal context in which educators organically practice reciprocal mentorship. Coteachers learn with and from one another as they guide, monitor, and assess student learning outcomes.

If school librarians are to collect direct measures, “they must be proactive in creating the conditions in which they can collect, analyze, and use evidence of their impact on student learning” (Moreillon 2016, 30). In short, in order to maximize their leadership, school librarians must seek out instructional partnerships, and they must coplan, coteach, and coassess student learning outcomes.

And in the best of all possible worlds, school librarian evaluators would observe them and provide actionable feedback in the context of coteaching. I was fortunate in my career to have site-level administrators who, with the classroom teacher’s permission, observed me during cotaught lessons. In several cases, our pre-evaluation conferences were conducted with the other educator present. In all cases, the post-evaluation conferences were one-on-one conversations between my evaluators and me.

Readiness for Coteaching
Jennifer Sturge, the Teacher Specialist for School Libraries and Instructional Technology for Calvert County (MD) Public Schools published an article in the January/February issue of Knowledge Quest (KQ). In the article, Jen shares how she provided collaboration training to help classroom teachers and school librarians prepare for classroom-library coteaching. She also worked with administrators to help them overcome possible barriers to coteaching such as library scheduling, collaboration time, and library staffing.

Jen found that 83% of the classroom teachers she surveyed believed that collaborating with school librarians would benefit students. Of course, there were challenges along the way, but can-do collaborators found solutions to address them. As Jen notes at the end of her article, “I was hoping to succeed but was also prepared to fail. After all, how could this project take off without funding? Through the sheer determination of everyone who has recognized the benefits to students and worked along with way with me, we’re moving slowly but surely to a more collaborative approach in our elementary school libraries” (Sturge 2019, 31).

Evaluating Coplanning
Using a coplanning form is one way to assess you and your colleague’s readiness to coteach. In the January/February KQ article “Co-Planning and Co-Implementing Assessment and Evaluation for Inquiry Learning,” I provided sample planning forms that include standards, learning objectives, and student outcomes evaluation criteria (Moreillon 2019, 42-43).

Effective collaborative planning creates a framework for measurable student success; it addresses the Understanding by Design (UbD) approach (Wiggins and McTighe 2005) to planning instruction. School librarian evaluators will benefit from observing, participating in, or reviewing educators’ evidence of collaborative planning.

Evaluating Coteaching
Evidence-based practice (EBP) suggests that educators base their instruction on published research, apply research-based interventions in their practice, and measure the success of their efforts in terms of the targeted student outcomes. UbD and EBP are aligned and can assist educators in determining the effectiveness of their teaching.

In the same issue of KQ, the literacy coordinator for Bismarck Public Schools Misti Werle shared her leadership in implementing and evaluating instructional partnerships in her district. Writing along with middle school librarian Kat Berg and English language arts teacher Jenni Kramer, Misti shared a “Levels of Library Services and Instructional Partnerships” document that guided Bismarck school librarians in serving as equal instructional partners. The document assisted them in stretching their collaborative practices and helped them assess their progress as well (Berg, Kramer, and Werle 2019, 35).

Evaluating the Outcomes of Classroom-Library Collaboration
In her podcast interview, Kelly Miller, Coordinator of Library Media Services for Virginia Beach (VA) Public Schools, provides school librarians with a pathway to leadership through evidence-based practice. When school librarians collaborate with others to develop an action research project, they can demonstrate their professionalism, collect and analyze data, and document how they are improving teaching and learning in their schools.

This tweet was cited in a recent issue of ASCD’s Education Update: “Have a dream or vision and struggling to get there? If so, let go of perfection, bring as many people together as you can, and focus on continuous improvement rather than a destination point of ‘success’” (@PrincipalPaul 2019, 3). Collaborative relationships can be challenging. Codesigning and coimplementing an action research project can be imperfect at times and collaborators must be able to self-assess and regroup.

Just as educators help students strive for continuous development, wise administrators and school librarian supervisors support educators in continually improving their practice. Approaching school librarian evaluation as providing feedback for learning means that librarians will have the necessary guidance to move their practice forward. Success is in the journey rather than reaching some static target for “perfection.”

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. Why is it essential for school librarians to have a different evaluation instrument than classroom teachers?
  2. Think of a time you had an effective coteaching experience. What would an evaluator have noticed during this teaching and learning event?

For Fun!
Effective classroom-library collaboration can flourish in a positive school climate and a collaborative school culture. Figure 7.4 in this chapter (also available as a free download) shows a possible way to involve one’s administrators and colleagues in suggesting criteria for assessing the school librarian’s effectiveness.

Works Cited

@PrincipalPaul. 2019. ASCD Education Update 61 (1): 3.

Berg, Kat, Jenni Kramer, and Misti Werle. 2019. “Implementing & Evaluating Instructional Partnerships.” Knowledge Quest 47 (3): 32-38.

Moreillon, Judi. 2019. “Co-Planning and Co-Implementing Assessment and Evaluation for Inquiry Learning,” Knowledge Quest 47 (3): 40-47.

Sturge, Jennifer. 2019. “Assessing Readiness for School Library Collaboration.” Knowledge Quest 47 (3): 24-31.

Wiggins, Grant, and Jay McTighe. 2005. Understanding by Design, 2nd ed. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

 

Assessing Students’ Dispositions

Assessing one’s development of future ready dispositions is an important aspect of self-assessment. During the course of inquiry learning, students have multiple opportunities for choice and voice that can lead them to becoming proficient as self-regulating learners. Feedback regarding dispositions is essential because it helps students see their progress and points them in positive directions for improvement.

Dispositions such as confidence, persistence, and self-direction may be more visible to educators than others such as flexibility, openness, and resilience. Students and educators can share joint responsibility for assessing students’ progress with regard to dispositions. Their different perspectives can create opportunities for social and emotional growth for students and greater understanding of students on the part of educators.

Student Self-Assessment
Assessing dispositions directly is a challenging proposition. It may be true that a student’s own perception of her/his progress in developing specific positive dispositions may be the most effective assessment. This will require trust between students and educators and student self-awareness and honesty. (I have found that many students are harder on themselves in self-assessment because they think educators are looking for perfection rather than for progress.)

“Ideally, educators will guide students to notice how they are applying dispositions throughout the inquiry and involve them in self-assessment throughout the process—not just at the end of the unit” (Moreillon 2019, 46). Polling can be used to “take the temperature” of the class regarding their feelings about the topic, task at hand, or progress toward learning targets. Exit tickets, journaling, and reflection logs are some of the most frequently used assessment tools than can help students drill down deeper to find their areas of strength, improvement, and challenge.

Modeling Dispositions
“Collaborating school librarians play a key role in helping students develop these dispositions in authentic contexts. When educators coteach, they model dispositions associated with team work—flexibility and open-mindedness. When they coteach technology-supported learning experiences, educators model on-going digital learning and dispositions, including perseverance and risk-taking. When educators guide students in real-world online learning, they model curiosity and grit” (Moreillon 2018, 95).

It is also important for coteachers to acknowledge when they make missteps in terms of dispositions. They can share their own negotiations during planning and implementing lessons so that students see how adult use various dispositions to work effectively with other people. If they are especially open and trusting, educators can invite students to observe and comment on how educators are demonstrating dispositions during coteaching.

Educator Assessment
If developing dispositions is one goal for students during an inquiry learning process, then assessing dispositions must be part of the process evaluation. Ideally, educators will name the dispositions students may be utilizing during inquiry. Educators will point out students’ developing dispositions and where they might be challenged in terms of social-emotional learning (SEL). This should be done individually and confidentially for individual students. It can also be done when noting a trending disposition for the whole class.

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) offers an Assessment Guide that “provides several resources for practitioners to select and use measures of student SEL, including guidance on how to select an assessment and use student SEL data, a catalog of SEL assessments equipped with filters and bookmarking, and real-world accounts of how practitioners are using SEL assessments.”

As Christina Torres, an English teacher in Honolulu, Hawaii, wrote: educators “must get content- and skill-based data and socioemotional information to best support our students. Discovering and supporting your students’ needs, allowing students to share their strengths, and asking them about their emotional state shows we care about what they think and how they feel. Data doesn’t have to reduce students to a number, but the way we treat students can” (Torres 2019, 2).

Side note: When classroom teachers and school librarians coteach, it seems natural that they would also engage in shared assessment in terms of the development of dispositions they practiced as they coplanned, coimplemented, and coassessed student learning outcomes and their instructional interventions.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. What has been students’ and classroom teachers’ responses to assessing students’ dispositions, especially if this strategy is new to them?
  2. How do you self-assess your own dispositions in terms of your growth as an instructional partner or leader?

Works Cited

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. “CASEL: Educating Hearts. Inspiring Minds.” http://www.casel.org

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

­­­_____. 2019. “Co-Planning and Co-Implementing Assessment and Evaluation Strategies for Inquiry Learning.” Knowledge Quest 47 (3): 40-47.

Torres, Christina. 2019. “Assessment as an Act of Love.” ASCD Education Update 61 (2): 1-2.

Sharing the Power of Assessment with Students

Sharing the power of assessment with students is a natural segue from the digital learning chapter in Maximizing School Librarian Leadership. Power sharing with students became a central feature of effective instructional practices when technology tools and digital information first entered our classrooms and libraries. Educators literally “handed over the keys” to learning when multiple resources, perspectives, and devices supplanted textbooks as go-to information sources. In this context, educators who could best share power in the classroom were the most effective at technology integration.

Perhaps the same can or will be said about educators sharing the power of assessments with students. If “research shows that less teaching plus more feedback is the key to achieving greater learning” (Wiggins 2012, 16), then making a regular practice of both educators and students assessing students’ progress can also lead to transferrable learning. Students who have the authority to monitor their learning process and progress can apply self-assessment strategies throughout their lives.

Self-regulating Learners
“Students must be given opportunities to self-assess their progress if they are to become self-regulating independent learners” (Moreillon 2019, 42). Self-regulating students know how to focus their attention on classroom activities, ignore distractions, and direct their actions. They also know how and when to apply skills and strategies and marshal their dispositions. Self-regulating learners are more effective at carrying out a task and without external interventions. These behaviors help them succeed in school… and in life.

Ensuring that students have agency is a trending topic in education. Self-regulation is an aspect of agency. “Agency can help motivate students as they develop positive dispositions, such as perseverance and the ability to tolerate ambiguity. Agency also supports students as they personalize, self-regulate, and own their learning, including negotiating unequal access to tools and resources” (Moreillon 2018, 95). As Eric Sheninger and Thomas Murray note: “Our students will enter a world where their ideas—their genius—will only matter if they have the agency to develop and share them. Helping students become their own biggest advocates is key” (2017, 77).

Inquiry Learning and Self-Assessment
Inquiry learning supports students as self-regulating learners by connecting them to their own background knowledge and asking personally meaningful questions. When student take responsibility for assessing, analyzing, and evaluating information to answer questions and using reliable information to take action, they practice and demonstrate their ability as agents of their own learning.

Self-assessing their learning process, solutions, and final products is the next level of self-regulation and agency. Educators guide students in using various self-assessment tools throughout the inquiry process to help learners monitor, track, and evaluate their process and products. When students self-assess their inquiry process, they analyze the information sources, they use during their investigation. One key commitment of school librarians within the AASL Shared Foundation of “Curate” is defined as “making meaning for oneself and others by collecting, organizing, and sharing resources of personal relevance” (AASL, 2018, p. 94).

Educators provide students or create along with students graphic organizers, exit slips, journal prompts, rubrics and other assessment instruments to help students assess their progress. Students can complete these assessments as individuals or in partners or groups depending on the organization of instruction.

Evaluating Solutions and Final Products
Students can use checklists, rubrics, and other assessment tools to evaluate their solutions and final products. Again, students can conduct these self-evaluations as individuals or in teams, and can also provide assessments or evaluations of other students’ work. Student-led conferences in which they share their learning with educators and family members are a way for students to take ownership of their process and final products. Students can also reflect and identify how they will take the next steps in their learning as part of their self-evaluation.

As Rick Stiggins and Jan Chappuis (2012) have noted, assessment should be for learning rather than of learning. Assessment must be a path to improvement for students and for educators. Educators whose ultimate goal is to help students become independent lifelong learners who apply critical thinking and take action in the world will want to guide students in becoming self-regulating learners. They will want to share the power of self-assessment and self-evaluation with students.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. How do you prepare students to share in assessment?
  2. What has been students’ and classroom teachers’ responses to student self-assessment, especially if this strategy is new to them?

Works Cited

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

_____. 2019. “Co-Planning and Co-Implementing Assessment and Evaluation Strategies for Inquiry Learning.” Knowledge Quest 47 (3): 40-47.

Sheninger, Eric C., and Thomas C. Murray. 2017. Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Stiggins, Rick J., and Jan Chappuis. 2012. An Introduction to Student-Involved Assessment for Learning, 6th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Wiggins, Grant. 2012. “7 Keys to Effective Feedback.” Educational Leadership 70 (1): 11–16.

 

 

Reciprocal Technology Mentorship

As noted in the “Reciprocal Mentorship” blog post for Chapter 2: Job-embedded Professional Development learning with and from colleagues is a way to honor the principles of andragogy (adult learning theory) and for educators to provide and receive personalized, differentiated professional development (see Differentiated Professional Development). Learning with and from empowered students in also a way to strengthen our knowledge and skills and diffuse exciting future ready uses of resources, tools, devices, and skills throughout the school building and into families’ homes as well.

Learning with and from Colleagues
Sometimes school librarians are called upon to help colleagues understand the critical importance of digital learning and the benefit of collaborating for students’ digital learning success. To that end, pointing out that the Google News Initiative is taking off and showing educators how they and their students can benefit is a way to launch a digital learning conversation and build background and shared values for coplanning and coteaching.

These are two outstanding resources that may help classroom teachers understand the critical importance of digital learning and give school librarians an entrée into collaboration.

Crash Course has partnered with MediaWise and the Stanford History Education Group to make this series on Navigating Digital Information. “Let’s learn the facts about facts!”

Here’s the “Introduction to Crash Course Navigating Digital Information #1 with Author John Green.”

Also, on the MediaWise website, you will find a link to “Media News” with categories such as “fact-checking” that provide articles to stimulate classroom discussion and collaborative planning and coteaching. There are also links to events and training that educators may want to attend together to ensure the information they learn will make a greater impact on their instruction. MediaWise’s YouTube Channel is likewise a treasure trove.

Miranda Fitzgerald who strategically selected tools and tasks for (elementary) students provides these recommendations for selecting digital tools, which can apply to educators at all instructional levels:

  1. Do not settle for educational technologies designed for drill and rote memorization.
  2. Choose tools that promote discussion and collaboration during reading and writing.
  3. Pair digital tools with rich reading and writing tasks guided by meaningful questions.
  4. Select tools that challenge students to interpret and communicate information using multiple modes.
  5. Seek tools that level the playing field for students with a range of reading and writing skills (2018, 35).

Share these wise tips with colleagues or post them on your office wall.

Learning with and from Students
Speaking of wisdom, it is also wise for school librarians to make an intentional practice of learning with and from students. In any area where students know more than the adults in their lives, young people experience empowerment – increased strength and confidence. Since working with empowered students is our goal, educators must be eager to learn from students (as well as with them).

Student geek squads and school library aides can be mentors for other students, school librarians, and other educators who must be continually upgrading their technology knowledge and skills. Cross-age student technology mentors can be especially effective in K-6 or K-8 schools. Younger students enjoy learning from older and more savvy students in schools that span the grades. We may not reflexively think of these partnerships as “instructional,” but indeed they are, and school librarians can formalize some of these partnerships for the benefit of all.

In this month’s Digital Learning podcast, Jefferson Elementary school library media specialist Louis Lauer in the Fargo Public Schools shared an example of collaborative project with fifth-grade teachers. The project focused on developing materials that educators could use to teach students about the district’s Responsible Use Policy. Not only did fifth-grade students collaboratively develop these materials, they also shared them with 2nd-grade students. Win-win-win in terms of classroom-library collaboration, inviting students to serve digital citizenship leaders, and cross-age learning with younger students.

Internet of Stings, Digital Savvy, and Citizenship
Jennifer Howard published a provocative article in The Times Literary Supplement in 2016: The Internet of Stings. It includes brief book reviews of titles that address the potholes on the Internet superhighway. This cautionary article has haunted me since I first read it and has furthered my belief that school librarians can be problem-solvers alongside classroom teachers and families in order to prepare students for learning, working, and living in the technological age.

Ms. Howard asks this, “How much privacy are we willing to give up to reap the benefits of a networked world? To live digitally is a more complex and ambivalent process than any of these books captures, and there are risks that the authors do not acknowledge – for instance, how to archive and access the public data and cultural knowledge being created in quantities never seen before. At this moment in our digital evolution, though, what worries me most is whether we can find the collective will and the technological capacity to reclaim the internet from those who use it to exploit, control and abuse, whether they are criminals, governments, or white supremacists. It would be a disaster to let this decade spiral into a tech-enriched replay of the 1930s. Fear technology if you must, but fear the people who control it more.”

Clearly, it will take all students, educators, and families working together in order to help each other develop digital savvy and citizenship. Reciprocal mentorship among all stakeholders is required.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. Why is it important to learn with and from students and colleagues and share information with families in the area of technology tools use and integration?
  2. How are you currently teaching/coteaching digital savvy and citizenship?

Work Cited

Fitzgerald, Miranda. 2018. “Multimodal Knowledge Building: Meaningfully Using Digital Tools to Foster Disciplinary Learning.” Literacy Today 36 (1): 34-35.

Howard, Jennifer. 2016. “The Internet of Stings.” The Times Literary Supplement. https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/internet-of-stings/