Instructional Leadership Opportunities

School librarian leaders belong to school library professional organizations. We read the journals and magazines focused on research and practice in our own profession. We participate in Facebook, Google, and Twitter chat groups and more to learn with and from each other to develop our craft.

While it is essential that school librarians stay abreast of new developments in our own field, it is also important to read the journals and magazines our administrators and classroom teacher colleagues read as well. In addition to library-focused organizations, I belong to two non-library organizations, the International Literacy Association and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) in large part to read their journals and access their online resources.

Last May, ASCD’s Educational Leadership published an issue titled “Lifting School Leaders.” Check out the table of contents. From my perspective, school librarian leaders could benefit from reading every article in the issue. These are my comments on four of them.

In her column, “One to Grow On,” Carol Ann Tomlinson notes four ways school leaders claim their authority: bureaucratic (hierarchy), psychological (expectations and rewards), professional (training and experience), or moral (values and norms). In schools where leaders with “moral authority” have invested in building relationships, reaching collective values, and establishing shared norms, they lead their colleagues in creating a collaborative culture based on interdependence and reciprocal mentorship. School librarians can be coleaders along with their principals in creating the conditions that make such a school culture possible.

Instructional coach Anne M. Beaton wrote an article called “Designing a Community of Shared Learning.” She cites the work of Roland Barth, one of the educational researchers who has greatly impacting my thinking about the community of school. Anne realized the richness of instructional expertise that classroom teachers in her school were missing by not being able to observe one another teaching. She set up a rotation and a protocol for educators to learn from visiting each other’s classrooms. For me, her article made a connection to the enormous benefit school librarians have to develop their craft through coplanning, coteaching, and coassessing student learning with every classroom teacher and specialist colleague in their building!

Kenneth Baum and David Krulwich wrote about “The Artisan Teaching Model” as a way to develop instructional expertise. In their article “A New Approach to PD—and Growing Leaders,” they describe the importance of writing, practicing, and delivering engaging lessons as the “defining work” of educators. I could not agree more! The Artisan Teaching Model involves co-creating quality instruction in grade-level, content-area teams facilitated by a team leader. After writing high-quality plans, a teammate observes a colleague teaching and provides feedback. Again, my connection is to the opportunity school librarians have to learn with and from their colleagues through instructional design, delivery, and assessment.

In “Building a Schoolwide Leadership Mindset,” Sarah E. Fiarman, a former school principal, shares how principals can support educators who think in terms of how their actions will benefit the entire school. Rather than focusing their work at the classroom (or library) level, educators with a whole-school perspective can influence the practices of their colleagues. Principals create opportunities for educators, including librarians, to share responsibility for improving teaching and learning by “getting out of their way” and giving them tasks they have never done before. Supporting educators in taking risks helps them grow as leaders in a culture of professional learning.

School librarians have limitless opportunities to serve as instructional leaders in their schools. (Sadly, but it seems all too common, I did not note that a school librarian was mentioned in any of the articles in the “Lifting School Leaders” issue.)

If you do not have access to the May, 2017 issue of Educational Leadership, ask your principal to share her/his copy. Make time to read the articles and note how you are serving and can grow in your instructional leader role. Follow up with an appointment with your principal to discuss what you learned and how she/he can help you further build your leadership capacity.

As Google’s Educational Evangelist Jaime Casap proclaimed in his keynote at the American Association of School Librarians’ conference in Phoenix last month, it’s time for educators to step up our work. Jaime said, “Take the best ideas we have (in education) and bring them to the next level.”

Let’s make sure our administrators and colleagues experience how school librarians are coleading as we build on the best ideas in teaching and learning. In collaboration with our principals and classroom teacher colleagues, we can best serve our students by taking those ideas to the next level.

Image Credit: Educational Leadership Cover courtesy of ASCD

#AASL17 Conference Takeaways

The release of the new AASL National School Library Standards created an extra buzz to the energy at the conference. As always, it was wonderful to see long-time friends and colleagues and make new school librarian colleagues from across the country.

I had the added pleasure of reconnecting face to face with one of my former high school principals (@AZHSPRIN), who is a rock star school librarian advocate. I also reconnected with Cecilia Barber, one of my former graduate students from the University of Arizona, who is serving as a school librarian in her tribal community in Shiprock, New Mexico; it’s gratifying to know the positive impact she is making. I also met Dr. Karen Reed who used my coteaching reading comprehension work in her dissertation and presented a session on Friday that included that work.

These are just a few of my conference takeaways.

Jaime Casap’s keynote on Thursday was one of the highlights of my professional learning. Jaime (@jcasap) is the Chief Education Evangelist at Google, Inc. If you were unable to attend Jaime’s keynote or did not attend the conference, check out his YouTube and TEDx Talk videos.

Jaime shared his passion for the potential of digital technologies and Google tools to improve pedagogy and enable powerful learning. Andy Plemmons (@plemmonsa) wrote a Knowledge Quest blog post about Jaime’s talk: “Shifting Our Culture: An Opening Keynote with Jaime Casap.”

In addition to Andy’s report, there were two comments that Jaime made that really struck a chord with me. He noted that it is essential that we change the paradigm of teaching from a “solo sport” to a collaborative one. We know it takes teams of educators working together to keep schooling relevant and dynamic for today’s students. I totally agree and understand that in many ways, it is easier to work with students than with our adult colleagues.

This presents a leadership opportunity for school librarians. I believe that we have a key role to play in creating a high-impact collaborative culture in our schools through coplanning, coteaching, and coassessing learning.

At the end of his talk, Jaime said this (and this is a direct quote to the best of my memory): “At the end of the day, the most important person in the classroom (or maybe he said ‘school’) is…” He then he paused.

While I “heard” 90% (or more) of the school librarians in the room thinking “the student,” I immediately thought of Ken Haycock’s words related to this perspective.

Then Jaime broke the silence and said, “the teacher.” And I “heard” almost everyone in the room think, “Yes! I am the teacher.”

But that is not what I heard. I heard the classroom teacher. I heard yet another call to action for school librarians to be leaders who build capacity by collaborating with our colleagues to improve classroom teachers’ and our own craft of teaching.

Here’s what Ken Haycock said, “Whom do you serve? Most (school librarians) would answer students, yet the primary clientele in terms of power, impact, and effect would be teachers” (2017, 3).

School librarians who were fortunate to attend #AASL17 in Phoenix and learn with and from colleagues have an obligation to take their learning home. Share what you learned with your administrators, classroom teachers, and school librarian colleagues. Discuss the ideas and strategies that were part of your conference learning.

Which leads me to thank the participants in the “Leadership: Many Roles for School Librarians” and “Investing in Social Capital Counts” concurrent sessions. In both, I made a plea for school librarians to step up their leadership by collaborating with colleagues in every aspect of their work from reading promotion, reading comprehension and writing strategy instruction, inquiry learning, and technology-enabled learning. Any one or all of these could be the “problems” we are helping our colleagues solve. Or as Kristin Fontichiaro (@active learning) vividly described them in the “Leadership” session: our colleagues’ “pain points.”

School librarians demonstrate leadership and added value when we work collaboratively with other educators to help them solve their instructional challenges and when we work together to help students meet their learning needs.  For school librarians, “collaboration is the single professional behavior that most affects student achievement” (2007, 32).

What did you take away from the conference? I invite you to share here on the School Librarian Leadership blog.

Note: I have uploaded the slides and handout from “Investing in Social Capital Counts” on the session wiki.

References

Haycock, Ken. 2007. Collaboration: Critical Success Factors for Student Learning. School Libraries Worldwide 13 (1): 25-35.

_____. 2017. Leadership from the Middle: Building Influence for Change. In The Many Faces of School Library Leadership, 2nd ed., ed. Sharon Coatney and Violet H. Harada, 1-12. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Image Credit: Created at Wordle.net

AASL National Conference

is coming to Phoenix! The AASL National Conference & Exhibition is held every other year in locations around the U.S. This year the conference will be held from November 9th – 11th. It will bring about 4,000 members of our profession, authors, vendors, and school library advocates to the Grand Canyon State.

AASL conferences are exemplary professional learning opportunities for school librarians, school librarian supervisors, school administrators, and others who are committed to preparing preK-12 students for their future.

School librarianship has always been a dynamic profession. But with more pressure on educators to prepare future-ready students, the increasing spread of information and misinformation, and the proliferation of technology resources and devices, school librarians and effective school library programs are needed now more than ever.

One-hour concurrent sessions are the backbone of AASL conferences. Check out the schedule of opportunities to learn from colleagues from across the country and link to “concurrent sessions” at various times throughout the conference.

On Friday, November 10th, from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m., I will be part of a panel presentation: “Leadership: Many Roles for School Librarians.” The presenters are the editors and five of the chapter authors from The Many Faces of School Library Leadership (ABC-CLIO 2017): Sharon Coatney, Vi Harada, Debbie Abilock, Helen Adams, Kristin Fontichiaro, Deb Levitov, and yours truly. We will share further ideas from the book in room North 125A.

On Saturday, November 11th, from 3:10 to 4:10 p.m., I will share “Investing in Social Capital Counts.” My session focuses on strategies to make connections and build the relationships (the social capital) school librarians need to diffuse innovations throughout their learning communities. Building instructional partnerships is an essential way school librarians enact leadership and maximize their impact on learning and teaching. The session will be held in 132AB

If you are attending the conference, please consider joining me at either one or both of these sessions. If you are unable to attend Saturday’s session, you can find out more information on the Web at: Investing In Social Capital Counts.

And if you are not able to make the trip to Phoenix, follow the conference on Twitter: #AASL17.

The fact that this year’s conference is being held in Arizona hones a spotlight on the state of the profession in Arizona. Tragically, the vast majority of Arizona students and classroom teachers lack the support of state-certified school librarians. Please read my op ed that appeared in the November 3rd issue of the AZ Daily Star: Missing school librarians means lost literacy learning.”

If you are a national colleague, join me in my commitment to continually improve my practice of librarianship. In addition, if you live in Arizona, please work with me to restore school library programs in our state. Both commitments are for the benefit of our students, educators, families, communities, and nation.

Image Credit: Provided by AASL

Leadership Shapes the Shore

My husband and I just returned from a two-week visit to England. During our trip, I took an almost complete technology-free sabbatical, answering only the most pressing email and not engaging with social media at all. My goal was to take a break from thinking about my book revisions (the result of the title change and plans to include the new AASL national standards) and my place in the great scheme of school librarianship. I wanted to know if other thoughts would occupy my mind.

Still, I seemed to find messages in the scenery that spoke to me about our profession. (I guess I have found my true “why”! Okay, so I didn’t give up reading on the trip. Read my take-aways from Simon Sinek’s Find Your Why in next week’s post.)

After we hiked the Jurassic Coast from the Chesil Beach in West Dorset (just one of the four gloriously sunny days we enjoyed during our travels), we drove to the seaside town of Seaton in East Devon.

This photograph shows one of two metal sculptures that demarcate the entrance to the boardwalk.

“The shore shapes the waves.”

A photograph of the other sculpture is below.

At first, these two complementary ideas spoke to me about how school librarians must respond to and interact with “the shore,” the ever-changing environment in which we live and work. Our actions within this environment are “the waves.”

There are positive aspects to being mindful of our school, district, state, and national trends and priorities. When we situate our work within those larger contexts, we align the library program with other people’s goals and may be able to reach our capacity to influence teaching and learning toward a future-ready direction.

This may be especially true for future ready librarians who are serving in school districts that have taken the Future Ready Pledge. A commitment to change, growth, and improvement in instruction presents leadership opportunities for these librarians. The waves they make land on a hospitable shore – an environment and school culture where they have support for enacting future-ready learning.

On the other hand, for far too many of school librarians, “the shore” can act as an impediment to such progress. Understaffing, fixed schedules that prevent school librarians and library resources from meeting the just-in-time learning needs of students and colleagues, the lack of collaborative planning time during contract hours, inconsistent or non-existent leadership at the district level, and more can create an undertow that limits our opportunities to make positive change. Such a shore can undermine our opportunities to change, grow, and lead.

“The waves shape the shore.”

To my mind, for most of us, this idea is a stronger metaphor for future-ready school librarian leadership. Rather than being at the effect of our environment, school librarians must be proactive in building a continuous learning environment and culture in our schools.

Through our work as leaders we must shape the shore. We must design library programs and guide our schools and districts as well as our state and national associations in shaping learning environments that “work for” students and educators.

Cohort 2 Lilead Fellows are engaged in the first of four leadership courses. In the current course, participants “identify an issue in their school or program that is important to their school, district, or state’s priorities, examining and planning practical and tangible ways the school library program can help address the issue. They will identify new ways of thinking about their library programs and how they can lead in change efforts at the building-, district-, and state-levels.”

This requires transformational change—not merely tinkering but targeting our “waves” to shape “the shore.” Our future leans more toward this message. We must use the force of our unique areas of expertise, our waves, to collaboratively create a receptive shore for change. This requires us to build connections between the library and the classroom, between curriculum and resources/tools, between and among educators, between school, home, and community.

School librarians must be proactive in offering ever more relevant, engaging school-based learning opportunities for future-ready students and in supporting the teaching and professional growth of our future-ready colleagues and administrators.

Image Credit:
Photographs from Judi Moreillon’s Personal Collection

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.

Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today

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

On June 12, 2017, I attended an ASCD Webinar presented by authors Eric C. Sheninger and Thomas C. Murray. (If you missed it, I highly recommend the webinar archive.) Their presentation was centered on their hot-off-the-presses book Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today. After the webinar, I preordered a copy of their book and read it as I was completing my own manuscript.

This book focuses on creating a culture of innovation and leading change. In reviewing their table of contents, I found so many parallels between their book and mine that I was, at first, reluctant to read it… until after I had submitted my manuscript. However, my curiosity won out. And I am glad it did. Reading their work at the 11th hour in my process gave me an opportunity to further develop my thinking, reflect, and include some quotes from their book in mine.

In Learning Transformed, Sheninger and Murray identify “eight keys for intentional design.” They are:
1. Leadership and school culture lay the foundation.
2. The learning experience must be redesigned and made personal.
3. Decisions must be grounded in evidence and driven by Return on Instruction.
4. Learning spaces must become learner-centered.
5. Professional learning must be relevant, engaging, ongoing, and made personal.
6. Technology must be leveraged and used as an accelerant for student learning.
7. Community collaboration and engagement must be woven into the fabric of a school’s culture.
8. Schools that transform learning are built to last as financial, political, and pedagogical sustainability ensure long-term success (24-27).

I could not agree more about the importance of leadership and culture in creating the context for educational transformation. I believe future-ready librarians are positioned to be leaders and culture-builders in their schools.

For those of us in the school library profession, “inquiry” is the process that we promote for redesigning learner-centered/personalized learning. Sheninger and Murray offer thoughtful strategies for leaders to make student agency a reality in their schools. Among them are standards-aligned learning activities and assessments, student mastery of selecting the right tool for the task, portfolios as authentic assessments, student involvement in rule making, and participation in feedback loops—choice and voice (76-77).

Decision-making based on evidence also resonates with school librarians who develop library programs using evidence-based practice. One term that Sheninger and Murray use with which I was previously unfamiliar was Return on Instruction (ROI). They used this term in relationship to the funds and time spent on the latest technology tools and devices and ROI, evidence of improved student learning outcomes.

I found the parallel between ROI and Return on Investment an important one. School librarians who serve as technology stewards evaluate and field-test digital resources and tools based on sound pedagogical practices and learning goals can be leaders in their schools in ensuring a positive ROI. School librarians also provide formal professional development and job-embedded personalized learning for colleagues through coplanning and coteaching.

School librarians who have developed a learning commons model in their school libraries may be particularly interested in the chapter entitled “Designing Learner-Centered Spaces.” I suspect they will echo the authors’ contention that flexible spaces that “provide areas for movement, and promote collaboration and inquiry” (25) are needed if students are to explore creativity and reach for innovation.

As a reader, I found the format friendly, quotes thoughtful, and examples from the field compelling. I suspect many readers will compare their teaching and learning environments to those described in the book. It would be important to find as many similar assets with these sites and explore how your own school could further expand its areas of strength.

As an author, I was impressed by the endorsements Sheninger and Murray received for this book. Sir Ken Robinson, Linda Darling-Hammond, Daniel H. Pink, Robert Marzano, Michael Fullan, and many more education thought leaders have high praise for Learning Transformed.

If you are in a formal or informal leadership position in your school or district (e.g. future-ready librarians and school library supervisors), then you will want to read this book and discuss it with the decision-makers in your school and district.

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

Unleash Your Passion for School Library Programs

April is School Library Month. This is a time of year when school librarians across the country spotlight the transformational learning and teaching that is happening through school library programs.

School librarians who continually improve their expertise and collaborative skills build effective school library programs. Their exemplary programs are the foundation they need for advocacy. In her chapter entitled “Becoming an Expert Teacher,” Hilda Weisburg writes this: “Many librarians have struggled with getting teachers to work with them but you (school librarian) will never be regarded as a leader if you work alone in the library” (47).

From my personal experience, students’ learning experiences can be especially empowered when they are cotaught in collaboration with classroom teachers and specialists. When educators coteach, they learn from one another and provide more feedback to students, more timely interventions, and support student success. In all ways, two heads and four hands are better than one! (And working with a trio—or more—of educators increases student support exponentially.)

In support of preservice school librarians’ understanding of and commitment to the power of classroom-library coteaching, I curated a collection of video testimonials of classroom teachers and specialists talking about their positive experiences collaborating or coteaching with their school librarian.

Along with Teresa Starrett, preservice principal educator colleague at Texas Woman’s University, I crowdsourced a video of principal testimonials about the essential work of their exemplary school librarians: “Principals Know: School Librarians Are the Heart of the School.”

While it is ideal for students, classroom teachers, principals, parents, and other library stakeholders to advocate for school librarians and school library programs, it behooves school librarians themselves to unleash their passion for the difference their work and the resources and environment of the school library make in empowering students’ learning and teachers’ teaching.

At the invitation of Jennifer LaGarde, school librarians from across the country are providing testimonials about their understanding of future-ready school librarianship. Reedy High School (Frisco, Texas) librarian Nancy Jo Lambert submitted a video response to the question: “What is a future ready librarian?” I believe that Nancy Jo’s response is brilliant because she confirms her focus on curriculum and classroom-library collaboration in order to positively empower student achievement. Brava, Nancy Jo.

Please view Jennifer’s crowdsourced flipgrid and get an idea of how your future-ready colleagues express their future-ready roles.

Here’s to all the school librarians who shout out about the privilege of learning with and from awesome students and collegial educators. Here’s to the librarians whose stakeholders shout out about the indispensable role school librarians and school library programs play in the education of future-ready students.

Happy School Library Month!

Work Cited

Weisburg, Hilda K. Leading for School Librarians: There Is No Other Option. Chicago: ALA Editions, 2017.

Image credit:

Howard Lake. “Speak Up, Make Your Voice Heard.” n.d. Flickr.com, https://c1.staticflickr.com/6/5260/5540462170_d5297d9ce8_b.jpg

Logo courtesy of the American Association of School Librarians

Harmony in Difference

tt54-coverSaturday, December 10th, was the United Nations’ Human Rights Day. Making the connection between human rights and finding “harmony in difference” feels like a timely post for me.

In 1992, when I was serving in my first school librarian position, my father-in-law gave me a copy of the Southern Poverty Law Center magazine Teaching Tolerance.  Founded in 1971, SPLC is a U.S. non-profit organization monitors the activities of domestic hate groups and other extremists.

Shortly after reading my first issue of Teaching Tolerance, I became a card-carrying SPLC member and have religiously renewed my membership every year since. Over the years, Teaching Tolerance has given me inspiration, encouragement, and teaching tips to make social justice a central component of my service as a school librarian and school librarian educator.

On their “about” page, Teaching Tolerance notes that their definition of “tolerance” aligns closely with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s Declaration of Principles on Tolerance: “Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. Tolerance is harmony in difference” (UNESCO).

The Fall 2016 issue of the magazine (cover above) was published before the election. (It is downloadable.)  Read or review this issue and think about the fact that SPLC counted 867 incidents of hateful harassment in the ten days after the U.S. election. How can educators, and school librarians in particular, teach young people to find “harmony in difference?”

Read the latest from Teaching Tolerance: “New Report: School Climate Worsens in Wake of Election.” More than 10,000 educators took the survey; 90% of respondents reported that their school climate has been negatively affected by the election.

These are some tips for school librarians who serve as information specialists, instructional partners, and leaders in their schools:

1.    If you don’t already have a free Teaching Tolerance subscription, sign up for one or read the magazine online. Sign up for the weekly newsletter.
2.    If you receive a print copy of the magazine, share it among your colleagues or send the link to the .pdf version to them. Encourage your colleagues to subscribe to the magazine and newsletter.
3.    Engage students and colleagues in discussions related to the articles in the magazine and newsletter.
4.    Reflect on your own practice of teaching tolerance.
5.    Reach out to colleagues to coteach lessons and units of instruction that affirm diversity.
6.    Consider following Teaching Tolerance on Twitter and Facebook.

As we approach the winter holiday season, it is especially important that our nation’s “public spaces,” including our school libraries, honor the traditions of all of our citizens and library users. Even in homogeneous communities, and maybe most especially in religiously homogeneous schools, the season for caring and giving is a time to acknowledge that diversity is, thankfully, an essential and laudable aspect of U.S. society.

Cover art by Nigel Buchanan
Magazine cover reprinted with permission of Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. www.tolerance.org

Fake “News” in a “Post-truth” World

fake_news
In the wake of a contentious U.S. presidential election cycle, researchers and educators are shining a spotlight on critical “information literacy” skills. Determining authority, accuracy, and bias have long been essential aspects of analyzing content and sources of information. Today, this is no easy task for students (and adults as well) when authors of “information” do their best to deceive readers or hide their identity behind domains, such as .org, factual-seeming but phony statistical data, and authoritative-sounding language based on “pants of fire” lies.

In her 2014 book, It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, researcher danah boyd wrote, “becoming literate in a networked age requires hard work, regardless of age” (177). While the amount of fake “news” has increased exponentially, the problem of determining authority and validity in information sources has been a critical skill since the early days of the Internet.

How long have school librarians been challenging students to determine the bias in Stormfront’s Martin Luther King Jr. Web site (a site often used by David Duke) began using it in 2002 when I moved from an elementary to a high school position, and I am certain others were using it before me.  (See the 7.3 Category Matrix from Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Secondary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact Challenging “Determining Main Ideas” Lesson Plan.)

Researchers at Stanford University recently conducted and released the results of a 2015-2016 study, “Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning.”  The study showed what school and academic librarians have known through their own observations and action research related to middle, high school, and college-level students’ information literacy proficiency: “Young people’s ability to reason about the information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak” (4).

Last week on LM_NET, school librarian Andrew van Zyl of St. Alban’s College, Pretoria, South Africa, raised the responsibilities of school librarians in a “post-truth” world when he posted information about Oxford Dictionaries’ announcement that “post-truth” reflects the “passing year in language.” It defines “post-truth” as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

Some who entered the conversation wondered if librarians should be engaged in “politics.” For me the answer is clear. Literacy is “political” because it empowers people. From my perspective, school librarians are required to teach youth to determine the authority and accuracy of information and we are charged with coteaching with classroom teachers to ensure that students are information literate.

Taken together, “fake news” in a “post-truth” world create an even greater need for the information literacy expertise of school librarians. Information is supposed to be factual, whether or not it is considered “news.” (Even in the halcyon days when people read printed newspapers, reporters and editors frequently rushed to “get ahead of the story” and published “errors” that later had to be corrected.) When school librarians bring their expertise to the collaboration table, they can coteach with classroom teachers to help students develop critical literacy skills that are even more essential in the online information environment.

I think this recent post on FactCheck.org “How to Spot Fake News” shows what librarians have long called “information literacy” is finally getting traction as a set of must-have skills for 21st-century students and adults as well:  (Information literacy and reading comprehension skills in parentheses)

• Consider the source. (Authority)
• Read beyond the headline. (Authority)
• Check the author. (Authority)
• What’s the support? (Accuracy and Reliability)
• Check the date. (Relevance and Reliability)
• Is this some kind of joke? (New in the post-truth world!)
• Check your biases. (Questioning)
• Consult the experts. (Questioning)

Like all educators, school librarians must continually self-assess and develop our skills. But we have a strong information literacy foundation on which to build and the desire and responsibility to share our expertise with students, colleagues, and community. Fake “news” and a “post-truth” world call all school librarians to step up  and lead.

Works Cited

boyd, dana. It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014.

Robertson, Lori, and Eugene Kiely. “How to Spot Fake News,” FactCheck.org. November 18, 2016, http://www.factcheck.org/2016/11/how-to-spot-fake-news/

Stanford History Education Group. “Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning: Executive Summary,” Stanford University. 22 Nov. 2016, https://sheg.stanford.edu/upload/V3LessonPlans/Executive%20Summary%2011.21.16.pdf

Image Credit: Newspaper Clipping created at Fodey.com

Additional Recommended Reading:
Stevenson, Sara. “Information Literacy Lessons Crucial in a Post-Truth World,” Knowledge Quest Blog, 18 Nov. 2016,
http://knowledgequest.aasl.org/information-literacy-lessons-crucial-post-truth-world/

Valenza, Joyce. “Truth, Truthiness, Triangulation, and the Librarian Way: A News Literacy Toolkit for a Post-truth World,” Neverending Search Blog, 26 Nov. 2016, http://blogs.slj.com/neverendingsearch/2016/11/26/truth-truthiness-triangulation-and-the-librarian-way-a-news-literacy-toolkit-for-a-post-truth-world/

Flexible Scheduling = Time for Learning

flick-gator_cheerleadersDuring the SLC Connection “Classroom Library Coteaching 4 Student Success” Webinar held on October 13th, several participants asked questions about library scheduling. Some of us stayed online after the hour to talk a bit more about scheduling for classroom-library collaboration.

This has long been a tension for school librarians, particularly those who serve in elementary schools. Without a flexible schedule is it difficult to collaborate with classroom teachers and specialists and provide students with deeper learning opportunities.

In fact, a week later during Leslie Maniotes’ “Guided Inquiry Design in Action” Webinar on October 27th, Leslie noted the importance of classroom-library collaboration and stressed the inquiry phases needed before students formulate their questions: open, immerse, and explore. Thorough preparation for successful inquiry learning takes time.

In my experience, inquiry phases should occur over a reasonably short period so that students’ passions are engaged. This helps them become self-motivated as they begin their inquiry and supports them in making a commitment to their learning. Fixed library schedules were school librarians are working with students at one set time each week, usually for 30 to 50 minutes, simply does not lend itself to classroom-library collaboration for guided inquiry.

Roger Grape, school librarian at Blackshear Elementary in Austin, Texas, created at a digital advocacy story to promote flexible schedules: “Bendy, Twisty, Flexible Scheduling!” In his Animoto video, Roger notes that the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) promotes flexibly scheduled school libraries as a best practice.

“Classes must be flexibly scheduled into the library on an as needed basis to facilitate just-in-time research, training, and utilization of technology with the guidance of the teacher who is the subject specialist, and the librarian who is the information process specialist” (AASL). See the entire AASL Position Statement on Flexible Scheduling.

As Roger says, “You need the best from every member of your team” (Grape). Librarians with flexibly scheduled libraries have the opportunity to serve students and teachers at the point of need. They have the opportunity to engage students and collaborate with teachers to guide deeper learning.

As I suggested in the “Coteaching” Webinar, school librarians can find a friend on the faculty, or one who teaches an age-level or in a discipline in which you have a particular strength, or approach a colleague who has expertise you lack and form a collaborative relationship. If you are working in a fixed schedule, ask that person to “give up” her/his planning time in order to coplan and coteach and build a case with administrators and colleagues for the efficacy of classroom-library collaboration supported by flexible scheduling.

Side note: If you are attending the Arizona Library Association Conference in Tucson this week, please considering participating in my session: Storytelling Matters: Reach Out with Digital Advocacy Stories. You, too, can make an effective advocacy video like Roger’s; his has over 800 views!

Works Cited

American Association of School Librarians. “Position Statement on Flexible Scheduling.” American Library Association. 17 July 2014, http://www.ala.org/aasl/advocacy/resources/statements/flex-sched.

Breeze, Chris. “Flick-Gator Cheerleaders.” Wikipedia: Cheerleading, 25 Jan. 2009, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheerleading#/media/File:Flick-Gator_Cheerleaders.jpg.

Grape, Roger. “Bendy, Twisty, Flexible Scheduling!” YouTube.com. 20 Mar. 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWo3FWmQVhM