Next Steps

Dear Maximizing School Librarianship Readers and Blog Post Followers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work Cited

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

Community Connections

I believe a school librarian’s first order of business is serving as a leader within the school building itself and then within the school district. The focus of Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy is librarian leadership that benefits students, other educators, administrators, and families within the school building and district.

That said, instructional leadership and advocacy are two areas in which school librarians’ leadership activities can extend into the community outside the school building. When the greater community is aware of the school library program, advocacy appeals for more resources, staffing, and other types of support will be supported by local businesses, non-profit and civic organizations, and by voters.

Instructional Community Connections
School librarians can be the connectors who bring the resources of the community into the school building. Human resources are often overlooked by busy educators. Bringing in guest speakers and experts in their fields builds bridges for learning and perhaps future career choices for students. School librarians can coordinate or work with a school community liaison to facilitate volunteer tutors and other services offered by individuals and non-profit groups.

Taking students and learning out into the community is another area for school librarian leadership. Field trips to public and academic libraries, museums, universities and colleges connect students to community resources that can support learning. Getting outside the school building and visiting parks and nature preserves or attending fine arts performances enriches students’ lives.

Off-campus student jobs and internships are other ways school librarians can support student learning. As a high school librarian, I wrote a number of reference letters for library aides and other students who were seeking employment or apprenticeships. Based on my experience of students’ work ethic and willingness to learn, I could confidently recommend them to business owners and community organizers.

Community Advocacy Connections
There is no question that the community outside the school building can provide powerful support in advocating for the school librarian’s position and the library program. The more students and educators are out in the community the greater the community’s knowledge of their talents and their needs. When students share their learning, musical or other talents at a school board meeting, parents, voters, and the press are there. In a small school district where I served in a combined junior high/high school library, I co-sponsored and sponsored two sets of student presentations. One was a classroom-library online literacy circles collaboration; the other was the library geek squad who researched and presented the need for computer upgrades.

Making sure the school district and local town/city press cover the contributions of the library program to student learning helps educate the community about the vital learning and teaching facilitated by the school librarian. This will take a strategic and concerted effort on the part of the school librarian and school/district administrators who understand the literacy and learning value added. If and when the school board decides to address a budget shortfall by eliminating school librarians, there should be a hue and cry.

Community and Sustainability
When the school and school library are positioned in the community as sites for literacy and learning opportunities, school library programs have a greater opportunity to survive in the ever-changing, ever-evolving education landscape. It is up to each and every school librarian to make the commitment to sustaining a program that is worthy of stakeholders. “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. What are the benefits of maximizing community connections?
  2. What connections are you making with resources, including human resources, to bridge school and community?

Work Cited

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

 

Continuous Learning, On-Going Assessment

Learners—of all ages—must “replace, modify, or eliminate established patterns of behavior, beliefs, or knowledge. Learning is not about reaching a specific target and then resting on one’s laurels. Rather, it is about a continuous process of building and tearing down and building up again. Transforming a learning culture requires change with a capital ‘C’” (Moreillon 2018, 19).

As centralized instructional partners, school librarians are perfectly positioned to model continuous learning. Along with administrators and teacher leaders, they can initiate, monitor, gather and analyze data, adjust, and propel any change initiative underway in their schools.

Principals’ and School Librarians’ Shared Roles
While changemaker school librarians can make a modicum of progress working with selected classroom teachers, they cannot achieve schoolwide success without the leadership and support of their principal(s). A school librarian’s relationship and communication with the school principal must be a primary focus if a change process is to succeed. School librarians who seek to open the library for additional hours, move to a flexible schedule, adopt a schoolwide inquiry process, improve school climate, culture, and more, must partner with their administrators.

“Together, they develop a culture of collaboration and continuous learning in their schools. While people have both fixed and growth mindsets in various contexts, principals can lead learning by modeling a continuous openness to growth” (Moreillon 2018, 12). Principals who position themselves a “lead learners” and practice distributed leadership may create the most conducive environment for school librarian leadership.

Principals and school librarians can then work together to nurture and sustain the supportive environment that Peter Senge and his colleagues call “schools that learn.” These schools are “places where everyone, young and old, would continuously develop and grow in each other’s company; they would be incubation sites for continuous change and growth. If we want the world to improve, in other words, then we need schools that learn” (Senge et al. 2012, 4–5).

Continuous Learning = Continuous Improvement
Maximizing School Librarian Leadership (MSLL) is intended to provide educators with instructional and cultural interventions that can “help create new norms that foster experimentation, collaboration, and continuous improvement” (Guskey 2000, x). As professional development, the information provided and strategies suggested in MSLL can serve to validate learning and teaching as currently practiced in readers’ schools.

For progressive school libraries, schools, and districts, MSLL may serve as confirmation that the transformation process currently underway is headed in the most effective direction to improve student learning and educator proficiency. For those readers, the book may also serve as a prompt to stretch themselves a bit further, to take another calculated risk, to gather and analyze additional data on their path to excellence.

For other school libraries, schools, and districts that are not as far along on their path to transformation, MSLL may provide targets, guideposts, or tools for self-assessment to further direct the change process. Using this book to clarify vision and mission or goals and objectives is a worthwhile outcome for a professional book study. Engaging in professional conversations around these topics can strengthen communication and relationships among faculty members. These conversations can provide a stronger foundation on which to build collegiality and common agreements.

Confidence
“School librarian leaders nurture, develop, and sustain relationships with all library stakeholders. They build their confidence by continuously improving their skill sets, including pedagogical strategies and technological innovations. School librarians develop their communication skills in order to listen and respond to the ever-evolving needs of learners—students and educators alike” (Moreillon 2019). Through relationships and communication, school librarians lead with confidence (Everhart and Johnston 2016).

School librarians, in particular, may find the information in MSLL will increase their confidence, their willingness, and their ability to lead. By increasing knowledge and improving skills, school librarians can shore up the necessary confidence to step out of their library-centered comfort zone and expand their influence throughout their school, their district, and beyond.

Schoolwide or districtwide goals will require collaboration with stakeholders and on-going assessment of the change process. School librarians who are armed with information and confidence can enlist their site and district administrators as strategic partners who ensure the central role of the school library program in the academic program of the school. They can ensure that state-certified highly qualified school librarians are leading through library programs across their district and their state. “Collaboration is an indispensable behavior of school librarian leaders who help all library stakeholders reach their capacity. Through leadership and collaboration, school librarians cocreate and colead future ready education” Moreillon 2019).

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. What supports are in place in your school or district that make it possible for educators to engage in continuous learning?
  2. What is your role as a school librarian in promoting continuous learning and gathering and analyzing data for on-going assessment toward school/district outcomes?

Works Cited

Everhart, Nancy, and Melissa P. Johnston. 2016. “A Proposed Theory of School Librarian Leadership: A Meta-Ethnographic Approach.” School Library Research 19.

Guskey, Thomas. 2000. Evaluating Professional Development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

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

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

Senge, Peter, Nelda Cambron-McCabe, Timothy Lucas, Bryan Smith, Janis Dutton, and Art Kleiner. 2012. Schools That Learn: A Fifth Discipline Fieldbook for Educators, Parents, and Everyone Who Cares About Education. New York: Crown Business.

 

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/

 

 

 

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.

Deeper Learning Opportunities

The quote that frames the “Deeper Learning” chapter can serve as educators’ guidepost for inquiry, traditional literacies, and digital literacy as well. Right Question Institute leaders Dan Rothstein, Luz Santana, and Andrews P Minigan proclaim: “Having students create their own questions is a short-cut to deeper learning” (2015, 71). I agree… and I also agree with these authors that students need guides to help them dig deep to find their most personally meaningful questions that will motivate them to pursue answers, even when the going gets rough.

More than One Answer
For far too long, many K-12 students have experienced school as the place where educators ask the questions and students supply the answers (answers that educators already know). While this paradigm has been changing, factors that can set up barriers, such as an over-emphasis on standardized tests or students’ grade point averages, have been impeded change in many school environments.

Linda F. Nathan who wrote a book called The Hardest Questions Aren’t on the Test: Lessons from an Innovative Urban School and contributed to the “Principals Know: School Librarians Are the Heart of the School” video, wrote this deceptively simple statement in a recent Educational Leadership article: “Problems can have more than one solution and questions can have more than one answer” (Nathan 2018-2019, 62).

For many students (and educators) that fact can be a welcome (or disconcerting) surprise. Student-led inquiry, fine arts projects, science experiments for which the outcome is truly unknown, various projects involving real-world data collection—these are some types of opportunities educators can design and guide in which students can experience more than one solution to self-generated questions—where they can experience deeper learning.

“Traditional” Deeper Learning Project
The “senior research project” has long been a staple of the high school curriculum. The goal of this project is to integrate skills (such as communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking), academic concepts from multiple disciplines, and data from the students’ courses into one summative project. In most cases, these projects are individual. Students may be “assigned” the project is a particular course, and it is then facilitated by that classroom teacher or another adult mentor.

School librarians are positioned to support students and classroom teachers as students pursue senior research projects. This may be accomplished on an individual basis, or classroom teachers may determine that small groups or entire classes of students need interventions. School librarians can collaborate with the teacher to provide interventions such as effective uses of databases, technology tools and resources, credible Web searching, bibliographic instruction, and more.

Genius Hour
In K-12 schools, Genius Hour is a movement that allows students to explore their own passions in order to capitalize on intrinsic motivation and encourage creativity.  It provides students a choice in what they learn during a set period of time during school. Although I am a firm believer in designing and organizing standards-based inquiry learning such that students ARE pursuing their passions, anecdotal data suggest that “genius hour” can be a win for students and their learning. The GeniusHour.com website provides professional development, resources, videos, suggested professional reading, and more.

Genius Hour is an idea adapted from Google. At one time, Google provided its engineers with “a genius hour” consisting of 20% of their work time during which they could pursue a pet project. In his book, Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, author Dan Pink also promotes the idea that passion projects are a way to tap into our motivation to learn and create. I appreciate Pink for this blog post, in which he describes an Innovation Day (2011) in a suburban Chicago classroom. All educators could design learning such that students experience such enthusiasm for learning every school day!

Academic Flex Time
Mark Dzula is the Director of Teaching and Learning Resources at The Webb Schools in Claremont, California. He is also a frequent contributor to the Knowledge Quest blog. In two recent posts, Mark described the learning experiences of students pursuing independent topics, questions, and knowledge during academic flex time.

AASL Standards and Multiple Literacies during Academic Flex Time (9/26/18)

Research, Information Literacy, and Independent Study (12/17/18)

Creating the Conditions
Educators create the conditions for deeper learning when they fully integrate learning and doing. “We diminish teaching and learning when we make students study history or biology or math or literature without consistently and simultaneously having them do the work of and as practitioners in the field” (Tomlinson 2018, 92). As emphasized in last week’s post, personally meaningful questions and time are two essential ingredients in empowered deeper learning. Hands-on, minds-on doing is another.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. What kinds of deeper learning do students in your school experience?
  2. What kinds of deeper learning do educators in your school experience?

Works Cited

Nathan, Linda F. 2018-2019. “Hitting the Right Note.” Educational Leadership 76 (4); 62-67.

Rothstein, Dan, Luz Santana, and Andrews P Minigan. 2015. “Making Questions Flow.” Educational Leadership 73 (1): 70-75.

Tomlinson, Carol Ann. 2018-2019. “Sparking Students’ ‘Uncommon Genius:’ All Educators Can Learn Valuable Lessons from the Way the Arts Are Taught.” Educational Leadership 76 (4); 91-93.

Inquiry-Empowered Learning Culture

In the three previous Chapter 3: Inquiry Learning posts, I have shared ideas about developing a school-wide inquiry process, using inquiry learning as a way to engage students’ curiosity, experimentation, and creativity, and diverse creative expressions of learning. What would be the result if students, educators, and administrators enacted these three big ideas of inquiry learning?Shared Processes
A shared process provides a guaranteed, viable framework for student success. Students can master an information-seeking process and then adapt and expand upon it as they advance through grade levels and in various aspects of the curriculum. A common process leads to shared vocabulary and understandings that help every educator in the building communicate with and support all students in the building in achieving their learning goals.

A shared process can only be realized in a positive school climate and a collaborative learning culture. A framework that promotes in-depth learning will by necessity require changes in other aspects of the learning environment. Bell schedules may need to change. Student and educator responsibilities may need to change. Assessment and evaluation may need to change. Trusting relationships, professional respect, and the ability to navigate challenges and change are essential features of such a learning community.

Student-led Questioning and Diverse Expressions
Trust is also essential if educators support the agency of empowered students who guide their own learning process. Student-led questioning is one of the essential differences between inquiry and traditional research. When educators guide inquiry by providing students with sufficient background and helping them build connections between prior and new knowledge, they create a space in which students’ curiosity, experimentation, and creativity can thrive.

Trust is also necessary in an inquiry environment that supports students as creators. Educators who give up control and share power with students in the classroom and library provide an essential piece of the inquiry learning puzzle. They support students with menus of options or give students free rein to create new knowledge in diverse and unique ways. These expressions of learning are meaningful to students and cement their ownership in both the process and products of their discoveries.

School-wide Philosophy
Inquire is one of the shared foundations in the new AASL standards (2018). When students AND educators inquire, they practice a growth/innovator’s/inquiry mindset. They open their minds to new information, ideas, and perspectives. They use formative assessments to grow and develop as curious, creative, experimenting learners. Educators support students with timely, specific feedback to propel students forward on their learning journey, giving them encouragement to take missteps and to learn from them. The same is true for inquiring educators. They seek, give, and receive real-time feedback from one another through coteaching; they expect to be engaged as learners who are in a constant quest to improve instruction.

When a school or district adopts an inquiry learning framework they are also adopting a philosophy. If you haven’t yet tuned in or want to be inspired again, please listen to Priscille Dando’s podcast interview Episode 3: Inquiry Learning, in which she shares how school librarians are leading and guiding inquiry learning to achieve district goals for students and educators.

A Recipe for Inquiry Learning
Figure 3.1 on page 38 in Maximizing School Librarian Leadership offers a “Recipe for Inquiry Learning.” It is “taken out of the book” of future ready educators and students. The ingredients are curiosity, connections, motivation, content knowledge, literacies, skills, and dispositions. The directions can be applied to any inquiry process, but all steps require sufficient time for maximum results. You can download the recipe from the ALA Editions Web Extras.

Inquiry learning is student ready/future ready learning. It is the pathway to helping students develop literacies, skills, and dispositions that will serve them throughout their lives.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. What behaviors indicate to you that students and educators are empowered in your school?
  2. How can inquiry learning lead to empowerment for the entire school community?

Works Cited

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

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

Coleading Alongside Principals

Earlier this month there was a discussion on the AASL Forum about the perceptions of education decision-makers regarding school librarians’ skill sets and contributions to student learning and classroom teachers’ teaching. (In addition, Rebecca Moore also published an article in VOYA magazine called “Beyond Mysterious Stain Removal: Top Skills for School Librarians.”)

Several people have commented on the Forum that school librarians must listen to principals, in particular, and help them solve the challenges they face. By helping principals and other district-level administrators solve problems and serving as coleaders alongside their administrators, school librarians can help others successfully implement change.

I invite you to revisit Misti Werle’s virtual podcast interview for Chapter 2: Job-Embedded Professional Development to note how she is leading coteaching practices among Bismarck (North Dakota) Public Schools as a way of addressing school administrators’ priorities.

In 2014, my former Texas Woman’s University colleague Teresa Starrett, who teaches school administration courses, and I crowdsourced a video titled “Principals Know: School Librarians Are the Heart of the School.” We put out a nationwide request to school librarians who had experience collaborating with their principals and with classroom teachers. These testimonials, from across the country, document what these school administrators know are the reasons all schools should have a professional school librarian on the faculty who leads a collaborative school library program.

The following are transcript excerpts from the videos we received. They were used to create the composite video.  From my perspective, these testimonials clearly indicate what all administrators should value and what all school librarians should contribute to their learning communities. I have highlighted some of the keywords in their testimonials. (Note: The administrators’ positions and titles listed were accurate at the time the video was published in 2014).

Paula Godfrey, Elementary School Principal (Retired), Tucson, Arizona
“Principals should stand for what’s important in schools, and having teacher librarians in elementary schools is essential. When you have a teacher librarian in an elementary school, they teach teachers how to be better at their craft, how to help children evaluate sites so that the research they do is meaningful and allows student voices to come out because they truly understand the research that they’re doing. When you work with the teacher librarian, you’re able to grow professionally in a way that’s very non-threatening, very supportive, but accomplishes that raise of rigor in the classroom, and their confidence in being able to complete a research project with their students. There is the opportunity on a day-to-day basis for the teacher librarian to use the skills that she has to improve teaching in classroom teachers. That professional development doesn’t happen on Wednesday afternoons from 1:45 to 2:45. Professional development happens as teacher librarians and classroom teachers collaborate together on projects for their students.

Teacher librarians are the heart of the school. And without a teacher librarian there is no central focus on literature. There is no support for families, for students, for teachers, for staff, on literature, on professional development, on research. Teacher librarians are the heart of the school.”

Dr. Neil Stamm, Assistant Principal, Crittenden Middle School, Newport News, Virginia
“The school librarian has become more of a resource for students, rather than the keeper of books. Librarians now work with students and teachers as an information agent.”

Felicia Barnett, Principal, Crittenden Middle School, Newport News, Virginia
“The true indication of the value of our school librarian is found in the excitement that our students experience when visiting our library. It’s an obvious result of the librarian’s passion: making literacy a priority for all content areas in our building and all students and families.”

Regina Stafford, Assistant Administrator, Crittenden Middle School, Newport News, Virginia
“School libraries and school librarians contribute in rich and diverse ways to the intellectual life of a school. They help develop students to function in a complex and increasingly digital environment. The school librarian really is a co-teacher who undertakes an active role by engaging in shared instruction to produce literate and informed learners who can thrive in a digital knowledge-based world.”

Linda Nathan, Founding Headmaster, Boston Arts Academy, Boston, Massachusetts
“I’m a huge advocate for bringing librarians into the forefront and bringing libraries into the forefront of thinking about urban school reform.”

Dr. Lourenco Garcia, Principal, Revere High School, Revere, Massachusetts
“The learning commons is a place where the librarian, the person that’s running it, can really program, plan activities in a more engaging and interactive way, where teachers and students feel good because technically they are not entrenched in an area that’s cold like the traditional library, but in a place that is very engaging, very interactive, where the work can be done in a more relaxing environment.”

Dr. Nadene Stein, Northeast Elementary School, Waltham, Massachusetts
“We are blessed to have a vibrant library and a great librarian who can connect with the teachers and the students and really make learning come alive for kids. And I’m not really sure what we would do without that resource. I can’t imagine not having a library teacher. I’ve worked in other systems where that’s one of the first things that gets cut, and I would be holding on to the library teacher kicking and screaming if they told me that we had to lose that out of the budget. The resource is invaluable, and it is something that just enhances the curriculum of every grade level in this building.”

Priscila Dilley, Director of Elementary Leadership, Principal Supervisor, Fort Worth, Texas
“We like to really push for a coteaching approach, where the librarian and the teacher are there side by side and they know the skills that students need to review or, you know, spiral back in, whatever it might be. We like for the librarians to be heavily involved with that so that they can support the student achievement in their libraries as well.”

Rebecca Beidelman, (Former) Principal, Kutztown Area High School, Kutztown, Pennsylvania
“They (school librarians) are teachers. They are information specialists. And they sit down and they help with writing curriculum. And helping to design assessment. Because a lot of assessment is also project based and process based – you’re evaluating the process as opposed to just the process outcome. And that process, of course, in terms of Common Core, has to include all of the research components that are required. The technology components that are required. The higher-level thinking and the depth of knowledge that’s required. I cannot imagine not having an information literacy specialist in my building to bounce things off of.”

Shenequa Coles, Principal, Columbia High School, Columbia, South Carolina
“Our librarian is a member of our leadership team, she assists with the decision-making that the team has to do, and that includes department chairs and administrators. The bottom line is, our librarian assists with projects for students with teachers, research, she provides professional development through our Technology Tuesday sessions and other sessions that we have professional development sessions throughout the school year. This school could not function without our school librarian, and she helps to provide a rich culture that is filled with inviting and new learning opportunities.”

For me, all of these testimonials suggest that school librarians’ roles as curriculum developers (#1 on Rebecca Moore’s list) and leaders in job-embedded professional development can be pathways for school librarians to help principals and district-level administrators solve the challenges they face in our schools.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. How does your principal engage in distributed leadership?
  2. What roles do leaders play in your school?

Work Cited

Moreillon, Judi, and Teresa Starrett, eds. 2014. “Principals Know: School Librarians Are the Heart of the School.”  YouTube. https://youtu.be/bihGT7LoBP0

All quotes used with permission

Building Connections

Welcome to the official launch of the Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy (MSLL) 2018-2019 Book Study. I invite you to read one chapter each month and participate in weekly blog discussions throughout this school year.

Podcast – Episode 1: Building Connections for Learning

Maximizing School Librarian Leadership Facebook Group

Each chapter in the book opens with an invitation to connect your background knowledge and experience with the content of the chapter. The prompt in Chapter 1: Building Connections for Learning asks you to consider how the current culture in your school supports your personal growth and how does it support individual and collective risk-taking, problem solving, and innovation.

These may or may not be easy questions to answer. You may be new to a school, or you may be serving in a new role this year and have yet to realize the affordances of your current school culture. If that is the case, think about your previous school or work environment.

Have you served, or do you serve in a culture that supports your professional growth?

School Culture
According to the glossary in MSLL, culture is “a way of life. It is comprised of shared beliefs, values, knowledge, attitudes, language, behaviors, social interactions, and more. Cultures are created by people over time. Cultures are dynamic; they are not fixed. Cultures change as people’s needs and norms change” (Moreillon 2018, 170). For me the keywords in this definition are “people” and “dynamic.”

Building Relationships
When building a culture of learning in your school, your relationships with people are THE place to start. People who know, like, and respect each other are more likely to invest in the success of the entire learning community. As a school librarian, you make sure that the strongest relationship you form and nurture is with your principal. You will build relationships with library staff, volunteers, and student aides. You will build relationships with individual classroom teachers and specialists and with grade-level or disciplinary teams. You will build relationships with the Parent-Teacher Association/Organization leaders and students’ family members.

Simply put, you must build relationships in order to position your work and the library program at the center of the learning community.

There are many ways to build connections via relationships. With your principal(s), it may be through regular face-to-face meetings, via email or other electronic communication, by sharing lesson plans, monthly newsletters, and quarterly reports. It may be through professional development opportunities you are facilitating for faculty. Wise school librarians regularly leave invitations to see what’s happening in the library and other positive notes in their principal’s mailbox. All of these communication venues will focus on sharing how you assist your principals in meeting their goals for faculty, students, and the school.

The teachers’ lounge in any school can be a positive point of contact, or it can be a place for airing complaints. If it is the former, be sure to get out of the library and into the lounge whenever you can. Get to know about classroom teachers’ own children (grandchildren) as well as their students. Listen and learn as they share the successful happenings in their classrooms. Be on the alert for problems they might share that you can help them solve. Share yourself as well as the resources and learning experiences centered in the library. If you cannot change the teachers’ lounge into a positive place for developing relationships, steer clear of it.

Forming advisory committees that include administrators, classroom teachers, students, and families is one sure way to build relationships. Make sure these committees have a defined purpose, such as setting library procedures, overseeing the library’s Web presence, or planning a literacy event. Library student aides can become the school librarians “own kids.” Not only do they help manage the library, they also further develop literacies and give school librarians insights into possible challenges other students may be having in using and creating with information.

Building Connections
Effective school librarians build connections between professional development and practice; resources and curriculum; libraries and classrooms; inquiry and the disciplines; and future ready learning and college, career, and community readiness (see figure 1.5).  Building these connections can best be achieved in a learning commons model. This model “for the use of the library’s physical and virtual spaces, its resources, and the school librarian focuses the library program on knowledge-building by students and educators alike” (Moreillon 2018, 173).

Cultural Transformation
“Advancing progressive learning approaches requires cultural transformation. Schools must be structured to promote the exchange of fresh ideas and identify successful models with a lens toward sustainability — especially in light of inevitable leadership changes” (NMC/CoSN 2017, 4). I believe that school librarians can play a pivotal role in initiating, maintaining, and sustaining cultural transformation in their schools.

If the school library is known as a place for the open exchange of ideas, school librarians can help ensure that the school culture is a dynamic one. This open exchange will happen when there is trust among educators, students, and community members. With an exploratory and risk-taking approach, school librarians who have co-created a “learning commons” in the library will be on the forefront of identifying, testing, and developing successful strategies for transforming teaching and learning.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. What are your go-to strategies for building connections in your school learning community?
  2. How does your school library program reflect a “learning commons” model, and how can you capitalize on this model to transform learning and teaching in your school?

Works Cited

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

New Media Consortium and Consortium for School Networking. 2017. The NMC/CoSN Horizon Report: 2017 K-12 Edition. https://cdn.nmc.org/media/2017-nmc-cosn-horizon-report-k12-EN.pdf

Maximizing Systems Thinking

In this quote from the book, I offer a critical foundation for succeeding in Maximizing School Librarian Leadership. When administrators, educators, students, and families have a collaborative mindset, they will be invested in each other’s success and in the success of the entire learning community. With a culture of collaboration as a foundation, principals and school librarian leaders will have built the necessary relationships to fully understand the system they seek to lead.

The Global View
Like principals, school librarians have a global view of the learning community. Effective school librarians and principals also reach out beyond the school walls to work with families and other community members. A close working relationship between principals and school librarians helps them share their insights into the various components of the learning community.

Systems thinking involves taking stock of the whole system before attempting to change any part of it. Systems thinking leaders search for patterns in the interdependent relationships among people and practices within the system. It is important, then, that leaders step into each other’s and every stakeholder’s shoes. School librarian leaders must ask: What does the school library program look like from the perspective of the principal(s), classroom teachers, specialists, staff, families, district-level decision-makers, and community members?

Systems thinking helps leaders identify areas of strength. These are the places in the system that support the learning community’s vision, mission, or goals. Leaders also look for stumbling blocks that may impede the school’s progress toward achieving their goals. In a collaborative culture, leaders use this information to further strengthen the system and collectively solve the challenges that could keep educators, students, and families from achieving success.

School Library Services Alignment
Collaborative school librarians seek to align their work—resources and teaching—with the classroom curriculum. Through coplanning, coteaching, and coassessing student learning outcomes they have first-hand knowledge of the instructional program from a school-wide perspective. Principals and school librarians can use that information to continually improve their own leadership as well as the success of other educators, students, and families.

Systems thinking involves working as a team. Team learning “is a discipline of group interaction. Through such techniques as dialogue and skillful discussion, small groups of people transform their collective thinking, learn to mobilize their energies and actions to achieve common goals, and draw forth an intelligence greater than the sum of individual members’ talents” (Senge et al. 2012, 8).

School librarians work with individual colleagues as well as with grade-level and disciplinary teams. This gives us the opportunity (and the responsibility) to personalize professional learning for each member of the teaching faculty. Our knowledge of the entire system, which we share with our administrators, helps school librarians collaborate with others to transform teaching and learning. It helps us know how we can capitalize on our colleagues’ individual strengths and the school’s collective strengths. It helps us develop strategies to address any policies, procedures, or practices that may be holding us back.

Systems Thinking in Education
Systems thinking is not a new idea in education. In 1992, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development published an issue of Educational Leadership called “Improving School Quality.” Frank Betts contributed an article to that issue called “How Systems Thinking Applies to Education.” As Betts notes, “Each educational system is composed of a unique set of elements arranged in a unique constellation of relationships. Furthermore, the relationships among elements, subsystems, and supra-systems are continually changing in search of equilibrium while avoiding entropy.” As the call for systemic change in education has grown even more urgent in the years since his article was published, there remains much to learned about applying systems thinking to transforming our schools.

Taking a systems thinking approach provides school leaders with the data they need to lead a change process. Strong leaders practice distributive leadership and encourage all stakeholders to actively participate in the process. Applying systems thinking and working collaboratively with others is the way to collectively take the risks necessary to maximize our effectiveness and reach for our capacity to meet the needs of today’s students.

Coming August 27th at 3:00 p.m. EST:

Your Library on Steroids: Make an Impact on System Level PrioritiesSchool Library Journal Webinar with Priscille Dando, Coordinator of Library Information Services, Fairfax County Public Schools, and Jonathan Hunt, Lead Coordinator of Library Media Services, San Diego County Office of Education

Questions for Discussion

  1. Do you feel that your school community is currently working together as a team?
  2. How do you or could you contribute to strengthening your school’s team?

Works Cited

Betts, Frank. 1992. “How Systems Thinking Applies to Education.” Educational Leadership 50 (3); 38-41.

Senge, Peter, Nelda Cambron-McCabe, Timothy Lucas, Bryan Smith, Janis Dutton, and Art Kleiner. 2012. Schools That Learn: A Fifth Discipline Fieldbook for Educators, Parents, and Everyone Who Cares about Education. New York: Crown Business.