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

Maximizing Leadership: Chapter 1

If you have been following my blog for the past year, you are aware that I have a professional book that is currently in the publication process. Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy will be published by ALA Editions in June, 2018. As a preview to the book, I will be using one blog post a month to share a one-page summary of each of the nine chapters in the book.

Chapter 1: Building Connections for Learning

“In a school that learns, people… recognize their common stake in each other’s future and the future of the community” (Senge et al. 2012, 5).

Taking a systems thinking approach helps school leaders effectively connect the pieces of the teaching and learning puzzle. Systems thinking involves taking stock of the whole system before attempting to change any part of it (Senge et al. 2012, 8). Systems thinkers closely examine the interdependent relationships among people and practices. They identify what is working and where they can improve in order for their school to reach full capacity. In collaborative culture schools, systems thinkers use their shared commitment and individual talents to collectively solve the dilemmas that hinder students from achieving success.

Systems thinking has the potential to revolutionize the way school librarians interact with administrators and classroom teacher colleagues. School librarians who seek to be leaders in their schools, districts, and beyond benefit from taking the education ecosystem into account. They understand how their work aligns with the beliefs of education thought-leaders and leading education organizations, and education transformation initiatives. When school librarians have a deep understanding of the education ecosystem, they can make connections to the priorities of their administrators, classroom teacher colleagues, and decision-makers in their district and state.

What you will find in this chapter:

1. A rationale for taking a systems thinking approach to school transformation;
2. A proposal for the components of future-ready learning: literacies, competencies, and dispositions;
3. Visions for schooling that are being advanced by notable education thought-leaders and organizations;
4. The components of a collaborative school culture;
5. Responsibilities of school librarians; and
6. Strategies for school librarians to build connections for learning and leading.

As the blog logo illustrates, principals, school librarians, and classroom teachers collaborate in order to build a culture of learning in their schools. School librarians have a unique role to play in supporting the success of administrators who are leading their schools through a transformation process. Classroom-library collaboration for instruction is one central strategy that helps school librarians position their work and the library program as the hub of academic and personal learning in the school. As instructional partners, school librarians provide professional learning opportunities for colleagues and improve their own teaching practice in the process.

Chapter 1 frames the entire book by situating school librarian leadership and classroom-library collaboration for instruction within a collaborative school culture. In this empowered learning culture, school librarians, principals, and other school leaders work together to optimize the success of coteaching inquiry. reading comprehension, deeper and digital learning.

At the end of each chapter in the book, readers will find three discussion questions, three group activities, and three sample reflection questions. This study guide approach is intended to support cadres of school librarians, school faculties, and others in using this book as a book study selection.

Works Cited
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.

Image Credit: Word Cloud created at Wordle.net

 

#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

Find Your Why, Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

Most Likely to Succeed

While authoring my forthcoming book, I have read many professional books. This is the fourth in a series of professional book reviews–possible titles for your summer reading. The reviews are in no particular order.

This book seems the perfect segue from last week’s review of George Couros’s The Innovator’s Mindset. In Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era authors Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith offered me a great deal of food for thought. These were some of their ideas that prompted my thinking.

“The role of education is no longer to teach content, but to help our children learn—in a world that rewards innovation and punishes the formulaic” (197). This quote relates directly to what I think is one of the core beliefs of many (school librarians) who promote future-ready learning.

Wagner and Dintersmith go on to qualify this idea with an acknowledgement that a certain level of knowledge is necessary in order for students to be creative and innovative. “You cannot teach critical thinking without engaging students in rich and challenging academic content. The goal must be to choose the academic content selectively so as to create the required foundation for lifelong learning, without letting the quest for content coverage overwhelm the development of core competencies” (224).

Although I am sure youth need content literacy/knowledge on which to build innovation, students opportunities to explore/innovate during the school day are far too limited. In a recent Future Ready Librarians’ sponsored webinar “Empowering Students as Creators,” middle school librarian Diana Rendina shared her perspective on the importance of play and how her school’s library makerspace supports play as a “legitimate” activity for students. Legitimizing play may be a tough slog, particularly in some secondary schools with a focus on “accountability” rather than “innovation.”

When play becomes part of a “learn by doing” curriculum, educators may have a more successful route to gaining support for “making” and creating the conditions for students to be innovators. Wagner and Dintersmith note: “Our opportunity—and our obligation to youth—is to reimagine our schools, and give all kids an education that will help them thrive in a world that values them for that they can do, not for the facts that they know” (222). (Bold added)

In Most Likely to Succeed, the authors offer a set of pedagogical principles that should inform student learning (and educators’ teaching). Students should:

• Attack meaningful, engaging challenges;
• Have open access to resources;
• Struggle, often for days, and learn how to recover from failure;
• Form their own points of view;
• Engage in frequent debate;
• Learn to ask good questions;
• Collaborate;
• Display accomplishments publicly;
• Work hard because they are intrinsically motivated (205).

All of these relate to my understanding of the goals of inquiry and future-ready learning. The authors recommend that student-curated digital portfolios that show evidence of these principles is an effective way to document student learning.

I agree with Wagner and Dintersmith that educators should also be evaluated using digital portfolios. Educators’ documentation could serve as personalized accountability (232-233). These portfolios could include video-captured lessons and examples of students’ work that shows improvement and the impact of educators’ teaching. They could include focus-group feedback from students with regard to how the educator did or did not achieve the principles cited above.

To relate this to school librarian portfolios, the school library Web site or blog could be one aspect of such a portfolio. Linked learning plans and the resulting student work and feedback from coteachers, administrators, and other library stakeholders could show how school librarians hold themselves accountable for improving learning and teaching in their schools.

With an understanding that internally motivated students will continue to learn new knowledge and skills throughout their lifetimes, Wagner and Dintersmith write this: “So, the first question we must ask ourselves about any proposed change in education is: Will this ‘improvement’ likely increase or diminish student motivation for learning and how will be know? And to be clear, we’re not just talking about the thrill factor of learning. We are talking about the motivations that include grit, perseverance, and self-discipline” (223).

I know this question will continue to stick with me. Without intrinsic motivation, learning simply will not happen.

Tony Wagner, an “expert in residence” at Harvard University’s Innovation Lab, has authored other books, including Creating Innovators and The Global Achievement Gap. Ted Dintersmith is a “partner emeritus” at a venture capital firm. Their collaboration on Most Likely to Succeed makes it a compelling read for those seeking to prepare future-ready students and transforming schools into future-ready learning environments.

Work Cited

Wagner, Tony, and Ted Dintersmith. Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era. New York: Scribner, 2015.

Note: I would like to acknowledge Dr. Wagner for responding to series of emails with my questions. Many authors and speakers invite that kind of follow-up but not all of them follow through. Thank you.

The Innovator’s Mindset

While authoring my forthcoming book, I have read many professional books. This is the third in a series of professional book reviews–possible titles for your summer reading. The reviews are in no particular order.

I don’t remember when I first heard about George Couros. As soon as I did and before I read his book, I began reading his The Principal of Change blog, receiving his daily email blasts, and following him on Twitter (@gcouros).

One thing I especially admire about Couros is that he exemplifies an administrator/educator/leader who has a well-developed growth mindset. He shares his experiences—both his successes and missteps—and reflects on their significance in his learning. Couros is also able to communicate clearly and precisely. His mindset and his communication style pack a double punch…

…as does his book The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity. On the paperback book cover, these keywords appear in red font: “innovator’s” (bold), “learning,” “talent,” and “creativity” (in an artistic font). With bolded and branded #InnovatorsMindset insets through the 232-page book, Couros’s book is a thoughtful, accessible book–one that school leaders will turn to again and again.

Couros makes a strong case for his premise: “There is a clear need for innovation in education” (4). He divides his book into three parts: a discussion of innovation, the foundation for a culture of innovation, and acting in an environment where change is possible. With a nod to Simon Sinek, George Couros clearly states his “why.” He believes “education’s why is to develop learners and leaders who will create a better present and future” (18). Couros goes on to define what he means in using the terms “learners” and “leaders.” All school stakeholders—young or more seasoned, students or educators—must inspire innovation both as learners and as leaders.

I use Couros’s definition for “innovation” in the book I am writing: “Innovation is a way of thinking that creates something new and better.” I especially appreciate his emphasis on innovation as “a way of thinking” rather than a thing, task, or tool. An innovator’s mindset impacts school culture.

I part with Couros a bit on his assessment that “establishing an innovative culture doesn’t require transformation” (20). I do think it may very well take something “dramatic” in many school cultures that seek to “develop and sustain systems that support ‘optimal learning experience’” for all stakeholders. I wonder if small tweaks and nudges are enough to respond to the urgency for change that many educators, students, families, and community members feel.

Couros believes that it is “not that teachers don’t want to change, but they sometimes lack clear guidance and support to make the desired change” (47). I share this belief and it makes a strong connection for me with the book Switch: How to Make Change When Change is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath (to be reviewed later this summer on this blog). Educators, like students, require leaders who clear the path and model the change they expect to see.

Couros lists “8 characteristics of the innovator’s mindset” (pp. 48 – 58). He notes these characteristics can apply to everyone involved in education: empathetic, problem finders/solvers, risk takers, networked, observant, creators, resilient, and reflective. He also provides a similar set of characteristics for innovative leaders (pp. 88 – 90).

I am in total agreement with Couros (and Sinek whom he cites). We need to place a higher priority on the caring relationships within our schools/organizations. “The three most important words in education are: relationships, relationships, relationships. Without them, we have nothing” (68). This was also one of my take-aways from Timothy Walker’s book Teach Like Finland. The caring relationships among the people within an organization are everything. (Hence the title of this blog and the title of my forthcoming book.)

Couros discusses creating a vision, using technology as an accelerator, and effective professional development for educators. He includes “8 things to look for in today’s professional learning” and notes that “understanding the learning opportunities that we would like to create for our students begins by immersing ourselves in similar experiences” (185). I could not agree more!

Each chapter in Couros’s book ends with questions for discussion. His book and online resources provide a compelling book study selection for individuals and Professional Learning Communities. As Couros writes in his introduction, “Change is an opportunity to do something amazing” (3).

If you’re someone who is open to change and don’t know where to start, begin by reading this book and then talk about it with your colleagues. It will inspire you!

Work Cited

Couros, George. The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead in a Culture of Creativity. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting, 2015.

Teach Like Finland, Part 2

While authoring my forthcoming book, I have read many professional books. This is the second in a series of professional book reviews–possible titles for your summer reading. The reviews are in no particular order.

Timothy D. Walker, author of Teach Like Finland, identified six strategies Finnish educators use to approach their work: seek flow, have a thicker skin, collaborate over coffee, welcome the experts, vacate on vacation, and don’t forget the joy. I wrote about the first three last week.

Welcome the Experts
Walker was not comfortable at first with welcoming colleagues or other experts into his classroom. After he visited other classrooms where he saw this modeled, he became a convert. Walker writes: “I found that the more I welcomed experts into my classroom, the more I began to view myself as a resource manager who could design great learning experiences for my class by tapping into talents outside my own” (183).

School librarians have a long tradition of inviting guests into the library. We regularly invite authors, illustrators, scientists, politicians, and local experts of all kinds to share via the library program. (And it’s important to remember that all educators may not be as comfortable with this practice.) The very best of these presentations are directly aligned with classroom curricula and are coplanned and cofacilitated with classroom teachers and specialists.

Two of the most successful expert presentations during my time at Sabino High School were visits by Arizona Daily Star editorial cartoonist David Fitzsimmons and our then Arizona State Representative Marian McClure. In both cases, I worked with the social studies classroom teachers to prepare students for their visits and to follow up afterward. Editorial cartoons became the topic for “questioning” reading comprehension strategy lessons. (See lesson 5-2 in Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Secondary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact.) In addition to civics information, the connection with Representative McClure provided advocacy for school librarianship at the state legislature.

While school librarians are adept at bringing in outside experts, they may not be as experienced with using the human resources in the library and on campus. School staff and faculty have abundant expertise and talents to share. As school librarians build relationships in the school community, it is incumbent upon them to uncover the lights that are hiding under barrels in their own buildings—lights that could make a difference for students’ enthusiasm for curriculum-based learning as well as their pursuit of independent learning.

In a recent Knowledge Quest blog post titled “Library as Incubator,” Mark Dzula wrote about how he supported the school library paraprofessional aide in sharing her language and culture expertise with students during a weekly lunchtime drop-in Arabic program. Mark wrote: “She was motivated to share her love of the language to help expand students’ worldview and to overcome any social stigma that the students may have encountered in association with Arabic.” A dozen students attended and were very inspired in various ways to pursue more information about Arabic language and culture. With support from the World Language Department, one student is taking an independent study in Arabic with the library assistant next year.

Vacate on Vacation
According to Walker, Finnish teachers “literally” vacating during the summer. Shocking! This practice is in sharp contrast with the summer practices of most U.S. educators. In the summer, most teach summer school, work another job outside of education, or prepare for the next school year. (Some even time their pregnancies so they can give birth in the summer in order to return to the classroom in the fall.) Walker, who feels the “vacate on vacation” strategy is too extreme, says he prefers a hybrid approach. In the summer, he dedicates a “healthy chunk of time for disconnecting and a healthy chunk of time for professional development” (186).

The pace of life for most U.S. educators is intense during the academic year. Relaxing during the summer (and regularly throughout the school year) seems to be the healthiest choice. Making time in the summer for extended periods of reflection can be an excellent use of one’s “free” time. Interspersing professional books with other types of reading (adult novels, YA literature, and school curriculum-oriented reading) is one strategy some school librarians use to find balance. Extending conference attendance to include touring new parts of the country or visiting with friends and relatives is another way to combine professional learning with personal interests.

Some would suggest that regular technology holidays could also improve one’s ability to relax. In his book, Walker offers a summary of a study conducted by the Harvard Business School. The study involved two groups of consulting firm workers. One group worked 50+ hours per week. didn’t take vacation time and was always connected via their electronic devices. The other worked 40 hours per week, took vacations, and coordinated unconnected time with their coworkers so they could be disconnected without worry or guilt. The team that took time off reported higher job satisfaction, better work-life balance, increased learning, improved communication with their team, and were more efficient and productive in their work (187).

By “vacating” the always “on” culture for selected days, weekends, or even months might also prioritize engaging in enriching face-to-face interactions with family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers. One thought-provoking book to consider on this subject is Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age by Sherry Turkle. She proclaims: “It’s time to put technology in its place and reclaim conversation. That journey begins with a better understanding of what conversation accomplishes and how technology can get in the way” (25).

Don’t Forget the Joy
This adage could be the overarching theme for Teach Like Finland. According to Walker, in 2016, Finnish comprehensive schools implemented the newest core curriculum, “where joy is being practiced as a learning concept” (189). When I read this, my U.S. educator mind sadly went directly to these questions: Is joy measurable? How will it be tested? (Ugh!)

There is a palpable feeling of excitement in a joyful learning environment. I once served as the school librarian in a truly “joyful” preK-5 school. Our school was led by a joyful principal whose most often heard phrase was “what a wonder!” With a positive school climate and a commitment to a culture of collaboration, faculty, staff, and families made our school a joyful place to be—every day of the academic year (and in summer programs, too).

Joy begins inside of each individual and from there can spread out to all members of our learning communities. Walker notes that prioritizing joy may not be easy for many U.S. educators but regardless of where he teaches, Timothy Walker commits to remembering and prioritizing joy. The last line in his book: “How about you?”

Note: This photograph of our seven-month-old puppy Pearl playing with her friend Vicka captures (for me) the pure spirit of joy. (Pearl is the poodle.) Every morning when we awake, she reminds us there is a truly joyful way to greet each day.

Works Cited

Dzula, Mark. “Library as Incubator.” Knowledge Quest Blog. 18 May 2017. http://knowledgequest.aasl.org/library-as-incubator/ Accessed 26 May 2017.

Moreillon, Judi. Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Secondary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact. Chicago: ALA Editions, 2012.

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

Walker, Timothy D. Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms. New York: W. W. Norton, 2016.

Advocating for Respect and Literacy for All

If advocating for literacy for all is “political,” then a growing number of school librarians, authors, publishers, and schools are speaking up and out about the empathy and attitudes that will help ALL students become the respectful, successful native-born or naturalized citizens our country needs.  With this post, I applaud and join with them.

The following exemplary examples are just some of this work that came across my computer screen last week. I hope school librarians will follow these links and be on the lookout for other ways we can align our work with inclusion and take action for social justice.

School librarian Elissa Malespina penned and illustrated “An Open Letter to School Librarians,” which was published on the School Library Journal (SLJ) Web site. In her opinion piece, she challenges school librarians to take a firm stand about how we welcome and include students in our libraries and schools. “Every day students of different races, nationalities, and sexual orientations walk through our doors. Our libraries must be safe spaces for them, since the outside world has become increasingly unsafe.” For Ms. Malespina (and I hope for you), silence is not an option.

Young adult author Marie Marquardt wrote an equally eloquent appeal related to social justice on the Teen Librarian Toolbox (TLT) linked from the SLJ site: “Love and Justice: What I’ve Learned from Those Seeking Refuge in the U.S.” Ms. Marquardt, who lives in Georgia, has worked for more than twenty years with immigrants, most of whom were undocumented, and asylum-seeking refugees. In her piece, she wrote this: “They all made these journeys because they believed America is a place of refuge, a peaceful nation guided by such enduring values as fairness, equality, and the rule of law. Even in the face of clear injustices – blatant discrimination, inconsistent treatment in the courts – they have astounded me with their steadfast desire to participate in American life, to become American. In fact, they have taught me to see my own nation through new eyes, to affirm and celebrate our core values.”

The 2017 TLT Project is Social Justice YA Literature. Use this link to read more about this timely and essential effort. To participate in this effort on Twitter, use the #SJYALit.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, February 14th, Booklist, Second Story Press, and Lee & Low Publishers, are offering a free one-hour Webinar titled “Teaching Tolerance.” On the promotion for this event, the collaborators cite increased bullying in schools as an indication that educators and parents are called upon to use children’s literature to help young people increase their understanding and acceptance of “others.” School librarians can support classroom teachers and families by spotlighting these titles and integrating them into their collections and teaching.

BACC blog readers can find another resource for books about refugee and immigrant experiences on the Bridging Refugee Youth and Children’s Services Web site. This annotated list includes forty titles for both children and teens.

This post would not be complete without a huge shout out to Luma Mufleh and an appeal for your support for the Fugees Family. Coach Luma began her humanitarian work in 2006 by offering refugee boys a free, organized soccer team. Today, the Fugees Academy is the only school dedicated to refugee education in the U.S. One hundred thirty-six boys and girls are members of the Fugees Family and participate in year-round soccer, after-school tutoring, an academic enrichment summer camp, or are full-time students at the Fugees Academy where they learn academics and build character and leadership.

Like all 501(c)(3) organizations, the Fugees Family stays afloat through grants and on-going fundraising efforts. Please consider supporting their current effort – a t-shirt that reads: “Refugees – USA – Welcome.” Support these young people and their teachers. Purchase a shirt and wear it proudly.

Thank you all for the work you do and for speaking up and out.

And I close with one additional special thank you to Nebraska assistant public library director Rebecca Corkindale who collaborated with librarians from Saline County Library in Benton, Arkansas to create “Libraries Are for Everyone” graphics. With the help of librarians from around the world, Ms. Corkindale continues to translate the text on these copyright-free graphics into many languages.

Bravo to all!

Works Cited

Jensen, Karen. Love and Justice: What I’ve Learned from Those Seeking Refuge in the U.S.: A Guest Post by Author Marie Marquardt, Teen Librarian Toolkit.com, http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2017/02/love-and-justice-what-ive-learned-from-those-seeking-refuge-in-the-u-s-a-guest-post-by-author-marie-marquardt/

Malespina, Elissa. “Open Letter to School Librarians,” School Library Journal.com, http://www.slj.com/2017/02/opinion/soapbox/an-open-letter-to-school-librarians-silence-is-not-golden-opinion/

Image Credit
Corkindale, Rebecca. “Libraries Are for Everyone,” Hafuboti.com, https://hafuboti.com/2017/02/02/libraries-are-for-everyone/