Professional Book Review: Dare to Lead

In her book, Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts (2018), Brené Brown sets out to answer this question: “What would it look like to combine courage, connection and meaning with the world of work?” (2018, xvii). This question could and perhaps should be asked by all of us. Brown’s research process includes conducting and analyzing interviews. When asking senior business leaders what they would change, if anything, about the ways people are leading today, they replied, “We need brave leaders and more courageous cultures” (2018, 6).

Brown defines a leader as “anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential” (2018, 4). I believe this is what school librarian leaders do as we develop our own knowledge and skills and use our toolkits to influence others to help all library stakeholders, including ourselves, to reach our potential, our capacity.

Four Skills Sets
According to Brown, there are four skill sets at the heart of daring leadership: rumbling with vulnerability, living into our values, braving trust, and learning to rise. In her book she describes each of these in detail. Here is a snapshot:

Rumbling with Vulnerability: “Courage and fear are not mutually exclusive. Most of us feel brave and afraid at the same time” (2018, 10). In a “rumble,” people show their vulnerability, risk what is important to them, in order to build, honor, and keep relationships open while solving problems (addressing the hard stuff). Learning to feel fear and refusing to let it armor or stop you helps you demonstrate courage and influence the courageous behaviors of others. Rumbling with vulnerability is taking the risk being truly “seen.”

As Brown notes, “developing a disciplined practice of rumbling with vulnerability gives leaders the strength and emotional stamina to dare greatly” (2018, 167). She shared a brief case study vignette of Dr. Sanée Bell, principal, Morton Ranch Junior High, Katy, Texas. Bell, a principal who is rumbling with vulnerability said this, “I changed the narrative of our school by growing power with people through distributive and collaborative leadership, and by empowering others to lead. Ultimately, being true to who I am as a person, respecting my journey, and owning my story have given me the opportunity to lead in a deeper, more meaningful way” (2018, 181). According to the school’s website, Ellen Barnes serves as the school librarian. I would love to talk with her about working and coleading with her principal.

Living into Our Values: I think the leading quote for this section is so very true. “Who we are is how we lead” (2018, 165). I believe that our core values in librarianship are “who we are” and are our source of strength and power. When we remain true to our values, we can respond to tough conversations and difficult situations.

As Brown writes, “living into our values means that we do more than profess our values, we practice them. We walk our talk—we are clear about what we believe and hot important and we take care that our intentions, words, thoughts, and behaviors align with those beliefs” (2018, 186). She provides three steps toward this practice. First, we must be able to clearly articulate our values. Brown defines this as integrity. “Integrity is choosing courage over comfort; it’s choosing what is right over what’s fun, fast, or easy; and it’s practicing your values not just professing them” (2018, 189). Secondly, others must see our values evidence in our behavior. And thirdly, we must develop empathy for others and cheer them on while practicing self-compassion for our own steps and missteps toward consistently practicing what we preach.

Braving Trust: Brown cites Charles Feltman who authored The Thin Book of Trust. Feltman defines trust as “choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions” (quoted in Brown 2018, 222.) Trust is at the heart of relationships and must first be given to others in order for it to develop.

She provides seven categories in her “Braving Inventory,” behaviors that demonstrate trust: establishing boundaries, reliability, accountability, value (keeping confidences), integrity, nonjudgment, and generosity (225-226). Trusting requires courage and “building courage with a partner or in a team is more powerful than doing it alone” (Brown 2018, 227).

Learning to Rise
Resilience is essential for all of us today and is especially critical for decision-makers. “Grounded confidence is the messy process of learning and unlearning, practicing and failing, and surviving a few misses” (2018, 165). Leaders will inevitably make missteps. Owning and learning from mistakes is the hallmark of a true leader.

Standing Up for Our Values
For me, Brown’s work speaks to the need for all educators and school librarians, in particular, to stand up for our values. In our role as leaders, our library values will be put to the test if decisions are made that limit students’ access to the library or threaten their privacy or confidentiality; if books or other resources are challenged or banned, or students’ choices for reading materials are restricted in some other way. When we lead from the library as the center for literacy learning, our values will be tested.

Brown writes that daring leaders who live into their values are never silent about hard things. “Our values should be so crystallized in our minds, so infallible, so precise and clear, and unassailable, that they don’t feel like a choice—they are simply a definition of who we are in our lives. In those hard moments, we know that we are going to pick what’s right, right now, over what is easy. Because that is integrity—choosing courage over comfort; it’s choosing what’s right over what’s fun, fast, or easy; and it’s practicing your values not just professing them” (2018, 189).

There is abundant food for thought in Brené Brown’s work. I invite you to dive in and find the wisdom she has collected through her research and consulting practice. Read Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts or Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone (2017). Search for her TED Talks or YouTube videos. You will find inspiration for our work.

Work Cited

Brown, Brené. 2018. Dare to Lead. Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. Vermillion: London.

Side Note: In the month of February, I will write about Brown’s Dare to Lead section focused on empathy (pp. 118 – 163). For me, this was one of the most powerful components of the book. For school librarians, her work in this area relates directly to relationships with library stakeholders as well as to collection development.

Professional Book Review: The Age of Accelerations

For the month of January, I will be reviewing professional books. In December, 2019, I had the opportunity to read from my ever-tall stack of professional books. I am reviewing them this month in hopes that you may have read them and will make a comment, or you will be inspired to seek out these titles and read them (and then make a comment).

The Inspiration
I have long been a devotee of Thomas Friedman. I “found” Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, published in 2016, at just the right time and am so glad to have read it now when, like many of us, I need a bit of optimism. This New York Times bestseller earned additional recognition including the Wall Street Journal’s “10 Books to Read Now” (in 2016!) and one of Kirkus Reviews’ “Best Nonfiction Books of the Year.”

Friedman opens this book with the inspiration for the book’s title. While waiting for someone who was late in arriving for an appointment with him, Friedman had twenty minutes “to spare.” With nothing else on his calendar and not knowing when the person would actually arrive, he sat quietly with his thoughts. These moments of reflection were when he made connections among thoughts that had been on his mind… and the thrust of this book was born.

The Age of Accelerations
Friedman is spot on with his conclusion that in the “age of accelerations” very few, if any, of us can keep up with the rapid pace of change. In Friedman’s view, 2007, the year the iPhone was introduced, marked the beginning of this “age.” In the book, he elaborates on three accelerations that have, since then, stretched humankind beyond our limits:

  • Technology (Moore’s Law)
  • Globalization
  • Climate Change

When describing technology acceleration, Friedman makes the connection to Moore’s Law, which states that computer processing speeds double every two years. He also talks about the “Supernova,” better known to us as “the cloud.” And for better or worse, good or evil intent, Friedman notes the Supernova serves as amplifier of human behavior.

Global markets have changed the employment and economic landscape for people, businesses, and corporations around the globe. He cites many corporate thinkers in this book; this quote on the topic of globalization stood out to me: “Our institutions spend so much time working on how to optimize returns on financial capital. It is about time we started thinking more about how to optimize returns on human capital” (Auguste Copra, cited on page 238).

Mother Nature is Friedman’s personification for climate change and the loss of biodiversity. We have, very tragically, breached the 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere (See 350.org) and cannot ignore the impact of human activity on our shared home. Friedman notes that there will be over 9 billion people on the planet by 2050 (when my grandson will be just twenty-eight-years old). Of that 9 billion, a growing number will be climate refugees. “Globally, 1 in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. If this were the population of a country, the report said, it would be the world’s twenty-fourth biggest” (report from United Nations Refugee Agency in 2016).

K-12 Education Connections
Clearly, technology is a driving force in education today. With all of the benefits of the Supernova at their disposal, K-12 students and educators have many opportunities to positively influence their own future and the future of the plant. Friedman notes that successful youth (and adults) are those who take advantage of all the free and inexpensive tools and flows coming out of the Supernova.

As we all know, the current and future workforce will require continuous learning. “Mother Nature is the opposite of dogmatic—she is constantly agile, heterodox, hybrid, entrepreneurial, and experimental in her thinking” (303). School librarians could use this phrase to describe and self-asses our work with students, classroom teachers, specialists, and families.

I appreciate that Friedman discussed “ownership cultures” in the context of the teaching profession. In ownership cultures, people must first and foremost own their work and learning. He included this quote from Andreas Schleicher, who runs PISA exams: Successful schooling systems have a “high degree of professional autonomy for teachers… where teachers get to participate in shaping standards and curriculum, and have ample time for continuous professional development” (322). They are successful because they are engaged with the tools of their own craft, rather than serve like chefs whose only job is to reheat someone else’s cooking (322). Amen.

The Need to Pause, Build Empathy, and Re-connect
These three accelerations result in the imperative to exist (and thrive?) in a constant state of destabilization (35). This requires flexibility, adaptability, and necessitates reflection. While technology has made waiting obsolete, succeeding today requires patience—the patience to think and reflect. When you pause in the age of accelerations, you have the opportunity to reflect, rethink your assumptions, reimagine what is possible, reconnect with your most deeply held beliefs (Dov Seidman, CEO of LRN, quoted on page 4).

Friedman discusses the need for members of our global society to build empathy—to be able to see the world through another person’s experience. He quotes a Talmudic staying: “What comes from the heart enters the heart.” (13) and notes that caring ignites caring; empathy ignites empathy (152). He also notes the need for human contact that includes face-to-face interaction.

He warns that: “In the age of accelerations, if a society doesn’t build floors under people, many will reach for a wall—no matter how self-defeating that would be” (153). Cultures must address people’s anxiety about the present and the future. We must offer one another a “home.”

I have always thought of libraries as “homes” for their communities—places where they have to take you in, places that are “family.” “It is so much easier to venture far—not just in distance but also in terms of your willingness to experiment, take risks, and reach out to the other—when you know you’re still tethered to a place called home, and to a real community” (452-453).

Work Cited

Friedman, Thomas L. 2016. Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Leadership Twitter Chat

This fall graduate students in “IS516: School Library Media Center” have participated in bimonthly Twitter chats. The chats are based on the pull quotes from chapters in Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy (ALA 2018).

We invite you to join us our final chat of the fall semester on Monday, December 9, 2019 from 7:00 to 7:30 p.m. Central Time. Chat questions are posted on this blog on the Wednesday before our Monday chats.

December 9, 2019: #is516 Twitter Chat: Leadership

 This post is adapted from the Maximizing School Librarian Leadership preview podcast.

I believe school librarians have three converging pathways that point the way to leadership. School librarians are culture builders, professional developers, and changemakers.

School librarians are culture builders.
When we create a welcoming, accepting, risk-taking space for exploration in the library, our influence can spread throughout the building. With smiles, hellos, and a service orientation toward all library users, the library, the largest classroom in the school, can be as important as the front office in creating a climate of welcome.

With resources reflecting diverse perspectives, the library can be a place where learners – of all ages – come to explore their own worldview and the worldviews of others.

And with a commitment to exploration, the school librarian can model risk-taking—accepting missteps as an essential aspect of learning and growing from mistakes in order to fail forward. A whole-school, or systems thinking, approach helps school librarians serve as effective culture-builders.

School librarians are professional developers.
Through sharing our expertise and integrating the library’s resources into the classroom curriculum, school librarians practice reciprocal mentorship with the classroom teachers and specialists with whom we form effective instructional partnerships.

Collaborators coteach multiple literacies, inquiry, deeper, and digital learning. Educators model and coteach skills, such as collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity. We model and coteach dispositions, such as flexibility, openness, and persistence.

Through coplanning, coteaching, and coassessing student learning and our own instructional proficiency, we practice the best kind of professional development—job-embedded. As collaborating educators, we develop our craft by working as equal partners; we coteach with classroom teachers, real students, actual curriculum, available resources and tools, with the real supports, and within the constraints of our everyday teaching environments.

School librarians are also changemakers.
We understand that the teaching and learning landscape is in a constant state of change. Lifelong learning is an essential behavior for all education stakeholders. Preparing students for futures that we cannot imagine takes a leap of faith and a willingness to accept change as the defining feature of all our lives.

Rather than sitting back and waiting for change to happen to us, changemakers are proactive. We strategize; we experiment; we test and retest until we create learning environments and opportunities that engage, excite, and support students as agents in their own education.

All three of these pathways to leadership require collaboration.

Effective school librarians can maximize leadership opportunities by collaborating with others—with administrators, educators, and students, and with family and community members.

#is516 Chat Questions (for copy and paste)

Q.1: How do you/can you show a commitment to continuous change/professional growth? #is516

Q.2: Why is collegiality so important? #is516

Q.3: How do you bridge Ss in-school and out-of-school lives? #is516

Q.4: How can you help develop an effective teaching force in your school? #is516

Please respond with A.1, A.2, A.3, A.4 and bring your ideas, resources, experience, questions, and dilemmas to our conversation so we can learn with and from you!

For previous chat questions and archives, visit our IS516 course wiki page.

Thank you!

Post Adapted from
Moreillon, Judi. 2018. Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Book Study: Preview Podcast. https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/moreillon/episodes/2018-08-05T19_58_04-07_00

School Librarians Share and Celebrate

The 2019 AASL conference in Louisville (November 14-16, 2019) was a non-stop, jam-packed learning and networking event for me. Due to meetings, a school visit, and my own presentations, I didn’t have a great deal of “free” time to take full advantage of all the conference presenters had to offer. I suspect that may be the case for you as well.

School Librarians Share!
That is why I am particularly grateful to Nancy Jo Lambert for curating presentations, notes, and links on this Google doc.

I have been dipping into this rich well of learning as I reflect on my own conference experience and further develop my understanding and practice in our profession. Thank you, Nancy Jo.

An Important Session You May Have Missed
That said, I attended a powerful session offered in the very last concurrent time slot for the conference: “Leadership Partnerships.” Misti Werle, Library Systems Innovator, Bismarck (ND) Public Schools (BPS), moderated this session that should have been spotlighted and REQUIRED for every attendee.

Misti brought BPS principals, librarians, a classroom teacher, and an instructional coach from all three instructional levels to share how they are collaborating to meet the needs of the K-12 students they serve. WOW! This is the link to their presentation.

This is what I took away from the session.

  • A whole-school approach results in the most successful outcomes for students.
  • School librarians earn the trust and support of administrators and classroom teacher colleagues by building relationships and helping others meet their instructional goals.
  • Administrators build school librarians’ confidence and leadership skills when they trust and support librarians’ change initiatives.
  • Administrators are focused on helping all educators reach their capacity. This is a responsibility of leaders and one that school librarians can support through collaboration and coteaching.

Congratulations to the “Leadership Partnerships” team:

High School:
Tom Schmidt: Principal
Michael Jacobson: Library Media Specialist
Maggie Townsend: Instructional Coach

Middle School:
Tabby Rabenberg: Principal
Kat Berg: Library Media Specialist
Jenni Kramer: Classroom Teacher

Elementary School:
Brenda Beiswenger: Principal
Alisha Kelim: Library Media Specialist
Stacy Olson: Library Media Specialist

Celebrate!
Along with you, I celebrate the amazing work you are doing in BPS. I wish everyone who attended #AASL19 could have heard your powerful testimonials on the impact the school librarian and the librarian program can have on building an empowered culture of learning and collaboration in our schools.

Thank you and keep on sharing and celebrating!

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.