Co-Creating a Community of Readers

“Supporting Middle School Reading: Using a Data Dashboard to Create a Community of Readers” by school librarian Kelsey Cohen appeared in the June, 2018, issue of American Libraries. Kelsey’s article is about how she engaged in a professional inquiry with assistant principal Rob Andrews, literacy coach Lisa Ramos-Hillegers, and instructional technology coach Mike Sammartano to support striving readers at Hommocks Middle School (Larchmont, New York). Their goal was to explore ways to use digital reading logs to motivate and engage more readers and further develop a reading culture in their school.

When educators engage in inquiry, they take risks together. They analyze a challenge they are facing, design, and test solutions that can help students succeed. Sometimes when they examine the outcomes, they find their solution needs to be tweaked and retested before they can achieve their goals.

In the American Libraries article, Kelsey describes an inquiry conducted by Hommocks educators. In this example, assistant principal Rob Andrews suggested the literacy team institute electronic reading logs in order to collect and use student data to improve students’ engagement and motivation. In the first year of testing the logs, the collaborators learned that the digital reading log forms were too detailed and therefore, not completed by enough students. When they revised the form, they involved the expertise of their instructional technology coach. Together, they created a data dashboard where students could access colorful graphs, charts, and lists based on their reading log data. They increased students’ and classroom teachers’ buy-in.

Kelsey displayed the data on a large monitor in the library. Readers used this information to self-assess their reading and classroom teachers used it with students during reading conferences. Along with literacy coach Lisa, Kelsey used the data specifically to reach out to striving readers. Kelsey and Lisa made sure that these students had “first dibs on new book arrivals” and they “created personalized book bins” that struggling readers could browse in their classrooms (Cohen 2018, 19).

These educators’ use of the inquiry process parallels the process that students take when they engage in inquiry learning. This strategy for learning can increase their own ability to guide students (and classrooms teachers) in inquiry learning. Kelsey and Lisa contributed voices from the field in the “Literacy Leadership and the School Librarian: Reading and Writing—Foundational Skills for Multiple Literacies” chapter of The Many Faces of School Library Leadership (2017). In that example, they collaborated with science teachers in creating classroom “wonder walls” as springboards for student-led inquiry (Moreillon 2017, 104).

As the quote from above from Kelsey attests, hers is not a “neutral” stance with regard to library services. Along with her colleagues, she creatively reached out to students who were not frequent library users. The literacy team created a tool that could be used by all Hommocks students. In addition, they targeted specific services to the readers who were most in need and helped them monitor their own reading and develop internal motivation to pursue learning. Rather than simply serve those who came to the library on their own, Kelsey and her team reached out to those who could benefit the most from the resources and expertise of the library and librarian in order to reach their potential as readers.

You can read Kelsey’s article in the magazine or online and reach her via Twitter @KelseyLCohen: “Supporting Middle School Reading: Using a Data Dashboard to Create a Community of Readers.”

With the culture of reading inquiry described in the American Libraries article, Kelsey. Lisa, and their collaborators are clearly continuing on their journey to create a culture of learning in their school. And they are using an inquiry approach to pursue their goals. Bravo to the collaborating educators at Hommocks Middle School and to Kelsey Cohen for her school librarian leadership.

Works Cited

Cohen, Kelsey. 2018. “Supporting Middle School Reading: Using a Data Dashboard to Create a Community of Readers.” American Libraries 49 (6): 28-19.

Moreillon, Judi. 2017. “Literacy Leadership and the School Librarian: Reading and Writing—Foundational Skills for Multiple Literacies.” In The Many Faces of School Library Leadership, 2nd ed., edited by Sharon Coatney and Violet H. Harada, 86-108. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Image credits:
Quote from Kelsey Cohen used with permission

Youngson, Nick. “Decision-making Highway Sign.” http://www.creative-commons-images.com/highway-signs/d/decision-making.html

Maximizing Leadership: Chapter 9

Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy will be published by ALA Editions in June, 2018. Chapter 9 is the final chapter in the book.

The book will be hot off the presses next month and a limited number of copies will be available at the ALA Store at the Annual Conference in New Orleans. I will be participating in the conference and will carry copies of the book for you to preview. I will also have $5-off coupons to hand out.

Chapter 9: Sustaining Connections in a Learning Culture

“Courageous leadership and the perseverance to continually improve are critical to creating a better learning culture for all students and ultimately, to transform learning” (Sheninger and Murray 2017, 227).

Building and sustaining a collaborative culture of learning provides the necessary foundation for change. In order for any innovation to be successful, all stakeholders must work together to achieve that shared goal. In this culture, leaders engender trust and ensure positive relationships among team members. Beginning and ending with the plural pronoun “our,” all members of the school learning community share responsibility for learning and take pride in the outcomes. They all have a common stake in continuous improvement that results in student success.

A collaborative culture of learning allows individual educators to capitalize on the strengths their colleagues possess while they build their own instructional expertise. When school librarians enter into future ready learning partnerships, they help others achieve their goals. Working in teams, they build trusting relationships. In classrooms and libraries, educators practice reciprocal mentorship in order to improve student learning outcomes. They take risks together to coteach, and they believe that their instructional practices can develop at a much greater rate with more assured improvements when they collaborate.

With leadership, a successful change process breeds more change. School librarians working as change aides have the opportunity and responsibility to collaborate with administrators to codevelop and sustain library programs that are at the center of initiatives to transform learning and teaching. As leaders, librarians embody the vision, walk the talk, and go the extra mile.

What you will find in this chapter:
1. Graphic from How to Make a Switch (Heath and Heath 2010);
2. AASL Shared Foundations and Key Commitments (AASL 2018);
3. Your Plan and Reality Graphic;
4. Empowered Collaborative Culture of Learning Graphic.

For all stakeholders to work together over time, an empowered learning culture must be nurtured in order to sustain change. Time and time again, principals, school librarians, and teacher leaders will be called upon to renew and reinvigorate the learning community’s commitment to growth.
School librarians can be essential leaders who build and sustain the relationships that cement the foundation of a culture of learners—young and older—who strive to make schools joyful, relevant, challenging, and effective learning environments for all.

Works Cited

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

Heath, Chip, and Dan Heath. 2007. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. New York: Broadway Books.

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

Image Credit: Word Cloud created at Wordle.net

 

Maximizing Leadership: Chapter 8

Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy will be published by ALA Editions in June, 2018. Since the publication date is fast approaching, I am previewing Chapter 8 this week and Chapter 9 next in order to give reviewers a one-page summary of each of the nine chapters in the book.

The book will be hot off the presses next month and a limited number of copies will be available at the ALA Store at the Annual Conference in New Orleans. I will be participating in the conference and will carry copies of the book for you to preview. I will also have $5-off coupons to hand out.

Chapter 8: Leadership and Advocacy

“Good leaders get people to work for them. Great leaders get people to work for a cause that is greater than any of them—and then for one another in service of that cause” (Pearce 2013, 40).

Leadership and advocacy go hand in hand; both are necessary for achieving future ready learning. Leaders seek to influence the attitudes and behaviors of the members of their team as well as other stakeholders in their endeavors. Trust is the foundation on which these changes are built. School librarians can be coleaders with principals to positively affect school climate and culture. They do so through developing trusting classroom-library instructional partnerships.

“Leadership is about social influence, enlisting the engagement and support of others in achieving a common task” (Haycock 2017, 11).  One common task of school leaders is to ensure continuous improvement in teaching and learning. Working together, school leaders and stakeholders are able to transform traditional pedagogy into future ready education for the benefit of students. This is a cause and an effort that requires the commitment and dedication of a team that includes administrators, educators, students, families, and community.

Advocacy begins when library programs are aligned with the vision, mission, and strategic plan for their schools and districts. School librarians match library programs with the agenda and priorities of library stakeholders. Working from that shared vision, mission, and plan, school librarians codevelop a vital, integrated, and results-oriented school library program.

School librarians have the responsibility to educate stakeholders about the value added by their teaching and leadership. They serve as “centralized” instructional partners who work with all school library stakeholders. This global influence gives librarians opportunities to positively impact learning and teaching throughout the building. School librarians collect and share data and use promotional materials to educate stakeholders about the benefits that result from the learning opportunities that happen through the library program. This is the most effective way to advocate for the program and build a cadre of advocates among library stakeholders.

What you will find in this chapter:
1. The Relationship between Leadership and Advocacy;
2. Public Relations and Advocacy Tools;
3. School Librarians’ Public Relations, Marketing, and Advocacy Checklist;
4. Sample Advocacy Plan.

Through their daily activities of coplanning, coteaching, coassessing student learning, and providing and engaging in professional development, school librarian leaders create advocates as an organic part of their work. Along the way, they nurture relationships with colleagues, families, educational decision-makers and policy-makers at the district and state levels, members of the business community, and voters who are also stakeholders in preK−12 education.

Works Cited

Haycock, Ken. 2017. “Leadership from the Middle: Building Influence for Change.” In The Many Faces of School Library Leadership, 2nd ed., edited by Sharon Coatney and Violet H. Harada, 1–12. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Pearce, Terry. 2013. Leading Out Loud: A Guide for Engaging Others in Creating the Future, 3rd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Image Credit: Word Cloud created at Wordle.net

#SLM18 Making Community Connections

This week, School Library Month (#SLM18) activities focus on outreach with the community.  To my way of thinking, there are two communities to which effective school librarians are accountable – the community of the school and the community outside the walls of the school. The imperative to make connections in both can be the same.

When I think of the word “community,” I immediately think of the teaching of a thoughtful, influential library leader, R. David Lankes. Currently, the Director of the School of Library and Information Science, and Associate Dean, College of Information and Communications, two of his books are my go-to sources for inspiration and guidance in all things “community.”

Like Lankes, I believe “the greatest asset any library has is a librarian” (2011, 29). But librarians isolated in a library with the “stuff” and siloed away from the needs of the community cannot reach their capacity to lead. For school librarians, Lankes argues that “it is time for a new librarianship, one centered on learning and knowledge, not on books and materials, where the community is the collection, and we spend much more time in connection development instead of collection development” (2011, 9). Connection development requires leadership.

What does it mean to lead? Leadership is about influencing others. It’s about making changes in the world – small and larger – that help other people better their lives. In order to lead, school librarians must be “embedded” in the community. They must serve on essential school-based committees and in community-based organizations. When we serve, we build relationships, the essential foundation for making change—together.

According to Lankes, knowledge is created through conversations, which involve both listening and speaking. When we listen to the dreams and goals of our school-based colleagues and people in the wider community, we learn how we can help them achieve their potential. When we help others, they will reciprocate.

Through this daily practice of service, school librarians develop advocates for their programs and for their positions, which are actually one and the same. “Librarians do their job not because they are servants or because they are building a product to be consumed by the community, but ultimately to make the community better. Community members don’t support the library because they are satisfied customers, but because the library is part of who they are” (2012, 37). When the community advocates for the library, they do so because they have experienced the benefits for themselves. It’s in their self-interest.

“The difference between a good and great comes down to this: a library that seeks to serve the community is good, and a library that seeks to inspire your community to be better every day is great. You can love a good library, but you need a great library” (Lankes 2012, 111).


“…To facilitate is not to sit back and wait to be asked… no one ever changed the world waiting to be asked. No, you (the community members) should expect the facilitation of librarians and libraries to be proactive, collaborative, and transformational (bold added). Libraries and librarians facilitate knowledge creation, working to make you and your community smarter” (2012, 42-43).

For me, Lankes’ work is a call to action. Rather than simply serving our communities in a passive way, effective school librarians spread their influence into every nook and cranny of the school. They use their knowledge, expertise, and access to information resources to be proactive in helping every student, classroom teacher, specialist, administrator, and parent achieve their goals.

They form partnerships and collaborate with others in the school and in the larger community to improve the lives of everyone. Through the lens of “community as collection,” school librarians are positioned to act with purpose and passion to transform their communities.

During SLM, school librarians showcase the learning activities that can happen because of the work of an effective school librarian and a collaborative library program. Can we do more? I think so.  Let #SLM18 be a call to action. Our communities should expect more from us and we should step up our literacy leadership and go forward within our school communities and with our larger communities to create futures that benefit all.

Works Cited
Lankes, R. David. 2011. The Atlas of New Librarianship. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011.

_____. 2012. Expect More: Demanding Better Libraries for Today’s Complex World. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Image Credits
Collage created with PowerPoint.

Image Remix: Thurston, Baratunde. 2008. “I Am A Community Organizer.” Flickr.com.  https://www.flickr.com/photos/baratunde/2837373493/

Grit, Complacency, and Passion

Last summer, I published a series of professional book reviews. The titles were some of the books I read as I prepared my forthcoming book. At that time, my LM_NET colleague and friend Barb Langridge, who blogs at A Book and a Hug and recommends children’s books as a regular guest on WBALTV Channel 11 in Baltimore, sent me an email asking if I had read Tyler Cowen’s book The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream. I had not but said I would do so. Cowen’s book made be think. It also invited me to reflect on two previous books I read. (So, finally, this post is for you, Barb.)

In her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth makes a compelling case for people to follow their passion and learn perseverance. (I referenced her work in my 2018 New Year’s Resolution post.) She defines “grit” as self-discipline wedded to dedicated pursuit of a goal. In her study, Dr. Duckworth learned that highly successful people “were unusually resilient and hardworking” and they had determination and direction (Duckworth 2016, 8). If you haven’t yet take her online test, you can access her “grit scale” on her Web site.

One of her findings that was particularly meaningful to me is this. “Grittier people are dramatically more motivated than others to seek a meaningful, other-centered life. Higher scores on purpose correlate with higher scores on the Grit Scale” (Duckworth 2016, 147). People, such as school librarians, who have a moral purpose to serve others can be some of the grittiest people in terms of persevering to follow their passion. For me, this portends success for our profession.

School librarianship is complex. The exemplary practice of effective school librarians requires a wide range of knowledge, skills, behaviors, and dispositions, such those in this word cloud:

Duckworth elaborated on the Finnish concept of “sisu spirit.” Having this disposition means you understand your setbacks are temporary learning opportunities. You will tackle your challenges again no matter what. Setbacks won’t hold you back. “Grit is who you are!” (Duckworth 2016, 252). Just as the Finns do, Duckworth says we must model for and teach young people how to approach life with a “sisu spirit.”

Tyler Cowen in The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream presents readers with a U.S. culture very much in need of “sisu spirit.” Cowen’s thesis is that Americans have lost “the ability to imagine an entirely different world and physical setting altogether, and the broader opportunities for social and economic advancement that would entail” (Cowen 2017, 7). He writes that the main elements of our society are driving us toward a more static, less risk-taking America.

In terms of our young people, Cowen notes (most?) schools occupy them with safest possible activities, most of all homework. We also classify students more thoroughly through more and more testing (Cowen 2017, 19). Low-level, low-risk “activities” in K-12 schools result in students who are averse to risk-taking and unable to problem solve. They will lack the social emotional learning necessary for an entrepreneurial spirit, for a “sisu spirit.”

I believe that Duckworth’s “grit” is the answer to Cowen’s complacency prediction. Inquiry learning (see 2/22/18 post) and activism are also pieces of the puzzle.

Serving as a school librarian is not for the faint of heart. For many school librarians, their work involves bumping up against a system that may not be serving students, educators, and families well. It means influencing others through leadership—an effort that takes passion, purpose, risk-taking, and perseverance. We must have the necessary dispositions to succeed, and we must model these and co-create with classroom teachers opportunities for students to practice them.

As a current example, Carolyn Foote, district librarian for Eanes (Texas) Independent School District and Lilead Fellow, created a Resources for Planning a Peaceful March Padlet to support youth and educators who are organizing protests related to gun violence. She invited Future Ready Librarians to add resources and share this information in their learning communities.

The fact that young people across the U.S. are speaking up and out is sending a strong message to our representatives in Congress. These young people are displaying grit and passion. They are anything but complacent. It is our responsibility as educators and elders to support them and join with them in raising our voices and creating positive change.

As Randy Kosimar writes: “Following your passion is not the same as following your bliss. While passion is a font of expressive, creative energy, it won’t necessarily deliver pleasure and contentment at every moment. Success, even on your own terms, entails sacrifice and periods of very hard work” (2000, xiv).

Let’s get to work!

Works Cited

Cowen, Tyler. 2017. The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Duckworth, Angela. 2016. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. New York: Scribner.

Kosimar, Randy. 2000. The Monk and the Riddle: The Art of Crafting a Life While Making a Living. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Image Credits: Collage created at Befunky.com, Word Cloud created at Wordle.net

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 am 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. The Components of Future Ready Learning: Literacies, Skills, and Dispositions;
3. Visions for Schooling 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 codesign effective instruction, 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. School librarians help their schools by building capacity through classroom-library coteaching future ready learning: literacies, skills, and dispositions. In this empowered learning culture, school librarians, principals, and other educators colead to optimize student success.

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

Work 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