Speak-ing of #BannedBooksWeek

This week (September 22 – 29, 2019), classroom teachers, librarians, and libraries across the country are honoring the American Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom’s annual Banned (and Challenged) Books Week. When I served as a secondary school librarian, this week was one of my most treasured. For those three years, I collaborated with 8th grade (one) and high school English language arts classroom teachers to spotlight the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books from 2000-2009. (I look forward to the 2010-2020 list!)

I gathered as many as possible children’s and young adult books from 100 Most Frequently Challenged list from our library and interlibrary loaned through the public library. (There were a few titles that were not appropriate for the school environment such as Private Parts by Howard Stern.) We launched the lesson by helping students make connections among these three terms and books written for youth: banned, challenged, and censored. Students who had read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 made connections and often led the discussion.

The classroom teachers and I co-read one of the picture books from the list and modeled a conversation about why the book had been challenged. Then, students working in small groups were given a short stack of books and the task of discussing each one to determine why they thought the book had been challenged. Students read picture books and book jacket information for novels to guide their thinking. Their ELA-R teachers and I facilitated these discussions by monitoring students’ conversations and asking probing questions.

Each group reported to the class by selecting the most surprising book in their stack and shared their determination for the “reason” the book had been challenged. One of the biggest takeaways from this lesson was that students had read a good number of these books in the past and where annoyed or shocked that any adult would think they were incapable of thinking critically or shouldn’t have even be allowed to read the story or information.

Laurie Halse Anderson’s Books
Laurie Halse Anderson’s book Speak appears as #60 on the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books from 2000-2009. I have been a fan ever since the book was published… and this year read both the graphic novel version and her latest book Shout. It isn’t often that readers have such a powerful example of three texts—one novel, one graphic novel, and one free verse memoir—to compare their responses to the “same” story told by the same author. Anderson has given us all a gift with Speak (1999), Speak: The Graphic Novel (2018), and Shout: The True Story of a Survivor Who Refused to Be Silenced (2019).

Speak, the Novel
I read this book when it was first published. In 2002, I facilitated a student book club at Sabino High School. (It was my first year as a high school librarian after serving in elementary school libraries for ten years.) The students in the club were freshmen and sophomores. I provided students with a stack of books for which I could secure multiple copies. They picked Speak as our first read. I sent home information to students’ families about the book club (we met once a month during lunch) and noted the list of nine books the students had chosen to read that year.

Of course, I suspected that Speak would be an important book for the young women in the group. Protagonist Melinda’s experience, silence, inner turmoil, and trauma were clearly and poignantly conveyed in the story. What surprised me, at the time, was that the young men in the group were equally affected by Melinda’s story. Anderson’s voice rang true and authenticity created an invitation for readers to relate to the story on an emotional level. Students’ discussion was open and frank. It was an outstanding beginning for building our caring and thoughtful community of readers.

Speak, the Graphic Novel
Emily Carroll’s illustrations in the graphic novel add another dimension to Anderson’s story that may help some readers relate more deeply to Melinda’s story. The black, white, and sepia tones of the illustrations portray the fear and suffering of a freshman girl who has been raped and shunned. Her isolation and depression are vividly drawn. When Melinda finally takes the opportunity to strike back at the rapist, the image of her punching him captures the emotional power of finding one’s courage, using one’s strength, and protecting one’s self from further harm.

The parallels with the acts of superheroes will not be lost on readers. Carroll, who is known for penning horror comics, was the perfect pick to illustrate Anderson’s modern classic. The graphic novel format with brief text, frames that sequence and chunk the text, and drawings that pack an emotional punch will bring many new (and returning) readers to this text.

Shout, the True Story of a Survivor Who Refused to Be Silenced
And finally, for me, Shout, the free verse memoir brings Laurie Halse Anderson’s first-hand experience with abuse, rape, and resilience into an even sharper focus. Her intimate poems about family dysfunction, microaggressions (a word I didn’t “have” when I first read Speak), and most importantly of all, ending the shame associated with sexual assault will tear at your heart. As a woman, mother, and grandmother, I wept for young women who have suffered and continue to suffer in silence and must find resilience without family or societal support.

With today’s #MeToo movement, I believe all three “versions” of Speak/Shout provide a rich literary experience for critical conversations. But from my personal perspective Shout was the most powerful of the three. For me, Anderson’s memoir presents undeniable truths from which I, the reader, could not turn away.

Thank you, Laurie Halse Anderson, for your courage in breaking the silence, for openly sharing your life experiences, and for your heartfelt truth telling.

As you honor and celebrate The Freedom to Read and The Library Bill of Rights, this week and 365 days a year, school librarians must recommit to advocating for and protecting students’ rights. Our library materials reconsideration policies are a place to begin. Please read Mona Kirby’s article that appeared in the September issue of American Libraries: “Up to the Challenge: Dealing with School Library Book Challenges Before They Happen.”

Reading Dangerously

At the June, 2019 American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., I attended the Freedom to Read Foundation’s (FTRF) 50th Anniversary Celebration. I wrote about the celebration on my blog on July 1, 2019. The FTRF is a non-profit legal and educational organization affiliated with ALA. Supporters helped crowdfund the event by purchasing tickets and the FTRF’s book. Reading Dangerously: The Freedom to Read Foundation Marks 50 Years (2019) in advance of the event. I jumped at the chance and am so happy I did.  This post is about the book and the work of the FTRF.

I can still remember my excitement during my very first class in my first course as a library science graduate student. The course was “Foundations” and the First Amendment and the Library Bill of Rights were the topics for the opening class session. I remember the satisfaction I felt knowing that activism would be part of my everyday work as a librarian. I also remember telling my husband and daughter that night at the dinner table how deeply pleased I was to learn that librarianship was political.

Reading Dangerously opens with an introduction by Neil Gaiman. As Gaiman writes, the First Amendment means that we will be called upon to “defend the indefensible. That means you are going to be defending the right of people to read, or to write, or to say, what you don’t say or like or want said” (v). But as he also notes that willingness to defend free speech means that your own speech commands defending, too. The next section of the book is a powerful statement by the FTRF’s founder Judith Krug: “We were trying to develop a total program in defense and support of the First Amendment, and that’s basically what we’ve done… The Freedom to Read Foundation is the last step…. When all else fails, then we can go to court.”

The Foundation has three primary activities:

  • The allocation and disbursement of grants to individuals and groups for the purpose of aiding them in litigation or otherwise furthering FTRF’s goals;
  • Direct participation in litigation dealing with freedom of speech and of the press.
  • Education about the importance of libraries and the First Amendment to our democratic institutions (https://www.ftrf.org/page/About).

And go to court they have… In collaboration with the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations, the FTRF has supported plaintiffs and defendants across the U.S. as they seek legal remedies for upholding the First Amendment. The book includes a timeline and brief summaries of selected cases held over the past fifty years. With my lens as a librarian focused on young people’s rights, these are some of the highlights from that timeline. (Note: There are several interpretations of the Library Bill of Rights that relate to the rights of youth.)

Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District V. Pico (1978): In this case, a student challenged the school board for removing nine books from school libraries, including Soul on Ice and Black Boy. This case went all the way to the Supreme Court where the student prevailed. (*This one was on the test in the Foundations course!)

Selected other challenges to children’s and young adult literature included Sund V. City of Wichita Falls, Texas (2000) resulted in returning Heather Has Two Mommies and Daddy’s Roommate to library shelves. Counts V. Cedarville (2003) required the school board to return the Harry Potter books to school library shelves. The FTRF has provided many grants to librarians who are fighting censorship; fortunately, in most instances, books are returned to library shelves and cases do not end up in court.

Other cases that jumped off the page for me involved a grant to fund the legal defense “Pentagon Papers” authors Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony J. Russo, Jr. (1973). U.S. Department of Justice V. American Library Association (1997): ALA prevailed in a case that struck down the Communications Decency Act of 1996 that sought to limit First Amendment rights on the internet. The U.S. government and ALA went to court again (2001) regarding the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) that required public libraries to employ blocking software that both over-blocked and under-blocked websites deemed harmful to children. The ruling gave libraries leeway in finding less restrictive ways to protect children’s online safety.

But the cases closest to home made me especially proud to be part of this profession and a supporter of the FTRF. After a five-year battle, the FTRF and the Tucson Unified School District Mexican American Studies program prevailed (2018) over the Arizona Superintendent of Instruction and other state officials. This case successfully challenged an Arizona statute that “prohibited the use of class materials or books that encourage the overthrow of the government,” or “promote resentment toward a race, or class of people,” and are “designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group,” and “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of people as individuals” (53-54). This academically focused program had successfully motivated at-risk students and kept them in school. Although the legal battle took its toll, the district’s (renamed) Ethnic Studies Program was able put the contested materials back on the shelves in classrooms and school libraries.

The FTRF supports Banned Books Week through grants to libraries and others who sponsor public events and discussions centered on intellectual freedom. The book includes excerpts from nine of the most frequently challenged books between 2013 and 2017; seven of which were written for children and young adults.

The final section of Reading Dangerously was contributed by James LaRue, Director of ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom. His chapter should be required reading for every librarian and library science student in the U.S. Many of the intellectual freedom challenges that have faced our patrons, our librarian colleagues, our communities, and our country in the last fifty years continue today. It is imperative that the FTRF and librarians across the country remain vigilant and true to our core values. As LaRue writes: “FTRF is now, and should continue to be, a principled and focused voice for the rights of all to explore the ideas within and around us” (179)—emphasis added.

Thank you, Freedom to Read Foundation. When we go about our daily practice of librarianship, we are true to our values and supported by the FTRF when we keep First Amendment rights and intellectual freedom foremost in our minds as we:

  • Competently select materials for libraries that offer multiple perspectives and worldviews;
  • Design displays and programs that meet the needs of all library stakeholders;
  • And educate our patrons through resources, programs, teaching, and the example we model as engaged global citizens who uphold democratic rights and responsibilities as we serve our communities.

Considering joining the FTRF today! https://www.ftrf.org/page/Membership

 

Work Cited

The Freedom to Read Foundation. 2019. Reading Dangerously, The Freedom to Read Foundation Marks 50 Years. Chicago: ALA.

Explore Phase: Annotated Bibliography Pathfinder

The Explore Pathfinder is an essential feature of the Guided Inquiry Design (GID). This can be in the form of a hands-on text set or annotated bibliography. A text set is “a set of materials that is provided by educators or created by students that helps learners investigate a topic, theme, problem, or dilemma. A text set is usually comprised of hard-copy printed materials and can be effectively combined with a web-based pathfinder of electronic resources” (Moreillon 2018, 178). These resources are selected by educators to invite learners to “dip in” and explore a sampling of resources that support the overarching inquiry question.

The goal of these resources is to prepare and support students before they develop their own inquiry questions. Their questions will be based on the overarching essential (inquiry) question for the learning experience. Learners skim and scan these resources for ideas that connect with their interests or information that sparks their desire to know more. Purposeful skimming and scanning are essential reading strategies, particularly online. In an information-rich environment, the ability to weed out the extraneous and identify promising resources is essential.

Annotated Bibliography
The annotated bibliography was a staple of librarians’ work long before the dawn of the Web. (Way back in the Dark Ages) I can remember my high school librarian providing students with printed bibliographies comprised of print-only resources and reminders to access the printed Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature. (If you are too young to remember it, Google it. Of course, now there is an online database version.) I believe my approach to using those bibliographies was that they were the “final” word on the topic and I need not look any further.

By contrast, the Explore pathfinder/annotated bibliography is intended to be a jumping off place for students. As they “dip in,” they will uncover other resources mentioned in the text or in the books’ bibliographies or source notes. They will discover names, places, events, and subtopics that may not be included in the pathfinder resources that they will want to pursue. They may also realize there are human resources that can support their inquiry and take their learning far beyond the starting place of the pathfinder.

Types of Informational Books
The image above shows four types of nonfiction/informational books we are exploring in IS445: Information Books and Resources for Youth. We Are Here to Stay: Voices of Undocumented Youth by Susan Kuklin (Candlewick 2019) is shelved in the 300s social science section of a Dewey library. Andrea Warren’s book Enemy Child: The Story of Norman Mineta, a Boy Imprisoned in a Japanese American Internment Camp During World War II (Holiday House 2019) is a biography found in the 92s. Racism and Intolerance from the Children in Our World Series (Barron’s 2017) and written by Louise Spilsbury and Hanane Kai is an expository informational book, also shelved in the social sciences. And Don Brown’s The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2018) is an informational book presented in a graphic novel format, which is shelved in the 900s history section of the library.

Each of these types of informational resources may be more or less accessible to individual skimming and scanning inquirers. Some readers may gravitate toward narrative nonfiction titles that pay attention to literary elements, such as characters, settings, plot, themes, and the like. Others may appreciate the primary source documents in a well-written, well-researched biography. While others may be more inclined to reach for expository books with tables of contents, glossaries, indexes, bolded keywords, and more. Still others may gravitate toward non-traditional formats—graphic novels, ebooks, audiobooks, and more. Others will go straight to the computer and out on the free Web. Providing a wide array of types of books and other resources organized around subtopics of the overarching inquiry (essential) question may help students avoid frustration and can support them in achieving success.

Coteaching the Explore Pathfinder
Learners’ hands-on, minds-on interaction with an Explore pathfinder/annotated bibliography gives educators opportunities to monitor students’ comprehension strategies. Educators can also probe students for connections to the inquiry topic and push their thinking deeper. They can help individual students use resources effectively and efficiently. When classroom teachers and school librarians collaboratively facilitate the inquiry process, students will receive more individualized attention than one educator working alone could provide. “Guiding students through the Explore phase leads them to form a meaningful inquiry question (of their own making)” (Kuhlthau, Maniotes, and Caspari 2012, 3).

Works Cited

Kuhlthau, Carol C., Leslie K. Maniotes, and Ann K. Caspari. 2012. Guided Inquiry Design: A Framework for Inquiry in Your School. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

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

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.

An Effective Teaching Force

When marketing the expertise of the school librarian and services of the library program, it is imperative that we find out what our administrators, colleagues, students, families, and community want and need. While stakeholders may have numerous specific needs for resources and tools, there may be one thing everyone agrees upon.

Every school needs an effective teaching force.

An Effective Teaching Force
An effective teaching force contributes positively to school climate and embodies the school culture. Effective educators build positive, supportive relationships with students, colleagues, and families. They create a welcoming environment in their classrooms, libraries, and labs. They spread welcome in the hallways, at student performances, and athletic events. They are committed to creating a climate in which learners and learning can thrive. In such a school, the library is a “hospitable” space for learning, teaching, meeting, and simply hanging out.

Effective educators also have shared values and practices that create and sustain the school culture. Through open and honest communication, educators collaboratively reach, revisit, and revise agreements regarding the core teaching and learning practices based on shared values. They have contributed to and embody the school/school district’s vision, mission, and goals. They are team players who know it takes an entire village to raise joyful (and effective) readers, writers, and thinkers.

Educators Matter
According to the RAND Corporation organization, one of the least-biased research and reporting non-profits in the U.S., teachers matter.

  1. Teachers matter more to student achievement than any other aspect of schooling.
  2. Nonschool (sic) factors do influence student achievement, but they are largely outside a school’s control.
  3. Effective teachers are best identified by their performance, not by their background or experience.
  4. Effective teachers tend to stay effective even when they change schools (RAND).

In short, effective educators help level the playing field for students.

School librarians are about equity of access to the resources students and educators need for success. Equity, however, applies to intellectual as well as physical access. Getting a book or a resource into the hands of a student is an essential first step, but it does not ensure that reading and learning will follow. Students need the tools to make sense of text. They need comprehension strategies, opportunities to discuss their learning with peers and experts, and support in making connections to school-based learning and taking action in the world outside of school. Equity requires vigilance and continual instructional improvement.

Continuous Improvement, On-going Assessment
As the lead learner in a school, principals are deeply invested in and charged with elevating the instructional proficiency of classroom teachers, specialists, and other certified staff, including school librarians. To that end, school librarians can be principals’ partners in providing formal professional development and job-embedded informal PD that results in improved teaching and learning opportunities for students.

A focus on “development” suggests that learning is about change over time. “Viewing learning as a never-ending journey that students and educators undertake together keeps the focus on development (assessments) rather than on a final destination (evaluation)” (Moreillon 2018, 110). While students’ standardized test scores may occupy an overrated top slot in the hierarchy of evaluation, wise educators focus on the daily relationships they build with students; They focus on improving their ability to spark students’ curiosity and help them find their inner motivation to pursue learning. Wise educators focus on their own skill sets in order to improve the school-based learning lives of students. They focus on a continuous cycle of assessment, feedback, and improvement.

School librarians are partners with principals, classroom teachers, and specialist colleagues on a continuous improvement, on-going assessment journey. School librarians can commit to improving their own ability to learn and lead. This is how an effective teaching force is developed and sustained. In fact, that is precisely how school librarians achieve their capacity to influence and improve teaching and learning their school communities.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. What is your commitment to supporting all of your colleagues in reaching their capacity?
  2. How do you frame your contribution to other educators’ learning (and your own instructional improvement) such that your principal and school community value the role you play in school improvement?

Works Cited

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

RAND Education and Labor. nd. “Teachers Matter: Understanding Teachers’ Impact on Student Achievement.” https://www.rand.org/education-and-labor/projects/measuring-teacher-effectiveness/teachers-matter.html

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.

 

Collegiality and Teamwork

Chapter 9 Podcast: Sustaining Connections in a Collaborative Culture

Collegiality and teamwork are essential for future ready educators. In a collegial work environment, coworkers see each other as “companions” or equals. They cooperate and share responsibility for their collective goals and objectives. Collegiality implies friendship, caring, and respect for work mates. Teamwork implies that colleagues work together in an effective and efficient way to accomplish a task or achieve a goal. Members of a team may make unique contributions to the success of the work but all will take “credit” for the outcome.

Peter Senge and his colleagues note that “schools that learn” are in a continual process growth and change. As such, educators in these schools must exhibit collegiality and engage in teamwork in an open and trusting environment. Through developing shared values and common agreements, formal and informal school leaders ensure that the environment remains conducive to collective work.

Competitive Collaboration
It may seem counter-intuitive but principal leader George Couros advocates for a bit of competition among colleagues. He promotes what he calls “competitive collaboration,” in which “educators push and help one another to become better” (Couros 2015, 73). “Competitive collaboration” can help ensure that faculty learn with and from one another, cheer for each other’s achievements, support each other as team members who take risks individually and collectively, fail forward, and grow.

“Competitive collaboration” requires a high level of trust. The willingness to risk and fail in front of one’s colleagues is not easy for most adults. When principals, as lead learners, are the first to demonstrate this level of openness and transparency, it will be easier for faculty members, including librarians, to follow suit. In an environment of trust and shared commitment to each other’s growth, the result of competitive collaboration can be improved student learning and continuous improvement in educators’ instructional practices.

Sharing Data
“Along the way, faculty will share their practices and student learning outcomes data more openly. They will coplan, coteach, and collectively reflect on practice. They will build deeper and more trusting relationships in a culture of continuous learning” (Moreillon 2018, 50). If educators are to succeed at solving individual instructional challenges and schoolwide issues, they must openly share data. Again, it is not easy to actually document a misstep or failure.

Still, sharing data can be a pathway to engaging colleagues in helping individual educators reflect on their practice in new ways. Others can “show” us our teaching from another perspective and suggest strategies for revising our instruction, changing up resources, or making other improvements that can better meet students’ needs. Principals and supervisors can take this role. When we break down the walls between our classrooms and libraries, coteachers can also offer new perspectives on thorny issues.

Building Capacity
Creating the conditions in which all members of the learning community can reach capacity is a primary function of the school principal. School librarians can colead alongside their principals in capacity building. They “can serve as models for continuous learning while they engage in professional development (PD) with colleagues. School librarians help all library stakeholders reach their capacity” (Moreillon 2018, xiii).

One of the on-going challenges for school librarians is that they are not necessarily working in contexts that allow them to achieve their capacity or help students, classroom teachers, and administrators reach theirs. In a fixed schedule library where school librarians are providing planning time for classroom teachers, school librarians cannot achieve their capacity as instructional partners. School librarians who lack library staff, especially a full-time library assistant, cannot fully serve their learning communities if they spend their days doing clerical work rather than teaching. School libraries without adequate budgets cannot provide students, educators, and families with up-to-date books and resources to meet their academic and personal learning needs.

As noted in Chapter 8, leadership and advocacy go hand in hand. School librarian leaders will continuously advocate and enlist stakeholders in advocating for the most effective library scheduling, staffing, and budgets. They will use their voices and influence to build and sustain effective library programs in which collegiality and teamwork can thrive.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. What is your response to George Couros’s idea of “competitive collaboration”?
  2. What are your/your principal’s specific behaviors that build trust in your learning community?

 

Works Cited

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

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

 

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/

 

 

 

Advocate for What Students Need to Succeed

While it is all educators’ responsibility to advocate for what students need to succeed in their futures, school librarians can use their leadership and instructional partner roles to advocate for authentic, relevant, and challenging curricula. They can colead and advocate for initiatives that result in transforming teaching and learning.

School librarians’ overarching goal is to prepare students for lifelong learning. It could be said that preK-12 educators have always prepared the next generation for their lives after high school. But the speed of technological and other change in today’s society make it more difficult to predict those needs. Education organizations have suggested various skills and competencies for educators to consider as they guide future ready students’ learning. (Competencies are applied skills; all of the standards cited in this post are intended to be applied in authentic learning experiences.)

Among those skills are the Partnership for 21st Century Learning’s 4Cs (communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity), the International Society for Technology in Education’s Student Standards, NextGen Science Standards, National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies, and more including the National Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries (AASL 2018).

In Chapter 8 in Maximizing School Librarian Leadership, I draw connections between leadership and advocacy. Both are essential behaviors of school librarians if we are indeed positioning our work at the forefront of innovation, change, and reform in education.

Leadership
“Leaders maintain an understanding of what the mission and goals of an organization are and how these can be fulfilled” (Riggs 2001). Leaders inspire and influence the thinking and behaviors of others. From the global view provided by the library—the largest classroom in the school—school librarians are stewards of the widest range and variety of resources. Their job is to develop a collection of resources that meet the needs of the learning community.

In their daily work, school librarians connect books and other resources with students in order to help them develop as strategic readers, who enjoy and choose to read for pleasure. Strategic readers use comprehension strategies to think critically, to understand an author’s purpose, separate fact from fiction, news from propaganda. They also ask probing questions, seek credible answers, and develop new knowledge that helps them make sense of the world.

School librarians connect books and other resources to the curriculum by working with classroom teachers and specialists. They help other educators extend student learning beyond the textbook and offer resources on curricular topics at multiple reading proficiency levels to help all students build their reading skills. School librarians advocate for learning experiences that give students voice and choice and set them on the path of lifelong learning.

School librarians are on the constant lookout for resources that will spark students’ curiosity while supporting classroom teachers’ required student learning objectives. In many schools, school librarians are stewards of the most up-to-date technology tools and have expertise in marshaling the power of technology to improve student learning. They have expertise with digital information, including databases. They teach digital citizenship and help students understand the implications of the digital footprint they are creating today and how it may affect their futures.

Advocacy
“Collaborating school librarians have the potential to influence teaching and learning for every classroom teacher and every student in their building. To embrace a leadership role is an opportunity to co-create a collaborative school culture of learning that truly transforms education” (Moreillon 2019). Through coplanning, coteaching, and coassessing student learning alongside classroom teacher colleagues, school librarians have the opportunity to advocate for effective instruction, relevant learning tasks, and meaningful inquiry-based learning experiences that improve student learning outcomes. This work supports administrators’ goals for their schools and their district.

“Advocacy in all its forms seeks to ensure that people, particularly those who are most vulnerable in society, are able to: Have their voice heard on issues that are important to them. Defend and safeguard their rights. Have their views and wishes genuinely considered when decisions are being made about their lives” (SAEP n.d.). When school librarians advocate for future ready students, they are advocating for students’ voices and agency, their rights, and their empowerment to pursue learning that will make a long-term impact on their readiness for college, career, and community life.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. In your way of thinking, how are leadership and advocacy linked?
  2. Describe how your passion for school librarianship, your role as a school librarian, and the role of the library in future ready learning has led you to advocating for future ready students.

Works Cited

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

Riggs, Donald E. 2001. “The Crisis and Opportunities in Library Leadership.” Journal of Library Administration 32 (3/4): 5-17.

seAp.org. “What Is Advocacy?” https://www.seap.org.uk/im-looking-for-help-or-support/what-is-advocacy.html

 

 

 

 

 

Advocacy: A Long-term, On-going Process

Chapter 8: Leadership and Advocacy Podcast: Virtual Interview with Dr. Ann Ewbank

When advocacy becomes a regular part of a school librarian’s daily practice, then the long-term, on-going nature this work becomes clear. School librarians must always serve stakeholders in such a way as to engender their support for the professional work and leadership of the school librarian and the role of the library program in student learning. The history of school librarianship is clear. School librarians can never rest on their laurels and assume that their positions, library budgets, and programs are safe from cuts when budgets get tight, district deficits loom, or national trends in education shift.

Readers of Ann Dutton Ewbank’s book Political Advocacy for School Librarians: Leveraging Your Influence (2019) can find additional support for stepping out of one’s comfort zone and developing persuasive messages. School librarians can also use the American Library Association’s Library Advocate’s Handbook (2008), which includes guidelines for telling the library story, successful speaking tips, including a speaker’s checklist, and tips for talking with the media and dealing with tough questions.

Advocating for the Program
When school librarians have formed a solid base of support for the contributions of the library program to the school community, they are able to mobilize support from stakeholders when the need arises. Keeping the library program in the spotlight through consistent services and public relations are essential. The school or library website and social media, the school or library newsletter, principals’ communications to families, and local broadcast media outlets are all venues to share the library story.

In her article “Tales of the Crypt,” elementary and middle school librarian Kelly Klober from Danville (AR) shares an exciting Living History project and event that involved students in researching the lives of people buried in the town cemetery. Adult participants in the project included classroom teachers, family members, and other volunteers from the community. Kelly included this as one of her tips for success: “Make friends with the press. We always have incredible coverage from our local newspaper, and our high school’s senior seminar class has always been kind enough to video the event” (Klober 2019, 20).

Advocating for the Position
While some argue that school librarians should not advocate for their own positions, I whole-heartedly disagree. If there were a proposal on the table in your district to eliminate all kindergarten teachers, you can bet that kinder teachers (and their first-grade colleagues, families, and more) would be frontline advocates who could clearly state the need to retain these positions. State-certified school librarian positions are no different. There is research-based evidence that supports the value of having a state-certified school librarian on every school faculty. School librarians should know this research. The following examples are from an article published in Phi Delta Kappan Online by Keith Curry Lance and Debra Kachel (2018).

Given the emphasis on literacy and reading in many schools and districts, it makes intuitive sense that students’ reading and writing scores would be better in schools with a strong library program. In a Washington state study, graduation rates and test scores in reading and math were significantly higher in schools with high-quality libraries and certified librarians, even after controlling for school size and poverty (Coker 2015). Reading and writing scores tend to be higher for all students who have a full-time certified librarian. The Pennsylvania study (2012) found that reading scores for Black students (5.5%), Latino students (5.2%), and students with disabilities (4.6%) where higher when the school had a full-time librarian. Even higher academic gains were evident among student subgroups if their schools had more library staff, larger library collections, and greater access to technology, databases, and the library itself. The 4th-grade NAEP reading data supported the Pennsylvania findings. In states that gained librarians between 2004-05 and 2008-09, average reading scores for poor students, Black students, and Latino students improved more than in states that lost librarians. In states that lost librarians, English language learners’ scores dropped by almost 3% (Lance and Schwartz 2012).

School librarians must advocate for their own positions based on research, on their own practice, and on locally collected student learning data.

Advocacy-at-Large
Inviting print and broadcast media to library program events and writing letters to the editor and op-ed pieces for local newspapers are ways to take the school library story out into the community. School librarians and their advocates can keep school libraries in the minds of the general public as preparation for advocacy appeals and initiatives that will require the support of school boards, families, and voters.

Here are two recently published op-eds that I wrote on behalf of Tucson’s school librarians, libraries, students, educators, administrators, and families.

Missing School Librarians Means Lost Literacy Learning,” Arizona Daily Star, November 3, 2017.

Literacy Matters Every Day,” Arizona Daily Star, March 6, 2019.

And as part of a School Librarian Restoration Project in Tucson Unified School District, TUSD board liaison Kristen Bury of the School Community Partnership Council and I were briefly interviewed by a local news station KGUN9.

Restoration Project Aims to Employ More Librarians for TUSD,” KGUN9 video interview and article.

This letter to the editor was published on April 18, 2019 during School Library Month. “The Library Ecosystem.”

Strategic school librarians engage and enlist others in long-term, on-going advocacy efforts to ensure that school library stakeholders will have equitable access to the resources, instructional and other services, professional expertise, and leadership school librarians and libraries provide. Keeping the public informed is essential when the time comes to seek their support for specific advocacy appeals.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. How are you engaged in long-term, on-going advocacy?
  2. Who do you need to ask to join you in this effort?

Works Cited

American Library Association. 2008. Library Advocate’s Handbook. 3rd ed. http://www.ala.org/advocacy/advocacy-university/library-advocates-handbook

Coker, Elizabeth. 2015. The Washington State School Library Study: Certified Teacher-librarians, Library Quality and Student Achievement in Washington State Public Schools. Seattle: Washington Library Media Association.

Ewbank, Ann. 2019. Political Advocacy for School Librarians: Leveraging Your Influence. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Klober, Kelly. 2019. “Tales from the Crypt.” Knowledge Quest 47 (4): 16-20.

Lance, Keith Curry, and Bill Schwarz. 2012. How Pennsylvania School Libraries Pay Off: Investments in Student Achievement and Academic Standards. PA School Library Project. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED543418.pdf

Lance, Keith Curry, and Debra Kachel. 2018. “Why School Librarians Matter: What Years of Research Tell Us.” Phi Delta Kappan Online. http://www.kappanonline.org/lance-kachel-school-librarians-matter-years-research/