Support Arizona Students and Educators: Save School Librarians

Image: Arizona Ballot Proposition 208Arizona’s district public schools have an equity problem. Many students and educators are learning and teaching without the support of a state-certified school librarian in their school. This lack of access to the knowledge and skills of library literacy leaders is an equity issue. As a matter of social justice, all students and educators deserve the support of a highly qualified school librarian.

Proposition 208: The Invest in Education Act
This fall Arizona voters have an opportunity to help transform K-12 public schools. Proposition 208, the Invest in Education Act, will be on the ballot. The proposition levies a 3.5% state income surtax on individuals earning over $250,000/year and couples earning over $500,000 a year.

When the proposition passes, 50% of the funds collected will be earmarked for increasing salaries, hiring, and retaining educators, school librarians included. (To learn more about #INVESTInEd view the Yes on Prop. 208 video).

The fact that school districts can use these funds to hire and retain state-certified school librarians means the Arizona library community is “all-in” for this proposition. The Arizona Library Association (AzLA) and the Teacher Librarian Division (TLD) of AzLA are partnering with EveryLibrary, Investined, and the Arizona Education Association to promote voting and passage of this voter initiative.

The Problem in Context
Arizona is one of six states that has not yet recovered education funding since the last recession. In fact, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, between 2008 and 2015 Arizona’s funding for education adjusted for inflation declined 36.6%.

Even with the #20×2020 teacher salary increase passed by the Arizona Legislature in 2018 as the result of the #RedForEd movement, Arizona teachers rank 46th in the nation for average teacher pay. California is second highest and New Mexico ranks 36th. Arizona cannot retain teachers if they can earn so much more in neighboring states.

According to an Education Law Center study cited by U.S. News and World Report in January of this year, Arizona’s school funding in 2016-2017 amounted to $5,477 per pupil, falling far short of the national average, $14,046.

Clearly, K-12 education funding in Arizona is in dire straits. Underfunded schools and priorities that have not included school librarian literacy leaders have resulted with very few state-certified school librarians remaining in positions in districts throughout the state.

It will take a coalition of like-minded people and organizations and a long-term commitment to fix what is broken.

Successful Advocacy Campaigns
Successful advocacy campaigns require building partnerships with other people and organizations that share our values. AzLA and TLD members promote and provide library services to Arizona’s youth and families. Literacy and voter education are central to our mission. We care deeply about the present and future of young people’s access to high-quality education and to the health of our democracy.

Partnering with EveryLibrary is giving us the opportunity to bring something to the table when we meet with the Invest in Education Act leadership. Together, EveryLibrary, AzLA, and TLD have launched a “Take the Pledge to Vote YES! on Prop. 208” campaign.

When we work together to build support for voting and for this proposition, we will assure education stakeholders that the library community is committed to improving education funding in our state. We are committed to passing this initiative and to working together to provide literacy learning opportunities for Arizona’s youth.

If you are an Arizona voter, we invite you to Take the Pledge to Vote YES! on Prop. 208. If you live in another state and have friends or relatives in Arizona, please share the Pledge with them.

Thank you.

Image courtesy of the Arizona Library Association. Used with permission.

Free Speech and Editorial Cartoons

Image: "We the People" U.S. Constitution flanked by the U.S. flagOn this Labor Day holiday, I’m thinking about how students learn the history of our national celebrations and observances. In my experience, Labor Day could be one of the least studied of those. At this time during a pandemic, it is important that we reflect on the sacrifices being made on our behalf by first responders and front-line workers, including educators who care for the academic as well as the social-emotional health of U.S. students.

Not to diminish this holiday for U.S. workers, but considering the 2020 election cycle, Constitution Day, which is celebrated on September 17th, seems to me to be more pressing in terms of students’ needs to understand the meaning and relevance of this day of observance.

Connie Williams wrote an August 20, 2020 Knowledge Quest blog post that provides resources for educators who want to guide students as they dig deeper into the frameworks of our system of government. See her post “Integrating Constitution Day into Your School Curriculum,” including a link to information about a poster contest with an October 2, 2020 deadline.

First Amendment Rights
For me, the time is right and ripe to focus students’ attention on the First Amendment to the Constitution.

First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

With the Black Lives Matter Movement protests and counter-protests happening across the country, questioning the purpose, exercise, and limits, if there are any, of this right is relevant whether or not we are actively engaged in civil unrest.

One of the ways I have engaged students in thinking about our freedom of speech and freedom of the press is through deep dives with editorial cartoons. Not only do these texts, which are accessible online and in paper print, sharpen students critical thinking skills but they also give students the opportunity to learn and practice questioning and drawing inferences, essential reading comprehension strategies.

Free Speech
In Tucson, we are lucky to have David Fitzsimmons, a talented and “no-holds-barred” editorial cartoonist who has been sharing his opinions in the Arizona Daily Star since 1986. He’s won many awards and his cartoons are syndicated to over 700 media outlets worldwide. Like many editorial cartoonists, David shares his work via social media as well. You can find his cartoons and commentary at: @DWFitzsimmons (Notice he describes himself as an “insultant.”)

Like all editorial cartoonists, David makes no bones about the fact that he is a “biased, partisan, unfair” commentator on social and political topics. I recently attended a Star Opinion Page Reader Chat where David shared his work. (The quotes are from my notes.)

In that chat, David shared how a cartoon he penned and published on May 31, 2020 after George Floyd’s murder was used as a “political satire” text by Cooper Junior High social studies teachers in Wylie, Texas, located just north of Dallas.

According to the newspaper article in the Fort Worth Star-TelegraphWylie ISD faces backlash after assignment includes cartoon comparing police with KKK,” the students were learning about the Bill of Rights and the cartoon was not part of the district’s curriculum.

On August 26, David Fitzsimmons wrote an op-ed in the Arizona Daily Star in response to the controversy: “Fitz’s Opinion: Texas, Governor Abbott and the National FOP are not happy with this cartoonist.” I agree with David that the Fort Worth Star-Telegraph’s headline misrepresents his cartoon. I also agree with his assessment of the overall situation surrounding this incident: “Persecuting, smearing and scapegoating public school teachers for teaching truth, civic dialogue, historical context and critical thought is beyond unacceptable. It’s un-American.”

Intellectual Freedom
Intellectual freedom is a core value of librarianship. I believe school librarians have an essential role to play in bringing thought-provoking texts into the academic programs in our schools. When I served as a librarian at Sabino High School in Tucson (2001-2003), David was an engaging and effective guest speaker for social studies and history students and classroom teachers. Sadly, he reports that invitations to share with K-12 students have sharply decreased in recent years.

David gave me permission to reproduce one of his cartoons in in my book Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Secondary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact (ALA 2012). The ‘toon entitled “Asterisk” focuses on how the Constitution grants us the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights. The asterisk leads readers to a briefcase with these words printed on its side in capital letters: SPECIAL INTERESTS.

Whether teaching face to face or remotely, these widely available texts are goldmines for students. Visual texts like editorial cartoons capture today’s students’ attention. Pairing cartoons penned by editorial cartoonists with divergent viewpoints can create deep conversations. Questioning these texts and using readers’ background knowledge and evidence in the drawings and carefully selected (minimal) words in editorial cartoons to make inferences are ways to shore up students’ thinking and reading skills. Educators can also use editorial cartoons as provocative texts to launch inquiry learning, especially in the areas of civics, social studies, and history. (My hats are off to the classroom teachers in Wylie ISD.)

Additional Resources for Editorial Cartoons
David Fitzsimmons’ editorial cartoons and op-eds can be accessed via the Local Editorials and Columnists Opinion Page at Tucson.com.

The American Association of Editorial Cartoonists offers a gallery of editorial cartoonists’ work.

Many cartoonists have websites where they display their work. The Cartoonist Group site includes editorial cartoonist Clay Bennett’s work, which I use it in the “advanced questioning” lesson plan in my book.

Side note: In his 9/3/20 reader chat talk, David Fitzsimmons stated there are only 23 editorial cartoonists working in the U.S. today. He also listed the local newspapers that are on the brink of collapse. If you are as lucky as I am to still have a local paper, I hope you subscribe to it. I also hope you are integrating the paper printed or online issue of your local newspaper into your teaching. In 2017, The Washington Post adopted “Democracy Dies in Darkness” as its official slogan. It’s worth asking yourself and your students how local newspapers can be beacons that shine the light.

Image Credit:
wynpnt. “Constitution 4th of July.” Pixabay.com, https://pixabay.com/illustrations/constitution-4th-of-july-july-4th-1486010/ 

Antiracist Early Childhood Book Audit

Book Cover: Antiracist BabyEarlier in the pandemic, I spent seven months with my infant and toddler grandchildren. In March, their family came to Tucson from California to shelter in place. At the time, the public libraries were closed and the books I had given the kids were in storage out of state. This meant we had to rely on my own collection of baby and preschool-age books… and I found it lacking.

Conducting a diversity audit of my early childhood books was a wake-up call for me. It seems I had a few board, paperback, and hardcover books for this age group on my shelves but the majority of them had animal and inanimate object characters. Although I had a few with diverse human characters, I definitely needed to expand our reading choices.

Book Jackets: More, More, More, Said the Baby; The Big Book of Famiies, Everywhere Babies, Ten, Nine, Eight, and Whoever You Are

I should add at this point that I had received some publicity regarding Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s board book Antiracist Baby illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky (2020). I immediately ordered it and then it took four months to arrive!

In the meantime, I turned first to Star Bright Books, publisher of my board book Read to Me (2004) also available in Spanish/English, Vietnamese, Vietnamese/English, and Haitian Creole/English. Star Bright is known for publishing early childhood books with diverse characters and many of their titles are bilingual or offered in diverse languages.

Due to pandemic safety measures, our infant granddaughter had not seen other babies, and our toddler grandson had not played with other children. The books below are the Star Bright Books I added to our home collection. Book Jackets: Babies, Babies!; Big Box for Ben; Clean Up, Up, Up; Eating the Rainbow; My Face Book

Next, I consulted the list of board books offered on the Social Justice Books website. I was happy to see that several of the books I owned or had recently purchased were on their list.

At some point along the way, I found the Leo and Lola series by Anna McQuinn that engaged our two-year-old grandson in seeing, hearing, and talking about babies and young children involved in everyday childhood activities. Thankfully, the public library re-opened for requests and pick-up and had these titles in their collection.

Book Jackets: Lola Plants a Garden; Leo Can Swim; Leo Loves Baby Time; Lola Loves Stories; Lola Reads to Leo

Last week, our family’s copy of Antiracist Baby arrived. At the time, I was immersed in the Racial Justice Challenge (RJC). One thing I had shared was the lack of diverse representation in the early childhood selections in our home book collection. Kendi’s book was the perfect reminder of how families, and White families in particular, can positively influence the young children in their lives with regard to normalizing diversity in books for infants and preschool children.

In his book, Kendi offers nine steps to make equity a reality. The first step is to “open your eyes to all skin colors.” During the RCJ, I also shared how my own awareness of race came later in my childhood; to the best of my recollection, I was around eight years old. It is important to me that my grandchildren not experience any delay in acknowledging and affirming difference.

Similar to my book Read to Me, the print in Kendi’s book is directed to the adult readers of his board book. While Ashley Lukashevsky’s bright, bold illustrations will catch the eyes of young children, the message and strategies Kendi offers for overcoming racism are for parents, grandparents, caregivers, and all older children and adults. Kendi invites readers to believe we can transform society and overcome racism and charges us with beginning that process with the very young.

For the foreseeable future, Antiracist Baby and Read to Me will be our family’s baby shower book selections.

Racial Justice Challenge

Photograph of Protesters with SignsLast week, August 3rd – 7th, I participated in the Racial Justice Challenge (RJC). Perhaps you did too. I appreciate the Fogler Library folks at the University of Maine for designing, curating, and facilitating the RJC. It is not too late to participate in this work. The RJC links are live and will be accessible into the future.

Each day, for five days, I received an email with several tasks designed to “learn, listen, share, and take action regarding race, racism, and antiracism.” Along with other participants, I explored how to be antiracist (versus “not racist”), examined issues of race in the media, and designed a personalized racial justice plan. (See the Welcome page.) Some of the resources shared were new to me. I revisited others or used them as springboards to read/view other resources I had in my queue.

As a White middle-class cisgender female and a retired K-20 educator, I participated with a preK-12 educator lens and with an eye for how school librarians can be especially instrumental in antiracist activism. I am currently editing a professional book centered on core values in librarianship, including equity, diversity, and inclusion. The RJC helped me think more deeply about our work and our book.

There is no way to fully share my experience but this is a start.

Note: I am reading Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi and appreciate his decision to capitalize both Black and White in his writing. I am adopting that convention here.

Day One
I have long been an avid supporter/follower/reader/user of Teaching Tolerance resources. The RJC kicked off with an article by Cory Collins (2018) “What is White Privilege Really? Recognizing white privilege begins with truly understanding the term itself.”

(Thank you to the facilitators for this article because this gave me confidence from the first day this work would build on what I already knew from my work in K-12 and university-level teaching and research.)

In defining White privilege, Collins cites Francis E. Kendall author of Diversity in the Classroom and Understanding White Privilege: Creating Pathways to Authentic Relationships Across Race (2006): “having greater access to power and resources than people of color [in the same situation] do.” The fact that I have been privileged with the “power of normal” and the “power of the benefit of the doubt” were important reminders to me. These powers ensure systemic racism.

This concept connected for me with Dr. Kendi’s idea regarding the origins of racism in the U.S.: “racial discrimination led to racist ideas led to racist ideas led to ignorance/hate” (2016, 9).

White privilege also endows me as a White woman with the power to remain silent in the face of racial inequity. By definition, my privilege gives me the option to avoid the discomfort of confronting racism because I am “safe.”

In the NPR video: “Me and White Supremacy Helps You Do the Work of Dismantling Racism.” I was introduced to the work of Layla Saad, author of Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor (2020). Ms. Saad is an East African, Arab, British, Black, Muslim woman living in Qatar. She developed a 28-day process that she calls a “personal anti-racism tool” designed to teach those with White privilege how systemic racism works and how they can stop contributing to White supremacy in the world. I appreciate her message: Systems are made by people and can be changed by people. As with changing cultures and school cultures, in particular, there is power and greater opportunities for success in doing this work with a group of colleagues.

From the very first day of RJC, the comment board where participants shared their responses to the resources shared was, for me, one of the most informative aspects of Day 1 and every day thereafter. I appreciate how people anonymously shared their feelings, experiences, and thoughts with the group. Other people’s posts made me think harder about what I was reading.

Day Two
Day Two began with viewing Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s June 17, 2020 TED Talk: “The difference between being “not racist” and antiracist” (51 minutes). I had previously viewed this video and the one in which he is interviewed by Dr. Brené Brown. My take-aways again were reminders of definitions I believe are central to this work:

Racist = a fixed category – central to who someone is – evil/KKK/White supremacist

Not-racist = racist (denial)

Antiracist = acknowledgment of racial inequities and taking action to eliminate them – cannot be neutral, must admit privilege, be self-critical, and view racism as the problem

Again, the comment board posts were very powerful.

I glanced at the “100 Things White People Can Do to Fight Racism” article written by Corrine Shutack. While I agree with all of these actions, many of them related to political activism, there was part of me that wished these things were framed as what ALL people can and should do. Similar to advocacy in the world of librarianship, it often starts and must be sustained by “insiders” as well as the advocates we enlist to support change.

Day Three
I have shared and discussed the “single story” perspective in my university-level teaching. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s message in “The Danger of a Single Story” is supported today by #OwnVoices and #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Identifying and promoting the diversity of life experiences raises questions in my courses and in my life as an author, which are too numerous to explain here. Bottom line: I always benefit from hearing other people’s responses to this work (see the comment board).

I appreciate the menu of choices the facilitators curated for Day 3. For me, the most useful was the link to “The Best Latinx Books According to Latinx Writers.”

Where I live in Arizona, Latinx and American Indian peoples are the majority minority groups. I am always searching for ways to further educate myself about their cultures and concerns as well as their literature. From the list, I have several books in queue on my nightstand, including In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (2019) and My Time Among the Whites: Notes from an Unfinished Education by Jennine Capó Crucet (2019). I look forward to reading these and other suggestions from the list.

One question asked of participants this day was when were we first aware of our race. Again, as a White child born in 1950, I had a common experience: my world was White.

In 1999, I created a VoiceThread example for a children’s literature course I was teaching to answer “Where I’m From.” As is plain to see, I am from working class Whiteness. It wasn’t until I was around eight when we got our first TV that Black “characters” introduced me to a view of Blackness and delivered harmful stereotypes into our home. It wasn’t until I was fourteen when my nuclear family moved from St. Louis to Detroit that I became aware of the real life lived experiences of Black people.

Day Four
After reading and reflecting on the news stories and how images and print shape perceptions, I viewed “Indigenous People React to Indigenous Representation in Film and TV (Pocahontas, the Lone Ranger)” published October 14, 2019 (Indigenous Peoples’ Day). This video made it clear to me that the interviewees’ responses to various media portrayals of American Indians varied. They did not speak with a single voice and reinforced to me Louise Rosenblatt’s reader response theory that honors the experiences and background knowledge that readers/viewers bring to a text. Some of the differences I noted seemed to be generational. I was delighted to learn the video producer Lauren is of Tohono O’odham and Apache heritage. Few people across the U.S. know about the Tohono O’odham whose southeast Arizona reservation borders Tucson and extends into Mexico.

This video also prompted me to find out which U.S. states have replaced Columbus Day or adopted Indigenous Peoples’ Day. This is the list: Alaska, Hawaii (Discoverers’ Day), Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada (Aug 9), New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, Wisconsin, and dozens of cities, including Tucson. Although I already knew my state is not among them, I’m grateful to the K-20 educators who discuss this holiday in Arizona classrooms and libraries.

The Morgan Freeman meme was offensive to me. The fact that people can take someone else’s image, good name, and work and reframe them to meet their own agenda stinks. Considering the work Freeman is doing on social media, I certainly hope Freeman’s reading of Representative John Lewis’s farewell message of activism and love gets more attention.

In terms of interacting with the resources provided, I took a bit of a detour on Day 4 to watch the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA) video: “Translation of Service: How Does My School Library Program Look Now?” This video prompted me to once again confront the fact that our profession is predominantly White and that the publicizing the work of our colleagues of color is instrumental in attracting more POC to the library and education professions.

I also read “So You’ve Messed Up: Recognising Failures In Your Anti-Racism & What To Do Next” by Orla Pentelow. My goal is to be a non-optical ally. Since I have the fear of making mistakes and can respond to criticism with defensiveness, these strategies are important for me to practice.

On this day, I decided to pick up where I left off reading Kendi’s book for my free choice independent reading.

Day Five
Some participants revealed who they were on the comment board with their final reflections. One person’s post led me to her blog where I learned her school librarian position had been cut and she was, I hope temporarily, stepping away from school librarianship. (She and I have been in touch.) This was particularly disturbing news in light of the BCALA video I viewed the previous day.

I started my Racial Justice Action Plan and found it challenging to complete. I will make the commitment to continue to work on it. As a retired educator (and elderly person according to the CDC), my sphere of influence at this point in time is greatly reduced. I am not currently teaching K-12 students or preservice school librarians. My antiracist acts will mostly involve my continued efforts toward self-education and my interactions with friends and family members, in the letters to the editor and op-eds I write for the Arizona Daily Star, and in my communication with my elected representatives in Phoenix and Washington, DC.

I am, however, editing and contributing to a professional book for school librarians focused on core values in our profession: equity, diversity, inclusion, and intellectual freedom. The resources, reflection, and questions that remain from this week with the RJC will influence my thinking as I complete my introduction and chapter for the book and provide feedback to the other contributors.

Thank you to Jen Bonnet and the Challenge Team at the UMaine Fogler Library for organizing and promoting this learning experience.

Work Cited

Kendi, Ibram X. 2016. Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. New York: Nation Books.

Image Credit

Life Matters. Pexels.com. https://www.pexels.com/photo/crowd-of-protesters-holding-signs-4614165/

Professional Book Review: Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out!

Book Jacket: Lift Up Up, Don't Push Us Out!This week, August 3rd – 7th, I’m participating in the Racial Justice Challenge. Perhaps you are participating too. Each day, for five days, I’ll receive an email with several tasks designed to learn, listen, share, and take action regarding race, racism, and antiracism. Along with other participants, I will explore how to be antiracist (versus “not racist”), move beyond a single story, examine issues of race in the media, and design a personalized racial justice plan.

I will be participating with a preK-12 educator lens and with an eye for how school librarians can be instrumental in antiracist activism. I look forward to reporting my learning in next week’s blog post.

As part of my preparation, I read essays from Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out! Voices from the Front Lines of the Educational Justice Movement by Mark R. Warren (2018). I was unaware of the book when it was published and am so grateful to the contributors for sharing their experiences in striving for and achieving social justice in schools. You can also access an interview related to #LiftUsUpDontPushUsOut.

The book is divided into four sections. While all of the essays are worth reading, I’m sharing my response to four focused on race and ethnicity.

Part One: Building the Power for Change: Parent, Youth, and Community Organizers
“Speaking Up and Walking Out: Boston Students Fight for Education Justice” was written by Carlos Rojas and Glorya Wornum. Each author tells their first-person story about why and how they became involved with Youth on Board (YoB). Glorya shares how, beginning in 8th-grade, she experienced discrimination and suspensions as a Black student who asked too many questions and looked for family among angry peers. She found “positive energy among angry people” (21) through YoB. She learned how to express strong emotions in a productive way, ask questions respectfully, and lead change. Carlos shares how his life changed when he could say aloud: “I’m undocumented and unafraid.”

Both of these young people were leaders on the “Code of Conduct Advisory Committee” that help change punitive disciplinary practices to restorative justice interventions in their school, their district, and later via legislation that impacts students throughout Massachusetts. They were also involved in creating an app to help students, educators, and parents know their rights and responsibilities. They helped organize student walkouts when the Boston mayor threatened to cut school budgets that resulted in funds being restored.

Carlos and Glorya’s message: Put young people’s experiences, voices, and solutions at the center of educational social justice. While reading their essay, I made strong connections with the young activist life of Representative John Lewis. When educators make a space for student organizing, students can experience agency and advocacy that can carry them and our society forward throughout their lives.

Part Two – Broadening the Movement: Building Alliances for Systemic Change
Last month, I participated in a webinar with Diane Ravitch and Jitu Brown. (It was through that webinar that I learned of this book.) Jitu contributes an essay called “#FightforDyett: Fighting Back Against School Closings and the Journey for Justice.” He tells how school closures in Black and Brown neighborhoods increase class sizes, undermine community cohesion, and price people out of homes with the resulting gentrification. He shares how their advocacy coalition proved in court that closing schools attended by students of color is an act of racial discrimination when small schools in White neighborhoods are allowed to remain intact.

In his essay, Jitu shares how students and multiracial community organizations came together to fight the closure of Dyett High School on Chicago’s southside, a predominantly Black neighborhood. He tells how the community, led by two high school students, engaged in civil disobedience and captured the attention of the national media after the mayor announced the school would reopen as a charter school. This was unacceptable to the community; they presented their vision for a technology and arts curricular focus for their school. As the result of a hunger strike, the community succeeded in keeping the school open and are still working to see their vision come to full fruition.

Jitu’s story and work connect strongly to the challenges we face where I live in Arizona. The proliferation of charter schools has negatively impacted Tucson Unified School District (TUSD), our largest local district. Like CPS and TUSD, large urban school districts struggle to serve all students in their immediate neighborhoods when students are recruited to taxpayer-funded charters thereby reducing enrollment and funding in district public schools. Similar to the situation at Dyett, predominantly Latinx families in the Wakefield Middle School service area organized and have succeeded in reopening and revitalizing a school that was shuttered for under enrollment.

Jitu’s Message: Multiracial coalitions must be rooted in the self-determination of people of colore in order to build powerful movements that win for Black people as well as others impacted by injustice.

Part Three – Educators for Justice Movement Building in Schools, School Systems, and Universities
Sally Lee and Elana “E.M.” Eisen-Markowitz contributed the “Teachers Unite! Organizing School Communities for Transformative Justice” essay in this section. Sally is a founding organizer of New York City Public Schools’ Teachers Unite (TU), a teachers’ organization with a “mission to organize democratic school chapters under the principles of equity, voice, diversity, and action, with an eye toward changing society and building a center for radical teacher organizing” (94).

In 2008, TU co-published Teachers Talk: School Culture, Safety, and Human Rights along with the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative. TU also was involved in creating a documentary film and toolkit called Growing Fairness focused on restorative justice and resisting the racist criminalization of students, in particular.

In the essay, Sally and E.M. discuss the critical importance of a “relational approach” to organizing. This quote jumped off the page at me: “in a functioning democracy, we must slowly build consensus among diverse individuals around core values in order to transform culture” (95). This work must be done locally at each school site where all school stakeholders can lead educational justice guided by the principles of democracy and equity.

Sally and E.M.’s message: “I have seen and felt how schools can be sites of trauma and oppression as well as meaningful growth and change” (97). Let’s join them in working together to advocate and enact growth and change.

Part Four – Intersectional Organizing: Linking Social Movements to Educational Justice
In “The Same Struggle: Immigrant Rights and Educational Justice,” activist researcher and educator José Calderón begins his piece by sharing how, as a new college graduate, he joined the farmworkers movement after hearing César Chávez speak. After returning to his hometown in Colorado, José shares how he supported parents of English language learner immigrant students in marching for and succeeding in instituting bilingual education in the county. He came to understand the connection between immigrant rights and educational justice.

After earning his PhD., José joined with others in fighting English-only education as both a researcher and activist. He has also joined with various coalitions and conducted research related to voting rights, street violence, and advancing community schools. He makes a strong case for the positive outcomes of his work as an activist scholar.

José’s message: By following César Chávez’s principle of living one’s life in the service of others and forming mutually beneficial partnerships, we can look back on our lives and say that we have made meaningful contributions to improving the world.

Transforming School Culture
While I wish I had read these essays in 2018 when the book was published, I was inspired by reading them now in this time of civil unrest and conscientization with the potential of educational transformation. This reading also came to me as I work with seventeen contributors to finalize our book manuscript related to core values in school librarianship–absolutely perfect timing.

Thank you to all of the Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out! contributors.

Work Cited
Warren, Mark R. 2018. Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out! Voices from the Front Lines of the Educational Justice Movement. Boston: Beacon Press.

 

School Librarian Advocacy in the Time of the Coronavirus

These are uncertain times for many school librarians across the U.S. This summer, some are fighting to keep their positions even though they went the extra mile to support students, classroom teachers, administrators, and parents during the COVID-19 spring school closures. Others are fighting to restore school librarian positions because some decision-makers have come to the understanding that the pandemic and equity/social justice require all hands on deck and that school librarians have an essential role to play in education whether learning and teaching are conducted face to face or remotely this fall.

Megaphone with School Librarian Advocacy Text

It is in this climate that advocacy for our profession is most especially welcome. And this past week, we had Virginia Spatz from CommunityUnderCovid.com (Community thru Covid) to thank for that.

Ms. Spatz conducted an interview with Elizabeth Davis, President of the Washington, D.C. Teachers Union and Kathy Carroll, President of the American Association of School Librarians. These three leaders discussed the role of school librarians on “Wednesday Act Radio.”

This is the link to the entire broadcast and this is the link to the piece with the exchange between Elizabeth Davis and Kathy Carroll (with thanks to K.C. Boyd and Debra Kachel for sharing this information on ALA Connect.)

Take-Aways
I listened to the latter and these were a few of my take-aways:

Ms. Davis gave a huge shout-out to D.C. school librarians for stepping up to the plate to help the Washington Teachers Union make the case for restoring and maintaining school librarian positions. All school librarians should have steadfast advocates like Ms. Davis. See background information below.

Ms. Davis also noted that when every D.C. school faculty includes a librarian, they must be allowed to focus on professional work; they must not be asked to do odd jobs like custodial work or “duties as assigned.”

The D.C. school librarians were proactive in aligning their work with district priorities and with standards. By advocating for school libraries and their positions, they were had a seat at the table and were able to garner advocates among the union leaders.

AASL President Kathy Carroll is an articulate and effective spokesperson for AASL’s support for professional school librarians. (AASL has supported this effort by the D.C. librarians.)

Ms. Carroll also noted the many ways school librarians supported remote learning during the spring 2020 school closures. She emphasized how the work of school librarians helps educators, administrators, and families reach their goals for youth.

Both Kathy and Elizabeth noted that listeners must vote for decision-makers who support equity in public education and library services, and school librarians for all, in particular.

The Best for Last – Gratitude and the ASK
Ms. Carroll was genuinely appreciative of Ms. Spatz for conducting the interview and for Ms. Davis’s understanding of the critical need for D.C. school librarians and her exemplary advocacy on their behalf. Kathy’s sincere gratitude was a positive way to conclude the conversation…

But Ms. Davis squeezed in the last word. She did what all advocacy campaigns must do. She made the “ask.”

She gave listeners the phone number of the Washington, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. She asked that everyone phone Mr. Mendelson and ask him for the necessary funds to adequately address the needs of D.C. students and schools, including providing funding for school librarians.

Chairman Mendelson’s number is: 202.724.8032

I made that call this morning. What about you?

Image Credit

Tumisu. “Megaphone Loud Scream,” Pixabay.com. https://pixabay.com/illustrations/megaphone-loud-scream-loudspeaker-911858/

Background information: EveryLibrary.org through SaveSchoolLibrarians.org worked with the D.C. school librarians to advocate by collecting signatures on an online petition. This effort was part of the political pressure placed on D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser who increased the 2020-21 public education budget 3% or $70M, creating an opportunity for the Washington Teachers Union to seek restoring and maintaining school librarian positions as part of their negotiations. Read the Washington Post article.

School Librarians and Achieving Equity in Fall 2020

Image shows a traffic light: red (problem), yellow (analysis), green (solution)As I review my blog posts since this spring, I notice a reoccurring theme: equity. A majority of school librarians, classroom teachers, and administrators have long been concerned with all K-12 students’ access to an equitable, relevant, culturally responsive education. For many education decision-makers and members of the general public, the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement have put the inequities in K-12 students’ access to equity in public schools into sharper focus.

At the same time, many education decision-makers seem to lack an understanding of how school librarians and libraries serve academic programs and our non-negotiable commitment to equitable access. There are currently schools, districts, and entire states discussing how school libraries will be repurposed and how school librarians will be reassigned to classroom teacher, teacher substitute, or other positions when library spaces are used to achieve social distancing, study halls, or childcare during school hours if schooling is held in person.

Reaping the Results of Spring, 2020
If schooling in fall, 2020, is remote, decision makers must be aware of the importance of school librarians’ roles as leaders in classroom-library collaboration for online instruction, advocates who get physical books into the hands of students and families even when the library is closed, technology mentors and troubleshooters, virtual book and other club sponsors, and more. School librarians who served on school and district decision-making leadership teams in spring, 2020, had the critical opportunity to ensure that the work of school librarians and the affordances of the library program were part of the solution to a crisis situation.

If school librarians demonstrated essential services in spring, 2020, then they have solid grounds on which to advocate for their continued role in their schools’ academic program. They can document their work and will have engendered advocates among students, colleagues, administrators, and families for having stepped up during a crisis. If, on the other hand, they, as one high school librarian told me, “didn’t do much,” then they will not be on firm ground going forward.

Changing School Paradigms
As I noted in my May 15, 2020, Arizona Daily Star op-ed “What the pandemic has taught us about K-12 schooling in Arizona,” many schools, districts, and states across this country and around the world should have paid heed to the academic as well as social services schools and educators, including school librarians, provide in their communities. The lack of access to an equitable education for all U.S. K-12 school students should be glaringly evident.

In his 6/20/20 blog post “Reopening Schools with a Focus on Equity,” Dr. Pedro Noguera asks a question that all education decision-makers should be asking themselves as they plan for fall, 2020: “Is American education ready to respond to the urgent needs that have been exposed?” In his post, Noguera challenges readers (educators and others) with a thought-provoking list of dominant paradigms in critical need of change, including “deep and persistent disparities in achievement based on race and class” and learning characterized by covering the material rather than deep engagement, curiosity, and stimulation. While I believe school librarians can be leaders in responding to Dr. Noguera’s entire list of needs for change, these two, in particular, are offer specific and direct ways school librarians can lead in transforming schooling.

The Achievement Gap, Curiosity, and Simulation
When we look at the achievement gap, we traditionally look at standardized test scores in reading and math. For the most part, school librarians have a greater opportunity to impact achievement in reading than in math. In the area of reading, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test, for example, focuses on three types of literary texts and three broad categories of informational texts that vary by grade level. (The test is given to a sample of fourth- and eighth-grade students.)

Looking at our own research in school librarianship, we can make a strong case for how our work helps reduce the reading achievement gap. “School librarians provide critical support to teachers and administration by recommending and teaching strategies and sources that develop reading comprehension and analysis of informational text in all content areas” (Gretes 2013, 3). If it’s not already, this must be a focus on school librarians’ work going forward.

Inquiry learning, which puts students’ own questions at the center of the process, is designed to simulate their curiosity to pursue personally meaningful answers to questions and solutions to problems. As co-designers of inquiry learning, collaborating school librarians have the opportunity to work with classroom teachers and specialists, whether face to face or online, to increase students’ motivation to engage in standards-based inquiry. We can also teach and co-teach specific skills used during inquiry, such as searching skills, bibliography formats, and resource analysis, and monitor students’ progress. We can model and guide students in using information and ideas ethically. We can help students select the most effective technology tools for demonstrating their new knowledge. Alongside classroom teachers, we can co-assess students learning in all of these areas.

Advocacy and Meeting Other People’s Needs
The best way to build advocates for the work we do it to help others meet their needs. Being an integral part of the success of administrators, classroom teachers, students, and families during spring, 2020, positioned school librarians to grow advocates and secure their rightful place in the future of K-12 education. As schools prepare to reopen physically or online, we will reap the benefits (or consequences) of the actions we took during school closures.

As a former school librarian and a retired school librarian educator, I can only spur you on from the sidelines. My greatest hope is that the critical roles of school librarians will not be lost in the conversations about reopening schools–that our contributions to student learning and teachers’ teaching, and our profession will thrive long into the future.

Work Cited

Gretes, Frances. 2013. “School Library Impact Studies: A Review of Findings and Guide to Sources.” Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Foundation. http://bit.ly/2USKkQ9.

Image Credit

geralt. “Traffic Lights Problem Analysis,” Pixabay.com. https://pixabay.com/illustrations/traffic-lights-problem-analysis-466950/

School Librarianship in the Time of Coronavirus, Part 2

Image: Equity spelled out in Scrabble letters.I believe a high-quality education is a human right, and literacy is the foundation for all learning. From my perspective, every student and educator in every school across the country and around the globe deserves to have a literacy learning leader in the person of a certified school librarian. However, lack of funding and misplaced priorities at the state-, district-, and school-site levels have resulted in fewer and fewer professional school librarians and a loss of equitable education for all.

Over the past decade, and in some cases longer, many state legislatures have chipped away at district public school funding. (For the unconscionable situation in my state, see the Arizona Center for Economic Progress’s 5/27/20 “K12 Budget Webinar.”) With ever-shrinking funds, school districts have been put in the position of making difficult choices and far too many times school librarian positions have been seen as “extras” and have been eliminated.

In addition, and as unfortunate, our local reliance on property tax-based funding for public schools undermines an equitable education for all. This perpetuates a system that results in “have” and “have not” districts. Districts with less tax revenue struggle to provide complete academic programs, including well-resourced, fully-staffed school libraries, up-to-date technology tools, art, music, and more.

Site-based hiring practices have also negatively impacted school librarian positions. Without leadership from district-level leaders, far too many site-level administrators fail to understand the value of having a professional educator guiding the literacy learning that takes place through the largest, most well-equipped classroom in the school—the school library. If cutting librarians is based on their poor job performance, then the appropriate response would be to put them on plans of improvement or replace them rather than depriving students, educators, and families of professional library services.

What Is a Librarian to Do?
The school closures of spring 2020 created an opportunity for school librarians to demonstrate to administrators, colleagues, and families their many contributions to student learning outcomes whether or not anyone had access to the physical space of the library.

It is in that context that I share indicators that demonstrate the roles effective school librarians fill in their learning communities as leaders, instructional partners, teachers, information specialists, and program administrators. In these five roles, they:

Leader
Culture of Learning

  • Create a sense of belonging, ownership, and inclusion in the physical and virtual spaces of the library.
  • Design a welcoming and universally accessible online library presence.
  • Provide and advocate for equitable access to diverse resources representing all cultures/identities and divergent points of view in multiple genres and formats.

Library Advocacy & Support

  • Collaborate with administrators to assess students’ and classroom teachers’ needs and develop and implement plans to address them.
  • Communicate clearly and frequently with library stakeholders (students, other educators, administrators, families, and greater community) in order to share the impact of school library resources and the library program on student learning.
  • Seek learning community support for library initiatives to improve student learning.

Instructional Partner and Teacher
Collaborative Planning

  • Reach out to teaching teams and attend face-to-face and virtual team meetings to support colleagues’ teaching goals.
  • Reach out to classroom teachers and specialists to coplan and integrate the resources of the library into the classroom curriculum.

Integrated, Collaborative Teaching

  • Coteach with other educators whether face to face or online to engage students in critical thinking, deep learning, and the ethical use of ideas and information.
  • Co-assess student learning outcomes with other educators to improve instructional strategies and resources and ensure continuous improvement for students and educators.

Reading and Information Literacy Instruction

  • Promote reading for information and for personal enjoyment.
  • Coteach how to locate, find, analyze, and use information.
  • Coteach making meaning from texts in all formats (reading comprehension).

Information Specialist
Information Access and Delivery

  • Reach out to colleagues to support educators’ and students’ use of digital devices and tools and electronic resources.
  • Integrate the paper print and virtual resources of the library into the school’s face-to-face and remote academic learning program.
  • Provide instruction to support students and educators in using electronic resources ethically and safely whether from home or from school.
  • Provide online tutorials to support students and educators in using electronic resources effectively.

Program Administrator
Library Management

  • Align the library vision, mission, and goals with those of the school and the district.
  • Use library management software to generate reports and use data to improve library services.

In-School and Remote Collection Aligned to Curriculum, Classroom Teacher, and Student Needs

  • Assess and develop the paper print and electronic library collection to meet the instructional needs of colleagues.
  • Assess and develop the library collection to meet the academic and personal reading needs of students.

Funding & Budget Management

  • Write grants and seek funding to provide students and other educators with resources, including technology devices and tools.
  • Manage the library budget responsibly and help guide district-level purchases to meet the academic program and personal learning needs of students, educators, and families.

Taking Action
Serving as an effective school librarian is a complex job. It requires a passion for learning and literacy and a steadfast commitment to serve the entire learning community. There are exemplary librarians serving at this high level across the U.S. and around the globe. For two examples, see last week’s post School Librarianship in the Time of Coronavirus, Part 1.

If you are an effective school librarian or other educator, please share with me what I missed. If you are a school administrator or school librarian educator, consider how we can shore up the school librarian profession to ensure that all students, educators, and families have equitable, high-quality library services.

Image Credit

Wokandapix. “Equity Fairness Equitable Letters.” Pixabay.com. https://pixabay.com/photos/equity-fairness-equitable-letters-2355700/

School Librarianship in the Time of Coronavirus, Part 1

Perhaps like me, you are an educator who believes that part of achieving restorative social justice in the U.S. involves creating and supporting a high-quality public school system that is equitable and relevant for all preK-12 students regardless of where they live. Such a system would require at least one state-certified school librarian in every public school across this country.

It is in this context that school librarians and our state-level organizations and national association have conducted surveys, held meetings, and worked to develop flyers, posters, and other marketing tools to share how school librarians support student learning—even when the physical space of the library is shuttered and its paper print resources are, for the most part, inaccessible to students, classroom teachers, specialists, and families.

In times such as these, it is important that we look for the bright spots of success that flourish across the U.S. and around the globe as we describe school librarianship in the time of coronavirus and adapt exemplary practices to our own teaching and learning situations.

Two Brilliantly Bright Spots
Last Friday, I attended “Building Strong Partnerships with School and District Leaders,” a webinar sponsored by Future Ready Librarians®. The teacher librarians and administrators from two distinctly different districts shared how they met the challenge of school closures.

Van Meter Community School District (VMCSD) (IA) Superintendent Deron Durflinger and Shannon McClintock Miller, Future Ready Librarians® spokesperson and VMCSD K–12 district teacher librarian shared how their digital learning efforts align with the district’s vision, mission, and culture. Shannon noted that the district was able to build on the communication and collaboration practices that began when they implemented a 1:1 program eleven years ago and fine-tuned in the last few years. In VMCSD, they attribute their success to a focus on empathy and “being there” for their classroom teachers, students, and families. They also noted that having confidence in the support they would receive and “being in it together” gave educators the essential right to fail, learn, and grow.

Vancouver Public Schools (VPS) (WA) teacher librarian Traci Chun and Jeremy Tortora, Associate Principal and Athletic Director, shared how they partnered with one another and their faculty, staff, students, and families to meet the needs of their learning community during the shutdown. Although VPS has had a modified 1:1 program for ten years, it wasn’t the devices alone that Mr. Tortora attributed to their success. He noted that the district and the schools in the district focus on sustaining a culture of collaboration supported by teacher librarians. As Mr. Tortora noted, librarians know the strengths of individual educators and what they need. In addition to tech support, this knowledge helped Traci and other school leaders provide social emotional support for educators.

Both Shannon and Traci shared how the curation tools they had developed with classroom teachers and used with students prior to the pandemic were instrumental in ensuring that students, educators, and families had access to resources and were comfortable using these pathways. In both districts, teacher librarians and administrators were careful not to overwhelm classroom teachers. They provided information and support but enacted the “less is more” concept in terms of covering curriculum and implementing new digital tools.

Reoccurring Themes
As readers of this blog know, I listen and light up when I hear the words “collaboration” and “coteaching.” This webinar did not disappoint. The focus on communication and listening in both districts provided a foundation on which to build their collaborative work. At the building level and at the district level, Shannon, Traci, and all teacher librarians can share their global perspective of the learning community to support educators transitioning to remote learning as well as guide district-level tech tool purchases.

Communication was another reoccurring theme. In both districts, teacher librarians and administrators listened to other educators’ needs and responded promptly and with sensitivity for where the teachers “were at.” They monitored the frequency of their communications and carefully considered the level of support they offered based on individual educators’ needs and capacity to utilize new strategies and tools.

The emphasis on relationship building in a culture of collaboration and clear communication in both districts were in evidence throughout the webinar.

Adapting Practices
Clearly, school closures highlighted the grave injustice created by the inequitable distribution of technology devices and resources needed for students to conduct learning from their homes. In the webinar, moderator Mark Ray noted that some librarians and others listening to this webinar would be thinking about how to adapt the practices in VPS and VMCSD to their own learning environments. I was one of those.

When schools closed in Arizona, 100,000 or more students were without the necessary devices to engage in remote learning. In Tucson Unified School District (TUSD), 18,000 lacked these tools. With about 40,000 students, TUSD, the second largest district in the state, serves an urban, high-needs student population. The district scrambled to provide devices to all students and families. For more on the specifics of the situation in our state, see my 5/15/20 op-ed in the Arizona Daily Star: “What the pandemic has taught us about K-12 schooling in Arizona.”

In light of this situation, my big take-away from the FRL webinar was how many years VMCSD and VPS had been (unknowingly?) “preparing” for the pandemic. While they were ramping up their 1:1 programs and their technology tools support for students and educators, they were focused on the big picture—their districts’ vision and mission and developing a culture of learning and collaboration that carried them through this spring’s school closures.

Bottom Line
It was in this network of communication, caring, and sharing that their efforts succeeded. It was collaboration at all levels—among students, educators and teacher librarians, administrators, and families—that made their move to fully online teaching and learning a success.

Collaboration is the difference we can make… with the support of our administrators. Shannon McClintock Miller

Say, yes! and “be brave before perfect.” Traci Chun

Thank you, Shannon and Superintendent Deron Durflinger, Traci and Associate Principal Tortora for sharing your exemplary work. Thank you, Mark Ray, for moderating this webinar. I highly recommend that all school librarians view this webinar and reflect on their capacity for leadership as they plan and go forward into the 2020-21 academic year.

Image Credit: From the personal collection of Judi Moreillon

Compassion and Wisdom for Activists

Black Hands Holding a Heart Containing the Scales of JusticeIn lieu of my blog post today, I am asking School Librarian Leadership.com readers/subscribers and members of the Maximizing School Librarian Leadership Facebook group to read President Barack Obama’s support for activists/activism and strategies for moving forward from here toward social justice.

How to Make this Moment the Turning Point for Real Change”

Thank you, President Obama, and for everyone who is working toward peace and justice.

Sincerely,
Judi

Late addition to this post: Karen Jensen @TLT16 posted a collection of powerful resources on SLJ’s Teen Librarian Toolbox today: “Because Black Lives Matter, a Collection of Anti-Racist Reading Lists.”

Image Credit:

GJD. “Heart Love Passion Peace Sign.” Pixabay.com, https://pixabay.com/vectors/heart-love-passion-peace-sign-2028061