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.
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.
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.
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