Building Relationships Through the Environment, Your PLN, and a Smile

Chapter 5: Relationships by Jennifer Sturge with Stacy Allen and Sandy Walker
Blog post by Stacy Allen, Jennifer Sturge, and Sandy Walker

“The act of making a connection, feeling and being connected is something humans strive for whether it is a relationship with a place, pet, parent, colleague, or student.”Stacy Allen, Jennifer Sturge, Sandy Walker (2021, 76)

Building Relationships Through the Environment|
As part of the chapter on relationships, we focused on relationships between librarians and students, librarians and teachers, librarians and the broader community. As we set out to write this blog post, we wanted to focus on how we can build relationships by creating spaces that are welcoming, spaces where our students want to spend time and feel empowered to be themselves.  We can build positive relationships in our virtual school libraries and in our physical libraries through many of the same steps.

Create a Welcoming Environment
This might seem like something you already do, but take a close look around you. Go ahead, scan your library. Let’s consider deeply – what is on the walls, in the displays, and how is furniture arranged?

Do you see:

  • Representation from diverse groups of people?
  • Do posters of books and authors include BIOPIC representation?
  • Do your walls welcome those who are differently abled?
  • Persons or books representing the LGBTQ+ community?
  • Do your displays include a wide variety of books and materials that represent your school community, the outside world, and multiple views?
  • Do you have areas where students can work as a group, solo, or relax?
  • Can students who use mobility aids access all areas?

It may feel like a small step to take, but when your library decorations and displays include everyone, students are more likely to want to spend time in the library and thus, you are more likely to be able to build that connection with your students. Every student needs to feel both welcomed and seen.

Focus on Accessibility
As we talk more about the library environment, we wanted to go a little deeper into building relationships through accessibility. When we think about accessibility and relationships,it is essential that we provide an environment where everyone belongs.

Here are a few steps you can take quickly.

  1. Be sure your tables and areas of instruction include tables at which a student with a wheelchair can sit without having to wait for someone to move a chair out of the way. Provide a self-checkout station that is low enough that someone in a wheelchair can access it, and that has enough space around it that a person who has limited mobility can maneuver. If possible, provide the option of a touch screen for someone who may have difficulty using a mouse.
  2. Add core language communication boards to your school libraries. Core language communication boards allow a person to communicate with you and those around them in a non-verbal way. There are many school library core boards available to print and provide in your library.  Susan Berkowitz provides a free one here. However, many are available with a quick web search, or work with your assistive technology team to create a custom one.
  3. Purchase the audio version of your books. One thing that we have started doing as we purchase new titles for the library is adding the audio book on our Sora platform. This allows students who may need access to the audio version to be able to check it out without having to put in a special request for the book to be in an audio version and makes it accessible to all. Your students with vision or reading disabilities may also have access to Bookshare.org, a free online resource with 500,000+ books readily accessible through text-to speech.

Look Up, Smile, and Respond
As we were thinking about this blog post, we started sharing stories of how we feel like we have formed relationships with others that are not the traditional relationship, but ones we enjoy the interaction with just the same.

Jen shared about her favorite cashiers at the local Safeway. Typically, when Jen did her grocery shopping it was around the same time and she enjoyed getting into Jeri’s line. Jeri would chat during the checkout process and share stories about funny things that had happened or about their kids or pets.  Even though Jen never saw her outside of the grocery store, she always made it a point to say hello if she was going through the express line, or to get in her line. Just two weeks ago, Jeri retired. Without that interaction, Jen’s going to need to find a new favorite cashier at her local grocery store — a small relationship, but a relationship nonetheless.

The point of the previous paragraph is not that Jen is missing her cashier, but rather that, as librarians, we serve in a role where we often see hundreds of students in a day, week, or month.  It’s difficult to really dig down and know every single one of the people in our amazing school community. We can be like the Jeri’s of this world – we can converse, give a smile, and make the student or faculty member feel special while they are in our library.

You can also build relationships by displaying your interests. Have an About Me poster that kids can see, display a picture of you in your softball uniform or dance costume, or wear a button showing the instrument you play. Stacy shared that she recently built a new friendship with a teacher who wore a shirt with an ukulele on it. She never would have guessed they had that interest in common!

There is power in the smaller relationships. How you make someone feel sticks with them for a long time. Sharing a small interaction, a smile, and a kind word goes a long way.  Kindness can build trust, and trust is the foundation for a mutually respectful and beneficial relationship.

Relationships with your Professional Learning Network
As some of you reading this blog post will have just returned home after attending the #AASL21 conference in Salt Lake City, we wanted to remind you to nourish the relationships you invested in as you met new people and engaged with those you see only periodically. The school library community is a vibrant community and by continuing to connect with those you spent your time with in Salt Lake City, you will continue to grow and nourish your school librarian toolbox. Reach out to the person on Twitter that you sat next to in a session on Friday morning. Share an idea with the group of people you exchanged emails with at the Rock Out Celebration on Saturday night.

Above all, revisit your relationship with the notes you took, the pamphlets you picked up, and the boxes of books you shipped home! Share what you learned with students, other educators, and administrators. Share important information, effective strategies, and exciting resources that can improve teaching and learning in your school community.

You’ll be glad you did.

Reflection Question
“In your role as a school librarian, what are some of the greatest responsibilities you have in terms of relationships with library stakeholders?” (89).

Work Cited

Sturge, Jennifer with Stacy Allen and Sandy Walker. 2021. “Relationships.” In Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage, ed. Judi Moreillon, 75-90. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

About the Bloggers

Stacy Allen, MA, serves as Assistive Technology Specialist for Calvert County Public Schools in Maryland. She has worked in Special Education for 25 years. Her current position allows her to focus on equity and access for students with disabilities through work with teachers, students, and families. Connect with her on Twitter @artisfood

Jennifer Sturge, EdD, (she/hers) is the specialist for the library media programs coordinating the professional development and library media programs for Calvert’s schools. She is a 2017-2018 Lilead Fellow, the Maryland Technology Leader of the Year for 2019, and was the 2020-2021 Maryland Association of School Librarians President. Connect with her on Twitter @sturgej

Sandy Walker, MA, serves as the Supervisor of Equity and School Improvement for Calvert County Public Schools. He works with school administration, staff, and students to establish an identity-safe learning and working environment where success is not predetermined by income, zip code, or race. Connect with him on Twitter @Real_EquityCCPS

 

Relationships Matter

Chapter 5: Relationships by Jennifer Sturge with Stacy Allen and Sandy Walker|
Blog post by Stacy Allen, Jennifer Sturge, and Sandy Walker

“Inside of a school library and outside of the school library, relationships are everything.” Stacy Allen, Jennifer Sturge, and Sandy WalkerCore Values in School Librarianship:
Responding with Commitment and Courage 
(2021, 76)

As we set out to write this first blog post, a pesky little tune popped into Jen’s head and seemed to stay there for the duration of our writing. “Relationships, we all want ‘em, we all got ‘em, what do we do with them?” This quote can be attributed to the great Jimmy Buffett and his song Fruitcakes. It may be a lighthearted and fun song, but there is a lot of unpacking that can be done in that last part of the line: “what do we do with ‘em?” In school libraries, the short and sweet answer is, we build ‘em! This blog post features a story from one of Stacy’s friends, Yesenia and the relationship she formed with her elementary school librarian which continues to this day.

Conversations about Books
At the start of our journey in writing this chapter, Stacy reached out to Yesenia, curious to compare their experiences with books and libraries as children. Yesenia attended elementary school at PS 16 in Brooklyn, New York. Stacy was a student at Anne Arundel County Public Schools in Maryland. Stacy’s elementary school library memories were unremarkable, yet her access to books in childhood was undeniable. Between school and family weekend trips to Annapolis Public Library on West Street, she always had stacks of books she was longing to read. Books like the Nancy Drew mysteries even featured strong female protagonists who looked like her. When Stacy reached out to her friend, she didn’t know what she would hear during their conversation.  She didn’t expect it would not be as much about books, but more about the relationships that formed because of books!

But a library isn’t simply a room full of books, is it? Books were not even close to the center of the conversation for Stacy and Yesenia. The conversation centered around relationships. Yesenia spoke of a transformative relationship with her elementary school librarian, one that continues to this day. At PS 16, in the second-floor library, Yesenia first became an award-winning author — and she credits her relationship with librarian Muriel Feldshuh for the push.

During the conversation with Stacy, Yesenia was pulling out memory books with newspaper articles highlighting her win of the Ezra Jack Keats Award and the Brooklyn Literacy Contest as a third grader, and a letter of appreciation she received from then First Lady Barbara Bush. She also shared that she has novels Ms. Feldshuh sent her from contemporary writers like Margarita Engle and Judith Ortiz. “I owe her so much in my life,” Yesenia said, “I moved there in second grade, and she encouraged me beyond books. To this day she sends me emails and news clippings, on books, on mothering. She is my eternal pen pal.”

Access to Literacy Guides
Like the three of us, Yesenia grew up to love books and reading, but, “There wasn’t a Meg Medina picture book for me,” she says. “I remember Strega Nona, Babysitter’s Club, Judy Blume books, and Nancy Drew. But what I remember most is that she [Mrs. Feldshuh] created a safe space for me in the library. She is a very influential person in my life.”

“The school librarian has the power to suggest, discuss, and recommend something that is often very needed in students’ lives–literature and information” (Sturge, Allen, and Walker 2021, 79). The relationship that Yesenia and Mrs. Feldshuh shared, and still share, is one in which the school librarian nurtures a love of reading, takes the time to learn what their students are looking for in a book, and ensures that she sees the whole child, not just the surface.

Relationships are the foundation on which all else is built – and without those relationships we cannot provide what our students need the most – to be seen, heard, feel valued, and find their own success. The school librarians of the world, like Mrs. Feldshuh, make a difference one relationship at a time and one child at a time.

Building Relationships with School Librarian Colleagues
As many school librarians will be embarking on the journey to the American Association of School Librarians Conference in Salt Lake City in the coming days, we want to encourage you to think about relationships there as well. Jen serves on the planning committee for the 2021 conference and wanted to share a quick story about how relationships can develop across the country between school librarians who have never met before in person.

Two members of the planning committee met in person for the first time at an AASL conference several years ago.  Prior to that, they had only followed each other on Twitter and other social media platforms.  In our planning meetings, the friendship between the two is visible – despite the physical geography that separates them in their daily lives. When they finally met in person, it was like meeting a long-lost friend; we’re told there were squeals, screams of happiness, and hugging!

As you set out to enjoy all the conference has to offer, be sure to say hello to people that you have never met in person before. You never know – that social media relationship may blossom into a beautiful friendship!  As we strengthen our professional relationships, we can strengthen our network for learning, support, and growth.

Remember, Jimmy Buffett said it best, “Relationships, we all want ‘em, we all got ‘em, what do we do with them?” The answer simply is: build them.

Reflection Question
As you move through the 2021-2022 school year, what steps are you taking to build lasting relationships with your students, faculty, and school community?

Works Cited

Buffett, Jimmy. 1994. “Fruitcakes.” Margaritaville Records.

Sturge, Jennifer with Stacy Allen and Sandy Walker. 2021. “Relationships.” In Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage, ed. Judi Moreillon, 75-90. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

About the Bloggers
Stacy Allen, MA, serves as Assistive Technology Specialist for Calvert County Public Schools in Maryland. She has worked in Special Education for 25 years. Her current position allows her to focus on equity and access for students with disabilities through work with teachers, students, and families. Connect with her on Twitter @artisfood

Jennifer Sturge, EdD, (she/hers) is the specialist for the library media programs coordinating the professional development and library media programs for Calvert’s schools. She is a 2017-2018 Lilead Fellow, the Maryland Technology Leader of the Year for 2019, and was the 2020-2021 Maryland Association of School Librarians President. Connect with her on Twitter @sturgej

Sandy Walker, MA, serves as the Supervisor of Equity and School Improvement for Calvert County Public Schools. He works with school administration, staff, and students to establish an identity-safe learning and working environment where success is not predetermined by income, zip code, or race. Connect with him on Twitter @Real_EquityCCPS

 

Opening Our Educational Practices for Intellectual Freedom

Chapter 4: Intellectual Freedom by Suzanne Sannwald
and Dan McDowell|
Blog post by Suzanne

Although I was a co-author for the chapter on Intellectual Freedom for Core Values in School Librarianship, I am quite self-admittedly far from being an expert on intellectual freedom. My approach with writing was instead from the perspective of an ordinary school librarian, and the chapter that unfolded shared information that anyone can find by doing some research on the topic.

At the same time, the framing of the chapter was very personal. My hope was to share the thought journey that I went through in making sense of this very theoretical sounding concept and seeing how it affects my very concrete daily practices.

“Intellectual freedom, including access and choices, privacy
and confidentiality, is the right of every library stakeholder” (Sannwald and McDowell 2021, 55).

As often happens when you learn about something, you start to see the term or idea show up all over the place, and that has definitely been the case for me since I co-wrote the chapter on intellectual freedom. For instance, as I shared in a previous post, I cannot hear discussions about challenges to curriculum related Critical Race Theory (CRT) without thinking about how this threatens the intellectual freedom of students. The fact that educators may through intimidation and/or legislation be discouraged from sharing marginalized voices and factual experiences is clear and present censorship.

I have also been thinking about the way misinformation with COVID-19 has also endangered intellectual freedom since intellectual freedom is not just a matter of what information is allowed or not allowed to be shared. Intellectual freedom is also about our capacity to be mentally free, to be able to think critically.

When thinking about building students’ “capacity to be mentally free, I now see how every instructional choice is really tied to intellectual freedom. Suzanne SannwaldWith the pandemic, another trend that I tracked was the increased use of digital resources as students engaged in online-based distance learning. I work in a district that has been working for years now as a #GoOpen Ambassador District implementing Open Educational Resources (OER), but I feel like movement and motivation in this direction was certainly accelerated during the pandemic.

This past summer, my ideas around OER were deepened when I had the fortunate opportunity to talk with Susan D. Ballard, Dr. Pamela C. Harland. and Dr. Gerard L. Hanley for School Library Connection. Although I had originally sought them out based on their involvement and expertise with OER, my favorite takeaway was learning about OEP: Open Educational Practices/Pedagogy. I realized that OER may, of course, have benefits when it comes to ensuring equitable access to learning resources.

However, if it is always teachers and librarians doing all of the curation with OER, then is there really that fundamental a shift in the learning experience for students?

With OEP, the idea is that we don’t just look for ways to open up resource access. We go further by looking at ways to open up learning so that students share ownership in constructing their own learning. This, again, made me think again about intellectual freedom and fostering student capacity to be mentally free. It ties to the idea that we, as school librarians, must go beyond simply opposing censorship and securing access to resources for students. We, in collaboration with all educators, must open learning experiences to students so that they are enabled and encouraged to think and engage critically.

Only by creating these opportunities for participatory practice may we truly ensure students’ intellectual freedom.

Reflection Question
“What practices are you already doing to support the intellectual freedom of students and staff members in your school community, including ones that you may not have previously identified as relating to intellectual freedom?” (70).

To learn and reflect more about how intellectual freedom can drive your professional practice, make sure to check out Chapter 4 in Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage.

Work Cited

Sannwald, Suzanne, and Dan McDowell. 2021. “Intellectual Freedom.” In Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage, ed. Judi Moreillon, 55-72. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

About the Blogger
Suzanne Sannwald, MLIS, (she/her) has worked as a high school teacher librarian since 2014. She builds upon her previous education-related roles from middle school to higher education levels, serving as a certificated classroom teacher, classified library technician, district library supervisor, and student affairs technology manager. Suzanne earned both an MA in Teaching and Learning with Technology and an MLIS. She was a 2015-16 ALA Spectrum Scholar, 2016 California School Library Association Leadership for Diversity Scholar, 2017 school site Golden Apple Teacher of the Year, 2018-19 AASL Induction Program member, San José State University iSchool lecturer starting Fall 2020, and School Library Connection contributor. Suzanne has published articles and presented on topics including user experience, information literacy, collaboration, advocacy, and affirming students’ reading and larger lives. Connect with her on Twitter @suzannesannwald.

Anxiety as an Impetus to Act Courageously for Intellectual Freedom

Chapter 4: Intellectual Freedom by Suzanne Sannwald
and Dan McDowell|
Blog post by Suzanne

I’ve had a lot of anxiety entering the 2021-22 school year. I’ve felt concerned about COVID-19 with all of its variants, as well as with the uncertainty of being fully back on campus with students and staff who may or may not be vaccinated and may or may not be required to wear masks or follow other safety protocols.

I have also anticipated possible challenges we educators may face in opposition to what is perceived as related to “Critical Race Theory” (CRT). But, all of this has inspired me to reflect even more deeply on the importance of intellectual freedom as a core value of school librarianship that we must embrace always, and especially now.

Regarding attempts to legislate and control what historical and social curriculum can or cannot be taught, we are seeing how censorship is alive and well. And, we are having the opportunity to truly wrestle with the complexities of intellectual freedom when we consider how the same constituents who aim to censor teaching that is considered CRT-aligned have also asserted their own rights to freedom of speech in the face of what they have deemed to be “cancel culture.”

How is intellectual freedom defended only when considered convenient? "As school librarians, we must think carefully about how we may consistently uphold intellectual freedom with integrity as we serve community members who hold polarized points of view." Suzanne SannwaldHow do we create spaces and opportunities for our communities to share their voices when some voices infringe on the experienced safety of others in our communities?

After all, if someone does not feel safe, are they able to truly experience and enact their own intellectual freedom?

With regard to the misinformation that has been rampant with COVID-19, we have also been reminded that intellectual freedom is not just a matter of what information is allowed or not allowed to be shared. Intellectual freedom is also about our capacity to be mentally free, to be able to think critically.

How can we help our students develop this capacity to think critically, especially when they (and their families) may hold contrary (at least to you) beliefs about what mental freedom looks like?

Just as I remind our students whenever they are working on research related to controversial issues, if these issues were easy to solve, then they wouldn’t be issues any longer and there wouldn’t be controversy.

So, I’m not claiming to have easy answers – or any answers at all for that matter – to the questions I have posed above. I share them so you may serve as my witnesses to this very real current struggle and so that you might join in conversation about what our work looks like as we act in the service of intellectual freedom.

Regardless of whether or not you or I end up experiencing a formal book or curriculum challenge during this next year, intellectual freedom is always at stake. This is a realization that became clear to me when researching and co-writing the chapter on Intellectual Freedom for Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage.

In the many day-to-day decisions that we make for our school library programs, whether regarding cataloging and circulation or curriculum and instruction, we are either intentionally or unintentionally advancing intellectual freedom… or not.

Having acknowledged my anxiety about this school year, I choose to sit with the anxious feelings and embrace them as my impetus for intentionality. I can’t guarantee that every decision I make will be correct, but I do hope that overall, my mindful efforts will have a net positive impact when it comes to honoring the intellectual freedom of those I serve.

Reflection Question
What intention are you acting from? What impact will you have?

To learn and reflect more about core values that drive your professional practice, make sure to check out Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage (Libraries Unlimited 2021).

Work Cited

Sannwald, Suzanne, and Dan McDowell. 2021. “Intellectual Freedom.” In Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage, ed. Judi Moreillon, 55-72. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

About the Blogger
Suzanne Sannwald, MLIS, (she/her) has worked as a high school teacher librarian since 2014. She builds upon her previous education-related roles from middle school to higher education levels, serving as a certificated classroom teacher, classified library technician, district library supervisor, and student affairs technology manager. Suzanne earned both an MA in Teaching and Learning with Technology and an MLIS. She was a 2015-16 ALA Spectrum Scholar, 2016 California School Library Association Leadership for Diversity Scholar, 2017 school site Golden Apple Teacher of the Year, 2018-19 AASL Induction Program member, San José State University iSchool lecturer starting Fall 2020, and School Library Connection contributor. Suzanne has published articles and presented on topics including user experience, information literacy, collaboration, advocacy, and affirming students’ reading and larger lives. Connect with her on Twitter @suzannesannwald.