Last week, I had the pleasure of an online conversation with a cadre of outstanding Calvert County Public School (CCPS) school librarians and their district-level Specialist for School Libraries and Digital Learning Jennifer Sturge. This team of librarians serving students in Maryland, led by their colleague Monique, were in the process of a professional book study focused on Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy.
After last week’s blog post “School Librarianship in the Time of Coronavirus, Part 2,” their voices from the field were critical to furthering my understanding of ways to increase school librarians’ service to their learning communities—whether or not our physical library facilities are open. Note: Selected indicators interjected into this post are from the 6/15/20 post and demonstrate the roles effective school librarians fill in their learning communities as leaders, instructional partners, teachers, information specialists, and program administrators.
As a way to engage in reflection, I launched our conversation by posing a “what if” question: “If you are serving your school learning community remotely in fall 2020, what would you do differently from your practice this past spring?” The librarians’ responses fell into four categories: getting physical books in the hands of students, increasing rigor through inquiry learning, communication and collaboration, and working with principals. Although more than one librarian addressed these topics, I have identified one or two people who took the lead in the discussion in each area.
Many school librarians across the country and around the globe did not have the opportunity to plan for the best ways to get physical books into the hands of K-12 students before schools closed. Theresa shared how she is strategizing some effective ways to checkout and deliver/send books directly to students, especially if they cannot access the physical space of the library. I suspect all of us in the “room” agreed that getting high-quality, diverse books into the hands of youth helps keep their minds engaged in learning and growing as thinking and empathic people. (If you haven’t yet seen it or if you need another smile, checkout Nashville Public Library’s PSA “Curb Side, Baby” | What You Need to Know about NPL’s Curbside Service.”)
For me, this goal reinforces a key indicator in “Reading and Information Literacy Instruction:”
- Promote reading for information and for personal enjoyment.
Inquiry learning is a core practice in CCPS. High school librarian Donna would like to see increased rigor in remote learning through a greater emphasis on inquiry. School librarians have a strong commitment to inquiry learning as a way to honor student choice and voice. As authentic learning, inquiry prepares young people for lifelong learning. Classroom-library collaboration for instruction and shared responsibility for guiding students’ inquiry projects could improve student success even more when teaching and learning are conducted online.
Promoting inquiry in the online classroom/library is an essential aspect of “Integrated, Collaborative Teaching;”
- Coteach with other educators whether face to face or online to engage students in critical thinking and deep learning.
- Co-assess student learning outcomes with other educators to improve instructional strategies and resources and ensure continuous improvement for students and educators.
Mary Brooke shared her experience of the importance of school librarians communicating with a collective strong voice. She talked about the previously planned lessons that were ready to implement when learning when online. In addition to the lessons created by CCPS librarians, we talked briefly about accessing published lessons and units of instruction in order to fast-track instruction when time for planning is even shorter than usual.
Later in the conversation, we talked about the challenges of carving out collaborative planning time. While most educators agree that time is in short supply, using online tools for collaborative work is essential whether our academic program is face to face or virtual. School librarians who have developed strategies for using online tools to plan may have been ahead of the curve in meeting the needs of colleagues in spring 2020. In addition, educators must encourage school principals to create dedicated planning time for classroom and classroom-library collaboration, which in turn establishes a value for collaborative teaching.
For me, this conversation reinforced the indicators under “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.
Working with Administrators
Again, I believe everyone in the room understood the importance of positive and strong relationships between principals and school librarians. Both Anne and Monique shared their value for working with administrators to address the teaching and learning needs of faculty and students. This spring, many principals and other decision-makers may have been overwhelmed. Anne noted the importance of sensitivity to other people’s stress and monitoring one’s communication accordingly. Monique shared how she worked collaboratively with classroom teachers online this spring. In the process, she created advocates for the library program who may be poised to speak up for the impact of classroom-library collaboration on student learning outcomes.
For me, this is an excellent example of “Library Advocacy & Support:”
- Collaborate with administrators to assess students’ and classroom teachers’ needs and develop and implement plans to address them.
Learning from Spring 2020
A belief attributed to John Dewey based on this writing in Experience and Education (1938) can be our guide as we prepare for the 2020-2021 academic year: “We do not learn from our experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” Reflecting on our practice as school librarians is essential and the change and challenge thrust upon educators in spring 2020 created a golden opportunity to learn from our reflection.
Thank you to Jen and the Calvert County Public School Librarians for sharing your reflective process.
From the Personal Collection of Judi Moreillon