Advocacy, Innovation

Persevere.

Starting from Scratch. One of the most exciting things I have learned this semester is the viability of starting a new library from scratch at my adult school.  With a little bit of encouragement from my supervising fieldwork TL, Mr. Completo, and the exploration I did through the Vision Project, it doesn’t seem like such a farfetched notion.  In fact, it is encouraging to note that schools all over the country have had to do this at some point in their history, what was their process?  Who did they have to convince?  Who gave the final say and where did most of their start-up funding come from? What kept them going in the face of challenges and setbacks?  Whose idea was it in the first place and which came first, the library or the librarian?  I imagine that getting support from my school district’s library services department would give leverage to my proposal to my administrators.  Or should I approach the central office administrators to start this library program as a pilot?  Should I be open to pursuing this at another larger adult school that can accommodate the space needed and perhaps has the budget for it?  How can I promote this library as an important program to implement while also promoting myself as the best fit for staffing it?  I am flooded with questions and concerns probably because this is uncharted territory and for the sake of my students, I want to succeed.      Jess deCoursy Hinds who rebuilt the library at Bard HIgh School Early College Queens says persevere and believe in what you’re doing for your students.  Embrace that what you’re trying to do, building something from nothing, is important work and requires a team effort.  She interviews several other self-starters who designed and constructed their programs from the ground up – these women are inspiring and secured grant funds and support from city officials to make their ideas come to life.  “Assembling a balanced library can be a puzzle, a great challenge, and a leap of faith.”  There will be many challenges, but honestly, it sounds invigorating.  I can’t wait to get started.

Digital Literacy

Workshop It.

One of the things that I am excited to do on my campus in the very near future are technology workshops for students and for teachers.  These might look like 20-30 minute brief sessions demonstrating an isolated tech tool or a feature within an application that is already used on campus, such as Schoology, Burlington English software, or any of the Google Suite applications.  Ideally, these short sessions would remain focused on one or two techniques so as to remain manageable and thus easily incorporated into students and teachers daily lives.  I find that I am often talking to people about apps I’ve found or cool things that you can do with Google forms and the like, but formalizing these discussions would make them accessible to more people and increase the digital literacy of our school.  So, what do seasoned librarians say about teaching tech skills?

Crystal Schiff, a TechSoup for Libraries blogger and public librarian, talks about hosting a basic I.T. program for staff; You Can Do I.T. teaches staff how to trouble-shoot common technology issues encountered in the library such as, videos loading slowly, preventing computer viruses, and understanding basic hardware.  

Amanda Hovious of Designer Librarian, gives a nice overview of the types of tech tools to include in your repertoire, such as, transmedia tools, dictation tools, collaboration tools, and even spreadsheet software.  She mentions six other categories, but you get the idea.  There are a host of technology tools available that unless teachers take the time to learn, students miss out on using.

Digital Literacy

Create.

I had not thought about approaching digital media and literacy skills through digital storytelling, until I read about it on fellow student, Alan Phelps, blog post Final Thoughts on Digital Storytelling.  It is so true that stories move us and what an exciting way for students to engage in an artistic endeavor, as well as practice language and communication skills that culminates in a digital story.  EdTechTeacher, Samantha Morra, reminds us that digital storytelling is an opportunity for our students to be creators and not simply consumers of content.  By focusing on digital media skills, you can facilitate creativity, promote good storytelling skills and engage digital media techniques.
Another thing to consider is that the oral tradition of storytelling is thought-provoking and empowering.  The County of San Mateo Health & Recovery Services advertises their annual event Honoring the Journey Through the Power of Digital Storytelling, highlighting the restorative power of storytelling.  Edutopia blogger, Sara Burnett, writes about teaching empathy through digital storytelling, particularly around stories of immigration.  Since I work with adults who have overcome a lot of obstacles to finally return to school, this type of project would be a powerful way for students to talk about their experiences and further develop their resiliency and coping skills.  Students sometimes feel intimidated to share their personal histories, but it is a valuable soft skill;  to know when and where to share, or to know how much to share depending on the situation.   

Advocacy, Pleasure Reading

Be A Lead Reader.

I remember first learning about the statistics fellow student Julie Hong shared in her post, School Libraries Today, at the last California School Libraries Association conference and being equally shocked at what is happening in California, a state which encompasses the second largest school district in the country.  Two questions: where are our priorities and where is the advocacy effort that educates administrators and the frontline decision makers who are responsible for cutting these positions to move the funds to another need on campus?  Mr. Completo, one of of the supervising librarians I worked with during my TL fieldwork, posed another interesting question: is it possible that it all boils down to whether an administrator is a lover of reading herself that determines her level of support for the school library?  Do school libraries find more support from administrators, district representatives, and board members who have an ongoing love affair with reading and stories?  Wouldn’t that be a fascinating survey to tally?!  The East York – Scarborough Reading Association, made up of teachers, consultants, adminstrators, superintendents and resource personnel, dedicates their annual conference to just that: Reading for the Love of It!  They have been hosting the conference for more than forty years to enhance reading instruction by promoting a love of reading among educators including administrators.  Life as a Digital Dad blogger and elementary school principal, Adam Welcome, talks about the importance and power of school principals reading to kids.  He describes that it took him until third grade for reading to click and that was only because he discovered Roald Dahl.  It would be so cool to work for a principal like Adam who gets the importance of reading – wanna bet he’s got a librarian at his school?!  And there are numerous more articles and blog posts about how administrators can promote a culture of reading at her or his school, so the importance of their efforts is well recognized and likely these administrators are already on board with the library being a vital place for students on campus.  

So how can TLs convert the ones that don’t already love reading.  Here’s one tip from the Nerdy Book Club blogger: principals should instead of being “Lead Learner”, should be “Lead Reader”, because actions speak louder than words.  When she passed the torch to the new principal of her former school, instead of a lengthy list of instructions for her predeccessor, she left a reading list.  I say good going, Ms. Renwick!

Innovation

Own Your Expertise.

Curriculum guru?  One aspect of Teacher Librarianship that I don’t think I completely understood until recently is the idea that TLs while supporting the work that happens in the classroom must become an expert in content standards at all levels or particularly for the levels that exist in the classrooms on the campus where her or his library is.  I don’t know exactly what I think about this…part of me thinks that content standards should be the realm of the teachers and the TL should be there to focus on the enjoyment and personal fulfillment that comes from reading.  I know now that this is naive, that a major part of keeping the library open and running on campus is to support and collaborate with teachers – making yourself visible and useful to the people you share the campus with is vital and can be incredibly rewarding.  But, curriculum guru I am not.  I am good at researching and finding the standards when I need them but, will my lack of broad-ranged curriculum knowledge inhibit my ability to help my fellow instructors?  Inside Higher Ed blogger, Joshua Kim, argues that since teaching has “increasingly become a team sport”, including librarians on the team just makes sense.  He lists experience, direct contact with students, and  the ability to compile high quality content, as the three top reasons to include librarians when designing courses and fine-tuning curriculum.  However, in higher education librarian input is sometimes perceived as too threatening to the old habits of a die-hard lecturer.  Perhaps elementary and secondary teachers feel a little bit differently (I hope).  Take Colby Sharp, a third grade teacher and blogger, who admits he is jealous of all the amazing things that librarians are doing throughout the country.  He wants to be a part of it, but his school does not have a full time certificated librarian.  He knows the positive impact a librarian could have on the curriculum at his elementary school and his cry for a full time TL speaks to his admiration and respect of our efforts and approach.  So maybe there is hope yet for me, that I can rely on all the other skills that I have been fortified with in library school: creativity, problem-solving, inclusive team-work, risk-taking, research and student-focus.

Older Students, Pleasure Reading, Read-Alouds

Read Aloud.

Burro Genius by VIctor Villasenor

About five years ago I was laid off from LAUSD and, begrudgingly and against my better judgement, I took a job as a math teacher for a charter school.  I know! Don’t shoot me, I needed a job and they made themselves appear innovative, passionate and most importantly, engaging the school community in a love of learning.  Well after the first week I met my new students and I knew I’d been duped.  They were more than squirrely, they were disruptive, immature, distrusting, and mean..in other words completely off the wall most of the time and I had been led to believe it was my job to make them into “normal” people.  So I did the only thing that seemed to make sense, I started reading aloud to them.  I started with stories that were a little controversial, gritty and had lots of swear words; something to catch their attention and reel them in – I wanted words that would be both shocking and possibly cathartic to fill the room rather than the raucous chaos that had ensued for weeks leading up to my read-aloud realization.  After being called every name in the book and all but threatened physically, I was desperate for something to engage them.  The craziest part about it is it seemed to work.  Truly – students would hush up to listen to the words of Victor Villasenor talking about his days failing English class only to eventually become a published writer of fiction.  I made sure not to make it too lessony or ask students to over-analyze the texts.  I just wanted them to practice good listening technique and without much coercion, they settled right into it.  I don’t know what came over me, but something told me these kids needed to hear the words of someone who was not me, maybe more like them.

A few weeks later I was called back to my old job, and even though I had made this small headway, I returned with new insight: older kids like read-alouds too.  So as I contemplate my next move in starting a new school library at my adult school, I am reminded of the transformative power of read-alouds.  Kate Messner says that struggling readers have often lost their love for stories, but as teachers we have the power to give it back to them when we bring the story to life by reading it aloud.  If we just expect that they listen, and let the words wash over them without having to answer comprehension questions or take a test at the end, these students are reminded of the power that stories have: to escape, to transform, to nurture.  I now view read-alouds as a best practice in any classroom, but especially those with a greater proportion of struggling learners and readers; this would be every single classroom at my school.  We cater to those who want to reclaim their education, but have a lot of academic obstacles to overcome to make that happen.  How will I incorporate read-alouds into the library programming at the Skills Center?   

Advocacy, Diversity, Older Students

Consult Experts.

In another enlightening discussion with Mr. Completo, the teacher librarian I am interning with, I learned about the master authority on read-alouds: Jim Trelease.  In the 1990s and early 200s he held hundreds of workshops reporting on the importance of reading aloud to children.   He has since retired from the lecture circuit, but over the years he has compiled a lot of research that indicates reading aloud to children from birth can positively influence their love of reading over their lifetime.  Trelease has compiled a lot of his research into informative pamphlets posted on his website and he allows people to redistribute them as long as they ask permission first.  Trelease writes about the very real inequities between the number of words a child from a wealthy family hears before age 4 (school age) and the number of words a child from a poor family hears in the pamphlet, .  Remarkably it is about three times the number of words.  This can probably be explained by multiple factors, but the end result is still the same.  Poor children enter school more often with a huge disadvantage and yet, the academic demands impressed upon these children is the same.  Surely, those kids who come from a poor family and whose parents had the time to read to them will excel, but for the vast majority this can explain higher school dropout rates in communities of lower SES, lower wages and educational attainment, as well as the perpetuation of the poverty cycle, and compounded with other inequitable institutions, a diminished likelihood of upward mobility.  

So Mr. Trelease’s solution is to educate parents, and since the majority of my students are already adults and/or parenting this is vital information to share with them.  But what else can be done to assist them in their path toward literacy?  Our students are often children who started out with a disadvantage who are now grown up and this disadvantage has continued to plague their experience in school.  How do they make up for this lost time?