About Judi Moreillon

Judi Moreillon, M.L.S, Ph.D., has served as a school librarian at every instructional level. In addition, she has been a classroom teacher, literacy coach, and district-level librarian mentor. Judi taught preservice school librarians for twenty-one years, most recently as an associate professor at Texas Woman's University where she taught courses in instructional partnerships, multimedia resources and services, children’s literature, and storytelling. Her research agenda focuses on the professional development of school librarians for the leadership and instructional partner roles.

Advocating for Respect and Literacy for All

If advocating for literacy for all is “political,” then a growing number of school librarians, authors, publishers, and schools are speaking up and out about the empathy and attitudes that will help ALL students become the respectful, successful native-born or naturalized citizens our country needs.  With this post, I applaud and join with them.

The following exemplary examples are just some of this work that came across my computer screen last week. I hope school librarians will follow these links and be on the lookout for other ways we can align our work with inclusion and take action for social justice.

School librarian Elissa Malespina penned and illustrated “An Open Letter to School Librarians,” which was published on the School Library Journal (SLJ) Web site. In her opinion piece, she challenges school librarians to take a firm stand about how we welcome and include students in our libraries and schools. “Every day students of different races, nationalities, and sexual orientations walk through our doors. Our libraries must be safe spaces for them, since the outside world has become increasingly unsafe.” For Ms. Malespina (and I hope for you), silence is not an option.

Young adult author Marie Marquardt wrote an equally eloquent appeal related to social justice on the Teen Librarian Toolbox (TLT) linked from the SLJ site: “Love and Justice: What I’ve Learned from Those Seeking Refuge in the U.S.” Ms. Marquardt, who lives in Georgia, has worked for more than twenty years with immigrants, most of whom were undocumented, and asylum-seeking refugees. In her piece, she wrote this: “They all made these journeys because they believed America is a place of refuge, a peaceful nation guided by such enduring values as fairness, equality, and the rule of law. Even in the face of clear injustices – blatant discrimination, inconsistent treatment in the courts – they have astounded me with their steadfast desire to participate in American life, to become American. In fact, they have taught me to see my own nation through new eyes, to affirm and celebrate our core values.”

The 2017 TLT Project is Social Justice YA Literature. Use this link to read more about this timely and essential effort. To participate in this effort on Twitter, use the #SJYALit.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, February 14th, Booklist, Second Story Press, and Lee & Low Publishers, are offering a free one-hour Webinar titled “Teaching Tolerance.” On the promotion for this event, the collaborators cite increased bullying in schools as an indication that educators and parents are called upon to use children’s literature to help young people increase their understanding and acceptance of “others.” School librarians can support classroom teachers and families by spotlighting these titles and integrating them into their collections and teaching.

BACC blog readers can find another resource for books about refugee and immigrant experiences on the Bridging Refugee Youth and Children’s Services Web site. This annotated list includes forty titles for both children and teens.

This post would not be complete without a huge shout out to Luma Mufleh and an appeal for your support for the Fugees Family. Coach Luma began her humanitarian work in 2006 by offering refugee boys a free, organized soccer team. Today, the Fugees Academy is the only school dedicated to refugee education in the U.S. One hundred thirty-six boys and girls are members of the Fugees Family and participate in year-round soccer, after-school tutoring, an academic enrichment summer camp, or are full-time students at the Fugees Academy where they learn academics and build character and leadership.

Like all 501(c)(3) organizations, the Fugees Family stays afloat through grants and on-going fundraising efforts. Please consider supporting their current effort – a t-shirt that reads: “Refugees – USA – Welcome.” Support these young people and their teachers. Purchase a shirt and wear it proudly.

Thank you all for the work you do and for speaking up and out.

And I close with one additional special thank you to Nebraska assistant public library director Rebecca Corkindale who collaborated with librarians from Saline County Library in Benton, Arkansas to create “Libraries Are for Everyone” graphics. With the help of librarians from around the world, Ms. Corkindale continues to translate the text on these copyright-free graphics into many languages.

Bravo to all!

Works Cited

Jensen, Karen. Love and Justice: What I’ve Learned from Those Seeking Refuge in the U.S.: A Guest Post by Author Marie Marquardt, Teen Librarian Toolkit.com, http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2017/02/love-and-justice-what-ive-learned-from-those-seeking-refuge-in-the-u-s-a-guest-post-by-author-marie-marquardt/

Malespina, Elissa. “Open Letter to School Librarians,” School Library Journal.com, http://www.slj.com/2017/02/opinion/soapbox/an-open-letter-to-school-librarians-silence-is-not-golden-opinion/

Image Credit
Corkindale, Rebecca. “Libraries Are for Everyone,” Hafuboti.com, https://hafuboti.com/2017/02/02/libraries-are-for-everyone/

ILA’s 2017 “What’s Hot in Literacy Report”

I have been a member of the International Literacy (formerly Reading) Association (ILA) since the late ‘90s. As a school librarian and school librarian educator now consultant, I believe it is important for school librarians to “reach across the aisle” to read the publications our classroom teacher colleagues and administrators are reading. This helps us engage in conversations about this information while we stay abreast with issues in the larger education arena.

For the past twenty years, ILA has been conducting an annual survey and publishing the “What’s Hot in Literacy Report.” The goal of the survey is to rank literacy-related topics in terms of what’s hot (talked about) and what (should be) important at both the community and country levels. You can access the 2017 “What’s Hot in Literacy Report” and read a summary of the report posted 1/11/17 by April Hall on the ILA blog.

This year 1,600 respondents from 89 countries responded to the survey. There are many take-aways from this year’s survey that should be of particular interest to school librarians. These are just some of the highlights.

It is no surprise that assessment and standards are the #1 hot topics, but survey respondents feel these topics are not as important as the attention they are getting. They rank #10 at the country level and #12 at the community level. While there is no doubt in my mind that school librarians must gather student learning outcomes data that reflects the effectiveness of our teaching/coteaching, we want to continue to measure the impact of our school library programs in other terms as well.

Some of the assessment questions we might want to answer:

1.    Are students, faculty, administrators, and parents involved in planning, managing, and promoting the school library program, including literacy events and teaching activities?
2.    Do visitors to our library make positive remarks regarding the activities, displays, and learning engagements taking place?
3.    How many successful inquiry learning units have we coplanned and cotaught this month/semester/year, and how do students and colleagues talk about these experiences?
4.    How often does our principal make remarks in faculty, PTA, and school board meetings and other communications related to the work of the school librarian and the role of the school library program?

Another area that I think should be of interest to school librarians is early literacy. In the survey, it is both hot and important. 80% of respondents at the community level and 78% of the respondents at the country level feel early literacy is very or extremely important. While some elementary school librarians serve the needs of preschool children in their community, I believe it behooves us to develop more partnerships with families, childcare centers, and non-profit agencies in order to support early childhood education and family literacy.

When I served as the school librarian at Corbett Elementary School, I provided a monthly storytime for Head Start children, teachers, and families. At Gale Elementary, our library program offered a weekly storytime for a developmental preschool that met on our school site. Still, I thought our libraries could do more. For example, in my role as a literacy coach at Van Buskirk Elementary, I collaborated with the community outreach coordinator to facilitate a weekly workshop for parents, most of whom were primary Spanish-speaking moms. They made books, personalized with characters and information related to their family culture, which they practiced reading in the workshop and could read fluently at home to their children.

The “What’s Hot in Literacy Survey” also found that parent engagement is more important than it is hot. Let’s keep thinking about how we can support family literacy in our communities.

Teacher professional learning and development were other areas that 71% of respondents believe are very or extremely important. From my perspective, homegrown, personalized learning for educators should be extremely hot and extremely important. For me, classroom-library coteaching was the most effective way to develop my own practice and influence the professional learning of others.

My ILA blog post about the report is scheduled for this Thursday, February 9. In it, I address two of the largest gaps between what is hot and what should be hot: students’ access to books and content and literacy learning in resource-limited settings. These gaps are directly related to the work of school librarians and the role of school libraries in education. (I also included an appeal for advocacy related to including school librarians in state-level Every Student Succeeds Act plans.)

I will post the link in the comments section when it goes live.

Remixed Image Credit:
Avimann. “Flame.” Morguefile.com.

Advocacy and Collaboration Support Every Student Succeeds Act

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has created an opportunity for school librarian advocacy. School librarian leaders and advocates from across the country are working together to ensure that their state- and district-level decision-makers include the important role of school librarians and libraries in preparing future ready students in their ESSA plans.

The message we intend to convey is that more than at any previous time in history, when information and technologies are changing at an astounding rate and “fake news” and “alt facts” are proliferating, the expertise and guidance of school librarians must be highly valued and utilized by other educators and students. ESSA Title II, Part A, notes that school librarians are responsible for sharing professional learning for colleagues and disseminating “the benefits of new techniques, strategies, and technologies” throughout the district.

Correlational research studies have shown that school librarians and effective school library programs positively impact student achievement (Gretz 2013, Scholastic 2016). School librarians’ roles in positively impacting “student achievement, digital literacy skills, and school climate and culture” are specifically mentioned in ESSA (“Title 1”). In addition, school librarians support “rigorous personalized learning experiences supported by technology” and ensure equitable access to resources for all students (ESSA, 2015, “Title IV, Part A.”)

In their advocacy efforts, many school librarian state associations have benefited from the support of workshops offered by our professional association, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL). Last fall in order to support state-level ESSA advocacy efforts, AASL provided ESSA trainings in 30 different states in just 60 days. AASL provides ESSA and School Libraries information on their Web site.

In some states, like Arizona, the Teacher Librarian Division is part of the larger state-level library association. The Arizona Library Association Legislative Committee and Leadership team took a lead role in informing the Arizona Department of Education about the critical importance of including specific language related to the work of school librarians and the role of school libraries in educating future ready students. It is encouraging when academic, public, or special librarians speak out on behalf of preK-12 school librarians.

It is even more encouraging when classroom teachers, school administrators, parents, and other community members raise their voices in support of the essential roles of school libraries and libraries in preparing students for college, career, and community readiness. If you are someone who is concerned about the quality of education students are receiving today and will receive tomorrow, please find out how you can ensure that school librarians’ work is specified in your state- or district-level ESSA Plan.

School districts will look to their state-level plans to determine their priorities for school improvement. By incorporating language related to school librarians and libraries in ESSA, we can collaborate to support all students and educators in having access to an instructional leader/information specialist and the print and electronic resources they need to succeed.

Works Cited

Gretz, Frances. School Library Impact Studies: A Review of Findings and Guide to Sources. Harry & Jeannette Weinberg Foundation, 2013, www.baltimorelibraryproject.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2013/09/Library-Impact-Studies.pdf

Scholastic. “School Libraries Work! A Compendium of Research on the Effectiveness of School Libraries,” 2016, Scholastic.com, http://www.scholastic.com/SLW2016

U.S. Department of Education. “Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).” Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) |U.S. Department of Education,
https://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/essa/index.html

Image Credit:

Howard Lake. “Speak Up, Make Your Voice Heard.” n.d. Flickr.com, https://c1.staticflickr.com/6/5260/5540462170_d5297d9ce8_b.jpg

Future Ready Librarians Build Instructional Partnerships

“Future ready” is catching fire. In the education landscape, “future ready” denotes students, educators, and school districts that are being effectively prepared or are preparing learners of today for the challenges of tomorrow. The emphasis on digital learning is at the core of this movement. Fortunately, many educational decision-makers are recognizing that school librarians and libraries are important components in future ready teaching and learning as the image from Follett’s Project Connect attests.

A growing number of school districts across the country are joining Future Ready Schools® (FRS). According the FRS About page, the FRS goal is “to help school districts develop comprehensive plans to achieve successful student learning outcomes by (1) transforming instructional pedagogy and practice while (2) simultaneously leveraging technology to personalize learning in the classroom.”

Launched in 2014 with the Future Ready Pledge, the Alliance for Excellence in Education has collected more than 3,100 school superintendents’ signatures. According to the Future Ready Web site, this means that the learning of 19.2 million students and their teachers’ teaching are being impacted by the framework for this initiative.

In June, 2016, FRS announced the Future Ready Librarians piece of their effort. (Note the links on this page to additional articles that spotlight the work of school librarians.) This movement toward the transformation of teaching and learning is inspiring many school librarians to self-assess their own future readiness and prepare themselves for partnering with administrators and teaching colleagues to implement the eight principles of the Future Ready Librarians (FRL) Framework.

For me, one of the most exciting FRL principles involves school librarians in building instructional partnerships in order to directly impact curriculum, instruction and assessment. The FRL “partners with educators to design and implement evidence-based curricula and assessments that integrate elements of deeper learning, critical thinking, information literacy, digital citizenship, creativity, innovation and the active use of technology.” (See the FRL Fact Sheet.)

The Future Ready Librarians Facebook Page is one source of professional development for school librarians. This is a closed group and participants must request access. Searching Twitter with the #futureready and #FutureReadyLibs hashtags are additional ways to be connected.

This groundswell of support for the role of FRL and school libraries should energize the school librarian community. It should prompt and inspire professional development. School librarian Michelle Luhtala, Vancouver Public Schools library administrator Mark Ray, and Sara Trettin from the U.S. Department of Education provided a FRL Webinar via edWeb last October. You can view the archive.

On February 14, the Alliance is hosting another Webinar focused on FRL: “What’s Not to Love?” This time, Shannon McClintock Miller will join Mark RAy and Sara Trettin. Check it out!

Image Courtesy of Follett’s Project Connect

Library Values Honor the Legacy of Dr. King

Over the past weekend and today, people are honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work and life. If I were in charge of the world, young people would spend this school “holiday” in classrooms and libraries across the country. K-12 and college and university students and educators would be engaged in dialogues about Dr. King’s legacy and how each individual and groups of like-minded people can carry on his work.

Since, this is a holiday and students are not in schools, I am hoping that educators across the country are pausing to reflect on how their teaching can best embody the social justice work of Dr. King. For school librarians, the articles in the January/February 2017 issue of Knowledge Quest (KQ), the journal of the American Association of School Librarians, could be used as prompts to engage in deep reflection.

The issue theme is “Equality vs Equity: Diversity Matters: Moving Beyond Equality toward Equity in Youth Services.” On the cover, the guest editors Kafi Kumasi and Sandra Hughes-Hassell clarify this distinction. Equality “assumes fairness as a uniform distribution” while equity aims “to overcome generations of discrimination.” This KQ issue is perfectly timed with this moment in U.S. history when people of all ages are using their voices and their bodies to express their expectations for “liberty and justice for all.”

The articles in this issue connect the work of school librarians and the role of school libraries to the imperative to contribute to a more-just society in which all people and their cultures are represented, respected, and given voice. In library collections and through school librarians’ teaching, instructional partnerships, and leadership, librarians can be role models—in our words and deeds—for marginalized students and families.

In their article, “Shifting Lenses on Youth Literacy & Identity,” Kafi Kumasi and Sandra Hughes-Hassell remind readers to keep our focus on the purpose of literacy. “All libraries must be spaces where young people are encouraged and supported to develop their voices, tell their stories, and to share their unique perspectives on how we can create a more-just world” (18). Literacy gives people the tools they need to participate effectively in their civic lives as well as their personal and professional lives.

This morning, I signed a pledge to stand in solidarity with marginalized people who are frightened or disrespected because they don’t know how they will be treated during the next administration. The pledge was launched by MPower Change, a grassroots movement rooted in diverse U.S. Muslim communities. The goal of this group is to work “together to build social, spiritual, racial, and economic justice for all people.”

Let’s remember today that Dr. King’s work began as an effort to bring civil rights to African American people and communities. At his untimely death, his work encompassed three threats to U.S. society: racism, poverty, and militarism. I believe and as the MPower Change pledge notes: We are bound to one another in what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called “an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

Let’s all use our voices to engage one another in civil discourse, to empower ourselves and one another to bring about positive change, and work together to increase justice in our local communities, nation, and global society.

Work Cited
Kumasi, Kafi, and Sandra Hughes-Hassell. “Shifting Lenses on Youth Literacy & Identity,” Knowledge Quest 46, no.3, 12-21.

Image Credit:
Remix image from Thurston, Baratunde. “I Am A Community Organizer,” 7 Sept. 2008, Flickr.com, https://www.flickr.com/photos/baratunde/2837373493

Trust and Communication

Although it goes without saying that trust and communication are essential building blocks for collaboration, these two components for effective relationships are not simple to achieve.

My husband and I are currently fostering a Goldendoodle named Riley (pictured here). We are committed to adopting rescue dogs and giving them the best homes possible. My dog allergies make adoption difficult for us and prevent us from bringing home needy but shedding dogs from the humane society. Riley has been with us for just one week. We are taking very small steps since Riley was not well socialized for the first two years of his life, slowly building trust, and learning to communicate with one another.

This experience reminds me of the challenges of building trust among colleagues. Trust is built when all parties show they are trustworthy.

Being trustworthy involves:
•    Being honest and truthful;
•    Practicing consistent and clear communication;
•    Responding to requests and saying “yes” whenever possible;
•    Keeping commitments.

Synonyms for trustworthy include dependable, reliable, and responsible.

It is difficult or even impossible to build trust without communication. Just as Riley has brought his prior experiences of (or lack thereof) dog-human relationships, so do collaborating educators bring their prior experiences.

While everyone can probably name a time when a colleague dropped the ball and collaborative work did not meet our expectations, it is important to enter into each new partnership with an open mind and heart. It is also essential to communicate.

For me, disappointments in “collaborative work” happen when partners have different definitions of collaborative work. In my experience, not all people make the distinctions I make between cooperation, coordination, and collaboration.

Simply dividing the work with each person doing their “part” is cooperation. Cooperation is informal, short term, and lacking in planning effort; each individual maintains authority, and there is no joint mission or structure. Coordination requires a longer duration; the relationships are a bit more formal with an understood mission, a specific focus that requires some planning. Often one person will take the lead in coordination and the other(s) will simply follow along. While there is more intensity in coordination than in cooperation, authority is still maintained by the individuals involved.

Collaboration is a way of working together. It involves communication in which equal partners determine and set out to achieve specific goals and objectives. Collaborative partners are interdependent; they are jointly responsible for the entire project, not just for “their” individual parts. They provide each other with feedback and push each other to do their best. They are committed to succeeding together and in the final analysis, cannot separate their individual work from the collective whole.

There are many electronic tools that allow educators to communicate and collaborate effectively. In terms of collaboration, one of the potential pitfalls is that it is easy to use some of these tools to cooperate or coordinate our work without ever having a collaborative experience.

For example, when we use a Google Drive document and simply do “our part,” we are not collaborating. In order to utilize this tool for collaboration, we must be leaving comments and feedback for our partners, asking each other questions, or better yet, scheduling a real-time time conversation over chat, Google Hangouts, or other tools to bounce ideas off each other and work toward a shared understanding of what will constitute a high-quality outcome for our work.

I have fallen into the trap of disappointment in “collaborative work” when there was no shared understanding or clear communication among partners. Hoping for collaboration is not enough, especially when I know that the final product could have been so much better if we had developed the necessary trust at the beginning of the project.

Thank you to Riley for reminding me how challenging and how essential it is to build trusting relationships and how clear communication is a first step toward that end.

Re-commitment to Collaboration

Like many of you, I reflected on my most satisfying accomplishments and my incomplete projects of 2016 before settling on my 2017 New Year’s Resolutions. Although I am big on setting short-term achievable (daily/weekly) goals, it’s helpful for me to have a year-long big picture plan as well.

This year, I will re-commitment my professional work to collaboration within school learning communities and outward into the larger local, state, national, and international communities as well. As they have for more than twenty-five years, my resolutions focus on the literacy work of school librarians and school library programs.

In 2017, I will:

  • complete my forthcoming book Building a Culture of Collaboration: School Librarian Leadership and Advocacy. In the book, due to my editor in mid-June and scheduled to be published at the end of 2017, I will make the case with all library stakeholders for adopting a systems thinking approach to classroom-library coplanning and coteaching;
  • write, blog, make presentations, and generally shout out about the inquiry learning and reading comprehension foundations of the book and the potential of these responsibilities and a systems perspective to create opportunities for future ready school librarians to increase their impact on teaching and learning;
  • continue to work with the Arizona Library Association and the Teacher Librarian Division to advocate for inclusion of the essential roles of school librarians and libraries in the state’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Plan. Once in place, I will advocate for the return of school librarian positions across Arizona, focusing first on districts in and around my home in Tucson;
  • continue to serve on committees of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) and promote and support the worthy work of the association (including the celebration of AASL’s 65th anniversary);
  • work with practicing school librarians to support their collaborative work within their schools and in their collaborative work with community agencies and organizations. I will write about and promote their success; (See my 12/30/16 ALSC blog post “Gimme a C (For Collaboration!) that features a school-library public-library collaboration for summer reading.)
  • expand my thinking about how school librarians and school library programs can make a difference in family literacy, particularly for babies and preschool children. Helping our communities prepare children for formal schooling is an investment in each individual’s long-term life choices and in the health of our neighborhoods and cities;
  • continue to honor and promote the work of public library and healthcare providers who are making a difference for families through books for babies programs. Yesterday, in Tarrant County, Texas, the Fort Worth Public Library and the JPS Health Network began their 2017 initiative to give a copy of my book Vamos a leer/Read to Me to every new mother. In 2017, the Friends of the Dallas Public Library and Parkland Health Systems are continuing their program “Books for Dallas Babies,” which began on January 1st, 2016;
  • and I will enact my library values in my professional and civic life.

There is much work to be done to promote equity and justice.

With a huge thank-you to author-illustrator Melissa Sweet for Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White, my pick for the most outstanding 2016 information book for children, I set my resolve with an excerpt from a letter E.B. White wrote in 1973:

“Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.
Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day” (White, cited in Sweet 132).

And I would add: Let’s work together for equity, social justice, and the betterment of all!

Work Cited
Sweet, Melissa. Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.

Twibbon courtesy of the American Association of School Librarians’ “It’s in Our Hands” 65th-anniversary Celebration

Positive Messages

mora_blog-poem-2Poet, author, and literacy advocate Pat Mora sent her poem “Light” as an invitation to her friends and colleagues to “nurture justice and joy” in the new year.  She also posted it to her blog. While Pat’s poem captures the heart-felt sentiments of many as 2016 draws to a close and 2017 begins, her words are also a call to action.

Last week, NPR’s Steve Inskeep published “A Finder’s Guide to Facts.” Inskeep notes: “Facts have always been hard to separate from falsehoods, and political partisans have always made it harder. It’s better to call this a post-trust era.” (Inskeep) In his article, Inskeep gives his tips for how to dig dipper to investigate, even interrogate, “facts” – some of them similar to those suggested on the blog, “Fake “News” in a “Post-truth” World.”

How can educators work in collaboration to build trust? How can we start with our immediate school community and extend our message out into the larger world?

These are just three examples of positive messages that students, educators, and organizations are sharing. As leaders, school librarians can collaborate with other members of their school learning communities to broadcast positive messages—messages of kindness, inclusion, and connectedness.

Project #1: “Kindness Counts”
2014-2015 fifth-grade students at Collier Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona raised funds and designed a “legacy mural.” It was installed in a prominent place for all learning community members to see on the front of the school building. Students chose the title and theme for the mural: “Kindness Counts.” See the YouTube video about their project.

Project #2: “Positive Messages”
In his December 10, 2016 post “On the Other Side of the Screen” former principal, author, and blogger George Couros encourages educators and young people alike “to go out of our way to make a positive impact on the lives of others” (Couros).

In his post, Couros shared a way that Pulaski Middle School in Pulaski, Washington is using their twitter account to share positive messages. Using the hashtags #positivepcms and #raiderstrong, school community members publicizing sincere praise and positive comments about individuals and concepts such as ability, motivation, and attitude.

Project #3: “Start with Hello Week”
The Sandy Hook Promise Web site is dedicated to protecting children from gun violence. In February, 2017, they are organizing a national observance of “Start with Hello Week

During the week of February 6 – 10, 2017, participants will raise awareness and educate students and the community through “Start with Hello” trainings, advertising, activities, public proclamations, media events, contests and school scholarship awards. “Start with Hello Week” will bring attention to the growing epidemic of social isolation in our schools and communities. Their goal is to empower young people to create a culture of inclusion and connectedness within their school or youth organization.

If you are an educator who is searching for a way to make a fresh and positive start in the new year, ask yourself these questions:
•    Who are my most trusted colleagues?
•    How can we inspire and support each other and students in increasing the positive messages in our classrooms, libraries, schools, and communities?
•    Do any of the above examples give us an idea how our school can make a commitment to kindness, inclusion and connectedness?

“Learning the truth is not a goal, but a process” (Inskeep). The process involves keeping our eyes, ears, hearts, and minds open and thinking critically. It also involves making a commitment to bring more caring, truth, and justice into the world.

If you need any further inspiration for what the world needs now, read Karim Sulayman’s sign and watch his “I Trust You” video.

Works Cited

Couros, George. “On the Other Side of the Screen.” The Principal of Change. 10 Dec. 2016, http://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/6916

Inskeep, Steve. “A Finder’s Guide To Facts.” NPR, 11 Dec. 2016, www.npr.org/2016/12/11/505154631/a-finders-guide-to-facts?utm_campaign=storyshare&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_medium=social

Sandyhook Promise. “Start with Hello Week.” Sandyhook Promise.  n.d. http://www.sandyhookpromise.org/startwithhelloweek

Pat Mora’s Poem “Light” Used with Permission

Harmony in Difference

tt54-coverSaturday, December 10th, was the United Nations’ Human Rights Day. Making the connection between human rights and finding “harmony in difference” feels like a timely post for me.

In 1992, when I was serving in my first school librarian position, my father-in-law gave me a copy of the Southern Poverty Law Center magazine Teaching Tolerance.  Founded in 1971, SPLC is a U.S. non-profit organization monitors the activities of domestic hate groups and other extremists.

Shortly after reading my first issue of Teaching Tolerance, I became a card-carrying SPLC member and have religiously renewed my membership every year since. Over the years, Teaching Tolerance has given me inspiration, encouragement, and teaching tips to make social justice a central component of my service as a school librarian and school librarian educator.

On their “about” page, Teaching Tolerance notes that their definition of “tolerance” aligns closely with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s Declaration of Principles on Tolerance: “Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. Tolerance is harmony in difference” (UNESCO).

The Fall 2016 issue of the magazine (cover above) was published before the election. (It is downloadable.)  Read or review this issue and think about the fact that SPLC counted 867 incidents of hateful harassment in the ten days after the U.S. election. How can educators, and school librarians in particular, teach young people to find “harmony in difference?”

Read the latest from Teaching Tolerance: “New Report: School Climate Worsens in Wake of Election.” More than 10,000 educators took the survey; 90% of respondents reported that their school climate has been negatively affected by the election.

These are some tips for school librarians who serve as information specialists, instructional partners, and leaders in their schools:

1.    If you don’t already have a free Teaching Tolerance subscription, sign up for one or read the magazine online. Sign up for the weekly newsletter.
2.    If you receive a print copy of the magazine, share it among your colleagues or send the link to the .pdf version to them. Encourage your colleagues to subscribe to the magazine and newsletter.
3.    Engage students and colleagues in discussions related to the articles in the magazine and newsletter.
4.    Reflect on your own practice of teaching tolerance.
5.    Reach out to colleagues to coteach lessons and units of instruction that affirm diversity.
6.    Consider following Teaching Tolerance on Twitter and Facebook.

As we approach the winter holiday season, it is especially important that our nation’s “public spaces,” including our school libraries, honor the traditions of all of our citizens and library users. Even in homogeneous communities, and maybe most especially in religiously homogeneous schools, the season for caring and giving is a time to acknowledge that diversity is, thankfully, an essential and laudable aspect of U.S. society.

Cover art by Nigel Buchanan
Magazine cover reprinted with permission of Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. www.tolerance.org

Literacy is Political

lit_is_political_sizedThomas Jefferson famously said, “An informed citizenry is at the heart of a dynamic democracy.” An informed citizenry must be able to deeply comprehend information in all formats and engage in critical thought and well-reasoned civic decision-making.

Before the 2016 election, there were a number of comments on the distribution lists and blogs to which I subscribe related to educators maintaining an “apolitical” stance.  In some classrooms and libraries across the country, educators downplayed local, state, and national campaigns in order to avoid confronting “political” issues in schools.

What are the unintended consequences when learners do not wrestle with the political life of our nation in the supportive environment of their classrooms and libraries? How can students and educators practice civil discourse and learn to listen to and share divergent perspectives if political issues are not discussed in schools?

While an individual school can be considered a system, each one is not a “closed” system. All public schools function within a larger system—a school district with procedures, curricula, and policies. School districts must respond and work within even larger systems—state and federal bureaucracies and mandates. What happens in the society at-large affects each of these systems.

It is, therefore, in my view, important for school-age children and youth to have the opportunity to intelligently and respectfully discuss political issues—not just in high schools and not just in civics or social studies classes.

What does “apolitical” mean in a fake news and post-truth world? When political candidates of all stripes and their supporters tell outright lies, mess with the “facts,” or distort the truth, how can educators guide students in an open, respectful dialogue that touches on sensitive topics, including social justice issues? When post-election emotions are running high while results are still coming in or being questioned, what is an educator’s role in responding to these teachable moments?

Quotes from the Field
On December 2nd, the PBS Newshour published an article in their “Teachers’ Lounge” column called “Helping Students Understand the 2016 Election Results” In the article, the reporter Victoria Pasquantonio includes quotes from civics, social studies, English language arts, and world history teachers from across the country. I believe this article and the quotes are important reading for all educators who want to help students unpack the recent election cycle.

Like Ricky House, 7th-grade civics teacher, in Arlington, Virginia, who is quoted in the article, I would never tell students how to vote nor would I use my influence to tell students what to think about a political issue. On the other hand, I have not and would not hesitate to discuss election issues, such as specific policy platforms, marketing techniques, political activism, voting processes, voter ID laws, the process or effectiveness of polling, the Electoral College, and the popular vote. Some of these discussions could lead to social justice or injustice issues thus providing students with opportunities to think about policies, laws, and the Constitution and how they might be changed or interpreted for the betterment of society.

As librarians, we are charged with providing physical and intellectual access to information. We are committed to making sure that students are able to use literacy skills to think critically and apply critical thinking as informed citizens. As Ricky House says, we want our students to be equipped to “go out and use what (we’ve) taught them to change the world.”  And yes, there are many who would consider that goal “political.”

Resource
The National Institute for Civil Discourse is a non-partisan center for advocacy, research and policy. To support civil discourse during the last election cycle, they offered a program for high schools called “Text, Talk, Vote.”  School librarians and classroom teachers who are teaching digital literacy through social media may want to adapt this program.

Tips for School Librarians Who Coteach Controversial Issues
When coteaching controversial issues:

  1. Form instructional partnerships with trustworthy colleagues.
  2. Consider coteaching with educators who do not share your perspective and respectfully use your divergent thinking as a resource for learning.
  3. While coteaching, collaborative partners can provide each other with a bias-check before, during, and after instruction.
  4. Model civil discourse and guide students’ practice of civil discourse when discussing controversial issues.

Work Cited
Pasquantonio, Victoria. “Helping Students Understand the 2016 Election Results,” PBS Newshour, 2 Dec. 2016, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/teachers-lounge-reaction-election-continues/

Image: Copyright-free Clip Art from Discovery Education