Empowerment and Transformation

This week April 9th through 15th is National Library Week. This year’s theme is “Libraries Transform.”  It is fitting that this public awareness week is embedded in School Library Month (April). The SLM#17 theme is: “Because school libraries empower students.”

There is a strong relationship between these two themes: empowerment and transformation.

Empowerment
What does empowerment mean? This is the second definition offered by Google in a quick search: “the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights.”

How then do school librarians empower students? School librarians empower students by helping them become engaged, effective and critical readers, avid inquirers, and motivated knowledge creators. Empowered students develop agency and become self-directed learners; they are prepared for lifelong learning.

In my experience, the way school librarians empower student learning is through classroom-library coplanning, coteaching, and coassessing outcomes. When school librarians bring their expertise to the collaboration table, they influence the curriculum, instructional strategies, and resources, including technology tools, available to students.

Through reciprocal mentorship with classroom teachers, school librarians influence other educators’ teaching, even when they are not coteaching with the librarian. They impact the learning of all students in their schools. This is the way empowered school librarian leaders best serve empowered students and colleagues.

In her chapter on staying visible and vital in Leading for School Librarians, Hilda K. Weisburg offers key ideas related to empowerment. I have selected a few of them here:

• When you empower someone, you help them feel more confident and sure of their abilities.
• Leaders need to empower their stakeholders.
• Through your teaching, readers’ advisory, and one-on-one help, you empower students.
• You empower teachers by helping them with technology and current educational practices.
• Keeping administrators aware of tech resources being integrated into instruction, and showcasing the work of teachers whose classes have used the library, empower administrator (134).

Transformation
What does transform used as a verb mean? Google says it means: “make a thorough or dramatic change in the form, appearance, or character of.” In my experience, libraries lead by progressive librarians can transform entire communities. Through community-based librarianship, school, public, academic, and special libraries enter into partnerships to help people achieve their goals.

As David Lankes writes in his book Expect More: Demanding Better Libraries for Today’s Complex World: “The mission of the library is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in the community” (33). He goes on to discuss the importance of the word “improve,” which along with “facilitate” implies proactive, collaborative, and transformational action (42-43).

Libraries led by progressive librarians collaborate to transform their communities.

Empowerment and Transformation
In the age of innovation, empowered educators and administrators have the potential to transform the school learning environment and the quality of students’ learning experiences. They also collaborate with a goal of transforming educators’ instructional practices. Through transformed practices, educators and administrators can cofacilitate learning opportunities that are authentic, relevant, and meaningful to students.

School librarians can serve as leaders who help develop the culture of collaboration in which empowerment and transformation can thrive.  It is no accident that the title of American Association of School Librarians’ guidelines for school library programs is entitled Empowering Learners

Empowered students, school librarians, and other educators can transform learning and teaching. That’s what I am celebrating this month.

Side note: On Tuesday, April 11th, the #txlchat topic is school library advocacy.  James Allen, Suzanne Dix, Sara Kelly Johns, and Jane Lofton will be guests. The chat is held on Twitter at 8:00 p.m. Central time.

Works Cited

Lankes, R. David. Expect More: Demanding Better Libraries for Today’s Complex World. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 2012.

Weisburg, Hilda K. Leading for School Librarians: There Is No Other Option. Chicago: ALA Editions, 2017.

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

The Literacy Village

This past weekend, Tucsonans and visitors to the Old Pueblo celebrated literacy at the ninth annual Tucson Festival of Books. Over 100,000 people attended the two-day festival.

From infants to the elderly, future and avid readers from all backgrounds and with varying literary preferences enjoyed immersing themselves in the power of story and the critical importance of literacy in their lives.

This year, I had the responsibility and pleasure of booking the storytellers and facilitating their performances at the Children’s Entertainment Stage. These performances were part of the Entertainment and Family Activities offered at the Festival.

In chronological order, Elly Reidy, South Mountain Community College (SMCC) Storytelling Institute tellers, Antonio Sacre, More to the Story Entertainment, Joe Hayes, and Carla Goody shared their love of story and their talents to eager audiences of all ages.

Elly Reidy and  SMCC Storytelling Institute Tellers Mario Avent, Chantel Freed, Chrissy Dart, and Liz Warren shared stories from published traditional literature. Their stories spanned different cultures and their retellings reflected the personalities of the tellers. In addition to enjoying their live retellings, listeners could find their stories in the folktale section of their public and school libraries. Hurray for 398.2!

Antonio Sacre, who told stories on both days, shared personal family stories some of which have become picture books or part of a short story collection. One of the overarching themes in Antonio’s tellings is the power of family storytelling, Throughout his performance, he asked listeners to connect with their own stories/memories. Antonio shared his stories in Spanish and English and gave listeners a humorous and heartfelt window into his experiences as a boy, son/nephew/grandson, and father.

More to the Story Entertainment captured the attention and imaginations of the youngest TFOB audience attendees and their families. Through fairy costuming, song, audience participation, and magical moments they delighted their audience.

Joe Hayes once again captivated his loyal audience and made new fans, too, with his Southwest-seasoned tales and stories from beyond our region. Joe said he enjoys telling stories that blend cultures. He told a Cuban story about a family of white herons in Spanish and English and wove a chorus throughout the telling that reminded listeners of the African ancestry of a majority of Cuban people. Joe reminded us that stories connect people of various cultural backgrounds to a shared humanity.

C. A. Goody shared the story of her inspiration for her Charlie the Cat series, which now includes nine titles. Taking the point of view of Charlie, she recounted how a cat might experience various aspects of life. Written for third- and fourth-grade children, Carla’s stories invite readers to take up their pencils/pens/keyboards to craft stories of their own.

Thank you all for your part in making the Children’s Entertainment Stage an exciting part of the TFOB.

As a former school librarian, (school) librarian educator, and family literacy advocate, I am keenly interested in the literacy organizations that support Tucson’s literacy ecosystem, particularly those that impact early childhood education.

These were some of the booths I visited and the groups whose work I applaud (and support). In alphabetical order:

Expect More Arizona: “Expect More Arizona fosters a shared voice and collaborative action among partners statewide to advocate for all Arizona students to have the opportunity to succeed, from their early years and throughout life.”

First Things First: “First Things First is one of the critical partners in creating a family-centered, comprehensive, collaborative and high-quality early childhood system that supports the development, health and early education of all Arizona’s children birth through age 5.”

Literacy Connects, which includes Reach Out and Read Southern Arizona, Reading Seed, and more: “Literacy creates solutions to many of society’s most persistent problems. From reducing unemployment and poverty to increasing economic growth and opportunity, literacy is key to a better future for all of us.”

Make Way For Books: “Our mission is to give all children a chance to read and succeed.” MWFB serves more than 30,000 children and their families and 700 educators.

Worlds of Words: “Worlds of Words is committed to providing a range of resources to encourage educators at all levels to integrate global literature into the lives of children.” (More about WOW next week!)

It does take a village to support literacy and these organizations are doing vital work to elevate literacy in our community and improve the quality of life choices for our residents, particularly as they launch their literacy lives.

Thank you to the presenters, sponsors, exhibitors, volunteers, and most of all the readers who use their literacy skills every day to enjoy life, to improve their life choices, and to participate in the life of our village, our country, and our world. In doing so, you are an essential part of the literacy village we all need. Bravo to all!

Image Credit: Tucson Festival of Books logo courtesy of the Arizona Daily Star, image created in PowerPoint

Technology Stewardship

This week is Young Adult Library Services Association’s Teen Tech Week (March 5 – 11, 2017).  Just as Digital Learning Day is a snapshot of what should be happening in school libraries every day so are the learning activities that are being spotlighted this week.

One thing that continually surprises me is that some people, new and practicing school librarians included, think that engaging students and supporting classroom teachers with Web-based resources and technology-infused learning experiences is something new in our profession. It’s not!

Ever since the Internet entered schools, effective school librarians and progressive school libraries have been at the center of providing digital resources and services (in addition to reading instruction and literature-focused events and activities).

New technology tools were a central feature in the school libraries where I served in the 1990s. Like many school librarian colleagues, I wrote grants to fund increasing technology tool access through the school library program. Also, similar to many colleagues, I convinced my principals that the central location of the library as the hub of learning in our schools was the appropriate place to provide equal access to all students, classroom teachers, specialists, and families.

In 1992, our elementary school library was the first in the district to have a stand-alone and dedicated CD-ROM computer station. In 1994, I secured grant funding at another elementary school library in another district in order to provide the most “sophisticated” access to CD-ROM reference resources using a then “cutting-edge” server tower. In the summer of 1994, I facilitated a two-week summer technology camp for first through fifth-grade students to utilize the new software (HyperStudio) we had purchased for the library with grant funds. Fourth-, and fifth-grade students mentored first-, second-, and third-grade students and co-created exciting multimedia projects that would serve as samples for classroom teachers and other students during the following school year.

In 1995, our school library facilitated the first student-designed elementary school website in Arizona. In 2000, when I served at another Tucson Unified School District elementary school, our school library website earned an Arizona Technology in Education Award (AzTEA) for the Best School Website; at that time, ours was the only site in the entire state designed, created, and managed by students.

While I took a leadership role in all of these technology-centered initiatives, I most certainly did not do them alone.

Business partners provided grant funding for soft- and hardware. The computer lab teacher I worked with in 1994 taught me most of what he knew about educational technology. He helped me select HyperStudio and an adaptor that transferred the computer screen to the TV screen; these tools literally transformed students’ learning and students’ and educators’ presentations. In 1995, a master’s in library science student intern taught me how to use website software and a bit about .html code; together we facilitated third-grade students’ design of our school’s site. Building on that experience in 1998 at a different elementary school, I formed a website advisory committee comprised of fourth-grade students, classroom teachers, a parent, and our principal and together we planned our school library website. Our goal was to put students in charge of the site. In 2000, we earned the AzTEA award mentioned above.

All of these experiences taught me that collaboration and co-learning are essential in effectively integrating new technology tools into teaching and learning. Learning from and working with more proficient peers gave me the skills I needed and the confidence to take risks. I believe my own willingness to experiment helped classroom teacher colleagues stretch themselves and take risks alongside me. Being an adult learner myself, I was sensitive to their needs and characteristics as adult learners.

Even more than the particular tool or project, it was my role as an instructional partner that helped us effectively integrate technology tools and instructional strategies into our shared curriculum. It was through coplanning and coteaching that I was able to serve as a change agent and helped diffuse technology and other innovations throughout our learning community.

Technology stewardship has long been a responsibility of school librarians, and through classroom-library collaboration school librarians are positioned to serve as technology stewards who facilitate learning with technology in a future ready learning environment.

Image created using Microsoft PowerPoint

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

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.