How Children Succeed

While authoring my forthcoming book, I have read many professional books. This is the second in a series of professional book reviews–possible titles for your summer reading. The reviews are in no particular order.

Helping children and teens develop dispositions is one of the essential aspects of preparing future-ready students for schooling and life. In my research on this topic, I was happy to find Paul Tough’s book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. (I have not yet read his more recent book Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why.)

Tough frames his perspective as a possible new school of thought that calls the “cognitive hypothesis” into question. The “cognitive hypothesis” of child rearing/development suggests that learning is based on “inputs” and “outputs.”

These are some of the “cognitive hypothesis” examples Tough gives that may speak to BACC blog readers:
1. The fewer words a child hears and speaks before entering school the more likely she is to struggle in schooling.
2. Fewer books in the home puts a child at risk in reading proficiency.
3. More math homework means higher math scores.

These examples (two near and dear to my heart) suggests a linear view of cognitive development.

Tough’s “character hypothesis” adds a different perspective. “What matters most in a child’s development is not how much information we can stuff into her brain in the first few years. What matters, instead, is whether we are able to help her develop a very different set of qualities, a list that includes persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence. Economists refer to these as noncognitive skills, psychologists call them personality traits, and the rest of us sometimes think of them as character” (xv). In the world of school librarianship, we refer to these noncognitive skills, personality traits, or character traits as “dispositions.”

While I disagree with Tough’s use of the word “stuffing” here, I read on and found myself developing a hybrid view of these two apparently opposing hypotheses.

The “character hypothesis” explains a number of children I have met. In over twenty-five years of teaching, I have met and admired those “outlier” kids who seemed to have missed out on literacy enriched upbringings yet have excelled in every school-based measure of achievement. I have also met and wondered about very privileged children who seemed to have had every advantage yet were unable to persevere at tasks (even of their own choosing) and lacked grit. (Tough uses Angela Duckworth’s definition of grit: “self-discipline wedded to a dedicated pursuit of a goal.”)

I agree with Tough that there are many other ways to develop “executive functions” besides growing up with the advantages afforded (most? some?) privileged children. These higher-order mental abilities, such as the ability to deal with confusing and unpredictable situations, can be learned in many ways and at many points during a person’s life. “Executive functions and the ability to handle stress and manage strong emotions can be improved, sometimes dramatically, well into adolescence and even adulthood” (48).

I totally agree with Tough that: “Parents and other caregivers who are able to form close, nurturing bonds with their children can foster resilience in them that protects them from many of the worst effects of a harsh early environment” (28). And in my experience (and in the views of other researchers) when parents and other caregivers talk to and dialogue with their young children and enfold them in their arms while reading to them, children are indeed building the bonds that help children develop resilience. (Hence my objection Tough’s use of the word “stuffing” in relationship to talking to and reading with young children.)

Tough cites research that was new to me. Mary Ainsworth conducted studies in the 1960s/early 1970s. She found that: “Babies whose parents responded readily and fully to their cries in the first few months of life were, at one year, more independent and intrepid babies than babies whose parents had ignored their cries” (cited in Tough 33). This may seem counterintuitive but having been that kind of parent with my own infant daughter, my experience has borne out that finding. She became a VERY intrepid toddler and grew into a VERY independent woman (now in her mid-30s).

My question here is if babies are born into struggling families, does the parent who is working two jobs have the energy to respond “readily and fully” to a baby’s middle of the night cries?

Tough also writes about cognitive-behavior therapy and cites the work of Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism, which I haven’t yet read. According to Seligman, the best time to transform pessimistic children into optimistic ones is “before puberty, but late enough in childhood so they are metacognitive (capable of thinking about thinking)” (91).

For me, this emphasizes the importance of the middle school years. I believe middle school educators benefit from specialized training in adolescent development and empathetic skills in order to effectively support young teens social, emotional, and cognitive development. (I worked with some very “gifted” classroom teachers at Emily Gray Junior High who had what it takes during my one year of middle school librarianship.)

My experience supports the importance of optimism and other positive emotional states when it comes to learning. As researcher David Sousa noted positive emotions affect learning by helping students process information, engage in difficult tasks, develop a deeper understanding of learning experiences, and recall and apply what is taught later on (2016).

Tough analyzes the character education program at  KIPP Schools. In order to prepare KIPP students for college, students are given a college persistence rating in four categories: academic preparedness, financial stability, socio-emotional wellness, and non-cognitive preparedness. This score is monitored regularly and educators/counselors provide support and interventions to keep students on track. The success rate for less-privileged students who attend KIPP schools and go on to succeed in post-secondary education suggests “character” counts.

Tough concludes: “Character can function as a substitute for the social safety net that students at Riverdale (a high school serving privileged students) enjoy – the support from their families and schools and culture that protects them from the consequences of occasional detours and mistakes and bad decisions” (103).

In summary, Tough writes: “Character strengths that matter so much to young people’s success are not innate; they don’t appear in us magically, as a result of good luck or good genes. And they are not simply a choice. They are rooted in brain chemistry, and they are molded, in measurable and predictable ways, by the environment in which children grow up” (196). Agreed. Agreed. Agreed.

I learned a great deal from reading Tough’s book. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in child-adolescent development and education.

Writing this review has helped me further reflect on the complexity of creating an environment in which future-ready children and teens can development the knowledge, competencies, and dispositions they need to succeed. In my hybrid view, the combination of family economic security, the “cognitive hypothesis,” and the “character hypothesis” could all be applied to create a supportive and effective birth through adolescence environment for children to succeed.

Why not imagine and create the best of all possible worlds for our children?

Works Cited
Sousa, David A. 2016. How the Brain Learns. 5th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Tough, Paul. 2013. How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2012.

Teach Like Finland, Part 2

While authoring my forthcoming book, I have read many professional books. This is the second in a series of professional book reviews–possible titles for your summer reading. The reviews are in no particular order.

Timothy D. Walker, author of Teach Like Finland, identified six strategies Finnish educators use to approach their work: seek flow, have a thicker skin, collaborate over coffee, welcome the experts, vacate on vacation, and don’t forget the joy. I wrote about the first three last week.

Welcome the Experts
Walker was not comfortable at first with welcoming colleagues or other experts into his classroom. After he visited other classrooms where he saw this modeled, he became a convert. Walker writes: “I found that the more I welcomed experts into my classroom, the more I began to view myself as a resource manager who could design great learning experiences for my class by tapping into talents outside my own” (183).

School librarians have a long tradition of inviting guests into the library. We regularly invite authors, illustrators, scientists, politicians, and local experts of all kinds to share via the library program. (And it’s important to remember that all educators may not be as comfortable with this practice.) The very best of these presentations are directly aligned with classroom curricula and are coplanned and cofacilitated with classroom teachers and specialists.

Two of the most successful expert presentations during my time at Sabino High School were visits by Arizona Daily Star editorial cartoonist David Fitzsimmons and our then Arizona State Representative Marian McClure. In both cases, I worked with the social studies classroom teachers to prepare students for their visits and to follow up afterward. Editorial cartoons became the topic for “questioning” reading comprehension strategy lessons. (See lesson 5-2 in Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Secondary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact.) In addition to civics information, the connection with Representative McClure provided advocacy for school librarianship at the state legislature.

While school librarians are adept at bringing in outside experts, they may not be as experienced with using the human resources in the library and on campus. School staff and faculty have abundant expertise and talents to share. As school librarians build relationships in the school community, it is incumbent upon them to uncover the lights that are hiding under barrels in their own buildings—lights that could make a difference for students’ enthusiasm for curriculum-based learning as well as their pursuit of independent learning.

In a recent Knowledge Quest blog post titled “Library as Incubator,” Mark Dzula wrote about how he supported the school library paraprofessional aide in sharing her language and culture expertise with students during a weekly lunchtime drop-in Arabic program. Mark wrote: “She was motivated to share her love of the language to help expand students’ worldview and to overcome any social stigma that the students may have encountered in association with Arabic.” A dozen students attended and were very inspired in various ways to pursue more information about Arabic language and culture. With support from the World Language Department, one student is taking an independent study in Arabic with the library assistant next year.

Vacate on Vacation
According to Walker, Finnish teachers “literally” vacating during the summer. Shocking! This practice is in sharp contrast with the summer practices of most U.S. educators. In the summer, most teach summer school, work another job outside of education, or prepare for the next school year. (Some even time their pregnancies so they can give birth in the summer in order to return to the classroom in the fall.) Walker, who feels the “vacate on vacation” strategy is too extreme, says he prefers a hybrid approach. In the summer, he dedicates a “healthy chunk of time for disconnecting and a healthy chunk of time for professional development” (186).

The pace of life for most U.S. educators is intense during the academic year. Relaxing during the summer (and regularly throughout the school year) seems to be the healthiest choice. Making time in the summer for extended periods of reflection can be an excellent use of one’s “free” time. Interspersing professional books with other types of reading (adult novels, YA literature, and school curriculum-oriented reading) is one strategy some school librarians use to find balance. Extending conference attendance to include touring new parts of the country or visiting with friends and relatives is another way to combine professional learning with personal interests.

Some would suggest that regular technology holidays could also improve one’s ability to relax. In his book, Walker offers a summary of a study conducted by the Harvard Business School. The study involved two groups of consulting firm workers. One group worked 50+ hours per week. didn’t take vacation time and was always connected via their electronic devices. The other worked 40 hours per week, took vacations, and coordinated unconnected time with their coworkers so they could be disconnected without worry or guilt. The team that took time off reported higher job satisfaction, better work-life balance, increased learning, improved communication with their team, and were more efficient and productive in their work (187).

By “vacating” the always “on” culture for selected days, weekends, or even months might also prioritize engaging in enriching face-to-face interactions with family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers. One thought-provoking book to consider on this subject is Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age by Sherry Turkle. She proclaims: “It’s time to put technology in its place and reclaim conversation. That journey begins with a better understanding of what conversation accomplishes and how technology can get in the way” (25).

Don’t Forget the Joy
This adage could be the overarching theme for Teach Like Finland. According to Walker, in 2016, Finnish comprehensive schools implemented the newest core curriculum, “where joy is being practiced as a learning concept” (189). When I read this, my U.S. educator mind sadly went directly to these questions: Is joy measurable? How will it be tested? (Ugh!)

There is a palpable feeling of excitement in a joyful learning environment. I once served as the school librarian in a truly “joyful” preK-5 school. Our school was led by a joyful principal whose most often heard phrase was “what a wonder!” With a positive school climate and a commitment to a culture of collaboration, faculty, staff, and families made our school a joyful place to be—every day of the academic year (and in summer programs, too).

Joy begins inside of each individual and from there can spread out to all members of our learning communities. Walker notes that prioritizing joy may not be easy for many U.S. educators but regardless of where he teaches, Timothy Walker commits to remembering and prioritizing joy. The last line in his book: “How about you?”

Note: This photograph of our seven-month-old puppy Pearl playing with her friend Vicka captures (for me) the pure spirit of joy. (Pearl is the poodle.) Every morning when we awake, she reminds us there is a truly joyful way to greet each day.

Works Cited

Dzula, Mark. “Library as Incubator.” Knowledge Quest Blog. 18 May 2017. http://knowledgequest.aasl.org/library-as-incubator/ Accessed 26 May 2017.

Moreillon, Judi. Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Secondary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact. Chicago: ALA Editions, 2012.

Turkle, Sherry. Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age. New York: Penguin, 2015.

Walker, Timothy D. Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms. New York: W. W. Norton, 2016.

Teach Like Finland, Part 1

While authoring my forthcoming book, I have read many professional books. This is the first in a series of professional book reviews–possible titles for your summer reading. The reviews are in no particular order.

Since 2001, many educators in the U. S., including yours truly, and around the world have wondered why Finnish students continually rank as top scorers on the international PISA exam. I recently read Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms. This is some of what I learned.

Before I even opened the book, I reflected on the use of the word “joyful” in the subtitle. In my work as a school librarian which included thirteen years at all three instructional levels between 1992 – 2009, I cotaught with classroom teachers in their classrooms as well as in the library, computer labs, and out in the field. I had the pleasure of working in many “joyful” classrooms, libraries, and even one very joyful school!

I agree with Teach Like Finland author Timothy Walker that joy is one of the too-oft missing ingredients in schooling today. Walker organizes his book into the four elements of happiness — belonging, autonomy, master, and mind-set — identified by Rag Raghunathan author of If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? To these Walker adds “well-being.”

There were many other aspects of the Finnish education culture that “spoke to me.” Children start formal schooling at age seven. Elementary schools, in particularly, strive for a holistic, child-focused curriculum that addresses all subjects evenly. All subjects including art and music as well as what U. S. schools consider “core” subjects get equal time. Finnish schools apply the research that has shown art contributes to innovative thinking and music knowledge can help learners grasp mathematical patterns. The holistic model gives children opportunities to cultivate multiple aspects of their personalities and talents.

The average time that Finnish educators spend in actual instruction is also shorter than U. S. teachers per week (18 hours versus 26.5 hours). Finnish students and teachers have 15-minute breaks after every 45-minutes of instructional time. Collaborating with colleagues is one way that educators use that “free” time every day. (See below.)

Walker identified six strategies Finnish educators use to approach their work: seek flow, have a thicker skin, collaborate over coffee, welcome the experts, vacate on vacation, and don’t forget the joy. All of these are well worth considering.

Seek Flow
As a writer and educator, I know and strive for that feeling of flow when my mind and body are totally focused and I do my best work. Walker writes: “Being teachers who seek flow, not superiority, is something that’s not just good for us; it’s also good for our students. Our students are watching us, and if they see that we’re seeking to do our best work, free of comparing ourselves to others, I’m confident that this kind of example will foster a noncompetitive culture in our classrooms… This positive change we want to see—as is so often the case in teaching—starts with us” (Walker 173).

Have a Thicker Skin
Having a “thicker skin” that allows us to give, receive, and respond to constructive criticism is another important strategy. Principal leader and author of The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity George Couros just last week posted “It’s Okay to Be the ‘Boss’” to his blog. The thicker skin strategy totally aligns with Couros’s idea about providing adults with feedback.

Couros writes: “As long as people know that you are both on the same page (that you want them to be successful), they will accept the feedback. For some, it is harder than others, but when they know it is because you want them to be better, it is a much easier pill to swallow.”

Walker goes on to write about how he uses journaling to work through anxieties and challenges in teaching. He also writes about how noting “gratitudes” can boost happiness and giving thanks can strengthen relationships.

Collaborate Over Coffee
Of course, the aspect of daily life in Finnish schools that jumped off the page at me was educator collaboration. Walker interviewed several Finnish teachers and asked: “What brings you joy as a teacher, and what brings your students joy?”

One of the most popular answers was collaboration! He noted that nearly 50% of the lessons he taught during his time in Finland were cotaught.

“Teachers in my school were not just collaborating in the traditional sense, by planning and teaching lessons together—they were truly laboring together, sharing the burdens of teaching with each other. They were helping each other track down the resources they’d need for an upcoming lesson. They were discussing better ways to support needy students. They were analyzing curriculum together. They were talking about how to improve recess for the kids. They were grading tests together. They were offering tech support to each other. To my surprise, this work often happened in between sips of coffee, during those fifteen-minute breaks throughout the day” (Walker 178-179).

His comment made me think about what I mean when I write about collaborating in the “traditional sense.” I believe coteaching involves all of the aspects that Walker describes, but maybe others, who have not experienced classroom-library coteaching between equal partners, do not perceive the same depth of partnership that I have experienced.

In the course of coplanning and coteaching, classroom teachers and school librarians are analyzing curriculum together. They are sharing resources and providing technology support to one another. They are strategizing how to differentiate to meet the needs of all students. And in the most effective partnerships, they are assessing students’ work together and using assessment to adjust their instruction.

Walker writes: “More than anything, I think collaboration is all about mind-set. If you truly believe that you are a better teacher when you are working in concert with others, then I think you will naturally find small, simple ways of collaborating… Their work together seemed like a by-product of their teaching mind-set” (181).

Bravo! And yes! To a mind-set that believes collaboration is the key to better teaching.

I will reflect on the other three strategies next week: welcome the experts, vacate on vacation, and don’t forget the joy.

Works Cited

Couros, George. “It’s Okay to Be the ‘Boss.’” The Principal of Change blog. 18 May 2017, http://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/7360 Accessed 20 May 2017.

Raghunathan, Rag. If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? New York: Penguin, 2016.

Walker, Timothy D. Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms. New York: W. W. Norton, 2016.

Educators Chat about Making Notes

Dedication: To the Moderators and Participants in #txlchat and #cvtechtalk

As a now “retired” educator and an advocate, I made a pledge to myself to spread the word about the expertise of school librarians in non-school library circles. I believe that school librarians’ potential to positively impact student learning outcomes has not yet been fully realized. Sharing and showing how school librarians can lead through building instructional partnerships with classroom teachers has long been my raison d’être.

Last week, I stumbled upon the #cvtechtalk. Coincidentally, they were talking about “notetaking” – one of my all-time favorite topics. I share this experience here because one of the on-going issues in school librarianship advocacy is that other educators do not know what we can do to support their teaching and help their students learn effective information literacy strategies.

Even though I arrived when participants were on question #4 of their 8-question chat, I jumped in:

CactusWoman: A.4 Let’s call it “notemaking” rather than “taking.” “Making” implies Ss questions/connections/own ideas count! #cvtechtalk just dropped in

I got some likes, retweets, and replies and decided to stay. (This is my personal measure of whether or not a chat group is “listening” and learning from one another or simply broadcasting. See the dedication below.)

I followed up with:
CactusWoman: A4 #FutureReadyLibs #schoollibrarians r trained in notemaking skills > Classroom-library collaboration 2 teach essential skill #cvtechtalk

Then a reply/question about students using Twitter for notemaking:
CactusWoman: A5 Yes! @_____ I 2 use Twitter 4 notemaking when involved w/webinars/conference presentations, etc. have not tried w/6-12 Ss #cvtechtalk

(Note that should have been *w/8-12 Ss* – Twitter “suggests” participants should be 13 and up.)

Then:
CactusWoman: A6 When Ss compare notes they may c that one person’s “main ideas” do not match the others’ > convers abt determining importance #cvtechtalk

Since this was a “tech” group, they shared many electronic tools for notemaking. When one person noted she had read somewhere that hand-written notes were more effective, I shared a research-based article about the possible differences between handwritten and electronic notes in terms of student learning.

CactusWoman: A6 My concern copy/paste/highlight does not = learning: Article about notemaking by hand vs computer: http://www.npr.org/2016/04/17/474525392/attention-students-put-your-laptops-away … #cvtechtalk

According to my Paper.li report, the article was accessed (read?) by several #cvtechtalk chat participants. (Like all librarians, I enjoy sharing research/knowledge that can make a difference in educators’ practice and in students’ learning/people’s lives.)

CactusWoman: A.7 Creativity bcomes more important w/what Ss DO w/notes: What do notes mean 2 Ss? Does info inspire creative response/action? #cvtechtalk

The final question was perfect and one that I believe all Twitter chat groups should adopt. “Based on tonight’s talk, how will you empower students in note-taking?” (or whatever the topic).

CactusWoman: A.8 Encourage Ts #schoollibrarians collaborate 2 teach Ss notemaking strategies (reading comp) & create/do something meaningful #cvtechtalk

One person posted this:
A8 Will start #notemaking w/ Ss asap! Can’t handle guilt after these great ideas! Will intro #Sketchnoting & bulleting key ideas #cvtechtalk https://twitter.com/techcoachjuarez/status/862500760981983232 …

Cha-ching!

CactusWoman: Gr8t ideas on notemaking 2nite 5/10 when I dropped in on #cvtechtalk #FutureReadyLibs #txlchat #tlchat >opportunities 4 classroom-lib collab

It was interesting to me that many educators noted they would NOT model notemaking strategies for students and were “anti-direct instruction” for this skill.

As someone who connects notemaking with the reading comprehension strategy of determining main ideas, I believe that is a mistake. In my experience, if students are not taught several strategies from which they can choose or use as models to develop their own strategies, they will opt for copying/highlighting everything. They will not pass the information through their own background knowledge and purpose for reading and make their own connections, write down their questions, and their own ideas related to what they are reading. (Notemaking strategies include Cornell notes, deletion-substitution, trash ‘n treasure, and more…)

I created a Storify archive of the chat’s final question for my review and for yours if you are interested.

I know I will drop in on #cvtechtalk again when I can on Wednesday evenings at 7:00 p.m. Pacific (?). They are an active, caring, and sharing group of educators. I appreciate what I learned from listening and participating in their chat.

If you are a school librarian who is participating in non-school librarian chats, I hope you will add a comment to this post. Readers may appreciate knowing what you perceive as the benefits or drawbacks of those professional learning experiences.

Dedication: This post is “dedicated” to #txlchat. This chat’s home base is in Texas, but more and more school librarians from across the country are joining in. In 2014-2015, I had the opportunity to conduct a research study of #txlchat. Thanks to #txlchat moderators and participants, I was welcomed into their learning space and learned about the norms and benefits of their chat culture. I continue to connect and learn with #txlchat whenever I can get online on Tuesdays at 8:00 p.m. Central. Y’all are invited, too!

Mothers, Educators, and Literacy

Next Sunday is Mother’s Day and this week is Teacher Appreciation Week. There is a strong connection between mothers and educators, home and school. We are essential partners in family literacy.

As a former elementary school librarian, I enjoyed meeting kindergarten children and their families. From their first day in the school library, I could tell which children had been read to in their homes and which had not. The lucky children came to school excited about stories. They knew how to hold books and turn the pages. They had already taken their first steps on the path to reading for enjoyment and learning.

You have heard it said that “parents are their child’s first teachers.” Nothing could be truer. In addition to feeding, sheltering, and clothing a child, literacy is another essential aspect of parenting. There is no one in a better position to do that than a child’s parents and caregivers.

Parents who talk, sing, play, and read to their infants and young children prepare them for success in school and in life. “Read to me and watch me grow/tell me all the tales you know.” Young children who hear more words spoken and say more words in conversations with others are better prepared to read. A research study showed that some children already have a 30 million (!) word gap by the age of three.

No one wants their child to start school behind in language development. High-quality early childhood preschool experiences are important. But in those first two or three years before some children start preschool, a great deal of brain development is already occurring. Talking and singing to an infant from birth is a gift of love and an investment in the child’s future learning.

In addition to talking and singing with a child, reading is a fun and effective way to build a child’s vocabulary. “In picture books and nursery rhymes/fairy tales from other times.” Making meaning from pictures is a baby step on the path to being a reader. Older readers engage young children by pointing to the pictures and talking about what is happening in the book. They ask children questions that are first answered by pointing. Later, a child’s answers will be single words, phrases, and finally full sentences. When children can ask questions about what is being read, they are well on their way to becoming motivated to learn to read.

When children are enfolded in a parent’s arms while reading a book together, they experience reading as an act of caring. “Read the pictures, read the lines./Words to nourish hearts and minds.” Children who are read to develop positive feelings toward books and stories. These feelings help children grow curious about words. Positive feelings about reading support them in making meaning from words as well as pictures.

“Read to me and plant the seed./Make me want to learn to read.” Parents can be very busy and may be unable to provide early literacy learning experiences on a daily basis. That’s when brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and other caregivers can step in to make sure the young child is nurtured in these essential ways.

Parents are truly their children’s first teachers. But literacy is a lifelong skill that needs a strong beginning and support throughout students’ schooling. When libraries partner with families, caregivers, health and community organizations, we can elevate literacy in our community.

One shining example of such a partnership is the “Books for Texas Babies” initiative.

This effort began as a collaborative project of the Friends of the Dallas Public Library and Parkland Health and Hospital System. In 2016, they gave 12,000 copies of Vamos a leer/Read to Me to families of newborns and are continuing the project this year. Fort Worth Public Library and the JPS Health Network began their “Books for Tarrant County Babies” partnership in 2017.

Working together, we can ensure that all children have the literacy skills they will need to expand their life choices—skills that are the foundation for college, career, and community readiness. With a shared responsibility and commitment, let’s engage every child in experiences that show literacy is simply an essential part of life.

Note: The quoted rhymes in this blog post are from my book Read to Me.

Work Cited

Moreillon, Judi. Read to Me. Cambridge, MA: Star Bright Books, 2004.

Image Credit: From the Personal Collection of Judi Moreillon. Used with permission.

Curiosity in Spring

I love spring! All of the clichés are true. Spring is the herald of new beginnings and new growth. Spring offers promises; it invites hope.

Even in my Sonoran Desert home where the signs of the season can be a bit subtler than in lush green places, the spring blooms on the prickly pear and saguaro cacti are welcome sights to desert eyes.

When I served as a school librarian, I especially loved spring in the elementary library. (While I also enjoyed the feeling of spring in secondary school libraries, some of that feeling was not as conducive to academic learning…)

In spring, primary-age students noticed nature in a way they may have set aside over the winter months.

Students looked to the sky and remarked on cloud formations. They observed the effects of rain on plants. They felt and welcomed the change to warmer temperatures. They captured insects on the playground. And most exciting for their teachers, they brought their questions about the natural world into the classroom and into the library.

“Curiosity starts out as an impulse, an urge, but it pops out into the world as something more active, more searching: a question” (10).

The image above shows a child observing the bright orange caterpillars he found in a neighbor’s yard. Why were they that color? Didn’t the color mean that birds would see and eat them? He learned to harvest the plants on which he found the caterpillars and wondered whether or not they needed water as well as food. He learned about metamorphosis and asked questions about how these creatures would change their form. When he observed the chrysalis in the terrarium, he wondered if what he was seeing could possibly be what he had learned from asking questions.

It wasn’t until the butterfly emerged that he believed this process was real.

“Curiosity is a form a power, and also a form of courage” (15).

Through curiosity and questioning, he was motivated to learn more. He experienced the power of change—both in the caterpillar and in his own understanding of metamorphosis.

He also had the courage to do what he knew was “right.” He set the caterpillar turned butterfly free—free to be its transformed self.

Students’ curiosity and questioning are the driving forces in inquiry learning. In some schools, student-led inquiry is practiced in primary grades only; in a few schools, it is practiced throughout the grades.

In many schools, secondary students conduct traditional “research” projects that may not spring from students’ interests and as a result, fail to motivate and engage them. For some secondary students, their “senior project” may be their first K-12 learning experience prompted by their passion to pursue a personally meaningful question. It may be the first school-based learning experience that inspires them to take action in the world based on their new knowledge.

When school librarians aspire to coteach empowered learners, we show respect for students’ minds. We show that we trust them to be curious, to ask questions, to seek answers, to learn, and to take action in the world. We believe in the power of knowledge to transform students and the world.

Here’s to the opportunity spring affords us. Let’s see students’ learning and our instructional practice through fresh eyes. Let’s trust in the learning process—students’ and our own.

Let’s be curious – together – and reach for a “bigger life”!

Work Cited

Grazer, Brian, and Charles Fishman. A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015.

Image Credit: From the Personal Collection of Judi Moreillon, Used with Permission

#AASL 65th Anniversary

Last year, the American Association of School Librarians launched their 65th Anniversary Giving Campaign: “It’s in Our Hands: Celebrate the Past, Transform the Future.”

There are soooo many reasons to belong to the only national association dedicated to school librarians. There are also many reasons to participate as an active member who volunteers for committee service. Additionally, at this time in the history of our organization, there are reasons to accept the invitation to support the 65th anniversary giving campaign.

In their chapter entitled “Leadership and Your Professional School Library Association,” Connie Williams and Blanche Woolls offer nine reasons for joining professional organizations:

  1. Networking locally that begins with fellow librarians;
  2. Networking state-wide opens the door to leadership opportunities;
  3. Networking nationally allows opportunities to meet others from far afield;
  4. Improving your communication skills on an online listserv or other online communications group;
  5. Develops a greater number of professional friendships and a collegiality that builds year after year.
  6. Become a more active member by serving on a committee;
  7. Attend conferences to hear outstanding speakers and attend exciting and uplifting sessions and workshops;
  8. Provide a dais for members to tell smaller groups the good things that are going on in their schools and school libraries;
  9. Lobbying for school libraries to local, state, and national government officials (157-158).

All of these reasons may be important for individual school librarians at various points in their careers. At this time of year when school librarians and their advocates are often called into action, the importance of improving one’s communication skills cannot be undervalued. As Hilda Weisburg notes: “One of the unexpected benefits of serving at the state, and even more so on the national level, is what occurs to your vocabulary. You develop a fluency in talking about the value of school librarians and what a strong school library program brings to students, teachers, and the educational community as a whole” (143).

Our advocacy not only requires an articulate voice but collaboration with other library stakeholders as well. Elaborating on Forbes blogger Joe Folkman’s The Six Secrets of Successfully Assertive Leaders, Susan D. Ballard and Blanche Woolls wrote this in their recent Knowledge Quest Blog post Leadership–Assert Yourself! “Look for opportunities to collaborate as that is yet another area in which all school librarians need to step up their game in order to extend their participation in and influence on teaching and learning.”

As a donor to AASL’s 65th Anniversary Campaign, I was invited to give a testimonial.

“AASL has given me a ‘home’ for my passions: learning, literacy, literature, and libraries. I have never hesitated to re-up my membership—even when times were lean. AASL’s professional development opportunities have been worth every dime and every minute I have invested. Through participation, I experienced the benefits of membership. I have made lifelong friends. I have found guidance and support for leading through the library programs in the school communities I served. Along with fellow AASL members who understood my library life, I was able to develop as an educator. Together, we gave back to the Association. Happy 65th Anniversary, AASL! Thank you for being there for me, the librarians who came before me, and those who will follow.”

School Library Month is an optimum time to consider the importance of membership and participation in our national association. Link to the AASL 65th Anniversary page and make a donation to support AASL.

And proudly wear your AASL 65th Anniversary pin and Twibbon.

Works Cited

Ballard, Susan D., and Blanche Woolls. “Leadership — Assert Yourself!” Knowledge Quest Blog. 18 Apr. 2017, http://knowledgequest.aasl.org/leadership-assert-yourself/.

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

Williams, Connie, and Blanche Woolls. “Leadership and Your Professional School Library Association.” The Many Faces of School Library Leadership, 2nd ed., edited by Sharon Coatney and Violet H. Harada, Libraries Unlimited, 2017, pp. 157-169.

Image Credit: Twibbon provided by AASL

#AASL Social Media Superstars

As part of School Library Month, the American Association of School Librarians sponsored a “Social Media Superstars Recognition Program.” The goal of the inaugural program was to acknowledge “the role social media plays in school library promotion” and to recognize “school library professionals who enrich the profession and its work on behalf of students by sharing information, expertise, ideas, encouragement, dialog and inspiration widely via a variety of social media channels” (Habley).

The Social Media Recognition Task Force announced three finalists in seven categories:

1. Sensational Student Voice
2. Advocacy Ambassador
3. Tech Troubadour
4. Program Pioneer
5. Curriculum Champion
6. Leadership Luminary
7. Social Justice Defender

The Task Force will review the comments made in support of the finalists and announce the overall Superstar in each category on Thursday, April 27th at 6:00 p.m. Central.

I was honored to be nominated in the Leadership Luminary category along with Jonathan Werner and Joyce Valenza.

I have followed Jonathan on Twitter for several years. He frequently shares his involvement with the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). In addition to the outstanding teaching and learning in his own school library, Jonathan fills me in on the activities of an organization to which I do not belong. It is vital for our profession to be well represented in highly influential technology and education organizations like ISTE. I especially appreciate Jonathan’s commitment to making sure school librarians are at the table when educational technology is being discussed and exemplary practices are being shared.

There is no doubt in my mind that Joyce deserves the Superstar designation in this category. For over a decade, Joyce’s Neverending Search blog has been a go-to source for so many (everyone?) in the school librarian profession. Joyce generously shares her thinking about issues and practices related to teaching and learning in school libraries. She also writes for a wide audience about her own learning and application of technology tools and digital resources. Joyce’s influence extends far beyond the school librarian community. Her expertise is recognized nationally and internationally. Her blog’s placement on the School Library Journal site ensures her expansive reach. For many school administrators, educational leaders and decision-makers “Joyce Valenza” is synonymous with “extraordinary school librarian.” Joyce shines a positively luminous light on our profession. She is most deserving of this recognition.

As a “Leadership Luminary” nominee, it was informative to me that by far this category received the fewest comments. I believe that members of the profession who commented understood the specificity of the other six categories. Perhaps it was more straight-forward for them to note how finalists in other categories influenced their practice. I suspect that for many the “Leadership Luminary” category lacked that clarity.

To my way of thinking, all of the Social Media Superstars finalists are leaders. In fact, there are many, many additional school librarian leaders who use social media to “enrich the profession and its work on behalf of students by sharing information, expertise, ideas, encouragement, dialog and inspiration widely via a variety of social media channels” (Habley).

As the subtitle of Hilda Weisburg’s Leading for Librarians book proclaims: “There is no other option!”

Through their work, which they promote via social media, these social media superstars have positively influenced their colleagues’ practice of school librarianship. They have promoted our profession and educated others on the essential work that school librarians do every day.

In his 2009 Ted Talk, Simon Sinek said this: “We follow those who lead not for them but for ourselves.”

This recognition program has helped me identify school librarians whose work was not as well known to me as it should have been. I look forward to following and continuing to learn from all of the finalists.

Thank you for your passion and dynamic contributions that promote our profession and help us all grow more knowledgeable and become more recognized for our vital work.

Works Cited

Habley, Jen. “AASL Social Media Superstar Finalists Announced!” Knowledge Quest, American Association of School Librarians, 22 Mar. 2017, knowledgequest.aasl.org/superstar-finalists/. Accessed 17 Apr. 2017.

Sinek, Simon. “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” Ted Talk. Ted.com. Sept. 2009, https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action?utm_source=tedcomshare&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=tedspread Accessed 1 Apr. 2017.

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

Image Credit: Super Librarian by Becca
Used with permission (and with apologies to the men who serve admirably in our profession)

P.S. If AASL and the Social Media Recognition Task Force are seeking feedback on this inaugural program, I would ask them to consider that all of the Superstars in the other six categories are leaders and that the “Leadership Luminary” category may not be necessary in the next round.

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

Unleash Your Passion for School Library Programs

April is School Library Month. This is a time of year when school librarians across the country spotlight the transformational learning and teaching that is happening through school library programs.

School librarians who continually improve their expertise and collaborative skills build effective school library programs. Their exemplary programs are the foundation they need for advocacy. In her chapter entitled “Becoming an Expert Teacher,” Hilda Weisburg writes this: “Many librarians have struggled with getting teachers to work with them but you (school librarian) will never be regarded as a leader if you work alone in the library” (47).

From my personal experience, students’ learning experiences can be especially empowered when they are cotaught in collaboration with classroom teachers and specialists. When educators coteach, they learn from one another and provide more feedback to students, more timely interventions, and support student success. In all ways, two heads and four hands are better than one! (And working with a trio—or more—of educators increases student support exponentially.)

In support of preservice school librarians’ understanding of and commitment to the power of classroom-library coteaching, I curated a collection of video testimonials of classroom teachers and specialists talking about their positive experiences collaborating or coteaching with their school librarian.

Along with Teresa Starrett, preservice principal educator colleague at Texas Woman’s University, I crowdsourced a video of principal testimonials about the essential work of their exemplary school librarians: “Principals Know: School Librarians Are the Heart of the School.”

While it is ideal for students, classroom teachers, principals, parents, and other library stakeholders to advocate for school librarians and school library programs, it behooves school librarians themselves to unleash their passion for the difference their work and the resources and environment of the school library make in empowering students’ learning and teachers’ teaching.

At the invitation of Jennifer LaGarde, school librarians from across the country are providing testimonials about their understanding of future-ready school librarianship. Reedy High School (Frisco, Texas) librarian Nancy Jo Lambert submitted a video response to the question: “What is a future ready librarian?” I believe that Nancy Jo’s response is brilliant because she confirms her focus on curriculum and classroom-library collaboration in order to positively empower student achievement. Brava, Nancy Jo.

Please view Jennifer’s crowdsourced flipgrid and get an idea of how your future-ready colleagues express their future-ready roles.

Here’s to all the school librarians who shout out about the privilege of learning with and from awesome students and collegial educators. Here’s to the librarians whose stakeholders shout out about the indispensable role school librarians and school library programs play in the education of future-ready students.

Happy School Library Month!

Work Cited

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

Image credit:

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

Logo courtesy of the American Association of School Librarians