There are pros and cons to personalizing learning. There is a danger of reinforcing our personal beliefs at the exclusion of a more comprehensive education. There must be some dynamic tension to maintain a balance.
One of the titles on my summer reading list is Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Media Programs (AASL, 2009). I had purchased the book when it was released and skimmed it many times. This summer my goal was to read and reflect upon its ideas and develop some sort of action plan for implementation. Of all the ideas in this book, the idea that struck my greatest was the five roles of the library media specialist. I was surprised to see that the number one role of the SLMS is that of a leader. What follows are my reflections of how I have evolved in that role across the span of my career.
Leader: The SLMS is charged with infusing 21st Century skills throughout the school. “Leadership requires increased professional commitment and thorough knowledge of the challenges and opportunities facing the profession.”
Being a leader is a challenge for someone who is a committee of one in her school. It is especially a challenge for a 23 year-old who lacks experience in the world of education. When I took my first job I didn’t express my opinions on education. I really didn’t have any. After I had my baby two years later, I became a better teacher, but I remained very deferential in the patriarchal school in which I was employed.
In my next teaching job I felt bullied by the hostile forces around me. I was hired as a planning period teacher, but I did not understand that at the time. I did not understand how building a quality library could not be important to the teachers who were not willing to give up the very meager library allotment that they had historically spent because there was no library or librarian prior to my being employed. The principal was a very nice man who told me, yes, I could spend the allotment. He told the classroom teachers they could spend the same money I had already encumbered.
After a year and a quarter of unbearable isolation and tension, I retreated to the public library, where I was nurtured and encouraged. I took on many special projects and most importantly earned my Masters in Library and Information from the University of South Carolina. Though I never stepped foot on campus, I believe I felt more rapport with my professors and colleagues through this early distance learning experience than I ever did in face-to-face college classes. The support and encouragement I received during this time is fundamentally important to the professional I am today.
Degree in hand, I left the public library and took a position as the library media specialist in my daughters’ elementary school. The principal was phenomenal and handed me the responsibility of building both our school’s library and technology program. I put in a lot of hours, but I developed a plan and vision for what our students should have. The happy faculty at this school trusted my judgement and adopted new measures even with hesitation.
My daughters are now 29 and 26, but I am still in the same elementary. The principal retired and was replaced by two other wonderful administrators who both empowered me and trusted my vision. I have grown tremendously under their guidance.
I think overall these stories of my career have two tracks of opposing conditions that contrast young me from the 55 year old that is writing for you now. The first, less imposing condition is inexperience versus experience. No one can help you gain experience but yourself.
The second, more important condition, isolation versus nurture, is something I can do something about. I can lead and be supportive of our younger colleagues and give them opportunities to grow and eventually become leaders in my district.
Developing leaders is essential for the continuation of our profession. My goal is to decrease the isolation and develop a sense of importance in each LMS I meet. Not only do I want them to feel secure in their jobs, I want them to trust their visions on a national agenda for school libraries. Our kids are going to need strong librarians to support their rights to intellectual freedom.
For the past year I have served as chair of the West Virginia Library Association’s School Library Division. In this capacity I have had the opportunity to reach beyond my district. I am anxious to form coalitions with my colleagues to strengthen the school library programs for all West Virginia’s children. A huge lesson I have learned over the past 30 years is that I cannot accomplish my vision on my own.
Will you join me?
Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Media Programs. Chicago, IL: American Association of School Librarians, 2009. Print.
Jennifer Northrup, The Candid Librarian, recently posted her reflections on the reputation of school library media specialists, noting that “one bad apple” hurts the reputation of the group collectively. Of course she is right. I could have written that post myself.
She noted that people who don’t see the value of their library media specialists have not seen a good one in action. But sometimes value is hard to judge, depending on what a particular school or district wants from their librarians. In some schools we are expected to be planning period teachers; in others we are in charge of making all technology work. The expectations others have of us seldom resemble what we see as “our jobs.
Jennifer asks what we can do to repair the visibility, prestige and status of our profession that is “misunderstood and often misrepresented.” Her answer is to make all of the perceived duties of a media coordinator secondary to the learning needs of the students.
I agree, but I wager that it is not enough. Even if we as individual, isolated LMSs do the most stellar jobs of “preparing our students for the 21st century,” chances are no one will stand up and a say, “By darn, our kids would be living in the 20th century without her!”
No, we have to be loud, and we must be united. Here are some of the things I am trying to do to raise “appreciation” of us misunderstood people.
First of all, I have somewhat quietly usurped professional development for my district. Again, Jennifer is correct: student learning comes first. But how can we address our commitment to embedding and embodying Standards for the 21st Century Learner when no one in our buildings know such standards exist? For that matter, when some of our LMSs don’t know they exist?
My resolve is that my fellow LMSs use adoption of the Common Core as the springboard for talking about what we teach and how we teach it. We have spent several sessions mapping our state library media standards to AASL’s Crosswalk to the Common Core. My goal is to have us develop at least 10 common lessons, at least in terms of content and standards, for each grade level K-5. Then, we need to study the delivery of these lessons to both our faculty and our students.We need to collectively engage in reflection of these lessons and find ways to improve our craft. Then we need to share our craft with students, teachers, parents and administrators. Loudly and in unison.
I began spreading the gospel by attending a 4th grade team planning meeting at my school in mid-June, after the children’s last day was past. I proposed to them a year long collaboration built upon three or four PBL units. I explained that I hoped to be put into the planning period rotation for the fourth grade but that in addition I wanted more from them: I wanted a half-hour before each teacher’s plan to co-teach the skills and dispositions needed to carry out the PBL units. More shockingly, I asked them if information skills was not inserted into the specials rotation, that I could have their classes for two half hour periods each week. They agreed.
I want to use this proposed 4th grade experience as a showcase for collaboration and benefits of a streamlined library media curriculum. When my data is collected and organized, I intend to spread the gospel up the food chain to the district administration. I want to show them what a real collaboration built upon shared goals can do for student learning. And I want each of the librarians in my district to do the same.
Ultimately, I think that by showcasing what is good about our profession – loudly and shamelessly – will call attention to those “rotten apples” in our ranks. Perhaps principals will start questioning why the rotten ones are not living up to or teaching the standards. And perhaps, once administrators know the possibilities, there will be impetus to insist on change.
I think for school library media specialists a PLN (professional or personal learning network) is essential. After all, unless we work in a large school with several LMSs or support staff, no one knows are jobs but us. Consequently the rich staff development that is offered at our schools or our districts, while relevant to us in our teaching and administrative contexts, provides little information that is specific to the totality of our jobs.
Enter the PLN. One of the really wonderful aspects of the PLN is that we are in control of its design. We get to choose whom we follow, like and respond. The freedom to choose allows us to tailor our PLNs to target our interests and needs. Your PLN and mine may have some common members, but our total experiences are diverse and ideally carefully suited to each us.
The graphic above provides very useful tips for developing a PLN, but I would like to add one more: Paper.li. Paper.li is a news aggregator that collects the information posted by those you want to follow. This allows you to combine the works of the key people you follow into one site, which produces a newspaper-type display. This saves you a lot of time going through individual tweets and blogs. You can select up to 25 sources for Paper.li to curate. If you would like to see some examples relevant to school library media specialists, I suggest The Shannon Miller Daily, Technically Invisible Daily, The Joyce Valenza Daily, and LibraryCafe. My paper.li is InfoGod*
Once you form your PLN it is important to set aside time to nurture and invest in the professional relationships. This is easy to do during the summer, but much more difficult during the school year. Aim for 30 minutes a day, or perhaps a couple hours on the weekend.
I definitely believe you should start a blog, write regularly and announce your published posts to your PLN via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, whatever. Yes, at first putting your thoughts “out there” is kind of scary. You don’t have to publish everything you write, but those working through NBCT candidacy should write and publish as often as possible. Invite feedback on your insights, musings and reflections. Reaching out to other LMSs, teachers and education leaders is good for candidacy process.
A PLN is a valuable source to the NBCT candidate. Is your PLN in place? Is it meeting your needs? Consider some of the tips found in this image. Image source:http://www.edudemic.com/2013/07/10-simple-ways-to-build-your-personal-learning-network/
For more than a decade school library media specialists seeking National Board Certification have sought advice using Yahoo’s library media group. Earlier this month the group’s founder, Cynthia Wilson, announced she would suspend the board due to her retirement. While many rushed to congratulate and thank Cynthia for her service to our profession, several wondered how new candidates could be supported. Could we transfer ownership of the Yahoo group? Could we transfer files?
After reading several posts, I suggested that perhaps we should choose another vehicle for the group. Yahoo has served us well, but there have been many advances to social media since the group’s inception. I was thinking that perhaps Edmodo or Collaborize Classroom might be appropriate venues.
Then someone suggested Google Hangouts. As I was investigating this possibility, I ran across another: Google Communities. I created a mock community for Yahoo members to comment on, and instantly the idea was adopted. Before the community was 24 hours old, it had 17 members and countless files copied and uploaded from the Yahoo site – with Cynthia Wilson’s blessing.
Now is the time to let new library NBCT candidates know about our community, Library NBCT Support. In order to join this private community, you must first create a Google+ account. After that, search the Communities forum for our group and request membership. One of the three moderators will respond as soon as possible.
My most sincere hope is that we can carry on the great service that Cynthia’s Yahoo group provided so many of the current library media NBCTs. If you are currently certified as an NBCT in library media, please join our community and help our colleagues achieve.
As for this blog, I hope to use this space to comment on my professional readings and reflect on how they might relate to the NB process. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.
Lynda “Suzie” Martin, NBCT 2009