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With Larry Ferlazzo

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Teaching Opinion

Response: ‘Just as School Libraries Have Changed, So Have School Librarians’

By Larry Ferlazzo — August 11, 2019 15 min read
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(This is the first post in a two-part series)

The new question-of-the-week is:

What are some “best practices” for school librarians and/or for how teachers work with school librarians?

A high percentage of schools (though, unfortunately, not all of them) have libraries and librarians. My suspicion, however, is that teachers and librarians often do not maximize collaborative possibilities that could be open to both of them—and I include myself in that category.

This series will explore ideas to change that dynamic.

Today, Teresa Diaz, Bud Hunt, Marci K. Harvey, Jennifer Orr, and Jen Schwanke offer their suggestions.

Though I’m not hosting radio shows this summer to accompany blog posts, you can still listen to past BAM! Radio Shows. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

Response From Teresa Diaz

Teresa Diaz is currently a school library media specialist at “Tex” Hill Middle School in San Antonio, with 20+ years experience as a teacher and librarian in both public and private middle and high schools. Also a Google Certified Innovator and an Adobe Campus Leader, she’s interested in exploring the role Information literacy plays in today’s digital world and blogs at Curioussquid.net. Follow her on Twitter at @teresa_diaz:

So What Can Your Librarian Do For You (And Your Students)?

As we educators tackle the challenge of making our current learners truly Future Ready, so do librarians. Moving beyond maker spaces and digital collections, your librarian is ready to “lead, teach, and support” your professional and campus goals in myriad ways through her “professional practice, programs, and spaces.” Your school librarian is the original Authentic Intelligence who can often turn problems into opportunities for deeper learning in today’s digitally-charged Innovation Era.

Even if your school or district is more driven by data, motivated by buzzwords like “student achievement,” and measures learning outcomes via test scores, your librarian can deal with that dilemma, too. School librarians have repeatedly been shown to improve student achievement, sometimes simply by being on a campus. That’s a huge advantage that not even the proximity of pocket technologies like smart phones can compete with.

Here’s a basic overview of what your school librarian can do for you, loosely modeled on the new AASL Standards Framework for Learners:

Inquiry: Librarians are at the heart of inquiry-based learning and are often equipped with several strategies, approaches, and methods that cultivate critical thinking, such as PBL/CBL, Guided Inquiry, and Design Thinking—likewise adept at integrating essential literacies such Information Literacy, Digital Literacy, Media and News Literacy, and of course, fundamental Literacy.

Collaboration: Librarians are strong instructional partners who in most cases have previous training and certification as classroom teachers. From brainstorming resources for revamping a favorite lesson to co-teaching a new PBL project or designing ongoing Genius Hour time, your librarian is always ready and able to collaborate at any level of depth you feel comfortable with.

Curation: Librarians are born curators—we’ve been doing it since the beginning of the profession and can help learners navigate their own curation process across all types of media. This also includes the reflexive and recursive development of multiple literacies, such as Information/Digital Literacy, Media, and News Literacy.

Exploration: Librarians offer exploratory and maker-space-based opportunities for learners either as distinct and independent experiences or integrated into your curriculum. Librarians are also expert technology integrationists, adding new tools to their digital toolbox for future, relevant use.

Digital Citizenship and Digital Leadership: Librarians are key advocates for Intellectual Freedom and responsible and ethical creating and sharing of products and information via copyright and Creative Commons instruction, embedding these elements into what we already do.

Leveraging Your Librarian

So how can you leverage your school librarian for learning?

Maybe start by doing a quick self-survey using these questions.

Have you ever asked your campus librarian to ...

  • suggest new resources to add to your tried-and-true, favorite project, assignment, or activity?
  • create a website or digital portal of resources to share with students?
  • teach you how to use the latest tech tool you saw on Twitter?
  • find a current article or book dealing with a cutting-edge instructional trend?
  • think of an innovative way for students to talk about and share what they are reading?
  • join the planning team for an upcoming unit among your grade-level/content area?
  • teach mini-lessons on literacy skills you feel are challenging for your students, from basic search techniques to vetting fake news sources to creating their own Creative Commons license?
  • brainstorm a more interactive/online/flipped classroom/blended-learning way to teach ?
  • co-teach a lesson on creating a positive Digital Footprint?
  • ideate a fun way to use that new green-screen app with your students?

Just as school libraries have changed, so have school librarians. If you are lucky enough to have one at your campus or district in some capacity, take advantage and exploit this hidden-in-plain-sight organic resource to grow the learning experiences and outcomes for your students.

Response From Bud Hunt

Bud Hunt is an instructional technologist, a teacher, and an instructional coach. He is the IT & technical services manager for the Clearview Library District and a teacher-consultant with the Colorado State University Writing Project. He works with schools and libraries to more thoughtfully integrate technologies that serve learners and learning. You can find him online at http://budtheteacher.com:

Although I’ve been working with and inside libraries in some form or fashion for almost 10 years now, I need to make one thing immediately clear.

I am not a librarian. I serve librarians in various capacities as a technologist, a teacher, and an instructional coach. What librarians do for children and teachers within schools or in stand-alone public libraries is magical. And someone needs to look out for librarians, too. Like supporting teachers, it’s an honor to get to do so.

As someone who has supported both teachers and librarians, what follows are some tips for successful collaboration between the classroom and the library, be it the school library down the hall or the public library down the street. Healthy partnerships between both spaces bring together the best of different worlds and create powerful opportunities for students and for learning.

1. Voice your need or desire. While librarians are magical, and have many amazing powers, they cannot yet read minds. Declaring a desire to work with or in the library is an important first step to collaboration. And it’s better taken with as much advance notice as possible. Once a librarian knows about your need or problem or wonder, it becomes one they’ll partner around. The attention of a librarian is a powerful thing.

2. Be prepared to pivot. While you may think you want to have the librarian partner with you to practice research skills (and you do!), you may find that your librarian partner has some different ideas about how to work together. Be prepared for this and be open to the possibilities. Many of the best projects I’ve seen come out of partnership looked very different from their descriptions in initial conversations.

3. Talk about the work with others. What happens in classrooms and libraries doesn’t make it beyond those spaces. But other teachers and parents and students and friends need to hear about powerful stories of learning, in part to know about the work you accomplished, but also to inspire them to try new things, explore new places, and make new friends, at the library and elsewhere.

Response From Marci K. Harvey

Marci K. Harvey teaches physics and physical science at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, N.C. She is a national-board-certified teacher and is a 2017 N.C. Teacher Voice Fellow with Hope Street Group. Marci is a Kenan Fellow alumni and is chair of the N.C. Association of Educators NBCT Caucus Network:

As a high school science teacher, the library is often not the first resource I utilize when doing research with my students. Don’t get me wrong, the library holds a wealth of information. But think about the advances that have been made in science in the last 10 years: the Mars rover Curiosity finding underground water on Mars, space-travel rockets produced by private companies like SpaceX, or medical use of gene editing and 3D printed replacement organs, just to name a few. Many high school libraries have collections with an average age older than our students, mainly due to lack of funding for current publications. Scientific knowledge is increasing at an exponential rate, and purchasing resources that may be outdated in a few short years is not a wise use of funds for limited library budgets.

Librarians are also a wealth of information, and students need their instruction to learn effective research skills and guidelines for writing. So how can teachers work with school librarians to ensure students visit the library and benefit from their expertise?

I bring the librarian into my classroom first. As students are beginning a research project, my librarian comes to class to teach them how to access online resources that our library subscribes to as well as the print resources housed in our library. She puts them on databases, opposing viewpoints, and online scientific journals to teach them how to effectively search for topics. She explains how to properly cite information and use pieces from other writers without plagiarizing. Finally, the librarian uses the checklist I have developed for my assignment to ensure students will be successful during their research.

The impact of planning this project with my librarian is evident when students begin working in the library. They have been prepped to explore both print and virtual resources and are able to effectively search topics and evaluate the quality of resources. The librarian has completed the vital task of explaining the project with my rubric and reviewing the importance of citations and plagiarism. When students are in the library, they take advantage of their relationship with the librarian and recognize her value in their work. They engage both of us when they have questions, and their work progresses smoothly because they have been prepared.

Utilizing the librarian as a co-teacher for a project validates their expertise for students. Often, students do not realize the academic skills that librarians possess or that many of them are outstanding teachers. For me, using the librarian to help design the project ensures I stay updated on library resources. This allows me to expand the options for student research and not rely only on the often outdated science information housed in the library.

Response From Jennifer Orr

Jennifer Orr has been an elementary school classroom teacher for 20 years in Title I schools in Northern Virginia:

School librarians are, in many ways, the most valuable resource a school has. In an elementary school, librarians often see every student pretty regularly, either for lessons or when they visit the library to check out books. Librarians know a school and its students at least as well as anyone else there, often better. Knowing your librarian well is worth your time for this reason in addition to others.

Another reason is that librarians are experts on literature for children and young people. They read Horn Book and School Library Journal and other publications, both physical and online, to stay on top of new books being published. In this way, librarians are a wealth of knowledge about texts. They can help you find the best resources for lessons you are teaching and many options for your young readers.

This means your librarian is a colleague with whom you should work whenever you can.

  • Go to your librarian to find text and online resources to support your lessons.
  • Collaborate with your librarian to co-teach lessons on research, nonfiction reading strategies, finding the right book, and writing.
  • Work with your librarian to highlight student projects: Display writing in the library, post student projects in display cases, etc.
  • Ask your librarian about additional resources in your school, district, and community. Often librarians know about resources available from local museums, libraries, or nature centers.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of ways to work with your librarian. The big idea, the main take-away, is that your librarian is one of your greatest resources. Anytime you’re feeling a need for support, ideas, collaboration, or new resources, your librarian should be one of the first folks to whom you turn.

Response From Jen Schwanke

Ms. Jen Schwanke has served as a teacher and administrator at the elementary and middle school level for 20 years. She has established her voice in school leadership by contributing frequently to literacy and leadership publications and has presented at multiple conferences at the state and national level. She is the author of the book, You’re the Principal! Now What? Strategies and Solutions for New School Leaders, published by ASCD:

People sometimes say, “Elementary librarians must have the best job in the world.” In a lot of ways, it’s true. The library is the place of endless books, simple joy, and limitless discovery. It is often the heart and hub of a school, a cogwheel for positive school culture.

And with that comes the difficulty. It requires patience, kindness, diligence, organization, and a willingness to carry the responsibility of being the center of the building—sometimes literally, but almost always figuratively. It’s exhausting to be the person who is always “up,” always energetic, always available.

It’s important, though. How students perceive the library is something they will carry with them forever. If we were to line up a thousand people and ask each to share a memory of their school librarian, they could all do it. A thousand stories of connection—positive or negative—that shaped that person’s thoughts about the school library and, thus, libraries in general. It’s no small thing.

Here are four ideas to help librarians manage the responsibility.

Stay close to your purpose. I once worked with a librarian who posted this quote above her workstation: “Be the reason someone smiles today.” She explained, “This isn’t about being funny. It’s about helping out. Helping a teacher find a mentor text she needs to tie her lesson together or ordering a new series for some readers who need a spark. I might have the technology tool to help with efficiency or an online link to spark a conversation between a parent and a student. I never know what thing it might be—but my job is to make the day better for someone.”

Be kind. Anyone who has known a cranky librarian knows how much it stings. As a young student, I had two different school librarian experiences: One was kind, sweet, and hoarded Beverly Cleary books for me; the other was angry, grumpy, and loved nothing more than her “silent period,” wherein no one within earshot was to utter a single sound. It’s obvious, here, which approach was best—and which one should never exist.

Chill out. ooks are going to disappear. Kids are going to need to be reminded eight thousand times how to check out materials, where to return books, how to find elephant books. Over and over and over and over. If a librarian is tightly wound about it, these things are still going to happen—but with infinitely more angst. It helps to remember that it’s all going to be OK.

Accept humans for what they are. Some teachers plan too far ahead, asking for help and resources way before they’re needed. Some wait till the last minute, skidding into the library just before class needing a rack of books and a set of mobile devices right now. Some don’t utilize the library at all, while others expect the librarian to work as a notional co-teacher. The same goes for students. The best approach for a librarian in this tug-of-war is to make peace with it. Nothing will change it ... so accept, appreciate, and move on.

When people assume that being a school librarian is the best job in the world, they aren’t far off—provided the librarian has learned to enjoy and embrace the complications and hard work that comes with the job. With the right approach and strategies, the school librarian can make the library a favorite place for everyone to be.

Thanks to Teresa, Bud, Marcii, Jennifer, and Jen for their contributions.

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

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I am also creating a Twitter list including all contributors to this column.

Look for Part Two in a few days.

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