ON LIBRARIES: Show Me The Evidence

evidence-2 We live with assessment every day.  High stakes tests are used to determine what students know and whether you are doing a good job.  The tension it causes leads many of you to dislike the term, and yet it remains a critical part of teaching and leadership.

When you teach you are always assessing your students’ progress and that is the mark of a good teacher. But how often are you assessing your library program?  Is it as good as it can be?  What can you do to make it better?  That form type of assessment is necessary if you want your stakeholders to recognize your value and that of your program.

You are probably aware of Evidenced-based Practice (EBP) which started in the medical profession, but you may have dismissed it as too complicated to add into your already crowded day. Just because it sounds very academic doesn’t mean it’s difficult.  It’s as hard as you make it—or as easy.

To review for a moment. There are three aspects of EBP.

  • Evidence for practice involves using the research to determine best practices.
  • Evidence in practice is taking the research evidence coupled with your own evidence (possibly from your formative assessments with students) to identify what is necessary to improve your program. Here is where you want to connect what you are doing to the Mission and/or Vision you have for the library. It is how you transform learning.
  • Evidence of practice is the results you get. The data you collect from using evidence in practice showing the outcomes of what you put into practice.assessment

For more on the subject you can go to Ross Todd’s 2008 article in School Library Journal, “The Evidenced-Based Manifesto for School Librarians.” The article points out a number of ways you can gather evidence including student interviews, their reflective journals, and surveys.  While these may still feel like a lot of extra work, you need to build a portfolio documenting your accomplishments. To remind yourself of some of the significant research go to Scholastic’s School Libraries Work 2016.

Although the academics might not fully approve, you can also get your evidence in somewhat less formal ways.  If you are focusing on a specific change in practice, perhaps developing students’ ability to think critically or building their understanding of digital citizenship, you can create exit tickets to determine how close you came to achieving your goals.

Why is all this important?  Many years ago a principal came to me and asked if we could speak confidentially.  I had worked for him at the elementary level before transferring to the high school. He had a problem with his current librarian.  His difficulty was while he could go into any classroom and see whether the teacher was doing a good or poor job.  He was at a loss to do the same with the librarian.

This should sound familiar to those of you who say, “My principal doesn’t know what I do.” I took an hour to go over the many big and small ways a librarian impacts student learning and helps teachers, even good ones, do a better job. Feeling more capable of evaluating the librarian in question who was up for tenure, he went back to his school. (For the record, she wasn’t rehired.  He did have a sense that something was wrong, but he had no resources to substantiate his feelings.)

Action Research is very similar to EBP and you may find it easier to do.  First of all it is not research in the typical sense.  Rather you embark on a series of steps:

  • Identify a problem
  • Gather and interpret data on the problem
  • Create an action to address it
  • Put it the action into practice
  • Evaluate the results

portfolioIn many ways, you may already be doing this, but not formally.  For example, your students turn to Google all the time instead of using more helpful databases.  So you incorporate a mini-lesson on one or two databases in connection with a research project they are doing.  Then you observe them in action and check their work-cited page. All that work but you have no evidence to show for it.

Instead document it from the beginning.  You have identified the information.  Now gather evidence of them at work, even if its anecdotal record what you observe and date your observation.

Your lesson plan is the documentation of the action you put into practice. For the results you can record them in action and their work-cited.  You also use a survey (before and after if you like) to show their past practice in research, their change, and whether they found it worthwhile. You now have evidence of the efficacy of your instruction.

Bring a portfolio of your EBP and /or your Action Research to your annual evaluation.  Even better  – share it with your principal (and your board if you reach out regularly) as you complete it.  Included highlights on your quarterly reports.  Not only will you principal know what you are doing, he or she will value the contribution you are making to the educational community.


ON LIBRARIES: Tackling Controversy

election-2016We are two weeks away from the Presidential election. Social studies teachers usually respond with a short unit on the subject looking at past history and the process itself.  Normally, emotions and opinions run high as the election approaches particularly among older students, some of whom might be eligible to vote for the first time.  However, this campaign has been far from normal.  The level of acrimony coming from supporters on each side is creating stress and arguments within families and among friends.  It’s tempting to step aside and not deal with it.

Yet we have an obligation to tackle it.

We need to find a path that allows our students to learn from what is happening, develop a deeper understanding of this election in context of what has gone before, and discuss it without hostility.  A tall order when our own feelings are also heavily engaged.  To do so, it’s necessary to focus on what you want to achieve with the unit and set ground rules from the beginning.controversy

For all grade levels, formulate the Essential Questions you want students to explore. Possible ones are: Why do we have elections? Should we continue to have an Electoral College? What causes political parties to change their views over time?  Why has this election campaign been so different from previous ones? The first would work well at the elementary level and will have a deeper analysis with high school students.

Once you know the direction you are taking, set up ground rules to ensure the exploration and discussions don’t descend into the rancor that has typified this campaign. A number of indicators in the AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner refer to being able to do such things as “Maintain a critical stance by questioning the validity and accuracy of all information” (1.2.4), “Consider diverse and global perspectives in drawing conclusions” (2.3.2), and “Use knowledge and information skills and dispositions to engage in public conversation and debate around issues of common concern.” (3.3.3).great-pumpkin

In your first meeting with students have a brief discussion as to why ground rules are necessary. Acknowledge the emotions common this year about the election and the candidates.  Ask students to raise their hand without any comment if they feel strongly in favor of one of the two major candidates.  Then let them know there will be no attempts to change anyone’s preference and there will be no criticism of the candidates. Unlike what is happening on television, social media, and news outlets, the discussions will stay on target.  There is to be no name-calling, shouting over each other, or accusations about the other candidate.  Be open to having students add any ground rules.

If students are exploring the candidates in this election, have them work in pairs to research the candidate they prefer.  Using a lesson plan that ties into your Essential Question(s) direct students to get started.  One resource to use is Scholastic’s website or check out Edutopia’s Election 2016: Lesson Plans and Digital Resources for Educators.

factsAlthough at a far higher level than usual, candidates and their supporters regularly accuse the other side of lying. News media do fact checking, but students should learn how to so on their own. Get Your Facts Right – 6 Fact Checking Websites That Help You Know the Truth has three to verify political statements plus other for email scams and hoaxes.

When your project is complete and students come together for a final discussion and sharing, review the ground rules which should be posted. For those old enough to use the political fact checkers, have them discuss what they learned from it.  As much as possible, ask if they have verified a statement. Wrap it up with their responses to the Essential Question(s).

How are you handling this election?  What are you teaching your students?





ON LIBRARIES: What’s Your Philosophy?

philosophersI’ve blogged about writing Mission and Vision Statements because I think they are vital for keeping grounded and focused in the hectic day-to-day life of a school librarian. However, I haven’t discussed the importance of a having a written philosophy.  It’s been included in several of the books I’ve written for ALA Editions, and I have students in my Management of the School Library course do one, so I think it’s time to put the need for one in the spotlight.

A philosophy is a statement of beliefs.  It identifies your core values. The AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner begins with nine “Common Beliefs” which in many ways constitutes the beliefs of the profession. These beliefs are a good place to begin framing your own philosophy.  What is it you hold dear?  What do you feel is essential to your personal definition of what a library is?  What are you willing to fight for?libraries-transform

I embrace all nine Common Beliefs but the one that means the most to me is “Equitable access is a key component for education.”  I couple it with another core value of mine,   “The library is a safe, welcoming place for all its users.”  The two don’t seem to be linked, but in many cases they are and I deeply believe that when the two come together, it can transform the life of a child.

“Equitable access is a key component for education” is a growing concern as the digital divide continues to increase.  Students who don’t have Internet or even a computer at home are at a serious disadvantage. We get stories of students who hang around the school where they can pick up free Wi-Fi for their phones so they can do searches for their classes.  But homework cannot be done on a phone.

As a librarian, I believe you have an obligation to do whatever you can to help those students.  It may mean getting a grant to have the library open after school to accommodate those without home computers.  It means making teachers and administrators aware of the problem.  Too often we take access to the Internet as a given.  The flipped classroom is a great idea.  But it doesn’t work for those who can’t go online.


A basic truth is that schools and school libraries are not funded equably, sometimes even within the same district.  We always assume this is true in urban areas but rural communities are often in even worse shape. The lack of access to computers is only one aspect of the problem. The ones who need the resources the most are the very students whose schools have libraries with aging collections, if they have a library, and quite possibly no librarian.

ALA has recognized this lack of “equitable access” and is in the process of drafting a resolution on “Equity for All to School Libraries Community.”  It’s still be worked on, but the key points are to have ALA work to get certified librarians in all schools, equitable funding for all school libraries, and work with research committees to document the disproportionate cutting of resources affecting racial and economic populations.

Those are lofty goals. If and when it’s passed it won’t compel districts to hire librarians or fund libraries.  But by putting the weight and lobbying power of ALA behind the resolution, we can raise awareness. And as ESSA is being fleshed out, we have a good chance of making some significant changes. (Be sure you keep aware of what ALA/AASL is doing to keep librarians and libraries positioned to take advantage of all that is in ESSA.)

“Equitable access is a key component for education” is also about intellectual freedom.  I have blogged about Censorship and the lonely courage of a librarian who chooses to purchase a book, recognizing the subject matter is one that may raise challenges. We are all aware that a LGBTQ book will bring out censors in many communities.  But those are the very places where a LGBTQ child feels most vulnerable.

A book, fiction or nonfiction, can help those kids see they are not alone. They can even discover they are “normal.” It can direct them to sources for help and advice.  And this gets back to my other core value of the library being a safe, welcoming environment.


We have heard from authors and others that the library was a sanctuary for them.  A place where they sometimes could hide and feel safe from whatever and whoever threatened them.  We know schools have anti-bullying codes, but much happens in a school that flies under adult radar.

As a librarian, keep a watchful eye for those who escape to your library.  Sometimes you can have them become “library assistants,” letting them avoid lunch in the cafeteria. You may find you become a confidante and then must travel a careful line between holding their confidentiality and knowing when to contact a guidance counselor or an administrator.  You once again are making lonely decisions.  I have made a few such in my career.  The student never knew how nervous I was, trying to do what was best for the child without violating school policies.

In making these tough decisions it pays to have a written philosophy. It’s longer than a Mission or a Vision, so you have room to include all the beliefs you have about what a library needs to be.  You can mention collaboration, and opening students’ minds to the world around them, helping them become independent learners and critical thinkers.

But you also must include how the library must feel for all its users, whether the child who is keeping his or her homelessness secret, a kid whose parent is  in prison, or one who is abused at home.  The library must be there for them, and so must you be.

As you write your philosophy, you will find out who you are at your core. You may eve revise your Mission or Vision as a result.

Do you have a philosophy?  What is the most important belief in it?



ON LIBRARIES: Why Librarians

neil-gaiman-quoteTight budgets have given rise to administrators wondering why they need librarians.  Too often they decide librarians aren’t really necessary.  We know otherwise, and if we want to change that mindset we need to speak out where the power stakeholders can hear us.

A few days ago I was contacted by a librarian who was going to be speaking to a county superintendents’ meeting.  She had fifteen minutes to answer that question.  It was a wonderful opportunity and somewhat intimidating at the same time.  At least she didn’t have a problem addressing a large group.

Although you may cringe at the thought of speaking before such a group it is something you all should consider.  In order to be a leader – and leadership is not an option, it’s a job responsibility –you must be willing to step out of your comfort zone.  There are opportunities to get the word out.  Sometimes you can have five or ten minutes at a Board of Education meeting.  Ask to speak at an administrators’ meeting.  The parent teacher organization at your school is another possibility.ray-bradbury

Once you have found an audience, you need to prepare your talk.  Look through your photographs of students at work in the library.  Short videos are good as well.  Don’t have them? Take them now so you will be ready.

Use Piktochart or Google slides as a backdrop to your talk. Make sure it isn’t text heavy. Have an unexpected beginning to capture attention.  Pose the question that’s in back of their minds:

Who needs librarians? 

We have the Internet.  Kids are wedded to their devices anyway.

Libraries and librarians are nice, but in time of tight budgets we can only afford vital.

Now answer your question. “Guess what?  Librarians are more vital than ever.”

neil-gaiman-quote-2From that you segue into the heart of your presentation saying something like, “Rather than giving you a long list of what librarians bring to students and the educational community as a whole, I will give you two big ideas”

The idea here is to keep it simple and make an impact. Point to the two strong areas of school library programs.

  • Love of Reading
  • Lifetime learners

First, the love of reading. Acknowledge that your audience may be thinking you don’t need a librarian for that.  Classroom teachers and literacy coaches handle that.

Not exactly.barbara-kingsolver

They teach HOW to read.  Librarians make kids WANT to read and that makes all the difference in the world.  From the elementary librarian reading stories that enchant kids while developing their visual literacy and ability to derive meaning beyond the text to the high school librarian who knows it’s never too late to connect a kid with just the right book that matches his/her interests and ability, the school librarian’s passion for the magic of books is contagious and kids get it.

(Can you think of a personal story that illustrates that.  Tell it.  Stories make the biggest impact.)

 Correct another misconception by saying, “and before you suggest that the kids want everything online, Pew Research studies have confirmed several times (as does the experiences of building librarians) that kids prefer to read print books.

cutting-hospitalsAs educators we all know “kids who read succeed.”  It’s true for many reasons.  In addition to reading building vocabulary and writing ability, it also expands awareness of the larger world, creating understanding of different times, places, and ways of life in a manner no textbook can ever convey.  Because books are personal.

And the second reason we need librarians is the importance of cultivating lifetime learners. The world is changing rapidly.  What students learn today can be obsolete in a few years. It’s not the content that’s important. In 2005, Thomas L. Friedman in The World is Flat said the most important skill we need to teach our kids is HOW to learn.

And that’s what a librarian does.

Working collaborative, cooperatively, or solo if necessary, the librarian creates learning experiences that have students discovering how to find out about a topic they are interested in and do so ACCURATELY.

Through giving students room to choose what aspect of a topic they want to explore – which makes it of PERSONAL interest to them—and then guiding them through a research process which leads them to deeper and critical  thinking about their topic, and has them produce new knowledge.  Our students find out that the questioning process is more significant then answering test questions correctly.  If a student merely answers teacher generated questions they prove they have mastered the content – that which is already known – by developing questions and finding solutions they become innovators – and that is where the future lies.neil-gaiman-quote-3

(Again, add any personal stories you have here.)

Interestingly enough, numerous research studies have shown that students in schools with a certified librarian and an active library program do better on high stakes tests. Download School Libraries Work and give out copies.  If you can manage it also give them a print copy of AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner (bundle of 12 for $15.00). Tell them to look at p.3 to see just the 4 standards.)

 Move toward your closing by saying, a school librarian effects the whole school community thorough tech integration, being an Instructional Partner, and giving professional development for teachers – and there are research studies to show that. (See ONE COMMON GOAL: STUDENT LEARNING Report of Findings and Recommendations of the New Jersey School Library Survey Phase 2  p.23 and after for how the library affects the school culture.)

dr-who-quoteFor your closing go to the ALA initiative Libraries Transform for some great quotes. Searching Libraries Transform on Google gives you images you can copy.

Also go to http://www.ala.org/aasl/advocacy/tools/transforming and download the infographic.

Have you made a presentation on Why Librarians?  If not, where can you give one?