ON LIBRARIES: Mixed Messages

mixed messages2We are not always aware of the unintended messages we send.  Students in particular pick up on these, but others do as well.

I remember a fourth grade teacher who was who wanted her students to be good at writing and to love it. She worked hard on her writing lesson plans so that her students would enjoy the process.  One day I stopped by her class to tell her something important.  She met me at her door, and we talked while she kept an eye on her students.  The conversation ran a little longer than I had anticipated.  The kids got antsy and began talking with each other. The teacher turned to the class and said, “Is this how you behave when I am speaking with a guest?  Settle down right now or you will be writing two paragraphs on how we act when I have a visitor.”  With that one comment she told students writing is not fun; it is a punishment.

The teacher unthinkingly reverted to a “teacher default” response.  It is sometimes said that teachers teach as they were taught, not as they were taught to teach. I don’t believe that’s true most of the time, but when stressed or upset they say and do things the way teachers used to do.  It’s like the jokes about women becoming their mothers and using the same phrases as the previous generation.unclear

With Students

The first Common Belief in the AASL Standards for the 21st– Century Learner is “Reading is a window to the world.” Many of you include “developing lifelong readers” or some variant of that in your Mission Statement.  Even without it in the statement, it’s a goal we hold very strongly.  How do you send that message?

You probably put new books out on display.  You talk to students about what they are reading. You recommend titles to students based on what you know of their likes and interests. And you share your own enthusiasm for books. All are wonderful way to send your message.

But do you then do something that sends a very different message?  I know countless elementary librarians who won’t let kids borrow a book if they have one (or more) overdues.  The message becomes: getting books back on the shelf is more important than having the student read.

The argument offered in most cases is you are teaching the child to be responsible. And besides, you can’t afford to lose books. What is more important, responsibility or developing their reading habit?  Of even greater concern to me is imposing a flat rule without taking into consideration different circumstances kids have.  For example children of divorce may their divide time between two houses. It’s easy to leave a book at one parent’s home and not be able to get it back in time for their “library day.” Give kids some leeway. Ask them when they plan to bring it back.  Have a reminder card you can give them to help.  Instead of requiring responsibility, help them learn it.

rulesIf you are helping a student and a teacher comes in wanting to talk with you do you end your conversation with the kid quickly so you can respond to the teacher?  This lets the student know that he/she is not as important to you as adults are.

Do you want your library to be a safe, welcoming environment?  The phrase shows up often in Vision Statements, but posted library rules – a list of “no’s” usually – sends a message that behavior is what really counts. Do students have to speak softly while teachers can speak loudly?  Watch for your double standards.

With Teachers

Librarians often resent they are not regarded as teachers.  You teach every day and with all types of students.  Sometimes it’s a whole class.  Other times it’s one-on-one. Are you sending the message that you are a teacher or are you sending another message?

I witnessed the worst example of this a number of years ago.  Teachers have always dropped into the libraries where I worked.  Sometimes to plan a lesson, but often to gripe about something.  While I never joined the complaints, I was a listening ear letting them know I recognized how upset they were.  One time, my co-librarian was listening with me to a teacher’s mini-rant.  Her response was, “You teachers….”  And I knew she had created a gulf between her and the teacher.  It always needs to be “We teachers,” in what you say and how you behave.frustrated

Unless we start noticing on some of our instinctive responses we are likely to send mixed messages to students, teachers, parents, and administrators.  Think about how you want to be perceived by these members of the educational community.  Then work to be sure your interactions promote it.

Advertisements

ON LIBRARIES: It Begins With Relationships

build bridgesWhy is one librarian successful and another isn’t?  They can both work in the same district.  Their training and years on the job can be about the same.  The successful librarian might even be a newbie with lots to learn and the other with many years of experience.  Somehow the library program of one continues to grow and flourish while the other languishes.  Teachers resist using it, and when they do prefer to handle their students without any help from the librarian.  At the elementary level, the closest they come to the library is when they drop their students off and pick them up.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  I have seen this favorite quote of mine attributed to a number of different sources, but the oldest citing I have gives Theodore Roosevelt the credit. What is important is that it is true.

I have said it many times, in the books I have written and the presentations I have given, “We are in the relationship business.” What I haven’t said is that if you don’t know how to build relationships you will be out business.

Librarians don’t have the luxury of not liking someone on the staff.  The job responsibility requires you to get along with everyone.  Not an always simple task when there are people who grate on your nerves and never have a nice word to say.  Yet it can and must be done. Let’s begin with some easy relationship building.

Relationships with Studentsworking with kids

You don’t grade them. They are not “yours.”  If they don’t like you, they will not only make it obvious, they will make your life miserable. Discipline problems grow and from your principal’s perspective you cannot manage your “classroom.”

While any kid can act out on a bad day, that should not be the norm.   Start by giving respect and you will get it back. Many librarians don’t realize how often they disrespect a student.  An adult comes in, and they break off any conversation, making it obvious to the student that you consider adults more important and worthy of your time. You help teachers find information, but you direct students where to go or give them a mini-lesson. Yes, you are there to teach them, but are you following up to see if they found what they needed?  Wouldn’t the lesson work just as well if you gave it and modeled the steps with them?

Do you make an effort to get to know students, particularly those who come to the library frequently? Do you know their interests? The books, authors, and activities they like?  Have you ever said to one of them, “I’m so glad you came in. We just got some new books, and I have one I am sure you will like. Do you want to see it?”  Students, like everyone else, appreciate when you show you know who they really are.

Parents-orientationRelationship with Teachers

The first rule in building relationships with teachers is to respect their confidences.  The grapevine and gossip is alive and well in every school. You cannot be a contributor. Relationships are based on trust and repeating what you are told is the quickest way to destroy any trust you built up.

A core of teachers everywhere are chronic complainers.  They complain about the administration, their fellow teachers, and their students. Don’t get sucked in.  You can say, “I understand how you feel,” or “I get how angry you are.” But never agree with those sentiments.  You can be sure it will be broadcast throughout the school. With PARCC testing more teachers than ever are complaining, and you undoubtedly have the same sentiments.  Saying, “I know hard everyone has been working. It’s been stressful,” is perfectly OK. Notice, you don’t add, how difficult it has been for you.  That comes off as whining, and it never works.

Slowly get to know teachers’ personal interests, hobbies, and whatever they care about.  If you find a website or a Pinterest board you think they would like, share it with them. The more communications and connections you have, the more likely they will be open to collaborating with you.

Administrators and Board Membersbuild-realtionships

This group is probably the most challenging for you to develop relationships, and yet as power stakeholders, they are the most important.  Begin with your principal.  Listen to what he/she says at faculty meetings and in other communications.  What seems to be of most importance to him/her?  High stakes test? Integrating technology?  Community outreach? How can the library program help attain it?  Figure out how to present that information in under five minutes (they are always heavily pressed for time), and show what a team player you are and how vital the library program is.  You can also find out about personal interests, just as you did with teachers.

Unless you know them personally, the best way to get to know Board members is to go to Board meetings.  See if you can get the other librarians in your district to take turns attending meetings.  Which Board member seems to be most likely to support libraries?  Perhaps you can send that person, with your principal’s approval, a quarterly or annual report.  Be sure it is visual and shows students at work.  Keep the information channel open.  Issue invitations, and learn more about their interests.

Remember, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Build relationships first, and everything else will follow.

ON LIBRARIES: From Library to Learning Commons

learning commonsYou have heard the term Learning Commons.  You may have read an article or two about it and thought it sounded wonderful—in a distant way.  Your library can’t become a Learning Commons. Because:

  • It takes too much time.
  • It costs too much money.
  • The administration won’t go for it.

For the most part, all three reasons (and any more you can come up with) are true—and false. If you decide it can’t happen in your library, it won’t. But what if you could transform your library into a Learning Commons?  Would it be worth the time and the risk?  How would having a Learning Commons change the perception of your program in the eyes of students? Teachers? Administrators? Parents and the larger community?  It’s one more step, a big one but a step, in demonstrating your leadership.transformation2

Some Reasons to Consider

Let’s start with why you should want to make the transformation.  Years ago, school librarians added the word “media” to their title. The reason was to focus attention on how libraries had moved from just having print to incorporating technology into learning and research.  It was important to change perceptions to prevent libraries being regarded as dusty warehouses.

Once again it is time to change perceptions first and then change reality.  As with many businesses, the 21st century demands we reinvent ourselves.  Does your library look like one from the 1990’s?  Earlier?  The world has changed radically in the past quarter of a century, and it’s not just the technology.  It’s how our relationships, learning, and communications have been transformed by technology.

We are living in a participatory culture.  We rely on crowd-sourcing, curating, and 24/7 access to information—much of it from our smart phones.  Does your library reflect those changes?  If you were a students would you see the library as a place to learn, create, share, and grow? (Those are the shortcut phrases describing the four standards of the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner.)

planCreating a Plan

As the great American philosopher Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up someplace else.” Fortunately, you don’t need to do this on your own.  In a Knowledge Quest article Carole Koechlin and David V. Loerstcher explain the elements needed in a Learning Commons and how to plan for them.

While the article is an excellent start, you also need an incentive to keep you going. You are all highly capable researchers. Look for images of Learning Commons and more articles detailing how others have made the transformation.  Not only will this inspire you, it will be useful later when you present your plan. Limit your search by grade level.  While the concept stays the same, you may want to know what an elementary Learning Commons looks like.

Don’t be intimidated by the pictures.  Just look at the message the different spaces convey.  It’s all about participating, sharing, creating, doing. Where in the Learning Commons do these different activities happen?  You want to demonstrate the library is not just a place for finding things.  It’s a place for making things – and more.  It promotes inquiry learning just by the environment it creates.

The conversion to a Learning Commons does not have to be done in one year.  In fact, it might be better if it were stretched out to at least three years.  This way you can see what is working, what needs tweaking, and where you need to add or delete ideas you had for the next stage.

Finding the Moneyfind the money

Your space will need to change.  Fresh paint on walls, green screens, signs, and new furniture cost money. Most of you have been struggling with small or no budgets.  How can you pay for this?  Time to get creative.

What parts of the transformation are DIY – or DIY with volunteer help? What can be done cheaply? For example tables and chairs need to be moveable to allow maximum flexibility.  How much would it cost to put what you have on casters?  What outside sources of funds are available?  Most districts have a local education foundation that gives grants.  Are there other grants you could apply for?  Could the parent teacher organization help in any way?

talkConvincing the Administrators

Nothing is going to happen without the support of the administration.  Once you have you plan put together and have collected a file of pictures, prepare a pitch for your principal. Be sure to include pictures of libraries from the 1950s, the 1990 and your current library.

What is the key message you want to deliver?  If possible, tie it to your Vision and the Mission of the school. Keep it brief.  Show the work you have done and your cost analysis.

You may get shot down, but listen carefully to what you’re told.  I had a superintendent who told me she saved a lot of time by responding with a “no” to almost every suggestion.  Most people would just go away disappointed.  I would come back with an alternative.  And then another alternative.  By this time she knew I was serious and that I would work hard to see the project accomplished.

Are you up for the challenge?  Isn’t it worth it to try?

ON LIBRARIES: On The Level

reading is a windowThe very first “Common Belief” in the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner is “Reading is a window to the world” noting that it’s a “foundational skill in learning, personal growth, and enjoyment.”  I want to focus primarily on the last word—enjoyment. As school librarians we are committed to guiding our students to become lifelong readers. We recognize the habit only develops when they find reading is a pleasurable experience.

Over the past years a few developments in education are making it difficult for us to carry out this critical role. Most recently, Lexiles and leveling have invaded the library and students are being steered away from what they want to read and are being directed toward what they “ought” to read. Elementary librarians are being told to “level” their libraries in the misguided belief it will improve student scores on tests and make them more college ready.

What many don’t realize, is this is a giant step backwards. In the mid-20th century, library shelves were labeled by grade level and students were required to only select books from the appropriate shelf. It didn’t work. Some students read above or below their grade level and others wanted different books.  And libraries changed.window to the world

Now we are heading back to those times. Granted teachers determine individual levels for students so students are expected to read at their current Lexile level, but tit overlooks the core reason the old system didn’t work.  Restrictions on reading, interferes with enjoyment.

I have no problem with teachers using Lexiles for instructional purposes in the classroom.  I recognize the underlying reason Common Core assigned Lexile ranges for each grade level.  Students do need to be challenged and encouraged to stretch. That is what learning is about.

What is being overlooked is enjoyment.  Reading for pleasure should not be work.  It’s about relaxing, choosing what is of interest to you, and learning without being aware it is happening.  I have never liked the “5 finger rule” for choosing a book.  If I had difficulty reading five words on every page, I would read the book.  Reading should be fun (an alien concept in schools today).

When having freedom to choose, students for the most part select a book below their instructional level. This makes perfect sense.  There are students who also want a book far above their instructional level. If they love a sport, for example, they don’t care how hard the book is. They will struggle through it to get what they want.  They may not finish it.  There is no requirement to finish something chosen for fun.  How many young people read Harry Potter books even when it was “too hard” for them?

are you there gdice magicForcing students to always be “stretching” when reading for pleasure, is a sure way to turn them off reading.  It is especially true for those who aren’t fond of reading in the first place.  I can remember the books that enticed my own children to become readers.  Both of them developed the reading habit because they read the one book that “spoke” to them.  For my daughter it was Judy Blume.  For my son, it was Ice Magic by Matt Christopher, which was at least one year below his instructional level.

Accelerated Reader and similar programs, while not as damaging to developing lifelong readers, also interfere with pleasurable reading. Students seeking to earn as many points as they can, will pass over a book that interests them if its point value isn’t high enough.  They will ignore books they might like if it doesn’t have an assigned point value.  Reading for points is not the way to make reading a habit. The purpose from the student’s perspective is not pleasure it is competition.

When parents read to their children, the association of reading and good times is built.  When librarians make story time a pleasurable experience the connection is reinforced.  When a librarian helps a student find the perfect book, the habit of a lifetime begins.

What can you as a librarian do if you are told to level your library?  Be the leader you need to be. Don’t accept the directive without explaining why it isn’t in the best interest of students.  Show administrators Keith Curry Lance’s studies on reading.  Share this blog also. If they still insist, see if you can get them to agree to leveling shelves for teachers who can direct students to them and keeping other shelves open.  This way students can take one leveled book and at least one of their own choosing.

We are all about creating lifelong readers.  Is your library leveled?

ON LIBRARIES: The Challenge of Collaboration – Part One

NOTE: This is the first of a several week series on collaboration

collaboration 2“School librarians transform student learning.”  Easy to say.  Important to do.  Accomplishing it… is more complicated.  While we can do much when dealing with students one-to-one, and certainly work toward that end when we have a scheduled class, the transformation is best achieved when working in collaboration with teachers. Some of you are doing so on a regular basis, but from my contacts with school librarians coping with day-to-day pressures, fixed schedules, and unwilling teachers, collaboration is at best a distant goal.

The first Guideline under “Teaching for Learning” in AASL’s Empowering Learners states:

The school library program promotes collaboration among members of the learning community and encourages learners to be independent, lifelong users and producers of ideas and information. (p. 20)

The actions supporting the Guideline expect the librarian to:

  • “collaborate with a core team of classroom teachers and specialists to design, implement, and evaluate inquiry lessons and units
  • collaborate with an extended team including parents, community members, … museums, academic and public libraries… to include their expertise and assistance in inquiry lessons and units
  • work with administrators to actively promote, support, and implement collaboration
  • seek input from students on the learning process.”

That’s a tall order and very few are doing all of this. The Guidelines offer no direction on how you are to develop this level of collaboration and instructional partnership.  Where do you start?Hello

You can’t focus on all four actions at once.  The last is the easiest to accomplish by way of formative assessments during a class and regular brief surveys or exit tickets at the end of a unit. The first action is your main target to implement the Guideline into your program.

At the middle and high school levels, you normally have a flex schedule which means some teachers bring their classes frequently, some do it rarely, and others you never see.  Work initially with those accustomed to using their library as part of their instruction.  At what point do you enter the process right now?  Is the teacher using only your facility but not your expertise or does h/she expect you to do an introduction to the resources to be used? You want to reach the stage where you are develop the unit together, each making a design contribution.

If the teacher is only using your facility, observe what students are working on.  Come up with one or two resources that would improve their results and share with the teacher.  If you are thanked, suggest the teacher give you a heads-up in the future so you can provide relevant sources.  If your recommendatiknockingon is ignored, repeat the process the next time.

In the case where you informed in advance what students will be doing and can offer recommended direction, add possibilities for making the project inquiry-based, one where the end product has meaning beyond the due date.  You want to create learning opportunities for students to be producers of information and not just regurgitating existing facts they collect and turn into a pretty presentation.

In all cases, follow up with a brief assessment with the teacher.  Did this help?  What would work better next time?  Frame your questions so teachers are willing to make negative comments. If you only hear positives you can’t improve what you are doing.

Elementary librarians who mostly have fixed schedules have a greater challenge. If you are in that situation, your first aim is to cooperate with teachers. To do that you need to find out what they are working on in class to give students a deeper connection with the topic by working with you when they come in at their scheduled time.collaborative learning

Start with the teachers with whom you have a good relationship.  When they give tell you what they are doing (or you have a curriculum map to guide you), let them know what you are doing with their students.  As with flex time librarians, follow up when the unit is complete to find out what the teacher thought. What if anything did he/she not like?  What worked? Was there anything you can do differently next time?

Next week, meeting the challenges of other Actions in the Guidline.

 

 

 

 

ON LIBRARIES: We Make Connections

Two weeks ago I blogged on how we transform our facility.  Last week I discussed the first impression people get when they enter our facility and meet us.  Then they get to discover what we do, and in the process we transform learning and our school community.

connectionsWe make connections.  We connect people to ideas, ideas to ideas, and we connect people to people.  You may not have focused on this core behavior, but it’s there in every librarian.

People to ideas – This form of connection is obvious.  Our patrons come to the library, physically or virtually, and are connected to the information they seek. When we are doing our job well, they find more than facts. It’s usable information.

I had the opportunity to have a very long discussion with several bright high school students the other day. We weren’t in a library, but as a librarian, no matter my location I am still functioning as one.  The first thing I did was challenge them to begin thinking by asking their views on Apple defying a warrant and refusing to create a program to get past the encryption on iPhones in order for the government to access information on the cell phone of one of the accused terrorists in the San Bernardino massacre.

As I expected, among the five there were instantaneous opinions, with the students taking different sides.  I didn’t support either side but pointed out this was an emotional response either to their feelings about dealing with terrorists or how strongly they felt about their right to privacy. The common element was their emotion.  While this was a natural response and would always be present, once they recognized its existence, they needed to move on to finding evidence to either refute or support their gut reaction.  This would not eliminate their emotions but would allow them to see, that just as with websites and other information sources, bias is almost always present.  It’s not wrong. It’s just there and needs to be recognized in order for it to be factored into decision making.  This is teaching critical thinking on a visceral level.idea to idea

Ideas to ideas – One of the best parts of our job is helping students make the leap from an initial idea to another, making a new connection.  The original idea is a single piece of information. Seeing how another idea is related and may further illuminate the first is how new understandings and knowledge are created.  For me, making those connections are the “highs” one experiences in research.

It helps if teachers are open to allowing students to take those side trips off an assigned research project into an area of personal interest, sparked by making an idea-to-idea connection. The project takes on deeper meaning.  It becomes something that lasts long after the assignment is completed. This is when Enduring Understandings are made and students get the purpose of learning.

Librarians know that research is a messy process.  Students and far too many teachers think of it as a linear progression. This is far from the truth, but often it’s the way research projects are done. Even the best students grab for an argument, line up the sources they will use, determine an outline to present their information, check that they have completed all the steps, and heave a sigh of relief.  But when you can lead them to the connection that excites their mind, the back-tracking and shifts of directions make sense as they seek to put together something they can proudly share with others. Something that matters to them –personally.

people to peoplePeople to people – Making these connections is not as widely recognized an aspect of what we do, but it’s becoming an increasingly important part of our job.  In creating digital citizens, a number of librarians are connecting students beyond the walls of the library.  I know one librarian who worked with a science teacher and had students discovering how to deal with epidemics and pandemics (and why they show up regularly in the headlines).  In creating the best way to alert a population and cope with the crisis, students worked with scientists at the CDC.

On a very different level, we use our extensive networks to bring people together who otherwise might never know each other. Through my daughter, I learned her childhood friend is living in an inner city and knits and donates numerous scarfs to the homeless by “scarf bombing” different areas and facilities in the city. A librarian friend of mine works in a school in that city.  She was fascinated by the project and thought it was one many of her students would want to do.  The connection was made and her students are eagerly involved in a community service project.collaborative learning

Don’t overlook the people-to-people connection you need to have with other librarians.  It’s one my grad students are discovering.  Librarians are inclined to think of themselves as being isolated in their building. Some are the only librarian in their district. Who can answer their questions?  Where can they go for help?  The answer is other librarians.  I have blogged about PLNs and you need to be continually expanding yours.  Belonging to your state library association (and hopefully participating) and joining and being a part of AASL and/or other national library associations connects you to a wealth of knowledge with a few strokes on your keyboard or a text on your phone.  LM_NET is a long-standing resource many use.  The School Librarian’s Workshop Facebook group is another one that’s growing.

Are you making these connections for your students and teachers?  Are you making connections for yourself?  Welcome to the connected 21st century –and we are the expert connectors.

ON LIBRARIES: Quality Questions

essential questionI have blogged on the many aspects of this topic several times, but the subject is worth repeating. The questioning is only important when what is asked is worth answering.   Both your questions and students’ questions need to be significant.

Your questions should begin with the Essential Questions you focus on in framing a project.  My post on the topic in November 2014 noted that EQs can deal with concepts which are core to the discipline but not necessarily obvious to those not in it or look at broader ideas designed to open minds to the real-world implications of what they are studying.  Even understanding what they are, doesn’t make them easy to construct.

When I first wrote about EQs I suggested if you were faced with teaching the Dewey Decimal System (which you really shouldn’t ever do) an EQ might be, “How do libraries arrange material to help users find what they need?” After doing many of these, I don’t like that question because it only has one answer – by subject. Instead I would put piles of books on a table and ask them how they would group them so that others could quickly find what they are looking for? They might arrange alphabetically or color of covers. When they were finished, they would have to explain their thinking. Encourage the class to discuss how well that would work.  You could then guide them to recognize librarians had to deal with that problem and also came up with different solutions (Dewey, LOC, and now genre-based), but all these work because they have one thing in common – subject arrangement.  By having them work on developing an answer to the EQ they understand the how and why of classification rather than the specific answer.question sign

In an article in the September 2015 issue of Educational Leadership, Grant Wiggins suggests in studying the Vietnam War, a rather than, “Why did we fight the Vietnam War and was it worth it?, the EQs should be “Why have we gone to war? When was it wise, and when was it foolish?’ There are no right answers to those two questions, and answers will change over time and experience.  Of course, students would have to explain/justify their answers, and the second question cannot be Googled.

Beyond EQs are the questions you ask students.  They, too, need to be open-ended.  When I was an elementary librarian a long time ago, I foolishly asked such questions as “What do we call the person who writes a book?”  Not only was there only one right answer, but students were aware I knew that answer and their job was to find it.  This is not deep, critical thinking.

Ask a good question and then wait.  It’s really hard to do this but you want to encourage thinking time.  When you get a response wait again.  This lets the rest of the class reflect on what was said. For a follow up ask, “Why do you think that?” “Does anyone have any other ideas?”  Make sure your tone is one of interest nq marksot judgement. It must feel safe. The answers aren’t wrong, they represent one way of looking at the question.

Encourage students to question what you say. It’s all about not accepting facts being given to you, but about exploring deeper to find out what’s underneath.  With you as a model, students can learn to create their own Essential Questions and to learn to ask quality questions rather than focus on being able to provide the right answer.

Your guidance will re-connect with the curiosity that is innate in humans and the quality and depth of what they research will improve.  Thinking about a topic and developing questions about it is intrinsic to Inquiry-based learning and lifelong learning.  Creating a safe environment for questions provide the foundation that will help students in everything they do.edutopia

I once again recommend you check out Edutopia on 5 Ways to Help Your Students Become Better Questioners.

 

 

 

ON LIBRARIES – Creating Collaboration

pieces fittingOne of the biggest challenges facing librarians is how to get teachers to collaborate or cooperate (for those on fixed schedules) with them. How can you break through that barrier and show teachers what you can do for them and their students?  Unless teachers are forced by the administration to work with you, they probably won’t – unless you change the playing field. To make that happen, remember we are in the relationship business.

Too frequently when you are at a middle or high school the teachers are too busy to collaborate with you.  They bring their classes to the library to do a project they haven’t discussed with you and often don’t want you input. At the elementary level it’s even more difficult. Teachers drop students at the library door and pick them up at the end of the period.  Many don’t care what you did with their kids as long as they had time to grab a cup of coffee and catch up with their work on their duty free period. To them, that’s what the library period means.build relationships

Build your relationships first, and keep building them. You probably already get along better with some teachers rather than others.  Consider how that relationship developed.  You might be able to use that knowledge to reach out to other teachers.

Email communications don’t build relationships.  Personal contact does.  It gives you the opportunity to look the other person in the eye. To smile at them.  To give them your full attention. To wait to respond until you are sure they are finished. In the process, you learn something about them. What they like.  What they do in their free time.  All the things that make them who they are.

When you reach out to them to propose a collaborative unit, you speak to that whole person. Offer your support and encouragement.  Ask what the next research project will be about and when it will occur.  Let the teacher know you would like to support her and her students by showing them how the library can make it a more successful experience.  Promise any extra work will fall on your shoulders.

working togetherConduct a careful reference interview.  Was this project done before?  If so what were the results?  Was there anything that disappointed the teacher or was particularly successful?  If it’s new, what does she hope to see in the students’ products?  What are her concerns? From there you can find out if there are any Essential Questions for it.  If not, get back to her with some suggestions and ideas for how the project might be altered and what parts you will take on.  Find tech resources that will showcase what students do and be shareable on your website and any places where parents and others can see it. Be sure to offer to check students’ works cited information.

Show the teacher your ideas and be open to any changes. You are there to help, and while you can carefully guide, don’t overpower.  You are building trust.  Since you have a relationship it’s already there to some extent but you are now expanding it.

When the project is complete, in a brief meeting – or an email at this point – review what worked and what didn’t.  Would the teacher want to do this again next year?  What changes would she like?  What would you suggest?thank you

End with acknowledgement. Send a handwritten note to the teacher, and perhaps one to the principal, thanking the teacher for taking the risk and giving you and the students this opportunity. In this day of texting and emailing, handwritten notes get attention.

To create a cooperative unit at the elementary level, use much the same techniques.  Find out what is being studied and offer to do a complementary project. See if the teacher would like to see the results.

How are you building relationships?  Is it helping you to increase your collaboration/cooperation with teachers? What help do you need?

 

 

 

ON LIBRARIES – Uninformed or Misinformed?

beinformedI was talking with a professor colleague at the library school where I teach an online course, and she mentioned she came across an interesting distinction between people who are uninformed and those who are misinformed.  The first group are open to learning while the latter will reject what conflicts with their thinking.

I have been going over the difference in my mind for several days.  As school librarians we deal with both categories. Our students for the most part are uninformed and whether it’s for a class assignment or their own personal reasons they are looking for accurate information.  We are very good at helping them fill in the many missing blanks in their knowledge.

We also deal with students who come to the library with misinformation, and for them we need to think through how we approach this so they are open to accepting facts.  I believe the reason the misinformed cling to their beliefs is related to something I discussed in a blog last April – eighty percent of our decisions are emotionally-based. We use the other twenty percent to justify them.question things

With our students this may not be the case. It can be they just came across something in a Google or YouTube search and never bothered to verify it.  You can manage this, along with the uninformed by having students complete a KWL chart before embarking on a research project.  Add another column after the “K” for “H” – How do I know it? This provides the basis for fact checking, and gives us an opportunity to review the importance of validating sources.

When there is a strong emotional investment, you need to be careful.  This often surfaces when students are doing a pro/con paper.  Many years ago, I had a student who had strong religious beliefs on abortion.  She wanted to do her pro/con on the topic and we had a brief chat.  I pointed out to her that in the course of her research she would have to read and evaluate sources that contradicted her beliefs. Those arguments had to be presented and refuted with facts, not personal convictions.  While her research might confirm her views, there was no guarantee it would. I told her if she couldn’t accept the possibility, she should choose another topic for her paper.

answersDepending on their backgrounds, our students walk into our libraries with many convictions on climate change to evolution and more. These may not stand up to the rigors of academic research, and we do need to allow them the choice of whether to explore those topics.  This is not a denial of their intellectual freedom. The access is there if they choose to investigate the subjects.

Probably nowhere is the issue of emotionally-based decision making more apparent than in political views. As the presidential race heats up, the difference between being uninformed and being misinformed is likely to become more obvious, particularly when the views held are contrary to your own.  It will affect teachers as well as students.  Your responsibility is to have resources on all sides of the issues, whether or not you agree.  To keep your relationship with teachers positive, stay out of political discussions unless you talking with close friends with whom you know the subject is safe.

 

ON LIBRARIES: Makerspace Magic

makerspace wordleThe Makerspace phenomenon is exploding in libraries everywhere and they are an easy platform to use to reach what seemed a difficult goal – library advocacy.

The popularity of Makerspace programs  slowly at first with public libraries acquiring 3-D printers and letting patrons use them.  Soon it spread to first-adopter school libraries and librarians who also managed to get 3-D printers for their libraries.  Now more and more libraries are offering these programs –with or without 3-D printers. The programs are as varied as the librarians and the populations they serve.

In addition to encouraging and developing students’ problem solving skills and imagination, Makerspaces are giving librarians a great platform for advocacy.  When a well thought out program is presented to administrators they often are quick to approve it.  Librarians are amazed to find they have strong administrative support for their program for the first time.

Why are Makerspaces embraced by administrators?  It’s not the library connection.  It’s STEM and often STEAM (including arts) or even STREAM (research and/or reading).  Reacting to the nation-wide push for STEM-related learning, principals and superintendents welcome a tested idea for infusing it into the school program.  And library programs reap the benefit.

For years I have been an advocacy advocate (Isn’t that a great phrase?).  I have written and given workshops on why it is important for librarians to know how to develop advocates for their program.  Because it requires ongoing work, it is a hard sell, but Makerspaces have transformed the atmosphere. makerspace1

As with any advocacy program, you need to make stakeholders aware of what you offer. So promote the existence of your Makerspace widely. Put it on your website.  See if you can announce it in the public library.  Write and send out a press release to your local paper.

You also have a great opportunity to involve others.  When they are a part of it, they become ardent supporters. Which teachers (or possibly administrators) have hobbies or interests which lend themselves to Makerspaces? Would they like to lead a program?

With administrative approval, reach out to parents and others in the community to do the same. Chances are you have untapped volunteers who would love to contribute time, skills or tools. The more people involved, the wider reach your library program has.  Participants are natural supporters. Bring in the media – local newspapers and cable to do a feature.  Have them interview students to talk about why they like the program and what they are learning.

And don’t forget books.  For each Makerspace program have a display of books on the topic.  It always helps to have a quick resource for students– other than watching a YouTube video, which may be blocked. You want to show how hands-on work leads to research which the library facilitates.

make itThis can be a great place for you to get creative too.  Find fun ways to publicize and share your new program and involve as many students as you can. Consider putting together some mini-Makerspace ideas which can be borrowed by students.  Some of the items would be consumable, just as with any Makerspace project while other parts would have to be returned.  List the non-consumable inside the box with the materials so it can be checked in.  Put a library promo piece in each box. You would need approval for this, but it’s one more way to show parents and others how the library program promotes student learning. (NOTE: This idea comes from when, many years ago, my former co-author Ruth Toor circulated “Science in a Shoebox,” each with a different science project, including directions and list or what was contained in the box.)

Do you have a Makerspace program in your library?  Not sure how to get started?  There’s lots of information out there to help you – or you can ask for specific advice on the School Librarian’s Workshop Facebook group.

I am off to ALA Midwinter in Boston this coming week so I won’t be blogging next Monday.  If you are going, I hope to meet you there.