Monday, July 27, 2020

Ready For A New Year: The Power of Story


This blog post comes from my Closing Keynote 
for the Kansas Association of School Librarians 
after a month-long Canvas course.

Ready for a New Year-The Power of Story


Welcome! Welcome! I am excited to be here closing out KASL’s Summer Institute for School Librarians. 

Thank you to all of those who participated in the Canvas course, Building a School Library Program to be Proud of: The Power of Your Story. 

During the Canvas course, Building a School Library Program to be Proud of: The Power of Your Story we explored ways digital portfolios can be critical and powerful educational components that grow and develop with students throughout their lifetimes. Digital portfolios teach the importance of a positive digital footprint that has a consequential connection to each student, empower student voice & choice, allow for self-reflection, provide a deep and meaningful alternative grading component that goes far beyond reducing students down to mere numbers and letters, and most importantly, digital portfolios reflect and respect the whole child, their whole story. 

We looked into the vast wealth of professional learning available on Twitter, how to access this knowledge, and how to contribute to the conversation. The ability to harness the professional development potential of Twitter currently suits us well as the only consistency is the chaos of uncertainty. Times are, to say the least, crazy. Twitter also opens up an avenue to emotional and social support with those who ‘get us,’ who understand the particular needs and concerns exclusive to school librarians. 

In the words of Rafranz Davis, there is nothing that fuels the spirit like surrounding yourself with creative people who are willing to go to Camp Crazy with you! 



For me, the stories shared by KASL’s Summer Institute for School Librarians course participants demonstrate that what might seem like an obvious lesson, activity, or collaboration to you, is an amazing new discovery for others. Thank you to those who participated for cementing what I already know about our incredible library community; that we all have stories worthy of sharing with others.

The willingness of school librarians to freely share thoughts, ideas, plans, and more so that we can all learn and grow together makes this community stand out among all others. It was the power of our school librarian community on Twitter that picked me up, shook off the ashes and transformed me from a burned-out librarian waiting to retire to that of an invigorated and engaged school librarian eager to connect, share, learn, and grow so that I could bring the best our community has to offer to enhance student learning in my school. 

Even with support from our school library community, embarking on this new school year that lurks just around the corner is scary. Not the normal scary with nightmares about showing up on the first day of school in your underwear, but scary, scary. We are and have been in the midst of a very real and in your face crisis. It is now time as the school year begins in whatever form that looks like, to take a look at this crisis through a new lens. We have been granted a momentous opportunity to step up and demonstrate the invaluable need for school libraries and certified school librarians that may not have been appreciated to their fullest pre-COVID.  



What school will look like when it begins or throughout this next school year is uncertain. I suspect that many schools will see an ebb and flow between face-to-face, remote, or virtual or a blended hybrid of the two. 

Regardless of the way schooling proceeds this year, decision-makers must be aware of the importance of school librarians’ roles. We serve as leaders in classroom-library collaborations for both online and face-to-face instruction, we advocate to ensure students and families have access to physical and digital books, we serve as technology mentors and troubleshooters, provide virtual book club and other club sponsorship, we connect classrooms with the world, connect teachers, students, and parents with pertinent learning resources, provide professional development opportunities, and so much more.

The key to efficiently conveying the message of the expansive wealth of services offered by full-time, certified school librarians, is to clearly know and be able to communicate our WHY. Why are we essential to the school community both pre, current, and hopefully post COVID? This message must be clear, concise, and easily and quickly digestible, especially during this time of high stress when administrators and other stakeholders, and decision-makers are burdened with the concerns of all the educators, parents, and teachers they serve. 

School librarian Mary Chappell said, “If you value your job, you have to step up and prove you’re valuable.”



The State of America’s Libraries Report reveals that “more than 60 education and library research studies have produced clear evidence that school library programs staffed by qualified school librarians have a positive impact on student academic achievement”. Our administrators and other decision-makers simply do not have the time to review these over 60 research studies, even in their condensed form. In addition, these are reports from various states and schools but do not directly address what YOU are doing in YOUR school to positively impact student academic achievement. That is where we must step up and be able to demonstrate, document, and convey our worth.  

For school librarians who have consistently communicated their impact on student learning and continued to demonstrate and convey the essential services, they provided in the Spring when the ground shifted beneath us all, have solid grounds on which to advocate for their continued role in their schools’ academic program in the coming school year. 

One way school librarians can and have been communicating their impact on student academic achievement is through creating annual reports. Annual reports are a powerful storytelling tool that grabs the attention of administrators and other stakeholders. Annual reports share data beyond book circulation and class visits. Data that share how your work supports teachers and impacts student achievement.

I first learned about creating annual reports from Jennifer LaGarde, aka. Library Girl. She stressed and stresses the critical importance for school librarians to tell their stories with a bang through annual reports. 

Keys to a successful annual report include identifying your target audience, use data to connect the library to student achievement, diversify beyond numbers, charts, and graphs and use images and videos to tell the heartwarming stories of the social and emotional benefits of the library, start early by collecting evidence for the annual report throughout the school year, and look for and learn from annual reports designed by other school librarians. 

Jennifer Lagarde, on her blog, The Adventures of Library Girl, provides a collaborative Google Doc where school librarians have shared their annual reports. 

Next, after knowing and being able to communicate your WHY, is building relationships. It doesn’t matter how beautifully your library is decorated, how robust your resource collections are, all the cool interactives in your MakerSpace, or anything else if no one likes you. Recently on a school librarian’s Facebook group, I saw a librarian whose administrator had asked her to conduct her library classes in less than the conventional way in the new school year due to the mixture of remote, face to face, and blended learning we are all preparing for. Rather than finding a way to make this request work to her advantage and implanting positive connotations about school librarians in the memory of her administrator, this librarian dug her heels in, complained, and laid out a litany of what her “true” job duties are. 

There's a reason why negative stereotypes exist. 



I think Doug Johnson said it best, “As librarians, we can offer the very best hammer in the world, but if your principal, your teachers or your parents really need and want a wrench, a screwdriver or a hacksaw, having a hammer, no matter how wonderful, is simply immaterial. They get “it” that you have a great hammer - it just isn’t relevant or important to them. Even if you think it darned well should be.”



I implore you to always keep in the forefront of your mind that we are a service industry. Be more than just a hammer. Offer the whole toolbox and be willing to provide the services your patrons need.

Since the big COVID shakeup in the Spring, I have heard the term #NewNormal thrown around so I thought we would take this time to play a game. Grab something to write with and keep track of your answers. This game is called #NewNormal or #OldNormal. Here’s how it works. I am going to share two ideas from librarians of activities, lessons, projects, etc. Then you need to decide which one should be labeled #NewNormal and which should be labeled #OldNormal. 


Ok. Do you have all of your answers written down? Let’s reveal the answers and see how you did!

The answer is neither #NewNormal or #OldNormal. It is just plain and simply #NORMAL. 

You might be asking yourself, “How can what we faced in the Spring and what looms ahead in the new year be normal? I say emphatically, YES! NORMAL. All of these examples shown during the quiz can be done in any teaching environment … if we want to put forth the effort. Events like International Dot Day, Read Across America, World Read Aloud Day, Poem in Your Pocket, Mystery Skype, author visits, virtual debates, Techsperts, and many more where classrooms have expanded learning beyond the walls of the school building to connect students with real-world learning and global connections have been happening in our schools for YEARS and mostly at the prompting of the school librarian. School librarians have been teaching virtually ever since technologies emerged, making it possible to connect in this manner. School librarians, more than any other faculty member in our schools, are most prepared to lead the way in virtual, face to face, and blended learning landscapes.  

The saddest thing is that somewhere along the way, as the technological landscape shifted from equipment on rolling carts to software, websites, and apps, the perception of the librarian's role with new technologies took a drastic and damaging turn. 



The result has been the emergence of technology coaches, who are wonderful-don’t get me wrong- coupled with diminishing library positions and shrinking library budgets. Yes. Technology coaches are wonderful, but they are not librarians and cannot ever replace a full-time certified librarian. 

To do so would be equivalent to replacing space shuttle tiles with roofing shingles. "Kind of the same", but woefully inadequate to all those aboard the shuttle. 

We have been presented a very unique, and hopefully once on a lifetime opportunity, to step up and reclaim our place, to demonstrate our worth, and lead the way for our schools in whatever environment we find ourselves where teaching and learning take place. So as we come to an end and look out at the new year to come I want to leave you with this challenge: