As we culminate our celebration of School Library Month, it is exciting to think about the profound influence of school librarians on the broader learning community. School administrators operate from a vantage point that affords them a unique look into the workings of the school library along with its impact on the learners and educators it serves. The AASL School Leader Collaborative, a two-year initiative sponsored by AASL with support from OverDrive Education, is made up of school administrators who were selected from nominations by school librarians.
Who better to ask about the role of school librarians than the AASL School Leader Collaborative! Recently I invited the AASL School Leader Collaborative to answer several questions about their own school libraries and the value their school librarians bring to teaching and learning within their schools.
How has your school librarian impacted teaching and learning during the pandemic?
Sean Doherty, Superintendent, School District of Clayton, St. Louis, Missouri
Nominated by AASL member Victoria Jones:
Adaptability! School librarians have shown their unique ability to adapt and be flexible during the pandemic, which ultimately contributes to the success of our learners. Our school librarians have had to not only think about how to continue their collaboration with classroom educators, but they’ve had to redefine browsing books for our students. During the time of full or partial remote learning, it has been critical to have our learners continuing to read and have books in their hands–either digitally or by setting up new systems for learners to acquire books through innovative pickup systems. Our school librarians have also not made everything about the pandemic. They have been prioritizing our written curriculum, priority standards, and historical events that are so prevalent in our daily lives.
Joel Hoag, Principal, Franklin Special School District, Franklin, Tennessee
Nominated by AASL member Dinah Wade:
The need for someone who understands and can effectively communicate how to use available resources has been paramount. Our school librarian has led and co-led school-wide and district-wide sessions on technology resources that were available; she’s met with all of my subject-level PLCs to help classroom educators understand and apply resources in their plans for all of our learning formats (in-person, virtual, and classes with both); and she is teaching library lessons in every format. While her expertise in curriculum and technology has always been appreciated, classroom educators have been especially eager to work with and learn from her because of the challenges generated by the pandemic.
Melita Walker, Principal, Columbia Public Schools, Columbia, Missouri
Nominated by AASL member Kerry Townsend:
Our school librarian and library staff have been instrumental in the academic successes of our learners and teaching successes of our educators during the pandemic by prioritizing technology, focusing on how to support literacy, learning in the virtual classroom, and delivering virtual school library services to both learners and teachers. Our school librarian has also taken a lead instructional role in supporting the learning of our classroom educators and, overall, has redefined the role and responsibilities of the traditional school librarian.
Shawn Arnold, Superintendent, Valdez City Schools, Valdez, Alaska
Nominated by AASL member Pamela Verfaillie:
The transition between in-person to more digital collections has been the most significant shift that has affected our learners’ access to materials. We continue to explore innovative ways in how physical spaces are accessed and students interact with materials. Much like elsewhere, our school librarians stand beside classroom educators, supporting the three new methods for learning with distance delivery, hybrid, or in-person learning. A team approach continues to evolve to determine new ways to connect resources to instruction.
April Grace, Superintendent, Shawnee Public Schools, Shawnee, Oklahoma
Nominated by AASL member Cherity Pennington:
School librarians have been collaborating with classroom educators no matter which modality because we are using virtual, face-to-face, or hybrid. Our school librarians have been part of a collaborative process; redesigning curriculum maps to get those gaps from the spring. They have worked alongside our classroom educators to see how they can enhance learning, enrich learning, and just continue to extend those opportunities regardless of the modality. They help us with curriculum technology pieces as well.
What can school librarians do to make sure that as in-person school resumes administrators remember and champion their work and influence within the learning community?
I would suggest that school librarians continue to co-teach classes. Our school librarian joined our virtual classes and provided support on many levels. In addition to being another set of eyes, she also helped by supervising breakout rooms and providing academic support to learners. Our expectation is that she will essentially offer the same level of support in person as she provided virtually. Co-teaching has provided our school librarian with an opportunity to demonstrate her skills as a classroom educator. She is an instructional leader in our building and has supported our educators with lesson planning, delivery, and how to provide the best virtual instruction possible. We will continue to offer virtual learning in our district and our school librarians will continue to be essential to the learning of both educators and learners online and in person.
I would say going forward out of the pandemic, it’s really important that you talk to your school administrators to make sure that they understand you want to be part of those collaborative processes. Make sure you really continue to assert yourself as a leader. We view our school librarians just as much of a leader within the school as any other classroom educator or any other leader in the building. I think your administrators want to empower and include you. I would say be assertive with those conversations. Never underestimate your ability to influence the learning community in a positive way.
Be intentional. I would encourage school librarians to develop a check in time with their administrators–making sure their voices are heard. There are so many things happening right now in response to the pandemic and school administrators are dealing with many moving parts. They could potentially be missing the great things that our school librarians are doing. It’s important to create a space or mechanism to have frequent check-ins that ultimately could help the administrator with the moving parts. The school librarian’s contributions potentially enhance the model schools are coming back to in the fall. There have been many innovations put in place by school librarians and it will be important to document what has worked and what could challenge the status quo when moving back to a typical environment. It is also important to understand that not all ideas can be put in place at once. School librarians have been true leaders during the pandemic and this could result in innovative approaches that could have better outcomes for learners and classroom educators.
This past year has been a new experience for all of us. It is a two-way street with grace and patience, one-way with our school librarians and one-way for your administrators. As administrators, we need to let you know how to help during these uncertain times, we also need to understand how you can help.
The key is getting in front of your principal with ideas and solutions. Lay out your vision for what it looks like for learners to return to the library in person and ask how you can support your administrator’s vision. Ask to be on or volunteer to be on committees that are focused on planning out the return. This not only highlights your role as a leader, it also situates you to advocate for the inclusion of the shared foundations in multiple areas inside and outside the library.
It is evident that these school administrators understand and value the pivotal work of the school librarian within the learning landscape. Their advice in these times of transition reminds all of us that it is important to celebrate and open a dialogue with our school administrators about furthering our role as leaders in teaching and learning. This powerful influence will open doors across the school community well into the future.