Creating Lasting Change, Maybe


Antoon van Duppen. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America

The high school to college gap is like college readiness, one of those realities that implant itself in our minds like fake news or mass incarceration. Unfortunately, these simple-sounding concepts indicate massive, almost unapproachable issues that we talk about but feel helpless to address. The truth is these realities are complicated and multifaceted and national in scope. We could and do talk in circles about what to do and get nowhere.

So what to do?

Here’s what I’ve learned about what I think might lead to lasting change. I say it might because I have no hard evidence to support these suggestions: no data, research studies, primary sources, or citations.  I have my experience and observations, and my qualifier: the ideas below are opinions, not claims or facts.

Cultivate empathy

All one has to do is turn on the news or look online to view and read insults, name-calling, and continuous drama, which increases polarization and solipsism. But any successful team knows they need to stop and reflect, assess, collaborate, and be inclusive, so every member contributes. If people do not feel connected to a team, an institution, or person, they may turn inward, self-sabotage, and drop-out. We need our students to feel connected to one another, to school, and to us, so they do not walk away to a world they feel unable to change.

Focus on academics

We cannot change what happens in our students’ lives but we can try and influence how they respond to life by creating effective habits of mind. We can model smart approaches to research: reading laterally, evaluating evidence, click restraint, and reading multiple sources and perspectives before drawing conclusions. We can offer access to a diverse range of resources so they can build knowledge and explore their identity. We can curate differentiated texts as scaffolds, and personalized learning supports for students. We can create assignments to engage students in real-world problem-solving and critical thinking with social justice and civic-minded purpose.

Institutionalize partnerships

Too many projects in my past depended on the expertise and commitment of the participants. And once circumstances changed – someone moved away, changed jobs or responsibilities, the funding ended – so did the work. So that’s why I recommend institutionalizing the work so it is not reliant on specific people but becomes part of the fabric and culture of the office, the school, the district, the organization. For this to happen, enough people have to be involved in the work so they value and depend on it, and if the participants are across institutions all the better because it means the responsibility and investment becomes disseminated. A grant is a strong instigator of this type of work, but a brand is what will ensure it lasts.


Author: Leanne Ellis

I am a School Library Coordinator for the New York City Department of Education’s Department of Library Services. I plan and deliver workshops, provide on-site instructional and program support to school librarians, coordinate programs, administer grants, and am program coordinator for MyLibraryNYC, a program administered with our three public library systems.

Categories: Blog Topics, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, Professional Development, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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1 reply

  1. I’m with you – these seem like important ways school librarians and teachers can help students prepare for their next steps.

    “We can model smart approaches to research: reading laterally, evaluating evidence, click restraint, and reading multiple sources and perspectives before drawing conclusions.” This definitely resonates with me – my experiences over two decades in the classroom suggest these are some of the strongest tools we have for helping students navigate an increasingly digital world. The problem becomes time. With so many initiatives, curricula, and programs vying for attention, finding the time to let students explore – one of the most important methods of learning – becomes problematic. This is why school librarians and school libraries are of such importance to our schools: they provide the space and the time for students to learn these skills in authentic ways. Hopefully, policy makers will start to realize the importance of these educators, spaces, and programs, and students will be able to benefit from a stronger, longer-lasting, more hands-on education.

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