One year ago, our ALA Emerging Leaders group presented our project, “Developing Inclusive Learners and Citizens Activity Guide.” We had no idea at that time that just a year later our country would be in crisis with nation-wide shutdowns due to COVID-19. Schools moved to virtual learning literally over a 48-hour period. School librarians reacted swiftly, employing skills that were desperately needed to help learners, other educators, and families continue learning and stay connected.
Next came the news of yet another case of police brutality, one that galvanized protesters and brought racism to the forefront. Protests around the country forced discussions about racism and anti-racism, as well as systemic issues in all areas of business, education, and government, highlighted even more strikingly by the backdrop of the COVID crisis. Thinking back to January 2019, when our Emerging Leaders group met for the first time, we could never have anticipated just how timely our discussions about equity, diversity, and inclusion would be. We focused our project on the Shared Foundation of Include from AASL’s National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries. As we prepare for the coming school year, whether it be in-person, virtual, or some form of hybrid learning, it is evident that our project is more timely than ever. We know that we must do even more to address intersectionality, bias, racism, and other social justice issues. Who better to lead the charge than school librarians?
Our “Developing Inclusive Learners and Citizens Activity Guide” provides resources and activities to help drive discussions with your learners, colleagues, and community members. This is just a start. We recognize that we are one voice that is learning with the rest of the country to examine our own biases and prejudices. It starts with self reflection followed by action. Here are some activities and scenarios from the toolkit to get you started:
School librarians: Think about the last book you promoted. Are the characters a mirror of your local community or a window to the world?
One way to promote inclusion is through book talks. You may want to select books with diverse themes or feature books written by authors from diverse backgrounds. Choose books that speak to you in some way. Share how it influenced your thinking, and be authentic with the challenges you faced in reading the book. Encourage learners to respond to open up a dialogue. This may take the form of Flipgrid videos, Padlets, or blog posts. Other ideas include lunch time discussion groups, in-person/virtual office hours, or panel discussions. These tools and other advocacy strategies can be found on We Need Diverse Books, or follow #weneeddiversebooks, led by author Ellen Oh.
School library: When is the last time you analyzed your collection for diversity?
It may be the case that your collection does not reflect the diversity of your school population or the world. Start by performing a diversity audit. This can be daunting, so you may want to start with one portion of your collection, say, biographies. Analyze the titles, looking for books that represent diverse perspectives. Consider that not all diverse books should focus on struggle, but should also show diversity in positive, everyday situations.
Learners: Do you consider yourself a person of privilege?
To help learners understand how race, gender, and sexuality influence their success, have them participate in a Privilege Walk. Learners “advance” based on their response to statements and have the opportunity to discuss how it feels to be in the front, middle, or back of the group. Learners may reflect on this activity by creating podcasts that examine topical/controversial issues from multiple perspectives. School librarians can assist by providing access to databases such as Opposing Viewpoints or websites like ProCon.org. Learners can look at a current issue from multiple angles and then share their assigned point of view, following up with a discussion about the importance of keeping an open mind and a discerning attitude.
Addressing diversity and inclusion is necessary. Professional development is a great place to start. Project Ready: Reimagining Equity and Access for Diverse Youth, an open source professional development collection, is one way to start. Teaching Tolerance is a free website for educators who want to help students become active participants in their community. In addition, the Rainbow Library sends LGBTQ+-positive materials to schools for free in the state of Connecticut, and is looking to expand its offerings in the near future.
The Key Commitment of the Shared Foundation Include calls on learners, school librarians, and school libraries to “demonstrate an understanding of and commitment to inclusiveness and respect for diversity in the learning community” (AASL 2018, 75). We hope you use the activity guide as a starting point. Use it to engage learners, colleagues, and community members to develop an equity action plan. We want to engage in continuing conversations about identifying our biases and prejudices as well as raising awareness in our school community. We also want to share strategies for taking action. Join us on October 6 for a free webinar to participate in an open conversation about equity, diversity, and inclusion in the school library.