On March 13, our school community went home from school not knowing how long we would be gone. We (two high school librarians) knew we needed to dramatically (and quickly) shift how we supported students and teachers, but it took us a bit of time to find a good rhythm for communicating with staff about the ways we could support our students. During the first week of distance learning, we felt so overwhelmed by both the needs we saw and the newly available resources we kept seeing. So many amazing educators, writers, and community members were offering their expertise to help students, but it often felt like drinking from a fire hydrant. After spending the first few days at home just getting our heads around our new schedule, how to share e-books with students, and simply answering e-mails, we were ready to wade through all of the things we wanted to pass on to teachers.
We felt certain that teachers were also feeling overwhelmed with resources, technology, and e-mails. How could we share what we were finding without adding to the stress? We decided that there were two things we needed to prioritize in our communication to help teachers without overwhelming them: create a rhythm with the e-mails we sent and limit the number of resources we shared.
We were lucky to work with our school’s fantastic technology integration specialists (TIS) who had spent plenty of time setting up their rhythm for communicating with staff. For the last few school years, they had a rhythm of sending an e-mail newsletter once a week. As we thought about the best ways to communicate with staff while we were teaching remotely, we thought, “Why not do something they’re already familiar with?” And as we tried to create our template, we thought, “Why wouldn’t we just use a template that staff are used to and we know is easy to follow?” We contacted the TIS team to make sure they were okay with us modeling our newsletters after theirs, and not only were they supportive, they also shared their template with us and gave us lots of tips for creating our newsletter.
After looking at the materials we had collected and the ways people typically partnered with us during in-person school days, we decided to create a weekly newsletter that had four sections: resources we found helpful, upcoming online events, book reviews, and office hours. We felt that giving teachers 2-3 links of helpful resources, information about a few events, and a few books they might want to read or recommend was a manageable amount of information. We always wanted to end with our office hours to remind them that we were available to help. We started sending this newsletter a few weeks into distance learning. We had previously discussed starting a weekly newsletter, but during normal circumstances, it seemed likely that our newsletter would require an investment of time without a guarantee of a return on our investment. Now, a newsletter made sense since many of the casual ways we supported teachers weren’t possible. We weren’t bumping into people in the mail room and talking about new resources we had found, and we weren’t chatting with teachers as they popped into the library during their planning period. The newsletter seemed like a good way to put our services on people’s radars now that they couldn’t physically see the work we were doing.
While we did plenty of things that were cuter than this or more dynamic, a simple newsletter was our most consistent way of reminding staff that they could turn to us for help. And it set us up as experts in finding and using resources. Introducing staff to high-quality resources they might not have found on their own reminded our staff that we were experts in curriculum development and content-specific material. Having a few quick book reviews reminded staff that we were still curating the collection, and we could help them find meaningful and engaging reading material. The things we did in our physical space were being converted to the distance learning world, and as our staff became more comfortable in their new roles, we wanted to be there whenever they could partner with us.
We started back to school in a virtual setting the Tuesday after Labor Day, and we are planning to include our newsletter into this year’s rhythm. One way we are planning to enhance our newsletter this year is by archiving them so teachers can look back at the resources we have shared without having to keep our e-mails in their inbox. We’re hoping this will make our newsletter even more user friendly.