By Susan D. Ballard, AASL Standards editorial board member, and Sara Kelly Johns, AASL Standards implementation task force member
As the traditional academic year wraps up, we’d like to suggest a new riff on an old proverb: “People may think we only work from sun-to-sun, but a school librarian’s work is never done!” So, while most of us won’t be following a traditional work-day schedule over the summer months, in all likelihood, we will still be on the job. We always have work to do including planning for collection development; curating resources; collaborating on instructional design, delivery and assessment; catching up on professional reading; attending professional development events in person and virtually; and generally thinking about the past year as we consider ways to improve and benefit our respective learning communities in the future.
This was an extraordinary year for our profession with the release of the National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries. As a result, the summer hiatus is a perfect opportunity to consider where we are on a continuum of practice that will guide us to realization of the AASL Standards.
Since the AASL Standards’ debut at the AASL National Conference in Phoenix, some of us have had the good fortune to attend AASL webinars, participate in state affiliate training and/or conference sessions, and engage with the wealth of material available at standards.aasl.org. Others may have barely had time to crack open the book, scan the frameworks, and surf the standards portal. For those about to start the journey, we have some strategies to propose as you wend your way along the pathway of AASL Standards implementation.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t reiterate the sage advice provided by A Guide for School Librarians: Reflect & Refresh: Getting Started with the National School Library Standards. This one-pager developed by the AASL Standards implementation task force details first steps to answering the question “What should I do?” to begin the journey. As you work through these steps, there are some tools to assist you in determining where you are and ultimately the direction in which you want and need to go.
Reflect. Before you open the book or look at the AASL Standards portal, reflect on what is already effective in your school library and with your students’ learning, as well as areas or skills that may need improvement.
To move forward, you will want to consider your school or district’s mission and vision as well as any initiatives or priorities that are important for your learning community. The old question, “What keeps your administrator up at night?” needs to be considered now. Take a look at another one-pager, A Guide for School Librarians: What School Library Standards Mean to Educators: Getting Started with the National School Library Standards. This tool can help you begin to connect the AASL Standards to the role of the school librarian and school library in order to address what matters to your stakeholders.
Read and explore. Read the National School Library Standards, explore the supporting materials on the AASL Standards web portal, and keep your reflections in mind.
Digging a little deeper, you will find Chapter 13 of the standards, “Measuring School Librarian Growth,” is valuable as you assess your strengths and identify areas for improvement and develop a personal growth plan. This chapter links professional activities to the realization of the Shared Foundations (Inquire, Include, Collaborate, Curate, Explore, and Engage) as well as the Domains of competence (Think, Create, Share, and Grow) and the use of evidence through formative and summative evaluation. It also features crosswalks to both Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching and James Marzano’s Teacher Evaluation Model. Since many of us work in schools that use these as a basis for measuring school librarian effectiveness, these crosswalks assist in helping to articulate to evaluators the alignment of our efforts to the AASL Standards and to school and district needs.
With this initial assessment in place, you may find that The ALA School Librarian Competencies based on the PSELs (Professional Standards for Educational Leaders) provide you with an additional direction for individual growth. Here you will discover competencies, rubrics, and resources related to advocacy, value, measurability, etc. that provide personal insights to a range of strategies you might consider as you begin your delve into the AASL Standards.
Prioritize. Identify which standards will most help you address areas for improvement that you identified during your reflection and prioritize one or two standards’ goals to tackle first.
In addition to information and strategies related to school librarian growth and improvement, the AASL Standards also provide a checklist that can be used to gauge if your school library is in sync with requirements to meet the needs of all members of the learning community, is fully integrated into the curriculum, and contributes fully to the educational process. Chapter 14, “Evaluating School Libraries,” details responsibilities at the building, district, and state level and discusses evaluating the school library using the key commitments and a checklist that addresses the inclusion of each Shared Foundation—Inquire, Include, Collaborate, Curate, Explore, and Engage. The checklist is designed to be used in collaboration with various stakeholders because the achievement of the AASL Standards is a shared responsibility. The checklist includes such elements as:
- instructional responsibilities
- curriculum alignment
- collection development
- policy development
- technology integration
- advocacy and promotion of the effective use of the school library and its services
- facilities and learning environment
- management of personnel and resources
- budget development
- professional development
In short, the checklist includes everything that, when evaluated together, comprises an effective school library. Use it to provide you with talking points to help stakeholders understand what constitutes an effective school library and to help zero in on areas that need more focus. The latter can be done together with your administrator or personally to inform your own decisions about next steps.
Reflect again. Determine how manageable your priorities are. Assess how the AASL Standards align with the priorities you identified. Be sure to outline any additional strengths or areas for further development that you noted while exploring the standards.
There is yet another chapter in the National School Library Standards that can really help as you determine what might work best in your situation. Chapter 15, “Getting Started with the Standards,” provides scenarios featuring personas created by the AASL Standards implementation task force to help conceptualize situations that school librarians in various roles might encounter. These scenarios allow you to reflect about a myriad of ways in which the AASL Standards can assist in guiding both your practice and the overall learning culture in your school.
We know it’s a tall order to suggest that you add more to your never-ending school librarian to-do list. Yet, the AASL Standards are the authoritative work that defines our professionalism and practice, especially as it relates to instruction and student learning. They guide us in every aspect of our work with our learning communities and reflect the core values and principles we uphold. So, as you wind up the school year, pack your sunscreen, insect repellent, and your copy of the National School Library Standards (as well as a “just because you love to read” book) and head to the beach, the lakes, the mountains, or a comfy chair in your home. Use your summer recess to become more familiar with them, setting in motion the momentum that will propel your practice forward and ensure the upcoming academic year finds you ready to Inquire, Include, Collaborate, Curate, Explore, and Engage.