Adapt, change, modify, translate, try, and then try again. Each of these are familiar skills to school librarians nationwide and sadly, they often go unrecognized. As educational trends and methodologies come and go, school librarians are often tasked with integrating pedagogical newness into their school libraries with little guidance or notice. In an already stretched position, school librarians are adept at translating classroom practices into their spaces in a way that makes sense for professional goals, assessments, evaluations, and observations. With schools creating yearly goals that include strategies relating to equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), there are more concepts to understand and apply than those of a stray educational trend or pedagogy. Many school initiatives relating to EDI put forth theories and practices that rely on an understanding of identity, bias, race, deep reflection, restorative work, and being responsive to the communities served. School librarians are primed to understand these concepts and translate them into their spaces, but much of the great work being done by school librarians in their spaces, especially in the realm of inclusionary practices, also goes unrecognized.
When I was introduced to culturally responsive pedagogy, through my district, the connections between the pedagogical principles and school library practices were clear. AASL Standards, evaluative rubrics, school library courses completed, and practical experience led the school librarians in my district on a journey to understand representation, diversity, in relation to school data. The foundation to create inclusive spaces already exists for school librarians, but embracing culturally responsive practices challenges school librarians to expand both personally and professionally and build upon the existing foundation. For me, translating the principles of culturally responsive pedagogy for other school librarians in a way that makes sense with our school library practices and providing intentional scaffolding became the most sensible next step.
Embracing Culturally Responsive Practice in School Libraries combines culturally responsive pedagogy and research with a dedicated AASL framework to establish a better understanding of key principles, concepts, and definitions that are essential to begin this work. Intentional pauses for challenges, figures, and activity examples offer school librarians a toolbox for their journey of cultural responsiveness, prompting deeper exploration, and useful for garnering administrative support.
Throughout the journey, you will be challenged to make reflection an intentional part of your professional practice. “It is an inevitable truth that we bring ourselves into our profession. As we travel this path of cultural responsiveness, we will be reflecting on just about everything we do in our school libraries. We will be working inward to influence our outward actions” (Kennedy 2023, 13-14). These reflective practices will not only allow you to explore your physical space with fresh eyes, but also create a dedicated internal space for regular self-reflection in a profession where we are regularly reflected upon.
By holding a better understanding of what culturally responsive school library practices are, it becomes easier to prioritize and advocate for the implementation of those practices throughout the school year. For example, reflecting on and appreciating your own cultural identity and how it influences your spaces, policies, and interactions, takes time and patience, but allotting dedicated time is possible, whether it be at the start of the school year, or at the end of the week or once a month. It is important to approach the concept and practical strategies with an open mind. Exploration is a process, learning is a process, and growth is certainly a process. Change in our spaces and in our awareness does not happen in one day, marking period, semester, or school year. Incorporating and embracing culturally responsive practices requires us to continuously sharpen our skills (Figure 1) and build upon our tool kit. Doing the inward work of exploring yourself to then better understand others may not be on your to-do list for the school year, but it is worth the time. Whether you are new to reflective strategies and culturally responsive practices as a whole or you are a practitioner putting forth change, the school library, and those it serves, will benefit from your awareness.
Figure 1. S.H.A.R.P.E.N. your skills for culturally responsive practice
“The concepts and strategies presented… have the potential to bring impactful, mindful, and intentional change to our profession and our spaces… You will find what feels right, what works and does not work, and what you are willing to stand behind as you advocate for your school library and your learners. You may also find yourself challenged by others once you start intentionally working toward an inclusive atmosphere. As always, resources, data, and an open mind are your greatest tools against exclusion” (Kennedy 2023, 90).
Kennedy, Elisabet. 2023. Embracing Culturally Responsive Practice in School Libraries. Chicago: American Librarian Association
Author: Elisabet Kennedy
ELISABET KENNEDY works as a school librarian at a high school in New Jersey. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and journalism media studies from Rutgers University, went on to earn her master in library and information science degree from San José State University, and most recently earned a Master of Arts degree in education from Marshall University. She values continuous professional growth through studying and implementing inclusion and representation initiatives in school libraries, understanding and improving user experience, and learning from antiracist/antibias practitioners. She is a proud Latina, wife, homebody, thyroid cancer survivor, pop culture fangirl, and local cuisine enthusiast.
Categories: Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion