I have a bad back, and I have to exercise so my core muscles can compensate for it and keep me (mostly) pain-free. The problem is, I am consistently embarrassed by how few push-ups and planks I can do, so I hate to do them, and I come up with all sorts of excuses to avoid them. This is mostly a mental problem–it makes me uncomfortable to think about how bad I am at these exercises.
Ironically, I was recently scolding my students because of the loud complaints they gave out when I had them practice writing skills they weren’t very good at. “How can you learn,” I harangued, “if you never try to improve your weak areas?”
The Importance (and Difficulty) of Being Uncomfortable
But this is what many humans tend to do: we find ways to avoid those things we aren’t good at, even though we know, intellectually, that it’s BECAUSE we’re not strong in those areas that we NEED to do them. As previously noted, author e.E. Charlton-Trujillo reminds us, “There is a negative connotation often associated with the idea of being uncomfortable, but being uncomfortable is not necessarily a bad thing. Rarely, do we grow from a place of comfort.”
There are several extremely important “exercises” school librarians should be doing on a regular basis. They can be uncomfortable, though, so not everyone does them. But if we want to keep our practice and our profession strong, it’s important to embrace the discomfort.
School libraries are only valuable when they provide a service to their patrons. These days, there are so many resources available to teachers and students; it is easy for the school library to get overlooked as a major source of materials. More importantly, it’s easy to forget that the easiest-to-access information on the Internet is not the most reliable.
Never has the importance of a school librarian’s information retrieval skills been more important. But many people–administrators and teachers as well as students–may not realize how important those skills are. They may not even realize that their librarian HAS those skills!
That’s why it’s imperative that school librarians “hawk their wares.” School librarians need to actively seek out opportunities to work with students, staff, and administrators. The reasons are manifold. First, it ensures that our patrons access only the best information. Second, it raises awareness of the importance of proper information literacy. Third, it ensures the library has patrons–a patron-less library is a library that is not long for this world. Fourth, and most important, it demonstrates the effectiveness of a school’s most valuable resource, the school librarian.
Active collaboration is a form of advocacy. It raises the profile of the library and its resources. It particularly raises the profile of the librarian within the school. Making oneself indispensable is a good way to keep oneself off the chopping block.
But it’s also not enough. School library positions and spaces are being slashed and replaced all over. Even if you’ve managed to secure your personal fiefdom, consider the bigger picture. If every other school “saves money” by reducing or removing library funding, it is only a matter of time until that spreads to your neck of the woods.
We know from extensive research that “saving money by removing library services” is a fallacy. But most people DON’T know that. One of the central tenets of a school librarian’s job is to fill information gaps. This is a major one that is hurting the entire profession. It’s imperative that you take some steps to help alleviate this ignorance.
It can feel weird to try to raise your own profile, but it’s critically important if school libraries are to continue. If you’re not sure where to start, there are tons of great resources out there! Reach out to colleagues, your local and national associations, and especially your personal learning network on social media. Ideas abound if you take the first step!
Take Part in Professional Development
It’s really easy to just keep doing what you’re doing. There is lots of comfort in repetition and routine. But it’s incredibly important for everyone in education to make regular efforts to interrogate their practice and procedures. That means digging into some meaningful professional development!
There are dozens of professional organizations on both local and national levels that offer professional development opportunities. Of course, you are familiar with the American Library Association and AASL. They offer many in-person and online ways to learn and interact with experts and other librarians. But sometimes it’s good to go beyond the basics and see what’s available from other sources.
Stepping outside the Box
School librarians are educators as well as librarians, so it might be worth checking out some alternative professional development opportunities.
Some focus on grade levels, like the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE) and its state-level affiliates. Others are content-focused, like the National Council of Teacher of English (NCTE). And there are events offered by vendors, such as School Library Journal (SLJ). Granted, these can be expensive, but they provide high-quality learning opportunities. And many of these outlets offer inexpensive or even free online options for increasing one’s knowledge.
Believe me, I know how tough it can be to find the time and money to get to a professional development opportunity. I am fortunate to work in a district that generally provides funding for two days of out-of-district PD. But I rarely allow a school year to pass without taking advantage of many free and low-cost PD opportunities in my area.
I am also fortunate that I live in a pretty populous state. Local groups offer multiple free EdCamps within driving distance every year, each focused on different educational topics. EdCamps can focus on general and special education teachers, educational technology, as well as school and public libraries. There are also several NerdCamps, which usually cost less than $100 while providing published and advanced reader copies of books that more than make up the out-of-pocket cost.
There are also local and state education association workshops, most of which are offered for free. These are typically run in response to needs identified by members. If you don’t see what you’re looking for, contact your local or state education association and ask them to meet your professional development needs!
New Year, New You!
Did any of the above give you a nervous twinge? If so, that’s probably an area you should consider working on! Remember: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger (though I’m pretty sure no one has ever died from advocacy, professional development, or collaboration).
And, as I recently reminded my students: It doesn’t matter how much you plan if you never take action. So create some New Year’s Resolutions that will help you grow. And then take your first steps forward!
It won’t be easy at first, but keep trying. Before you know it, the new will become familiar. Your comfort zone will have expanded. Then it’s time to try the next new thing!
The Art of Being Uncomfortable And Still Inspiring Hope In YA & Middle Grade Lit by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo https://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2019/03/14/the-art-of-being-uncomfortable-and-still-inspiring-hope-in-ya-middle-grade-lit-by-e-e-charlton-trujillo/
Author: Steve Tetreault
After 24 years as a classroom English Language Arts teacher, Steve became a school librarian in January 2022. He has earned an M.Ed. (2006) and an Ed.D. (2014) in Educational Administration and Supervision, and completed an M.I. degree in Library and Information Science (2019). He is certified as a teacher, school library media specialist, supervisor, and administrator. He is an old dog constantly learning new tricks!