PSLA Believes in Distance Learning

Who would have known that in January of 2019 a small group of Pennsylvania School Librarians Association (PSLA) leaders would be writing a grant application to provide distance learning opportunities that would launch during a time of social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic? After PSLA was awarded the 2019 AASL Past-Presidents Planning Grant for National School Library Standards, Allison Mackley, immediate past president, and Dustin Brackbill, board director, led a group of PSLA members in the development and implementation of two professional learning initiatives built on the AASL Domains (Think, Create, Share, and Grow). PSLA designed and produced a webinar to support attendees as they implemented AASL’s National School Library Standards. In addition, we developed an online course via a synchronous format to explore the AASL Standards.

The work was accomplished during sequestered weekends, long months of asynchronous work, and numerous Zoom meetings. All of this happened because we believed in the process. We believed in the intended outcome. We believed in each other.

We believe in the joy of inquiry.

Allison: Pennsylvania is an expansive state, so providing face-to-face professional learning opportunities is a challenge. To solve this problem, PSLA, in collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh’s School Library Certification Program, has been offering conference and regional training sessions over the past few years with the help of a Library Services and Technology Act grant awarded by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Office of Commonwealth Libraries. I recognized that while we were serving many of our school librarians by offering resources, such as “Model Curriculum for Learners in School Libraries (2019) training and the “Guidelines for Pennsylvania School Library Programs (2019), I wanted to develop strategies to eliminate the financial and geographical barriers that prevented Pennsylvania school librarians from accessing our professional learning opportunities, especially with the launch of AASL’s National School Library Standards.

Dustin: The question then became what to create for our distance learning opportunities. The joy of inquiry is sometimes from pure curiosity and sometimes from necessity. In this instance, we followed Allison’s vision to create a webinar and an online course. Allison and I met with a few other key stakeholders, such as current PSLA President Cathi Fuhrman and local and state advocacy co-chair Deb Kachel, to craft our grant application.

We believe in the commitment to include.

Allison: As Dustin and I set out to build a webinar development and production team and a course writing team, we were very intentional in seeking school librarians from across the state and from various grade levels. The webinar writing and development group included Karey Killian (@CoLIBRAtoRY) and Janice Conger (@congerjan) who fit naturally into the team as the PSLA Teaching and Learning Committee co-chairs. To round out the webinar group, committee members Beth McGuire (@hasd_wenlib) and Kelsey DeStevens (@caffeinatedteas) volunteered. For the team developing the 3-module course, we sought out Corey Hall (@rchallway), PSLA Communications Committee co-chair, who was a 2019 ALA Emerging Leader in the midst of co-writing the Developing Inclusive Learners and Citizens Activity Guide and toolkit with her team. Sara Webb (@agilepem), from the PSLA Local and State Advocacy Committee, joined the group to provide a focus on community engagement.

Dustin: We know all too well in today’s educational landscape that finding ways to offer equitable access to professional development for librarians is a challenge. Given the many circumstances that limit availability for live and in-person training, we decided to explore two virtual training opportunities that could serve to educate our members (and beyond) about the AASL Standards. These would be new methods for delivering professional development to our membership, and one that turned out to be more relevant and timely than anticipated.

We believe in the relevance of curation.

Allison: As our two groups worked in tandem, we shared resources that would be appropriate for each of the distance learning opportunities that we set out to create. I was in the group that worked on the 3-module course “Limitless Learning with the AASL Standards,” which provides training on how to implement the National School Library Standards. The first online module focuses on creating a foundational understanding of the AASL Standards. The second puts the standards into practice through the development of lesson plans that align to the AASL Standards. Module three provides librarians with strategies and tools to engage community members at the local (school or district) level. Although initially developed for Pennsylvania school librarians, the course is open to the national library community. Join the Limitless Learning course, offered asynchronously through Canvas, to earn a certificate and six professional learning hours. AASL Chapters can also contact PSLA to make a replica course to adapt and offer within their own states.

Dustin: Sitting in a working room for hours can prove overwhelming, but piece by piece we started gathering resources for our PD opportunities. The need for curation was evident, as each team had access to presentations developed by PSLA leaders, materials from AASL, and an abundance of online sites and tools. Determining what would be most beneficial and practical for our purposes allowed for a focused lesson in curating resources!

We believe in the power of collaboration.

Allison: The team creating the webinar centered their work around collaboration with community stakeholders. We embraced the personas to represent groups within the community. With a focus on meaningful technology integration to assist each stakeholder, they developed the webinar “Beyond the Standards: Creating Partnerships Guided by the AASL National School Library Standards.” This webinar is designed to support school librarians as they implement the AASL Standards. Through community engagement, school librarians can gain administrator, faculty, parent, community, and student support as they embed the standards into instruction and infuse the school community with opportunities to Think, Create, Share, and Grow. All resources are available for viewing from the “Beyond the Standards” toolkit; school librarians can also personalize the webinar for their local situation.

Dustin: Our team learned from and leaned on each other to become a strong unit as we neared the webinar presentation date. Through several test sessions and read throughs, we refined the visual elements and script to tell the story of each persona in a manner that was useful and engaging. Our team also brought in many of the digital tools from AASL’s Best Digital Tools for Teaching & Learning. Finally, we collaborated with participants during the webinar to get their input, ideas, and wonderings.

We believe in the adventure of exploration.

Allison: Throughout the webinar development process, we called ourselves the “tier I” team. We knew that our webinar toolkit and course would not be perfect. We asked PSLA members to join us on a “tier II” team to review the webinar and course to give us the necessary feedback we required to reflect, revise, and grow. We offered a viewing of the webinar to the PSLA Board of Directors, committee co-chairs, and past presidents who provided us with honest feedback, which guided us to a significant shift in our approach and inspiration to innovate. The webinar became a conversation with community stakeholders and stories about the meaningful integration of technology to address the standards. The course also went through a tier II review to identify areas in which we could increase the potential impact of the learning activities. We had trust in our tier II teams knowing they would provide honest, empathetic, and constructive feedback about the beauty of and rough spots in our creations. As the school librarian mantra reminds us, we were “Brave Before Perfect” (Saujani 2020).

Dustin: For our tier I team, this experience was definitely a step out of our comfort zone. But the power of saying “Yes!” to the opportunity and to devote ourselves to the process outweighed the fear, nerves, and insecurities. When we knew that other members of our community were behind us and lifting us up, we were indeed stronger together!

 We believe in the responsibility to engage.

Allison: “Ever curious” is not only my e-mail signature, but it also represents how I live my life. Although I am an introspective introvert, I am also a school librarian, a learner, and a leader. It is my nature to engage with others, so I share, and I do so responsibly. We have a civic responsibility to contribute to our local and global communities. We are proud to share our creations and build our community. We hope to inspire others to embrace curiosity.

Dustin: The three lessons in the Limitless Learning Module: Engaging Our Community are “Create Our Story,” “Share Our Story,” and “Grow Our Story.” I think that this is the perfect responsibility for all of us to take with our profession. Discover how to engage and grow as learners and leaders and then let others know what makes librarians such a valuable resource–especially during this crucial time in education and beyond. We believe that “Every Standard Tells a Story,” so find yours!

Connect with PSLA

PSLA was honored to be awarded one of the 2019 AASL Past-Presidents Planning Grant for National School Library Standards. We would not have been able to provide a live webinar and a free course if it were not for the work of AASL, the generosity of Roger and Susan D. Ballard, and the foundational leadership of E. Blanche Woolls.

If you would like to know more about our experience, please contact Allison Mackley ( or Dustin Brackbill ( Follow the PSLA activities @psla_news on Twitter.

Works Cited:

AASL. 2018. National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries. Chicago: ALA.

Saujani, Reshma. 2020. Brave Not Perfect: How Celebrating Imperfection Helps You Live Your Best, Most Joyful Life. New York: Crown.

Author: Allison Mackley and Dustin Brackbill

Dustin Brackbill is an elementary school librarian in the State College Area School District, located in Centre County, PA. He has served for 15 years in his district and also been involved in PSLA for 15 years. Within the PA School Library Association, Dustin has served on the conference committee, the lit review committee, and the operations committee. He helped write the Model Curriculum for PA School Library Programs (stage 3) in 2014, and the Guidelines for PA School Library Programs in 2018. Professionally, he has presented multiple times at PSLA Conferences and participated in the Sustaining Leaders Academy. Recently, he served as the co-chair of the Teaching & Learning committee, and now he serves as the committee liaison on the PSLA Board of Directors. Follow Dustin on Twitter @DustinBrackbill.

Allison Mackley, National Board Certified school librarian, is the K–12 Library Department coordinator and instructional technology coach at Hershey (PA) High School in the Derry Township School District. She is the immediate past president of the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association. An AASL member, she serves as the Region 2 Board Director and the board liaison for the AASL Digital Tools for Teaching and Learning committee. She served on AASL’s Standards Implementation Committee and as its liaison with the Presidential Initiative Task Force and the Crosswalk Task Force. Allison currently serves on the Pennsylvania Department of Education Governor’s Advisory Council on Library Development, and she is a member of the ISTE Librarians Network Leadership Team. In 2017 she was a finalist for the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Teacher of the Year Award. She was the 2019 AASL Social Media Superstar Leadership Luminary, and the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association (PSLA) won the 2019 AASL Affiliate of the Year during her presidency. She received her Master’s degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Pittsburgh. Follow her on Twitter @amackley.

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Awards Spotlight, Blog Topics, Community, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Professional Development

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