A recent article in EdSource (http://edsource.org/2015/classroom-coaches-critical-as-teachers-shift-to-common-core/) noted an increase in coaches in California school districts to assist with the demands of implementing the Common Core State Standards. One school mentioned in the article, Oakland Technical High School, appears to have a library website, with databases to search, but no librarian. In searching the district’s staff directory there is a “District Library Services” but no librarians, media specialist, etc. The school websites that did have a space for the library page direct students to online free resources through the Virtual Library. The Oakland Unified District, as stated in the article, has “an enrollment of over 37,000 students.” Data from the California Dept. of Education [http://www.cde.ca.gov] shows that in the entire district there is only one employee listed as “librarian.”
Did the adoption of the new Common Core State Standards create this need for coaches, or did the gaping hole left behind in the California public education system when many school districts eliminated their school librarians, and some even closed their school libraries, start this ball rolling? And the point is still being missed. The issue is not about students being coached to pass state tests, the issue is that we are not preparing our student to be college and career ready.
What college and career activities really need – an inquisitive mind ready with the skills to search for, evaluate, analyze, and create with information – the instruction, collaboration, and administration of library resources that the school librarian provides is a huge piece of preparing students for those activities.
By creating a team of staff members who each contribute those things they do best, an Administrator can develop a campus that is open to a wide variety of positive learning experiences. The presence – on staff – of a dynamic school librarian with support staff has been proven by 21+ state studies to positively affect student achievement by encouraging co-teaching and learning that teaches students how to effectively work in today’s information environment. Skills required by Common Core such as independent learning, reading for, and writing with evidence, creating presentations, and researching effectively are necessary skills that cross all subjects. Add in the skills required by the imperative of social media [cyber safety, digital citizenship, privacy knowledge] to teach students how to stay civil and safe in their virtual environments, and you have an even greater need for the on-site presence of the school librarian to teach these skills within the context of the classroom curricula. Inquiry – the asking of questions and then taking the steps to answering them – is at the heart of today’s teaching and learning. These are the steps that make up the research process which are the skills valued by colleges; and these are the necessary skills in the careers students are preparing for. These are the curriculum of the school librarian.
With a librarian on staff, their classroom colleagues have a partner to share in their teaching. As a faculty member of the staff, the school librarian is there daily to not only participate in co-teaching lessons, but provide the resource scaffold: the books, online databases, and other virtual resources and applications that all teachers and students need.
In the library, the librarian creates learning experiences for students that allows them connect their classroom learning to their lives outside of school as well as being the place where learning is practiced, and synthesized as they create the products required for class. While assisting their teachers in integrating technology, co-teaching topics like note-taking, using 2.0 tools, subject specific resource use and other topics, librarians also offer programming that includes author visits, poetry, writing and books clubs, coding, video, and other interests.
All this teaching and discovery is built upon the library. The library team creates the smooth running of this important ‘third space’ for students and teachers.
There’s a lot of ‘bang for the buck’ in the hiring of a school librarian. We have heard many arguments about why we can’t afford to hire librarians and support personnel. Cash strapped school have to make decisions regarding the most effective ways to ensure that students are learning those necessary skills. Hiring instructional coaches answers one kind of need, but it’s a narrow need that provides only one part of the education equation. Developing a campus staff that includes the library team will provide a school with an environment that can build relationships, create a collegial professional learning environment, and develops a place – physically and virtually – for students to accomplish the work they must do to as they grow into young adults ready to tackle the world. The school librarian works as a partner with their classroom colleagues, teaching coaches, specialist teachers, and administrators to encourage inquiry, technology literacy, reading, creating, and developing the habit of lifelong learning.
Author: Connie Williams
NBCTeacher Librarian and author of “Understanding Government Information: a Teaching Strategy Toolkit for grades 7-12”. Member of the CA State Library Services Board, and History Room Librarian at the Petaluma Regional Library [Sonoma County Library]. She welcomes all conversation.. give a holler!