As the calendar approaches what would have been the end of our school year, I cannot help but think about what changes we may see as the new school year begins in the fall. Will we return to a business-as-usual model in which we are all physically together? Will we have to continue with distance learning? Will it be some kind of mixture of both? Whatever future our schools will face, I know that school librarians must be at the forefront of any changes.
We all recognize that the current reality of education is far from ideal. In my school district in Shawnee, Oklahoma, the past few weeks have been focused on meeting our learners’ essential needs: food, mental health, and other physical needs. The goal of education activities has been keeping learners’ brains active and engaged, not necessarily introducing new skills. We provide weekly cross-curricular choice activities to students in both print and online formats. We check in with our learners often through videoconferencing, e-mails, and phone calls. It is an imperfect method of providing instruction and care, one that is fine for the current emergency but one that cannot and should not be the status quo in the future. Of course, we will continue taking care of our students’ essential needs first, but we must give our learners opportunities to grow, not simply maintain their education.
As I am sure all school districts are doing right now, our district is actively thinking about the possible education future and making plans to prepare for it. As we try to predict what the future of school will be, I believe the following must become a reality if our learners are going to have a complete and equitable education:
- Home broadband and access to technology are no longer luxuries. An equitable public education for all learners means that broadband must become as common as indoor plumbing. Making this level of access a reality will take collaboration from federal, state, and local governments; broadband providers; public libraries; and both common and higher education. Whatever it takes, the access must happen immediately.
- School libraries and highly qualified school librarians are a necessity now more than ever. The National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries are effective whether the school library is available to learners physically or virtually. All the Shared Foundations–Inquire, Include, Collaborate, Curate, Explore, and Engage–can be addressed in an online learning environment. In fact, classroom educators who are struggling to translate teaching methods in a virtual location will benefit from the expertise of school librarians who are trained in these standards. The school librarian’s ability to curate digital learning tools and to train both educators and students on how to use these tools is essential. Even though we are in the midst of an unprecedented economic downturn and education budget cuts will follow inevitably, now is the time for school administrators to invest in that which is proven to positively affect student learning: school librarians.
- School librarians must actively insert themselves into the learning environment. Offering one’s expertise in technology, information, and inquiry learning is necessary. Now is not the time to wait to be invited to participate in the future of education. School librarians must seize this moment of forced change and share their skills and knowledge. Our learners are depending on us.
The global pandemic has made many changes necessary, but with this crisis comes an opportunity for us to rethink and recreate our future education world. If we want to be a fellow sojourner with our learners and educators in this new world, then we must be strong advocates for our students and ourselves.