School librarians have many roles, among which are teacher and instructional partner. AASL’s position “The Strategic Leadership Role of School Librarians” notes, “The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) supports the position that full-time certified school librarians provide effective leadership in curriculum development, instructional design, technology integration, professional development, student advocacy, information literacy instruction, and collaboration” (2018, para. 1). Teachers and administrators turn to school librarians for guidance and support on planning, delivering, and assessing online instruction.
The technology associated with virtual learning could never replace the librarian. Technology needs school librarians as much as we need it. School librarians rely on technology for several reasons, from the curation of resources to enriching educational experiences. Technology, on the other hand, needs school librarians to orient educators to digital resources and platforms by way of professional development and ongoing support (AASL n.d.). Most importantly, technology needs school librarians to link its features to the learning process. School librarians help teachers “get grounded in instruction, so they can figure out with students how best to engage technology” (Fullan 2011, 15).
The COVID-19 pandemic came unexpectedly, and so did school librarians’ charge of finding new ways to engage students in reading, learning, and personal growth. Distance learning comes with many challenges but even more opportunities. There are opportunities for students to build knowledge and cultivate a love of learning.
Critical Factors of Online Instruction
Four major factors of remote, inquiry-based instruction have revealed themselves due to my recent online teaching experiences. Whenever I collaborate with teachers on the development of online instruction, I reference the following factors.
Universal themes connect student learning with multiple content areas. According to Roberts and Roberts (2014), “A universal or broad-based theme maximizes learning potential because it can be used in various content areas to allow students to see how and where their learning in one content area applies to other content areas or situations” (2014, 226). Universal themes (i.e., patterns, adaptation) and holistic, real-world phenomena (i.e., aviation, Egyptian pyramids) provide the motivating starting point for learning, instead of traditional school subjects. The information and skills related to themes and phenomena cross the boundaries between content areas, making learning authentic.
The rewards of inquiry-based instruction extend beyond a final product. During the inquiry process, students develop 21st-century skills, discover a new or renewed passion for learning, and become lifelong learners who are eager to explore the world. In the realm of online instruction, students can engage with content in numerous ways. For instance, students can investigate compelling questions using media-rich sources. Students can complete complex tasks that they, in turn, use to teach the class new ideas and information.
“Social interaction among two or more people is the greatest motivating force in human development” (Eun 2010, 401). This compelling statement comes as no big surprise to school librarians. Shared experiences do more than motivate. Collaboration is opening a window, which leads to new ideas, alternative solutions, and lasting relationships.
Class websites, video-conferencing software, and learning management systems make it easy to inspire student-to-student collaboration. Besides expediting students’ access to digital tools and assignments, online communication platforms foster collaboration on learning tasks. For instance, students can work simultaneously on Google Suite’s content collaboration tools—Docs, Sheets, and Slides—to plan, develop, critique, and revise products.
There is power in storytelling. National Geographic is a household name because of its ability to tell captivating stories through journalism, photography, and videography. At the heart of each National Geographic story is a central message braced by evidence. Why not let students communicate conclusions through stories? Storytelling challenges students to synthesize learning by using evidence to construct and critique claims for various purposes and audiences.
There is no “one-size-fits-all” in teaching students virtually or in-person. Classrooms consist of unique individuals with various skills and backgrounds. How can you use themes, processes, collaboration, and storytelling to provide effective leadership in online learning?
AASL. n.d. “The School Librarian Role in Pandemic Learning Conditions.” http://www.ala.org/aasl/sites/ala.org.aasl/files/content/advocacy/SchoolLibrarianRolePandemic_Resources_Chart_200713.pdf (accessed Aug. 22, 2020).
AASL. 2018. “The Strategic Leadership Role of School Librarians.” American Association of School Librarians. https://essa.aasl.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/AASL_Position-Statement_Strategic-Leadership-Role_2018-06-24.pdf (accessed Aug. 22, 2020).
Eun, Barohny. 2010. “From Learning to Development: A Sociocultural Approach to Instruction.” Cambridge Journal of Education 40 (4): 401-418.
Fullan, M. 2011. “Choosing the Wrong Drivers for Whole School Reform.” In Seminar Series, vol. 204: 1-19.
Roberts, Julia Link, and Richard A. Roberts. 2014. “Writing Units that Remove the Learning Ceiling.” Methods and Materials for Teaching the Gifted: 213-252.
Author: Sam Northern, Ed.D.
Sam Northern is a National Board Certified Teacher-Librarian at Simpson Elementary School in Franklin, Kentucky. He currently serves as President of the Kentucky Association of School Librarians. In 2014, Sam was selected for the Fulbright-Hays Summer Seminars Abroad Program where he spent four weeks in China. Since then, Sam has voyaged to Antarctica as a National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow and worked aboard a research vessel on the Atlantic Ocean as a NOAA Teacher at Sea. From January to April 2018, Sam traveled to Finland as part of the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program to research best practices for project-based learning. Connect with him on Twitter @Sam_Northern and Facebook @themisterlibrarian.