This post is derived from the Mar/Apr 2018 issue of The American Library Association magazine Knowledge Quest, which I was privileged to be invited to edit. Meg Featheringham, the editor, was a tremendous inspiration and deserves my sincere thanks for her guidance. The most stimulating part of the process was the conversation that unfolded with each of the authors. I like to think of myself as adept at maintaining a future-focused mindset. Yet, every discussion revealed new layers and expanded inventive thinking. Thank you to the authors who contributed to the issue and stimulated my evolving future-focused mindset. The following is from my introductory column to the issue.
Read more about the issue at http://knowledgequest.aasl.org/imagine-possible-future-school-libraries-mar-apr-issue/ . AASL members can read the issue online. The entire issue will be available to the public within a year.
We live the future now. Students starting Kindergarten in September 2018 will graduate in June 2032. Not science fiction—rather, a school librarian’s call to action. Our students have no time for our prevarication or procrastination.
This issue invites us to consider the Future of School Libraries. None of us can know the future, but we can provide some insights based on our best deep thinking. One thing we do know is that future-focused education is clearly about so much more than technology integration. We also know that the future is a process of continual innovation and incremental improvement. Brian Glazer, former principal of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax, Virginia, the often-ranked #1 high school in the nation, mused in a letter on the school’s website that we must “get comfortable with imperfection in pursuit of innovation.” The future arrives with unexpected demands to meet the ever-changing needs of our students’ realities. The future may be thought of as a series of alternatives from which we (and our students) choose.
I’ve observed over time that enlightened leadership is critical to significant positive impact on learning. Without widely shared leadership, innovation stagnates, the professional learning community fragments, and we lose sight of individual students in favor of top-down compliance and convenience. Teachers willing to leave their egos at the door and leap naked into the uncertain void of change depend on leaders willing to model that leap and value the hard work of teaching.
Finally, the vision that motivates us has significant influence on our ever-changing destination. All members of the school must be able to articulate what students need from their education today. All members must value the experience of every individual student and support change in that student’s world. In my role as district chair for secondary library services, my steering committee and I have led a two-year process for our K–12 school librarians to envision the future of their libraries and their practice. The process has been eye-opening for us all as we adopted the Future Ready Librarians Framework (available at <http://futureready.org/program-overview/librarians>).
What is the future of school libraries in the midst of this accelerated educational change? Ideas for this issue of Knowledge Quest come from thinkers and doers whose work I follow and respect. I’ve attempted to keep the conversation practical and at ground level because
it’s not always easy to determine the next step in your particular progression in your particular school library. Curl up in your favorite reading chair with a cup of coffee and an open mind as you read through this issue. Imagine the possible future...
We begin with Mark Ray, former school librarian and current director of innovation and library services in Vancouver (WA) Public Schools. He is an integral driver of the Future Ready Schools initiative. Mark’s article picks up on Simon Sinek’s TED Talk suggesting that “People don’t buy what you do...they buy why you do it” (2009). Mark talks about the why we do it for school librarians and positions our work in the Future Ready Librarians Framework as he proposes that we focus on meeting the needs of individual students.
The American School of Bombay (ASB) <http://www.asbindia.org> is a vanguard school in 21st-century future-focused education. Craig Johnson, its acclaimed superintendent (Special Feature 2016), and his team talk about how school libraries work at this Pre-K–12 international school. Decentralized out of the traditional library space to where they are most needed, collaboration spaces, makerspaces, and book pods have popped up all over the school. The iCommons concept supports the ASB 21st-century vision and provides us with a picture of a possible evolution of school libraries.
Sometimes big-picture thinking and watching for trends can be overwhelming. We can thank our comprehensive eyes and ears Miguel Figueroa, director of ALA’s Center for the Future of Libraries, for his constant scanning for reporting on issues that affect library services. He’s the force behind the Libraries of the Future—Read for Later blog <http://www.ala.org/tools/future/
blog> and an expert in the thinking-forward mindset. In his feature he shares his insights and practical advice.
For those who cannot wrap their heads around the thinking-forward idea, Lee Watanabe Crockett, coauthor of the book Literacy Is Not Enough and president of the Global Digital Citizen Foundation, has written a feature for you. He draws our focus back into our immediate practice, providing insights on teaching information fluency and global digital citizenship so that students can apply essential skills in the future. He brings a global perspective and urgency to our daily practice.
Kristal Jaaskelainen, ELA master teacher and instructional coach in an alternative education setting, and her colleague Musetta Deneen, an experienced Spanish teacher at the same school, recognize the school library’s expanded role and partnership with other educators. Their practical advice and examples of collaboration may stir something in your heart as an educator and move you to reach out in ways you may not have considered before. These authors challenge us to teach to what individual students need rather than to the test. Kristal and Musetta get out of their comfort zones and persist until they find just the right strategy for each
student, often in collaboration with the school librarian.
Burgeoning urban schools have their own issues that scale up with the size of the student population and the number of faculty. Mary Keeling, supervisor of school library services in Newport News (VA) Public Schools and chair of AASL’s Standards Implementation Task Force, offers some perspective. Mary uses AASL’s new National School Library Standards to frame cultural competence and culturally relevant instruction in the urban setting. Her examination encourages us to internalize the new standards in ways that encourage student success across many cultural variables.
Consideration of the success-data inherent in our profession and how additional data can be generated seems a good way to round out the features in this issue. Marcia Mardis, professor and assistant dean at Florida State University School of Information, Sue Kimmel, associate professor and graduate program director at Old Dominion University, and Laura Pasquini, lecturer at the University of North Texas, provide an overview of AASL’s CLASS II project, which is aimed at establishing the foundation for comparison and groundwork for causal research about the effectiveness and impact of school libraries.
Yes, the future is now. School librarians live at the apex moment of choice. Do we maintain our well-trodden paths with comfortable static illustrations and tactile pages of text, or do we recognize what students need from their education for a successfully navigated future and make significant changes in our practices? This is a choice between irrelevancy and leadership. We, the thinkers and the doers represented here, challenge you to embrace leadership and invent the future.
American Association of School Librarians. 2018. National
School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and
School Libraries. Chicago: ALA.
Sinek, Simon. 2009. “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.”
inspire_action> (accessed November 24, 2017).
“Special Feature on the American School of Bombay.” 2016.
(accessed December 21, 2017).
Knowledge Quest | The Future of School Libraries
Volume 46, No. 4 | March/April 2018 7
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usage requests to the ALA Office of Rights and Permissions.
Graphic from Mid-Term Self-Assessment Report on Canada's Action Plan on Open Government 2014-16
I recently became the representative for the Michigan Association of Media in Education (MAME) on the Assessment for Learning Network (ALN), a function of the Michigan Assessment Consortium. As I participate in the ALN learning opportunities, I have reviewed the literature and given much thought to the issues of assessment in public and higher education and in nonprofit and public institutions, even for-profit organizations. This post is to capture some of my thinking.
What is our future? Where do we need to go? Why do we want to go there and not that other place? Who cares where we go? How will it help us to go there? Questions like these motivate most organizations to “assess.” The word “assess” derives from the medieval courts. Beside the judge sat a functionary who calculated the value of the judgement - as in a tax, or a fine, a monetary value. In Anglo-French assesser, from the Latin assessus “a sitting by.” So, assessment was originally about giving council as to value. Every and each situation for judgement was individualized.
The concept of assessment in its most objective and static form has in recent years migrated out of the scientific realm and been applied to education and nonprofit public institutions, which by nature continually change to meet the needs of the constituents. Objective assessments in education are inherently political and economically motivated. The objectivity is entirely arbitrary, meant to compel compliance and often formulated without input from the stakeholders. Proponents of objective assessment in education reduce organizations and processes to what I think of as “Drivers Tests”; if you know this set of information and respond in prescribed ways - you pass. In other words, there is one correct answer. Any organization that serves the public interest cannot be reduced to a “Driver’s Test,” because the needs of the stakeholders are constantly shifting. The challenge for change leadership is to create assessment and improvement processes that flex to meet the needs of the time and place, taking into consideration input from the people affected.
To comply or not to comply? Compliance-based assessments, like state educational testing or Advanced Placement tests often incorporate cut scores that change every year. The standard is a moving target, sliding along a bell curve that in statistical analysis is referred to as the normal distribution. Think about this for a moment. The ranking of excellence in high schools across the United States is based on the number of AP courses taught in that school, while AP changes the sliding scale of the number that connotes excellence every year. Or, a state requires all k-12 students to take the state objective assessment and schools are judged by “growth” compared to last year, while the state moves the scale for acceptable growth every year. The claim is that ALL schools are judged on the same objective measure is dangerous. It is inaccurate and unproductive to rank schools by the Driver’s Test when every community and every student population has different needs and requirements; the idea of excellence or growth is dynamic and individual.
In the larger picture, what is being assessed changes as circumstances change. Therefore, any useful assessment must be a continuous individualized process and needs to be built into the structure of normal work and process rather than a one time snapshot.
Stakeholders themselves cannot be viewed as static or large undifferentiated groups. For example, the needs of a large university Medical School Library will differ widely from the needs of the large university Business School Library. Complex shifting of groups and users, boundaries and factions are inevitable. How then do we assess and meet the kaleidoscope of needs for our constituents.
Getting change done. Institutions and organizations inevitably develop formal hierarchies and informal hierarchies. Innovation requires innovative thinking at every level. Therefore, the formal leaders need to cultivate shared leadership and foster an ethos that encourages, models and rewards for continual assessment and problem-solving by everyone. “Objective Assessment” assumes that there is an organization with hard impermeable boundaries, when for most organizations the opposite is true. An innovative organization thrives when its people contact, meet with and learn from others beyond its boundaries. Consider, for example, professional organizations, organizations serving the same population, other departments within a university setting, international thinkers and doers. Leaders in the formal hierarchy should model and encourage interaction beyond the boundaries as a spark to innovation. Another component of “getting it done” is fostering a culture of input from your stakeholders. Change does not happen in isolation. C. Robert Maxfield, former superintendent in Farmington, MI and mentor for my internship in the superintendency, used to hand out a card to every staff member at the annual kick-off picnic. The “I blew it!” card gave every person at every level a free pass to innovate and try new strategies for student success and fail without criticism from their peers or administrators. I have found the process effective to collectively assess, improve and project the future needs of the organization through shared leadership and cycles of individualized assessment.
Facing tough realities together. Continual assessment and improvement can seem exhausting because they bring us up against the sometimes harsh realities of change. I think about AI and how it has created major efficiencies for libraries of all sorts. Yet, with AI improvements come a shrinking workforce in some libraries. One result has been issues of isolation of specialized librarians from the faculty they serve, The repercussion being low morale from lack of human contact. As we maintain the cycle of assess/improve we also need to plan to cushion change for real people and support the emotional/professional needs of staff as things change. Libraries are hardly alone in facing these issues of low morale. Organizations like TED model the value of stakeholder input to coax out change strategies that keep thier people involved in innovation.
Depending on the size of your organization, the tracking of the assess/improve cycles and leading consistent change in every department can be stressful. In the next post, I will discuss practical tracking techniques that can be useful by both formal and informal leaders.
The land of the free and the home of the brave. Powerful role model athletes kneel, often with hands over hearts in hope, as the national anthem is played. They protest non-indictments in cases of police brutality against people of color. Teammates stand and touch the shoulders of the protesters in solidarity even if they cannot kneel themselves. Our president belittles the protesters. Team owners join the players. Major corporations join the protest. Scientists from all over the world kneel. The response snowballs. American patriots who cannot bring themselves to recite the Pledge of Allegiance when freedom and justice are demonstrably not for all. I am white, middle class, privileged, Yet, in conversation with my students of color and diverse colleagues I can clearly grasp the frustration, anger and, yes, fear. Fear in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Fear that people who do not know me, hate me.
The, now, famous 75-year Harvard study of men from both Harvard College and the Boston slums has shown that the factor in life that makes men happy, healthy and live longer is good relationships. Not wealth. Not fame. Relationships. Relationships with spouse, family, community make us healthier and happier over time. The act of bickering and arguing and disagreeing makes us healthier because we are confident in the reliability of our relationships when crunch time arrives. Irrational hate doesn't make us happy and healthy. Nor does it lengthen our life spans. Relationships do that.
Perhaps the Trump years of greed, self-aggrandizement and isolationism will motivate us to expand our communities, our relationships, beyond class and racial barriers. Perhaps Trump "speak" is the shock we need to seek out new relationships across social and economic boundaries. To listen to new and different ideas. To consider those ideas with an open mind.
A former teacher, colleague and insightful poet, Dawn Richberg, dares to struggle with our community's racial issues with great compassion. I share with you here a poem that she brought to our faculty at Ann Arbor Skyline High School as we discussed issues of equity and anti-racism in education. I invite you to read with an open mind and try to understand the profound scope of racism that "Take a Knee" symbolizes. I invite you to take a risk; overcome your fear and talk with someone from outside your comfort zone about something outside your comfort zone. Even the smallest ray of understanding will contribute to your health and well-being and the health and well-being of our nation.
When we don’t talk about Ferguson in class
(for all of our students)
When we don’t talk about Ferguson in 1st hour science
I put my head down and tune out covalent bonds
When we don’t talk about Ferguson in 2nd hour history
I wonder if my teacher has forgotten that
we just finished Chapter 14: Jim Crow America
When we don’t talk about Ferguson in 3rd hour choir
I stage my own silent protest
When hypocrisy sings There is Sweet Music Here
I refuse to lend my voice
There is a demonstration on The Diag at noon
But the city bus does not come during school hours
When we don’t talk about Ferguson in 4th hour math
I interrupt the teacher three times
even though it’s my favorite class
Do you see me? Could I be your dead son?
By the time I get to 5th hour
My chest is tight
So when Alex tells me to move
because he cannot see the board
I say fuck you
Out loud so the whole class can hear
And I wait for Miss Whitehorn to say
That is inappropriate language, Mister
But she doesn’t
Instead she says: Class, today I am going to change up our lesson
We will come back to Gatsby tomorrow
For the prompt I want you to write a persuasive paragraph
about the Ferguson decision
And she writes on the board: Do you agree or disagree
with the grand jury decision to not charge Officer Wilson
in the death of Michael Brown?
And finally I CAN BREATHE
Dawn Richberg is an Ann Arbor-based writer and social justice educator. She wrote "When we don’t talk about Ferguson" in response to the frustration she and some of her students felt about the lack of teacher-initiated classroom discussions of police brutality and other social justice issues that continue to affect students once they are inside the school walls. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo credit: detail from a photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes for the Associated Press published in the Washington Post, September 26, 2017.
Buffalo Bills players kneel during the national anthem before their NFL football game against the Denver Broncos on Sunday in Orchard Park, N.Y.
Zinn Education Project: Teaching the People's History a more accurate, complex, and engaging understanding of United States history than is found in traditional textbooks.
Teaching Tolerance, a community of educators committed to democracy founded in diversity, equality and justice.
On Saturday, May 20th, the newly formed N.O.W. chapter of Ann Arbor Skyline High School held the "The Future Is Female" conference. Maybe the chapter should be called WOW! Students spoke with eloquence about issues facing women, young and old, international and local. They screened a film they made that declares and claims their feminism. Members of the state organization, teachers, families, and friends were on hand to applaud their depth of thinking and their courage to speak out. Representative Debbie Dingell brought her view from Washington D.C., while Youseff Rabhi and Donna Lasinski spoke from the state level perspective. Some of the young N.O.W. members' teachers were invited to speak. Kristal Jaaskelainen, Chair of the Skyline English Content Area and Co-Teacher of the Communication Media & Public Policy (CMPP) Magnet Program spoke with Patricia Jenkins, the founder and Lead Teacher of CMPP. They have kindly contributed their comments to this blog. I am certain that you will appreciate Kristal's J's musings, from which the title of this blog entry evolves, even as Pat Jenkins ponders the Stories Missing from History.
FEMINISM, PRIVILEGE AND EMPATHY by Kristal Jaaskelainen
Dan Juntilla made me a feminist. Mr. Juntilla was in charge of the Little League program for Calumet and Keweenaw - located at the most northern point in the state of Michigan. Like my older sister, I grew up playing baseball. She was the only girl that played in her age group and I was one of three. I remember being so proud watching her play. One game, the starting pitcher, Josh, was underperforming and she replaced him. He walked off the field angry and teary-eyed, emotions stemming from both his poor performance and the fact that he was being replaced by a girl, I believe.
So, when the year arrived that I was trying out for Little League, I expected to be placed on a team and spend yet another summer playing ball with the boys. As I said, there were two other young girls that played in my age group - one was my cousin, Amy, and the other was my best friend, Kirsti. All of us had grown up playing, and while none of us were the best, neither were any of us the absolute worst. All of us were skilled and confident enough to continue and contribute at this next level of baseball. However, Dan Juntilla didn’t agree.
When try-outs finished, only three people didn’t make a team. As you might have already guessed, it was all three of us girls. Instead, Dan Juntilla said that he was creating a softball league and we were to play that instead. I was irate! I didn’t want to play softball; I wanted to play baseball. I knew I could compete. I knew I could hold my own. I knew that the only reason I didn’t make a team was because Dan Juntilla felt that girls shouldn’t play.
That moment was formative for me. I say this experience made me a feminist because it was my first experience with inequality. This experience opened up a world to which I had previously been completely ignorant; the world of privilege.
I had been taught to treat people like you want to be treated. I grew up respecting my elders. I grew up in an all-white, rural small town, daughter of the Judge. We were rich by Yooper standards. I was smart and school came easily to me. I was athletic because my father and I shot hoops and played catch. My father, by the way, has 4 sisters, a wife, 2 daughters and 3 grand-daughters. I believe he encouraged me to play sports because he didn’t have any boys around. Except for hockey - girls weren’t allowed to play hockey yet up there, even by my father’s standards. But back to my point, I was born really, really lucky. I am blessed with many privileges. Getting cut from Little League was the first time I was on the other side of privilege. The experience taught me what it meant for something to be “unfair”.
Without such an experience, I could have lived blissfully ignorant. But thankfully, I have not.
I am in fact grateful that this happened. I am now able to understand that being white gives me unearned privileges in our society. I can wrap my brain around the injustices felt by students with disabilities even though I am able-bodied. I can conceptualize the significant and problematic inequity in opportunity that comes along with being poor. I have learned to question the attainability of The American Dream and challenge the too-simple notion that anyone can just “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” - What if you don’t even have boots?
I believe that feminism has taught me empathy and I seek to teach that to all of my students. It is much more difficult to truly empathize if you have never experienced something. Too often, I have seen people think they are empathizing, but really they were condescending.
For example, I used to volunteer at Boysville - a juvenile detention center. I led improv theater workshops with some of the boys and each season ended in a performance for the entire population. One performance happened around Christmastime, and a local charity brought in gifts for all of the young men. While the act itself was kind and generous, the reaction to it showed me something much different. Some of the boys declined gifts and visibly resented accepting something from complete strangers. Some of the boys weren’t Christian and didn’t celebrate Christmas. In spite of this, the volunteers kept insisting that everyone (including me) take a gift. I, like many of those boys, felt it a very uncomfortable interaction. For some, accepting the gifts was like willfully entering into a power dynamic that made them less than. I wasn’t even part of the target population yet I was expected to accept a gift. It felt patronizing and demeaning - certainly not the intent but still the outcome.
True empathy requires understanding and knowledge. Positions of privilege, by nature, prevent one from whole-heartedly knowing what it is like. So instead, we must listen and learn. I am an English teacher because literature and writing are venues through which we can do so. While I will never know what it is like to be black in America, I can read The Souls of Black Folk, Race Matters, The Color Purple and Still I Rise in order to learn. Although I was born in America, I can read Americanah, The House on Mango Street, The Woman Warrior and When I Was Puerto Rican in order to become conscious. As a teacher, I can validate the diverse perspectives in my classroom through purposeful literary choices, and encourage critical thought and compassion. I encourage us all to be thoughtful, engaged readers of diverse perspectives.
Feminism is the lens that taught me to see inequality. Because of feminism, I am now able to see and seek other lenses, as well as recognize and conceptualize the intersectionality of each. Feminism taught me to become aware of areas where I am privileged and as an extension empathize instead of patronize or condescend. Whether your lens is race, class, ability or gender, we must challenge the ignorance of privilege and instead spread compassion and empathy.
Literature is just one way to learn and challenge. My amazing colleague Ms. Pat Jenkins is going to discuss the Stories Missing from History.
STORIES MISSING FROM HISTORY by Pat Jenkins
The importance of the story in developing empathy is something I’d like to talk about, too, with focus on feminism and the future of social studies or civic education. I am a social studies teacher. Let me put on my teacher hat for a moment.
History – HIS STORY – Not HER story or THEIR story but HIS tory.
You see the problem.
It’s an age old one…
Did you know the word “history” comes from the Greek word historia meaning ‘finding out, narrative, history.’ The word Historia evolved from an earlier Greek word HISTOR meaning ‘learned, wise man,’ History (or the study of the stories of smart men) is only one facet of social studies education.
Did you know the first official definition of social studies called it "subject matter related to the organization and development of human society and to MAN as a member of social groups.”
The premise behind social studies is an admirable one – teach students about different places, different times – to make them aware of cultural differences and aware of their place in the structure of a larger society. The problem – the lessons or stories are, even today, told through the lens of the dominant patriarchal majority.
Like Kristal, I can remember the moment when I realized there were major gaps in the stories I learned in school.
The daughter of an educator (my mom was an elementary school teacher) and a spy (my dad work in intelligence for the National Security Agency or NSA), I grew up in middle class Washington DC during the 1960s.
I am the product of a stellar education: I attended a public middle school in suburban Washington and a private all girl’s college prep high school.
Freshman year. Dartmouth College. I enrolled in a course called the History of Black of America 1700 to 1860. We read John Hope Franklin’s History of Black America from Slavery to Freedom. It was the first time I learned from an academic institution that slaves weren’t docile, obedient weaklings. Other readings delved into the rich history and culture of Africa before slavery. To satisfy my thirst to hear more stories, I took the History of Latin America and courses in Women’s Studies.
Unlike the history we learn from the majority perspective, the stories of women, African Americans and other minorities don't start with the Civil Rights Movement or the Feminist Movement.
A side note – in my experience, women and those who gender identify as females tend naturally to be more empathetic and compassionate, more open to understanding the view of the other side, more willing to engage in compromise. Qualities we desperately need in our political discussion today.
WHAT CAN YOU DO in terms of creating a better future for feminism and social studies?
Ask for more courses like Community High Schools’ Alternative Perspectives on US History. The foundational text - Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.
Get involved. Like Ashi and Brooke and other members of the planning team having the courage, imagination and energy to get a NOW chapter and plan this conference.
Support the Communications Media & Public Policy magnet program. It is the magnet for students who want to change the world. (Acknowledge Students currently or soon to be enrolled in the CMPP magnet -- please stand.) On behalf of myself and Ms J, thank you for stepping up and helping to change our world.
Finally, support the building of a National Women’s History Museum. It took 30 years from its first introduction in Congress to the opening of the National Museum of African American and Culture. 15 years for the Holocaust Museum. Support the building of the National Women’s History Museum – a permanent home for HER story!
I'm poised on the brink and holding my breath for the TEDxYouth@AnnArbor event that launches tomorrow (Saturday April 22 8am to 4pm) in the Ann Arbor Skyline High School auditorium. (livestream at tedxya2.org)
(I wrote this for TASL Talks: Legislative Advocacy and You, Texas Association of School Librarians, March 21, 2017. Thought it worth posting here as well. Thanks to Dorcas Hand for the opportunity to address my Texas Colleagues!)
Hello Texas School Librarians! I’m up here in Michigan where the crocus started blooming in February. A chance meeting in an airport shuttle after an ALA Conference connected me with Dorcas Hand, TASLTalks Editor. And here I am to offer you some Big Ideas.
School Librarians consistently follow research on the impact of their work on student achievement and the learning environment (i.e. School Libraries Work, etc.). We teach a curriculum that supports 21st century fluencies and stretches students to think critically and problem-solve. Our impact is statistically significant even in an organization where we see students only once a week for an hour or randomly throughout the week. As the District Chair for Secondary Library Services, I seek out ideas...lots of ideas. Big ideas. Small ideas. Ideas for how school librarians can create opportunities for any and all students to practice self-motivated, responsible inquiry along with the 21st century fluencies (Lee Crockett & Global Digital Citizens Foundation) - opportunities beyond the release time I am required to provide for my colleagues. Opportunity. That’s my focus these days.
Opportunity. How does a school librarian create broad impact on student opportunity in the school, in the community, in the world? To answer your immediate question - No, my friends, it’s not a question that’s too big for us. We have to think like teachers of the future. We have to BE teachers of the future, today. I keep this short poem hanging at my desk. I read it every day.
What is a teacher?
What is a teacher? A guide, not a guard.
What is learning? A journey, not a destination.
What is discovery? Questioning the answers, not answering the questions.
What is the goal? Open minds, not closed issues.
What is a test? Being and becoming, not remembering and reviewing.
What is learning? Not just doing things differently, but doing different things.
What is teaching? Not showing them what to learn, but showing them how to learn.
What is school? Whatever we choose to make it.
Allan Glatthorn from Literacy Is Not Enough by Lee Crockett, Ian Jukes, Andrew Churches
I am inspired by Allan’s precise spare poetry. I aspire to fulfill that vision in the practice of my profession, in the evolution of my school.
Action. So, today I want to talk to you about just one of the BIG ideas that I use to create opportunity in our school, the community and the world for all students. No kidding. This BIG idea touches all the standards - ALA, ISTE, Common Core, state, etc. It moves students up to “Transform” on the SAMR model of technology integration. It stimulates my natural role as “a guide.” It insists upon student choice and promotes self-motivated inquiry. It gives Youth Voice a global platform and stimulates community participation at many levels. All of this is outside of the classroom. Whew! That asks a lot of a single good idea. Here’s the story.
The Activism Committee of our Student Action Senate (student government) wanted to reach out to kids from the dozen or so public and private high schools in our town to create a dialog among youth and figure out a way to amplify youth voice to impact the future of our city. I don’t know about you, but on my Student Learning Network Resources page I have always linked “TED Talks - Ideas worth spreading” in the Open Coursework/Experts category. I watch TED Talks often and recommend them to teachers as appropriate for the curriculum. I curated an independent TED event for teachers in my district to share good ideas and future forward practice. I had a pretty clear idea of what it would take to organize a TEDx event. So, I put the idea of an independent TED event for, by, and about youth on the table. I didn’t give an “assignment” or defend the idea. I didn’t, in fact, say another word. The kids in the committee pulled out their devices and began collecting information on how to get a license for TEDx (x = independently organized TED event). One of the kids projected his favorite TED talk. They began a discussion of how they could attract kids from every high school to an organizers committee. Without me saying another word - they took flight with an idea that intrigued them. This flurry of research and discussion became TEDxYouth@AnnArbor.
Now in its fourth year, organizers are recruited to represent every high school (public and private). They form into sub-committees (Speakers, Tech, Hospitality, Marketing and Design). They plan and carry out every aspect of a one-day event according to the TED Guidelines. They audition potential speakers from all the high schools (this year including middle schools) - all twenty speakers are students. They mentor the speakers to develop the talks. The organizers recruit students to volunteer. They speak with businesses, museums and the public library to set up active spaces for inquiry and exploration between sets of youth speakers. They train with the local Community Television Network to operate the cameras, direct the stage and record and edit the video for upload to the TED sponsored TEDx YouTube Channel. They recruit musicians, dancers, poets - all youth. They design the advertising, the set and themes. They make an introductory video. They decorate the venue and sell tickets. They set up a webcast of the event (webcast.tedxya2.org April 22, 8am - 4pm). They plan and execute advertising in print, on radio and online. Then they invite the community, their City Council Members, the Mayor, business leaders, the School Board, University of Michigan students and professors and other city leaders to come and listen to what they care about and what they think is important. The Youth Curator, usually an experienced senior, proposes and tracks the budget, holds the credit card and oversees the bank account, motivates grant-writing and fundraising, runs the weekly meetings and meets with each committee to track and oversee progress. I am the curator of record with TED, but I encourage the organizers to solve the issues that arise and point them toward resources. My standard response is, “I don’t know. What do you think?” Of course, I won’t let them leap off a cliff, but I do let them try out solutions until they find what works. They keep detailed records each year so they can learn from past experience. I look to their safety and encourage creative solutions. I sign papers when they need a legal signature. Other than that, I sit and watch and stand in awe of the capabilities and scope of interest of today’s youth.
The enthusiasm is spreading. This year we are launching our first TEDED Club at the elementary level. The club meets for 13 weeks with a TED-planned curriculum to identify an idea the students care about and create a persuasive talk to share out. The club experience culminates in a mini-TEDx event at the school with other students and families as the audience and the kids as the speakers.
Okay. TED. That’s one BIG idea. In my own recently launched blog, Invent the Future (http://www.a2saraduvall.com), I intend to highlight more big and small ideas - ideas that I’ve successfully tried in my iCommons and ideas that other brilliant school librarians share with me. Inventing the future of public education and school libraries is my passion. Follow my blog if you want to join the exploration. Also, follow me on Twitter @a2duvall.
I want to leave my Texas colleagues with one last thought. No matter our political biases, the students we guide today are the leaders of our democracy tomorrow. Our work matters today as it never has before! Our role is to invent ways to expand our students’ experience, so that they can flex their 21st century skills into becoming ubiquitous. To open minds not close issues. To guide not guard. To do different things than our predecessors to change the paradigm of school library services and promote what students actually need from their education today. We, individually and together, CAN make that difference.
To launch a blog in these days of declining blog participation is a leap of faith. It's a bit like falling backwards into the digital void, naked and terrified. My only companions...hope and a promise. Hope that engagement with the wider community will help to achieve insight in a frenetic world; a promise to persevere against the pressures weighing down progress and change.
Alvin Toffler said,
" You've got to think about the big things while you're doing the small things,
so that the small things go in the right direction."
Over the last 2 years I have immersed myself in big picture thinking (and thinkers) about the future of education and the future of libraries. Conferences, webinars, research, visionary reports and conversations have compelled me into a wider dialogue. ALA, AASL, ISTE, MACUL, MAME, 21st Century Fluencies, etc. have all opened doors and windows, allowing me to breathe through the tough times in education so much more easily than I was capable of even a year ago. I find the big ideas compelling. My enthusiasm for the challenge of inventing change is renewed.
My intention here is to come out of my solitary rumination and directly engage in the wider dialogue with as many of you as I can. I've spent days and hours both conducting and participating in professional dialogue about what skills students actually need beyond school; about a world where we cannot conceive with any reliability what "employment," "career," "work" will look like even next year. Again, Alvin Toffler, "The illiterate of the future will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and re-learn."
In this space, I will share what I read, who I follow, which ideas seem to resonate with our students' reality. I will share process and resources. I will share your comments to further the conversation. I will highlight the most innovative ideas that I discover out there. I will invite futurist thinkers to address us with cutting-edge visions.
At the same time, I will continue to innovate in the high school library where I serve and steadily transfer ownership of the space and the program to our iCommons Student Advisory Council. I will continue to lead our 34 school librarians to form a new and innovative vision of what school libraries should be to meet the unpredictable needs of our students. I will lead them to action to promote and serve the agenda for district-wide change as led by our innovative superintendent.
I hope you will join me on this journey. I promise that I will fill these pages with the most innovative thinking that I find. Let us fall into the void together with the certainty that our collective experience will enhance our understanding and keep our spirits afloat. Now is the time to invent the future.