What's in a name?
We clearly understood our roles: program administrator, information specialist, instructional partner, and teacher. We understood what each role encompassed, how they all intertwined and, most importantly, how the fulfillment of these roles would have a positive impact on our students and schools. During my seven years as a school library media specialist (SLMS), it became clear that "they" really have no idea what we do. I hear the same frustration echoed at district, regional, and national meetings of librarians. We've watched our field struggle and become marginalized at a time when information literacy skills are clearly an essential part of the curriculum and are more vital than ever for success in school and in life. Despite study after study demonstrating our worth, in many districts we are simply disappearing. Library schools are struggling to fill classes because we are perceived to be heading for extinction. In many schools we still battle fixed schedules and the "drop and run." Library collections are being "leveled," and literature is being pushed aside in the interest of close-readable informational text. We watch technology specialists take over information literacy instruction because somehow computers are not in our purview.
Enough! It is time that we make clear, once and for all, exactly what we do. It is going to require a paradigm shift. Take a breath and open your mind.
We have done ourselves a great disservice by maintaining the same four role titles when it is clear they don't help people understand all that we can do and the part we play in schools. I would like to suggest that we drop the role title of "teacher" and add "school leader." Now, before you scream at me that SLMSs are teachers, hear me out (and I do recognize the irony that this piece is appearing in Teacher Librarian).
At one point in my career, I (very briefly) considered becoming a school-based administrator. I went through a second master's program to become administrative and supervisory certified and am now qualified to serve as a principal in any state in the country. During the process, I met with a superintendent in my district to discuss my future. He asked, "How do you think you can be an effective school administrator when you've never been a teacher?" I admit to gripping the edge of my chair and smiling through clenched teeth as I breathed deeply and composed my answer. I explained to him:
* I taught all day, every day, but most effectively in collaboration with a classroom teacher.
* I was the only educator in the building to teach all of the children in all of the content areas, sometimes seeing the same students several times each day or week.
* I was the only educator in the building to manage a budget and a staff (I know that's not the case for all SLMSs, but I was lucky).
* I participated as a full member of the instructional leadership team, helping to analyze learning data and develop and monitor action plans to increase student achievement.
* I worked collaboratively with all teachers in all content areas; therefore, I was the only educator in the building who could tell him which of the teachers were in need of support, which were exemplary, and which needed to be counseled out of the field.
He had never considered that the SLMS had such a breadth of experience and such insight into the school community. He thought I just conveyed "library skills" in isolation, and in his mind that didn't qualify me to lead a school. He didn't recognize me as an information literacy expert or acknowledge that information literacy is the horizontal curriculum that underscores every content area. He didn't see the level of collaboration and the positive impact it had on students. He didn't see that the reading programs and opportunities to create with technology helped students (and staff) stay engaged. He didn't realize that I used data to inform my programming and to ensure that I addressed the needs of all students and to help my school meet its instructional goals. Bottom line, he didn't understand what I did. He does now.
When I joined the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) as director of library programs in February 2014, I faced the task of rebuilding the school library program, as only about half of DCPS schools had a certified SLMS. Budget constraints in 2012 resulted in a large cut to SLMS staffing. However, after going through school consolidations, DCPS made the deliberate decision to prioritize the SLMS role for 2013-2014. Principals were encouraged to hire a certified SLMS, and funding was available to support this role. However, many school-based administrators felt there were more pressing staffing needs, and SLMSs were not hired. When 1 began the hiring process in March, it became clear that these same administrators clearly had no idea what they were missing--they didn't understand the value of a SLMS. They thought of the SLMS as the library skills teacher and didn't see the need.
Program Administrator * Manage and build the collection * Provide access (scheduling) * Safe and inviting environment * Programs to support reading, content, and student interests * Outreach to community and stakeholders Instructional Partner * Collaboratively plan to support curriculum * Tech integration * Information literacy skills * Connect academic to personal for your students Information Specialist * Updated collection * Curriculum development * Copyright / digital citizenship * PLN * Provide access to resources (databases, etc.) School Leader * Goals set and driven by data * PD leader (at your school and beyond) * Model (PLN, digital citizenship, pedagogy) * Active member of academic leadership team
As I started to explain the traditional four roles, it became clear that "teacher" was actually a stop-word to describing what we actually do. When I say we are "teachers" the reaction is, "OK, I can have them teach library class. Over there, apart from the content instruction. They can be another special so my teachers can have more planning time!" I clearly needed to reframe their understanding.
When I was a kid, my mom used to hide wheat germ and other healthy stuff in my oatmeal cookies. I didn't know the good stuff was there-I just thought it was a cookie! I have come to feel the same about the role of "teacher" for SLMSs. If we roll "teacher" into "instructional partner," it becomes clearer that while we do teach, our teaching is dependent on collaboration and coteaching with the classroom teacher. We can't do our jobs without them, and vice versa. We are the information literacy subject matter experts (SME), and in order to teach any curriculum with fidelity, you must involve the SME. As instructional partners, SLMSs don't always stay in the library; they actually go in to classes with the teachers! Because we are trained as teachers, we demonstrate excellent pedagogy and classroom management, but working in partnership with teachers allows for greater differentiation and mastery. Bottom line, it's good for kids!
In DCPS, during districtwide professional development (PD) days, SLMSs were traditionally taken out of their schools for separate training, so they were not part of the instructional team and not trained on the same programs or curricula as the teachers. We have changed that model because in order to be at the table, sometimes we need to invite ourselves. SLMSs now participate in their school-based PD so they are full members of the team. Our SLMSs are expected to provide professional development in their schools and to build strong professional learning networks, so every month, they will also receive a half-day of additional PD, often in same-level groups, to ensure that they have the training and tools to be the information literacy SMEs in their schools and to build their professional learning network (PLN).
Principals, assistant principals, instructional specialists, department chairs, and teachers are coming to understand that SLMSs can--and should--participate in collaborative lesson planning and curriculum writing, as well as delivery of instruction and assessment, because SLMSs are instructional partners. Many school administrators are adding the SLMS to their school leadership team to ensure that they include the unique big-picture perspective that only the SLMS can bring. It is becoming clear to them what we do, because I am emphasizing "school leader" and "instructional partner" while hiding some of the good-for-you teacher stuff inside. I'm not changing what we do, just the way that we explain it. It's not enough for us to understand; "they" need to get it, and dropping "teacher" while adding "school leader" seems to be working here in DCPS.
Chancellor Kaya Henderson chose to include a visit to our districtwide SLMS preservice PD on a day filled with teacher trainings all over the district. She arrived while I was discussing the four roles as I see them: program administrator, informational specialist, instructional partner, and school leader. She asked to have a copy of the PowerPoint slide (content below), and I believe she will help spread the word. We look forward to starting the 2014-2015 school year with a certified SLMS in almost every school building!
Jennifer Boudrye, guest columnist for "Advocacy" in this issue, is the Director, Library Programs, District of Columbia Public Schools.
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|Title Annotation:||ADVOCACY; school library media specialist|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2014|
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