Manage, Don’t Control

nonverbal communicationWhat we think affects how we feel. How we feel influences how we act, how we are in our relationships with others.  And whether we speak of it or not, people pick up on our feeling and attitudes.  Remember, most communication is not verbal. Look at the chart to the left.  Some studies suggest that spoken words count for only 7% of received communication.

One of the presentations I give to school librarians is on class management. It can be a challenge for teachers, but it is even truer for librarians. The library doesn’t have the natural structure of a classroom.  We don’t see the same students every day.  In middle and high schools we often don’t know the names of the students coming in. For the most part we don’t give grades, which removes one reason why students feel the need to pay attention.

I remind participants that the presentation is called “classroom management” not “classroom control” and therein lies the difference.  It’s a change of mindset.  Control, whether in the classroom or by those seeking to censor books or ideas, comes from fear.  When you feel threatened by or anxious about a situation, the natural response is to exercise some control over it. In a school setting, once you do that, you have lost the battle.  Students recognize your fear or discomfort (it’s like animals – they can smell it), and take pleasure in increasingly unacceptable behavior. No one likes to be controlled.  Most people don’t mind being managed.taeching in the library

Management stems from confidence. Trust yourself and expect those you are interacting with to behave accordingly.  For those still in control mode, this is easier said than done.  The first step in making the change is to realize where you are triggering the situation.  For example, when you are expecting a class with students you know are disruptive, what are you thinking as they are about to enter?  Are you trying to figure out how to stop students from acting up or are you ready with strategies to distract them from it?  Did you know that thinking of them as troublemakers only adds to the problem?  One of the best things you can do is greet students at the door and them individually.  Smile.  Make a positive comment about something they are wearing or tell them you have a book you think they will like.

circulation deskAt the elementary school level it’s critical to have a structure students follow each time they come to the library.  Have tasks for a few students to do, such as gathering the books being returned and stacking them on the circulation desk.  Rotate assignments and be sure to give them to your “troublemakers.” Being in charge is likely to have them be on their best behavior.

Have a plan for moving from book return to activity/lesson to book selection, and another one to bring the class to an end.  Closing questions are a good idea.  Walk them to the door and make positive comments.

With a little practice, you can manage your attitude.  When you do so, you won’t have to worry about “classroom control.” How have you managed your library?  What works for you that you’d like to share with other?  Comment below!

Posted in Career, Librarian Life

A Librarian’s Legacy – Ruth Toor Honored with AASL Grant

Jay and Ruth Toor

Jay and Ruth Toor

Last week AASL announced the Ruth Toor Grant for Strong Public School Libraries. A brilliant woman with a far reaching career, Ruth is no longer able to be active in the profession she loves.  This grant will ensure that her name and what she has always valued will continue to be reminder to school librarians and the communities they serve of the importance of strong school library programs headed by a certified school librarians. Her husband, Jay Toor said, “Ruth and I want to ensure excellence for every student by advocating for a school library with a certified school librarian in every school. These grants will allow school librarians to talk to their community’s parent leaders, teachers, principals, school board or superintendent about the importance of strong school library programs with certified school librarians.”

Through the generosity of the Toors, winners of the grant will receive $5,000, $3,000 of which is to create and implement a project that Aasl2promotes school library awareness and its accomplishments to school officials and administrators. The remaining $2,000 is for the school librarian and a school official (or volunteer parent) to attend the AASL national conference or the ALA Annual Conference during the years when there is no AASL national conference. I find this last stipulation to be indicative of the value Ruth and Jay place on how the national conference promotes growth and attending the scheduled sessions will open the eyes of any administrator to the value of school librarians.

The award criteria are a guideline for how to implement a good program. First the goals of the project must be identified, showing how the school library will use the funds to further public awareness. The plan must include a timeline (and in this case it must be completed within eleven months of the grant) and list the number of school library users who will benefit from it. Of course, a budget needs to detail how the monies will be spent.

It is a wonderful award in support of school libraries and school librarians, but it has additional meaning for me.  In the summer of 1976, Ruth and I were part of a post-Masters course offered at Rutgers University.  Both of us turned in a Volunteer Manual as a final project. Our classmates, all experienced librarians, were so impressed they urged us to combine our work into a book and 1979, The School Librarian’s Almanac was published and was a huge success.sharks ships

The next year, our publisher asked us to create a monthly (ten times per year) newsletter, and the School Librarian’s Workshop was born. Originally it was sixteen pages, but among the changes we made over the years was to move to a twenty-four page publication issued bi-monthly.  We continued working together on School Librarian’s Workshop while working in for our schools and writing numerous additional books, the last ones for ALA Editions.

RuthEarly in 2011, it became obvious that Ruth could no longer work on the newsletter.  She retired completely after the June/July 2011 issue when I took it over and made it an e-newsletter. We had a long and productive partnership and friendship.  We watched each other’s children grow up, marry, and have children of their own.  Throughout, Ruth was a strong advocate for school librarians.  I am honored to have had her in my life.  I am overjoyed the award will continue her work.

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Ask Me How School Librarians Transform Learning

Aasl2AASL has a new advocacy campaign.  At ALA Midwinter, buttons were available saying “Ask Me How School Librarians Transform Learning.”  It’s a great idea—if you are able to answer the question.  If you are unsure of what to say, you can go to for a free PDF download of a 29 page magazine done as a supplement to the September/ October 2014 issue of American Libraries. In addition to excellent articles, there is a two-page infographic explaining what we do to transform learning.

I recently was asked the question by a school librarian, and rather than just send her the link to the magazine, I decided to tell her my ideas on how we make this difference. Here’s what I said—with some commentary.

School librarians:

Show students (and teachers) how to use Google more effectively to retrieve more relevant sites- Since we know no matter what we say, for most people Google is a first stop to find information (although students are frequently going to YouTube first), we work at changing how they do it.  Students tend to check only the top two results. If their query is not well-constructed what they find will likely not be relevant.  We also let them know about Google’s filters which skew their results based on their previous

Teach students how to evaluate information for accuracy and validity – In the past, students assumed if it was in print it was true.  This behavior is even truer on the Internet (and in social media).  We show them “misinformation” sites to raise their awareness and then give them techniques to ensure what they find and use—whether for academic or personal use—is accurate.

keep calmIncorporate the use of databases into research so students produce more focused projects and are ready for the extensive databases they will find in college – For students to function successfully in college, they need to be able to go beyond Google for their research. By introducing them to databases available in the library they learn how these resources are more likely to have the solid information they need and are prepared for the many more databases they will find in a college library.

Work with teachers to integrate the most current technology and online resources engaging students’ interest – Students live in a digital world.  They are turned off by assignments which are more 20th than 21st century.  Because school librarians keep up with new web resources and apps for content sharing, presenting, and other uses (see AASL’s Best Websites for Teaching and Learning and Best Apps for Teaching and Learning), they are uniquely positioned to help teachers integrate these authentic learning projects and/or collaborate (or cooperate) in developing global and digital citizenship projects connecting students to the larger world.

Promote critical thinking through inquiry-based learningThe AASL Standards for the 21st Learner are the guide for doing just long learning

Provide a print-rich environment coupled with comprehensive knowledge of children’s and young adult literature (fiction and nonfiction) developing student’s love of reading leading to lifelong learning – Literacy is at the core of learning.  School librarian’s knowledge of children’s and young adult literature along with their contact with students over several years make them uniquely capable of making the one-on-one contact with students to connect them with just the right book.

Every librarian has to demonstrate How School Librarians Transform Learning every day.  Are you doing all of these?  Do you have any other ways we transform learning?

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Know vs. Show

Librarians - the real super heroes.

Librarians – the real super heroes.

School librarianship is a complex multi-layered profession requiring a broad range of knowledge, competencies, and skills.  You have every reason to be proud of what you know and what you do.  And yet many of you find your abilities overlooked by colleagues and administrators. Despite how much you can bring to student learning experiences, teachers at middle and high school often do not collaborate with you and elementary teachers are not interested in working cooperatively on projects.

 Our work is a far cry from the occasionally assumed, “Why do you have to go to college (let alone graduate school) to help people check out books?”  You need to understand how students learn, be familiar with the curriculum across subjects, and through the grade levels. You sometimes move from special needs students to those in honor classes and then to English Language Learners within the span of a single day. original search engine

 AASL’s Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Programs identifies your roles as Teacher, Information Specialist, Instructional Partner, and Program Administrator.  You need to be well-versed in the Common Core State Standards and keep up with the latest in technology resources, apps and on the web.  You must be equally skilled in large group and one-on-one instruction.  That is a lot of hats.  What you do is unique in the school.  No one else can do it.

 So how can we be so overlooked by the teachers and administration?  Yes, they’re focused on their challenges and requirements, but can’t they see how you can help? The truth of the situation is – if you want to change attitudes you might want to take a closer look at yourself.

 Here’s an example – I knew a school librarian who felt she was exceedingly competent.  Unlike many school librarians, she had her Masters from an ALA accredited school.  She flaunted her background to the clerk who was working on a Masters from a school with NCATE accreditation and belittled the rigor of the course work.  She was knowledgeable, but she wasn’t successful as a librarian.

i don't always do research Ours is a relationship profession.  Her associations with teachers was distant and perfunctory. They felt she didn’t like the students, and to some extent the students agreed with their teachers. She was always the “authority” and would direct students to where they needed to go rather than accompanying them. Whenever possible, she spent time in her office, which by choice was in an area without windows where she could see who was in the library.

 On the other hand, the clerk enjoyed a friendly give and take with students.  She was interested in who they were as people.  She made a point of knowing the teachers and had conversations with them about their families and what they were doing after school.  It’s not that she was close friends with everyone, but she was open and welcoming, always ready to help out.  Even after she got her degree, she didn’t think it demeaning to occasionally run off copies for a teacher who was in a rush to get to class.  Fresh out of library school, the former clerk had no problem getting teachers to collaborate with her.  They were open to her suggestions and support and sought her out. Something we can all hope for.people don't care

 As John C. Maxwell said, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”  How are you building relationships with your faculty, students, and administrators? Are they going well? How can you tell? When you regularly check in on these questions and act on your answers you’ll see your partnerships and role grow in your school.

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College Ready – Childhood Lost

baby gradI am appalled. The Education Life section of the February 8 New York Times has a feature article on first graders becoming college ready.  This is not about study skills, although I am sure it is part of it.  These students are beginning to choose their college!  They learn about different universities and research college mascots.  Fourth graders are taken for tours of nearby campuses. It’s bad enough when high school students select extracurricular activities with college in mind. But now middle grade students work in food banks, are on safety patrol, or join a robotics club not because they want to serve their community or explore an interest, but because they “need” it for college applications.

 I have no problem with recognizing that habits of mind such as persistence, initiative, and self-direction need to begin early.  I can agree with many aspects of Common Core such as deeper reading, critical thinking, and doing research on focused questions (hopefully Essential Questions promoting inquiry-based learning).  I don’t believe the tests promote those objectives, and I think good teachers have been doing this all along.  Teachers –and librarians—have been blamed for poor student performance when poverty, unsafe schools, and limited access to a print rich environment play a far more significant role.

 Having first graders think about college is not a bad thing in itself.  Just as they know middle and high school will follow elementary school, they should be aware that college is an important next step—although not necessarily a path they all must follow.  What concerns me is the College Readiness mantra permeating all of education.  Our children are becoming automatons programmed in a single direction.  Anything non-academic is being stripped away.

 A kindergarten teacher with twenty-five years’ experience once told me her students know much more than those she had ten years ago—except how to play. We have reverted back to the days when children took on adult work as soon as they were able.  We are eliminating childhood and the cost may be great.

Play is

From the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario

 Children learn through play.  You need only to observe the animal world to see the truth of that statement. In play they test themselves, without getting a grade. In play they discover what they enjoy, without pressure.  They follow their interests.  They learn because they want to find out more, not because it is needed for the high stakes test.  Play helps develop a sense of wonder, a vital “skill” every creative person needs.  And creativity is what keeps a society moving forward.  Replicating the past leads to stagnation, not innovation.

 sad educationJohn Dewey, probably the most progressive educator, said early in the last century “There is no such thing as educational value in the abstract. The notion that some subjects and methods and that acquaintance with certain facts and truths possess educational value in and of themselves is the reason why traditional education reduced the material of education so largely to a diet of predigested materials.” (Experience and Education).  We are still giving students predigested materials and blaming them and the teachers when they are bored and disinterested.

It’s time to give our students back their childhood so we benefit from their adulthood.

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Posted in General, Librarian Life

Defining and Supporting Literacy

Image from the World Literacy Council

Image from the World Literacy Council

It once was simple in the days before apps and the Internet. When all information came by way of books, magazines, and newspapers. Literacy was easy to define. It meant you were able to read and understand printed matter.  Functional literacy was said to be the ability to read on the fourth grade level. Basic literacy as defined by the U.S. Department of Education 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy is using “print and written material to function in society and achieve one’s goals and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.”

However, most often today when someone refers to literacy, you need to know which type of literacy they mean.  Information literacy?  Digital literacy?  Transliteracy?  Visual Literacy? And there are more out there.  The bottom line is that all these types of literacy are important, but it’s important to recognize that all these literacies –even visual literacy to some extent—rely on being able to read and comprehend text.

As school librarians we are responsible for guiding our students to develop fluency in all literacies, but we can’t forget the basics.  We still must provide the print rich environment leading to a love of reading and learning. All else follows from that.questions

On June 13, 2013, ALA Council passed a resolution reaffirming ALA’s commitment to basic literacy, noting that the ALA Policy Manual “recognizes Literacy as a core service and responsibility of all libraries.” All types of libraries are charged with “making literacy a high priority in planning and budgeting.”  In schools where administrators are pushing for book-less libraries (when they are not replacing them with computers for taking PARCC and other high stakes tests), standing up for literacy in its most basic definition is not simple.

It’s not that ALA and AASL don’t recognize we are living in a digital age.  These organizations are also working at helping librarians improve their own mastery of multiple literacies to be able to share that with teachers and students. (Several years ago AASL held it biennial Fall Forum on Transliteracy.) What they realize, as noted earlier, these skills rest on basic literacy.

librarian reads to kidsHow can you support basic literacy in a culture focused on technology?  Do what many of the top school librarians in the country are doing.  Create programs using a variety of digital resources to coincide with and connect to reading.  An example of the simplest level is having students write online reviews of books. You can have a book club with another school or have pairs of students in different schools read the same book and have an online discussion which they then share with others.  You don’t have to come up with these yourself. Librarians on Twitter and TL Chat on Google+ are sharing what they are doing.  Respond to them with any questions. They’ll be glad to help—and get your students reading for the fun of it.

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Posted in Librarian Life, Uncategorized

Show Them The Evidence of Your Success

evidenceAbout two months ago I did a blog on reaching stakeholders by leading with emotions rather than logic.  It is the best opening, but what about the follow-up?  You need to show them hard evidence that a library program staffed by a certificated school librarian makes a difference in student achievement.

Many of you have shared the research studies—the “big data”—with administrators and others but it fell on deaf ears.  Sometimes they dismissed the study because it was done in a different state; other times they possibly ignored it because it was too long and too dense to read. dear ears

How important is it to you to get administrators, board members, and politicians to listen and recognize the invaluable contribution you make?  If you recognize it is critical and you do so for the sake of your students and the future of the library program, you are going to need to do some hard work.

The latest issue of Knowledge Quest, (KQ) (Volume 43, No. 3 – January/February 2015) the journal of AASL, is all about Evidence-Based Practice (EBP), and the opening article is naturally by Dr. Ross Todd, associate professor in the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University. He is the leading expert on the topic, and the rest of the issue is filled with articles by academics and school librarians, explaining the practice and showing it in action. (If you are not an AASL member, contact them to find out how to purchase this issue.)

If you are new to EBP, it can be daunting.  It will take more than one reading to absorb.  Take it in little bites.  To get you started here is a brief view of what EBP entails:

Evidence for Practice – Begin with the research.  You know the studies and can easily find them. Which study would you like to demonstrate in your own building?

Evidence in Practice – Using the study you selected, develop a unit that will demonstrate it with students in your building. This is where Action Research comes in. It gives you the local data you need to pair with the “big data” from Evidence for Practice. If you are unfamiliar with Action Research, the article by Carole J. Stubeck in that KQ issue will give you a good example. You can also search on Action Research School or email me at and I will send you my PowerPoint from one of my presentations on it.

Evidence of Practice – How have learners changed as result?  In addition to the results of the Action Research, gather student responses to the learning being imparted.  Using a resource such as Edmodo you can capture their reactions and thought processes.

spread the wordAs always, the process is circular.  Taking all the information in, you and any colleagues involved, reflect on what was achieved and what will be the next step.

While the purpose of EBP is to have a continuous practice of improving the library program, do not neglect Advocacy. You must get the word out to your stakeholders.  Visually documenting the process, possibly getting students discussing the Evidence of Practice, will add the emotional content that opens the door to the strong evidence supporting it.

To become recognized as invaluable and indispensable to students and the school community, you will have to do the work.  When you think about it, what choice do you have? And did you know that each issue of the SCHOOL LIBRARIANS WORKSHOP offers you ideas for implementing programs that can increase your contributions and visibility?

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To Create a Learning Environment – Support Students’ Self Esteem

Second semesterSchool is back in session.  From now until spring break the greatest amount of learning for the year occurs. However, how much students learn depends on several factors.  The least important is their individual intelligence. The teacher counts for most – but it depends on what is recognized as good teaching as well as how the student is feeling about the learning process and their own abilities.

emotions and learning cycle

Cognition, Affect, and Learning – click image to see article

Setting high standards and basing lessons on Essential Questions are a big part of what constitutes good teaching, but there is a far more significant element. To truly connect students with learning, you must deal with the role played by emotions. Earlier this week I had a TTK (Things to Know) blog post citing Annie Murphy Paul’s Brilliant Report on Emotions and Learning.  What wasn’t discussed in it was how uniquely positioned school librarians are in addressing the key emotions of curiosity, delight, flow, engagement, confusion, frustration and boredom.

The first three are inherent in inquiry based learning which uses student’s interests as a jumping off point for exploring a topic. Confusion is a natural part of research.  Unlike so much of what goes on in the classroom, research is not linear. It takes unexpected twists and turns and hits into dead ends.  By letting students know it is an expected step in the process, you can convert confusion into curiosity.  And boredom?  Boredom comes from being channeled into what is too difficult, too easy, or far outside a kid’s interest.  The library is the one place students should never be bored.

lifelong-learningAn oft-repeated phase about the school library is that it should be a welcoming student-centered environment. It is that when we design learning experiences with our students in mind. When students always are treated with respect and not judged, we encourage them to be their best and discover just what that means for them.

Expectation is an emotion.  What students expect when they walk into a classroom – or the library – affects everything that happens after.  If they are anticipating a subject where they will do poorly, they have already set the bar low and won’t rise above it without some hard work by the teacher to change that mind set.  When they expect to be bullied or humiliated, they shut down or become hostile. Neither reaction makes them open to learning.

Which comes down to the most important emotion for learning and life. Those who are in high self-esteem are not disheartened by challenging material.  They embrace it as a step in a self-discovery process.  In general those in high self-esteem are kind and generous with others, improving the environment around them.confidence

Look for ways to build your students’ self-esteem. You don’t do it with empty compliments. It’s not “you did a great job.”  It’s specific.  “You found some great resources, I didn’t know about it.  I am so glad you shared it with us.”  You don’t praise only achievement.  You commend the process.  Saying “I am impressed by how persistent you are, even when you don’t get it at first,” is what helps them build self-esteem.  Working one-on-one with students, you, more than a classroom, teacher create the best environment for lifelong learning.


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Posted in Career, Librarian Life

TTK: Emotions and learning

Frustration-Eats-PencilMost of us have figured out that students’ emotions affect how well or poorly they learn.  Good tutors tend to focus on those emotions and help students move from negative mind sets to positive ones, from feelings of failure to success.

According to Anne Murphy Paul’s brilliant report computerized teaching systems are : doing the same.  In the everyday world of school, it is is helpful to see we can use these studies, particularly when we are working one-to-one with students to help them.  Note that the important emotions for learning are: curiosity, delight, flow, engagement, confusion, frustration and boredom.

 It’s great that there are alternatives for when a teacher, librarian, or tutor can’t be there, but I always feel that an aware person
can do a better job than a set of algorithms. A human caring connection makes more of an impact.  Do you agree?
Posted in TTK: Things to Know

Rejoice, Relax, Reflect, Re-focus

forwardThe holidays are over. The mad scramble is past. I hope you rejoiced with family and friends.  Facebook was filled with greetings exchanged with those too far away to see over the holidays, and it was good to see us embracing the feeling of “Goodwill to All.”

Much as we enjoy the excitement of the season, it’s good to have time to relax, refresh, and rejuvenate. (I seem to be finding a lot of “r” words.) This is the “between time.”  This the quiet period as we celebrate the New Year and get back to our normal daily routines.  Fallow periods are necessary to promote growth.

Take a tip from the ancient Romans who pictured Janus, their god of gates and doors for whom January is named, as having two faces. One looking forward and the other backward.  Before you completely close the gate on 2014, make time to reflect back on the year that ended. Remember the good things that occurred.  Think of the students you helped.  The ones who thanked you, and those who did so without words.  What we do is too important not to acknowledge.  And if we don’t recognize our contribution, how can we expect anyone else to do so.Janus

Even if you keep your acknowledgements to yourself, it will make change the way you interact with teachers and students.  Remember, most communication is non-verbal.  Without being aware of it, our thoughts and attitudes influence how we stand, hold our arms, and walk.  Others pick up on these non-verbal clues. Whether we hold ourselves in high self-esteem or feel downtrodden, we send a message.  Which one do you want to send?

letter RMany people make New Year’s resolutions (another “r” word), and for some this works.  On the whole, good intentions seem to evaporate sometime before January is over. When it happens, the tendency is just to give up—and that is true failure. Rather than resolutions, “re-focus.” Don’t wait until New Year’s Day.  By then you are likely to be bemoaning that winter vacation passed so quickly.  You didn’t do everything you hoped to accomplish, and now you are scrambling to get ready to get back to work.time to plan

Make some time and sit down with a pad or tablet, and contemplate what is coming up in the months from January until the end of the school year. What units do your teachers do?  How can you make them a better learning opportunity for students? How can you share that information with teachers?  Are there apps and websites you want to explore to refresh the ways you capture student interest?  Can you find out from your students which ones are exciting them? Now that  school has started back up, you will be busy, but do what you can to make time at the beginning – or the end – of each of your days to check in with your goals and to-do’s.  Each time you do, you’ll reconnect (!) with your passion and continue to be energized and raring to go.

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Posted in General, Librarian Life