November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

A Wealth of Leaders: The School Librarian of the Year Candidates | Pivot Points

SLOTY_pivotpoints_largeOver the summer, I read and evaluated applications for the inaugural SLJ School Librarian of the Year award. I expected an easy decision, and scanned the application packets hoping to cherry-pick some finalists. To my surprise, I could not.

Each nominee was highly effective in his or her practice and engaged in a range of innovative projects reflecting a progressive view of the craft. While I’m sworn to secrecy regarding specific applicants, if I were to create a word cloud of their applications, some key themes would emerge. Since these people represent the best of the best, it’s only logical that they serve as guides for our practice.

Outward-facing librarianship

All of the library programs were resolutely outward-facing, with librarians engaged in outreach and sharing through blogs, articles, websites, conference presentations, and social media. Others reached out with author visits, district initiatives, and national projects.

Their exceptional programs didn’t stop at the library door. They networked with thought leaders, resource providers, learning communities, and other exceptional programs. This outreach clearly benefitted students and teachers. It obviously strengthened library programs and the professional practices of these candidates. Rather than settling for stand-alone success, the librarians all connected to others to share and learn. They contributed to others’ success and leveraged others’ ideas and resources to improve their own programs.

Connected to library innovation

The applications and recommendation letters read like a checklist of current and emerging thinking in school librarianship. Topics included makerspaces, learning commons, 1:1 technology, multiliteracy, and genrefication. Frequently, the programs included not one, but multiple strategies to increase student engagement and promote learning. In some cases, these projects were in their infancy. In others, they’d been in place for several years. These leaders read and wrote professionally; networking with professional learning communities informed and sustained their great work.

Reflective practice

While grant and award applications routinely include self-analysis, it was clear that the applicants were already thoughtful and purposeful. Each one revealed a growth mindset of consistent professional reflection. Their spaces, programs, and professionalism were not random or sudden successes. They resulted from vision, planning, and sustained improvement. These great programs were propelled by librarians, students, teachers, and other stakeholders. Innovations like makerspaces or genrefication don’t occur in a vacuum. Pivots such as these require significant investments of time and energy. They need evaluations of space, processes, policy, and the librarian’s role in a school’s instructional program. Without a willingness to hold up a mirror, these librarians wouldn’t have risen to the top.

Instructional programming and school culture

The recommendation letters revealed a clear connection between the library and the school’s instructional program. More important was a mission of service to students and teachers. In one case, this connection was through a writing center; in another, literacy programs. There were organic links among the library, learners, and the broader learning environment. While this theme recurred across the applications, each library was unique, the product of the vision and work of the librarian and the culture of the school.

As with all awards, there are winners and runners-up. This year’s nominees raise the game for school libraries in their communities and among colleagues across the nation. For these superstars, it’s not enough to do one thing well. For the rest of us, taking just one cue from them is a good way to start leading.

Ray-Mark_Contrib_WebMark Ray (Mark.Ray@vansd.org) is the manager of instructional technology and library services for the Vancouver (WA) Public Schools.

This article was published in School Library Journal's September 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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