March 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

‘I Can Help You With That’: Providing solutions puts librarians at the center of Common Core | Editorial

If you want to have a stake in the Common Core, take a page from Tina Edwards Felder, who responds to her teachers’ concerns about meeting the ambitious new standards with a willing, “I can help you with that.”

Felder, a librarian in New York City’s (NYC) school system, described her approach in a fast-flowing Q&A period after a panel discussion on “points of entry for collaboration” on the Common Core at the NYC Department of Education’s (DOE) Library Services Spring Exploratorium, May 16. The panel was a forum for library staffers who had participated in a four-day course designed by the NYC DOE. Panelists shared their experiences bringing what they had learned about Common Core to their colleagues and administrators. These are steps toward what Olga Nesi, a library coordinator in the NYC DOE’s Office of Library Services and a former school librarian, refers to as a “mind shift” in the school environment: librarians can command the tools and strategies they need to take a leadership role in their schools as the entire system engages with the standards.

Nesi herself has taken the lead, diving deep into the Common Core’s nitty gritty in order to surface with insights on its potential for student learning, especially how to think about materials, curriculum, and the learning process in light of it, and how to help classroom teachers get up to speed. The professional development series that she and her colleagues have designed is lauded for its vision of an expanded role for librarians and the provision of practical tools for them to take back into their schools.

In “Seize the Opportunity”, she reflects on the fit between librarians’ mastery of inquiry and the new standards’ highest goals. Nesi’s is the first of a new series of opinion pieces SLJ will publish, dubbed “On Common Core,” as the standards become real. It’s both a call to action and an acknowledgment of the evolving work ahead.

That work, of course, involves showing teachers, curriculum writers, and administrators what you can do to help them meet the new standards. “It is one thing for us to see our work all over the Common Core,” writes Nesi, “but it is another to get others to see it, and yet another to position ourselves as instructional leaders in the implementation of the standards.”

According to the Exploratorium panelists and participants, such inroads are unmapped and necessarily experimental. Nevertheless, panelists reported a number of tactics that have served as entry points. The most direct range from simply giving the principal a report about what has been learned about Common Core during professional development time to sharing the learning with teachers in casual conversations or in group presentations. Others explained how they are working one on one with teachers to model how they can help design a unit or specific projects toward Common Core—with an eye to bringing others on board when they see it succeed. Still others will be involved in curriculum mapping, utilizing their training on the Common Core.

These efforts are not without barriers. Some roadblocks raised in the discussion: overworked classroom teachers, some of whom fear the standards, and rigid schedules that allow no time for their own professional development. Those very barriers are opportunities, however, said panelist Brenda Shufelt, a librarian at PS 30 in Manhattan, noting that librarians have a lot of professional training to bring to bear (book evaluation, collection development, readers’ advisory, creating diversified reading lists, collaborative lesson planning, etc.) in helping other educators implement the standards.

“People are overwhelmed,” added Nesi. “We bring solutions.”


Rebecca T. Miller

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Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller ( is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.