My role as a librarian at George Washington Carver Elementary in Maryland, a Title I school, started five years ago. I have watched the title “librarian” and the meaning of the word “library” change entirely over the past few years, with the role of teacher librarian melding into something that simply cannot be replaced in a learning environment. For me, it’s important to provide students with the opportunity to practice problem-solving skills to develop the self-confidence they need for a bright future.

I can’t make that happen without the help of others. With our eyes always set on the future, the library staff and I have created a learning commons that continues to evolve. To make sure we’re prepared for what lies ahead, we keep a close eye on our space and students by doing the following:

● Providing consistent structure and hands-on, engaging expectations for students each year
● Collaborating with instructional specialists and team members
● Building our makerspace and computer science program
● Writing grants to raise money to continuously upgrade the library
● Serving as curators of quality technology and other resources

When I went to library school, I never thought about the library as the place to grow relationships, harbor creativity, and inspire empathy and critical-thinking skills. I looked at it as a way to put great books in students’ hands and help teachers out when they needed it. People may not realize that libraries can facilitate global connections. There is power in libraries, and here are a few of my best practices to help make yours powerful, too.

1. Success in my library is based on relationships.
Take the time to implement the tools that work for students and get rid of the ones that don’t. Use technology to create an environment that engages students in a purposeful manner. Our makerspace and creative problem-solving programs have increased our students’ communication skills and self confidence.

Through formal guidance, students are learning how to share their information, ask clarifying questions, take turns, compromise, and understand others’ perspectives. It’s powerful to see that growth take place. Our students’ parents work long hours and concern themselves with things other than creative problem-solving lessons for their children, so we in the library step in to help.

2. We use technology to meet students where they are.
Through makerspaces, computer science, digital creation, and much more, we not only teach lessons on necessary topics such as digital literacy, but we are relationship builders. Children are fascinated by edtech and enjoy using it. They need to understand not just about the technology they like, but how it works, how people program it, and how it can be so beneficial to their learning.

Currently, we are working on the engineering design process with robot integration, iPad capture, and app usage for idea sharing. It’s in the early stage, but we’re seeing a lot of success with new technology.

I use the PebbleGo database starting with kindergarten students. It has high-interest material that is digestible for even our youngest students. For example, we did guided research that allowed us to talk about fiction/non-fiction, research, databases, authors, and illustrators. At the end of the project, the students had a book they illustrated to take home and share with their guardians.

I’m also a big fan of Capstone books on novel engineering and science like the Curious Pearl books, which use augmented reality to bring lessons to life. I also use Michael Dahl’s Library of Doom series to bring my readers something scary and exciting, but also manageable.

I’ve taught circuits with Makey Makey, created a pop-up makerspace making LED light bookmarks infused with origami, and done sequencing and retelling with kindergarteners using Ozobots and Bee-Bots. We’ve even used discarded books to make art projects.

3. With the right partners, the sky is the limit for technology in a library.
The most valuable lesson I have learned is that healthy, strong relationships are the foundation for all solid work. We are part of our local Cherry Blossom Festival with a Rembrandt with Robots station, and we’ll be exposing our community to painting with the Sphero 2.0 to share the joy of computer science and art integration.

If we build positive relationships with students, staff, and administration and work to build local, state, and national-level partnerships, there is no limit on what we can do to provide students with a nurturing environment for learning.

About the Author:

April Wathen is a teacher librarian at George Washington Carver Elementary School in Lexington Park, Maryland. Follow her on Twitter @AprilWathen.