Librarians and media specialists are bridging the gap between instruction and technology. One pioneer shares how she does it
For library media specialists, finding high-quality digital resources that align with Common Core and state standards, and that support classroom instruction, is an ongoing challenge. No longer just the keepers of the physical books and card catalogues, these media specialists are being called upon to organize and share content that can then be used to create relevant and personalized learning experiences.
With more than 20 years of experience in instructional technologies and K-12 education under her belt, Joquetta L. Johnson has experienced the evolution of the school librarian firsthand. A library media specialist at Randallstown High School in Randallstown, Md., Johnson says that with the Information Age, librarians have effectively transformed into instructional technology leaders.
“When technology first impacted education, it hit the libraries first—first in the public and then in the school libraries,” says Johnson, whose school has about 980 students and one campus. “Because of this, we’ve been at the forefront of the educational technology movement for a long time.”
This evolution has placed library media specialists in the unique position of having to master both technology and instruction. For example, to develop an objective for an English class—and then support the teacher in his or her quest to find the right digital materials for that class—Johnson has to know how to write an objective and then determine the instructor’s goals, what students need to get out of the class, and what content and resources are available to support those goals.
On the technology side of the equation, Johnson works often with students and teachers who need training on new devices, equipment, and applications. She uses “Tech in 10” information sessions (that take 10 minutes or less, and are introduced at monthly instructional counsel meetings) to introduce staff members to new resources. For those who want to learn more, she posts tutorials, videos, and other support tools on the library’s website.
Next page: Helping students and teachers alike
At those monthly meetings, Johnson also highlights a lesson that she collaborated on with a teacher—as a way to encourage other teachers to try out new technology, resources, or content. She also uses the school’s digital newsletter, social media, and email to share photos and stories of how students and teachers work in the library. And, whenever possible, she gets out of the library and works with instructors right in their own classrooms. “In our new roles, we really have to be mobile and flexible,” said Johnson. “Sometimes it makes teachers feel more comfortable when get out into the classroom and use the technology right on their turfs.”
Modeling good tech usage
Where Johnson and other library media specialists may understand the vital role that they play in the 21st century instructional technology picture, not all teachers are aware of it yet. “I consider my space the hub for everything, and I’m constantly advocating for the use of these tools in instructional practice,” she said. “It’s important that I model the behaviors that we want to see in our students and teachers.”
To prove this point, Johnson carries her cell phone with her everywhere she goes, frequently posts information and resources across numerous library social media accounts, and tests out new tech tools and applications on a weekly basis.
Johnson, who has worked in both primary and secondary school settings, said behavior modeling is particularly important at the high school level, where students and teachers have to make time to visit the library. Where elementary teachers generally have a “fixed” schedule that includes such visits, middle and high school teachers have to sign up for them.
“I tell my teachers, ‘If you feel like I’m pleading with you to come and collaborate with me, it’s because I am,’” said Johnson, who will often hear (after the fact) that an instructor was grappling with an instructional technology issues. “If he or she had just taken the time to collaborate with me, I could have provided the support and resources upfront and saved a lot of time and hassle.”
Filling the toolbox
At CoSN’s annual conference this year, Johnson paired up with a PBS representative for a session to discuss innovative ways to drive student achievement. At the presentation, they discussed how to overcome restrictive budgets and a lack of resources by working with outside sources to develop quality, standards-aligned content—both free and paid. PBS Learning, for example, helps to connect schools with content, instructional practices, and other resources on both a national and a local level.
At Randallstown High School, Johnson said she’s “very fortunate” to have a wealth of resources—a treasure trove that she refers to as her “toolbox.” One way she’s been able to fill that toolbox is by partnering with her local public library, which freely shares databases, tools, and other resources that the school uses to develop content. She advises other school media specialists to explore this option in their own communities. “It’s a great way to build up your resources while also forming strong ties with your community,” said Johnson, who is constantly on the lookout for new digital resources to supplement the school’s existing toolbox.
“I look at our current curriculum and the associated objectives, and then figure out what else we can add to our library to augment this content,” she said, “whether it’s for a district initiative, a school-specific goal, or something that a particular teacher needs.”
Jumping through hoops
Building out a digital, standards-aligned library hasn’t been easy for Johnson. While she’s out scouring the web or working with outside entities to locate new information sources, for example, she has to follow the district’s acceptable use policies. She also has to take filters—those that block students from accessing certain content while in school and/or at home—into consideration.
“Sometimes the biggest roadblocks with digital content are ones we put in place ourselves,” said Johnson. “It can get to where we have this ‘non-growth’ mindset: If we don’t’ have access to this resource, then I can’t do X, Y, or Z.” Not surprisingly, Johnson takes it upon herself to help teachers jump those hurdles. “As a library media specialist, I foster our instructors’ ability to get what they need, and even when they feel they can’t access it, learn it, or make the time for it.
“Ultimately, you can have all of the tools in the world, but if you don’t know how to access and use them effectively—or if you don’t feel they’re important—then they are just tools,” said Johnson. “That’s where the growth mindset comes into play.”
To K-12 library media specialists struggling under the demands of their new roles, Johnson says the best approach is to start small. Find one or two teachers who need help creating digital curriculums, for instance, and who want to collaborate with you on the task. Then, share the results and experience with the rest of the staff via videos, social media, tutorials, or even just photos in the school’s newsletter.
“Don’t try to take on the entire school at once,” Johnson said . “Prioritize and take it one step at a time.”
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