School buildings may have closed as the coronavirus pandemic swept across the country, but teaching and learning didn’t stop—they just moved in new directions. Administrators, teachers, and staff transitioned quickly to take learning online, a move that provided new opportunities even as it brought consistent challenges.
As teachers work to share curriculum in new ways, school librarians face a similar challenge: how best to reach students? A visit to the school library is a highlight of many students’ weeks, but delivering those resources to students who are no longer on campus calls for creative thinking and an adept use of technology—two things school librarians have in spades.
From great change comes great opportunity
Today’s school librarians possess extraordinary expertise in collaboration, research, and use of technology–attributes that are serving them well during uncertain times. They’re finding innovative ways to work with teachers, students, and administrators to keep kids learning and engaged during these unprecedented times.
Shannon Miller, Innovation Director of Instructional Technology and Library Media at Van Meter Community School in Iowa, says school librarians have a remarkable opportunity to not only make a difference in the remote learning taking place now, but to also help shape the change that will inevitably impact education and school libraries going forward.
“We are refreshing and building amazing digital libraries and remote learning spaces and connecting and collaborating with teachers, students and families,” said Miller. “It’s our time to shine, and together, teacher librarians are leading the way.”
Even before the closure was announced at Van Meter, Miller said she was setting up Continuous Learning Hubs for each grade and subject level within the district. These Hubs allow students to connect to library resources through Follett’s Destiny Discover, which provides access to the district’s resources, including eBooks, digital audiobooks, and interactive books. Miller keeps a consistent and popular blog, where she shares much of her work and experiences for others to learn from.
“My best advice is to not wait to be asked what you can do to be part of this change, but to just start doing and make yourself as helpful, valuable and available as you can,” she advised. “This is a great time to learn something new; to refresh and build amazing digital libraries and remote learning spaces; to connect and collaborate with teachers, students and families; and to show them what you got.”
Paring it down when you have too much of a good thing
One of the biggest challenges facing school librarians and media specialists is filtering information—there’s so much available online that trying to sift through it can feel like drinking water from a fire hose.
“When schools started shutting down, online resources started appearing everywhere,” said Carrie Friday, a media specialist at Southwest Middle School in Florida. “Educators found the rapid proliferation of online options overwhelming, and students didn’t know where to start or what to use.”
Friday said she tackled the abundance issue by zeroing in on a way to put resources in one place where both teachers and families could pick and choose what they needed.
“The easiest way for me to do that was to use what I know and what my students know–Destiny Collections,” she said, in describing the tool that lets educators build a collection of resources to be shared with others. “I didn’t want my students to lose the opportunity to practice their maker skills while they were away from school. I built a collection that holds all the reading & writing resources, then incorporated STEM and STEAM challenges or activities that could be done or watched from home.”
Friday built another collection of the school’s best eBooks and audio books and was gratified by how quickly the resources were being accessed and used.
“Just because the library is shut down, it doesn’t mean our kids have to stop reading,” Friday said. “I wanted it to be a one-stop shop for them. The great thing is that all these collections are pinned to their landing page when they log in, and as more resources come available, it’s easy to add them.”
Traci Chun, librarian at Skyview High School in Washington, also welcomed the challenge of helping teachers and students make the most of the new all-online environment. She began hosting a weekly video series, called “Skyview Shares,” to introduce staff to new tools and resources, and created a video illustrating how to access eBooks.
“It really is a great time to be a librarian,” Chun said. “I think this crisis has given us an incredible chance to help others in meaningful ways.”
The ability to quickly adapt—and even create entirely new pathways to learning—has brought satisfaction and a renewed energy to many people in the profession.
“Current COVID-19 circumstances have called on me to step away from the physical library and familiar instructional role in school libraries,” said Craig Seasholes, teacher librarian at Dearborn Park International Elementary School in Washington. “It’s been an empowering experience for everyone involved. From home, I show teachers how to use the district LMS, eBooks, and databases and reach out to students who may be having trouble connecting to the new way of ‘doing school online.’”
For Seasholes, satisfaction comes from seeing his efforts pay off in engagement.
“I established a weekly BookChat where students and staff share what they’ve been reading in snappy 60-second book chats, sequenced by an open PowerPoint slide deck. Students love sharing and seeing others in the chat; teachers and other librarians have joined in to learn the ‘how-to’ structure of online class gatherings; and authors have chimed in to share read-alouds. Our community of readers is still socializing—distantly.”
Perhaps the importance of the school librarian during this time is best summed up by Bill Bass, current president of the ISTE Board of Directors, who said: “In this time of uncertainty, librarians have never been more critical to our schools. As master curators, we rely on them to sift through the abundance of information and digital noise to help teachers and students understand how to find and utilize high quality digital tools and content as well as celebrating and highlighting best practices in the digital age.”
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