I was fortunate to have been given the opportunity to attend the AISL Annual Conference, for the first time, on the AISL Affordability scholarship provided by AISL. My experience of attending the conference was much like being in Santa Fe in March with its bright blue skies overhead, crisp sunshine and cool, fresh air: rejuvenating and refreshing, and just what a school librarian needs in the dregs of March in New England. As part of my scholarship, I was asked to write a blog post. In this post, I will share how I implemented the curriculum learned at the conference from a breakout session on design thinking, but I will also talk a bit about the role of AISL as a support system for independent school librarians and encourage other librarians to apply for the scholarship for next year’s conference.
First Time Conference Attendee
Yes, I was so excited to be at the conference, I wanted to squeeze out every drop of library goodness I could! I tried to attend every session, happy hour, tour and activity. Also, I made sure to drink a bunch of water, as the altitude in Santa Fe was no joke. I connected with folks in person that I had only met over Zoom in the AISL Mentor Group. I had lovely dinners with friends and reconnected with past colleagues. But as a librarian who teaches every day, I was looking forward to gaining some fresh curriculum ideas, which I found through some of the breakout sessions. As a librarian who recently pivoted to lower school library work, I was seeking support in developing my scope and sequence, I attended the Scope and Sequence chat and got amazing feedback from the kind and generous librarians (although what librarians aren’t kind and generous?) sitting at my table. As a librarian who has recently faced book challenges and removals of LGBTQIA+ materials from my collection, I was looking forward to the affirming presentation about the importance of representation in young adult and children’s books by author Nina LaCouer. It really moved me. As I reflected back for this post, there were so many moments at the conference that stood out to me. Did I mention the bus chats yet? People joke about them, but truly, they were really great. I soaked it all up.
Design Thinking in the Library
In April, I had the opportunity to finally implement some of the ideas I learned at the Design Thinking Meets Books: Novel Engineering session presented by Tomisha Johnson, Lower School Librarian at Annunciation Orthodox School in Houston, TX. In her session, Tomisha presented a curriculum she worked on with her STEM teacher Val Coyle incorporating design engineering principles with a classic storytime. Tomisha would introduce a story in a picture book, students would be presented with a problem to solve from the story and then engineer a solution to the problem.
Stalebread Charlie and the Razzy, Tazzy Spasm Band
I modified one of the example lessons Tomisha presented featuring Stalebread Charlie and the Razzy, Dazzy Spasm Band by Michael Mahin and Illustrated by Don Tate. This book told the true story of Stalebread Charlie, Warm Gravy and other homeless children in New Orleans in the late 1800s who formed a band using instruments created from found objects like cigar boxes, stove pipes and washboards. Their band was a Spasm Band, and they played a blend of blues, folk, gospel, ragtime, brass-band and dance hall music that many music scholars consider to be one of the precursors to American Jazz. I thought this story was so interesting and would resonate with my students, especially since it was based in history. The timing of the unit lent itself well to Earth Day and Maker Month, as Stalebread and his band made instruments recycled from items that would have otherwise been thrown away. I read the story in April to my first graders and posed the question to my students: Using recycled materials, can you build a musical instrument that can be played? Here are some of their designs:
This project was a joyful, noisy success! I brought my classes up to the middle school maker room to work on the building of our instruments. They loved feeling like “big kids” up there, with all the tools and supplies around them and available to use. When we completed our instruments, we practiced performing as band, and then presented our own razzy, dazzy spasm band to the first-grade classroom teachers. They were very proud. The timing and implementation of the project was just right, tying in Earth Day as well as Maker Month. It will definitely be a part of my curriculum moving forward.
And as for moving forward….If I sat next to you for a bus chat or connected with you at the conference in any way, you will have probably heard me discuss the recent book challenges and removals at my current school. It has been hard on multiple levels. Thank you to all of you I met at the conference who lent me your ear and listened, and gave suggestions and support. It meant the world to me. It was rejuvenating, inspiring, and affirming to connect with many librarians who have thriving libraries, despite the recent book challenge climate. Thank you, thank you.
Especially in today’s climate of frequent book challenges, we school librarians often feel undervalued and underappreciated. It can be isolating and lonely at times, even if you have a great librarian team at your school (which I fortunately do). I encourage you to not be afraid to reach out to the AISL community, find support from the Listserv and the Librarian Mentor Group and apply for the annual conference affordability scholarship. Making a trip to the annual conference to connect with other independent school librarians in similar roles as you can make a huge difference in how you approach your role. Attending the conference for me was like inhaling a huge breath of fresh, cool and crisp Santa Fe air, filling my lungs with clean oxygen Sometimes, it is just what you need.
*Worksheets designed by educator Val Coyle at Annunciation Orthodox School in Houston, TX