Reflections and Learning from AISL Professional Book Discussion by Faith Ward

Why did we engage in a group book study of Embracing Culturally Responsive Practice in School Libraries?: As leaders in our school communities, we are confronted with shifting expectations of the librarian, the role they play in cultivating the culture of the school, and the many curricular demands placed on the school library program. School librarians have always connected learners’ life experiences, cultures, and communities to materials, projects, and processes. That expertise, and its continual development, is essential to our profession today. We knew that reading and discussing this book would help us continue to lead and model meaningful steps toward a culturally responsive mindset. Elisabet Kennedy’s book, Embracing Culturally Responsive Practice in School Libraries, celebrates how learners’ cultures shape everything from their communication to how they process information. By reading and discussing the book together, we hoped to learn new approaches and ground our understanding of culturally responsive practices in our Libraries.

What we did: The aim of this communal reading was to challenge us as readers to embrace and nurture our own personal and professional growth. Through our joint reading and discussion we shared our insights and takeaways about concepts covered in the book, actionable steps, and activities based on culturally responsive principles that directly relate to AASL Standards. Elisabet Kennedy’s knowledgeable experiences engaged us as professional colleagues with reflective exercises and challenges. Because our reading and virtual discussions were planned over three months, we had the opportunity to reflect on the readings and our own challenges and successes in our Library programs.

Our collective reading included the discussion of topics such as culture, identity, and bias: the creation of norms and upholding those standards in our spaces; library displays, signage and policies that make an example of culturally responsive work; planning yearly goals with internal and external partners. Through our reading and time spent with Elisabet Kennedy, we built connections, celebrated the many innovative and thoughtful approaches that AISL librarians are facilitating in their school libraries, and expanded ideas for how we as a profession can continue to foster growth in our learning communities. Feel welcome to reach out to Faith Ward or Tricia DeWinter for more information and ideas for starting another book discussion such as this.
I would love to hear your thoughts about this title for our next book study/discussion:

NaNoWriMo: Surprising Success

I’ve vacillated several times in regards to the topic of this post (perhaps slightly intimidated, as a guest blogger, by this brilliant and amazing cohort of librarians). I started my post a few times, thought I was almost finished, and then, earlier this month, magic happened in our library that I’m too excited about not to share.

We haven’t experimented much with after-school programming at our grades 6-12 library at Colorado Academy in the past. Middle schoolers seem to get picked up right at the end of the school day for non-school sports and lessons, and our upper schoolers tell us they’re too busy to even check out books most of the time. So when our wonderful library assistant, Mary Leyva, told me she wanted to try piloting a National Novel Writing Month group on Tuesdays after school during the month of November, we were both hoping that three or four students might participate (and mused that those hopes might be high). Imagine our delighted surprise when, at our first Tuesday meeting the first week of November, thirteen students in grades 6 through 10 arrived at the library at 4pm to spend an hour working on writing novels! We had a wonderful first gathering and have had great turnout at our other two meetings, and I thought I’d share a few details about National Novel Writing Month (affectionately nicknamed NaNoWriMo) and what our program has looked like logistically.

Picture-1-300x224 Students working on their novels in our library “writing nook”

 NaNoWriMo is a writing event where the goal is to start and finish a (short) novel in 30 days during the month of November. The typical adult word count goal is 50,000 words, but we allowed our students to set lower, more achievable goals based on their own abilities and writing speed. This collective goal setting aims to keep writers disciplined and inspired to write more than they would on their own. People from all over the world participate (300,000 adults and 90,000 kids in 2014), and are linked through a robust website that allows writers to set goals and track their word count throughout the month. There is a companion website specifically for young writers, which is what we used to set up our group with accounts:

 Our program met weekly on Tuesdays during the month of November–skipping the Tuesday before Thanksgiving–so we scheduled a total of three meetings before Thanksgiving break. Our plan is to have a final celebration meeting the first Tuesday in December where students can share excerpts from their novels and congratulate one another on their achievements. Setting up the program required some planning, so I’ll share how we promoted and designed our NaNoWriMo group in some bullets below:

1 Month Ahead of Time

-Ordered a free classroom kit from the Young Writers Program NaNoWriMo site (includes fliers, completion pins, and a poster for student word count goals):

2 Weeks Ahead of Time

-Sent out an email to all faculty and students explaining NaNoWriMo and our planned meeting times in the library (emphasizing that our meetings would include snacks and drinks!)

-Created a sign for the circulation desk that said “Ask me about NaNoWriMo!” (this generated a good deal of verbal interest)

-Created a sign-up sheet for students

-Posted publicity fliers on the library door and library bulletin board in the middle school

1 Week Ahead of Time

-Sent confirmation email to students who were on our sign-up sheet

-Set up online educator account through the Young Writers Program NaNoWriMo page so that our students can join our group and track one another’s progress online

-Printed word count contracts for students to sign

Day Of First Meeting

-Set up food, drinks, twinkly Christmas lights, lamps, and flameless candles to create a cozy writing nook in our library space

-Introduced our students to the concept of NaNoWriMo and helped them set up their online accounts and sign their word count contracts

-Spent the remainder of the hour writing in the same space




Our second and third meetings involved the same food and decor setup, but we dedicated the entire hour each time to writing since the kids were already on a roll with their novels. As I’m sure many of you can empathize with, it was a happy surprise to have so much interest in an after-school library program (especially among such a wide age range), and it’s been wonderful to have students pop by the library throughout the last three weeks to update us on their progress and share their excitement. I highly recommend giving this program a try in your own libraries, and would love to hear from any of you who already have a program in place and have suggestions or insight. Happy NaNoWriMo!