Adjust Accordingly

Remember Marie Kondo? I don’t know about you, but it seems like a lifetime ago when I watched her Netflix series and then bought her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and then actually tried to KonMari my life. I think fondly back to that pile of clothes I collected, holding up each item waiting to determine if this sweater or that pair of pants “sparked joy” and boy, in retrospect, the days when those were my biggest concerns seems unrecognizable. Even my husband got into the act, and we spent several days embracing our clothing, blissfully unaware of what the future held for all of us. 

Adjust Accordingly

Some of you may be familiar with the author and illustrator Dallas Clayton—he’s a big hit with the elementary school crowd—his biggest super-power seeming to be the ability to affirm children and spark joy during school visits.

I came to know about him from my days as an elementary school librarian and while I’m a good number of years and several thousand teens away from the lovely Shepaug River Valley and Rumsey Hall School, I still have a poster of his on my wall with this simple message. I believe I’m pretty good at the first three parts—it’s the adjust accordingly that I still need to work on.

Farewell to the 2021 School Year

Due to a fortuitous decision by our Head of School to power through Winter and Spring terms without any breaks, our school year is over, our seniors have graduated, our end-of-year meetings are complete, and most of our faculty have headed off for a well-deserved break. I have several more weeks of work before my summer vacation starts and will spend some of that in housekeeping activities—the behind-the-scenes tasks that might not spark joy, but are necessary to keep a library running smoothly and ensure a smooth opening in the fall: shelving books, cleaning study carrels, removing old signage, doing inventory. 

Once these tasks are finished, I’ll turn my attention to thinking about what I consider the heart of my work here as a librarian and that I personally get the most satisfaction from: how might I connect more fully with my community, what lessons can I change or adapt to make my New Student Seminar (NSS) more relevant to and meaningful for my students, and how can I create and nurture collaborative relationships with our faculty?

“Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast”

From emails on our listserv and posts on our blog, plus conversations with AISL colleagues, I’ve realized most of us expend a good deal of our time and energy strategizing how to forge connections with our faculty, especially those of us in middle and secondary schools where formally scheduled visits to the library are no longer part of the academic day. We middle and secondary school librarians need to make connections with faculty who are willing to collaborate with us on projects big and small and who allow us the opportunity to work with their students on critical thinking skills and the nuances of research. 

Although “show don’t tell” is frequently associated with writing, I see its application in the teacher/librarian relationship. There’s a distinct difference, I believe, between teachers telling their students to come see us vs. showing students our value by inviting us into the classroom. Without an invitation, we must rely on students reaching out to us for support on their own or planning optional programming that we know will not reach every student—and often not reach the students who need us the most. I recognize that the ability to self-advocate is an important skill for our students to develop, but I believe that sometimes students don’t know what they don’t know, especially in regards to understanding the myriad types of information they encounter on the internet. Management consultant Peter Drucker posits that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” and from my vantage point this highlights precisely why we need to incorporate embedded librarians into the culture of the school as one of the best ways to support the mastery of core competencies associated with information literacy and research skills. 

What Sparked Joy?

Now that my school year is over, I’m starting the process of looking back, seeing what I accomplished, what I didn’t accomplish that I wanted to, what I’m willing to let go of, and what I would like to hold onto as we reset for the fall.

Curating new resources to support our DEI initiatives
I am fortunate to have been able to work closely with our Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion on a number of initiatives and resources to support social justice. This work and my relationship with our DEI Director cemented my belief that while much of the work of the library happens within its four walls, we also need to reach beyond those walls if we want to be relevant in the life of the school. The resources in our LibGuide on Race, Racism, and Anti-Racism are used as a shared foundation for discussion on race in our Courageous Conversations among faculty and staff. As a living document, additional resources were added in response to the violence against the AAPI community. There is a tremendous value in this resource to our community as its pages have been accessed over 14,000 times since it was published last summer. I’m a numbers geek, so for me I see a great return on the investment I and two of my colleagues put into the creation of this guide. The Lunar New Year guide was created to support the joyful aspects of AAPI culture and the Black American Studies guide provides useful links to resource for a new course offering.

Working with our peer tutors
A value-added program that isn’t directly library related but is sponsored by our library is Peer Tutoring. Normally our 30+ peer tutors work out of the library during the 8-10PM study hall block Sunday – Friday evening. Due to COVID restrictions limiting one student per table, we had to completely rethink how we would offer tutoring. Student-driven suggestions resulted in a successful program offered over Zoom, in dorm common rooms, and toward the end of the year once again in the library when a change in restrictions allowed two students per table. Peer tutors who were studying remotely joined on Zoom from as far afield as China, Egypt, and South Korea. It was a wild year and scheduling was a challenge, but one the tutors met with grace and enthusiasm. It was an honor to coordinate the program and work with this committed group of young people to meet the challenges presented by COVID. Each week they collectively devoted over 50 hours in service to their peers and the school while juggling their own school work, sports, and other commitments. Three cheers for youthful energy and their ability and willingness to think outside the box!

Our Spring Peer Tutoring Schedule, a combination of online, in-library, and in-dorm locations.

Teaching New Student Seminar to a cohort of 4th Formers (10th grade)
Over the summer I took the Design Bootcamp course at Global Online Academy and adapted the curriculum of my NSS course to accommodate our newly hybrid learning environment. I designed as many lessons as I could to be self-paced with choice boards that encouraged engagement and student agency – a kinder, gentler curriculum. Using a combination of traditional formats and ed tech tools for assessment, I discovered my students were more engaged with the material and enjoyed sharing their thoughts and ideas with each other. Moving forward my focus will be on the social and emotional well-being of my students as they learn the skills this course covers to help them get off to a solid start.

A Choice Board for students to explore resources on time management prior to posting on a discussion board.

Supporting U.S. History Research
This is one of my favorite activities—collaborating with teachers to support our 5th Formers as they do a deep dive into a topic of their choosing for their long-form research paper. This year I worked with a number of U.S. History teachers and provided a range of instruction. Often I’m asked to meet with a class once at the start of a research project to cover the resources and skills students need to write this graduation requirement. These one-shot lessons—or research bootcamp as I have come to think of them—generally provide the least return on investment. I feel pressured to cover too much information in too short of a time and end up feeling that I have overwhelmed students. I’m sure they’re overwhelmed—I’m overwhelmed just thinking about it. I recall reading a post by Dave Wee where he wrote about no longer offering this as an option to teachers and I believe that if I “adjust accordingly” that’s where I’m headed next year.

On the opposite end of the spectrum I also teach the research process by scaffolding multiple lessons. This year I was fortunate to work with two teachers who chose to use this approach. One teacher brought both of his U.S. History classes in for 5-6 sessions over the course of the Winter Term affording me the time to break down the research process into manageable chunks. For these I gave a quick instructional session at the start of class and worked individually with students for the remainder of the block. Students had a week or more between each session giving them enough time to complete tasks and come for additional help if needed.

I’m also fortunate to have worked with one of our APUSH teachers on a fairly consistent basis throughout my three years at Kent, and we frequently collaborate on unique project-based assignments which are great fun for me and engaging for his students. This year we collaborated on three projects: for the first project, students focused on mining a bibliography to determine the author’s bias and present their findings that they supported with additional research; for the second project I joined the two APUSH sections he taught each day they met during our two week remote period in December. I followed the same scaffolded approach described above—the main difference being this was accomplished remotely on Zoom and was the only project the students worked on for that two-week period. Again, this allowed for in-depth instruction introducing more nuanced skills required for advanced research; for the third project students chose images from nine distinct eras aligning with those on the AP U.S. History exam that reflected a self-selected theme. I love this project as students learned how to analyze, interpret, and think deeply and expansively about primary source images. Plus, it culminated in terrific end-of-term presentations using Adobe Spark, which are alway great to explore. Needless to say, the return on investment for these types of projects is high, not only for the skills students are able to master and the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of their topic, but also for the solid relationships I’m able to develop with students that only comes from actively engaging with them.

My AISL Colleagues
I would be remiss if I didn’t include being part of this wonderfully knowledgeable group of AISL librarians. This group has been a life-saver: from our first Zoom sessions in March and throughout the summer where we shared our lemons and lemonade (thank you to Claire for your calm presence and tech abilities) to our annual conference to our book groups. We learned to be as kind to ourselves as we were to each other. We kept reminding each other of how hard it was to deal with shifting spaces, quarantining books, keeping programs going, and students coming to the library. Amazingly, with Past President Christina Pommer’s guidance we were able to pull off our first virtual conference – no small accomplishment in a year filled with firsts. I can’t stress enough, AISL has been a life-saver.

Final Thoughts

It’s going to take quite some time to process all of the mixed emotions and experiences I’ve had over the past nine months that we’ve been back at school. When I look back on all that we’ve been through and all that we’ve accomplished, when I put all of these experiences in a pile and hold each one up to see if it sparks joy, it’s hard to believe all of this was possible while living through a pandemic. I admit, I was terrified about returning to school in-person, but the view from the other side gives me an incredible sense of accomplishment and feelings of gratitude for everyone who worked tirelessly to make it happen. At the end of the day, when comparing the lists of things that are under my control, I must say there aren’t too many things I need to adjust accordingly. Oh, and yes, when holding them up to see how they make me feel, most of them have sparked joy!

Books for Discussing September 11th

One of the bonuses of being a librarian and a mother, is that my daughters often try to surprise me with books I am not familiar with when they come home from a trip to our public library. One Saturday this summer, I arrived home to find a library book selected by youngest daughter on my desk. I am a native New Yorker and I believe she picked out the book because of its setting, noted in the title.

New Yorks BravestI dug into New York’s Bravest, pouring over the lush illustrations by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. I immediately found myself captivated by the story of a man whose legend was larger than life. Mose Humphreys had overwhelming strength and character, and an unyielding sense of duty. His life ultimately ended in the line of duty and the narrative brought me to tears. Through the story I also gained a deeper understanding of the connection and sense of community firefighters have not only in New York City, but in all areas where we live today.

The book includes a historical note about the origins of this tall tale. And fittingly, the book is dedicated to the 343 New York City firefighters who lost their lives while saving others on September 11th. After researching the book I also found that Mary Pope Osborne included a longer, different version of this legend in her collection American Tall Tales. New York’s Bravest is a gem and reading the book aloud I believe would prompt great discussions with young children about the job firefighters do and the risks they take to save others.

FireboatMaira Kalman uses the history of New York City and a detailed description of the John J. Harvey Fireboat launched in 1931, to set the stage for the incredible work the boat did in the hours after the attack on 9/11.

The theme of citizenship, which resonates so clearly in this book, provides a way to discuss the events of September 11th with children. Maira Kalman describes the events and the response from New Yorkers by writing:

“The news spread. The city had been attacked. Everyone was terrified. But people were brave. The entire city sprang into action. Firefighters and police officers and doctors and construction workers and teachers and cooks and children and parents. The mayor was strong. He said, “We will all work together. We will not be broken.”

Fireboat TowersThe illustrations are remarkable. Maria Kalman’s signature colorful, warm style and captures the people who experienced the day and their steadfast determination, working together to repair the city.

14 Cows for AmericaA Maryland Black-Eyed Susan picture book nominee, Carmen Agra Deedy’s 14 Cows for America provides a unique, global perspective on the events of September 11th. In her collaboration with Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah, the author uses the vehicle of storytelling to communicate the events of the day paired with beautiful, evocative illustrations.

“There is a terrible stillness in the air as the tale unfolds. With growing disbelief, men, women, and children listen. Buildings so tall they can touch the sky? Fires so hot they can melt iron? Smoke and dust so thick they can block out the sun?”

Yet, from the story it is clear that no matter how great our differences, we are empathetic. The response from the people in a small village in Kenya and their touching gift of fourteen cows for America define the essence of the Maasai – a people, “ …fierce when provoked, but easily moved to kindness when they hear of suffering or injustice.” This book also provides a stepping stone for broadly discussing ritual, cultural values, and immigration.

In the concluding note from Kimeli Naiyomah he writes, “The Maasai wish is that every time Americans hear this simple story of fourteen cows, they will find a measure of comfort and peace.”  We are fortunate as Librarians and teachers to utilize books like these that provide a conduit for healing and way we can remember September 11th, 2001 and move forward.