Working Along the Edges

Alpha S. DeLap, St. Thomas School, Medina, WA (twitter: alphaselene)

Here at St. Thomas School (STS), where I have been a teacher-librarian for the past seven academic years, our Head of School, Dr. Kirk Wheeler, encourages us all to risk, explore, and challenge ourselves professionally. In 2016, he wrote, ”

“Whenever we are on the edge – the edge of our capabilities, the edge of our knowledge, the edge of our confidence – we are in a place of potential growth. However, that edge isn’t always an easy place to be. That is why we intentionally celebrate edgework and remain committed to maintaining a learning environment in which ALL members of the school feel secure in taking risks, asking questions, and exploring new alternatives.”

His encouragement of our own professional risk-taking has led me to serve on committees, publish articles, write reviews for national publications, present at conferences, and even to write for this AISL blog.

In addition to spreading my wings externally, I have also taken on curricular projects outside my initial comfort zone and immediate expertise: yearbook design and production and debate.  I agreed to teach these particular electives in 2016, we call them “Master Classes,” for our Seventh and Eighth Grade students and committed to teaching them as thoroughly and rigorously as possible. In addition to teaching these electives each year, I am now the Coach for the STS Middle School Debate team.

You might think, “I’m sure you did Debate in high school and college so it wasn’t too much of a stretch,” but actually I have never debated formally and my love of this particular academic realm is one that I conjured in its fuller form in last few years.

Yes, I took the LSAT after college, did well, and toyed with the idea of law school, but instead I worked in publishing for Macmillan and went on to pursue degrees in comparative literature and cultural studies.

It was when I taught an argumentation course at a community college in Northern Colorado that I began to fall in love with the actual structure and process of constructing different arguments, especially the mediatory type. Helping my college students map the proposition and the opposition and then integrate them was pure joy.

I retained a strong memory of this love of the mediatory argument throughout my second career shift into children’s librarianship. When my supervisor, STS Middle School Division Director, Alex Colledge, asked me whether or not I wanted to spearhead a new Debate strand at St. Thomas School, I jumped at the idea. I have found that whenever I feel a strong intellectual fluttering I do well to give in to it and see where it takes me.

I have taught two rounds of the master class and our nascent Debate Team came in fifth in the Pacific Northwest Middle School Debate League last Spring.

The second year of Debate season is upon us. Yesterday I held my first team practice after conducting a week-long Debate Team camp in mid-August. Debate is a natural landscape for librarians, it is a space that delights in a careful and thorough research process, a celebration of diverse perspectives, and a passionate consideration of the most pressing civic issues of the day.

If you interested in talking more about Middle School Debate, modified parliamentary argumentation or ways in which you are exploring your own professional edge, please email me or tweet me at: alphaselene.

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