At the beginning of every school year, some school librarians inevitably grouse about sitting through whole-faculty professional development because they have to get the library — both patron records and the collection — ready to circulate. They often say their needs differ from those of classroom teachers, and their professional learning should reflect that.
I would argue that school librarians need that learning and more. School librarians actually need more ongoing professional development than anyone else in the building. Why? It’s not because we’re bad at our jobs. It’s because, in this critical, school-spanning role, we have to stay ahead of the curve to support the needs of students and teachers. This means we need to know the school things and also the library things, and maybe the technology things as wellâ€¦
Do we need to go to whole-school PD? Yes!’ We are a part of a learning community, and while veteran librarians could probably deliver some top-notch professional learning on topics ranging from classroom management to standard health precautions, we need to show solidarity with our faculties. And, as Mike Buono pointed out in his post Rethinking What We Do: Outreach , we reflect the institution wherever we go. I believe you can’t operate a successful school library program in a vacuum, and there is some value to being able to speak to the new math program that is causing the primary school fits. You need to have some idea, at the least, what’s getting left out of classroom instruction. In our area, local history and geography are huge gaps in the curriculum caused by high stakes testing, and I see many school librarians addressing this.
Do you need to go to PD that has nothing whatsoever to do with the library? Yes!’ In some systems, school librarians get sent to meetings precisely because they don’t require a substitute, though this seems to happen more at the high school level where schedules are more flexible. Accreditation or standardized testing might not be your passion, but you serve as a clearinghouse for the professional knowledge and institutional memory, so be happy to serve when asked. After all, this is an ideal opportunity to showcase your skills for retrieving, filtering, and sharing information with applicable parties as you learn how to make these things worthwhile for you and your school community: Leading follow-up professional development for the faculty establishes schools librarian as a lead-learner and point-person for lifelong learning.
Do we need to stay on top of the latest books? Yes!’ If you ever want a laugh, listen in on a group of school librarians comparing their interpretations of Common Core State Standards, particularly the call for information text. We’re always scanning the horizon for resources to support for the curriculum, but the equity portion of our role demands we ensure students have access to a wider range of text, and that means knowing what great new books are out there and tapping into the literature our teens love. And while we’re at it, I’d add that modeling our unconditional support for leisure reading with ‘ its connection with academic achievement will help create a school-wide culture of literacy. School libraries that narrowly restrict themselves to curricular support aren’t helping students in the long run.
Do we need to stay on top of the latest technologies? Yes!’ Technology has changed the way that many schools libraries serve students, and it is likely to changes services even more radically in the future, beyond the the recurring projects in the curriculum well-suited for a fresh digital incarnation. For more on this, see my article in the Fall 2013 Issue of Young Adult Library Services.’ Even in places where librarians don’t provide direct tech support for student and teacher computers, we are often the lone cross-curricular specialist who can predict how cutting-edge digital projects work with existing hardware, as well as conveying some idea of what equipment student possess on their own, all of which can save school districts valuable time and money.’ Is your network up to the challenges of the computer-based testing many schools are adopting to assess mastery of the Common Core State Standards? The school librarian should have a sense of the best times and places on campus to test.’ And if school librarians don’t yet love technology, they would do well â€œto fake it until they make it,â€ since many building administrators buy the hype that digital will replace print entirely, and it’s better for us to be in that game than left out of it altogether. After all, you can search and find the answer to most common technical obstacles.
How to make it work ‘ With so many robust listservs and free webinars available every month, school librarians could cover all these PD areas without their leaving their desks. But, like anything else, a little facetime goes a long wayâ€¦Alternative or flexible scheduling makes it easier for school librarians to leave to learn, or lead PD while someone else staffs circulation. Some districts have librarians on extended contracts, so they can provide or receive technology professional development into their summers.
School librarians may be hesitant to â€œabandon the shipâ€ to get to all this learning, especially if you don’t have a paraprofessional or a dependable substitute to serve in your place. Personally, I have always thought that absenting yourself from the building actually gives some indication of how important you are for the proper functioning of the school, so regular reminders of that might cement your worth to the administration. If no one notices when you’re away, that might signal a bigger problem.