cover of the YALSA Teen ServicesCompetencies for Library StaffOne of the most important things library staff can do with the youth they serve is to provide them with ways to build leadership skills. Building leadership skills provides teens with a pathway to lifelong learning, and gives them skills that are critical to their future. While it may seem that focusing on leadership is something best left for school counselors to address, promoting leadership building skills through the library is a prime way to help teens achieve their full potential while building on skills that will be sure to benefit them as they get older.

Content Area 5 of the YALSA Teen Services Competencies for Library staff focuses specifically on Youth Engagement and Leadership. While one goal of this competency is to help library staff understand how important it is to respond to teen’s interests and needs as away to develop leadership among adolescents, it also speaks to the importance of connecting with community partners and providing volunteer opportunities for teens. It may take you time to move between the Youth Engagement and Leadership Competency skill levels of developing, practicing and transforming, however, if you look closely at the vision you have for your library, at the activities you provide, and at the specific teens in your community that you serve, you may see that you are already skilled in portions of each of the levels already.
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A recent survey conducted by YouthTruth discusses whether or not students feel engaged in their school studies. Understanding student engagement is important for educators and librarians because it can give great insight into challenges affecting learning both inside and outside of the classroom. YouthTruth analyzed survey responses from over 230,000 students in grades three through twelve. The information was gathered through YouthTruth’s anonymous online climate and culture survey across 36 states. View the entire report here.

The survey targeted four specific statements, which followed with percentages of their findings. The first was that, “across all grade levels, the majority of students feel engaged.” The results to this statement showed 78 percent of elementary school students, 59 percent of middle school students and 60 percent of high school students respectively felt engaged in school work. It is interesting to see that number drop from the time a student left elementary school and finally made it to high school. However, it isn’t surprising. In elementary school students are constantly praised for the work they do and are often times engaged in more “fun programs” than those who entered the older grades.

This isn’t to say that middle schools and high schools aren’t doing their job of praising students or that they are not having fun. They are – I see it on a daily basis on the social media websites and social media accounts that the schools and teachers at middle and high school levels use. A lot happens in middle school and high school: Life changes occur, college prep begins and suddenly the fun of school is hidden beneath the requirements needed to leave and enter the real world. Students may not feel engaged, not because their teachers aren’t showing how important they are but because so much is happening that education gets lost in the shuffle.

According to the survey, “most students take pride in their school work.” This result shows 72 percent of middle school students taking pride and 68 percent of high school students. The survey broke it down even further to state that females are slightly more likely to take pride in school work than males or students who identify as other than male or female.

The last two survey findings were interesting to me, as they speak a lot to an area I feel public libraries can step in and help fill the gap.

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