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School Librarians NECC and Educational Reform

Thanks to attending NECC, and tweeting up a storm, I think I probably have about a dozen elevator speeches running through my brain right now.  It seems appropriate that I take a few moments to reflect on this great conference – to include the good, the bad and, well – I’ll let you decide how to label.

I always feel an urge to put in a good plug for school librarians when attending education conferences, and so I constantly am looking for just the right segues. Session #1 for me provided a fabulous opportunity. The speaker was Tom Carroll, from the National Commission on Teaching and Learning.  In a nutshell (remember – I’ve been practicing elevator speeches with Twitter) his message on the topic of “Transforming Schools Into 21st Century Learning Organizations” was this: it’s all about building collaborative cultures – working in teams.  Perfect.  During the Q/A time, I asked, “what do you feel the role of teacher-librarians should be in transforming schools?” His response was perfect: school librarians are key – they understand and facilitate collaboration in their schools. Score!

Following this session, I decided to browse through the poster sessions.  Featured during this time were digital portfolios, as one strategy for formative assessment of 21st century skills.  I wandered over to a booth being manned by the technology director from a small school district in Texas. We talked about platforms for hosting digital portfolios, and the pros and cons of different Web 2.0 tools for this purpose. Other people were standing around, listening and asking questions.  As my attention turned to his colleague, to find out more about data they’ve collected and how they get buy-in from teachers, the word “librarians” caught my ear.  About to speak up proudly for my profession, I was stunned to hear, “we are trying to get students access to the tools they need, explore uses for cell phones, and other hand-held devices, but the librarians won’t allow it. They chase kids out of the library if they bring in that technology. So what do the kids do? They go out to the parking lot.”  All I could say is, “Not all librarians are like that.”  His response?  “Our librarians are definitely ‘old school’.”  Ok, so not a good moment for school librarians, but, hey – onto the next session:  “Library Tools Smackdown” being led by Joyce Valenza.

Wow!  Joyce Valenza has moved the school library profession forward by leaps and bounds.  The fact that some of the biggest ed-tech gurus were in that room did not go un-noticed by me. The room was jam-packed.  In her opening remarks, Joyce said, “no one can say that librarians aren’t fun!” Great session – librarians demo’d Web 2.0 tools in rapid-fire fashion.  (Check them out at http://necclibrarytoolssmackdown.wikispaces.com/)  This was definitely a proud moment for school librarians everywhere. We bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan…

An afternoon session I attended was by dynamo Scott McLeod, the director of the UCEA Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education, who wowed the audience with the topic of “disruptive innovation.”  In one short hour, we came to realize the pattern of technology innovations, as we traced the evolution of the telephone and recorded music.  Once a technology becomes good enough, the next innovation comes along, which initially seems “too much” but eventually, when the price point is right, or other forces such as marketing come to bear, take over as the leading innovation. Through dynamic presentation style and short but meaningful discussions in small groups, we reached the understanding that online learning is not the disruptive innovation within the educational arena, personal learning is. [Pause. Think about this!] While this was all fascinating, I was distracted by a school librarian in the room who started publically complaining during the Q/A time about (though she said “don’t get me wrong – I love being responsible for technology in my school…”) teachers who just won’t embrace the technology! So my biggest takeway from this brilliant session was this: As school librarians, we have GOT to stop whining in public – it reflects badly on the entire profession.

Tuesday morning, following a keynote Oxford style debate on the premise, “Brick and Mortar Schools are Detrimental to the Future of Education” I attended a session led by one of the people who argued passionately in agreement of this statement – Gary Stager. Gary made some fantastic points in the debate, wrapping up with this:

We install iPod labs so that children can be marched down the hall once a week for iPod lessons. We chain laptop computers to desks and don’t allow children to take them home. That’s the point of a laptop. You cannot blame such stupidity on four walls of brick and mortar. The blame lies within the bankruptcy of our imaginations.

Naturally, I was excited to hear more from this forward thinking educator. So here is the sad thing. I honestly don’t think I can sum up his Tuesday session because early in his presentation, he made a remark that had me seeing red. He was defending Wikipedia – a resource that I agree is essential for us to use with students.  Unfortunately, he felt the need to share a story about school librarians not allowing students to use Wikipedia because it isn’t a peer-reviewed, trusted source.  I had to ask myself – what was his purpose in making this statement in a room packed with hundreds of people?  I couldn’t resist Tweeting this to see what others thought, and found some support  – not ALL librarians! Later, he tweeted me back, saying he didn’t think he said ALL librarians.  He knew better than to offend librarians. Hmmmm. 

So, to wrap up my thoughts about school librarians, NECC, and educational reform, I would like to say this:  School librarians have got to be careful about how they present themselves. If you are reading this, chances are you know, as I know that 21st century school librarians have the skills, insight, passion, and training to help transform schools to be more relevant and better prepare students for their future. We have the broad view of the curriculum, the patience of saints, the trust of our teachers, and have eagerly taken on the hats of educational technology specialist along with curriculum specialist, master collaborators, and inquiry specialists. We know what to do.  So hold your head high, and let’s put our best foot forward as we lead the march into 21st century learning and beyond.

~by Nancy White


5 Responses

  1. Nancy, thanks for the kind words. Glad you liked the session!

    My favorite quote from Seth Godin’s book, Small is the New Big, might be this one:

    “[I]f your target audience isn’t listening, it’s not their fault, it’s yours.”

    I think that pertains quite nicely to that librarian you accused of whining during my session…

    Please note that you’re the exception, not the rule. So don’t take it personally when others speak in generalities. They’re more right than wrong (unfortunately).

  2. Wow, Nancy! I so want to thank you and the others for posting Tweets during your experiences at NECC. I had my laptop in the kitchen so I could check on the latest info from the TweetDeck.

    Your thorough reflection is a great way to help all of us re-live your experiences and observations. You are so very right that the whining librarians MUST GO! (I really thought they had all retired … like me). I’m sure I heard background music while reading your closing paragraph. Thank you for representing Colorado and bringing home your positive spirit!

  3. It was great to get a glimpse of the conference happenings, through your eyes. It really made me realize how important is it to have school librarians who embrace technology, and who are willing to step up to the plate and lead. You are truly an inspiration to the profession.

  4. What an excellent reflection on the NECC conference! It is clear that throughout the conference, you were constantly evaluating sessions not only for your own situation but for the library profession in general. You have also demonstrated strong and important leadership through your willingness to share with your colleagues and to engage them in the conversation via tweets and blogs.

    About the same time I read your thoughts on the CASL blog, I also received (in hard copy) a publication from my alma mater–Iowa State University–featuring Scott McLeod. Among the numerous hats that he wears, he coordinates the educational administration program at Iowa State. The article began with this: “Blogging has become one of society’s most powerful forms of communication. However, most wouldn’t expect educators–or the educators of educators–to blog and promote the practice as time well spent at work.” My jaw dropped when I read that.

    At any rate, thanks again for the great post and for all the links. You’re the best!

  5. Hi Nancy, I’ve done a lot of thinking in recent weeks–trying to open my mind to new possibilites and options for the school year that is now just around the corner. Your thoughts and reflections on the NECC conference and information posted on the Calling all School Librarians website have been very helpful–getting the wheels turning. I appreciate your reminders about how open we librarians need to be! Yes, every single year is going to be very different and things are going to change and evolve. How lucky we are to be part of such an exciting, continuously unfolding profession. We are so lucky to have you in D20–leading, inspiring, prodding us to stay open and to catch the wave. Thanks for all you do for us.

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