Storytelling Matters- So Do School Libraries

Dorcas Hand

Storytelling makes price irrelevant, Kindra Hall said, as she relayed a study on significant objects. Researchers put 200 little knickknacks on eBay and paired them with a compelling story to see how much they would sell for. As an example they put a No. 4 tile on the auction site, which is available for $6 from The Home Depot. They paired that tile with a story of a couple moving into their first home. The tile sold for $88. In another example, they posted a cute little pony, which they purchased for $1. They paired it with a story of a woman whose daughter’s favorite toy was that pony. She said she hoped that someone would enjoy it as much as her daughter did. The selling price: $104.54.

If you’re facing the challenge of value, you’re not telling the right stories. People will pay a lot of money for a good story,” Kindra said. “I’m not telling you to lie; I think the truth is much more interesting.” You can raise the value of something by 3,200 percent with a story, she added.

School libraries need to take this perspective to heart. We are “selling” things we consider essential to student success in a world where our administrators don’t always see them as essential. We need to improve our sales skills.

We need to improve our storytelling skills.

Blogger Ari Pinkus recounted Kindra Hall’s comments at the National Assn of Independent Schools (NAIS) conference last week (Feb 24-26, 2016). I was so intrigued by the post that I am offering a few ideas here. Please read on – this is important to school librarians.

So now to the meat of the matter: STORY. To quote Kindra Hall, via Pinkus: we need to understand what storytelling is not: tagline, slogan, mission statement, history lesson, date on a calendar (If the first line on your website is the year you were founded, you’re missing the point, she said.)…...

Kindra’s three key steps to storytelling: finding the story (not easy); crafting the story (not easy); telling the story (easiest part). Data is not a story, although data supports a story. It is the emotional connection of the story that builds the connection, which sells the product - in this case school librarians and libraries.

In advance of the NAIS conference, attendees were asked to post a photo of everyday objects to tell a story about [their] school life. How might we use this idea to construct still life images to tell the story of the importance of school libraries? How can we improve our storytelling skills, using words to further illuminate what we need our allies and stakeholders to understand? Will you take the challenge? Try it for yourself, for your library and program.

Remember, if you’re facing the challenge of value, you’re not telling the right stories. How will you tell the RIGHT story? Check out the complete blog post for more information.

Yes, Librarians CAN be Teacher of the Year

by Irene Kistler, Alamo Heights High School, Alamo Heights ISD, San Antonio TX

The season of educational celebration is upon us! In Texas, teachers are celebrated through so many programs, including the prestigious Teacher of the Year (TOY) program sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). Since 1952, CCSSO has worked to shine a spotlight on the best educators serving students each year. Celebrations are held on school campuses across the country, and the best among campus TOYs move forward for further recognition.

So does a school librarian fit within the TOY program? The answer is a resounding YES! Any teacher can be nominated. The instructional space doesn’t qualify, nor disqualify, a teacher. For instance, the science teacher instructs in a lab and the football coach instructs on a field. Are they both teachers? Yes! Where the action happens supports the instructional purpose of the curriculum taught, which is the case of the school librarian.

School librarians are the information literacy experts on campuses across the country. Our instruction supports every curriculum area and every student is on our class list. Often, we are the one teacher who follows a student from year-to-year, enabling us to align our scope and sequence to grow with the student as they progress through grade levels.

School librarians collaborate with teachers to deliver 21st century learning skills in every content area. We teach students the process of research, from creating a question to presenting the information learned. For instance, at the beginning of this school year, I taught AP Human Geography students how to research a country, from inquiry to creating a digital portfolio representative of their learning. The content served as the access point for the information literacy instruction. The AP Human Geography teachers facilitated the content, while I took the lead on researching the topic and embedding their learning onto a Google Site. As a result, the students learned research and technology skills which were transferable to their other classes. School librarians are lucky that way ~ we get to see students take the learning delivered in our classrooms and then grow it into an expertise across their other subjects. It’s those magical moments when any teacher feels like a teaching superhero!

School librarians have advanced at every level of the TOY program. For the 2015 TOY class, I was one of six finalists for Texas TOY. Katherine Bassett, New Jersey’s 2000 State TOY, is the current Executive Director and CEO of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY). She was honored for her work as a middle school librarian and now helps guide other TOYs as they contribute back to the profession via NNSTOY. There are many school librarians serving as contributing members to NNSTOY, but to reach this point of contribution, they first need to be considered as a member of the teaching talent pool on their own campus.

So when your campus or district is selecting a teaching superhero for CCSSO’s TOY program, remember your school librarian. We love pouring our hearts into the kids, just like the science teacher and the football coach. Whether the learning happens in a lab, on a field or in a media center makes no difference -- we love teaching, too, and when deserved, we can be your TOY!

Your Principal Partnership, recounting a program at AASL Columbus 2015

Dorcas Hand, with help from presenters Mary K. Biagini and Debra Kachel

Looking at our current school library world with ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) on the horizon, I find myself thinking how to put the campus library in the category of essential programs, and the librarian in Essential Personnel as stated in ESSA. And I remembered a program from the AASL Conference this past fall – its content speaks directly to what folks need to remember. Find the related PowerPoint and supporting resources

This image reminds us how important it is to offer our administrators the info and language they need and will understand. Our libraries answer many of their needs but they may not realize it until we make it clear, repeatedly and with variety. We have data that supports our stories. We do impact test scores and graduation rates, as well as success higher up the academic ladder. We are directly mentioned as Essential Personnel in ESSA, the successor to NCLB. We support state standards and offer professional development for teachers. And we help school have great relationships with parents and community groups. You already know what we do – but you might not have seen yourself as resources in Indiana Jones’ administrative tool belts.

To be better prepared, every librarian needs to do homework. What are your principal’s goals and objectives for the year? How can you directly answer those with library support, examples of existing library programming that encourages these goals? Build your case. You will need to be persistent, reliable and creative in your presentations. Random conversations that aren’t random on your side; newsletters and programs that illustrate your essential role in the school’s success; collaborations campus wide that also illustrate your commitment to student achievement and teacher success.

Build Trust in every way you can – build it patiently. And build awareness of all library programs. Be ”People Smart” as explained in the PowerPoint. Discover your Principal’s preferred communications-paper, email, meeting… Make sure all your communication is interesting and exciting - and clear. Always keep students at the center of the conversation – you are doing what is best for their academic success by selecting the best resources, planning the best lessons, encouraging that love of reading and learning. Promoting your impact supports them further. Don’t hide in the Library – be sure you are seen around campus working with students and teachers.

And here we are at the beginning of Spring, buckling down for the last few months. Before it is the final sprint, take time to plan your Annual Report. This opportunity is available EVERY year, and offers huge benefits – especially when it summarizes all the highlights in a form easy to hand to district leadership and even community groups. Everything in this post supports what you should put in your Annual Report. Just take the ideas and begin to expand your partnership with the principal and everyone else on your campus – one day, one conversation, one newsletter at a time. Make sure everyone knows what you and your library contribute to student success.

Remember the Bonus: This awareness campaign also puts you in a better place as the ESSA comes online. We need to lay the groundwork early so that district leadership is more ready to implement school librarians as Essential Personnel.