TASLA Conference Attendees STRETCH into Stronger Leadership

by Dorcas Hand

Last week in Austin, 130+ library leaders of Texas gathered at the annual Texas Association of School Library Administrators for two and a half days of meetings. The overall theme was leadership in all its aspects – as inferred from the conference title STRETCH!. We were inspired to reach for new heights by six of our colleagues in Round Rock, and by Susan Ballard from New Hampshire, Past President of AASL. TASLA is grateful to Miriam Gilbert of Rosen Publishing for sponsoring Susan’s trip. We were briefed by Gloria Meraz of TLA and State Librarian Mark Smith. Len Bryan of the State Library and Donna Kearley, Co-Chair of the TX School Library Standards Revision Committee asked us to make comments about the Vision, Mission and Core Beliefs for the proposed standards. And these are just the beginnings of the speakers we heard.

Marty Rossi from Reg. 20 talked to us about the need to build our school librarian ranks to fill the increasing number of job openings across the state. Every program we heard offered us tools we need to make our own practice as strong as possible, whether at building or district level, so that our community will know we are essential to student success. That public awareness is one step along the path to convincing teachers to become librarians; we need strong teachers to become librarians because we need to build our ranks of strong librarians. As a step in that direction, there is work afoot to initiate Bring a Teacher to TLA Day at conference 2017, where the tag line will be Own Your Profession. Part of ownership is ensuring that school librarians endure and thrive.

You will see blog posts from many of the speakers from this TASLA conference in coming weeks – use them and any other advocacy tips you notice elsewhere to build your practice. As the summer rolls on, plan new approaches to this ongoing need to advertise your contributions to student achievement. How will you speak out to teachers, to administrators – and to parents and community members? It matters. Don’t hide your light under a bushel – let it shine. STRETCH into leadership.

From Fraud to Advocate

by Whitney Jones, Library Media Specialist, Old Settler's Elementary, Lewisville ISD  Inaugural Little Maverick Graphic Novel Committee Member 
Texas Library Association Children’s Round Table Committee Member 
I am a fraud. Not how one should start a blog but might as well be honest from the start. I want to be an advocate but am a perpetual people pleaser. Saying no makes me feel sick. So when I was hired last year and was told that my library was in full fine arts rotation I said great!
Well, my principal was lucky to hire me before I finished with my master’s because I just wanted to be in the library. I even wrote a defense in one of my classes at Sam Houston State University FOR being in rotation because I was trying to convince myself that what I read in our standards was wrong. Did you catch the part where I confessed that I wanted to be an advocate for the library?
I tried to have a flex/mixed schedule by allowing groups and individuals to come and go as they pleased while I taught in rotation. I tried to collaborate with grade levels but found it hard to do so when I was teaching during their planning periods. I planned school wide events like Dot Day, Veteran’s Day, Dr. Seuss’s Birthday and Dia! I tried being everything I wanted to be while being in full rotation for grades K-5 but found that I am not living up to my hopes and dreams of why I decided I wanted to be a librarian.
Here is the big conflict, I am a people pleaser and my administration and fine arts team want me in full rotation but after two short years, I know full rotation is not best for my students or teachers. I have been a people pleaser my whole life so normally two short years of anything would not be enough to ruffle feathers.
Then the unthinkable happened. After having every program I wanted to attend planned out for TLA, I found myself changing my mind and sitting in on an advocacy class.  I sat there listening to funding problems and issues that others had and I felt like more of a fraud. How could I confess that I am in full rotation? Any time I do mention this, it solicits one of two responses either a hiss of disgust or a sigh of pity.  So I did not bring this up as my issue. Then I met Dorcas Hand in the advocacy session; I have read all of her blogs so you can imagine my excitement. I expressed my frustration that sometimes it feels like we have pockets of librarians going above and beyond and pockets holding on to our stereotypes of shushing keepers of the books.  Then she said the unimaginable, write a blog on it.
I knew that if I wanted to be an advocate for the library I had to start with myself. I have done a lot of things in my school despite being in full rotation but I felt that I proved I was going above and beyond what was expected of me. So I set up a meeting with my principal and asked to come out of rotation. I did not bring up my standards, or our district policy that said I was nowhere close to the number of students to be in rotation. I did not present any of that. Instead, I explained all that we had accomplished in the library and that I felt I had growing to do with collaborating with my teachers. I said that I could do more and make the library even better if I came out of rotation. I wish I could report that I am now full flex but instead I am out of rotation for kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grades. Not a small victory given my school’s history with librarians in rotation.
Here is how I stopped being a fraud, I realized that I needed to set my tendency to people please aside because honestly it is not about me, it is about what is best for my students and our library. I will keep doing the programs and school wide celebrations, makerspace and coding in the library. I will still be reading with the children and celebrating reading programs like Bluebonnet books. If I don’t stand up for my students and our library, then no one will. 
Here is the big conflict for our profession as school librarians: no one really knows what we do. We all have joked about this at least once I am willing to wager but it is a problem. Maybe you are even reading this as a librarian in rotation thinking that you want out too so what have you done in your library? More importantly, what do your students do in your library and how is the library a true asset to your school? Can you show this? No more printed stats from your circulations - when was the last time that you decided you wanted to analyze data for fun? Do you have pictures of your kids in action and if so have you shared them on social media or printed them and hung them up in your halls? Are you doing programs that need to be recognized? There are things that you are doing to advocate for you library and there are things that are scary to address.  I hid behind rotation, I don’t know what you are hiding behind but take a look, take a breath, be brave and advocate.  

If you would like to continue this conversation, please find me on twitter @libraryjourney.

School Librarians CAN be Teacher of the Year in Texas - RSVP

by Irene Kistler
Teacher of the Year Finalist in 2015

TASL is working very hard to spread the word to administrators and school boards across Texas that school librarians are, indeed, teachers. Toward that end, the Texas Teacher of the Year program is allowing us to come on board as a recognized teacher organization in support of their program. This gives TASL the opportunity to provide judges for the regional teacher of the year awards, as well as provide a judge for the state's Texas Teacher of the Year program.

So how can you help? If you've received an honor of any kind at your campus, please add your name to the Google Doc below. Don't be shy! Were you nominated for a TCEA award? Tell us. Were you a campus Teacher of the Year? Let us know! Did you get recognized by the HEB Excellence in Education Awards program? Shout it out!

And the award can be a local award, too, like San Antonio's Excel Award, which is sponsored by a local television station.

When school librarians are honored as teachers, it strengthens our profession. Let us celebrate YOU by adding your name to our School Librarian Hall of Fame! We want to spread the word that school librarians make a difference everyday as teachers! 

School Libraries for EQUITY: Do What’s Right for ALL Our Students

By Cynthia Ramos, Librarian, East Early College High School (HISD)
Winner, Librarian of the Year given by Houston Association of School Librarians
This post is an adaptation of her speech at the HASL Luncheon where she was named Librarian of the Year for HISD.

  • A girl in fourth grade, drawn to a book of fairy tales, was having an internal conflict of whether to gather her courage and borrow it from her teacher or not.
  • The same girl in sixth grade longingly looked in a locked glass cabinet filled with new and dust-free books, comparable to goodies stuck in a broken machine.
  • That girl in high school, with only four other students, was assigned a research project; the teacher said “not everyone can do it”…But her librarian was kind. She allowed her to take home reference books as long as she returned them early the following morning.

These moments reflect younger versions of me, growing up in a small town in the southwestern part of the Philippines.  I never knew a librarian when I was in elementary school; thus, I could not have dreamed of becoming one at that time. I remember there were books in glass cabinets in the principal’s office but there was nobody to check them out nor anyone to talk about them and encourage us to read. But I have always loved stories! I grew up listening to my father’s travel and work anecdotes and my mother’s supernatural, or rather ghostly, encounters. But then I needed more, so I graduated to reading literary magazines in Filipino, which I would borrow from my best friend, Filipino comics that could be rented from neighborhood store stalls, newspapers that my father brought home at the end of the day, and textbooks that contained short stories from school. I didn’t know “children’s books”, like the Narnia Chronicles, The Giver and Bridge to Terabithia existed, so reading Mills and Boon, Harlequin Romances and Barbara Cartland novels just came naturally… in 6th grade (!) because of me being unaware of what was “age-appropriate”.

About three decades later, I find myself in a position where I can impact student reading and learning, and I reflect on my own experiences to guide me in my library practice. I look back on that fourth grader, whose teacher never offered to lend a book, and think that no child should ever feel hesitant and unwelcome to borrow one, so I strive to be approachable, to create a warm and welcoming library space, and to reach out to both avid and reluctant readers. I imagine that sixth grader, who felt restricted from touching those books, and vow to make all library resources and services accessible to everyone in my campus. I think of that high school student and her research project and realize how inequitable that situation was for the other children, so I commit to help ALL my students develop their research skills, as often as needed, at any stage of their high school life. And I remember my librarian and have this understanding that some rules can be broken because at the heart of school librarianship is student service.

I am at a point in my life where I truly feel that this is exactly where I am needed. I love and enjoy my job. I feel that in my own small ways, obvious or subtle, I impact my students’ educational experience. However, there is a fact in HISD that I find disturbing: the absence of libraries and/ or librarians in many schools, including that of my 2nd grade son. (As of the beginning of the school year 2015-2016, thirty-five libraries are closed and only 84 are staffed with certified librarians in a district with 249 schools.) On Mother’s Day this year, he handed me a card he created in class. He wrote his “I love you” ‘s, and on the lower right hand corner, he added, “ + (plus) mom, you are my best librarian.”  That statement would have been more heartwarming were it not for the unfortunate fact that I am the only school librarian he knows. He went to a Pre-K school in the year when their certified librarian was re-assigned to a classroom. Currently, he goes to an elementary school with a library staffed with a clerk whose duty only includes checking out books to students. Isn’t it glaringly ironic that while I work hard to support and enrich my students’ learning, my son, who attends the same district that I work in, does not receive the same library access and services that I provide my students? Isn’t it disturbing that my experience of lack of resources and library access three decades ago in a remote town, in a third world country is being experienced by hundreds of students in the 21st century, in a bustling, modern city, in a first world country?

We have to do what’s right for ALL of our students, including the ones who don't have certified librarians on their campuses right now. We push for EQUITY in education by advocating for the ones who do not have access to libraries nor are served with the expertise of a librarian who will guide them to become lifelong readers, independent learners and effective users of information. Let us establish a true partnership among fellow teachers, parents, administrators, and other policy makers so that students in every school in every neighborhood are given the same access to resources and services that will help them succeed in academics and in life. And for us librarians, I believe that one of the best ways to declare our advocacy to this cause is make our work shine on our own campus, so that other principals can see what they are missing. More power to us as we continue to fulfill our mission!