When we create a vision of something, often that vision is shaped by what we have seen before. As I begin to envision the library I am slated to open in the Fall of 2022, there is one quote that I am going to post prominently in my office as a daily reminder: “Nothing about us, without us, is for us.” This will be my mantra as a librarian as I attempt to engage staff and students in instruction in what will be the largest classroom in the building.
This vision comes from what I have experienced as an educator and a learner. For far too long, the deficit model of learning has continued to dominate within our schools. Students (and educators) are empty vessels that some higher power must make deposits of necessary information into to “better” them.
The first time I experienced and rejected this mindset was when I was working on my Educational Doctorate, with the intention of becoming a teacher of future teachers. I noticed as I got deeper and deeper into my program that we had become what I had always hated. Those people who do not live the daily lives of teachers, but they know what is best for those educators. It is the fundamental problem of any professional development created by a consultant, a researcher or an administrator who just simply is not walking in our shoes. As soon as I realized that was what I would become, I walked away.
I then continued to experience it through the endless iterations of “best practices” and programs that were implemented by my school district. Our favorite was learning goals, that, despite a two-year attempt to illuminate us on, were never made clear to a single person expected to display them on a daily basis. And while I am someone who is almost always willing to play the game, see the silver lining, try to meet the expectations, over and over again, all of this felt so false to me.
Although teachers experience it, they sometimes aren’t always the best at avoiding this practice in their own classrooms. I see it in the conversations that teachers have about what they are doing in their classrooms. One of my favorite things I heard a teacher say once, about some ancient book they had probably been torturing students with for the past decade, “The kids hate, but I love it.” Hmmmm, if the kids hate it, then why do it?!
Most recently, I watched a documentary called “Precious Knowledge” which was about an implementation of a Mexican-American Studies program in an Arizona school district. There is a scene in which teachers are sitting around talking about how unmotivated students are, they don’t care, etc. And one man finally spoke up and said, “I have never met a student who has a dysfunctional relationship with learning, they have a dysfunctional relationship with school.”
So, what does this all mean for my future library? I will come back to my mantra. Nothing about us, without us, is for us. That means that professional development for teachers should start where teachers are. What are their visions for their classrooms? What goals do THEY have? What problems are THEY encountering that they want answers to? That should be the beginning of planning for any help, support, or ideas that are offered. Professionals will develop if you give them the resources to do so and meet them where they are.
What will it mean for my students? First of all, recognize that students ARE learning, every day. They are engaging with content of their choice through social media, whether it is Snapchat, Instagram or Tik Tok. They are desperately looking for someone to engage them where they are, but no one is asking them. What do the students want from their library? How do they envision it? While I know what I want from a library in which I spend my time, my new library is not my own. This space belongs to the students, the teachers and the community. And the first question I will ask is: What do you want from YOUR library? How can it meet you where you already are and take you where you want to go?
The implementation of this philosophy will require relationships based on trust, listening and not always being in control. I have to balance both my expertise and knowledge and areas of strength with the ways in which my stakeholders will want me to show up for them.
It will be a challenge, to say the least. But it will be a challenge that I have been preparing for my entire career and I am so excited to take it on.
Submitted by Jenny Razor, NSLA member
This blog is a joint effort by members of the NSLA Executive Board. We hope to provide relevant information, tips and tools to help you in your journey.