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Our “bus tour” experiment
We’ve just concluded an exciting experiment and I am thrilled to share our story.
Okay, no buses were actually involved. (Think garden tour.) We simply opened up school libraries representing effective practice and invited students, alums and practicing professionals to observe.
The immediate need:
I’ve been thinking that my graduate students do not have a large enough lens on what school library practice looks like.
Despite my best efforts to introduce students to exemplary practitioners in weekly Hangouts, webinars, practitioner blogs and tweeters, it is possible that the only school libraries they have ever actually stepped foot in have been their limited field experience site and the school libraries of their own past K-12 experience.
Some days, reading student discussion posts reminded me of the reports of the blind men touching the elephant.
Some students see well-funded programs; others see zero-budget programs. Some never see urban programs; some only see urban programs. Some see fixed and others see flexible schedules.
My students see various levels of partnerships, integration, technology use and reading culture. Most see the pedagogical strategies of only one professional.
I have students certain they only want to be elementary librarians without ever having seen a middle or high school program.
I want them to be able to learn strategies from more than one pedagogical mentor. I want my students to be able to view the whole elephant, to see larger truths.
What we did
While New Jersey can seem vast to those of us who travel its crowded roads, I realize it’s kinda smaller than many other states.
I pitched the idea of a tour at the Spring Library LitCamp unConference I helped facilitate with NJASL and our fabulous state organization got right on it.
My partners in this effort were: Lisa Manganello, Library Media Specialist at South Brunswick High School and Christina Cucci, School Library Media Specialist at Robert D. Reynolds Primary School, who is also our current NJASL Vice President.
We asked for librarian volunteers:
Get onboard. Learn how you can influence the next generation of practitioners by allowing them to see the variety of ways school librarians and school library programs across grade levels and settings lead teaching and learning in our New Jersey schools. Help us brainstorm and build an innovative “bus tour” program that has the potential to better prepare new librarians and better share and amplify home-grown examples of creative, innovative practice.
South Brunswick School District, who also hosted our unConference event, jumped right on the invitation. SBSD was a solid choice for our pilot because of the availability of schools at each level, its certified librarians, its research and inquiry curriculum, and because SBSD also just happens to be located in the middle of the state, not so far from the Rutgers campus. The SBSD administrators and principals we extremely supportive of our efforts. A special shout-out to Joanne Kerekes, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction and supervisor of SBSD librarians for her leadership. (Joanne also supported and attended our unConference.)
I asked Lisa Manganello, an SBSD librarian and member of our team to describe the appropriateness of SBSD as our pilot choice. She responded proudly and eloquently:
A number of factors led to our selection of South Brunswick’s school libraries for the inaugural bus tour. The district’s proximity to Rutgers and centralized location made it easily accessible to students from around the state, but our selection was based on more than logistics. South Brunswick’s libraries are woven into the academic curriculum from kindergarten through 12th grade. All libraries are staffed by full-time certified school library media specialists who, in addition to teaching, manage busy library programs.
A respected group of district leaders, the South Brunswick library media specialists collaborate with teachers to improve the connection between the academic and library curriculums to maximize student literacy and research skills. By leading literacy, curriculum, technology committees, overseeing the District’s newly developed research and inquiry framework, and creating relevant professional learning opportunities for teachers and administrators, the library media specialists are living the principles taught in the MLIS program at Rutgers University through daily practice.
We used this Smore announcement and we had participants sign up for schools and time slots.
Our pilot included five South Brunswick schools–three elementaries, the middle school and the high school.
Our goal was to invite small groups into these libraries to observe effective, well-supported practice. While our immediate goal was to ensure that Rutgers MI students could see beyond their “classroom” learning and the limits of one field experience, we also hoped to offer practicing school librarians, opportunities to see the bigger picture of school library possibilities, developing and strengthening local professional relationships along the way. Beyond my RU students, we also recognized the potential benefits such an activity might realize in terms of networking, professional development and pride in innovative practice. So, we opened the tour up to any Rutgers MI graduate students interested in pursuing a school library career, our alums and NJASL members as well.
We hosted 19 visits on October 25, 26 and 27. That may not seem like a lot, but the responses demonstrated the power of these visits.
The school librarians, and all school personnel at these sites eagerly welcomed our RU students. Our class forum discussion buzzed with ideas students planned to immediately use in their field experiences.
Is this program replicable?
Heck yes. While we chose a central location that might possibly be reached by most folks in New Jersey, we realize it would be possible to host regional tours and to alternate parts of our state each semester. If I were working in Pennsylvania, I might work through Intermediate Units. If I were working in New York, I might work through the BOCES.
Did it work?
My own student reflections in our class forum are overwhelmingly positive. In fact, they actually glow with enthusiasm.
We are currently in the process of more formally evaluating our little experiment. Here is a quote from one of our early responses, a recent grad of our MI program:
This was such a positive experience. Being able to see how other school libraries work throughout a school day and interact with the students. Seeing the inquiry model in action was an added plus. Everyone I crossed paths with on the day I went was very welcoming and extremely helpful and warm. Kendra Calabria
1. It was exciting to see the inquiry method of learning come to life as I observed the librarians engaging their students in an information literacy lesson.2. It was my impression that the South Brunswick library program is strong and relevant due to the organized, collective efforts of the librarians in the system. Together they helped create a district-wide research inquiry model of learning along with assessment criteria. They also jointly produced a revised MLA citation handout for teachers and students. I think their willingness to work with each other and collaboratively with teachers has lead to a dynamic learning environment that greatly benefits their students.3. I take my MLIS courses fully online, and it was such a pleasure to connect with some of my fellow students face-to-face. Lori Bello, Spring ’17
We hope to expand the tour to cover more regions and examples across our state, in the Fall and Spring of each school year and we’ll be sharing at our upcoming state conference.
Please write to us if you’d like more information or plan a similar experience. We’d be happy to share materials and experiences.
About Joyce Valenza
Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza
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