During the last year, it has been easy for anyone to rattle off all of the negative things that have impacted our schools as a result of COVID-19. In some communities we’ve lost beloved educators, and in others we’ve lost time learning in classrooms and precious memories such as graduations or attending the senior prom. In all of this, it is easy to focus on all that COVID-19 has taken from us, but in every struggle, if you look hard enough, there are blessings. I would like us to focus just for a minute on the unintended consequences of COVID-19 that gave us permission to think differently, and how we are better because of it.
When I first began teaching, I was given a good piece of advice to get to know the school secretary and custodial staff well because they run the place. While that advice is true, I would also include the school librarian because they are truly the heartbeat of the campus. In 2017, Dallas ISD leadership began to consider how to reimagine the role of the librarian, knowing how important they are as the pulse of the campus community. To do this, they posed this question:
What if we coached and supported librarians in creating and implementing innovative programs that align to, extend, and enhance what was happening in the classroom?
A Change in Culture
Dallas ISD Library and Media Services Department (LMS Dept.) set out to impact their librarian team through a shift to a coaching culture in 2018. Librarians were coached on the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) national standards that seek to transform traditional teaching and learning to empower leaders, teachers and librarians to customize the campus library to the local context. In addition, lead librarians were coached on the e2L coach standards in an effort to be able to engage in peer-to-peer coaching, building their capacity to grow in not only their knowledge of AASL national standards, but also their ability to facilitate growth in each other through the use of the e2L eGrowe coaching process.
As you can imagine with any new initiative or focus, there were questions about the true intent of the project. Initially, some librarians wondered what they did wrong that they “needed” to be coached, and some were reluctant to participate because being willing to grow demands vulnerability. Librarians were asked to examine their current practice, reflect on the AASL and coach standards, and set goals and collaborate with their coach on ways to achieve those personal goals. Over the past three years, their worries diminished when they experienced support and encouragement from coaching and the pure focus on growth.
When COVID-19 entered the scene in March of 2020, it threw a curveball education has never seen as we faced mass school shutdowns in Dallas ISD and across the nation, resulting in empty campuses and, specifically, desolate libraries. Librarians could have been overwhelmed with the challenges facing their role, but instead, they rose to the occasion by thinking how they could adjust what they were doing or change it completely to impact the lives of students and teachers. They shifted their focus from the physical library space and considered what was the best way to use their expertise virtually.
“When I learn more about technology I feel more confident. Technology has been a weak area for me for years. The good news for me in this pandemic environment is I have been exposed to so much more tech and have learned more in the last year than the previous 20!” – DISD Librarian survey response
Everyone Deserves a Coach
While there were many uncertainties as we began to plan for the 20-21 school year, the Dallas ISD LMS department knew one thing was for certain: everyone deserves a coach. Through the five cornerstones of support, coaching conversations laser-focused on librarian growth and coaching skills, librarians would not only have the opportunity to collaboratively address challenges they were facing, but the challenges campus teachers, students, and families were facing as well.
5 Cornerstones of Librarian Support
- Online Module Design:
Modules were designed to assist secondary teachers to learn about various digital resources available in Dallas ISD and how they could implement these resources to support remote and in-person learning. Module topics were determined with input from secondary librarians designed in order of what topics could have the largest impact for teachers and students.
- Librarian Coaching:
Coaching Support was needed arguably now more than ever and involved three levels of coaching support:
- Lead Librarians who were released due to skills attainment were provided an opportunity to get feedback on following the evidence-based eGrowe coaching process once per semester.
- Additional librarians were coached directly on the AASL standards, with a focus on partnering with teachers and campus administrators in order to reach as many virtual and in-person students as possible.
- Returning Lead Librarians were coached on AASL standards and on the evidence-based eGrowe coaching process. This approach not only helped librarians impact student learning on their respective campuses, but empowered them to coach peer librarians to do the same.
Just-in-time workshops are offered during e2L coaching weeks, and the topics are selected based on input from librarians and their need for support at that time. Workshop topics have included, “Flipping Instruction with EdPuzzle,” “Don’t Just Curate, Communicate with Wakelet,” and “Using Google Slides to Engage Learners.” Workshop topics for coaches have included, “Navigating ePLC,” Navigating eGrowe Coach,” and “Writing Bright Spots and Endorsements That Make Coachees Shine.”
- Librarian Touch Points
Librarians experienced intentional goal setting support sessions on AASL standards through two touch points provided by the LMS Department.
- Virtual Visits
LMS Department conducted virtual visits to collaborate with librarians and continue the practice of learning. These virtual visits were focused on growth and gave the LMS Dept an opportunity to celebrate everything librarians were doing to serve their campuses while focusing on how the LMS Dept can continue to support and partner with campus librarians.
“Coaching has helped me to be more confident that I am having meaningful interactions with my students and staff.” – DISD Librarian survey response
As we finish out the year, it is imperative to reflect on the levels of librarian support to determine what adjustments need to be made, therefore a thorough anonymous survey was distributed in January of 2021. Librarians were able to share their input on librarian support, coaching and suggestions for ways to improve that support in the future.
Here are a few of their responses:
- “The conversation I had with my coach gave me clarity that I am doing what is best for my students. As I spoke, I realized how much I am contributing to. While it may not be library related at all times, I know I am supporting my campus where it is needed.”
- “Coaching has helped me understand more thoroughly the “why” behind what I am doing most of the time.”
- “I offered to be a digital help to teachers on campus this year because I have a healthier set of skills than some teachers. I adopted some coaching questioning techniques and started the Google coaching course so I was able to partner with two teachers and coach them in this way. It was incredibly effective.”
- “I appreciate the outside perspective and motivation from my LMS professional. It pushed me to be more intentional with my goals.”
What once was a hesitation to be coached has shifted into feeling like it is an honor to be coached. Librarians feel supported, confident, and collaborative, and they have shown that they are agile in whatever challenges they face.
“When my partner and I talk through challenges and ideas, we collaboratively come up with great solutions and MORE ideas. This makes me a better information specialist, partner, and knowledge navigator.” – DISD Librarian survey response
A Lasting Impact
While we continue to hope that our lives will once again be normal and we can go to school and have crowds of kids learning in the campus library, we know that even with barriers, the librarians are still connecting, supporting, learning, and impacting campuses. Systems of support that were established out of necessity in response to COVID-19 have shown to be invaluable and will be continued for years to come. If you have aspirations of truly transforming your district, campus, or department with highly effective coaching that has proven results, check out our engage2learn services!