School Library Connection is pleased to collaborate with ALA President Julie Todaro and her school library group Task Force to provide access to a selection of key professional development articles aligned with essential professional competencies for school librarians. We’ll be posting at least one article every work day between now and April 15. These articles were hand selected from our archives by an expert panel of librarians chaired by Susan Ballard, Dorcas Hand, and Sara Kelly Johns.
Competency 6: Professional Capacity of School Library Personnel
“The Administrator’s Academy: Changing a District’s Technological Mindset” by Bridget E. Belardi. School Library Connection, January 2017.
As a second grade teacher who loved children’s literature and thrived on trying new technologies in the classroom, I followed the suggestion of my principal to pursue a master’s program in library science. Despite memories of myself as an eight-year old who disliked ripped pages, the smell of dirty books, and the utter silence of the neighborhood library, I was excited at the mix of books and technology the program offered. Early in my graduate program, I attended a local educational technology conference. My mind was filled with words like wiki, blog, Web 2.0, etc. I couldn’t wait to return to school and give my students new learning opportunities. I set up a teacher blog and a class wiki and began planning collaborative projects right away.
When I got to school the following week, I opened the wiki to edit it. Blocked. I tried to log into my blog. Blocked. All of the revolutionary technologies I had just learned about were blocked, locked, and frowned upon. My blog collected virtual dust for a year. What could I do?
My first glimmer of hope for a “School 2.0” happened the following year at our state educational technology conference. A new wave of tools and the concept of building creators of Internet content instead of consumers were emerging. My district’s director of technology, Chris Stengel, attended, as well as a few other teachers from our school system. We had real conversations about ways in which we could introduce these new ways of thinking into our stalwart district.
We realized that the necessary mind shift of the district could not happen unless the administrators were on board first. We needed their support to model best practice for teachers to use with students. How were we going to do that? We found the answer in an initiative that we named “The Administrator Academy.”
In Summer 2007, I was the newly appointed elementary school librarian in my building and was anxious to break the stereotypes of the silent libraries I remembered from my childhood. The first step was to break down some of the digital walls built around the district.
The librarian leadership role was integral in our plan to bring our administrators into a 2.0 world. Chris and I worked together to consider ways to get every single administrator on common ground with technology conversations and decided what we needed to do was to “make it personal.” We designed a program in which we would sit down with each administrator from the superintendent to the facilities director to the head of food services at their own computers and demonstrate the potential role of 2.0 tools in their work lives. We called it The Administrator Academy 2.0 (http://administrators2-0.wikispaces.com/).
While talking with each administrator, we worked from the frame we built on our Wikispace. This way, we were sure that everyone was on a level playing field as far as vocabulary and a basic knowledge of tools. We offered a new vision for collaborative and creative schools and a critical component of this was the use of different, specially selected examples of technology tools for each administrator: we found examples of outstanding athletic department blogs for our athletic director; we pointed our superintendant to a specific post on a blog regarding a superintendent’s decision not to call a snow day despite community complaints; one of our most hesitant principals eagerly listened as we showed him a blog and an online community that shared his love of Cessna planes. In these personalized learning environments, the rigid digital walls began to crumble.
During the district’s transition, the teachers who were willing to try new tools in their classrooms were pioneers in our efforts to show growth in student learning and engagement. We watched participation from our quiet students soar with the use of blogs and backchannel chats. Reading fluency grew when students were able to watch themselves on video after a quick recording or as they stayed in from recess to create a school Web show. We shared successes, recorded failures, and worked to bridge the gap between best instructional practices and using the Internet safely. Parents were also invited to participate in a modified version of the Administrator Academy so they would also be on the same common ground and see that we also valued Internet safety to keep their children protected.
As administrators dabbled with different technologies, teachers became more comfortable trying tools in their classrooms. Enthusiasm—and the learning curve—were shared by students who were eager to participate in their own 2.0 universe. One first grade student who wrote “poopee” on a blog and then insisted that he didn’t was surprised when I pulled it up and showed the whole class that nothing on the Internet ever gets “erased.” We worked through these problems and were happy to give students opportunities to make mistakes in a safe, secure environment.
Today, in 2016, our district is completely revolutionized and still changing. We use Google Apps for Education so that every student has an account and email address. Groups of teachers are also part of Google Classrooms to boost productivity and learning. Department meetings are often held via Google Hangouts. Chromebooks encourage collaboration on many fronts and iPad carts in schools also foster creativity and communication. Some teachers have developed online course components, classroom flipping is encouraged, and numerous teachers and administrators have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts for communication with parents, students, teachers, and the rest of the community. Students at all levels are encouraged to bring their own devices to school.
We are currently reimagining our elementary school libraries as learning commons where teachers and students can utilize the space creatively in lieu of only a 45-minute block. Most importantly, as Chris Stengel says, “No longer does technology operate in a vacuum while education and its support practices continue to operate as they always had.” Our technology department plays an integral role in curriculum and instruction.
My leadership role in the community, district, department, and school has increased because of my duties as a library teacher. Even if our library still has some books with ripped pages and a sticky cover here and there, our purposeful approach to proposing change to administrators has resulted in successful learning in libraries, classrooms, and digital spaces. With the administrative support we gained, our students have access to tools and learning environments that allow them to contribute to the learning worlds of others and be agents of change themselves.
Tips for Creating Your Own Administrator Academy
- Make it personal: Give administrators and teachers ways to connect to new technology on a personal level.
- Take it slow: No one expects revolutionary change overnight. Experimenting with one or two new tools can change student learning outcomes.
- Share success: With colleagues, administrators and parents.
- Show data: Many school districts drive change through data. Take the time to record it.
Bridget E. Belardi, MLIS, is a library media specialist at Foster Elementary School in Mt. Lebanon School District in Pittsburgh, PA. She received her master’s in library and information science at the University of Pittsburgh and bachelor’s in elementary education at John Carroll University. She is an active member in the Discovery Education Network and was named Teacher of the Year by the Pennsylvania Association for Educational Communications and Technology. Belardi’s Twitter handle is @bbelardi and you can follow her students’ work at http://blog.mtlsd.org/cybrary/.