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Finding The "Bigger Vision" In Your Work

The other day my district's Assistant Superintendent of Instruction and Student Accountability asked a group of us in a meeting to read and reflect upon this post by George Couros. Actually, to be more accurate, she read the first part, containing the fable about the stonecutters, aloud to us:

"One day a traveler, walking along a lane, came across 3 stonecutters working in a quarry. Each was busy cutting a block of stone. Interested to find out what they were working on, he asked the first stonecutter what he was doing. “I am cutting a stone!” Still no wiser the traveler turned to the second stonecutter and asked him what he was doing. “I am cutting this block of stone to make sure that it’s square, and its dimensions are uniform, so that it will fit exactly in its place in a wall.” A bit closer to finding out what the stonecutters were working on but still unclear, the traveler turned to the third stonecutter. He seemed to be the happiest of the three and when asked what he was doing replied: “I am building a cathedral.”'

Then she asked us to write our own version of the story as it relates to our work. This is what I wrote:

"One day a busy principal walked into a school library, spotting three librarians working side by side. (Yes, I realize this is already a fantasy, as most schools - regardless of their size - no longer have multiple librarians at the helm, but I digress). Interested to find out what they were working on, he asked the first school librarian what she was doing, to which she replied "I'm checking out books." Still without a clear picture of what the librarians work was all about, the principal approached the second librarian with the same question. The second librarian looked up from his work and said, "I'm helping these students find books, collaborating with this classroom teacher AND coaching our students through this activity in our maker space." A bit closer to understanding the work of the school librarian, the principal turned to the last librarian, who seemed the most satisfied and focused on her work. When he asked this librarian what she was doing she replied simply, 'I'm changing the world."'

As I've continued to think about this activity and the original post further, I keep coming back to the same question: How can we make our work look more like third answer (no matter what we're doing) so that anyone who walks into the library can see, without even having to ask, that we're changing the world? Obviously, this isn't a question I can answer in one blog post, but I do have a few thoughts about how to get started.

  1. Put kids first. And everything else second: I've said this so many times, I should probably just have it tattooed somewhere on my person! But it bears repeating: If we begin every decision by asking ourselves "is this best for our students?" we're more likely to keep our work focused on what really matters, (instead of getting derailed by the minutia which can sometimes be overwhelming.) Sometimes decisions are made for us, but when the choice is yours, put kids first. Period.  

  2. Prepare students for their world. Not yours: If you've got access to technology, use it to engage students in activities that simply wouldn't be possible without it. Otherwise you're missing the boat. Last week I had the opportunity to visit a library in which students were using iPads to write block code as part of their lesson. Then they used FlipGrid to record their reflections on coding as a skill they would need in the future - the resulting collaborative video project will eventually be shared with the world via the library's twitter account and the school's hashtag. This was part of a bigger lesson that involved traditional library tools and resources, but this librarian (in partnership with her school's technology assistant) harnessed the power of digital tools to engage students in the kind of learning they simply could not do without the technology AND created a space in which the learners of today are CLEARLY being prepared for the world of tomorrow. 

  3. Make teaching kids HOW TO LEARN your core curriculum:Like the old saying goes... limit student searches to pre-selected databases (and other teacher/librarian chosen resources) and they'll learn to research for a day, but teach them how to evaluate information regardless of its source, and they'll be critical thinkers for life. Or something like that. 

  4. Be your students' champion: Whether you're advocating for time for them to read independently, without prescribed guided reading activities along side, OR you're dispelling the myth that reading incentive programs help to grow life long readers, OR you're making room on your shelves for and pointing learners to developmentally appropriate titles that represent ALL of your students (regardless of their race, religion, social-economic status, sexual orientation or gender identity), OR you're proving through your practice that a single space can be both a library AND a makerspace, YOU need to be your students' champion. You need to be their voice in situations when theirs cannot be heard. 

Everyone who walks into the library (be they a teacher, your principal, a parent, a school board member, your superintendent, a county commissioner AND every one of your students) is a potential library supporter. Your work has the potential to either change or confirm what they already (think they) know about libraries and the role you play in the lives of students. When they walk through the doors of your space, what do they see? When your principal asks you about your work, is your answer about the details or the bigger view? Would the people around you say that your work is about changing the world?

And if not, what are you going to do about it?

1 Comment

Sarah Elizabeth
Sarah Elizabeth
Jul 01, 2019

I just wanted to thank you for this timely, to me, article. I am just starting my teacher librarian training and after spending this morning reading about job descriptions and extra tasks that will be involved with the job having the quote "I am changing the world" really resonated with me. I agree that it's important to work with students on things that are going to be a part of their world not just ours. They need to be able to independently evaluate resources for their credibility and learn how to learn. We also need to advocate that our students come first and that they need to read just to read somethings. So thank you for this.

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