In 2012, a majority of states adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English Language Arts and Mathematics in a response that addressed the declining educational achievements of students in the United States. A major challenge to Common Core implementation is the shortage of new and proficient standard-aligned material. In 2015, more than 800,000 students in New Jersey took the PARCC assessments on computer platforms, which led schools to increase the technological devices in classrooms. Although the PARCC assessments are a controversial subject among educators and parents, their integration of using technology to prepare students for college and careers can certainly improve educational outcomes.
Common Core State Standards require students to read complex and informational text. Teachers are constantly searching for standards-aligned material that can help support or enhance their primary literacy lessons. Because the CCSS requires students to enhance their research skills and engage in close reading, school librarians are more important than ever. Understandably, students can certainly visit their town’s public library, but in addition to attending class all day, most students have after-school jobs and often find it difficult to find the time visit their public library. Schools that already have school libraries should treasure them based on the fact of their pure convenience. School librarians are helping students achieve the task of writing narrative tasks and analyzing literacy analysis tasks in complex texts. School librarians interact with teachers on a daily basis and collaborate on research-based projects. They help identify materials that are suitable for teacher-planned units, while providing students with both print and digital resources. Circulation has skyrocketed at my high school’s Media Center because of sustained silent reading implemented in English Literacy Arts courses. The students really do enjoy reading for pleasure.
Not only are students visiting the library for reading material, but my high school’s Media Center has implemented specialized programs that help in building STEM-based skills. The Media Center participates in the Bergen County Electronic Library System (BELS), which loans out mobile MakerSpace kits and print books via interlibrary loan. The Media Center has invited the school’s Gifted and Talented Program (P.E.A.K.) elementary school students throughout the year to tinker with STEM-based electronics, such as MakeyMakey, LittleBits, and coding exercises. The high school’s Pathways Program (a program for learning-disabled kids ages 15 -21) were invited on several occasions to interact with Robot Finches and explore virtual reality on Google Cardboard.
The high school’s Media Center has also transformed within the last few years. Older thin-client PCs were replaced with brand new Chromebases, which include the full suite of Google Apps for Education. The Board of Education, along with several grants from the Young Adult Library Services Association, has helped purchase new books for the students to read. Just recently, the Media Center was rewarded by the Scholastic Reading Club / James Patterson’s Save School Libraries grant program. With the funds from the grant, the Media Center purchased an 82” HD monitor (with soundbar) to replace the projector. Ultimately, the Media Center is being transformed into a high quality learning center for both teachers and students. Teachers from the district attend the Media Center for professional development, most times presented by myself. Professional development on technology and Common Core workshops are presented throughout the year. With the perfect balance of a print collection and technology, the Media Center pleases almost everyone in the school.
Educators must remember that school libraries instill transformational leadership into both the school librarian(s) and educators that partake in all activities in the Media Center. The ability to help both students and teachers persuaded me to take advantage of pursuing a doctoral degree in educational technology leadership. By learning about new types of technology and how to implement them in schools, my leadership skills will help both libraries and technology instruction. Transformational leadership coincides with both library, educational, and technological settings because it involves all participants in the process. The input of others is essential in transformational leadership. I made a promise to myself a few years ago when I left the public librarianship field that I will always strive to help both students and teachers use new and innovative methods in both literacy and technology standards.
School officials must realize the importance of a school library because information literacy and technology are more important than ever. School librarians are some of the most dedicated professionals school districts might ever see. One might think that school libraries reside in the shade all day – but they are true leaders in the digital and literacy learning landscape. Start unlocking your school library’s potential.
Krista Welz is a Library Media Specialist in North Bergen High School. She serves on the MackinTYSL Advocacy Board and the BELS Consortium Executive Board. She is a Google for Education Certified Trainer and co-founder of Edcamp Urban. Krista is currently a doctoral student in the Educational Technology Leadership Program at New Jersey City University. She specializes in technology integration in schools and libraries.