A link to our TEDxYouth@MountEverettRS event
A link to our TEDxYouth@MountEverettRS talks
choice → voice → collaboration
While I fully embrace student choice and voice (that’s why we’re librarians, right?), having equal say on a project was relatively new for me. Offering choice is at the heart of librarianship. Having been trained in the art of the reference interview, we naturally ask questions and offer a plethora of answers. We ask, “What is going to reach this individual child, at this specific time?” When children are engaged in this way, they often internalize this support and can move on to speak up; choice begets voice. In defining student voice, Andrea Paganelli (6) states, “Student voice can be understood as the communication and influence in co-constructing the learning environment.” When students demonstrate personal integrity and prove capable, they gain a sense of student agency. Students become “agents of change” (Tashalis and Nakkuda 23). What better place to embark on this journey than the library? Philip Williams (8) argues that libraries “play a powerful role in enabling, informing, and sustaining student agency, and nothing engages and motivates students more deeply than enabling them to become active agents in the process of learning.” In my library this takes the form of planning destinations for international trips (I led a trip to Ireland in 2017), book club selections and activities, library sign making, poetry activities, organization of student marches, collection development, student book collections, special projects for interns, inquiry learning, and more. Some, but not all of these efforts have curricular tie-ins and I feel privileged to work with students in this way.
In the Montessori learning tradition, one that promotes autonomy, the classroom teachers are referred to as guides. I like this idea—students blazing their own trail toward academic success and personal growth, all the while supported by a guide. By taking this a step further, and moving from the role of facilitator to collaborator, the student is learning through real world experience and direct communication and implementation. It can at times feel a bit like trial by fire, but it is accomplished in a safe and nurturing environment. Last year, I put out a sheet of paper next to the sign-in sheet with the question, “What is your favorite thing about the library?” A few responses were “It’s a library, what more could you want?” “Very adaptable to personal needs” and “Librarian is super cool + books, of course :) [sic].” I share this to emphasize that approachability is key to moving in this direction. Numerous studies point to relationship as being crucial to learning. Since embarking on the TEDxYouth event, I have had several students ask me to be their independent study mentor, as opposed to having students assigned to me by guidance, and I have a record number of interns. I have had faculty come to me to discuss independent study and intern options for students, because they see me as flexible and open to self-directed learning projects. I am pleased to be in a position of working together to achieve student goals and redefining the learning culture.
My latest opportunity for collaboration is the resurrection of the Big Kids, Little Kids program, which lapsed for three years after the elementary SAC ran it for 14 years. Last spring, a student who had been a ‘little kid’ approached me and asked if I would work with him to get it going again, as I was known to support student-led ideas and initiatives. We met with the SAC independently, and I notified the parents of the ‘littles’ and he recruited the ‘bigs.’ We share leadership roles in the contexts that are appropriate for each of us.
Working in a small school, I have the advantage of giving kids a lot of individual attention. I look forward to continuing to collaborate with students as they voice their leadership goals. Students see me as someone who will fully support them no matter what they wish to achieve, and my goal is to live up to that.
There are various continuums created to illustrate levels of both collaboration and student voice. These culminate in leadership and co-leadership roles in creation and development. These efforts can be implemented in degrees or stages. See Toshalis and Nakkula (24) and Loertscher (17) for more info.