and a former President of MSLA
This is a great question considering the events of the past few months and even in the very recent few weeks. How do we address unity and inclusion without being political? This is often a difficult task to accomplish, but I will attempt to answer this question under the umbrella of four actions or interventions.
look after and provide for the needs of:
"he has numerous animals to care for"
synonyms: look after · take care of · tend (to) · attend to ·
How do we begin to “care” about those who we might see as not “included” or who are on the fringes?
the fact of awareness by the mind of itself and the world:
"consciousness emerges from the operations of the brain" (Oxford online)
What actions do we take to create awareness and “consciousness” of what is happening in our country and in the world?
Actions or interventions, especially such as to produce a particular effect: (Oxford online)
What actions can we take, as educators, to increase awareness while keeping politics at bay?
Take part in a conversation or discussion to resolve a problem: (Oxford online)
What conversations should we be having in our schools and libraries to bring forward the practice of unity and inclusion?
Under the umbrella of the four actions (care, consciousness, agency and dialog) here are some of my thoughts:
1. Subtle signs can be everywhere. More books on a wide variety of differing cultures, religions, nationalities, countries, LBGTQ awareness and affirmation, as well as pamphlets for distribution (your local board of health should have these in stock or can get them for you). Agency such as providing resources for meeting students’ needs to fit in, be recognized, have feelings affirmed, or understand differing points of view, backgrounds, life situations, and more can be a way to start dialog and raise consciousness. And let’s make it easy for students to take these resources. If you feel as if your population will hesitate to check out certain materials for fear of embarrassment or retribution, make the resources available without having to be checked out. How about an area where students can simply pick a book and take it home on an “honor system”? These books can be left discreetly at the end of shelves, or in a certain area of the library that you can call whatever catchy name you can come up with. No need for students to take a book about any topic that is sensitive to them to the circulation desk. You will be surprised at the rate of return of such items, and if a substantial amount of books never get returned, well then you know that some student out there really needs that book.
Another subtle sign, and something we do everyday, is to create an atmosphere of open arms and welcoming spirit. In a school library, everyone is welcome. Every learning style, gender, nationality, religion, physical appearance and economic status. This established practice in school libraries is embedded in our professional responsibilities and by giving students a “safe” place to be, accepting all differences by avoiding acknowledgement of any differences is an unspoken heroic deed school librarians practice every day. Allowing students who feel uncomfortable in the cafeteria to come to the library during lunch, or giving students who need a quiet space or a place to “turn off” somewhere to be, or simply hang out, is huge in the life of teens in school. And through this agency we are creating places of unity and inclusion while avoiding the political.
2. Big displays are a wide open arena. Displays celebrating holidays that meet your school’s demographic, and can include everything from books to artifacts to short film clips or soft music are always eye-catching and interest-generating. Beyond cultural displays, how about displays on the science of global warming, or a myriad of other topics that are of concern today? And displays can be anything from books, artifacts, QR codes, or augmented reality apps designed to bring the inanimate to life.
Displays can create opportunities for dialog. They bring attention to issues, happenings, and other relevant topics. Have students make suggestions for display topics, choose the books and other resources and also the location of the display.
3. Activities certainly offer real-life opportunities for dialog, the creation of consciousness, and discussion of agency. What are some of these activities? Please see a short list below. As leaders in your school and managers of your space, your list might look very different!
a. Focus groups around current issue topics. Have your student advisory group choose a topic and host an adult-lead focus group, or even a moderated debate, around these topics. Student’s opinions and frustrations should be allowed to be heard, not yours, of course. The chosen moderator needs to keep the conversations focused, healthy, and respectable. Work with content-area teachers to frame the focus groups and perhaps give students extra credit for participating.
b. Celebrations can include “International Days or Luncheons” where staff members, parents, and students come together to celebrate the diversity in a school. Invite administrators, community officials, local government representation. Have parents run the event, as they will be invested in how their culture is portrayed through food and displays. The ELL staff can be your co-partner in creating and managing this event. Ask a band with cultural ties to your school to come in and play music, both as a wonderful backdrop to the event as well as to dance to after the food is served.
Or celebrations of sameness, historical events, or days unique to your school. These celebrations, no matter how big or small, all help to promote unity, foster inclusion and healthy dialogue, and act as agencies for change.
c. A buddy or mentor program can be established depending on the needs of your population. It can be freshmen shadowing seniors for a few days, An ELL student paired with a student who is willing and able to be a mentor. Work with your ELL department for this one. Of course, the library is the perfect meeting place, and also where to find help and guidance in how to be a mentor.
d. Other programs might include someone from the Board of Health speaking on the topic of mental health and social awareness, or a representative from the community with speaking about an awareness of differing cultures.
There are many ways to demonstrate unity and inclusion using the strategies of care, consciousness, agency, and dialog. With some inventiveness and creativity, and with a finger on the pulse of your school community, it can be done one small step at a time. The key to this question is “without appearing political.” School librarians have historically, and as part of their professional obligation, been the forerunners of inclusion and unity by curating collections demonstrating inclusion, creating safe places for all students, and creating an atmosphere of tolerance, civility, and awareness in the library.
While it is difficult to avoid politics in discussions, the school librarian can create opportunities for healthy dialog, awareness and acceptance of differences, and create the caring place for all through agency and acceptance. By encouraging students to be heard within a framework of respect for all voices, we are creating the foundation for future citizenship. The key here is to remember that it is their voices, not ours, that need to be heard under the umbrella of the school environment.