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Library Media Specialist Sue Kowalski: How an iStaff Engages Students in Their Learning

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July 31, 2012 07:29 pm


The following blog post comes from Sue Kowalski, Library Media Specialist at Pine Grove Middle School in the East Syracuse Minoa School District, East Syracuse, New York.

This summer maybe you travelled, spent time with family, opted for solo jaunts, enjoyed the outdoors, immersed yourself into a house project, or read just for fun.   I just read about a company in Denver paying its employees to go on vacation with a promise that they MUST go on vacation and that they MUST disconnect.  The mission, of course, was that they would come back to work inspired, energized, and rejuvenated to focus on company goals.

I, too, felt the need to step away to recharge and refocus.   I’ve achieved a decent balance of connected and away and have found inspiration in both.   I’ve read, I’ve listened, I’ve drifted into random thought and through it all one theme continues to surface.   When opportunities for active engagement are present, a sense of pride and personal investment are prevalent.

 A friend was lamenting that her teenage son was going to be the death of her by summer’s end.   That same son gets my husband’s constant praises about his work ethic and dependable role when the two work together at a wood lot to take down trees, collect, and stack wood for winter.   With each outing, they improve efficiency of the operation and take pride in their team effort.   With a specific and a distinct role, there is no room for opting out and it is a value added experience for this “evil teenager”!

 My neighbors were babysitting their five grandchildren, ages 5-8, last week.   Active and busy would be an understatement of the pulse of the group.   When it looked as if things were going awry, grandpa decided they should go fishing.  With each kid equipped with their own kid-friendly pole and a sense of ownership, they lined up on the break wall and the intensity of their mission was evident.  I don’t think they scored dinner, but when these kids were empowered with the tools and a plan to be successful, the focus on achievement was priceless.

 Even a quick browse through my Twitter followers will lead me to readings and conversations about the call for involvement, innovation, curating, volunteering, engineering, and incubating.  As I think about what our library needs to thrive and be sustainable, it is these themes of action that resonate passionately with the mission of our library.   Students need to be the creators, the makers, the builders, the designers, and the entrepreneurs of ideas and information.  Our students must be invested in their own learning, directors of their own journeys, and diplomats of their success.   When they are actively engaged in the outcome of the tasks at hand, they learn the significance of their input.   If the process seems to move along regardless of their involvement, motivation diminishes quickly. 

 A key focus of our school library program includes student leadership and a culture of shared ownership.   We have a team of 40+ students, called iStaff, who share the vision of creating a library that raises the expectations for all students to actively participate in their learning and that of others, too.  It is my role to ensure that our library program supports authentic opportunities for students to lead the way with integrated technology.   Students need to be prompted, invited, encouraged, challenged, and expected to become the experts in all areas of technology.   Libraries will thrive with an invested team student leaders who are willing to master and teach others about ebooks, web-based management systems, tablet applications, presentation tools, quality resources, multimedia tools, and all aspects of social media. 

 My plan for our library will have exponential impact when I involve a team to make our vision a reality.   The team that I will engage is my iStaff team, student volunteers with a passion for making a difference.  We’ve started a movement and I plan to take full advantage of this momentum.   Students want to be involved, are naturally curious, and make a difference in when they are expected to contribute.   I can provide them with strategies for teaching and they are a wealth of knowledge that deepens my learning. I will empower them to investigate, integrate, conduct trials, create products, explore applications, build resource lists, create tutorials, and teach others.

Students who are actively engaged in their own learning can lead the transformation of a library program into one that maximizes opportunities for innovation and leadership.  Controlling who leads the way in a library is like only having the library open part-time.  Empowering shared ownership of a library program will expand its impact.

 Make it your mission to energize your library and let your students lead the way.   You deserve it and so do they.


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