A group of three, four and five year olds check out books with their teacher. Another small group of three year olds extends their learning from the classroom using the coding robot with a teacher assistant. Meanwhile, I work on a MakerSpace activity that guides students to build their own snowmen from healthy and unhealthy foods, which builds on a read-aloud I had conducted previously. This is our media center — a place to extend and expand on student learning, a place alive with student voices and student growth.
Not so long ago, my students came to the library for a lesson, just like many elementary and preschool students. The students usually participated in a read-aloud, sang songs about their learning, fine-tuned their computer skills using the computer lab and interactive websites, and checked out books. All in all, I judged my interaction with the students to be very engaging and progressive. After all, I do teach in a preschool center, and weekly library lessons are not commonplace to most preschool students and teachers. However, after beginning my National Board candidacy and reading the library media standards for preschool through twelfth grade, I suddenly felt inept.
Preschool centers with certified early childhood teachers, like the one where I work, are rare, and an actual certified library media specialist in those libraries is even more unusual. In fact, there are only 35 such preschool centers in the state of Kentucky. Despite my certification, the idea of engaging preschoolers in student-led research and integrating technology for investigative purposes was completely foreign to me. Yet what I have discovered over the last few months has forever changed my perspective on library media centers and their role in our public schools. This learning came during my journey to meet the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and I wouldn’t replace it with any degree or professional development.
What I found most interesting when reading through those important standards is that the lessons I traditionally taught in the library media center each week were not exemplary. For example, Standard 3, Knowledge of Library and Information Studies, says that the best library media specialists make their media center a place where teachers can apply and seek to understand the integration of technology. In addition, Standard 6 maintains that the best library media specialists use the technology in creative ways to support student learning in the 21st century. These standards in no way reflected my former library routine– it was missing integration and innovative use of technology. Although I debated giving up my pursuit of National Board certification, telling myself there was no way I could begin to do this, especially with preschoolers, I knew I was better than that. I decided to dig deep and change my mindset.
As I read through each and every standard in the spring of 2015, each one motivated me to shift my practice. Standard 4, Leadership, taught me that the best library media specialists are leaders in their schools and in the profession. In order to begin my journey of implementing this standard, I started in a familiar place – the Kentucky ListServ for Library Media Specialists. I hoped I would locate something I could implement easily, with long-lasting effects, and I found just what I was looking for – coding with robots. What could be more innovative and hands on than coding with fun and interactive robots?
However, once I got those awesome pieces of technology, I found it overwhelming to understand how they worked, let alone understand how to show my fellow teachers, librarians, and students. So, I made contact with a professor at Western Kentucky University, and she helped to train our entire district library media staff and preschool staff on coding before the start of the school year. I felt like I was starting to make the media center a place where innovation happens, and I also felt my confidence beginning to grow.
The National Board standards also state that the most skilled librarians understand and apply principles and practices of effective teaching in support of student learning. As a result, I made optimal use of our school iPads by implementing the use of specific apps used for coding, presentations, and skills practice so the students could use them with teacher support in the classroom to expand upon and enhance their learning. I also looked for apps that would allow the students to collaborate on the integration of the technologies so that they continued to build their 21st century skill sets.
My son said it best one afternoon when he commented, “Mom, there’s way more to your job than shelving books.” As long as educators’ views of media specialists continue to evolve and change, libraries and media centers will have an essential place in our schools. President Obama recently spoke on the importance of giving every student the opportunity to learn through computer science so that they can compete in the 21st century digital age. Library media in early childhood or preschool offers students an important start to implementing computer science and innovation, and it will follow our students to graduation.
I’ve learned so much in my candidacy, but more than anything, I’ve come to the realization that as a library media specialist, I must challenge myself to innovate and encourage my students to be active learners, whether by making and creating or researching and investigating, through the ever evolving hub of the school library media center. Each and every day, I challenge myself to see my teaching through the lens of the National Board Standards, and I hold myself accountable to meet them. Whether or not I certify, this process has afforded me an invaluable transformation to my skills as an educator and enhanced my teaching. I decided to certify because I wanted to push myself as an educator and be better for my students. There is no more effective route I could have taken to positively impact student learning.