5 Questions You Need to Be Asking Yourself for Next School Year

Teacher with StudentsPossibilities.

That’s the word that sits at the forefront of my mind through each summer as I anticipate the coming school year.

After the busy school year comes to a close, my body takes the first week of summer break to recover. My muscles begin to relax and I stop thinking constantly about various tasks and to-dos that may or may not get done that day, tomorrow, that week, or even that month.

As I start to relax, I’m able to ponder possibilities. My mind tends to fill with questions in the form of “What if …?” These questions help me imagine what the coming school year could hold for me, for my students, and for our library program.

Our jobs are demanding, but this profession holds with it the opportunity to try something new, to engage children in learning opportunities they have never before explored, to experience possibilities, and to consider what might be possible next.

Here are five questions school librarians can be thinking about now in order to prepare for the new school year. These questions informed our library program over this recent school year and continue to be on my mind as I think about how I will support building competencies and expanding understandings of our world with our students throughout the coming year.

How will I align my library program to the new AASL Standards Framework for Learners?

The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) adopted new standards in 2018 that focus on students engaging in a learning community, valuing diversity, and taking part as active global citizens. This focus positions school librarians as teacher leaders throughout their school buildings. This is both exciting and challenging, as it means we are leading learners to reflect more critically on how they engage with and participate in a learning community. The AASL Standards Framework for Learners is accessible for free.

Even after teaching for more than a decade in the library, I was overwhelmed with excitement over the possibility of how these new standards could help strengthen my library program and ensure that I am challenging myself to better meet the needs of today’s students. The Standards Crosswalks for both the Future Ready Standards and the ISTE Standards for Learners and Educators make it easy to see how our standards align with that of classroom and technology teachers. This, in turn, helps us to support one another more intentionally.

Among the wealth of resources, my favorite is probably the “What School Library Standards Mean to Educators” overview. I’ve printed and distributed this handout numerous times, as I think it helps communicate more clearly my role in the school library and how I can support our teachers and also reiterates the work librarians do to support and extend the learning that happens in the classroom.

Take time to familiarize yourself with these standards this summer so that the language is readily on your tongue as you enter the new school year. This will help you engage with your teachers and assure them that you’re speaking a common dialogue.

What is the most economical way to support my professional learning?

Professional conferences, webinars, and classes can be costly, and it’s often difficult to make time during the busy school year and even in the summer. Here are three free options to build your knowledge base:

  1. Demco’s Ideas and Inspiration site: This site features expert advice on topics such as makerspaces, library and learning space design, grant writing, and more. You’ll find blog posts, webinars, and idea galleries to educate and inspire you.
  2. Demco MakerHub: For those of you looking to incorporate more STEM programming, Demco MakerHub offers a free database of maker projects, searchable by grade, subject, or product. Spend time over the summer exploring projects and planning lessons for next year.
  3. Professional development podcasts: Podcasts are another great way to learn new things, especially when you’re on the go. Lucky for us, there are several invaluable podcasts produced by leaders in education that can help you feel replenished, challenge you to rethink your practices, and inspire some rather exceptional innovations. No two podcasts are alike, and not every host, format, or focus will be right for you. Here are a few to get you started and help lead you to those just-right shows that will bring out the best in your instructional practices.
  • Libraries
    • Dewey Decibel: Dewey Decibel is the popular podcast series from American Libraries, the magazine of the American Library Association. Host and American Libraries Senior Editor Phil Morehart guides conversations with librarians, authors, thinkers, and scholars about topics from the library world and beyond.
  • Education
    • Angela Watson’s Truth for Teachers: This podcast is “designed to speak life, encouragement, and truth into the minds and hearts of educators and get you energized for the week ahead.”
    • Ask SimpleK12: This podcast “covers educational technology, teacher professional development, and all things classroom, training, tech, and school.” Listeners ask questions, and the hosts and their advisor teachers, principals, and other school administrators in the field provide answers. SimpleK12 also offers certificates, CEUs, and clock hours.
    • Cult of Pedagogy: Teaching strategies, classroom management, education reform, educational technology — if it has something to do with teaching, this podcast covers it. Jennifer Gonzalez interviews educators, students, administrators, and parents about the psychological and social dynamics of school, trade secrets, and other juicy things you’ll never learn in a textbook.
    • K–12 Greatest Hits: Through interviews with the nation’s leading advocates and educators, this podcast brings together the most insightful, relevant, compelling, and up-to-date thinking on the education issues that parents, educators, and advocates really care about.
    • Too Dope Teachers and a Mic: Kevin Adams and Gerardo Muñoz “engage in important discussions about race, gender, class, and privilege as they play out in American schools. Through fierce and often humorous discussions, they attempt to understand what it means to be in diverse American schools in the 21st century.”
  • Literature
    • Books Between: Books Between is a podcast to help teachers, parents, and librarians connect kids ages 8 to 12 to books they’ll love.
    • Kidlit These Days: Here you’ll find kid lit connoisseurs pairing the best of children’s literature with what’s going on in the world today.
    • Lifelines: Books That Bridge the Divide: This podcast covers conversations with librarians, educators, and readers about the children’s books that can be bridges across cultural divides, open minds, and offer a lifeline to children to remind them they’re not alone. The hosts are Ann Braden and Saadia Faruqi. Ann is a middle-grade author, community organizer, former middle school teacher, and mother of two. Saadia is a Pakistani American author, interfaith activist, cultural sensitivity trainer, and mother of two.

How are my values being reflected in my library program?

What does your collection say about the values upon which your library program is built?

Most of us have inherited libraries from past colleagues who have retired or moved to other locations. Library collections are constant works in progress, and restricted budgets make purchasing books for your collection something of an acquired skill. Most often books are purchased in order to stay abreast of the award-winning and best-selling titles, to satisfy an information or instructional need, or to replace material that has become lost or unrepairable. But how often are we considering how these purchased titles reflect the diverse needs and backgrounds of our students? To be honest, I wasn’t considering this at all until recently.

In the past, I was all too happy to race to purchase the latest titles in a series and secure copies of best-sellers and titles that were receiving the most buzz. Of course I made sure to also purchase nonfiction titles to help assure that my overall collection stayed current, but I paid little to no attention to the presence of diverse voices in our collection. This included books written by or about people of color, LGBTQIA+ authors and experiences, Native authors, and neurodiverse authors and characters.

It has become very important to me that our library collection contain books that act as windows for readers into another person’s life or experience, as well as books that are mirrors for historically marginalized voices. It’s my belief that all individuals deserve the right to see themselves or their experiences authentically represented in a story.

As I set about trying to determine how best to tackle this challenge, I was grateful to come across a series of blog posts from publisher Lee & Low describing one teacher’s work with her students to conduct a diversity audit of their classroom library. In “Having Students Analyze Our Classroom Library to See How Diverse It Is” I learned how I can include my students in this process and questions I can ask myself and students to help guide our research. These questions help facilitate discussions around what we’ve discovered and how to make the best use of the data we collect. Diversifying your collection is not meant to be solved in a series of classes. It should be ongoing work that will continue to impact the culture of your classroom or library.

The work my students and I have done together has already led to new considerations on what books are displayed or read aloud in our library program and what types of books we feel our collection is missing. It has even led to students writing to our book fair company to communicate how they feel the fair could be made stronger and more inclusive. We have a long road ahead of us, but I’m grateful to be doing this work alongside my students, and we are owning our victories together.

What might it look like to challenge myself daily alongside students to build a new habit?

The Book Whisperer author Donalyn Miller started the #bookaday challenge over 10 years ago, and teacher Jillian Heise was inspired by Miller’s work to create #classroombookaday. I found myself thinking endlessly about what it might be like to do a challenge similar to these alongside our teachers and classrooms.

Miller’s #bookaday challenge happens over the summer each year. She explains the challenge like this:

“The summer #bookaday event endures as an annual opportunity to hit the reset button on our reading lives, connect with other readers, celebrate books, and remind ourselves how much reading matters to our lives and the young people we serve. It doesn’t matter if you actually read a book every day or not. Dedicate more time to read. Celebrate your right to read what you want. Make reading plans. Share and collect book recommendations. Connect with other readers. The #bookaday challenge is personal, not a competition. Finish that series. Tackle that epic historical your mother gave you for your birthday (last September). Try audiobooks. How would you like to grow as a reader this summer?”

The goal of #classroombookaday is to “read aloud a picture book every day of the school year, to students at ANY grade level; 180 complete texts are shared that grow classroom community and joy of reading.”

I love this notion, but as a school librarian I see new students every day (every hour!), and so this challenge is probably best suited for classrooms. However, I do see lots and lots of ways school librarians can embrace #bookaday and make it work in their library program.

Here are some ways you could adapt these challenges:

  • Read a different picture book that takes place in a library each day throughout April in celebration of School Library Month.
  • Read a book to aftercare students each evening after general dismissal.
  • Read one book each day from your library that you’ve never read before as a means of becoming more familiar with your collection.
  • Read a new book each day before school starts and then book talk the book to classes until a student checks it out.
  • Ask your students in the beginning of the year to name their favorite books and then try to read as many as you can by the end of the school year. Make a point of letting students know you’re reading their favorites.

The point is to build that reading habit and to connect through stories to one another. There’s no one right way, and just about anything you try will inevitably lead to connections between stories and readers.

How can incorporating social-emotional learning help to better prepare my students for the world?

Social-emotional learning, as defined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, is “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” The belief is that by helping students to more easily identify and manage their emotions, students can be more adept in the interpersonal skills necessary to successfully engage with others as adults.

Since beginning work at our school this year, I have found that I’m really drawn to the vocabulary and the regular conversations around emotions that we’re incorporating throughout our instruction buildingwide. Focusing on developing the skills of empathy, impulse control, emotion recognition, emotion management, communication, assertiveness, and problem-solving takes time and attention, but the conversations we’ve had as a class have offered insights and opportunities for me to build close, personal relationships with students.

These conversations have led to more readily demonstrated trust, respect, tolerance, and acceptance toward one another in my classes. I have also witnessed students navigate through conflict more smoothly. The Committee for Children website is a great place to start if you’re interested in learning more about social-emotional learning. It’s definitely something I know I’ll be working on for the next several years, but it’s an investment of time and effort that will undoubtedly make me a better teacher and a better colleague.

You may have other big questions that will take up residency in your brain this summer alongside those that were brought up here. I hope that you’re able to give those questions space and the time they need to be seen, acknowledged, explored, and shared with others. And I, for one, cannot wait to hear where your questions will lead you next!


Matthew Winner

Matthew Winner

Library Media Specialist and Host of The Children’s Book Podcast
Matthew Winner is an elementary school librarian in Howard County, Maryland. He is the host of The Children's Book Podcast (formerly All The Wonders), a weekly podcast featuring insightful and sincere interviews with authors, illustrators and everyone involved in taking a book from drawing board to bookshelf. He is the author of Asha Went Walking, a webcomic for young readers illustrated by Lorian Tu-Dean, about a girl, her arctic fox companion and her magic bag. In 2013, Matthew was named a Library Journal Mover & Shaker and was invited to the White House as part of the Champions of Change program. Visit Matthew online at www.matthewcwinner.com/blog or on Twitter at @MatthewWinner.