This weekend I went to Nashville for the School Library Journal Leadership Summit, and it was amazing. As all librarians and general lovers of literacy know, we are facing huge challenges when it comes to literacy in this country: some areas are book deserts, while others have a glut of information- not all of it true or unbiased. How do we teach students to access and evaluate unbiased sources of news, while still encouraging a love of reading for fun and proving the power of libraries? The speakers, panels, and breakout groups at the SLJ Leadership Summit helped us get on the right track.
We started off with a keynote address from author John Green, who is a huge fan of the internet (he hosts an educational YouTube channel with his brother Hank), but even he admits “the internet cannot fix the internet”. We still need books! And libraries! And librarians! And most importantly, we need librarians to pass on the skills inherent in civil discourse. He compared librarians to the Ice Wall in Game of Thrones, separating the citizens of Westeros from the Army of the Undead. You can watch his keynote here.
In breakout groups, we had the choice to attend presentations from the following:
*Alvin Irby, founder and Chief Reading Inspirer of Barbershop Books. They work with owners of barbershops in “book deserts” to provide reading materials for young readers while they wait for their monthly haircut.
*Jarred Amato, founder of Project LIT Community. He and his English class created a grassroots literacy movement in Nashville. He talked to us about about getting that project going and the lessons they learned.
*Alicia Abdul, Trust Me: Media Literacy for Research. She has created a “getting started” guide to teaching Media Literacy for Research and it is very comprehensive.
*Jason Walsh, Coordinator of Performing Arts, Metro Nashville Public Schools, integrates the arts and music to promote literacy of both music and language.
Next, Alan C Miller, Founder and CEO of the News Literacy Project, spoke to us about finding and evaluating credible news source in a time when “even social media has become weaponized”. He encourages educators to take advantage of Checkology, a free tool, to get started with classes. They have a one-one-one option or a many-to-one program, which for now is free.
An amazing panel of four high school students, plus their very brave English teacher Megan Mathes, their librarian Gregory Lum, and national Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Gene Luen Yang walked us through one teacher’s journey in teaching American Born Chinese, a graphic novel, to her classes. She chose this novel as a tool for looking at race and identity in America, and while it got off to a shaky start, the unit is now a strong component in her teaching curriculum and by the comments of the student panel, one that they will remember for life. You can find teaching tools for American Born Chinese at slj.com.
Continuing the visual literacy theme, a panel of graphic novelists spoke about their books and the renaissance of quality graphics for young (and older!) readers. Cece Bell, author of El Deafo, Gareth Hinds, adapter of Poe: Stories and Poems, and Javaka Steptoe, author of Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat showed us a behind-the-scenes look at the life of a graphic illustrator and how we can incorporate graphics into our teaching practice.
All summit participants received an autographed copy of John Green’s Looking for Alaska as well as an autographed book from Gene Luen Yang, Gareth Hinds, Cece Bell, or Javaka Steptoe.
The next morning, we listened to librarian Tamiko Brown, who was chosen as this year’s Librarian of the Year by SLJ. She expounded on some of the lessons she’s learned as she became a library leader in her school and her district.
Two administrators, Thomas Tucker from Cincinnati Ohio, and Bill Chapman, from Jarrell Texas, discussed with us ways to get your superintendent and school board to push for a focus on literacy, and stressed to us the need to show them the ways that librarians add value to your school and community.
We had another opportunity to visit a breakout literacy presentation (mentioned above), and then three quick presentations from initiatives around the country that focus on building literacy:
Rae Anne Locke , librarian, shared with us the success of the One Book, One School program at her school, a structured reading for fun at night program that the whole school gets involved with. They’ve seen tremendous participation and anticipation with this program.
Kate Jerome, author, explored Gen2Gen: How intergenerational relationships can transform our future. Her company partners with ReadingPartners.org and is working to mobilize one million senior volunteers this year alone- and they love to pass on their love of reading!
Allison Barney, coordinator from Nashville Public Library, described the partnership between the Nashville Public Library and Metro Nashville Public Schools, which resulted in more updated collections, money saved, and increased access to books for both students and teachers. They use the same library card number for both school and public library visits- what a great idea!
We had a town hall/unconference that SLJ Summit participants as well as SLJ twitter followers could chime in on two questions: Q1 In what ways are you successfully implementing news literacy and Q2 How can we build school-wide reading cultures? You can still add your answers to those questions, and read ideas from other participants, using the #SLJSummit.
The closing keynote speech was from Alvin Irby, of Barbershop Books, who encouraged us to be a messenger in our communities about reading and literacy- but to also consider whether we are creating opportunities that allow someone else to be a messenger? We might not reach every student- but are we reaching someone who then might turn out to be an influencer? Think about how you can add that to your practice.
So many things to think about! So many plans to make! It feels like there are so many paths to take to increase media literacy- the most important thing is to pick one and start implementing. Hopefully the links on this page will help you choose your path.
The SLJ Summit was sponsored by leaders in publishing, and we were all able to take home all kinds of goodies from:
and of course School Library Journal