How will you fight against different -isms and -phobias this year? (Not sure what I mean by -isms and -phobias here are a few examples: racism, sexism, Islamophobia, transphobia.)
What inequitable systems within your sphere of influence will you work on disrupting? How will do you so? What needs tackled first?
Whose voices or work can you amplify this year? Whose work can you credit and consult? (Be sure to cite ALL. Check out #citeblackwomen on Twitter. Women of color too often do not receive proper citation credit for their work. For example, how many of us heard about windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors long before we heard of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop?)
What personal growing and learning do you need to do?
While folks are reflecting on the last decade and possibly setting resolutions or goals for the upcoming year, let's also make time to set goals for equity work.
Personal Growth and Learning Resources
Here are some resources that may help with the personal growing and learning part of your equity work:
Take a breath. Don't try to do everything, and don't try to do it all at once. But do make commitments to progress your own learning and growth with equity and anti-racism work this year. Do make goals and priorities for changes you can make in your library/space and that you can influence others to make on a larger scale (i.e. school, conferences). We all need to play a role in this work.
Let's get to work.
Dr. Sheldon Eakins has served in various roles as a K-12 educator and administrator. He has taught at every K-12 level and served as a school principal in two different states. Currently Dr. Eakins is the Director of Special Education at the Shoshone-Bannock School District in Fort Hall, Idaho. Dr. Eakins also started the Leading Equity podcast where he regularly interviews other equity advocates and brings a wealth of knowledge to listeners on a wide range of equity topics in education. I had the opportunity to interview him for this blog about issues facing librarians, technology, and professional organizations with equity. These are the questions I asked and paraphrases of his responses:
I know you’ve served roles as both teacher and administrator in different education systems and schools. I am hoping you had some opportunities to work with school librarians in some of those positions. What do you see as librarians’ role with equity work? What are things all librarians could be implementing?
Dr. Eakins shared that he used to work in the Virgin Islands. The librarian there was an amazing grant writer that would get money for various resources such as DVDs, books, tech, etc. The librarian also ensured they curated materials and books relevant to the students in that school and reflecting the black culture on the islands. The librarian pulled a diverse pool of materials that could extend beyond race, sexual identity, ability, or even some religious information. But there’s just a plethora of information that librarians can offer. It’s not just about one pool of books that might appeal to the librarian, but it’s about really taking the students into mind.
The books in his current school’s library on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation is approximately 88% indigenous related. The librarian makes sure the collection is relevant to tribal members at the school. There are other books as well. He’s working with ELA teachers to bring in more culturally based material as well.
He urged librarians to be intentional about the content that we’re getting - the magazines, graphic novels, all of those things. It’s crucial to intentionally think about our students and have them in mind. Sometimes we might get a grant for a specific niche but that might not be relevant to our students or school. Don’t do it just because the access is there, but be intentional that it’s relevant to the kids.
What do you think would be a common misstep or two for librarians who don’t see an inequity or are perhaps trying to resolve it ineffectively to try to avoid?
Dr. Eakins pointed out that sometimes assumptions are made. People may assume students have certain needs based off of stereotypes. Perhaps the librarian or educator grew up in a certain population or community and are used to life a certain way. Perhaps they purchase content that’s bilingual, because they assume a student wants that without asking them. For example, if there's a librarian that assumed an influx of immigrant students has a need and tries to fill that, but they didn’t ask what those students need directly or what interested them, so they just purchase and put books in a cart based off of their assumptions of what those students need, they may later find that they were not close or were off in those assumptions.
We can take the time to sit down to talk to parents, students, community members, etc. that has understanding of what kind of books and needs our students, school, or community have. Try to deliberately find out the needs of our students instead of making assumptions. For example, at the elementary level, if we see needs we think might be there for a particular student, take the time to talk to their classroom teacher to see how we can help and what they have noticed. Be more intentional.
When I read your “5 Tips to Address Implicit Bias within Ourselves and Others” two of the most impactful steps for librarians in my mind would be to “support other teachers in their quest to reduce instances of implicit bias” and “become an advocate at your school” due to the nature of librarians working with all students and several adults. The one I saw as being the toughest for a librarian is to “identify what your students value and what is important to them.” With librarians serving whole schools, how would you advise them to go about that?
Dr. Eakins asked how much of the culture do they know about outside of the library in the school. He recognizes that librarians need to spend a lot of time in the library and that the organization and maintenance takes a lot of work. He suggested that if you’re able to branch out and spend some time in the hallways or even to pop into a classroom, club, or extracurricular, that those can help us learn about school climate and look at things from that perspective. We say for administrators to do classroom visits and observe students outside of their official capacity; the same can be applied to librarians. We can be intentional with going outside and getting to know our students.
In Getting Started with “Educational Equity: Ten Steps to Get You on the Right Path Towards Leading Equity” step five is to “Promote a Decolonial Atmosphere.” What are your thoughts on what that would look like in a school library?
Dr. Eakins urged that we have to go outside of what we’ve traditionally done, even with textbooks. It’s important to not have a dominant perspective. Sometimes we see a library with all of these books and popular titles, names, and authors that are typically white authors for white students with some culture from a racial base, maybe even a section for multicultural books, sprinkled in opposed to being a priority. In some areas it’s an afterthought. It’s important to not have a sectioned off atmosphere of different fictional books from different voices and cultures being housed separately. It’s important to strive for an embedded type of library where the content is very diverse and not just in little pockets. Sometimes people may purchase the most popular books in what we’re used to or like; it must be a priority to look beyond that.
What do schools need to work on it when it comes to technology and equity?
Dr. Eakins pointed out that that is a very broad question but started by talking about the importance of access. Grants, funding, and the community need to be utilized to make sure access is there for all.
Another item that can be overlooked is making sure all teachers know how to utilize the technology they have in their classrooms and buildings. He shared a story about a former school district where he was an administrator that had Promethean boards and only a few teachers were comfortable using them. Professional development wasn’t provided on how to use them. When he went to observe a teacher and recognized it wasn’t being utilized, he asked her about it, and she shared that she used it for morning bell work. He realized then that there should’ve been support provided. They had expected all of the teachers to be comfortable figuring that out, but that might not be their thing.
If we want this to work, we have to provide the support. All teachers being up to speed on the latest and greatest with apps and tech impacts our students.
A lot of educational professional groups, including those for librarians, tend to have a heavy membership contingent of white women. I know that white women still currently make up the majority of the education and librarian work forces, but we are interested in what we can do to bring school librarians of color into these groups. What steps can we take as an organization? What can we do as individuals? What should we do and what should we NOT do?
Dr. Eakins reminded that in addition to recruitment, we have to retain. We must consider that if our goal, our mission is to diversify - when they get there, what happens? He shared that he gets invited to events often in Idaho by groups looking for diversity. There are times where he can tell he may be only the second black person someone has ever talked to. If he feels uncomfortable, then he doesn’t go back. So how are we retaining? He goes into these events already expecting to not fully be able to be himself. He talks different if in an environment of all black people or white people. So he asks himself, do I feel comfortable in my space? Do I want to keep coming back? The question is always how do we get more diversity in our organization and recognizes a lack of diversity, but it really needs to be about how are we going to retain it when it’s there.
The welcoming piece is important. If we are intentionally saying that we have a committee of 20 individuals, 12 men and 8 women, and no POC or only 1 or 2 but would like to see more. How welcoming or how intentional are we going to be? The people of color you do have, would they recommend that others join or recommend names to you? Before we go out to go get more folks, we have to have prepared to embrace differences of cultures and opinions. We can’t view others through stereotypes and assumptions. We must work on ourselves first.
It’s all about awareness. How aware am I when I look around this room? How open am I to saying that we should bring in some differences of opinion and diversity of thought and that I am opposed to the same homogeneous type of culture we have right now? Before a recruitment plan, it’s important you make sure individuals there are comfortable and ready. All on the leadership needs to be prepared to embrace an inclusive experience. Sometimes folks start using coded language about worrying about who we’ll bring in, but what are their backgrounds, or start putting quotes or stipulations on things - these excuses are coded language where you’re telling me one thing (you want diversity in your organization), and you’re saying something else (we’re afraid of change and not ready to get past our own biases and embrace people different from us).
Resources and Recommended Podcast Episodes
-In addition to his podcast, Dr. Sheldon Eakins’s Leading Equity Center also has a 6 week online course on Teaching Through a Culturally Diverse Lens. The 5 Tips and 10 Steps guides that were mentioned in two of the questions are PDFs linked from the Leading Equity Center’s home page. There’s also a mailing list you can sign up for to stay abreast of this work.
I dug through the podcast archives to find some to share for folks who need a place to start with this work and that I thought might be helpful to school librarians specifically.
Starting points for self-education and understanding:
Episodes that could point out issues or steps for action for school librarians:
- JoyAnn Boudreau
Part of our job as librarians is to help support curriculum and to collaborate to see what resources teachers need to supplement their lessons. We research, we curate, we share. When we’re doing this work, it’s important that we are looking for gaps in curriculum and in representation in texts. Another aspect of our job as a building leader striving towards equity is to do our part to help ensure that all students and cultures are represented in an accurate manner that doesn’t just portray one side of the story.
There’s a new humanities curriculum for some grade levels in my building and district. It was observed that the representation of American Indians in the 5th grade curriculum/book did not include enough information or any current information. Hearing that, I set out to gather resources.
Filling the Gaps
Time to Start
It was hard for me to start this. I wanted it to be a perfect opening. But if we wait for something to be perfect or if we wait to be ready, then sometimes things don't happen. I used to sit on the sidelines when it came to equity work for the same reasons. "What if I said the wrong thing?" "But I don't like confrontation." (Ugh. There is some white privilege in those excuses that I see now. White educators and people can choose whether or not to opt into these conversations and work. That's not a choice people of color typically have.) I needed to confront that and my fears of making mistakes to start creating some noise and raising my voice louder with equity work. Librarians have an eons old stereotype of being the shushers, but I think we can also be the noise makers. What better thing to make noise about than equitable access, representation, and inclusion in our libraries and schools?
Librarians MUST be involved in equity work personally and professionally. We are one of the "gatekeepers" in our schools or institutions. We are one of the few people in our buildings who affect and interact with every single student, patron, and/or adult. Helping every kid see themselves in books (read Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop work on this), standing up to soft censorship (read K. A. Holt's piece on this), demanding resource/technology access for everyone, and dismantling systems that aren't working to replace with new ones are what we do. If we aren't looking at those through an equity lens, then some people relying on us will not get the resources, information, books, technology, or ally they need and deserve.
The purpose of the ISTE Librarians Network is to promote librarians as leaders and champions of educational technology and digital literacy. The key mission is to provide a professional learning community where librarians can leverage technology knowledge and expertise to improve school library programs, increase access to information, and foster strong teaching and learning environments in a connected world.