What do our policies say about our beliefs?
During a recent district inservice on school culture, speaker Anthony Muhammad (author of The Will to Lead, the Skill to Teach) shared a somewhat disheartening story about child’s school and how the school’s policy actually worked against their desired goal of getting students to read more library books. He asked the teacher audience, bewildered, ‘Isn’t a goal of a library to get students to read more?”
That got me thinking. If our goal is to encourage, inspire, and promote reading, are our policies in school libraries relating to books, promoting that? In our own district, we have a few policies that came to mind. One is limiting the numbers of items checked out to K-1 students. Another is the policy of not checking out more materials to students who have a book overdue. (Now nevermind for the point of this conversation the fact that as ebooks become more prominent this may become a moot point.)
After Dr. Muhammad’s workshop, at our librarian inservice, I asked our librarians to spend time brainstorming our core values, and then talking about policies that might not support those values. We used a Google Doc to brainstorm, and then dumped that into Wordle to pinpoint our more important core values:
This process made manifest that we had some conflicting values–for example, the conflict centers around teaching responsibility (returning overdue books on time) versus encouraging as much reading as we could. This exercise of examining our beliefs led to some really interesting conversations among our library grade level teams about a variety of our policies.
At the elementary level, we talked about the policy of limiting K-1 students to one book at a time checkouts. We are in a district where students’ home lives include experience with books and many of our students’ families are public library users. So why does our school policy assume that they’ve never used library books before, have no idea how to care for them, or that one book per week is plenty. If we are really trying to get students enthused about reading and get as many books as possible into their hands, does this fit the bill? Granted, as one of our elementary librarians pointed out, the k-1 students weren’t totally responsible for their own books before, but is that enough to limit them to just one title? Perhaps this policy is a hangers-on from library tradition, from “the way it has always been done.” It gave us a lot to think about, and perhaps some of our elementaries will alter their policies.
At the secondary level, we follow the policy of not allowing an item to be checked out when a previous one is overdue(we don’t charge fines). Over so many years, I’ve seen disappointed students turned away, who needed a book for class or for free reading, and I’ve felt uncomfortable with it. Defining our core values together firmed up why I felt that way. We had a lengthy discussion about possible alternatives, and decided to broaden our policy at the high school. Students will be able to check out a second book if they have one overdue; we’ll have a bookmark reminder to slip into the book they do check out, and we will wait until December before final exams to do a “grand reckoning” and collect all overdues that are still outstanding.
If our purpose is to get students reading, to build a positive relationship with them, to support the curriculum, and to stimulate their curiosity, then this little modification seems more in line with those purposes. Two years ago, we similarly rethought our two week checkout policy–thinking that three weeks to read something is really a more reasonable expectation for our very busy high school students. We also already allowed unlimited number of items to be checked out(unless students had the dreaded “overdue.”) Ultimately, if our students get their hands on more books from the library this year, I will feel satisfied that we are addressing our goals.
I know these decisions seem like minutae, particularly to readers who aren’t librarians, but we can take any sort of school policy and wonder if it really is supportive of our core values or if it is just more convenient for the adults involved or just the way it has always been. Being student centered means advocating for policies that support students and that make sense for students. It does challenge us to consider our long-held notions. How do we balance our beliefs with our policies? What is the tension between those things?
I found that identifying our core values as a group first (we included all our librarians and paraprofessionals in this conversation,by the way) and then breaking into mixed grade level teams to discuss our policies with “no judgment” allowed, (sort of a secret guilty pleasure conversation) did help us push our ideas a little more as well as develop more cross-grade level understanding.
So, what are your policies that don’t align with your core values? Do you know what your core values are? And are you willing to challenge or rethink one of those policies? You might be surprised how good it feels.