Responses to School Library Journal opinion piece on flexible and fixed scheduling
Thanks to every one who took the time read, think, and respond. Please add any additional comments.
Dear Doug Johnson,
I have in front of me an article you wrote in November 2001 for School Library Journal entitled It's Good to Be Inflexible . Given that you are coming to Indiana for the AIME conference in November and that not many attitudes have been changed about the flexible vs. fixed scheduling guilt trip, I am writing to you to request that you address this issue when you are speaking in Indiana.
As one who has worked in both environments, I feel angry and frustrated by the persistence of my peers in their insistence that those in a fixed environment are not doing the job quite up to par. Never have I known more students nor shared more books and lessons with MY students than I have been able to in my current fixed situation. I love it. My colleagues make me feel like crap while all the while, we are losing positions every year here in Indiana and most elementary schools in Southern Indiana already do not have media specialists. That area of the state seems very cut-off from the rest of us. When I worked in a middle school in Southern Indiana, I had to be a cheerleader in order to get teachers to come to the media center. It was just something they had never done before. I finally put our language arts teachers on a fixed schedule. Yes~in a middle school. They came and they loved it, and I learned student's names.
If one were to seriously examine the State Standards for Indiana students in grades k-3, one would have to question the need for a flexible schedule because the standards do not address much research. The need for an open access library for research projects simply isn't there for the younger students. As kids are eased into research in 4 th and 5 th grades, one would still have to question an entire year's worth of open scheduling for baby-step research projects. What is in the standards in reading, reading, and more reading. That is what I am all about in my library media center.
Younger children need consistency and routine. Remembering library books is tough for kids so checking out and returning on the same day each week helps them to become more responsible. Being exposed to books through mini-lessons helps kids become readers. Listening to me read aloud my very dramatic interpretations of children's literature is a beautiful experience for kids who didn't sit on a lap much when they were very young, listening to an adult read aloud to them. That's how children acquire the strong language skills we want them to have and it continues to help them in their early school years. And even beyond, actually, as research using picture books in the middle school has shown.
The current flexible vs. fixed schedule debate is like the working vs. stay-at-home mom debate. It isn't helpful, no minds are changed, and feelings are hurt. Furthermore, the debate is lopsided and not conducted on a fair-playing field because the powers that be in the professional organizations (ALA, AASL, AIME) are the ones insisting on the flexible schedule while many of us otherwise happy library media specialists try to get a word in every once in a while about what great jobs we are, in fact, doing.
Why isn't there room for dissent in these organizations?
Thank you for reading this. I have been a big fan of your since I discovered The Indispensable Librarian back in 1999, the first year I wrote program goals for my library, which I did following your seven categories. I am looking forward to listening to you in November at the AIME conference.
Library Media Teacher
I just had to reply to your note, because I was so pleased with your SLJ article when I read it. I feel bad that you received some heat over that article: I thought it was great!
I am in a district with a media specialist in each school. Each time budget cuts have come up, media specialists have been on the chopping block. My position as elementary media specialist is tied to prep time, so they have discussed cutting others, but not me. I have felt that it has given me some job security (although if we were cut down to only one media specialist - me - and I was required to not only provide elementary prep time but also to cover the middle and high school media center's paraprofessional staff person, I would have to resign!)
Anyway - thanks again for the article! I know you're not one to feel "hurt" when questioned or criticized, ( so you're probably not losing sleep over it) but on this issue I think you were right on target. Thanks for speaking for us in Minnesota !!
Just wanted to thank you for your article in the November 2001 School Library Journal regarding flex scheduling. I agree--from my limited experience, flex scheduling ain't all that its cracked up to be.
My own district--a place where I enjoy working tremendously, by the way--is trying to have its cake and eat it, too. We have part-time media specialists (myself included) who must oversee flex schedules at multiple schools. This is tricky when you're only available at a school for 1/2 of a week.
But, specifically, one of your points in the article really hit home; you mentioned that one of the goals of flex scheduling is point-of-need access to the LMC for ALL students. You wrote something along the lines of (I don't have the article in front of me) "Because of the whims and teaching style of their respective teachers, kids have varying access to the media center." That sentence sums up my biggest frustration with flex scheduling. At least if I knew they were coming in every week, my curriculum--which is increasingly relevant outside of libraries!--would have an easier time reaching each student. However, there are whole classes that haven't set foot inside the media center since October, while others do use flex scheduling very regularly. This doesn't exactly reflect point-of-need usage!
To sum up, when I was in elementary school, my school's library schedule was fixed. I don't seem to have any long-lasting academic scars from this. For those of us media specialists serving multiple schools, implementing a flex scheduling operation is, I think, giving flex scheduling a bad name. Its a good concept, but the absence of flex scheduling shouldn't detract from an overall evaluation of a library program.
Anyway, I don't know if you'll read this, but I appreciated your article. I really do love my job and my district, but thanks for letting me rant a little bit! Now if had any guts, I would send my superintendant and media coordinator a copy of your article, along with this email! But I'm non-tenured, so you know....... Dave
I hope you don't mind the informal salutation....I feel like I know you from regularly reading your columns in many professional journals. I always enjoy them, but I have to say that I shouted aloud when I read your article in the November SLJ. I should have written right away to thank you for it, but you know how the holiday months fly by.
I coordinate twelve certified library media specialists in our district and run a central media center that services all schools and has training and production facilities. We have a very good district, in my opinion. And the number of awards and recognitions, as well as test results seem to bear that out. I won't recite them here. I just mention them so you know my background. We have had a certified library media specialist in each building for 26 years and we have adequate budgets.
We do not have flexible scheduling at our elementary schools. Indeed, some of the librarians barely have time to breathe between classes. They have no clerical help except for tremendous amounts of very supportive parent volunteers. Middle School and High School IMCs do have flex schedules.
I had an opportunity to testify before NCLIS at the last national hearings. We were all assigned an area to address, and mine dealt with the function of the school librarian. I did not approach my testimony from the philosophical. In my heart I realize that the ideal situation is probably a flex schedule where ALL teachers buy into the collaboration and participation. But in my brain, I know that such a situation would be very hard to find or to have. Somehow, some classes and some students always seem to get missed, even with teachers who have good intentions.
So, I gave my testimony trying to relay a typical day in the life of an elementary librarian in my district. I stressed the need to be so very proactive to be able to tailor their lessons with what was happening in the classroom, since there is no joint planning time. They are providing the planning time as they teach. And I really stressed how a good library media specialist could have an excellent program this way. I also stressed how they did two jobs: prepared and taught lessons for almost every period of each day AND ran a library on top of that. I truly believe my seven elementary librarians teach and reach their students at a much more effective level than at any other level in our district. I've worked all the levels, so I think I can say that with some authority.
I was not received well by the other librarians giving testimony at the hearings. In fact, many were angered that I could insinuate that anything less than a flex schedule had merit. It was a very disheartening day for me. I lost many hours of sleep over the next few weeks as the day played and replayed in my mind. Learning of their reaction that afternoon made me feel like I had somehow betrayed the profession I have devoted my life to. I started to doubt myself and my colleagues in our district. Were we just fooling ourselves? Were we without value? The people I angered were leaders in our profession who I have admired over the years. I eagerly read their articles or books and strive to be the type of librarian they often describe.
I had previously testified last year before the State Board of Ed. and the House of Representatives in battles to keep the need for at least one school librarian in a district as part of our standards. We lost. But at both testimonies, I felt that in general the politicians did value school librarians. And when we won a battle for the continuing of funding for statewide electronic resources, I was happy that I had testified. My NCLIS experience negated all of that. And, it took me months to push that experience to the recesses of my mind.
So that is why I shouted for joy at your article. You brought me out of a dismal abyss of doubt and re-energized me. You affirmed what I thought all along....it is the media specialist who makes the difference. A good one will do great things, even in a less than desirable situation.
Thank you for speaking out! I wish you a grand 2002.
I'm a little behind in my "professional" reading but was delighted to find your article on True Flexibility. Our association of library consultants and coordinators has formed a writing team to deal with this very program. I am bringing them together on Monday to see if we can provide some kind of support to so many of our colleagues trying to deliver quality programs within a prep time framework... and feeling very frustrated. We are looking at putting together some kind of mini-document that acknowledges the ideal situation but focuses on the reality with sample day books, long term plans, mini-lessons, literacy support. But of course people working like this have less time to "read" so we are going to try to do all this in 20 pages...within one day. Lots of luck right?
Anyways, your article re-inspired me to make sure this happens.... thanks... look forward to seeing you again in January.
I was paging though SLJ for November, and I ran across your article about fixed vs. flexible schedules. Although I am NOT an expert about the library, I found your article very well written and definitely convincing. I hope you are able to get a few of the naysayers off your case!
Hooray for Doug Johnson's article "It's good to be inflexible."
Itâs time to acknowledge the reality that many of us are developing information literate students simply because we DO see those kids every week! Yes, I know that information skills are best taught in utilization, not isolation. But all those flex-schedule buzz-words ÷ Resource-Based Teaching, Curriculum Integration, Collaborative Planning, Open Access, etc. ÷ are faculty-oriented, and based on the assumption that students already know what a library is, and how to use it. When, where, and how are they supposed to acquire those basic skills if they are not IN the library on a regular basis?
Let's face it; there are teachers in every school who will never see a need to involve the librarian or any other "outsider" in their curriculum. Unless library time is part of the school-mandated schedule, that teacher will never voluntarily bring his class near, much less into, the library. Sadly, it is often the unmotivated, aliterate kid who needs the library most; but if he is not forced to be there, he won't make any effort to seek it out.
As the "library-teachers", we can motivate kids to read, by making them want to know more about the treasures we've introduced.
We can motivate them to learn new ideas, by building on their innate sense of curiosity. We can teach them how to find, evaluate and use information in all kinds of formats. We can help students discover that, as W. Somerset Maugham said, "to acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life."
Weâre not teaching isolated content matter; weâre teaching essential process skills that can be used in a multitude of ways, developing abilities that every child needs in order to succeed, in school and then in the real world. Information skills cannot be truly mastered unless students use and refine them through practice year after year, gaining confidence and competence with all kinds of resources. This isn't just 'Library'; it is the "Information Lab," where today's kids develop the skills they'll need for tomorrow's world.
Years ago, every kid in America went to "Assembly" programs at least once a month. If nothing else, going to Assembly taught us how to behave as an audience at a live performance. For whatever reasons, most schools today no longer have Assembly every month, and the concurrent lack of audience manners is woefully apparent. If the development of basic information use and literature appreciation skills is done only occasionally, I wonder how well this new generation will have mastered these necessary skills by the time they become functioning adults in this Information Age.
Want to know why there are so few articles in the professional literature on the value of seeing kids (especially in elementary schools) on a fixed schedule? Itâs because the teacher-librarians who are doing phenomenal things with their weekly classes (and there ARE lots of them out there in library-land) are too busy *doing it* to write the articles about how theyâre making it work!
You speak the truth, my friend. For some of us, a fixed schedule is the only way to survive and I respect that and the hard work good librarians are doing. And yet, I hated your argument 5. Is this what we've come to to justify our postions?
I absolutely hated having to work under a fixed schedule and that was before the strong info lit movement started!!! It's the reason I moved so quickly to the high school.
There's another truth you didn't mention. Some of us are truly dispensible. They are not important in the school culture. They haven't retooled.
Because flexible scheduling is very hard to get off the ground (especially in the elementary setting), I hope you don't give those folks justification not to work for change.
I wonder if you are focusing your argument on the elementary program. Can you even imagine a fixed secondary schedule? Am I living in lala land?
I tried to get the elementary teachers in our district to switch to a flexible schedule, but gave up when I realized how structured and crowded their day is.
If library weren't scheduled, it wouldn't happen. The time would be used for more "pressing matters." If adm don't see it on the daily schedule it doesn't exist for them - no criticism intended, that's just how we all are when it comes to recognition of programs. The fact that students enter and leave the library all day long doesn't have the same impact as saying "x number of classes used the library this week." (I track both numbers.) One student looking for the "right" book takes just as much of my time as an entire class receiving instruction about the online catalog - which do you think impresses adm more?
Who says we can't do both? Any student can enter the library anytime they have a valid pass.
Thank you for your article,
Hi Doug, I've meant to comment somewhere on your editorial. I agree with you whole heartedly on each of your points. My schedule is fixed/100% prep time.
1225 students each week 8-9 classes each day with not assistance. It has been this way for two years and will continue. The art instructor retired and they are not replacing her in my K-4 building, otherwise it would have been media that took the hit. Most class sizes will be 28-32 next year. All that said, I do have a wonderful chance to influence children but have no time to work with staff, which wasn't happening much because of their history with prior media personnel. So it is a mixed blessing. Thank you for your work.
I had intentions to write and thank you for your "Make Your Point" article in the Nov' 01 SLJ. Your MEMO "email" is prompting me to do it today - yea!
As I was reading your article I kept saying "Yes!" This is exactly how we do our library media program. All grades, K-8, have a scheduled library time each week. Middle Schoolers have 40 minutes and K-5 has a full hour. This is not a prep time for teachers. We still have a smallish library so that each class (K-5) comes in halves. During this half hour I read or teach for 15 minutes and they have book checkout for the other 15. While one half the class is in the library the other half is getting special attention by the classroom teacher because he/she now has only half his/her kids. The lower elementary teachers really like this. Because the library is small and I have started to do a lot more teaching of Information Literacy skills I have started to take my teaching to the classroom using an iBook and a projector on a cart. I show up at the classroom at the beginning of their library period and teach a "weekly mini-lesson" or a "little, bitty inquiry 'project'" (as you called it) for 15 minutes. After this teaching time the class comes to the library in their 2 separate groups for book checkout. I have valued these continuous opportunities to teach and for the kids to practice all kinds of information literacy skills - and now and then to share a good book. I also work with teachers on the "big projects" but I find the scheduled times to be a wonderful way of connecting with the kids each week to talk about and practice skills that are essential to their lives.
Thanks again for being such a good mentor!
... Doug Johnson's article made me feel empowered. We can do some good in a fixed schedule. We are seeing all of the students, are promoting a love of reading, and are teaching important literacy skills. The idea of smaller but continuous opportunities for practicing information literacy skills is educationally sound. The positive responses to Doug Johnson's article reflect the realities in the trenches of schools stretched to the limits for time and budget. I like the idea of classes coming in and students dropping in, but I feel a much more consistent contact with all of the students in my fixed schedule. In addition, for budget and support reasons, our libraries are not always staffed for the drop-in student. We do the best with what we have and continue fighting for what we need.
LME Student and practicing media specialist