A school library is often a refuge for students, and school librarians do many things to foster this environment. Librarians are focused on the development of the whole student and play an essential role in a student’s physical, social, and emotional well-being. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) opens a way to meaningful advocacy for how a school librarian and the school library are foundational to educating the whole child.
Through my participation with the ESSA work of the Massachusetts School Library Association (MSLA), I’ve learned alongside the ESSA committee about the benefits and possibilities this legislation holds for school libraries. One aspect of interest is the concept of educating the whole child and considering the whole life of the child. In the executive summary of the Massachusetts ESSA Plan, one of the tenets is to “support social-emotional learning, health, and safety.” According to the plan, the state will advance the work under ESSA by doing the following: promoting social and emotional learning (SEL); ensuring a positive school climate and providing safe, healthy, and supportive learning environments for all students; and promoting family engagement (http://www.doe.mass.edu/bese/docs/FY2017/2017-03/item4.html). Many school librarians already prioritize these areas.
Establishing and chairing the ESSA Committee have been significant in my role as MSLA president over the past year, as an element of this committee’s work was woven into everything the association accomplished. Our annual conference offered sessions with titles such as ESSA for School Librarians, The Social Emotional Library, MA Libraries: Breaking Mental Health Stigma, and Teaching Tough Issues through Literature. Offering these types of sessions has opened dialog around how to begin exploring these topics with colleagues in all levels of schools. Most importantly, these discussions help form pathways to bring your administration into the conversation.
As a way to continue to provide meaningful professional development with an emphasis on the upcoming legislation, the MSLA’s Professional Learning Committee has been working directly with public media broadcaster WGBH to offer webinars. Our first collaboration was “Social Emotional Learning in Your Library,” based on research from the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) (http://www.casel.org/federal-policy-and-legislation/), as well as resources from PBS and others. The webinar provides an overview of SEL and strategies for implementing it in your library. The webinar was recorded and can be found on the MSLA website (http://www.maschoolibraries.org/professional-learning.html).
The focus on social emotional learning in my own library has impacted how educators, parents, administrators, and especially students, view the space. Students have come to rely on the library as a place not only to have their academic needs met, but also to learn how to balance their academic, social, and emotional selves. Administrators have listened to suggestions about how the library could be actively involved in initiatives that have the whole student at heart. They appreciate that I am willing to write grants to help fund the programs. Parents are aware of how I, as the school librarian, and the school library are supporting their children. Other educators are willing to collaborate on evidence-based SEL interventions and strategies to ensure that emotional aspects of wellness are included in the curriculum we create together. Positive relationships and collaborations with the clinical staff in the building have provided the opportunity for programs that are collaborative and effective at helping not only our students who have the most needs, but all students.
School librarians have an opportunity in ESSA to assist school leaders in redefining what success looks like in their individual communities. By leveraging the strength of our role as a safe adult in a safe space in the largest classroom in the school, the effective school librarian and effective school library program become integral to educating the whole student.
The library space is one that provides the opportunity for students to be curious, to problem solve, and to participate actively in the community as an academically, socially, and emotionally whole community member. Advocating for the space intentionally through federal legislation will secure the essential role of the school librarian in the development of a well-rounded student and in the creation of a brave new space for social emotional well being.