By Deborah Rinio
Gwenyth Jones, the Daring Librarian, is a force to be reckoned with. Her style, passion, and sense of humor result in a dynamic presenter with a lot of great tips to share. During the ASTE conference, she presented a workshop for Alaska librarians on ways that librarians can be marketing geniuses. She talked about social media and she presented other technology related ways that all educators can engage their students in future ready concepts. However, there was one thing she said that made me pause. She said to always say “yes.” Of course, she didn’t mean all the time and in every situation in our lives. She meant that when speaking to your administrator you should always frame thing in the positive.
On the surface, this sounds like a great idea, but as I thought about it more I asked myself “what about when you can’t say yes because you don’t have the time, resources, or skills?” I asked her this at the conference, and the Daring Librarian say to say “not yet.” I’ll admit I appreciate the positive attitude, but I worry that if we always spin thing in positive ways we will undermine our advocacy efforts. If we don’t tell our principals that we can’t do something and more importantly why, we will never get the resources we need to be transformative and empowering.
Let me be clear, I am not criticizing Ms. Jones for having this perspective. We each have our own approaches to different situations. She was condensing her - most likely complex - ideas into a snippet for one slide in a presentation. I’m sure “just say yes” is more complicated than that in her own mind as well. But I feel the need to respond and present an alternative to that concept.
What if instead of just saying “yes,” or saying “not yet,” we say “let’s work together to solve this problem and find an alternative solution”? It may not be as catchy, but it creates a space where we are instructional collaborators, where we are working together to problem solve, not doing things for others but with them.
Let me give you an example. A few years ago one of the elementary librarians in my building was asked by her principal to teach keyboarding two or three times a week. Keyboarding is a technology standard, but is not connected to libraries in our district. To teach keyboarding would not only mean that she was teaching out of her content area, but also that she would not have sufficient time to shelve, repair books, order materials, and do all the other things that she does outside of instructional time. My suggestion was to ask her principal why he wanted keyboarding taught and find the shared value.
It's likely he thought that students need to be able to type quickly and efficiently to be more effectively learners. The librarian probably thought the same thing. The disagreement was with the how, not the what. So, I advised her to bring an alternative plan to him. Instead of teaching additional classes, why not have a laptop cart in the library (she didn't already) and involve more technology-based activities in her classes. Students would get more practice typing through natural organic usage and she would also get technology for her library and not lose important prep time.
She wasn’t saying no, but neither was she saying yes; because it’s never as simple as just yes or no, and not yet implies that someday you might be willing to engage in the activity. If it’s something exciting and transformative maybe “not yet” is the way to go; but if it’s something that makes you cringe, that sets your teeth on edge, that makes you question whether your administrator, or teachers, or parents really understand what you do, then try out “let’s work together to solve this problem and find an alternative solution.” It places you in a position of power, it situates you as a problem solver, and it gives you an opportunity to educate others about your role in the school community.