Hail in a handbasket. . .

The past week has been an interesting one to say the least.  On Sunday morning, I wrote a riff titled All Hail the Mighty Media Specialist that asked one central question:  Do media specialists inadvertently turn off reading teachers in their advocacy for their positions?

Comments poured in for about 72 hours—on my blog, in the Twitterverse, in personal conversations and in countless emails that landed in my inbox.  Many were thoughtful.  Others were wholly inappropriate and hateful.  The most shocking—which came in an email on Sunday afternoon—went a little something like this:

Are you kidding me?  You really believe that you know as much as your media specialist?  How can you possibly introduce students to novels as well as we can?  What do you know about information literacy?  We do this for a living, you idiot. 

And if you don’t like your job, that’s not our fault.  Don’t blame us for your problems.  Your whining doesn’t help anything.  Get over it or get a new job.

Thankfully, things started to settle down ‘round about Wednesday—and better yet, really thoughtful media specialists started to stop by and share their thoughts.  Unlike the knee-jerked-ness of some of their peers, they showed a willingness to listen and an ability to push back without emotional attacks.  It was cool.

The whole experience has left me with a TON of questions.

Here they are.  Why don’t you grab on to one and see what kind of answer you can craft—and what kind of conversation we can have—in the comment section:

Questions for media specialists:

Are you systematically considering the consequences of your advocacy?

Your position is so much different than mine because in many districts, you have to fight just to keep your jobs.  That leads to systematic advocacy and attempts to persuade.  How careful are you when choosing your words to make sure that you’re not alienating reading teachers?

How should the contributions that media specialists make to the development of skilled readers be measured?

Should your professional organization(s) be pushing to have media specialists paired with reading teachers in interdisciplinary teams responsible for the performance of students on standardized reading exams—an idea that SRB detailed thoughtfully in this comment?

Is it enough to simply rely on external research studies, or should media specialists be held accountable in more tangible ways, too?

Do some of your standards leave you open to criticism?

Nothing seemed to set more people off than my assertion that media specialists are measured by fluffy standards—but I stand by my argument:  Some of the standards set by the AASL look pretty darn loosey-goosey to those of us working outside of the media center.

(I highlighted some in this comment.)

Wouldn’t it make sense for a profession that is constantly trying to prove itself to outsiders to hack these kinds of warm fuzzies out of their standards document?  In a time where policy-makers are always trying to save a buck, don’t you make yourself vulnerable when your own organization paints a vision for your contributions that can be easily questioned?

Questions for classroom teachers:

What kinds of value do you think media specialists add to the work done in your reading classroom?

How well do you understand the unique set of skills that media specialists bring to the table?  What kinds of things do you rely on your media specialists for currently?  What kinds of things would you like to rely on them for?

How are media specialists helping you to develop young readers or to prepare your students to navigate new reading environments?  Has your need for the media specialist grown or decreased over time?

What are the barriers that are preventing meaningful collaboration with media specialists?

The comment sections of the posts that I wrote this week are loaded with language about teams, aren’t they?  Time and again, media specialists have expressed a willingness to collaborate with classroom teachers in almost any capacity, and I believe that in the best circumstances, this kind of collaboration is rule.

But I also believe that in most circumstances, meaningful collaboration between the media center and the regular reading classroom is the exception.  Why is that?  What’s keeping teachers from working closely with the media specialist in your building?  Does collaboration work for some teachers but not others?  Why?

If things are working well in your building, what structures and/or processes do you have in place to make shared work possible?

How has accountability changed the way that you feel about your colleagues working beyond the classroom?

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m jealous of anyone who works in an untested subject.  While they’re still judged based on qualitative measures like observations and performances, I’m judged based on test scores alone—and no matter how many times y’all push the “we’re a team” speeches, “we” becomes “you” as soon as negative numbers come back from the testing office.

The results have really been ugly over the past few years.  I can sense a shift in the way that I feel towards anyone working in an untested subject or a position beyond the classroom.  Resentment is building as I buckle under the pressure of being “held accountable.”

Am I the only one who feels this way?  Has the testing movement created any divides in your faculties?  If not, what have you done to make sure that the teamwork you talk about is real and not just a super nifty slogan to make everyone feel good?

Better yet, how much do your colleagues in untested positions know about the pressures of accountability?

Questions for everyone:

Are we being divided by accountability and alternative compensation programs?

My favorite comment all week was posted by WWMS who wondered whether or not the accountability and alternative compensation movement in our country was intentionally designed to divide and conquer educators.

Now, like WWMS, I’m not sure that the accountability and alternative compensation movement is intentionally designed to divide—that would depend on policy makers having an actual understanding of schools and teachers—but I am pretty convinced that division is the end result.  I see it in my own feelings towards my peers.

So how do we change that?  What would accountability and compensation plans that actually encouraged teamwork and shared commitment look like in action?  Can educators working at the school level take steps towards these kinds of healthy practices outside of their districts/states/unions?

Who owns a blog conversation?

One of the more interesting twists this week was the beating that I took after pulling my original post down—something that I did in response to the sea of negative commentary that I was buried in.  I wanted to save my mental energy for my wife and baby instead of coming home angry about a conversation gone awry.

Lots and lots of people questioned that decision, though.  Some encouraged me to stand by my words because they had merit.  Others saw my decision as a sign of weakness and attacked with sarcasm.  Everyone, though, had an opinion!

So what’s yours?  Did I have a right to pull down my original entry or did the conversation belong to my audience as soon as it was posted?

Looking forward to hearing what y’all think.  Here’s to hoping the dialogue is a healthy one!

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