A Different Approach (“Don’t Worry!”)

I see my elementary school library classes for 40 minutes once a week, and it never seems like enough time for everything…finding great books, sharing great stories or lessons on finding information, making personal connections with the awesome young people I’m privileged to work with. My tendency in the past had been to try maximize those 40 minutes by transitioning students into the library and getting down to the business of library class as fast as possible, regardless of what the students might have on their minds when they walked in the library door. If they tried to talk to me about their overdue books or ask me about a change in the library space or routine, I would ask them to hold onto their comments and questions until later so we could get the lesson or story started.

But this year I’ve been focusing much more on the students’ view of the library, trying to make my space and program truly welcoming for everyone. So I’ve been giving my students a structured chance to check in with me about anything that might be worrying or distracting them before we start the activities for the day. I let them know what the activities for the day will be, and then say, “Before we start, does anyone want to ask me about anything? Anything you notice in the library, anything about your library books?” This almost always elicits at least one response from a concerned student telling me that s/he forgot his/her books. Over these first six weeks of school, we’ve developed a call-and-response where I say to the class, “This student forgot her books. What’s the first thing she should do?” And all together we say, “Don’t worry!” Then I ask the student to tell me what he is going to do during book selection time. By now they all know the answer: pick out books anyway, read them for the rest of library class time, Mrs. Redford will save them for me until I bring the old ones back.” Just acknowledging these concerns up front, letting students see that I’m not upset at all (hey, we all forget stuff sometimes, right?) and reminding students what to do next seems to go a long way toward starting class on the right foot. It’s been well worth the few minutes of time it takes for the more focused behavior during the stories and lessons.

The most rewarding moment for me came last week when a somewhat reserved student raised her hand and said, “I forgot my books. But I’m not worried!” Then she told me exactly what was going to happen next (picking out books, saving them, bringing in the overdue books and swapping them). That let me know my message had sunk in…the library and the librarian welcome you, whether your books are overdue or not. And don’t worry…we can solve this problem together.

Happy first six weeks, everyone!

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2 thoughts on “A Different Approach (“Don’t Worry!”)

    • Thanks, Shannon. I always felt like my library and I were welcoming in the past (I’m a pretty friendly person!) but it wasn’t until I really looked hard at what my students were expressing that I saw something I needed to change.

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