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IDEA WATCH: Getting on Board With the DOE’s Future Ready Initiative

By Carolyn Foote - Posted Sep 1, 2016
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“How do we prepare ourselves as catalysts for change and school learning in the digital age?” Susan Ballard posted that question to library leaders around Texas at the Texas Association of School Library Administrators 2016 conference in July. The Department of Education’s Future Ready Initiative has the answer. In June, the Department of Education Office of Ed Tech rolled out a new Future Ready Librarians initiative to help librarians answer just that question. Created in partnership with Follett’s Project Connect and others, the Future Ready framework highlights the ways that librarians can accelerate change to help their districts build #FutureReady schools (

The initiative aims to create a framework that enunciates what librarians already do, or can do, to support school change and, in particular, digital learning. The framework outlines our role as space designers, partnership creators, supporters of student and teacher collaboration, and builders of access. Especially in the area of digital learning, we are curators, defenders of student intellectual content and privacy, and strategic users of digital content. And we lead the library within the school community and beyond it.

The Department of Education has opened the door for librarians to be a significant part of the school change model. In fact, at the regional Future Ready Summits being held all over the country, sessions are being included that incorporate librarians to help open the door with administrators. But we have to walk through that door as well.

So how can we, as librarians, get on board with the Future Ready initiative? To begin with, we can bring the Future Ready movement to the attention of our district leaders. As of this writing, more than 2,000 districts nationwide are involved, but there’s room for many more, as the movement tries to help more schools build digital learning strategies. And when we share initiatives such as these with our school leaders, they see our leadership in our concern for the whole district instead of just our focus being on “the library.” But also, most importantly, our districts and students are the beneficiaries of that impact.

Ways We Can Lead

The framework (and other frameworks) suggests a number of ways we can lead.

We need to create learning spaces that are welcoming to students, that embrace new technology opportunities, that are zoned to meet the differing needs of students, and that are inclusive of teacher growth as well. We need to invite partners in who can also provide services in that space, such as our campus techs, for example. We have to remember it is the student’s house, not our house, and reflect this in the design of the space.

We need to lead through the print/digital discussions, helping school leaders understand these subjects more deeply. As Levar Burton recently said at a conference, when we are asked whether to support print or ebooks, our answer should be, “Yes!” Students need to be surrounded with the tools of literacy. Period. We understand (or if we don’t, we need to) the complexity of the
ebook engagements vs. print and that it doesn’t have to be an either/or. We need to work with our school leaders to move forward but also to understand the complexities of student preferences and needs.

We can participate in new technology initiatives on our campus, bringing along our unique lenses and abilities. We can continue to curate lists of good resources. We can be the testing ground for new technologies in our spaces that provide access to all, rather than to one classroom. We can support making through such activities as hosting makerspace activities, running a complete makerspace, running a maker club, etc. And if we cede the technology discussion only to our tech partners on campus or in the district, then we are missing a part of our mission—to help other school partners lead our students to be “future” ready.

We can speak up for access for our students. In terms of access, we should ask how we participate in the filtering conversation and advocate for more open access. One effective proposal is to create district committees to oversee filtering—not for the day-to-day decisions, but to annually establish some guidelines and framework. This takes the pressure off of the tech department, and it can involve librarians and teachers, as well as instructional technology staff to evaluate categories to be filtered. A committee ensures a more balanced process. This is just one example of how to speak up for student access to resources, of course, but it’s an area where librarians can advocate on behalf of students.

We can be involved in digital citizenship efforts on our campus. It really takes a village to help our students make good choices and have those conversations about everything from plagiarism to online behaviors. This year, these discussions need to include ethics and bias as related to the political rhetoric online. We can provide strong leadership in helping students to understand how to engage in civil discussion both on and offline, how to build professional profiles online, or how to use tools such as Twitter more professionally. And if we aren’t engaged in learning those tools ourselves, we are doing our students a disservice.

We are, or should be, leaders in digital research. Librarians are emphasizing our role as “researcher in chief” so that teachers understand we just aren’t the “card catalog” stockpilers, but the experts on bias, on the research process, on brainstorming and topic development, and research models that can help support teachers and students.

We can also contribute by curating tools and resources that help support our digital research mission. Uber-librarians Shannon Miller and Joyce Valenza have been real leaders in curation, using a variety of tools, including Symbaloo, to gather sources together. Resources such as Mackin are making it easier for libraries to have one-stop shopping, as librarian Nancy Jo Lambert (Frisco, Texas) can attest.

What’s one way to begin curating if you aren’t already? Look for needs around your school—new initiatives such as Social and Emotional Learning, for example—and build a set of resources on it for the administrators. Curate resources for classroom teachers or, better yet, share with their students methods for curating quality materials, and then ask students to build curated collections.

We also need to develop websites that are future ready, that link to these curated resources and that represent the sort of learning we want our libraries to represent. Too often, our digital spaces have been neglected. While we don’t necessarily have to be webpage designers ourselves, we can turn to the experts in our district to build a page that we can update; we can create a library blog that we can easily work with, or even pay to have one designed. But it needs to be dynamic, changing with the needs of the school, and carry out the same mission as the physical space and the library program. We have to find time to improve our website game in school libraries.

We need to also cultivate, as we always have, good collaborative relationships with teachers—because they are our avenue for supporting the curriculum well. Digital learning makes this somewhat easier because we can collaborate via Google Docs, Padlet, or many other tools online, so we don’t have to physically be in the same place. We can use Google Chat to talk to teachers in their rooms if we are working from our library. We can FaceTime with a class, run a TodaysMeet room to interact with a classroom or group of teachers, and more. We need to leverage digital tools to broaden our collaboration efforts since face time is such a valuable commodity.

Setting Goals

The Future Ready Librarian framework helps organize these tasks into a manageable guide. But obviously we cannot simultaneously accomplish all of these tasks, depending on where we are starting from and how much library staff support we have. Part of being a leader is really being strategic and setting clear and achievable goals to guide our work.

The Future Ready framework gives us a document that we can also share with our administrators to clearly explain what goals we want to focus on. We can ask for what we need, in terms of staff or professional development, to help us hone in on particular areas we would like to improve. At the TASLA conference, Ballard suggested an exercise to help us develop a vision. She asked librarians to do the following:


1. List three adjectives that describe you right now.

2. List three adjectives describing how your community sees you right now.

3. List three adjectives indicating how you would like to be described.


Once we know how we want to be described, we can work backward to our spaces, policies, teaching, and advocacy.

School administrators also play a role in supporting #FutureReady libraries. We need to have frank conversations with our administrators concerning stereotypes about libraries to make sure we are on the same page about the services we provide for students. We need to help them understand the role print and technology play in libraries going forward. And we need to provide leadership in those ever-changing areas.

Administrators can help by providing adequate staffing to serve students, adequate budgets to fund resources, and adequate time with faculty to build a collaborative vision. When administrators speak of librarians as if we are integral to school change, it communicates something to the school community as well. This is why the Office of Ed Tech includes the Future Ready librarian initiative within its Future Ready program for school leadership.

As Ballard notes, we have work to do preparing ourselves and making sure we are ready to be “catalysts” of change. It’s time for us to get ready.


Contact Carolyn at .

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