About barupatx

Retired IB-MYP Middle School Librarian and at-risk alternative High School Science Teacher, still wanting to help teachers and students.

Looking Back @ Becoming a Culturally Responsive School Librarian

Looking Back @ Becoming a Culturally Responsive School Librarian - We can't be satisfied with promoting a heritage celebration for a month. We must be responsive to cultures, races, and ethnic groups throughout the school year, and work diligently to build respect for diversity within ourselves, our library collection, and our Library Lessons. It's the only way our students can learn to love themselves.February’s Black History Month is an important national celebration and a busy time for School Librarians. As I read and hear about activities I often wonder: What will School Librarians do about Black History during other months of the school year? How will we honor other cultural groups throughout the school year? We need to consider all aspects of our School Library Program and ask: How can School Librarians make ourselves, our Library Collection, and our Library Lessons culturally responsive to all students?


I believe our school libraries reflect the beliefs and attitudes that we School Librarians have toward others. Our collection development, our library decor, our library lessons, and how we interact with our students reflects that. We must examine our own attitudes carefully: Do we consider someone of a different race, ethnicity, or cultural background with “empathy/sympathy” or with “respect”? They are quite the opposite!

Both empathy and sympathy stem from the Greek ‘pathos’feeling—and relate to suffering. Both apply to a sharing with another individual; when carelessly associated with groups, it may engender either shame or arrogance about our own background.

Conversely, respect is from the Latin ‘respectus’looking at—and connotes regard and consideration. It is more encompassing; respect impels us to see the glory in the culture and heritage of others. If we have respect for the culture and heritage of others, then we will choose materials, presentations, and conversations that build positive cultural awareness among our students and teachers.

Be passionate about affirming respect in personal interactions. One year we had a substitute teacher who spent his entire lunch break complaining about “those kids” and their behavior or language or ability. I finally challenged him:Barbara Jordan "If the society today allows wrongs to go unchallenged, the impression is created that those wrongs have the approval of the majority." ‘I was tired of hearing him complain about our kids, and if they bothered him so much why didn’t he just quit coming to our building?’ I informed our principal that I had “mouthed off” to the sub, but she was relieved someone had finally spoken up, as were other teachers who heard about it!  (thankfully he never returned.)

I’m not promoting myself here. I’m trying to say that we may be inclined to ignore such actions, but supporting any and all of our kids when necessary will ensure that students have an upbuilding educational experience in our libraries and our schools, and that impacts everyone’s future.

Our Library Collection

Students can’t develop pride in their culture and heritage if they never read about its positive aspects, and students won’t develop respect for other cultural backgrounds if they only know about their own. Expanding awareness through reading builds pride and respect.

I was fortunate to be the librarian at the most diverse middle school in our district: 33% African-American, 25% Asian, 25% Euro/Anglo, 15% Latinx, and 2% Native Nation. One year our ELL students spoke 30 different languages. I was initially impressed with the collection in the 2-year-old school library, yet later that year a library course on multicultural books helped me discover how few resources we had for 75% of our students:

  • A few books on slavery and the Civil Rights Movement, but nothing about African-American culture or other time periods.
  • Numerous books on countries, but nothing on Latinx or Asian culture, events, or place in U.S. history.
  • Typical food/festivals/folktales books for various cultural groups, but few on other aspects of culture and none on contemporary society or issues, especially emigration/immigration.
  • Some reference series but few individual biographies about Black, Latinx, Asian, or Native Nation people.
  • A few historical fiction books or award-winners about other cultures/ethnic groups—many by authors who didn’t represent who they were writing about—but meager contemporary realistic Fiction.

Over the years I worked hard to acquire materials that were more representative of our school and that would broaden our students perspective on the U.S. and its history:The Middle Passage: White Ships/Black Cargo, a visual history of life aboard a slave ship.

  • A more comprehensive view of slavery
    • ante-bellum personal narratives & biographies, such as Olaudah Equiano, Frederick Douglass, and Solomon Northrup
    • slave resistance and rebellions, and runaway slave communities such as those in Florida and Mexico
    • U.S. court cases where slaves prevailed
    • Slaves and former slaves who fought, spied, or worked with Union soldiers during the Civil War
  • Various cultures, ethnic groups, and time periods in U.S. History, from the Trail of Tears to the American Indian Movement; from early MesoAmerican settlement to United Farm Workers to contemporary border issues; from the Transcontinental Railroad to WWII Internment Camps to Southeast Asian refugees; the Harlem Renaissance and African-American roots of contemporary music.9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled it was unconstitutional to segregate students of Mexican heritage into inferior schools, paving the way for Brown vs. Bd of Education in 1954
  • Contemporary non-fiction about art, music, family life, and other cultural elements over a wide range of ethnicities.
  • Individual biographies about Blacks, Latinx, Asians, and Native Nations from ancient to modern times (Eventually 42% of the biography collection.)
  • Historical and Contemporary Realistic Fiction by and about all races, ethnicities, and cultural groups in various situations and locations in the U.S. and other countries

Building a culturally diverse collection is essential, but we must analyze both the quantity and the quality of diverse books on our shelves. Here are a few sources I use for recommendations on quality reading material:

Even with authoritative recommendations, I believe we can only choose quality diverse material for our school library if we cultivate a broader view through personal reading about culture and history. I began my own quest in college with 2 books that still reside on my shelf—No More Lies by Dick Gregory and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. Even after ‘retirement’ weeding, I retain nearly 5-feet of multicultural non-fiction and fiction books on 2 shelves in my home office. What books are in your personal library?

Our Library Lessons

A year ago I read something in a blog post that embodies my mindset for Library Lessons, and, with slight rephrasing, I believe this goal can enable all school librarians to be culturally responsive teachers:

Teach students of all cultural backgrounds to love themselves.

Black History Month can bring out the worst in our lack of cultural respect for Black Americans. I’m referring here to slavery simulations. This is an example where supposed “em/sym-pathy”—expecting students to “feel slavery”—is dispiriting and devoid of cultural benefit. Rafranz Davis states it even more boldly:

If your idea of “celebrating” the contributions of Black people during the month of February is a lesson in slavery…you are the one that needs a lesson in history and the countless contributions that we not only have made but are still making.

I’m not suggesting we avoid the discussion of slavery, but rather use care about how and when we do it, and include topics like those I mentioned earlier. Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieI’m reminded of a TED talk by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: “The consequence of the single story is this—that it robs people of dignity.”

Slavery can’t be the only story our students—regardless of color, ethnicity, or cultural background—hear about the history of Blacks in America. The Holocaust can’t be the only story they hear about Jews. Terrorism can’t be the only story they hear about Muslims. Pearl Harbor can’t be the only story they hear about Asians. Undocumented workers can’t be the only story they hear about Latinos. And Thanksgiving can’t be the only story they hear about our Native Nations.

When developing Library Lessons, I ask myself:

  • How can I make this lesson culturally responsive for all my students?
    • Can I choose a wider range of resources?
    • Does the activity allow for the cultural learning styles of all students?
    • Am I phrasing my topic in a culturally sensitive manner?
  • Is this lesson building respect for all students?

Book cover of "Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain by Zaretta HammonBook recommendation for lessons: Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain
I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

With the divisiveness that currently pervades our society, it’s imperative for School Librarians to build respect for other cultures/races/ethnicities in every facet of our School Library Program. We can’t just promote heritage celebrations for a month. We must work diligently, and throughout the school year, to be culturally responsive with ourselves, our library collection, and our Library Lessons. It’s the only way our students can learn to love themselves.

line of books laying down

Looking Back @ Teacher Lesson Ideas/Requests

Looking Back @ Teacher Lesson Ideas/Requests - Every school librarian experiences a teacher coming in with a great new idea for a library visit—something from their previous school, from a book/curriculum guide, or from a meeting or conference. How can we decide whether to accommodate this teacher's request?Every school librarian experiences a teacher coming in with a great new idea for a library visit—something they did at their previous school, a suggestion from a book/curriculum guide, or a great project they heard about at a meeting or conference. How do we decide whether we should accommodate this teacher’s request? Over the years, here’s what I learned:

We can’t discourage teachers from bringing us lesson ideas, but they can’t expect us to instantly put together a lesson.

So, when a teacher approaches me about an idea, I grab my Library Lesson Planner and use it to fill in information as they tell me their proposal. Then I ask them these 2 questions:

  1. Can I learn more about this from a book, handout, Website, or lesson plan?
  2. Can I have the rest of the day/until tomorrow/a couple days to make sure we can meet the needs of the visit?

I find that this response is better than a simple yes or no, because the teacher sees I’m taking their suggestion seriously enough to investigate it. Having some time to cogitate helps me put everything in perspective and to prepare myself for the next conversation with the teacher. When I return to them with “Yes, let’s do it!” and what we can do together (or “Sorry, this isn’t possible and here’s the reason.”), they are impressed and I create the pattern for future dialogue.

How to Decide

Using the pre-filled Library Lesson Planner, I begin my ‘thinking-time’ by asking the same question I ask for all my school library decisions: How will this impact my students? Does this lesson:

  • Promote reading?
  • Promote problem-solving?
  • Support the subject and/or library curriculum?

If I can answer ‘Yes’ to any of these questions, I know the lesson will have a positive impact on students, but I’ve learned that I also need to ask myself the question: How will this lesson impact library management?, specifically:

  • Collection development
    • Do we have the materials for the lesson?
    • If we don’t have materials, do I have enough time to gather them through Inter-Library Loan?
    • If I purchase materials, will they be used again?
  • Facility
    • Can we accommodate this lesson in the library?
    • Do we have the audio/video/digital equipment needed for the lesson?
    • Will we need to rearrange the facility or bring in anything else for the lesson?
  • Library schedule
    • How much time will students need in the library?
    • Will this be a single visit, or do we need more than that?
    • Is the teacher flexible with the timing of the visit, or must it be within a certain time frame?
  • Library Promotion
    • Do we need involvement by other teachers, administration, the district, the community?
    • Will this lesson advertise the library program in a positive way?
  • Professional development
    • Do I have the expertise to do this lesson?
    • Can I get help from another district librarian or on one of my listservs?

Answers to these questions determine preparation time/effort and whether it can be accomplished by the time the teacher wants the library visit. I may need to offer suggestions about how to implement or improve their original idea, which is a delicate process:

We don’t want to patronize teachers, but rather use tact to infuse their idea with what we know is best library literacy practices and guide the lesson toward student-centered inquiry.

Usually when the teacher sees my Library Lesson Plan with detailed consideration of their idea, they readily accept my suggestions and appreciate the work I’ve put into making their idea come alive.


An example of developing a lesson from a teacher request is my 6g Multicultural Folktales Unit, which began as a single-visit ELA lesson idea from a student teacher. Our collaboration was so successful with students that the following year teachers asked to repeat it; I suggested, and teachers accepted, a second lesson visit. The third year I suggested a third visit for teachers to introduce a student project. This entire unit is a truly joint-taught collaboration between teachers and the School Librarian.

We use picture books to explore multicultural folktales because they can be read during a single-period library visit and even struggling readers can do the lessons. Initially I borrowed from elementary schools, but purchases now allow two ELA classes together in the library. (Theater and art teachers also use them for projects, so they were a good investment.)

1st Library Visit
Multicultural Cinderella Double-Bubble Graphic OrganizerWe introduce plot and story elements using the fairy tale Cinderella as an “exemplar.” As the teacher presents story elements and each plot element, I read aloud the pertinent segment from the traditional Perrault Cinderella story. Then, student partners read a multicultural Cinderella picture book from their table and use a Double-Bubble graphic organizer (the daily grade) to compare/contrast story elements of the original French story with their cultural version. I have some very humorous Cinderellas, so even boys enjoy this activity.

2nd Library Visit 
Multicultural Folktales Zoom In-Zoom Out Graphic OrganizerTwo weeks later we introduce unity/diversity of cultural beliefs, customs, and traditions with the 5 types of folktales—myths, fables, legends, tall tales, and fairy tales. The activity is similar to the earlier visit, but with a deeper examination of a story. Student pairs choose a folktale picture book from their table and, as they read it, use a ZIZO graphic organizer (daily grade) to “Zoom In” on cultural details of the tale and “Zoom Out” to universal ideas common to every culture.

3rd Library Visit 
At the next visit, two weeks later, I begin with the oral storytelling tradition of folktales, relating “Little Dog Turpie and the Hobyahs”, an Old English tale I learned from my grandmother, using dressed pipe-cleaner dolls as storytelling accessories (also from my grandmother). Then teachers introduce the student project using the project guide/rubric worksheet and elaborate on the presentation choices, while I show other examples so students know what is expected.

Multicultural Folktales Project Presentation Slide

Students will create their own cultural folktale, including cultural story elements and unity/diversity principles, and then present it in a unique way:

  • tell it orally with an accessory
  • create a book, handwritten or digital, with a handmade book cover
  • create a graphic novel, by hand or digitally

4th Library Visit 
About 2 weeks later students come in to present their folktales project. We begin with students seated and intersperse oral storytellers with browsing “books” on tables so students have a chance to move around. Not only do 6g ELA students enjoy this project, but it coordinates with their study of World Cultures in Social Studies.

The 7g teachers were also impressed and began offering options for their mythology unit project: a diorama or mobile illustrating their own myth (which we display in the library), a narrated group pantomime, or a compare/contrast interview with a “mythological” actor, pop star or sports figure. The latter appeal to those 7th graders who need movement and peer interaction!

Folktales-to-Fiction Presentation SlideContinuing the “Story”
At the regular ELA book checkout following the folktale project I present to students that folktales may have “morphed” into the different subjects of our fiction literature.

Students and teachers are fascinated by this idea, as are other librarians. I don’t know if I’m right, but it excites kids into expanding their reading choices of fiction books!

line of books laying down

NoSweat Multicultural Folktales Unit PromotionGet these great “No Sweat” lessons from my TPT store!


Looking Back @ the Best Advice Ever

Looking Back @ the Best Advice Ever - I get wonderful ideas from staff meetings, professional trainings, seminars, conferences, and planning sessions, but the best advice I've gotten about my job has been from the most unlikely of people and incidents!Throughout my more than 25 years as a classroom Science Teacher and as a School Librarian I’ve attended dozens of staff meetings, professional trainings, seminars, conferences, and planning sessions. I get wonderful ideas from all of these experiences, many of which I used in classroom and library with students. But it seems the best advice I’ve gotten about my job has been, not from fellow professionals, but from the most unlikely of people and incidents!

Do the Thing You Hate Most, First

This nugget of wisdom came from a lady who had substituted for me in the library for several days. As we were conversing on the phone afterward, she complimented me on how organized everything was in the library. I said I seemed to have a real knack for organizing things, but organizing my time was my downfall. I never seemed to get all the things done I needed to, and hadn’t found a way to make planning my day very effective or enjoyable. That’s when she shared the above. She explained that if we tackle our least pleasurable task when we’re fresh, we can get it done more quickly than if we postpone it to later in the day, and once it’s done, we feel a stronger sense of accomplishment and confidence about tackling the rest of our daily tasks.

Later that day I made a sign and hung it above my desk. From that time on, it reminded me daily to determine the least likable task I had to do that day, and then get right to it. Best ever advice!

Use a Shoe or Voicemail for Important Reminders

Out of the mouths of babes…
Both of these ingenious pieces of advice came from students when I was working on getting back overdue books. The first incident was with a young lady to whom I’d given an overdue notice. She asked to use the phone, and when I asked why, she said she was sure the book was at home, so she wanted to leave a message on the answering machine to remind herself to look for it and bring it back. I was so enthused about that idea I began having all the students do that, though nowadays it’s leaving a message on their voicemail. In fact, I began using this method to remind myself of important things to do when I arrive home from work!

The second incident was with a young man. When I gave him the overdue notice, he proceeded to fold it up into a small square, remove a shoe, and place the folded note inside. I was stunned! He explained that he could feel the note, so when he got home it would remind him to take off his shoe and use the notice to find the book. He said he’d put the note back in his shoe overnight, so he’d see it before he put it on the next morning and it would remind him to bring the book with him to school. This was another idea I immediately adopted for students, especially those who didn’t have the phone option.

Pockets! image

This little gem came from talking with a saleslady at The Container Store; she emphasized that she couldn’t function without having the pockets in her store-provided smock, and I realized pockets would sure simplify my job as well. From that day on I began purchasing only clothing that had pockets, and eventually donated items that didn’t have them because I’d quit wearing them to work. Now, all my dresses, skirts, and slacks have pockets!

With pockets I never misplace my keys. With pockets I always have a pen handy. With pockets I can always carry something I’ll need when going to copier, office, cafeteria (or snack machine), or a classroom. I even downsized my wallet so it fits in a pocket for a quick trip to the store! Yes, keys, phone, pen, sticky notes, USB drive, laser pointer, extra cable, paper clips, staple remover; you name it, we probably need it at some point during the day, so I encourage you to have pockets on your clothing (or an apron or smock with pockets) to carry stuff around. Just putting this out there again…POCKETS!

Make Lessons Simple & Enjoyable

This wonderful quote, from Kathie F. Nunley at Help4Teachers.com, encapsulates and influences my Library Lessons:

Children would rather do something than nothing. If they don’t enjoy the ‘something’ you give, they will entertain themselves with ‘something’ of their own device. That’s where the problems begin. By offering a wide range of activities and giving them in the form of choice, students perceive control over their situation, and engage themselves actively in the learning process.

I’ve said often that everything in the library is just an accessory for a Library Lesson. Lessons are why many states require a teaching certificate to be a School Librarian. I learned quickly (and in middle school, quite emphatically) how important it is for students to have an enjoyable library visit, but I don’t do meaningless gimmick or frou-frou lessons just to fill time and avoid behavior problems. I want students to understand that the school library is a place for learning, not a funhouse. That’s why I keep these lesson tips in mind, and hope that you will also find them helpful:

  • Customize activities to the grade level and focus on a single objective with a purposeful activity that allows students to practice what they learn.Library Lesson Pointers
  • Teach only what students need for the short time they are in the library and avoid anything that does not achieve the purpose of the visit.
  • Focus on the library process, rather than content—how rather than what; let the subject or classroom topic be the what.
  • Have some kind of student document to keep kids on task and to turn in to teachers for a daily grade.

Use New “Eyes”

What we see depends mainly on what we look for. (John Lubbock, British statesman, 1834-1913)

The actual quote, from John Lubbock, British statesman (1834-1913) is “What we see depends mainly on what we look for,” and comes from my son, who helps me see beneath the surface to the true essence of things. Shortened by me, this profound insight became another sign on my wall that has most influenced planning my lessons, so what I’m giving students is meaningful, engaging, authentic, transferable learning of content and skills.

It also prompted me to quit thinking in terms of marketing “the library” or “the resources” or even “me the school librarian” and to market a specific lesson to a specific teacher so s/he will value a library visit and want more. It’s true that one-on-one takes time, but when a Library Lesson becomes part of a teacher’s Lesson Plan, they don’t want to sacrifice it, or you, when budget cuts threaten!

Finally, this quote helps me analyze various educational issues that crop up from time to time, whether locally or globally. I force myself to look beyond the quick-fix to the overall effect on all students and teachers. It is so rewarding when I share my perceptions and someone understands what I’m saying and pushes others to reconsider. It’s like getting a pat on the back from my son!

line of books laying down