One school librarian's goal for the year: Empower student voice

Andy Plemmons of David C. Barrow Elementary School in Athens, GA was named a School Library Journal School Librarian of the Year Award finalist in September 2014. Stay tuned for blog posts from School Librarian of the Year finalist Colleen Graves and finalist Michelle Colte!

Empowering student voice. These words are so important to me that they have become a designated goal for the current school year. Each moment that students are able to raise their voice and connect with an authentic audience, an authentic purpose, and feel like they have made a difference in the world reminds me why I love my job as a librarian so much. I interact with every student, teacher, and family member within our school, and my ears and eyes are always open for opportunities to empower students and their ideas.

During "Meet the Teacher Night" this year, a student and his mom came racing into the library. She said, “He’s been dying to talk to you about an idea he had this summer. Do you have just a moment to listen?” Isn’t this one of the things that students want the most: to be listened to and validated?

He proceeded to tell me about some toys he had been designing over the summer. He had drawn out sketches and wanted to 3D print them on our library 3D printer. Of course, he had no idea how to go from a sketch to a 3D printed object, but he had an idea and the passion to make it happen. As I listened, I couldn’t help but ask myself, ‘Where does this idea and this passion fit into a traditional classroom that is driven by standards and fast-paced curriculum?’ However, I didn’t say anything like that to him. Instead, I said, ‘I love your excitement about this and we’re going to find a way to make this happen.’

Recently, the student was in the library to check out a book and I asked him if he had any ideas of when he could come to the library to work on his designs. He suggested a few class times, but he also said that he could come some during recess. We pulled up the library calendar, booked a time just for him during recess, and now his summer idea is starting to become a reality.

These are the kinds of moments I love. Sometimes they come from taking a moment to listen to an individual student share a passion. Other times they come from an entire class or grade level sharing their work with a school in another state or country. Sometimes the moments come when students tell a developer what they love and wish they could change about a product. Allowing students to raise their voices in authentic ways and connect with global experiences is one of my favorite parts of being a librarian. I strive to listen and empower more students each day of the year.