Library Rules Versus Procedures

The January Library Challenge continues in Week Two! This week, we’re looking at our posted library rules versus our procedures. We’ll start with rules.

Do you have library rules? Do they work for you? Do they work for your students? Do your students know about them? Do they follow them?

Are they even necessary to your particular library situation?

If you answered with lots of no’s, then this week’s challenge is for you! This week’s plan is to:

  • identify 2-3 library behaviors we would like to see change
  • think about how problem can be solved with a different procedure
  • make a plan for the different procedure

No one likes a bunch of rules

I spent a lot of my career using general rules to manage my library. It was what I was taught to do and what I constantly heard I was supposed to do.

Examples of general rules in my library:

  • Respect yourself
  • Respect others
  • Respect the books

These sound really nice in theory. They are easy to remember and cover most undesirable behaviors that might occur in the library. My administrators liked seeing them all nice and shiny on the wall. I’m not telling you not to have these rules if they work for your library.

General rules don’t work for me

To be honest, these general rules didn’t work that well for me. At least not in the library. How was I supposed to enforce these rules with 850 middle schoolers who may or may not even understand the word respect? Who may feel disrespected every day both at home and at school? Who exhibit a wide variety of behaviors depending on the teacher, the time of day, the subject of the class?

Do I really want to waste valuable library time teaching 850 students to follow the rules?

So I’m going to drop this bomb right here. I know some of you will NOT agree with me, but…

I no longer post rules in my library.

Instead, I troubleshoot behavior issues with procedural changes. I believe almost every problem in the library can be better-resolved with procedural changes than it can be with rules.

Procedures > Rules

Rules are easy to break. They require consequences and enforcement. Do you want to the be the library police? I’m betting not. I don’t know one school librarian who loves having strict rules in the library. Most of us want students to feel comfortable and relaxed in the library.

If you have a class or grade level giving you a tough time, your first inclination may be to make up a bunch of rules and consequences. Don’t get me wrong, I do think posted rules may be appropriate for certain behaviors, but I also think we need to be super-strategic in what rules we actually need in the library. A whole lot of student behavior issues can be resolved with procedural and library layout changes instead of adding a bunch of new rules.

Identify 2-3 undesirable behaviors

Remember that for this challenge, we are only focusing on one class or grade level. If your new rules and procedures for this class work for all the rest of your classes, that is fantastic. For this challenge though, I want you to really stay focused on just the one group. Chances are, if you get their behavior under control, the rest of your classes can benefit from these same procedures anyway. You can always tweak them later on.

Start by brainstorming a list of the challenging behaviors of your class or grade level. What drives you nuts? What wears you out? Is it one particular student, several students, or most of the students?

Behaviors vs. attitudes

Focus on specific behaviors, rather than just “feelings” or “attitudes” of the students. Last week, I gave the example of my “apathetic” fifth grade class. But in reality, my calling them “apathetic” is my own judgement of them based on their behavior.

Listing “apathy” in the undesirable behavior list isn’t actually the behavior. For this list of behaviors, think about what the students are doing that cause you to call them “apathetic.” What does their behavior look like when they are apathetic? Maybe the class is:

  • too quiet or not responding to your questions
  • playing on their phones
  • having side conversations that do not pertain to the lesson
  • yawning loudly (oh, yes, this has happened to me!)
  • asking repeatedly for restroom breaks

See what I mean? The apathy may be annoying to you, but calling your students apathetic is a conclusion based on their behavior. It’s the behavior we need to focus on. You can’t do anything to make students feel differently about whatever you need them to do. They are allowed to feel their feelings, and there isn’t one thing you can do about that. What they are not allowed to do is the behaviors linked to the apathy.

Remember my difficult eighth graders from last week?

I’m going to use the eighth graders I discussed last week as an example here since they were the toughest of the three groups I wrote about last week. Full disclosure here: I never really got those eighth graders under my spell. I left that school several years ago and did not have major issues with eighth grade in either of my new schools. This is what I would do differently if I encountered my Texas eighth graders NOW.

How I would handle unruly eighth graders today

First off, I needed to focus on the fact that not all the eighth graders were terrible. I had several eighth grade classes that I thoroughly enjoyed. Even in the “difficult” classes, at least half of the students were sweet kids who wanted to do the right thing. I’d bet some of them were just as annoyed by their classmates’ behavior as I was.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I also believe the differences between my awesome eighth grade classes and my difficult ones came down to the specific teachers’ lax classroom management style and general disengagement with library time. But that does not mean I could not change the way I handled library time. I can’t control the teacher, but I can control what I do with the class. What I did wrong back then is get frustrated with or blame the teacher’s management.

I should have instead looked at what I could do differently. I should have focused on simple procedural changes that would make a huge difference immediately.

Here were the problems I had with the unruly eighth grade classes:

  • I could hear the students coming long before they entered the library. They were loud and unruly before they ever came into the library, and this behavior carried over into the library.
  • The students were using phones during the library lesson.
  • The students were talking while I was talking. This was worse among girls than boys.
  • The classes were so large that they were not able to see the teeny-tiny projection screen I had.
  • There was also an issue with bright sunlight drowning out the projection screen. No one could see the screen past about 10am.
  • During checkout, the vast majority of the students were just hanging out. They were not interested in checking out books.

Procedural change: Teach lessons in the classroom

So this is a wide variety of issues, and every one of them can be solved with procedural changes. Let’s start with the projection screen. It was not visible enough for most students to see. This was a problem with faculty meetings in the library also. If adult professionals talk and use their phone in the faculty meeting (they do), how can we expect students to do differently?

You know how I could have solved that invisible projector problem in literally five minutes? Because this was middle school and I wasn’t covering a teacher’s prep period, nothing was stopping me from moving the class OUT OF THE LIBRARY.

If I weren’t so worried about what I wished the teacher were doing differently, maybe I would have thought of this brilliant little switch.

The classrooms at my school had much larger screens and fewer windows. I think this one procedural change would have worked wonders for my more difficult and very large library classes. We couldn’t see in the library, and that was a problem. Until that problem was fixed (um, maybe never), we would solve the problem by moving the library lesson to the classroom. It’s much easier for students to be engaged in the lesson when they can actually see it. I could have taught the class in the classroom, then brought them to the library for checkout afterwards.

So many problems solved by making this one switch!

You know what other problem this moving of the class will solve? Millions of distractions in the library. The ringing phone, students waiting for me to check them out, some random parent I’d never seen before who doesn’t have a visitor badge on, two teachers laughing it up in the corner, another class in the library computer lab that was loud (it was all open without walls or doors). Why didn’t I think of this sooner?

Teaching the library lesson in the classroom also prevented the loud roaring down the hall at the start of library time. I would go to the class at the beginning of the period and teach my lesson for maybe 30 minutes. THEN, I would escort the class down the hall and asked them to wait outside the library before they entered. Then, once we are all there, I could remind them to enter quietly for checkout. And wait quietly for them to be ready to enter if needed.

If you are the lone supervision in the library and want to start teaching certain classes in their classroom, you will have to figure out how to address that while you are teaching in the classrooms. Maybe you can nix open checkout during that time. You wouldn’t be able to do open checkout while teaching a class in the library anyway. Or maybe…here’s an interesting idea…maybe the teacher of the class you are teaching could supervise the library while you are gone. I think my teachers would have been happy to “hang out” in the library for 30 minutes while I taught their class.

Phone use during lessons

The phone use while I was talking was a definite problem, and phone use has only gotten worse over the years. Procedure changes could work, but this might also be where a rule might need to come in.

I’m betting your school has rules about cell phone use. If they don’t have rules about this, then it’s no wonder you have issues with phone use, am I right? Follow your school rules and procedures for cell phone use. If the school is weak in this area or maybe just doesn’t enforce the rules consistently, then you are well within your right to make your own policies about it.

Phone use rules

An example of a phone rule might be: Put your phone away during lessons. Rules need a consequence, which might be: If I see you using your phone, I will take it until the end of the class.

In this example, I would institute a rule along with a procedural change. The rule is: Put your phone away during lessons. The procedure, however, is much more proactive than just waiting for students to break the rule.

Give students a chance to put phones totally away before you even start talking. Maybe they put their phones under their chair or turn the phone over on their tables. Maybe there is a designated cubby area specifically for phones (I’ve seen teachers use vinyl shoe holders that hang on doorway frames).

Wait for the students to comply, and ask specific students with phones still out to put it away. Most will comply, and those who don’t will get their phone taken up if they are on it during the lesson. Don’t go to war over a phone still on someone’s desk; proceed with the lesson and watch to see if they use it. If they do, it’s time to take it up.

Talking while I’m talking

The scenario: I’m teaching a lesson on validating websites, and three girls in the back of the room keep talking while I’m teaching.

For this particular lesson, my immediate change while in the moment might be to move one of the girls (preferably the ring leader if you can identify her) to a seat closer to the front. Or, I might send that ring leader girl to grab something for me from my desk, then when she brings it to me, take a minute to quietly ask her to wait until the lesson is over to finish her conversation. Or maybe I ask her to switch seats with another student who won’t sit and chat with the remaining girls in the group.

In the long term though, the in-the-moment classroom management techniques may not solve persistent problems, In this case, a procedural change might be to make my future lessons much more interactive. If students want to talk, let them talk! Give them discussion cards at each table and let them do the talking. Let them teach each other. This is much better than direct teaching anyway, and the students will learn more than they will with you just telling them what they need to know.

What procedural changes can you make for your difficult class?

I know that every school, grade level, library, and class is unique. The changes I listed above will not work for all of you. That’s what this week’s task list is all about. What changes can you make? How can you head-off problems before they ever occur? What procedural changes will create an environment where the behavior issues you have will no longer even be possible?

 

Week Two Challenge Tasks

Back to the January Challenge Home Page

 

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