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The Library as a Safe Space for Inclusivity in School

A conversation with Dr. Adam Phyall, Director of Technology & Media Services

Part one in a two-part series

Dr. Adam Phyall, Director of Technology & Media Services for the Newton County School System in Covington, Ga., will be a featured presenter in the Future of Ed Tech Library Media Specialist track at this month’s Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) in Miami, Fla.

As a library media specialist, Dr. Phyall is motivated to help students hone their creative talents for future success. He wishes to see a generation of young people who not only think outside the box but realize that, in many respects, “there is no box.” His early memory of feeling disenfranchised in class now drives him in his profession to include all students in the learning process.

“When I became a professional, I wanted to make sure that all students felt engaged in the classroom and not just the students who have figured out how to ‘play school;’ how to follow the certain rules or guidelines that were outlined in school,” he says. “You often had kids who weren’t necessarily the gifted kids, but they behaved well in class. They raised their hands and were often moved into accelerated tracks where they [received] special attention. [Then there were] the students similar to me who had a little more energy in the classroom and were a little more outspoken and felt that school didn’t really listen to their needs.”

In assembling a team of media specialists, Phyall believes it’s important that those individuals share a similar approach to inclusivity. As he sees it, all students deserve the same attention and opportunity. He adds, “I try to make sure that all of my media specialists and my social technology folks in my department realize that we have to make sure we make it a space where all students [succeed]─the ones who figure out school, the quiet kids, and the kids who may have more energy than other kids. [It needs to] feel as though this place that we call ‘school’ is for them because, a lot of times, our school is that one safe place for our students. We want to make sure that those eight hours or so are the best eight hours of their lives.”

Some school districts in the recent past adopted a tendency to outsource technology by using people with backgrounds from the corporate world. These individuals often leapfrogged existing media specialists, yet didn’t have an understanding of the school culture or the gaps facing student needs. Since then, more districts have looked to already proven in-house options who know the inner working of the school environment. According to Phyall, a new transition is in place.

“Now, for the most part, as school districts have the infrastructure worked out [they] realize that we need to make sure we have people who understand the curriculum, instruction, digital citizenship, library skills, and research skills. We need to put those people in positions where they can help our students be prepared for the real world.”

He adds, “We see media changing; we have a lot of our students who aren’t just reading paper books. They are reading more digital content. Whether it’s through various online reading sources ─myON, for example, and some of the other platforms that students can read [even] Facebook or Snapchat.”

Overall, Phyall is most concerned with filling the digital equity gap. Greater than connectivity concerns is the knowledge that more needs to be done to make sure that all voices are heard. As he explains, “We have to make sure that [diverse] voices are heard, and they have a ‘safe space.’ I tell my team often that our library learning common is that safe space. It’s the space where all students can be heard, have a voice, and feel comfortable. That’s really the gap that is out there─people realizing the differences in all of our students and figuring out a way that they can come together, [even] through a library collection. That’s one thing that I’ve been very big on in the spaces that I’ve served.”

About Dr. Adam Phyall

Adam Phyall is a former high school science teacher and currently serving as the Director of Technology and Media Services for Newton County School System in Covington, GA. Throughout his professional career, Mr. Phyall worked extensively with Title I and Urban schools to improve technology integration with economically disadvantaged students. He has planned and developed Mobile Learning plans for school districts in Georgia and Missouri that have led to 1:1 device initiatives.

Follow Dr. Adam Phyall on Twitter @AskAdam3

Dr. Adam Phyall Sessions at FETC

The 40th anniversary Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) will take place January 14-17, 2020 in Miami, Fla. Registration is now open at Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC)

FETC 2020 40th Anniversary

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