“This is the Super Bowl for me. I’m excited and humbled,” newly named 2016 School Librarian of the Year, Todd Burleson of Kenosha said Friday.
Says Burleson, 47, is the school librarian at Hubbard Woods School in Winnetka, Ill., “Is it a reward for what I’ve already done, or is it a challenge for me to do more?”
It takes him less than a second to decide it’s the latter.
“I see it as a platform. This year, I want to connect, collaborate and learn from teachers and other educators everywhere,” Burleson said.
That includes Kenosha, where he and his wife, Erica, raised their daughter, Grace, 18, and son, Jack, 14. Grace is entering the University of Minnesota as a freshman. Jack will begin as a Tremper High School freshman next week. Erica is a school library associate at Whittier Elementary School.
He already has become involved with Open Wings, a private school at 7951 36th Ave., serving pupils aged 5-12, as well as with the Kenosha Public Library, where he is helping to develop STEAM programming, along the lines of the hands-on approach to learning employed by Winnetka schools. Burleson has been a member of the Hubbard Woods School faculty for 20 years, and its librarian for seven.
Where STEM is familiar these days in Kenosha and elsewhere as science, technology, engineering and mathematics, Burleson explains Winnetka schools inserted the “A” to include arts as part of the core curriculum focus.
STEAM played an important role in his transformation of the Hubbard Woods school library into an IDEA Lab — an integrated, technology-driven space where students can exercise their creativity. The school’s PTO bought into his concept by approving a $50,000 grant to cover the costs.
While Winnetka is far less diverse, much smaller and far more affluent on average than Kenosha, Burleson said it would be a mistake to focus on money as the most important element underlying what it takes to incorporate the same kinds of concepts he promotes to engage teachers and students.
In addition, he says all too often people see the first hurdle as money, and, if they don’t clear that immediately, many simply give up on their good ideas altogether.
“Please, don’t make this about money,” Burleson said. “Work with whatever budgets you have. You can’t lose hope, and you can’t lose passion. My mission, my goal this year, is to connect teachers and schools. There are so many ways to find money. ... And, if you feel frustrated, start small. I apply for foundation grants. That’s where I got funds to do crazy, crazy things for my students.”
By starting small, he means with one class or one group of students, if necessary. In addition, he advises teachers to get involved with their community and the community of educators.
“Become part of the community,” Burleson said. “Teaching is incredibly frustrating. Most of us greet the kids when they come into the classroom, then we close the doors. We need to open those doors.”
In his case, the PTO had been saving for years toward the 100th anniversary of Hubbard Woods. When they approached him for his ideas, Burleson pulled out a folder he had been building for seven years. It detailed his concepts for an ideal library space, including estimated expenses based on experience working with his father on construction projects and contracts.
He also noted his experience in working with tools and savings that would be realized by having him work alongside the school district’s professional maintenance employees.
Not only did the PTO underwrite the cost, the organization nominated him to be School Librarian of the Year. The award is presented by School Library Journal and Scholastic.
Says Burleson: “I’ve been successful in what I’ve been doing. I’d like to give that back to the community. ... I want to bring Winnetka to Kenosha, to bring practices that lift
kids. I’m just saying I’d love to help. I’m making these connections all over the world. I want to do it here, too.”
Burleson will accept the award during an Oct. 14-15 event in Washington, D.C., where he hopes to meet with President Barack Obama. He invites educators and schools to exchange ideas with him at toddburleson.com.