A Conversation With… Margaret Lincoln

Dr. Margaret “Gigi” Lincoln, NHS adviser at Lakeview High School in Battle Creek, MI, has won numerous awards for her outstanding service in education during her 41-year tenure, including the Distinguished Professional Award by the Calhoun Area School Board Members Association; the Margaret Grazier Award for Contribution to the Profession, for library services, by the Michigan Association for Media in Education; and the Special School Librarian Tribute by the Michigan State Legislature. This year, she added another distinction to her list of achievements: the Rynearson National Adviser of the Year. Advise interviewed Lincoln to tap into the wellspring of her knowledge and experience.

Advise: What kinds of projects have you found to be most successful with your students?

Lincoln: We have seen positive results both in projects initiated by students and in projects where students take a more participatory role. An example of a student-initiated project is “Read to Lead,” an after-school program for Lakeview elementary students created by an NHS officer in an effort to ignite a passion for reading in third and fourth graders. The program was so well-received that it has been replicated throughout the school district. NHS members continue to take charge of training fellow high school volunteers, interacting with parents and teachers, managing funds, and developing lesson plans. Another measure of the success of “Read to Lead” is evident in the commendation of NHS student organizers of the program, including two NHS officers being recipients of National Honor Society Scholarship awards in 2009 and 2010.

Advise: Many advisers do not stay in the position for very long due to the strenuous demands associated with the role. What made you remain an NHS adviser for more than four decades?

Lincoln: Although four decades may seem like a long time, the years have flown by, and serving as NHS adviser has been a truly rewarding experience. One could not ask for a more desirable assignment than working in an academically oriented extracurricular activity with the best and brightest of Lakeview High School!

It has been important, however, to adjust to the times. Just as my work as a high school librarian is quite different in 2018 as compared to when I entered the profession in 1973, the position of NHS adviser has evolved over this period. Ongoing professional development and continuing education have helped me to remain productive and relevant. For example, in 2004 I entered a distance-independent interdisciplinary PhD program in information science, funded through an Institute of Museum and Library Services fellowship grant from the University of North Texas. The fact that I could earn my degree at an age when many people are thinking of retirement has shown to students what can be realized through a commitment to lifelong learning.

I’ve also appreciated the support and guidance provided by NASSP. The NHS Constitution (Article VI) clearly defines the responsibilities and role of the NHS adviser, helping me to fulfill my duties. Reports and articles included in this very issue of Advise magazine have opened my eyes to ideas for engaging service projects and to ways to improve our own NHS chapter.

Advise: Given your role as a librarian and the current political climate, what role can librarians and NHS advisers play in ensuring students are getting accurate information from credible news sources? 

Lincoln: In the current challenging political climate and the explosion of the fake news phenomenon, I am committed to supporting all students through my role as librarian and NHS adviser. I teach an online blended information literacy elective course and regularly collaborate with classroom teachers to develop lessons that integrate information-seeking practices through authentic, real-world applications.

The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) published its revised National School Library Standards in 2018, which states school librarians teach learners to build new knowledge by inquiring, thinking critically, identifying problems, and developing strategies for solving problems. Librarians further demonstrate and model safe, responsible, ethical, and legal information behaviors.

The importance of imparting these 21st-century skills could not be more relevant in 2018. A recent study from the Stanford University History Education Group (SHEG) on “Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning” found that students have a dismaying inability to tell fake news from real. Overall, young people’s inability to reason about the information on the internet can be summed up in one word: bleak. Teaching information literacy skills and instructing students in the research process will help ensure that democracy is safeguarded and that disinformation about civic issues is not allowed to spread and flourish. Encouraging students to ask questions on a topic, to consider possible answers, and to evaluate potential action plans will ultimately strengthen student voice and activism, along with shaping tomorrow’s leaders.

Advise: What has been your most impactful experience during your tenure as an adviser?

Lincoln: A most impactful experience during my tenure as NHS adviser has been the occasion to have several highly regarded political figures participate in the annual NHS induction. Michigan U.S. Sen. Carl Levin spoke at the 1981 ceremony, while Michigan U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow was guest speaker in 2012.

In 2011, Michigan’s newly elected Governor Rick Snyder (a 1976 Lakeview graduate) gave the keynote address. Many fellow 1976 alumni and former faculty (including Snyder’s then-93-year-old government teacher) were in attendance. Snyder recounted winning his election on a “one tough nerd” campaign and told students he worked hard to graduate high school early and earn three degrees from the University of Michigan by the time he was 23. Snyder challenged students to see problems as an opportunity for action and to view “the old unbelievable as the new achievable.”

Advise: During your own middle and high school years, were you inspired by any particular teachers or advisers?

Lincoln: In June 2017, my graduating class from the Ethical Culture Fieldston School (ECFS) in New York City was fortunate to celebrate our 50th reunion. Reminiscing back to high school and reconnecting with classmates was a wonderful experience and brought to mind teachers who were especially inspiring.

Our teachers were renowned in their fields and had notable life stories beyond the classroom. Our Latin teacher, Frances Grant, was the first African-American woman admitted to Phi Beta Kappa at Radcliffe College, while her father, George Franklin Grant, was the first African-American professor at Harvard University and inventor of a wooden golf tee. John Anthony Scott, for whom we had the highest regard, was an Oxford-educated scholar who received a Purple Heart and U.S. citizenship while serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. Dr. Matthew Ies Spetter was a member of the Dutch underground, surviving Auschwitz and Buchenwald. English teacher Ida Shimanouchi (a brilliant and caring woman) grew up in California and was “relocated” by the U.S. government to an internment camp for Japanese Americans.

Although these teachers are sadly no longer with us, I was fortunate to have been in touch with two ECFS faculty members. When I received the 2008 American Library Association’s I Love My Librarian Award at the New York Times Center in New York City, I was honored that my fourth-grade teacher, Eve Herzlinger, and high school French teacher, Sima Szaluta, could be present at the ceremony.

Advise: What is the concluding best piece of advice you can give new advisers? What about seasoned advisers?

Lincoln: As we know, the emblem of the National Honor Society is the keystone and torch with the keystone bearing at its base the letters CSLS, which stand for character, scholarship, leadership, and service. To both new and seasoned advisers (along with a reminder to myself), I would offer this advice:

Celebrate the successes of your National Honor Society chapter and the accomplishments of your students.

Support and nurture qualities of character, scholarship, leadership, and service in both yourself and your students.

Look for ways to innovate and take risks while building upon proven past practice.

Seize the opportunity to advise and to guide one of the most important student groups in your school.