Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Power of Play

First, let me say I make no excuses for not posting, but as I opened up the blog tonight, I could not believe my eyes! How could it be that I have not posted on this blog since late September? Well, time to correct that for sure!

Much of the professional development I have done of late has focused on Makerspaces, STEM, etc. Those are such an important part of what should be taking place in school libraries today. In these sessions I am always sure to provide hands-on time. I know some may not be comfortable embracing the great "stuff" associated with these trends in libraries, so my goal is to provide a safe time to play.

Enjoy Legos with or without kids. You never know what YOU will create!

In theory this sounds like a great idea. However, in actuality it never turns out as I expect. I should add that these sessions offer a variety of activities from duct tape flowers to Spheros, as well as Snap Circuits and more. So what's the problem? The problem is that the vast majority of participants choose to do safe activities or sit back and let others take the driver's seat.

I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on this, and I think we, as adults, think of this too much as play. Is play a bad thing? I don't think so. For me, I know getting started was hard. I would sit in my living room floor and play with Magformers or Snap Circuits (gotta know how they work myself before I share with others), and I felt a little strange at first. Add one of my nieces to the equation though, and I don't think twice about it. Why is that? Why do adults feel guilty about play? Is it all the other things that we should be doing? Is it that those things are for kids? If I wasn't playing with Sphero, I would probably be sewing or making cards. Why are those activities more acceptable? To be honest, I don't know the answer to that. What I do know is that teacher librarians need to embrace these activities that can aid the learning of our students. Sit down with students and connect with them over Legos. Get to know them, build relationships, and help facilitate their learning.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Hoarders: Library Edition

In my current position, I get to visit school libraries on a regular basis. This is one of the best and worst parts of my job. There really are a lot of great things happening in school libraries now. I wish everyone had the opportunity to see the research, makerspaces, collaboration space, and so much more that is happening in school libraries. If they could see this, there would be no doubt to the value of school media programs and the knowledgeable teacher librarians that run them. Then there are those programs, the libraries that I worry endanger the future of school libraries and all they stand for. While there are many issues in some of these school libraries, this post is going to focus just on hoarding.

Basically, there are two types of hoarders out there. The first is the "you never know when" librarian. You know what I mean, "you never know when you are going to need that laserdisc player" mentality and excuse for not throwing something away. My first library position I walked into a school library where there was a lot of stuff. Things I would never use, but I held onto for quite awhile anyway. As a new librarian, I could not help but think that someone held onto it because it was used for something. I hesitated because I thought someone must need it for it to be there. In hindsight, I should have gotten rid of that stuff right off the bat. It took up valuable real estate. Space that could be used for student centered space, and that's what it is really all about. Once I started getting rid of things, I can only think of one instance where I wished I had kept something that I had thrown out (and now I don't even remember what that was).

The second type of hoarder is "the protector of the knowledge". The protector wants to ensure that books stay pristine, that parts don't go missing, or they worry that students will break this or that. What this amounts to is a space with lots of great items, but sadly it does not get any use by students. While these librarians may have good intentions, I think it is important to be reflective and ask yourself where your priorities reside. Yes, things are going to vanish, get broken, etc., and ultimately it is the price of doing business and doing it well. Keeping items behind lock and key only serves to inhibit student learning and send a negative impression about the library program.

School libraries are at a crossroads, and it is critical that school librarians show the world that they are a key factor in student learning. It's time to make our spaces student-centered and share all that we have to offer.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Power to Create

Have you ever had a plan for kids that just did not go the way you expected? The real question is how did you handle it? Sometimes we have a natural inclination to direct kids to complete a task in the way that we expect, but instead we need to give them the freedom to create on their own.

Back in March, my 7 year old niece was with me when I purchased my new sewing machine. At the time, I was so surprised at her interest in using the sewing machine. In fact, I thought it was a fascination that would wane. That night we went out to dinner, and I asked what she wanted to do when we got back. She said to me, "I thought we were going to go home and use the sewing machine." So that is just what we did. Her first project was creating a small pillow that would match the quilt that I was making my mom. She even did the hand-stitching to close the pillow. After this, we made a plan to make a quilt for her American Girl doll the next time she came to visit.

Well, last week she came to visit. We selected some fabric, and we looked at making half-square triangles. After talking about all of our different pattern options, she decided she wanted to make pinwheels. We started sewing the basic pieces together, but her attention was fleeting during the cutting and measuring. For those of you who don't know, quilting requires a lot of measuring, as well as squaring up of quilting blocks. Since I was using a rotary cutter, I did not let my niece help with this step. This, of course, meant that she quickly lost focus during these in-between stages. So what happened?

Basically, she started working with fabric while she waited on me. She did some practice sewing, then on her own she created a pocket for me. As I watched her create this pocket, it was interesting how my thoughts emerged. To be honest, my first instinct was to redirect her back to our original project. In fact the words were right on the tip of my tongue, and I had to catch myself from uttering those words. What was really important here? Was it important that she make this quilt? No, that definitely shouldn't be the objective for our day. What mattered was that she wanted to explore and create! Instead, I just let her design and develop her own project.

Next time you are faced with a similar dilemma with your students, really think about what your objective is for your students? Do you want a cookie cutter product or something that students had to problem solve to create? Just sit back and let students explore the endless possibilities.

Monday, June 8, 2015

#2jennsbookclub Come Chat with Us!

The great thing about Voxer is it allows me to talk with my good friend, Jennifer LaGarde, on a fairly regular basis. Now that we no longer work together it allows me to hear her voice with the touch of a button. What makes this even better is when the mention of an idea can lead to something that I can only describe as awesome.

One day, as I walked the dog, I was listening to a Vox from Jennifer. I remember that I was walking the dog simply because I was climbing a particularly challenging hill in my neighborhood. That was the exact moment that Jennifer mentioned that she would really like to read for pleasure more, and she really wanted to start a virtual book club. I replied back (a message that probably had a lot of huffing and puffing as I tried to breathe and walk up the hill), and emphatically declared that I was all in on this idea.

Like Jennifer mentioned in her blog post on the #2jennsbookclub, leaving the library often means you don't read like you used to. I have been out of the library for 2.5 years now, and while I still read for pleasure, it is rare. There is no one asking for book suggestions, there is no need to keep abreast of the latest trends, so basically I just stopped. This is truly a travesty, because I love to read YA literature, not only because of students, but simply because I truly enjoy it.

Jennifer started us off on a list of newly published YA books. As I looked at this list, I was devastated to realize that I had heard of none of these. How did this happen? Reading the newest titles used to be something I truly embraced. I would go to the book store and scan for new titles that I wanted to read, and titles I wanted to recommend to my students. To be honest, it was disheartening to learn that I had lost a part of myself. Now I am excited about reading, but more than anything I get to talk about books with others that care about reading as much as I do. I hope you will check out the schedule and join in. We can't wait to chat with you!

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Power of a Librarian

Today's post is a guest post from my colleague Kathy Parker. Kathy is the School Library Media Consultant for the NC Department of Public Instruction, as well as a former English teacher and school librarian. Kathy shared this amazing story with our team last month at a meeting, and there wasn't a dry eye in the house. I asked Kathy to write a guest blog post for Memorial Day. I cannot think of a better time to share this story. Wishing you all a wonderful Memorial Day. Please don't forget to remember those that have given their lives and to thank those that have served.

When I meet people for the first time, invariably the conversation turns to our work. After learning that I’m a school library consultant, they ask some variation of the same question, “What do librarians do now that there’s Google?” I typically embark on an impassioned, verbal treatise about librarians closing achievement gaps, bridging the digital divide, leading others to information, and I watch as their eyes glaze over. I imagine they hear my voice as Charlie Brown’s teacher, “Wah-Wah Wah-Wah.” So the next time someone asks me that question, I’m going to share this personal story instead…

Usually after work, I’m welcomed home by the sight of my neighbor, Harry, sitting on his stoop. I make my way over and plop myself on his steps, scaring away Meow-Meow, the stray cat that’s taken up residence by his side. When it’s chilly, I caution him that he’s going to catch a cold from the nippy air. He scoffs, dismissively waves his hand, and insists, “I got enough shots in the war to kill anything. That’s why I’m so old.” Then he reminds me that he survived Wisconsin winters and did it without electric heat! Point taken. Harry’s such a fixture of my neighborhood that I sometimes forget he hasn’t spent all of his 93 years across the street.

My Two Favorite Veterans: Harry with my husband, David, on Memorial Day 2012. 

This past April, as we were sitting on his stoop enjoying the sunshine, Harry mentioned the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Okinawa. He rarely talks about World War II, but the anniversary had him reflecting on his service. He mentioned to me that he had buried a buddy of his on the island in 1945. They had become fast friends in the war, and Harry wondered aloud if his body was ever recovered and returned to his family. He said that at the time, when a soldier was killed, “you put his dog tags between his teeth, buried him quick, and moved on.” But of course, Harry couldn’t really move on. For 70 years, the whereabouts of his friend’s body weighed on Harry’s mind. Harry half jokingly insisted that the Okinawan jungle grew up so fast that you’d carve a path, turn around, and find that the trail was already overgrown. He feared that his friend’s grave had never been found.

So being the “information warrior” that I am, my mind immediately began brainstorming resources to investigate. And guess what, I couldn’t find the answer Harry needed just by searching Google! Although my Google search located casualty lists and memorial records that referred to his friend and directed me to some fee for service sites with possible leads, I did not initially find anything confirming a burial location. When I reached out to my network of fellow librarians, one from Wisconsin struck gold! The information that Harry needed was “buried” in a Minnesota university’s digitized newspaper database. After 70 years, I had an answer for Harry.

The next time I plopped on Harry’s stoop, I said, “Look what I came across on the computer. Do you see any interesting articles in this old paper?” It took him a minute as he was initially drawn to the ads for familiar products from back in his day. I eagerly waited as his eyes wandered across the page, then my heart flip-flopped as his face lit up when he recognized his friend’s name in the headline: Alden Synstad Reburial Rites Set For Friday. Reading the article from April 13, 1949, Harry finally learned that his buddy’s remains had indeed made their way home.

After 70 years, librarians gave peace of mind to a World War II veteran. That’s what librarians do!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Two Worlds Collide

This is one of those posts that I have spent a great deal of time mulling over. It is a post that has been months in the making. To be honest, some of my school library followers are going to initially question the relation to school libraries, but I promise I will get there. Just stick with me.

Something many of you may not know about me is that my favorite sport is wrestling. Not that overdramatized stuff that you see on TV, but the sport that is a test of determination and skill. I can hear many of you expressing surprise to learn this fact. If you know me, you probably think this just does not match my personality. Yet it is true. From junior high through college I was the manager for a wrestling team. It happened as a fluke, but it is something that has enhanced my life and shaped who I am in many ways. There is so much that I have learned from my time around the mat.

On the surface these parallels between a school librarian and a wrestler are not obvious, but if you know the sport as well as I do, you would see it in a totally different light. These similarities have been so apparent to me as I have thought about this post for the last few months. Yet I continued to postpone writing it. I know why. It is simply because I wanted to give it the due diligence it deserved. Today I came home from a very long day and there was a reminder in the mailbox that spurred me into action. Today is the day I share with the world why I would not be the person I am without this sport and the coaches and wrestlers that have been a part of my path.

Wrestling is a beautiful sport. A sport that is unappreciated and misunderstood. A sport that has to fight to live another day. Those familiar with school library programs understand this better than most. School libraries are often under utilized and must constantly advocate to get the appreciation they deserve. I have always tried to represent the sport of wrestling in a positive way. Explaining to someone else why the sport deserves the respect of the masses has been a constant for me for many years. The same is true of school libraries. Without my previous experiences, I don't know if I would have so quickly recognized the need to articulate my vision of school libraries. Advocacy isn't easy in either scenario. You must be prepared for the negativity. You must stand your ground but in a way that doesn't reflect negatively on the program. Instead talk about what has been gained instead.

Sometimes being a school librarian is an isolating experience. As the school librarian there is a lot to be learned from the experience of the wrestler. This is a sport where you are an individual but part of a team as well. You have an overall record to achieve, but you also want to contribute to the team as well. I recently saw the movie Foxcatcher. We won't discuss the merits of the movie (or lack thereof), instead I want to focus on something from the film that stuck with me. Steve Carrell who plays John DuPont mentions that a wrestler must be confident when he steps onto the mat. I agree. A true wrestler, no matter his personality, steps on the mat and exudes confidence. As school librarians, we need to do more of this. That confidence will pervade our school's library and help teachers see us as part of the team, a member that has valuable contributions that will lead to success for all students.

My Southern Conference Championship ring for wrestling. Yes, this non-athlete has a championship ring.

From my days as a wrestling team member, I forged relationships that will undoubtedly span the ages. As with many old friendships, we may not stay in contact, but I know if I were ever in need they would be there for me. I may have one biological brother, but trust me, I have many "brothers" that would be there if I called. Don't get me wrong, there were fights and disagreements, but these are the men that I know I will always want in my corner. Relationships are part of the foundation of every good library program. Without relationships it is difficult to make those connections to teachers and students. However, once those bonds are formed they are permanent. The advantage of making these connections has an impact on student learning, but it also goes to support your library program in the long run.

It saddens me that two of things I love most must fight to survive. They are both endangered species, and it is incredibly heartbreaking. At this point in time, I wonder constantly if this will be the day that they announce the demise of the wrestling program at my alma mater, Appalachian State University. The university that I once loved has made a series of questionable decisions in the last few years in regards to athletics. A select few have changed the path of a university that I love, and I am concerned that this might mean the end of the wrestling program. While I had several universities where I was accepted many years ago, I chose Appalachian because it was the best of both worlds. It had the academics that were important to me, and it had a wrestling program. As a female, a male sport provided me with skills of perseverance, dedication, and a sense of belonging. I worry that one day another introverted female student with a love of this sport will no longer have a place to go in the future. While I am still introverted in some ways, I learned to stand up for what I believed in because of my time in a wrestling room. Nothing can take the place of the gratitude I owe this sport. My time in a school library only helped solidify these ideals and characteristics. School libraries are a critical part of every school, and it is important that school librarians unite to help educate their schools and communities.

So, school librarians, walk confidently onto the mat. It's time to take action. Show the education world what we've got. If you are equally motivated, support your local wrestling program. Trust me, someone will notice. You never know, they might just support the school library program too.

#supportASUwrestling #supportschoollibraries

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Entry into the Edcamp World

After returning my niece to her family following the Thanksgiving holiday, I got home to see tweets from tonight's #nctlchat. The topic for tonight was edcamps. This made me think about my own edcamp experiences.

For quite awhile now, I have watched edcamp tweets from afar. Timing and distance have always presented a barrier when it came to actually attending an edcamp. Finally a couple of weeks ago #edcampwnc was held in Cullowhee. I was so lucky that I got to socialize and learn with some of the awesome members of my PLN. It was also great to meet some new educators. 

To be honest, I did not know what to expect from my edcamp experience. I am such a planner and organizer that the lack of an agenda made me uncomfortable. Oh, how I hate to admit that, but it is the truth. However, the development of the agenda went incredibly smoothly. The organizers used Google Moderator. This was my first time seeing Google Moderator in use. Participants were able to provide possible topic ideas and then vote on those of interest. The top 16 were used to form the agenda. Each time slot featured a topic of interest for me. The ability to just have a conversation with a group of educators was wonderful. It is so rare that educators have the opportunity to do that. 

The implication of edcamps for professional development have yet to be realized in my opinion. I hope we will eventually see administrators embrace similar styles to meet professional development needs. Imagine the day when teachers have the opportunity to share ideas about topics that interest them and have true implications for their work. No more would we be sitting in professional development that either isn't applicable or something we have already mastered.

After experiencing my first edcamp, I encourage you to find an edcamp near you. You will not only learn a lot, but you will also make connections that will extend learning beyond just that day.