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. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Creative Chaos

It is interesting to me that as I work with other teacher librarians, I find myself encouraging them to embrace chaos. I recognize that fear and uncertainty I see in their eyes when I say that. For all librarians order has always been the name of the game, but the game is changing.

Libraries are undergoing an evolution. Makerspaces, flexible learning spaces, authentic learning and so much more has changed the nature of that once quiet, organized space. In order to be the hub of our schools, we have to be on the cutting edge of student learning. In order to do this, many of us have to step out of our comfort zones.

In the first years of my career, I kept that orderly space. However, in later years, I began to let go of the control in some areas. This was the natural by-product of a collaborative project with a teacher. Throughout the project I expended a great deal of energy trying to control the creative chaos that emerged from students that were truly engaged with their learning. In reflecting on the process, I quickly established that there were better ways to expend my energy. Students were engaged, and they were on-task. What was I stressing about? I was the one with the issue, and I needed to let go.

For the next large scale project, I structured things a little differently in order to make the space more functional, but I stopped stressing about the chaos. The chaos was learning and wasn't that the most important thing? That is not to say that those nagging issues didn't pop into my head sometimes, but I got better about pushing them to the deep recesses of my brain.

Begin retraining yourself to embrace the creative chaos around you. You will be amazed at what emerges from the disorder. It has the ability to not only change you but the culture of your school as well.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Get in the Action!

Two words tend to create a feeling of discomfort in many professionals. Those two words are "action research." I am not sure what causes this stigma around action research. My guess is that for many of us we have flashbacks of graduate school, and we are likely intimidated by the concept of action research.

As part of the School Library Media Coordinator Professional Standards in NC, action research is included. As I work with school librarians, it is obvious that this is one area that causes them significant heartburn. The rubric descriptor reads as follows: Conducts action research to determine the impact of the school library media program on student achievement. What I think most don't realize is that they are probably doing action research annually anyway. I wanted to create something that made action research seem less daunting, so here is what I came up with.






This is more of a brainstorming guide that is meant to provide guidance in getting started. While action research can be a very intense process when done for graduate work or for grant purposes, you can also keep it simple. When doing action research for your own purposes, don't tend to think of it as the next paper you will be submitting. Instead, focus on the outcome and how it will impact student achievement.

So get into the action today!