Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Fix-It Fine Line

Yesterday I wrote a blog post about bad apples. After reading a comment from Mark Samberg, I felt it was important to address the idea of being the fix-it person. Mark points out, "There's definitely a balancing act here," and I agree.

Yes, a media coordinator should help facilitate instruction and sometimes that moves the media coordinator into the role of technician. We want to be helpful and provide teachers with the best possible service so they can provide quality instruction. The issues come when you find that you act as a technician 25, 50, 75 percent of the time. I ended up letting those tech issues take over, and to be honest, I ended up submitting work orders to our tech department for a large majority of those (and I am fairly competent at troubleshooting).

There were two incidents that really let me know I had to find the balance. The first was so astonishing to me that I thought if I ignored it, it would go away. I was in the midst of teaching a class, and I don't mean in a circulating, helping students way. I mean in front of the class providing instruction. As this was happening, I could see in my peripheral vision a teacher standing off to the side. I kept teaching, and as I did so I could see her getting more antsy by the minute. Finally, I asked what she needed. She had a computer issue and wanted me to fix it right that minute. Ummm, not going to happen. I was teaching a class. There were so many many different ways she could have handled this: tell my assistant, send an email, leave me a note, etc. Instead, she wanted me right that minute while I was with students. Talk about not valuing me as an instructional leader.

Another defining moment was at the end of the school year. I was in the middle of some overwhelming task when a teacher sent a student to get me to help with a VCR. I relayed that I just could not make it right that minute. Once I made it there, what I expected to find was a VCR that was not connected properly. What I found was a VCR that had the eject button pried off and a videotape stuck in it. Long story short, I could not fix it and asked the teacher to borrow a VCR from a neighbor. She really wasn't happy with this and multiple students later told me that she told that class that she always did her job and it would be nice if I did mine. First, I did not learn VCR repair in graduate school, and if you can find that as part of my professional standards, please show it to me.

These were two defining moments that changed my approach to tech repairs. I knew something had to change. Basically, I streamlined the process. First, I stopped taking requests for tech repairs verbally, on a post-it, in the parking lot, or outside the bathroom. This was just not effective and if I forgot, people just got mad. With the help of the district tech department, I created an email stationary already addressed to me requesting specific information: Date of request, Room #, and a SPECIFIC description of the problem. These messages came to my inbox in a different color. As soon as they were dealt with I would move them to another folder. This allowed me to keep track of issues I had handled. It definitely made me more effective and efficient. The hardest part was getting everyone to use the new system. If someone mentioned an issue to me in passing, I made sure to tell them to submit a tech repair, otherwise I would forget. Ultimately, if the did not submit this tech repair, I did not touch it. That is a hard line to hold, but it is so worth it in the end. I no longer had to put my hands on every machine. The blue screen of death was an automatic work order for the district tech department. Sometimes I could send them directions on how to fix the problem or tell them to see someone on their hall who could help them. I began to see patterns which allowed me to create tutorials (how to change your printer). Also, if I could not get to their room due to my teaching demands, I submitted a district level work order right off the bat. I knew my response time would be delayed and very likely one of our technicians could get to it sooner than I could .

All of this allowed me to recognize their issues, help when I could, and most importantly, allowed me to focus on collaboration and instruction. Once you work out the kinks, you find that everyone benefits. By changing my approach I was able to help teachers, but it went beyond making sure their equipment was functioning. If teachers really want a technician, districts should hire someone actually trained to perform those jobs. I was trained to be a collaborator, a teacher, an instructional leader, but no one ever showed me how to change laminating film or how to take apart VCRs to extract videotapes.

Take a critical look at how you handle equipment/technical repairs. How can you make the process work for your school in a way that allows you to grow your media program into something that helps students learn and achieve?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Bad Apples in Library Land

I have been mulling over this post for awhile now but have hesitated to write it, because I fear it will end up being a rant. That being said, if you are a teacher librarian that can't handle the truth, you might want to stop reading.

Over the last couple of years I have become fond of comparing professionals to rotting fruit. For instance, when you look at teachers, one rotten apple doesn't reflect badly on the whole bunch. This is simply because there are enough of them to outweigh the bad. Whereas, one bad or negative media coordinator in the bunch reflects badly on the whole group. Our numbers in the barrel are far less, and we want to be careful about the message we send.

This whole concept is why all media coordinators need to take a stand. I am not saying we need to attack those that are not building those quality media programs. I have seen that tactic out in the Twitterverse/blogosphere, and it just isn't pretty. In fact, it is a major turn off for me. I know that many media coordinators fear this bad rap that arises from the rotten apple, but I don't think that is the approach that will garner true media coordinators the respect they deserve.

So how do we move a profession forward that is misunderstood and in many cases misrepresented? I don't know that I have all the answers, but I certainly think what we are doing is not working. While at a conference this week I overheard a conversation that indicated that media centers might not be needed anymore. Really? My thought there is that they just have not been in the right media center. How do we educate those people who don't have a true understanding of the role of a school library media coordinator?

First, I think we have to move our focus to students. It's hard to focus on instruction when those teachers are beating down your door wanting you to fix their LCD projector, computer, etc, etc. When I was in the media center it was hard to tell teachers that I just could not fix their "x, y or z" or tape their National Board videos. To be honest, I tried to fix all of those things, and I was not happy. I felt like I was not really accomplishing anything of value. Then, I had the epiphany that moved me away from that role. I was there for students. Yes, I want to help teachers, but what was my true priority? That's not to say that librarians won't help with those things, but they should not take up the bulk of their day. Make it known that you are a part of the instructional process. I don't care how you do it, but for the sake of our profession you need to be an instructional leader and role model.

Our school buildings are not the only places where we need to be showing our instructional prowess. It is with other librarians. A few Negative Nancys have the ability to sour a whole group. Should this be the case? Absolutely not! District PLCs should be about building up the profession not tearing it down. Often those bad apples are our most vocal, so how do we shut them up and help them move forward at the same time? Often their complaints focus on the fact that administrators don't understand what they do, blah, blah, blah. It's always about blaming someone else. We don't need to commiserate with them. Instead we need to ask them how they plan to change this perception. Yes, it would be nice if upper level leadership understood our jobs, but we have to give them a reason to want to.

Maybe I have posed more questions than I have answered, but I am tired of a profession that I love so dearly being left out to rot. Take a stand, find your voice and be heard!