Sunday, August 21, 2016

Where Have I Been?

It is no coincidence that the last time I posted was April of 2015.  Sixteen months ago, I embarked upon an intensive journey toward a NYS School Administrator License.  Last summer, I spent 3 weeks living in a dorm and attending classes from about 8:00 am until 6:00 pm (sometimes 9:00 pm!) every day. I then had online coursework and a 500-hour internship, as well as several more weekend residencies to complete over the course of the school year.  I am currently finishing a second, 300-hour internship to meet requirements to take the School District Leader NYS exam.  One of the reasons I chose this program was because I could continue to work as a full-time K-6 librarian and Lead Librarian for my district, but it left me little time for reflection and creativity in the library.  I am very excited to be wrapping up this program so that I can re-focus on what I love: being a librarian! I am happy to say, however, that I will not be the same librarian I was before.

Going through this program and seeing the inner workings of a school district has given me a fresh perspective.  I am very lucky to be working with a principal who is forward-thinking, mindful of equity issues, and who is willing to let me take things on.  Unlike almost all of my peers in the program with me, I never had any desire to be a school principal or superintendent.  My goal in pursuing this licensure was to help me be a better librarian for my school, and a better Lead Librarian for my department and district. I did spend a lot of time, however, learning to think like an administrator; to analyze the effects of events and decisions on the wide range of stakeholders that are impacted by the day-to-day routines of a school. I used to wonder why anyone who loved teaching would become an administrator.  Now I understand that a good administrator has the ability to have a positive impact on an entire school culture.  I understand the appeal of wanting to bring positive change to a larger group.  Where some teachers feel their hands are tied, an effective and thoughtful principal has the ability to be a true change-agent.

So, for a millisecond, I thought that this was possibly a career move I should consider.  But I learned about myself in this program, too. I learned that many of the issues facing school administrators are already important to me, both as a librarian and as a human being.  I learned that a major issue facing students, for a multitude of reasons (financial, language barrier, access to technology), is access to information they can understand. A strong, well supported, library program can help with that.  I learned that an administrator must be a champion for social justice issues for students. A strong library can help with that by providing safe, welcoming spaces and information for each and every student in the school.  Family and community relationships? Yes, librarians can do that.  Differentiated instruction? Pushing teachers' instructional practices into the 21st century through inquiry and effective use of technology? Increasing engagement through student choice? Done, done, and done!  The concerns of a school administrator are the concerns of a 21st century school librarian.

I am more passionate than ever about the role of a school library in education today, and I can't wait to take on the school year.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Small Group Research

Even though it's been a while since I have blogged, it's never been far from my mind. As an educator, it can be difficult to reflect through writing. I'm just so wiped out at the end of the day, it can be tough to write something coherent! However, if I want to be a better teacher, I need to do the things I want my students to do: write thoughtfully. I always tell them that writing will help them think things through; I should be doing it, too.

I serendipitously tried something I have never truly tried before this year: small group research. It started because a second grade teacher and I were having a hard time finding common time for all her students. Many have to leave the classroom at various times of the day for various services. So, we decided to do research in small groups of 5 students, and scheduled research times around the availability of the students. I appreciate the classroom teacher's flexibility in making this work. She picked the time that was best for students to be out of the room and come to library. We studied how the geography of a place affects how people live. We studied farms, fishing villages, mining towns, small towns, and cities. Students came to the library in their groups for about 30 minutes at a time, and we read and filled in a note-taking organizer together.

It was amazing. I really saw exactly what students struggled with up close. With some groups, we worked on note-taking, and other groups worked on identifying the most important information in a particular section. The students benefited from having direct instruction at their exact point of need. For some, the focused discussion was the key to their understanding the content. When you are working with an entire class of students, it is easy to just assume you know which students are "getting it" and which are not. Those kids who seem to be working independently and moving forward don't always get the attention they need because you are using a triage model to help those that need it most. Working with small groups taught me that even the brightest kids have misconceptions. When working with small groups, you don't need to triage: each student is equally important.

There was only one drawback that I experienced working this way. It can take a long time to get through all the groups. Add in other classes and other projects, and it can be difficult to keep momentum flowing on a personal level. Truthfully, though, the students are so excited about it, that it makes it all worthwhile.

As a point of interest, after each group completed their organizer, we discussed what they felt the most important aspects of their communities were. Students picked five things to share with their class and we made a video. It wasn't a huge production, and we worked on the wording together, but that's ok; that wasn't our focus for this project. They loved making the videos and sharing them with their classmates. Huge success.

I have since given this a try with first grade, as well, and it has been equally successful. This has been game-changer for me.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

December Already?

It seems like yesterday that I wrote my last post, and now the first trimester of the year is already over! As I knew it would be, this year has been very different from previous years. With a new job description and new responsibilities, I've had to put some things on the back burner (not that I've ever been terribly good about blogging, though, to be fair). Regardless, here are some highlights of my year so far.

1. A Flexible Schedule!
This has been the single best thing to happen in my professional life. I am absolutely loving this change in my program. I currently see K-2 for 30 minutes once a six-day cycle, and grades 3-6 have regularly scheduled book exchanges. Beyond that, I see classes for projects and collaborative lessons. My schedule is absolutely jammed! I have never been busier. I began the year with Library Boot Camp, and I saw every single class in grades 3-6 for 30 minutes every day for 10 days! It was a wonderful experience because it allowed me to set the tone for the year and refresh the students' skills. (Thanks, Stacey, for the idea!)  Since then, I have completed at least two research projects with each grade level. I was focused on grades 3-6 at the start of the year, and now I'm beginning to do a better job of including first and second grade in my flex schedule. I've started pushing in to the first grade classrooms and doing small database lessons. We're also going to start an opinion piece for first grade about favorite book characters this week. Should be fun!
One of the things I'm struggling with, though, is keeping track of my lesson plans. I feel a little scattered right now.  Some of my lesson plans are related to research/inquiry projects, and some of them are more straight-forward. I have plans on paper, plans in my Google calendar, and plans in my head. I used to use Atlas Curriculum mapping software, but that doesn't seem to lend itself to what I am doing. My principal does collect my plans, and she's been very patient while I stumble around figuring this out. Does anyone have any advice for recording plans with a flexible schedule?

2. Attending AASL!
I cannot express my gratitude to J'aime Pfeiffer at Capital Region BOCES enough for sending me to AASL in Hartford. This was, literally, a life-changing experience! I learned so much, I met so many wonderful people, and I had so much fun chatting with vendors. I left after 2 and half days feeling rejuvenated - and thankful for my job. When AASL is within driving distance again, I will be attending. No matter what.
I picked up a few ideas at AASL that I'm working on incorporating into my library program. I've just started setting up centers for students during book exchange, thanks to the ideas of Carolyn Vibbert, Jessica Lodge, and Cari Young. If you don't know them, look them up on Twitter. I'm just dipping my toes in, but the centers have already been hugely successful. As I get more comfortable, I'll be expanding my repertoire. The second idea is one I have not put into action yet, but hope to soon. Sue Kowalski has a group of students called iStaff, and I want to set up something similar. I'm thinking WIN time (intervention block) would be a great time, especially as a starting point. I hope to get it going in January, if I'm realistic.

Those are the two big highlights so far. I've also coordinated a day of PD with our circulation system vendor, led department meetings, and attended and presented at ELA workshops to teachers. I've also been working on interviewing for a new .5 JHS librarian ( it will be my first interview committee) and we've just started the budget process. This is all new ground for me, so it's an adventure.

Any advice for me?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Summer of Preparation

I think for many teachers, summer is a time of relaxation and rejuvenation. Generally, I use this time to catch up on my reading - both personal and professional, I plan to explore some new technologies, and I work on making changes to my program for the following year. It's usually pretty low-key until the last few weeks of August. I have a bit more to prepare for this year as I will be making two gigantic changes next year: a new, flexible schedule and a new role as lead librarian for my district. I am very excited about both of these changes, and also, obviously, a little nervous.

The lead librarian position is one that came about as a solution to a number of issues our district has been facing - both financially and management-wise. We used to have a Library Department head, who'd been in the district for literally 60 (six-zero) years. When she passed away a few years ago, we were left with a void. Due to economic constraints (I assume), the district decided against re-hiring a full time department head. This may not seem like a big deal, but in a district of our size, it's important. So, we have essentially had 2 interim directors while the district worked out how best to manage our department. Their solution was to reduce my position at my school to 0.8 (instead of full-time), and create a 0.2 "Lead Librarian" position. I had to apply for it, and it caused many weeks of anxiety. I did not want to be forced to leave my school, my incredible students, my wonderful faculty, or my extremely supportive principal. I know I am signing up basically to do two jobs for the price of one, but with a community like this, I'm hoping it will be worth it. So, a good portion of my time this summer is going to be spent determining what exactly a "lead librarian" does, and preparing myself to do it.

The flexible schedule change is ultimately another happy result from this change. In doing research to support the library program, my principal took the time to learn what makes a strong library program, including learning about a flexible schedule. We visited a school with a flexible schedule, and decided that it was a good fit for us. I am beyond excited to have this opportunity. It's not every day the pieces fall into place to help you make a huge programmatic change, but they did. My faculty is ready for the change, and I know I have a supportive administration. For this year, we are still keeping K-2 fixed for classes, and all classes will have fixed book exchanges. I'm happy with that because I think the youngest students will benefit from regular visits to the library, as well as enjoy other extended visits. The school we visited does a library book camp at the beginning of the year, so that is one (well, several) big project for me to work on. I'm hoping they're going to be really close together right in the beginning of September. I won't have a lot of time to plan then, so I might as well get cracking now!

Phew. When I put it all out there like that, it seems like a bit much, doesn't it? I think it's time for me to take a nap - while I still can. :)

Monday, June 24, 2013

Welcome Summer!

The 2012-2013 school year has ended, and what a year it was! It was a year of many frustrations with regard to testing and APPR, but also many exciting changes. I'm really proud of the work my students have been doing, despite the SLO testing we had to wade through.
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I wrote that sentence about 45 minutes ago. I have gotten distracted by the many ways I could be presenting data about our library program. I think I've just identified my first task for the summer: figure out how to share what we do! I have been talking about the importance of advocacy for years - it's time to put my money where my mouth is and do something cool.

So, my first goal among many this summer is to create an online newsletter/infographic to show what we've accomplished this year. I'm planning on using Smore and Infogram (at least for now). Other suggestions are welcome!

I am going to share the usual circulation statistics, number of classes, as well as database usage statistics. What other kinds of information do you share? Any advice for me?

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Thing 10: Productivity Tools

I have used quite a few of these tools. My favorites are Evernote and Google Calendar, both of which I use all the time. I love Google Calendar because I can post my library schedule right on my library wikipage. My super busy schedule is there for everyone (including administrators) to see. I'd like to make better use of Google Calendar by finding an easy way to include what standards I am addressing in each class. Not sure exactly how to go about doing that in a simple fashion. I guess I'd have to go into each class as it comes and add standards in. I don't think there's a way to link it to my online lesson plans. I could market this calendar better to my teachers - encourage them to use it to see when I am available.

I experimented a little bit with scrible. I really like this tool and can see many uses for it. I can definitely use it to teach website evaluation. Ideally, I'd like the students to be able to make annotations and share that with me. I wonder if I can do that without each student having his/her own account. Can I just add the bookmarklet to each browser and have it be connected with my account? Then the students can identify relevant pieces of information and save it to my account. I will have to play around when I get back to school and see if that would work. I could also use it to help teach keywords and identifying main ideas. I love this tool and hope to find ways to use it!

This has been a really interesting and thought-provoking project, even if I did do most of it at the end. I've been working on the "Things" here and there, just not writing about them. Thank you, Polly, for another wonderful experience!

Thing 9: Databases & Search Tools

Can I put my custom search box here?


Yes! I can! This is very cool. I also have my custom search engine linked on a Canadian provinces resource page on my library site.  My fifth grade students have a research project, and the purpose is for students to create a short film to convince someone to either move or visit their region of Canada. This is a very cool way to expand their resources without letting them loose on Google. There's too much junk out there, especially with this topic.

The other piece I experimented with was KidRex. I am not impressed. I did a search for horses (kids like to know about horses!) and these were my first few results:

That's right - Wikipedia, and then a bunch of sites to buy horses. Not kid-friendly. If it fails with horses, it fails outright, especially we have such better options, like SweetSearch.