Lessons Learned from a Newbie School Librarian - Part 1

So much has happened this year in my career, it's been taking me a long time to process and get things down on the virtual "paper pad" known as my blog.

This fall, I began my first year as an elementary school librarian.  While it has been an exciting time, it has also been one filled with anxiety, challenges and has caused me to question my career choice over and over again.  (Did I really sign up for this?!?!?)  I liken it to having kids. Just as no one can prepare you for those first few weeks with your newborn baby, no one can really prepare you for the first day with students, how lesson plans will go over and what to do if they don't go over well, classroom management techniques, so on and so on.  You just have to dive in and start swimming and pray - ALOT of praying.

So what have I learned in 5 months?  Here's my short list to help me remember because I always want to (and think I should be doing) more....

  1. The school library is NOT about me.
    I'm not self-centered, but I can see how being the only person who does this job makes me sometimes feel a bit single focused.  Which leads to my next point...
  2. Build a community of support and advocates.
    My 2 main goals this year were to 1) build relationships with teachers and students and 2) establish a focus for the library.  I've been working on this steadily but sometimes it just doesn't feel like enough.  DUH!??!  It's HUGE!  Building relationships and letting people know you care about their classroom needs, their homework needs, reading interests, etc. is what gets students and teachers in the door and keeps them engaged in the conversation.  The second part comes after building those relationships.  When I know more about the communities needs and desires, I can start creating programs that focus on addressing these things.  From that comes support and advocacy ; )
  3. Be flexible.
    You want to have me travel to rooms during a one day staff luncheon?  Sure! I'd be happy to support that.  You want me to stop in the middle of book fair and help you find a book so you can work on your book report over the weekend?  Yes, I can do that just help me move these tables.  You need a video played right when I'm working my K's on transitioning to tables from story time and I have no assistant that day?  Of course, just please call me about 5 mins. before you need it to run and I'll make sure it's ready.
    Ok.  Take a deep breath.  This is what makes the school library achieve point #2.  Whether we like it or not, we need to meet instant demands so that we build the culture of 'yes' and continue to communicate limitations when appropriate.  Sometimes all we can do is smile and then tear our hair out behind closed doors.  Remember - it's not about the person or the task, it's about building relationships for the long haul.
  4. Find a good support network.
    This is probably one of the best things I did was to find people who were open to talking about their work - the highs and lows, as well as, more experienced school librarians who were open to sharing what they do, how they do it (well) and allowing me to come see their libraries.  Everyone and I mean EVERYONE has a battle to fight on some level.  No one thinks their program is perfect.  No one has the "ideal" situation.  It's about looking for the small wins and celebrating them every chance I get.
  5. Look for inspiration, but remember to be realistic.
    A teacher-friend of mine said how much she loves Pinterest, but lovingly refers to it as 'teacher's porn'.  It is so true!  I can spend hours on this site (and others!) coming up with really great ideas only to feel totally ineffective and inadequate because I don't have enough money, time, experience, etc. to start or complete a project shown.  Two hours wasted and still nothing on my lesson plan for 2nd grade tomorrow - ugh!
    I began creating an 'idea book' at the beginning of this year to jot down things I saw at conferences, meetings, conversations with other newbies/mentors, etc. and have just learned to say 'save it for later'.  I now do this with Pinterest and use Evernote the same way.  Rome wasn't built in a day and neither was a really strong school library program.  I can always come back to these ideas in June when I'm thinking about what I want to add/delete/change for next year.
It's hard. I'm not going to lie.  There are days when I think I could just wrap up my degree right now, say to heck with the certification part and just move back into higher ed or corporate worlds.  But part of me feels that if I give up now, I'll never truly know whether or not I could have succeeded at my goals for this school library.  I still feel a passion and commitment to this particular area of the profession.

I'm going to keep on pluggin'...




Literacy...how many kinds are there??

Despite my best efforts to avoid summer classes, I've ended up having to take 2 this year.  Both are required, however, one is an undergrad course to help me meet the state teaching licensing requirements and the other is part of my graduate studies that was instituted a year after I started the LIS program.  It was called "the teaching of reading" but has since been changed to "Libraries and Literacy".  

Our first class assignment was to define literacy prior to readings, definition lookups, etc. I wrote my definition and then went online to learn more about literacy (there's always a catch to an assignment like this!)  It's amazing how many different types of literacy there are these days.  More importantly - it's AMAZING how many types of literacy school librarians need to be aware of and account for in their instruction to students.

Apparently, a whole lot of folks have been thinking about literacy and discussing what it means to be literate in the 21st C.  Fortunately, I keep stumbling across their paths since the start of class two weeks ago.

Here are some really great thoughts on literacy...the NPR interview came to me on a drive to Costco and the Daniel Russel talk was sent to a listserv forum I subscribe to and that came to me email inbox (yea!). I'm collecting as I go...so look for more posts on the topic soon...happy reading/listening/watching/etc.:

Diane Rehm's interview about 'touch screen devices and very small children'
Daniel Russell on "What Does it Mean to be Literate in the Age of Google?" 


5 Ways to Improve an Online Course

Well, this has been a depressing start to my blogging credits!  I'm almost 1/2 way through spring semester and have been so darn busy with classes that I've not had any time to blog.  Let me tell you why...

I'm taking the hardest class EVER! What is it, you ask?  Oh, let me tell you my sweet friend....it's a materials class for adolescent lit.  Sounds fun, right?  Lots of YA books, good reading, great discussions...nope.  Try this one - lots of readings, very few discussions and a wicked ton of papers/projects and presentations. I'm about to go postal.

In all fairness, this course is being taught online for the first time this semester.  The professor is doing the best in a very difficult situation.  I've decided to write a top 5 list of things to do that might help improve the online class experience.  Here goes....

  1. Plan, plan, plan...Everyone thinks they can take their face-to-face (f2f) content and slap it up on Blackboard or whatever LMS they are using and voila - instant course!  Uh huh...doesn't work this way.  The best way to transition a traditional course to online is to work with an instructional designer who knows how to work through this process.  If that isn't in the funds, get online and look at some resources.  There are lots of good ones out there to help faculty new to online teaching.
  2. Be ready to roll...this means, get all of your semester's worth of prerecorded lectures, readings, assignments, etc. online.  There are features within most LMS's that allow a faculty member to choose when they want students to see materials.  But having them already online will save time and hassles later.  It will keep students from being frustrated because class started a week ago and they still don't have the syllabus or they are still waiting for a recorded lecture that has important assignment information in it due this week.
  3. Sync up the work...for example, if there are 3 assigned readings for the week, write meaningful discussion board questions from the readings for students to discuss.  Readings being articles, books, chapters, etc. - it doesn't matter, but allow students the opportunity to be able to tell you what they've read.
  4. Lecture on time...this seems to be a big problem this semester.  Lecture time needs to be established upon enrollment.  In other words, if a faculty member plans on doing a live lecture via some collaboration tool every Thursday, they need to have that weekday associated with the course at registration.  This is a back end issue, probably dealt with in collaboration with the registrars office and the faculty member but one that needs to be addressed.
  5. Ask for feedback...take time to ask students how things are going.  Some professors normally do a +/delta at the end of every class meeting.  This will help turn any problem areas around quickly and get everyone moving in a positive direction.  Allow students to contact you offline as some students may not feel comfortable sharing problems/concerns in a group setting.
That's my 2 cents...Back to the salt mines...cheers,