Monday, April 10, 2017

The Difference Between "I Can't" And "I Won't."

Like a lot of travelers, I found myself stranded in a place far away from home last week, due to weather delays that actually forced me to abandon air travel completely and drive home (to Wilmington, NC) from Rochester, NY.  The volatile weather that often accompanies spring in the southeastern part of the US, resulted in an ugly situation in Atlanta that left a lot of frequent fliers, like me, without wings for several days. It was nobody's fault, and everyone I spoke to with the airline (both on the ground and on the phone) was friendly, kind and apologetic. But one conversation that I had with a gate agent in Rochester continues to stick with me.

Let me set the scene: It's a Thursday afternoon in Rochester. My original flight had been scheduled to depart at 10:55am on Wednesday (nearly 30 hours earlier). By the time I approached the gate agent, I was ready to start thinking creatively about routes home, and asked if she could help me look at some non-traditional avenues back to NC. I said I was willing to fly further north or west and double back south if that meant I'd be home prior to the best direct option she was currently offering of Sunday afternoon.  However, when I asked her to help me explore the alternatives she said, "I'm sorry, I can't do that right now" pointing to the line of people behind me.  She was never rude and neither was I, but I pressed a little harder. This is the conversation that followed:

Me: "I get it. I've been standing in that line for awhile myself,  but can't you spend just a couple of minutes with me now, so you don't have to deal with me again later?"
Her (smiling sympathetically): "No. I'm sorry, I really can't."
Me (smiling sheepishly): "You mean you won't."
Her: "Pardon me?"
Me: "You totally can. You're just choosing not to right now."
Her (smiling less now):  "Yes. I guess you're right.

Now, even though I walked away not getting what I wanted, I need to go on record as saying this story has a happy ending. I got home safe and sound, the airline refunded me part of the money I spent on the ticket, no one had to drag me from my assigned seat, and it's all good. I'm not bashing anyone with this post, but this conversation keeps replaying in my head and, if I'm honest, in my heart too.

How often do we use the phrase "I can't" with students, or staff members, when what we really mean is, "I won't, because... " or "I'm choosing not to, because...?" To me, here are a few critical differences between those two statements:

Full disclosure here, I need work in this department too. I'm guilty of saying "I can't" too often myself, but as I reflect on my work and the role I play in the lives of educators and young people, I know I have to do better.  I'm reminded of a recent (but ongoing) conversation I've been having with my friend Todd Nesloney about educators and reading. Todd has been doing a lot more reading lately: for both personal and professional reasons. Todd admits that he's been guilty of saying "I can't read more often, because I just don't have time." Now he calls BS (baloney sandwich, y'all. Get your minds out of the gutter) on this statement, saying that he realizes he can make time for anything he prioritizes. The truth is, he was choosing not to read, because other things were a greater priority. Once he accepted the truth of that statement, examining it challenged, and ultimately caused, him to reprioritize.  When we hand the blame over to someone else by claiming our hands are tied by "I can't," we rob ourselves of that reflective process. And reflection is how we get better. 

Think about all the things we tell our students we can't do:

"I can't let you to turn in your homework late."
"I can't let you read a book that is not on your level."
"I can't let you to turn in a project that doesn't look like all the others (or isn't among the choices I gave you)."
"I can't let you read in school without some guided practice."
"I can't let you read outside of school without making you prove that you read."
"I can't let you keep that book beyond the due date."
"I can't let you checkout more than __ # of books."
"I can't let you checkout books when you owe money for late/lost materials."

I can't. 
I can't.
I can't.

If we change all of those statements so that they begin with I won't, it becomes much harder to just let them sit there without really considering the reasons behind them. And, frankly, those decisions, along with countless others, need closer consideration.  

All of that said, I know there are times when we really can't do things. There are indeed moments when the decision is truly "above our pay grade." But I believe those moments are less frequent than what our language would suggest.  What's more, our students and staffs deserve for us to be more reflective in our decision making. They deserve to understand why we've made a specific choice. And they deserve the opportunity to try to convince us that their solution is best, even if in the end, we choose something other than what they'd like. I'm going to try to do better in this area. Maybe you can will choose to as well. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

What Being #FutureReady Means To Me

This week I had the opportunity to work with two wonderful groups of school librarians in upstate NY. Over the last two years, I've spent a lot of time in this part of the country, getting to know the school systems, gorgeous geography and even more beautiful people of New York state. It's always an honor to be a part of the professional development journey of educators, but I feel especially connected to the librarians or NY state now. What a pleasure it has been to learn and grow with these fiercely dedicated educators. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, I really am the luckiest librarian around.

That said, part of what I was asked to do this week was introduce librarians, from two different regions, to the #FutureReady initiative, as part of two days of PD focused on "Creating The Libraries of Tomorrow for the Students of Today." The agendas for these events can be found here, including links to the BreakoutEDU experience that I created as an active way for these adult learners to dig into what it means to be #FutureReady. I'll be honest, I intentionally made the #FutureReady Breakout uber difficult. [Insert evil laugh here.] Overall, there were a total of 8 (digital and physical) locks to be broken and the fastest group over the two days took just under an hour to breakout. As I told the teams before turning them loose to solve each Breakout puzzle, I would never EVER design an experience this complex, or intentionally difficult, for students... but I wanted these librarians to see a variety lock types as well as explore different ways to engage with content in order to find the clues. Needless to say, I was referred to as "evil" more than once during the course of this activity, (which only made me giggle a little more maniacally as I refused to help them without swiping a hint card). It was all good fun. And we learned a lot. But the best part of the BreakoutEDU experience wouldn't even have been possible without the help of a lot of awesome librarians!

Last week, I took to Twitter and Facebook asking folks from around the world to share what being a #FutureReady librarian meant to them, via this Flipgrid.

During the Breakout, participants explored the different Flipgrid contributions and then, in order to receive a necessary clue, they had to leave a response for one of the librarians whose words meant the most to them. Unsurprisingly, the librarians in NY became wonderfully lost in the array of stories shared by their colleagues from around the world. Over and over again they expressed how much it meant to them to hear from people "in the trenches" sharing their work, experiences and plans for the future. Yay! Victory!

I'm almost ashamed to admit, however, that when I started collecting testimonials for this project, I didn't think beyond the Breakout experience itself.  I totally underestimated how powerful these collected voices would be. Listening to all of these librarians share how they are creating libraries of tomorrow for their students now is overwhelmingly joyful and so, so inspiring. In the end, this flipgrid really isn't about the term #futureready so much as it is about how librarians continue to evolve in order to be the very best resource they can for their students. I am so inspired by the testimonials collected here and so very grateful for each generous contributor. Thank you so very much to everyone who has added their voice to this resource, and to those who haven't yet, but would like to: a) contribute their own story of what it means to be #futureready AND/OR b) respond to someone whose words speak to you AND/OR c) share the flipgrid as a part of your own PD journey, my response is... PLEASE DO! The more people who get to hear these stories, the better.

Finally, let me just close by saying how proud I am to be a part of our PLN.  Our global network of librarians never ceases to amaze and delight me. I am so inspired by all of you, every single day. Thank you for helping me become the best "library girl" I can be!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

BreakoutEDU On A Budget

I've been a fan of BreakoutEDU for going on two years now, using it as a professional development tool both in and outside of my district. I love it for introducing new content, reviewing content that needs additional reinforcement and for showing educators that learning doesn't have to be boring. Plus, as this video (which I first learned about from Tom Mullaney, who creates amazing digital BreakoutEDU experiences for his own students) illustrates: in school we tend to focus on finding right answers, whereas BreakoutEDU focuses on asking the right questions.

So when it comes to asking the right questions, and then allowing learners to problem solve, collaborate, fail, create cognitive connections and have fun while doing it, I'm a fan of both the digital and physical versions of BreakoutEDU. What's more, when I create PD, I always use both: starting learners off with a digital experience that, once solved, will lead them to the treasures inside the physical box. Over time, I've gotten better at creating the experiences and I've learned that the key is NOT to just hide the "lock codes" in random ways, but to create experiences in which the learner must truly interact with the content in order to discover the hidden clues. Otherwise, in my opinion, BreakoutEDU can become nothing more than a fancy word-find: fun, maybe... but pedagogically light weight.

One of the things I love most about BreakoutEDU is how freely its creators share resources. There are tons of people creating and sharing digital breakouts that are for you to use with students. And if you can't afford the fabulous official BreakoutEDU boxes, (which run $125 each), they generously provide you with links for purchasing your own materials. Still, putting together a few sets (and you will need a few) can be a little pricey. That said, recently I received a question on Facebook about how I put together my own BreakoutEDU boxes - each of which cost me around $35.00. Depending on the number of locks you purchase, you might be able to put them together even cheaper. The document below lists all the items I purchased for my own boxes and how much they cost.

Additionally, here's a link to some commonly used tricks/strategies for creating digital breakouts, which I employ all of time PLUS a couple of links to some digital BreakoutEDU experiences that I've created for adult learners. As I mentioned previously, I always use digital and physical breakouts together, so these links won't give you access to the entire experience, but it will give you an idea of what my process looks like:
Finally, lots of other super smart people are using BreakoutEDU in their classrooms and libraries and as a professional development tool. Here's some further reading to explore as you're dipping your toes in the BreakoutEDU water. Good luck and have fun!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The #30SecondBookTalk Championship May Be Over, But The Opportunity To Help Kids Fall In Love With Reading Continues!

Thank you, Scholastic, for originally publishing this post by me and Brad Gustafson on the Reader Leader Blog! Not only are we excited to share our reflections on this year's project, but also to celebrate the work of so many people who are using the #30SecondBookTalk platform as a way to help young readers blossom! Y'all inspire us every day! 

From Jennifer:
At a recent conference, I had the opportunity to look on as a local Superintendent received an award for his support of School Libraries during his lifetime of service to his school district. During his acceptance speech, he mentioned that by the time his son was 10 years old, he and his wife “knew something was very wrong,” because their son hated reading.  

Having exhausted every strategy he could think of, this Superintendent went to one of the district’s librarians and asked for advice. Her prescription was simple: “find your favorite books from when you were his age, and then carve out time each night before bed, and read to him from those books. Let him see your love of reading and for those books.” The Superintendent admitted that he’d never thought of such a thing and was skeptical about its effectiveness, but was willing to try anything.

Notably, this librarian never mentioned reading levels, completing a reading log or the possibility of earning “points” for the time they spent reading together.  Rather, she encouraged this life long educator to simply share with his son the joy that books bring him.  With tears in his eyes, the Superintendent choked out a thank you to this long retired librarian, and to all librarians who, in his words, “save kids like mine every day” saying, “I don’t know what would have happened to my son had we not had this experience of reading together.”

As we all stood in applause as he accepted his award, I couldn’t help but admire the simplicity of this beautiful gift: permission to read with a child for purely joyful reasons.

From Brad:
I married my high school sweetheart and we have three beautiful kids.  Our oldest two can be found at a restaurant near you trying to read “one more chapter” before supper starts. Our middle child is infamous for milking additional minutes out of bedtime because she wants to read “just a few more pages.” Sometimes their authentic love (and obsession) with reading is exhilarating, and other times it is somewhat socially awkward. (Who brings a book to a sleep over, anyways?!)

Our youngest child is not an avid reader yet. He prefers pretending to be a ninja and playing Legos. We don’t have a formal intervention plan or reading SMART goals for him yet, but we do try to talk about the books we love at home. We model what it looks like to be curious, and this usually involves reading in some way, shape, or form.

We even do crazy things like create videos about books we’re reading while laughing hysterically together. Sometimes our literacy-themed adventures pique his curiosity, and he will occasionally exchange glancing blows using his foam sword while we’re recording book talk videos. I haven’t quite figured out why the reading logs my wife and I complete on his behalf do not have the same draw, but I think Jen’s story above addresses this nicely.

Although my wife and I met and fell in love earlier than most, it took us a little longer to figure out a few important things about our kids (and their formative reading identities):

  1. All kids are different.
  2. All kids have different passions.
  3. Do no harm.

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about book talk videos, reading logs, and even our parenting skills (which are still a work in progress). However, I will also promise you one thing. No child has ever been turned off to reading by an adult who shared the joy of reading in a manner that was authentic, personalized, and respectful to that child.

From Jen and Brad:
These stories illustrate some of the reasons why we created the #30SecondBookTalk and why we continue to be inspired by those who have participated!  We know that when adults share their passion for reading and for the books that have touched them, kids respond by developing their own passions. Similarly, we also know that reading for pleasure is a vital part of helping young people develop healthy and robust reading lives.  

Simply put, the #30SecondBookTalk provides educators a platform through which they can share their love of reading with kids (without an emphasis on assessment, points, levels, or logs). Yes, battling it out as co-commissioners and placing bets on which team would take home the Vince LomBOOKi prize was a lot of fun, but ultimately, our goal has always been to connect kids with great books.

This is why we’re thrilled to see the amazing ways so many educators are taking the #30SecondBookTalk beliefs to their schools. Take a look:

In Cabarrus County, NC, little learners created promo videos supporting their teachers’ #30SecondBookTalk videos. While the winner of this epic competition has yet to be announced, who wouldn’t want an endorsement from these absolutely precious readers?

Meanwhile, in Cold Springs, MN, 5th grade teacher, Belinda Walsh was awarded $100 in books for her classroom, in an EPIC school-wide assembly, after the school community voted Ms. Walsh their #30SecondBookTalk Champion! Woo hoo!

And then there’s school librarian, Andy Plemmons, who is using FlipGrid to create a Global #30SecondBookTalk competition in which his 5th grade students share their best #30secondbooktalks with the world - and then the world votes to select the winner. How fun! Voting in this competition is still open!

Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t once again celebrate the 16 educators who came together to share their love of reading as part of our own #30SecondBookTalk Championship. After nearly 30,000 votes were cast, Bronwyn Merritt’s video, featuring the children’s classic Matilda by Roald Dahl took home the grand prize and we’re so excited for her, and her students, who will soon be selecting $500 worth of books for their classroom library thanks to Scholastic.

However, we’re convinced that everyone who participated would agree that the real winners in this competition are kids. Every time we make sharing our passion for books with kids a priority, we strengthen the connection in their hearts between reading and joy. Every time we share the ways that reading has had a positive, meaningful impact on our own lives, we fortify the idea that reading is an integral, relevant part of living a full life. Every time we let our reading geek flags fly, we help young readers fly their own reading colors too.

To that end, while the official #30SecondBookTalk Competition has come to a close, it’s never too late for you to start modeling the joy of reading through book talks. Feel free to use the materials below to kickstart the book talk battle at your school. And don’t forget to share your own mad #30SecondBookTalk skillz to the Twitter hashtag. We’re always on the lookout for future Lead Learners and Literacy Legends!

Happy reading, everyone.

Resources for the Classroom/Library:
Crowdsourced Tips for EPIC BookTalks by #LiteracyLegends