Monday, May 22, 2017

It's Annual Report Season! Here Are Some Tips To Help You Effectively Tell Your Story.

At this time of year, many teacher librarians are working to compile an annual report: that is to say a 2-3 page summary of how their work made a difference for students and staff all year long.  As someone who has crafted more than one of these babies, I understand and appreciate the work that goes into the shiny final products. Further, I know that the most effective annual reports are not simply collections of data pulled together at the last minute. The most stunning and impressive examples are intentionally and methodically crafted all year long. In other words, if you're only just now thinking about doing an annual report, the bad news is that you're probably too late for this year. HOWEVER, the good news is, you're just in time to get a jump start on one for next year!

Why Do An Annual Report?
While I've never worked for a district or principal that required an annual report, I believe strongly in their value as a storytelling tool. After all, if we don't share how our work impacts students, who will? An annual report is one way for you to:
  1. grab the attention of your administrator
  2. share data that illustrates how your work makes a difference, and 
  3. send the message that you care as much about student outcomes and the impact of your work as classroom teachers do.
What Makes A Good Annual Report:
I've asked countless librarians this very question as part of a workshop I do regularly on connecting the dots between the library and student outcomes. Together we analyze about a bajillion (or thereabouts) school library annual reports. We talk about what types of data had to be collected in order to make even the weakest report possible.  I ask them to identify the most effective presentation tools. And I challenge them to discover the secret ingredient to creating the most amazing report ever. And I'll give you a hint: There is no single secret ingredient. There are, however a  few commonalities among the most effective reports. And these shared traits add up to some pretty sage advice.
  1. Identify a target audience. Ask yourself who needs to be moved by the story your report is going to tell and then curate, connect and create with those people in mind.  If your administrator is the person you need to impress with your annual report,  try to identify the problems that are keeping him/her up at night and  then make sure your report addresses them. If your principal is concerned about the drop out rate, strategically display your work to address that issue front/center in your report. While author visits are amazeballs, if your principal could care less about them, don't spend 5 pages on that (or any topic that's going to lose your audience). Time and time again the librarians I work with recognize that a good annual report is as much about the audience as it is about the person writing it.
  2. Remember that student data is the only data that matters.  If you're going to share circulation stats, you'd better connect them to student outcomes. If you're going to share data related to your collaboration efforts, be sure to draw a connection between that work and its impact on kids. If you're going to share your growth as a professional, you must include how the workshops you attended, the twitter chats you led or the professional development you conducted after school made a difference for the students and staff you serve.  We are in the student business. Everything we do must lead back to them or it simply doesn't matter. That said, let me be clear... test scores are not the only students data that matter. There are lots of ways for you to share how your work changes the lives of the young people you work with. The key is to make sure all the data you DO share circles back to the reason why you  come to work each day: kids. (See #4 below).
  3. Tell a story. Stories are primal. They connect us. They help us understand and feel connected to one another. No one was ever moved to tears by a pie chart. Don't waste the few minutes you have (because typically your readers will only spend a few minutes looking at your report) on boring old facts and figures. Harness them to capture your audience. Use the data you collect to tell the story of how the library changes student lives. 
  4. Diversify your data. Make sure you include all different types of data in your report. Numbers are important. And often, these are the data that your administrators will be most interested in. But your job isn't about numbers. It's about students. So be sure to include photos, videos (if you're doing a digital report) student narratives and other types of qualitative data to not simply balance out the quantitative stuff but to compliment and enhance it. 
  5. Start early.  Create a system for collecting data. Even if it's a just a folder on  your desktop or in your email inbox. Throughout the year, put stuff in the folder (emails from teachers, students or parents, examples of formative assessment data or student products from a collaborative unit, etc). You don't have to be super organized, just create a system that works for you and make sure that you're adding to your stack of artifacts all year long.  You'll likely have to do a little weeding at the end of the year, but that's a MUCH better problem than deciding in May that you'd like to do an annual report, only to realize that you don't have anything to put in it. 
  6. Less is more. The first school library annual report I ever read was by a librarian I admired greatly. It was over 20 pages and I hungrily devoured every single word.  But I knew there was no way my principal would spend the time it took to read through a 20+ page report about the library. So when I set out to create my first annual report, my goal was to do the same work in one page. I ended up settling for five pages that included lots of visuals. My principal responded to the format, asked me lots of questions about the information but said at the end, "if it had been one page longer, you'd have lost me." Chances are, whomever your target audience is, they are made up of busy people. Be respectful of their time.
  7. Do the work. I can't emphasize this enough. The true key to a great annual report is great work. Even the flashiest report, on the shiniest paper, with the most colorful graphics and slickest design won't be able to hide a library program that doesn't effectively serve kids.  Simply put, you need to be awesome. And then let your report act as a mirror reflecting that great work.
  8. And finally, learn from others.  Our profession is made up of so many super generous people who openly share their work with the world. Over the years, I've curated tons of examples of Annual reports that I will include at the bottom of this pot. Take the time to explore the annual reports of others and learn from their efforts.  Draw inspiration from your colleagues and then share your final product for others to be inspired be. (Which leads me to this post from Doug Johnson in which he shares some wisdom on how to get your annual report read.  In this work, as in just about everything else I do, Doug continues to be an inspiration). 
Obviously, creating an annual report is just one way to share the story of your work, Regardless of the format, what matters is that you are sharing it.  This is not about librarian job security (although it is about that a little bit). This is about preserving full staffed library programs for students who need them. While one may not seem to have much to do with the other, in my experience, people fight for what they value.  Unfortunately, by the time discussions start in a district about whether or not library positions are necessary, it's often too late to change sentiment and rally the troops in a way that holds back the pending cuts.  The time to start sharing the value of your work is BEFORE the question of whether or not libraries are meaningful, relevant and effective arise.

To that end, I do a lot of professional development for school districts on both school library advocacy and using data to tell the story of school library impact. As part of that work, I've curated many, many examples of school library annual reports.  All of these reports are so different, and yet the ones that resonate with people the most have one thing in common: they tell a story. Though grade levels and formats vary widely, those that people respond to over and over again connect with the audience. Whatever data you've collected to create your report, you have to make that data tell a story that connects with the people you need to move.

So... feel free to take a look at what I have put together over the years, but more importantly, please share yours! It's not about tooting your own horn, it's about helping others. Remember, you're small idea could make a BIG difference to someone else!

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!