Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Eat Your Heart Out, Gloria Gaynor.

At the first district wide meeting of school librarians this year, I floated the idea of creating a research team/plt -wherein interested parties could use the action research model to collect and analyze data and current research to establish a direct link between what school librarians do in my district and the achievement of our students.  Tonight was our first meeting.

I have to admit, I was more nervous about this meeting than I have been about any other.  The truth is, I was worried that we'd spend the entire time trading hard knock stories and bemoaning the lack of support for libraries in our school system.  But I couldn't have been more wrong.  Rather, we managed to make, what is my estimation, significant progress.

Again, using the action research model we were able to
  • Identify the problem(s):  1) Loss of line item for library resources in the county budget,  2) loss of support/paraprofessional personnel, 3) inconsistency in site based support for library programs.
  • Identify the research question:  What impact has the recent changes to library funding and staffing policies in our district had on student achievement?
  • Identify jumping off points for our research which included collecting:
          • district wide library funding data for the last 4 years.
          • district wide testing data in the areas of reading and science.
          • current research indicating link between school library media programs and student achievement.
          • current research indicating best practices for the school library/media center.
          • examples of these best practices in action within our district.
          • district wide collection analysis data for the last 4 years.
 Our long-term goals include:
  • Analyzing the data we collect to hopefully a) draw a direct line between us and student achievement and b) show the effect that the changes to county policy regarding library funding and staffing has had on our ability to impact students.
  • Creating a presentation for our senior level staff containing this data + a clear and convincing argument outlining precisely why not funding libraries is like shooting ourselves in the collective foot.
After tonight's meeting I feel empowered and hopeful.  It is deeply gratifying to work with a group of professionals who are willing to give up their own time, roll up their sleeves and get to work on behalf of all librarians in our district.

And yet, I wish I had some assurance that we were on the right track.  This is new territory for all of us.  Contrary to popular belief, I've never led a revolution before. :)

In truth, I know that we will only get one shot at this, so we have to make it count.  I can only trust my instinct that data is what we need to convince those who hold the purse strings that our budgets cannot be left up to the whim of principals - that what we do is too important and impactful to leave to chance.

In the meantime, it's comforting to know that a) I'm not in this alone and b) we're not going down without a fight... fight-song, that is.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Big Sloppy Love Letter to My PLN

When I was a classroom teacher, I often found myself feeling isolated from the rest of the world.  Perhaps it was the era in which I taught (it was definitely a web 1.0 world back then) or maybe I didn't "put myself out there" as far as engaging in more professional learning opportunities.  Don't get me wrong, I loved teaching.  For the whole of my 10 year stint as an English teacher, I was fortunate to work with great people and great students.  And yet, for all the joy I experienced during that time, I don't think I grew very much as a learner or as an educator.  Certainly, I can pin point pockets of inspiration or moments in which I stumbled upon people or resources that inspired and challenged me to reflect on my practice and evolve as an educator. But given the length of time I taught, the professional growth I experienced as a teacher truly pales in comparison to how much I've learned and grown during the four years I've worn the hat of librarian.

Indeed, in an era defined by no money, no resources and no hope, I feel as though my professional cup runneth over.

This year, I have started a PLT for librarians in my district - with our goal being to collect data and study literature/research that helps us draw the line between our programs and student achievement.  So far, about 10 librarians have officially joined and I'm hopeful more will jump on board.   Ultimately, after a year's worth of work, we want to emerge with a compelling argument and formal presentation that will help us save positions and reinstate line-item library budgets in our county.

Even as I type all of that out, I realize that it may seem like a daunting, if not impossible, task.  And yet, I have to admit that I feel a bit like the Alfred E. Newman of Librarians, insomuch as, I'm simply not worried.  Yes, it's hard and important work, but I've never felt less alone and more empowered as a professional than I do right now.  In addition to the group of professionals in my own district who have stepped up to the plate, I feel buoyed by the combined knowledge of the people I follow on Twitter, the Diigo group I've started related to the topic, the members of my state professional organization's listserv and the enumerable blogs that I follow.  Whatever gaps in knowledge I may possess, (and let's face it, there are many), I know they are more than filled by the people I choose to hang out with.

Tonight, I had the pleasure of hanging out with nearly 100 really smart people in a TL Cafe Webinar. As is almost always the case with these things, I emerged inspired and, if I'm honest, a little overwhelmed - not by the sheer amount of genius in the room, (frankly, I'm growing used to that), but by how fortunate I am to have access to such brilliant and generous people.  Truly, however many notches I am able to put in my own personal victory column, I owe a debt of gratitude to the people who let me sit next to them (either literally or virtually) and soak up their knowledge.  I am one lucky girl.

That said, if it's true that the key to appearing smart is to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you are, then I must look like a genius.  And, frankly, I'm okay with that. :)

Monday, September 6, 2010

May The Odds Be Ever In Your Favor

When I started this blog, I had every intention of using it to advocate for my profession;  To rouse the rabble with my lofty ideals and professional prowess; to lead a quiet, bookish, but entirely effective revolution.  I was pumped and primed and oh so motivated.

And then life happened.

And happened.

And happened some more.

In fact, it's still happening.

But, frankly, I don't want this post to be about excuses or even about how/why I've found my way back here.  Rather, I want it to be about what inspired me to don the library girl cape in the first place:  Action, Advocacy and the question:  If what we do is so important, why doesn't anyone but us know it?

Like a lot of libraries, mine received no funding this year.  Zip. Zero. Nada.  Bupkis.  As upsetting as this is, I'm thankful, at least, that I had a seat at the table when this decision was made.  While I hate the outcome, I'm grateful that my principal included me in the conversation - I suppose that's more than a lot of people can say.  So, instead of crying in my cappuccino, I've decided to look at this lack of money like any good super hero would, as a personal challenge:   Give me no money, will you???  Hmmpft!  Take that, blank budgets!

One way that I'm tackling the lack of funding that I'm facing this year is by having a costume party!  Honestly, I can't take credit for the idea when, in fact, I stole it from these folks.  But I have to admit, it has taken on a life of its own.  In addition to procuring $300 in funding for food, I'm working on a donation for several of these as prizes for the "best costumes" - but my real score comes in the form of an autographed copy of Mockingjay that I was given from our local big box bookstore to give away as the top prize. 

I'm not charging any admission, rather I'm "respectfully suggesting" that everyone who attends purchase something from our bookfair -which is going on that same week. Circulation of books in the Hunger Games Trilogy (which was already huge) has gone way up and lots of kids have already spoken to me about their costumes - I can only hope we also bring in some big bucks that night. 

Other ideas I have include a team trivia challenge, a "reaping" in which the students whose names are drawn receive a prize and, possibly, some readings from the books themselves... but it's all still a little fuzzy in my mind. (If you have ideas, PLEASE share them!)

In the end, as much as this event is about money, it's also - and in some ways moreso - about reading promotion and about drawing attention to the kinds of things librarians do every day to get kids excited about reading.  I need this event to be a success.  I need it to make money for my library.  Yes.  Lots and lots of money.   But I also need it to a) draw readers and non-readers alike to the world of books and b) remind everyone out there who might have a say in funding libraries that our programs are worth funding.  A tall order, indeed.

Sounds like a job for a super hero. :)