Thursday, August 23, 2012

Back To School Special: 5 Tips for Getting Your Groove Back!

Ready? Set?  Go!  It's hard to believe, but it's back to school time, y'all.  Here's a few things I did this year to help me get my groove back!

Note:  Since this photo was
taken, I have filled the
last four cubbies. :) 
1. Get Organized. It seems like time is always at a premium for me.  Even so, I spent quite a few precious  moments this summer getting organized.  I purged YEARS of stuff I no longer needed.  I sorted, sifted and said goodbye.  And the stuff I DID keep got a new home in the proper file, drawer, basket or cubby.  It was liberating at the time and now, as the chaos really begins at school, it feel strangely calming. Bigger, harder tasks seem a little more possible without the obstacle of clutter standing in my way.  That said, you don't need to go so far as to create a color coded and hand labeled cubby system - although, I can't imagine why you wouldn't - you just need to spend some time getting your house in order.  The time spent now will pay off later.  Plus, given the number of things about our jobs that we can't control, finding the perfect place for everything can be indescribably satisfying.

2.  Set Some Goals for The Year.  Of course, the ways to do this are as numerous as the folks reading this post, but what's important is that you devote some time to your mission for the year.  Consider what your school goals are and then figure out what role the library has to play in furthering them. Goals related to our collections and physical spaces are only worthy if they grow out of impacting student learning.  I think librarians would do well to consider how we share our goals with others.  Early on, I started making a conscious effort to rephrase how I talked about the goals I had for the library.  Instead of saying, "this year, I am going to reorganize my fiction so it will be easier for kids to find books" I think it's more effective to say, "this year, I'm focused on closing the gap for our EC students, so I'm reorganizing the books in a way that will benefit everyone but that targets these learners specifically."  It may seem like a small thing, but putting the student need first emphasizes what you really care about and that the library is a place of learning where kids come first and everything else is second.

Here's what a couple weeks in February look like! 
That said,  Fran Bullington recently wrote about her process for planning out a year's worth of library events and programming.  I like the way she uses her calendar as an outline for how her year will look.  Although I do my best to tie in national and international library events (like Banned Books Week or Dot Day), for me, curriculum and instructional needs are always the guide for what we do in the library.  Honestly, I just find it difficult to get buy in for a library event that isn't related to what's being taught or a specific student need.  That said, even if my state provided detailed pacing guides for every subject, I still wouldn't attempt (or even want) to plan out my whole year during the first week of school. What I can do, however, is set some goals for the year and start pinpointing opportunities to address those goals through programming/displays, etc.  For example, this year, a major instructional focus at our school will be closing the gap in reading  between our African American and Caucasian learners.  Looking through this lens, I go through the calendar and try to identify natural places where the puzzle pieces fit together - keeping mind annual projects and existing plans for collaborative instruction.  Of course, these dates may change (several times) before it's all said and done, but this is a way for me to look at the year as complete journey - rather than just trying to survive from one project to the next..

You may be wondering why I don't do this online or through an app - the short answer is, I do, in so much as the final dates go on my personal and library calendars. This is where I scheme.  My online calendar is where I schedule.  I look at the paper/pencil calendar as more of a sketch pad - a place to fiddle with ideas - which is why I write everything on post it notes - that way, I can just move or scrap the note if things change (which, of course, they are bound to do!)

3.  Share Your Vision.  Once you have vision for the year, share it.  I will admit that I am NOT much of a newsletter creator.  Don't get me wrong, I think newsletters can be creative and effective.  In fact, this year, after seeing the creative efforts of some of my PLN, I've been sorely tempted to rethink my strategy.  However, for me, using my webpage as the portal through which I dissemination information - rather than creating other publications - is the way to go. So... before school starts, I give my webpage the once over and then I share, share, share!  I send it to parents via the PTSA newsletter.  I put it on bookmarks in the library.  I hand it out at open house.  I email it to the staff (repeatedly) And I stick a QR code linking to it on the laminator and next to the coffee pot.

I also make a point of sitting down with my administration and other school leaders for a conversation about how the library is part of the solution to the problems that keep them up at night.  This is not a formal meeting complete with an agenda and presentation -this is a "hey! do you have a few minutes??  I've something awesome I really want to share" kind of meeting. The bottom line: if you've created a vision for the year that is focused on student learning and that you are excited about, share that passion and excitement with others! Not only is it motivating, but it helps solidify your place as an instructional leader in the school.

4. Get Connected.  There is absolutely no bad time to start developing a personal learning network, but the beginning of the year might well be the best time to do it.  Face it, as busy as we are during those first days of school, it's nothing compared to when students arrive.  AND these first few days are when we are the most energized, the most motivated and the most excited about new possibilities.  What better time to connect with other rock star educators?  If you've been putting it off, NOW is the time to build a google reader and create that Twitter account.  NOW is the time to put this year's schedule of AWESOME TL Virtual Cafe webinars on your calendar.  NOW is the time to become part of the grassroots revolution in education that has, and will continue to, change teaching forever.  NOW is the time to do it.  I promise, you won't regret it.

Student created birthday card of a "librarian
ship" called the SS READ. :) 
5.  Remind Yourself Why You Do This.  My first year teaching, a veteran teacher told me I needed to create a special file where I kept notes from students or other mementos that, on my darkest days, would remind me of why I do this.  Now, 16 years later, I'm glad I followed her advice.  I do have that file, but I don't wait until I've had a bad day to look through it.  Rather, I try to make a point of peeking inside at the start of each school year - just as a reminder of why this, teaching is the best job in the world.  Now, of course, I've got more options when it comes to finding inspiration.  I can check out one of about a million pinterest boards with ideas for library displays or ways to make my teaching look as fabulous as it is impactful.   I can dab my eyes while perusing a plenthora of inspirational videos. Or I can see who the twitterverse sees as a #dreamteacher.

In some ways, this is the best time of the year because it's a time when our focus is the most clear.  It's the time when we're all running around like crazy is for one reason - kids.  In a few days, all those desks will be full.  No matter how you prepare for it, I hope you (and they!) have the best year ever.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Game Based PD for an Epic Win

UPDATE:  Since writing this post I've received many, many requests from librarians around the world (!) wanting to join this PD group in Edmodo.  This is wonderful and I am so flattered!  However, I'm leaving the decision to open the group up to my local colleagues for whom the training was initially intended.  So... if you've sent me a request to join, I won't be approving those until after August 30th (if at all).  If my local group decides they want to keep this training closed, I may create a SECOND group for others to join.  In the meantime, thank you all so much wanting to share and learn with me!  I will update this post again once a decision is reached.  Stay tuned!

In addition to providing professional development for my school, I also get to plan, coordinate and, in many cases, deliver PD to the other librarians in my county.  This is a job that I am always very excited about at the beginning of the year, but then less so as the school year progresses.  Don't get me wrong, I LOVE learning and sharing - and, to be frank, there's always some new _________ that I just can't wait to tell everybody about.  It's just that as real life and the demands of running a hustling/bustling media center kick in, the harder it is to devote the time necessary to plan multiple, meaningful staff development opportunities for the 36 other rock stars that I work with.  So... this year, I'm trying something new.

In addition to several other (some optional, some mandatory) PD training that we'll participate in this year, I've designed a year long, totally gamified, PD Game for my colleagues that explores 21st Century Literacies in the 21st Century Media Center.

"Level Up" Image Designed and Shared by Matthew Winner

Now, before I go any further, I should say that this is a total ripoff remix of Tamara Cox's work which was, at least in part, inspired by the reading and learning we've been doing all summer as a part of Level Up Book Club - which, as I've written about before, is an online community of librarians, teachers and other educators who are interested in exploring game based learning and the gamification of education.  I gotta tell you, this learning has been the best part of my summer, but now I'm anxious to put all that I've learned to work both at my school and in my district.  Which brings me back to the task at hand.

Of all the books #levelupbc has read so far, Jane McGonigal's Reality is Broken has been the most meaningful to me.  Maybe it's because it was the first one we read or maybe it's just because McGonigal provided so many concrete examples of how game based learning/play impacts motivation, self perception and, ultimately, achievement - but either way, I continue to refer to it as I think about applying gaming elements to my instruction - and this PD is no exception.  According to McGonigal, all games share four basic components and it was crucial to me that this learning opportunity contain all four.  They are:
  1. A Clear Goal:   The goal for this PD is two fold.  One is student driven, the other is teacher driven.  For awhile now, I've been singing the song that libraries are about more than books and reading, they are about all types of literacy - but even I recognize that literacy is an evolving and sometimes murky term.  So... part of what I wanted to do with this training is to explore what being literate in the 21st Century means and how libraries have to grow in order to help learners master these new literacies.  Secondly, this is a big year for librarians in my state.  In addition to adopting the Common Core, we're also implementing new Information Technology Standards, new professional teaching standards and a new evaluation instrument for librarians.  Along with all of that has come the new requirement that all teachers (and librarians) earn "literacy" credits as part of their renewal cycle.  And thus, the goal of this PD is to explore the wide range of multiple, dynamic and evolving competencies that represent new literacy AND the role of the library in helping students master these skills.  To me, it's essential that, whatever the goal, it be authentic.  Hopefully, the majority of participants will jump on board because of a desire prepare students for the future, but even if they're doing it only because of the credits, the need is still an authentic one and, you never know, the game may be so compelling that their motivation will shift mid-play.  (A girl can dream, right?)
  2. Rules:  All good games have rules and this is no exception.  Because folks will be receiving credit for this, some rules are non-negotiable, but others I was able to have a little fun with.  The important thing is that the rules are outlined up front - so that all the players know what they are getting into.
  3. A System of (Immediate) Feedback:  I've decided to provide feedback in two ways.  One is through Edmodo - the entire staff development will be delivered through this online platform where players will earn badges for completing certain tasks.  My kids love Edmodo, but I've never used it for PD before.  Each month, I'll post several (dare I say many?) tasks that participants can choose from in order to earn badges.  They can complete as many as they want - but must earn 20 badges by the end of the year.  I've created a leaderboard in Google Docs and will post it occasionally so that the appropriate level of smack talk can ensue.  I've also scheduled a series of 2 hour face to face meetings/work sessions (one per month) .  At these meetings, I will go over tasks and answer questions as necessary - but mostly, I'll just be there to offer moral/technical assistance as well as deliver the occasional in person "pat on the back." Most of these sessions will be optional, but I know that the online game play won't be enough for some - they'll need that face to face time.  Plus, scheduling 2 hours each month to work on this PD will be helpful to many of us as we try to juggle lots of other demands on our time.  
  4. Voluntary Participation:  While I'd love to see all of the librarians in my district participate in this, no one will be required to play along. :)
Other stuff:
  • I've started creating a document/resource library in Edmodo with resources that I will either use for the quests or will just share with particpants.
  • I uploaded a bazillion badges - which I found thanks to #levelupbc member Kristina Thoennes.  This may be the least important part, but gosh is it fun!
  • Tasks! A lot of the tasks still only exist in my mind - my main goal is to make them meaningful - they will vary in difficulty (some requiring more work than others), but I want them all to have meaning and be applicable to what we do.  The first one, which I've already posted, is designed to help set the stage.  I want it to be an easy entry into the group but also set a tone and help empower the participants.  Big thanks to my buddy Steven Anderson for sharing this video with me! 

So... will this be a success?  Of course, the jury is still out - but I'm excited about where it's headed.   We've all got big years ahead of us and, for better or for worse, prescribed PD will be a part of it.  It's a shame that, for many of us, the professional development outlets where we receive our best ideas:  Twitter, webinars, etc., are ones for which we can receive no staff development "credit." For me, learning has to be about more than just the clock hours, but if we have to earn those hours, it would be great if we could earn them for what we consider our most meaningful learning.  That said, I'm hopeful, as a greater emphasis is placed on the importance of being a connected educator, these alternative ways of learning will be recognized as legitimate forms of PD.  Until then, my fingers are crossed that this will provide a different and motivating way for librarians in my district to meet, head on, the pedagogical/instructional changes that are coming our way.  If you've got some super PD plans for the coming year, I hope you'll share!  I'd love to steal be inspired by your work! 

Monday, August 6, 2012

#tlchat Shout Out: Or Why Every Librarian Should Contribute to a Math Blog

When the folks at Engaging Educators asked me if I would write a post, (for the Ten Marks blog) about #tlchat, the twitter hashtag for teacher librarians,  I jumped at the chance.

First off, Ten Marks is a software program that helps kids improve their math skills.  You heard me right:  Math skills.  Not reading.  So, yeah, when they wanted a librarian to contribute to their blog, I was all over it.  I mean, let's face it, despite my own recent forays into collaborative math instruction,  partnerships with our calculator wielding friends are often few and far between.  So... I was thrilled to have the opportunity to speak to an audience outside of the echo chamber of libraryland.  

To be truthful, this is probably a longer post for a different time, but I wonder about the ways in which librarians share the story of library with the rest of the world. However unconsciously, I think we are often the bearers of two very different messages: the one we share with our colleagues and the one we share with everybody else.  

Think about it. 

Go to any library (or even techie) conference around the world and you'll find sessions and keynotes filled with stories from the library just brimming with innovation, collaboration and master teaching.  Indeed, given the opportunity to chat with each other, we can't wait to share our successes, to brag about our students and to spotlight our profession as one of problem solving, creativity and pedagogical prowess. 

But are these the stories we share with teachers?  With principals?  With the school board member we bump into at the grocery story?  I'm not so sure.

A recent post by David Lankes (which I recommend reading) discusses the notion that all of the recent talk about "saving libraries" has given the (false?) impression to those outside the library world that librarianship is a sinking ship - and I think there's something to that.  Don't get me wrong, given the reality of the last couple (and next few, perhaps) years, it's tough NOT to view every shot to bend a willing ear as a mandatory opportunity to roll out the library stump speech.  Further, while I would be the first to say that every interaction, every conversation, every silently observed movement in the world is the chance to spread the gospel of library, I think the message we share everywhere has to be one of library vibrancy, of instructional innovation and of continuous, contagious passion.   In his post, Dr. Lankes said it's time that we stop trying to save libraries and while I'm not sure I completely agree, I do think it's time we stop giving the world the impression that libraries need saving.

Which brings me back to the short piece I was able to write for Ten Marks.  While it's a small thing, surely, I'm grateful for the chance to speak to a different audience about something that a) I'm passionate about and b) has nothing to do with budget woes, personnel cuts and/or legislative actions. 

A PLN in action at a library that doesn't need saving. 
I was also attracted to this opportunity because the piece they asked for was to be part of a series to kick off and celebrate Connected Educator Month.  If you're unfamiliar with CEM, don't worry, it's brand new!  While most of us just think of August as the end of an entirely too short summer break, this year, the US Dept of Ed tagged it as the official month in which to celebrate and focus on strengthening instructional practice through the development of online Personal Learning Networks.  That said, as someone who feels completely and utterly indebted to her PLN on a daily basis, there was just no way I could say no.  

And, finally, I just love #tlchat!  As I said in the post, it's become a "go to place" for me to connect, learn and share.  It's more than a hashtag, it's a connective thread, a constant stream of new information and a positive and proactive means of subtle, but effective, library advocacy that doesn't convey a "sky is falling" message.   Again, there's just no way I could say no.   So, I didn't. :)

Anyway, I hope you'll read the post.  But more importantly, I hope you'll join the conversation! 

PS:  Mega thanks to Ben at Engaging Educators for asking me to do it AND, especially, to Joyce Valenza, without whom #tlchat would not exist!