Sunday, September 30, 2012

Six Tips to Help Teachers Move From TechnoPHOBE to TechnoFAB!

I ran across this post recently (thanks to a member of my PLN who posted it on Facebook).  It outlines "10 Things School Leaders Do to Kill a Teacher's Enthusiasm for Technology." It's written by a school principal who describes himself as the leader of "of an entire staff [of] avid technology users." As an avid tech user myself, I get it.  In that kind of environment, trying NOT to kill the enthusiasm of teachers who are already tech savvy, instructionally adventurous and digitally connected is a worthy goal, indeed. However, I've never worked with a entire staff of techies. For most of my career I've worn the crown of Queen Geek - the nerdy leader of a rag-tag group of techie teachers who, like members of a really bad cult, spend lots of time trying to get others to drink the kool-aid.  That's not to say there aren't lots of great connected educators out there who see technology as an effective compliment to already strong instruction.  There are.  However, in my experience there are also still many, many teachers who remain either afraid or suspicious of technology - which, to my way of thinking, provides a window of opportunity for the school librarian whose charge it is, (among other things), to act as both an instructional and technological leader within the school. Rather than simply avoiding the kill switch when it comes to teachers and technology, it's our job to discover enthusiasm, where there seems to be none, and then cultivate and nourish it - which is no small feat! So... this post isn't about how NOT to squelch the spirits of your already techie teachers, it's about how to help your more hesitant colleagues discover and embrace their inner geeks.


1. Meet teachers where they are: Years ago, when my BFF John Downs, became the tech facilitator of my school, he started his first meeting with the staff with this (or another very similar) clip from SNL.  Then he promised to NEVER be this kind of IT guy.  And he never was.  To this day, John has the uncanny ability to a) be patient with every request and b) teach/reteach even the most basic tasks without ever sounding condescending, annoyed or exhausted.  That said, I'll admit that this is something I've struggled with.  While, with a student, I can explain over and over and over again how to select the right printer - with the last explanation being as sweet and encouraging as the first - there's something about having to do the same thing (repeatedly) with adults that brings out the Nick Burns in me.  For me, being more like John and less like Nick takes work.  But it's important work, so I do it.  Of course, there are times when we have to ask the teacher to "move" so that we can troubleshoot a problem or experiment with the variables, but in most situations it's vital to take each request for what it is (a cry for help!) and empower the tech wary teacher by putting him/her in the driver's seat while we patiently direct and encourage them from one chair over.  Accepting where a teacher is, treating their requests with respect and showing them how to do something (as opposed to doing it for them) is not only empowering but it also builds trust that can be leveraged the next time you want that same teacher to take an instructional risk.

2. Listen:  If there's one thing I've learned over the years it's that teachers are not shy about sharing when something is going wrong or when their workload is out of control (which, let's face it, is all the time!)  In fact, when I was in the library, I sometimes felt like the school psychologist - an open door and available ear whenever something went wrong (and of course when it went right!)  I was happy to listen, but I also soon learned that these conversations are the perfect opportunity for to showcase technology as the solution to a problem. Indeed, while sharing my enthusiasm about the latest app or web 2.0 tools is GREAT, sharing that enthusiasm in the context of helping the teacher achieve an instructional goal is BETTER, because it gave me the chance to prove that using technology isn't just "one more thing" for them to do, it's a way to fill a legitimate niche, solve an authentic problem and/or make their lives just a bit easier.

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3. Model Tossing Out The Instruction Manual:  During my first meeting with the librarians in my district this year, I gave them an assignment that required the use of one of several web 2.0 tools.   They were instructed to work in groups and were provided guidelines for the content of the assignment.  However, I gave absolutely no instructions regarding how to use the technology itself. Needless to say, there were a few tense moments and a lot of nervous faces, but after some initial fretting, they dove in, worked together, quickly figured out the logistics and spent the rest of the time on content.  When it was over, I made sure to point out that every group finished the task successfully and within the allotted time with NO directions regarding how to use the tech tool itself.  Then I said, "if a room full of old ladies can do it, imagine how quickly your students will catch on??"  Teachers sometimes use the excuse that their schedules, pacing guides, etc., are already too full to allow for the teaching of new technology.  To that I say, no problem!  Kids don't NEED to be taught how to use each new app or tool.  Rather, they need to be given strong, consistent, cross curricular instruction regarding safe/ethical use of technology and then be allowed to explore, select and figure out individual resources on their own.  Some teachers really struggle with this - but given the chance to see it in action with their colleagues can help ease their concerns and inspire them to take a chance.

4. Provide Time to Play (with Support):  Like kids, teachers need time to get to know new technology. My library bestie, Jennfier Northrup, does a great job of scheduling after school work days for her staff -- during which they can come to the library and experiment with a new tech tool while Jennifer is in the room.  They don't have to ask her questions, but they can if they wish.  I am doing the same thing with the librarians in my district this year.  I've scheduled a year long PD opportunity that includes monthly play dates where my colleagues can experiment and explore with the safety net of having me nearby in case the internet explodes.  Take it from me, these training wheel sessions are so productive and are crucial for helping the real technophobes out there take the risk of trying something new.  Plus, giving up your time to work along side them goes a long way towards conveying the message that we're all in this together.

5. Praise, Praise and Praise:  I cannot stress this enough: teachers need kudos too!  Whether it's a congrats email cc'd to the principal, a mention at the faculty meeting or photos of students utilizing technology in your fledgling techie teacher's class posted on the school's webpage, there's nothing like a gold star to validate the efforts your teachers are making.  Trust me, even the most shy, unassuming, under the radar flying teacher wants to be pat on the back for taking a chance and changing what they've always done.  That said, if you're certain the teacher will be mortified by public recognition, then praise their students instead.  Make a phone calls home to a few parents congratulating them on their student's work - making sure to mention how AWESOME the teacher is, ask students from the class to be new "tech ambassadors" to the next group of students who are going to give the same new technology a go, or ask the PTSA to feature the project in their next newsletter. As school librarians, we have many venues through which we can praise our proteges and it's important that we never forget to do it.

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6. Put the Learning First:  I've heard my buddy Marlo Gaddis say that "you'd never look at a marker and say, 'Wow! Look at this great marker! I think I am going to plan all of my instruction around it!' And yet that is what we sometimes do with technology."  If that's true (and I think it is) it's no wonder some teachers can't be bothered.  Now, more than ever, teachers are not only overwhelmed by all the stuff they have to do, they're also keenly focused on delivering standards based instruction that meets the demands of the new curricula.  What's more, we should be sharing that focus.  As such, the technology we use and share, the resources we promote and use collaboratively must be chosen ONLY because they help us impact student learning.  Otherwise, what's the point?  That said, while it's true that some teachers are, without question, technophobic, I think others are just technoweary.  For some teachers, it's not a matter of being afraid to try new technology, rather, what they fear is letting go of the instruction they believe works.  They're not afraid of the internet, they are afraid of their students failing.  And that's a valid concern.  As Geeky Gurus, it's our job to make sure that a) every time we encourage teachers to integrate a technological resource into their instruction, we do so because we believe it will impact students and b) that our classroom teacher colleagues KNOW that's our goal.  When we put the learning first, not only will some teachers be more apt to follow us, but they'll also have more respect for what we do.

Whether we're talking about reading, beefing up pedagogy or incorporating technology into instruction, I've always thought of the librarian as a bespectacled Pied Piper.  One of these days, I'm going to invest in a button that says "I Know Stuff." and whenever someone gives me a raised eyebrow of concern in response to whatever I'm selling, I'm just gonna point to my button as proof that I am someone to be trusted.  I'm sure that will work.  But until then, I need and rely on strategies to help my more wary colleagues step outside their comfort zones when it comes to trying something new.  Of course, these are just a few such strategies.  In fact, I'm sure there are countless others.  So, if I've missed something, PLEASE share it in the comments.  You don't even need a big "I Know Stuff Button" to convince me.  I'm already a believer. :)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Wanna Be A Great Teacher? Try Being A Great Learner First.

Hi.  I'm Jennifer.  And I'm addicted to learning.

It's true.  

The vast majority of my day is spent learning and then sharing what I've learned with others.  From the wee hours of the morning spent lost in my google reader and twitter feed, to after dinner webinars and late night blog fests and everything in between - my life revolves around learning.   And I never get tired of it.

Which is why I'm super excited to share a couple of online learning opportunities that have me giddy with anticipation.

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TLChat: Let's Do The Numbers
First up: in case you missed it, the very first live #tlchat - an online Twitter chat revolving around the #tlchat hashtag - took place on Monday. And it was AWESOME!  Awhile back, I had the chance to write about just how powerful #tlchat is as a professional learning tool, not just for librarians but for all educators who are interested in reading, literacy and inquiry based instruction.  The addition of a live chat to this already awesome resource is just icing on the proverbial cake!  The topic of the first #TLChat Live was "collaboration" and resulted in over 900 tweets chock full of good information.  Like all good Twitter chats the time flew by and the info streamed fast and furious.  Thankfully, librarian rock star, Nikki Robertson wrote a truly comprehensive follow up post for those who were unable to attend.  And, the reigning queen of all things library, Joyce Valenza exported the entire chat into a spreadsheet that I then used to create this infographic.  There are definitely more Live #TLChats in our future, so if you're not already following this truly amazing hashtag, and the incredibly talented educators who use it, now's the time to start!


Second on the list is a professional learning opportunity that represents something new for me, but that I am UBER excited about.  On November 12th, 13th, 14th, and 15th, at 7:30pm EST, I'll be leading a series of webinars on "Using Social Media and Mobile Technology to Engage Teens" for ALA TechSource.   This (nearly) week long event will be PACKED full of online and mobile resources that you can put to use in your library right away.  I feel like I've been working on this presentation for YEARS, collecting resources and testing them with learners.  Now, the only thing left to do is share them!  It's gonna be AMAZING.  We'll start our journey talking about today's learners and how technology is only as good as the learning it supports.  Then we'll go through a plethora of social media, web 2.0 and mobile apps that are not only fun but that also help engage kids in meaningful and respectful activities.  And, finally, we'll spend some time exploring how to put these tools to work in your programs and then how to assess if they're really having an impact.  Programming note(s):  This series of workshops is going to be open to librarians of all stripe, so (if you're a school librarian) you'll have the chance to learn from both your public and academic brethren.   That said, if you are a school librarian you'll be happy to know that ALA will provide you with a certificate of completion so that you can earn renewal credit for the hours we spend learning together.  Truly, I'm incredibly proud of this week or learning and I hope you'll join me. It's gonna be super fun.

It's funny, but writing this post reminded me of an experience from my first year as a teacher.  I can remember, distinctly, the first professional development training I was required to attend: a half day session on classroom management.  I showed up at least 30 minutes early, with my notepad, favorite pen and highlighter in hand (remember, I'm old, y'all) totally READY to soak up the learning.  I was so excited to spend some time, among my colleagues, learning stuff that would make me a better teacher.  That bubble was, of course, burst the moment my colleagues started filing in.  No writing implements in hand and having sat through a lot more mandated PD than I had, these grizzled veterans entered the room keenly aware of just how many minutes remained until they could leave.

Needless to say, I learned a lot that day - but none of it was about classroom management.

A lot of years have passed since then (again, I'm old, y'all) and I can't help but be thankful for how far professional development for teachers/librarians has come. If, like me, you are a learning addict, there's literally nothing to stop you from being immersed in learning 24/7.  Mind you, I'm not suggesting that's necessarily the healthiest choice, but it's certainly an option.  What's more, in a lot of cases, the instant access, as needed, just in time, collaborative and social PD that's literally at our fingertips is really, really good stuff.  I've gotten something out of every one of the sessions I've attended and am proud of every one that I've contributed to.  Truly, we've come a long way, baby.

That said, we've still got a long way to go.

Given how significantly technology and social media have impacted pedagogy in the classroom, I have to wonder why so much of the required PD that educators HAVE to attend still looks like the "sit and get" model of years past.  Why are some of us flipping things in the classroom but not in our PD?  If Game Based Learning fires up engagement for kids, when are we going to "level up" learning for our teachers?  And if inquiry based instruction, where learners collaborate to solve big, important problems is good practice for kids, what in the world makes us think that an 86 slide powerpoint, delivered over 2 hours under the glare of florescent lights, is good practice for adults?  It's like all the great pedagogy we put to use with our students flies out the window when those students are our peers. What's more, I often struggle to understand why, in so many cases, teachers still can't get "credit" for the non traditional, but more authentic, professional learning that takes places through their PLNs. Not that I am suggesting that teachers should only engage in PD for which they get credit, I just wish they could earn said credit for the authentic professional learning experiences that so many are voluntarily, indeed hungrily, participating in.   I'm generalizing, of course, and I know that things are changing, albeit slowly.  Still, I can't help but wonder if some of us are so focused on teaching that we've forgotten how to learn.

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Credit or no credit, I hope you'll join me for one or both of the opportunities mentioned above.  Although I probably won't be rocking a notepad and highlighter, I promise to be just as excited (as I was all those years ago) about what we'll learn together.  

Sunday, September 9, 2012

5 (More) TED Talks That All School Librarians Should Watch (+ 1 Bonus!)

A little over a year ago I shared 6 TED talks that I thought all school librarians should watch.  Since that time, TED has continued to inspire me with its collection of smart and provocative video resources.  As such, I figured it was time to add a few more suggestions to my list.  In no particular order, these are the Talks that I find myself going back to time and time again, that I have shared on Twitter and have shown to my colleagues!  We're talking the best of the best here. :)

1.  Jane McGonigal: Gaming Can Make a Better World



This TED Talk has influenced my thinking more than any other this year.  It (along with Matthew Winner) made me want to read Jane McGonigal's book Reality is Broken, it nudged us to create Level Up Book Club and inspired huge changes to my teaching.  If you only watch one of the Talks I recommend here, this is the one.

2.  Kirby Ferguson:  Everything Is A Remix


This Talk, to me, highlights the importance of doing more than teaching kids about copyright and plagiarism in terms of consequences.   In this Talk, Ferguson posits that it is impossible to create something without drawing on the inspiration of others - which reminds me of just why it is so important to create a culture of sharing and attribution in our libraries -rather than one that focuses on punishment and the punitive.

3.  Dan Meyer:  Questioning - What Makes a Problem Worth Solving?




While this Talk focuses on math, the premise applies to every discipline: teaching kids to think about a problem conceptually (rather than procedurally) is not only more effective but also equates to more respectful, more meaningful, more challenging and more inspirational work.  What's more, if there really is a shift taking place in how we teach math, there's definitely a role for librarians to play.  If libraries are about exploring our world and thinking critically, those are skills we can and should be bringing to the math instruction that's going on in our schools.  (Shoutout to my BFF Ryan Redd who teaches math this way every day!)

4.  David McAndless:  Visual Thinking



Libraries have always been associated with literacy - but traditional literacy - that is written and, in some cases, oral communication. However, as society and technology has evolved, so has literacy. Today's students must possess a wide range of abilities and competencies from reading and evaluating online resources to navigating virtual collaborative spaces and lots and lots of stuff in between. This TED Talk highlights the use of infographics as a valid way of sharing information and begs the question, is your library synonymous with old or new literacy?

5.  Shawn Anchor:  The Happy Secret to Better Work



This Talk is just so much fun.  Not only is Shawn Anchor hilarious but his premise is so important.  Sometimes we are so focused on being great teachers that we forget how to be great learners AND as such, we create environments that stifle joy and squelch success.  Watch this talk then ask yourself: would your students describe your library/classroom as a joyful place?  And if not, what are you gonna do about it?

Bonus! The TED Radio Hour on NPR!

As much as I love watching TED videos, there are times when a video just isn't an appropriate learning tool, which is what makes the TED Radio Hour on NPR such a GEM!  This (for now) experimental radio program explores the same fascinating ideas, astonishing inventions, and new ways to thinking and creating that TED videos do, but without the need to sit down and watch.  These audio gems represent a great way for you or your students to connect with some of the world's more remarkable minds!

So... what did I miss?  Between this and my last post I've only shared 11 Talks - there's bound to be countless others that are worth sharing.  Leave your favorites in the comments and help me spread the TED love! 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Ch... Ch... Changes: A New Adventure Begins

I wish I could say that I've always wanted to be a teacher.  But that's not really true.  Rather, I was the kind of kid who wanted to be something different every day.

At various times, throughout my life, I wanted to be a writer, a cartoonist, a violinist, a drummer, a folk singer, a photographer, an astronomer, a veterinarian, an architect, a roller-coaster designer, a disk jockey, a news broadcaster, a journalist  and (because I grew up near Seattle) a barista.

But not a teacher.

The truth is, I came to teaching accidentally. Or perhaps I should say it came to me.

By the time I'd reached my 3rd year in college, I'd yet to declare a major.  I was sitting on the fence - trying to decide between marketing and communications. (I know, right?) Then I was asked to write a paper about my journey to college - a narrative map of how I'd gotten from there to here and where I thought the next year or so would take me.

When the papers were due, I heard my classmates share their stories about how their parents had scrimped and saved to send them to school or how, because they felt compelled to be one thing or another, NOT going to college just wasn't an option.

My journey was different and clearly began in the 10th grade, when (for the first time) a teacher took an interest in me.  That's not to say the rest of my schooling was full of bad teachers (although I had my share) but I moved around a lot and had become adept at being the kind of kid who knew were the cracks were and just how to fall between them.  In the 10th grade, however, I had a teacher who wouldn't let me get away with being invisible and it's no exaggeration to say that my life was indelibly changed as a result.

It's almost embarrassing to admit that it took reflecting on my journey and sharing that story with others to make me realize where I needed to be, but truly, it was like the proverbial light bulb going on over my head.  A true "Aha!" moment.

Sixteen years later, I cannot imagine having made another choice.  Teaching is what I was meant to do and I have loved (almost) every minute of it.  Which could explain why it's taken 10 paragraphs to get to the point of this post which is that I've accepted a new position with the state of North Carolina that will take me out of my own classroom/library and into those being cultivated by others.

Starting October 1st I will be teaching librarians instead of kids.  My new position will take me from district to district where I will share and learn and lead.

To say that this was a difficult decision to make would be an understatement.  But thanks to good advice from trusted friends and the falling of several cosmic dominoes, I believe that right now, this is the right decision for me.

So... will this blog continue?  Of course!  Because as I said before, I believe this is the start of a new adventure - as opposed to the end of one.

Am I still Library Girl?? Without question.  Seriously, you'll have to pry this cape out of my cold dead hand. :)

Am I nervous??  More than I can possibly put into words, but I'm also equally excited to work with my colleagues to support great, 21st century library programs across the state.  If nothing else, I know this is going to be fun.

So... wish me luck!