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!



No comments:

Post a Comment