Sunday, April 3, 2016

Let's Share Book Displays That Matter!

I've written before about how I believe library spaces and displays represent AWEsome opportunities for us to share the story of our work and how we transform teaching and learning for kids.  Everyone who walks into the library is a potential library supporter. If we're not there to tell them what happens in our spaces, can they tell by looking around?  Does your space reflect what you value and how you make a difference?  I sure hope so.

I've been sharing this message and asking these questions for a long, long time.  And now (and just in time for school library month) I'm looking to curate examples!

  • Are you creating book displays that matter? 
  • Are you using this valuable real estate in your library to make a difference for specific groups of students? 
  • Are you giving those students a voice in selecting the titles, authors and themes of those displays? 
  • Are you you seeking feedback from students and other stakeholders about the success of your book displays?  
  • Do the displays you build tell the story of your work and how it results in outcomes for your learners? 

If so, let's share the love and a grow a resource of library displays that make your favorite Pinterest boards look puny!! No idea is too small. Upload photos, videos and don't forget to include your name and Twitter handle so we can grow our PLN!

Add your examples to this Padlet wall and share this link w/your networks!  I can't wait to see what you share!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Finding The "Bigger Vision" In Your Work

The other day my district's Assistant Superintendent of Instruction and Student Accountability asked a group of us in a meeting to read and reflect upon this post by George Couros. Actually, to be more accurate, she read the first part, containing the fable about the stonecutters, aloud to us:
"One day a traveler, walking along a lane, came across 3 stonecutters working in a quarry. Each was busy cutting a block of stone. Interested to find out what they were working on, he asked the first stonecutter what he was doing. “I am cutting a stone!” Still no wiser the traveler turned to the second stonecutter and asked him what he was doing. “I am cutting this block of stone to make sure that it’s square, and its dimensions are uniform, so that it will fit exactly in its place in a wall.” A bit closer to finding out what the stonecutters were working on but still unclear, the traveler turned to the third stonecutter. He seemed to be the happiest of the three and when asked what he was doing replied: “I am building a cathedral.”'
Then she asked us to write our own version of the story as it relates to our work. This is what I wrote:
"One day a busy principal walked into a school library, spotting three librarians working side by side. (Yes, I realize this is already a fantasy, as most schools - regardless of their size - no longer have multiple librarians at the helm, but I digress). Interested to find out what they were working on, he asked the first school librarian what she was doing, to which she replied "I'm checking out books." Still without a clear picture of what the librarians work was all about, the principal approached the second librarian with the same question. The second librarian looked up from his work and said, "I'm helping these students find books, collaborating with this classroom teacher AND coaching our students through this activity in our maker space." A bit closer to understanding the work of the school librarian, the principal turned to the last librarian, who seemed the most satisfied and focused on her work. When he asked this librarian what she was doing she replied simply, 'I'm changing the world."'
As I've continued to think about this activity and the original post further, I keep coming back to the same question: How can we make our work look more like third answer (no matter what we're doing) so that anyone who walks into the library can see, without even having to ask, that we're changing the world?

Obviously, this isn't a question I can answer in one blog post, but I do have a few thoughts about how to get started.
  1. Put kids first. And everything else second: I've said this so many times, I should probably just have it tattooed somewhere on my person! But it bears repeating: If we begin every decision by asking ourselves "is this best for our students?" we're more likely to keep our work focused on what really matters, (instead of getting derailed by the minutia which can sometimes be overwhelming.) Sometimes decisions are made for us, but when the choice is yours, put kids first. Period. 
  2. Prepare students for their world. Not yours: If you've got access to technology, use it to engage students in activities that simply wouldn't be possible without it. Otherwise you're missing the boat. Last week I had the opportunity to visit a library in which students were using iPads to write block code as part of their lesson. Then they used FlipGrid to record their reflections on coding as a skill they would need in the future - the resulting collaborative video project will eventually be shared with the world via the library's twitter account and the school's hashtag. This was part of a bigger lesson that involved traditional library tools and resources, but this librarian (in partnership with her school's technology assistant) harnessed the power of digital tools to engage students in the kind of learning they simply could not do without the technology AND created a space in which the learners of today are CLEARLY being prepared for the world of tomorrow. 
  3. Make teaching kids HOW TO LEARN your core curriculum: Like the old saying goes... limit student searches to pre-selected databases (and other teacher/librarian chosen resources) and they'll learn to research for a day, but teach them how to evaluate information regardless of its source, and they'll be critical thinkers for life. Or something like that. 
  4. Be your students' champion: Whether you're advocating for time for them to read independently, without prescribed guided reading activities along side, OR you're dispelling the myth that reading incentive programs help to grow life long readers, OR you're making room on your shelves for and pointing learners to developmentally appropriate titles that represent ALL of your students (regardless of their race, religion, social-economic status, sexual orientation or gender identity), OR you're proving through your practice that a single space can be both a library AND a makerspace, YOU need to be your students' champion. You need to be their voice in situations when theirs cannot be heard. 

Everyone who walks into the library (be they a teacher, your principal, a parent, a school board member, your superintendent, a county commissioner AND every one of your students) is a potential library supporter. Your work has the potential to either change or confirm what they already (think they) know about libraries and the role you play in the lives of students. When they walk through the doors of your space, what do they see? When your principal asks you about your work, is your answer about the details or the bigger view? Would the people around you say that your work is about changing the world?

And if not, what are you going to do about it?

Friday, March 4, 2016

And the #30secondbooktalk Challenge Winner Is....

The votes are in! (All 3,000+ of them!!!) And the WORLD BOOK TALK CHAMPION, winner of the Vince LomBOOKi prize, as chosen by YOU is....


  • Everyone who participated in this EPIC project! Every single book talk was amazing and I am so inspired by your willingness to share your love of reading with young people around the world. 
  • Every teacher, librarian, principal and (especially!) student who voted! Over 3,000 of you cast a ballot on the final four book talks alone and it's your participation that made this competition awesome! 
  • My partner in crime, Brad Gustafson, who invited me to be a part of his #30secondbooktalk idea! This has been so much fun and such a positive force for reading in the lives of so many young people! I'm honored to to have been a part of it!  Kudos to you, my friend!
  • ALL of the #literacylegends (Mollee & Tavia, John Schu, Donalyn Miller, Pernille Ripp, Nikki Robertson, Tiffany Whitehead, Cathy Potter). You guys are AMAZEballs! But most especially my big sloppy thanks go to... 
  • The #BroBrarians Stuart and John who ROCKED THIS OUT! I hope you all blast We Are The Champions throughout the library today! I <3 you all so, so much! Thank you! 

Finally, as we've said throughout this project, the #30secondbooktalk challenge is all about providing a platform for more adults to share the books they love with the young people in their lives. So, if you'd like to replicate the #30secondbooktalk challenge with your students, all the materials you need to get started are here. The only thing we ask is that you share your efforts with us. We would <3 to see the epic #30seconbooktalks that you and your kids create! Have fun! Keep bringing the AWEsome! And HAPPY READING! 

Monday, February 29, 2016

Reflections From Portlandia - #iPDX16

Last week I had the privilege of learning and sharing at the two conferences that make up Portland's celebrated #iPDX: AcceleratED (a one day professional learning opportunity for school and district leaders) and IntegratED (a two day professional learning opportunity for educators of all stripes). I feel like I'm still processing my takeaways from the three days I spent with educators from all around the Pacific Northwest, but here's what I know for sure right now: iPDX is something special.  Although there's something to be said about the magic of serendipity, the exceptional learning that takes place at iPDX happens by design, not happenstance.  The entire conference is set up to maximize learning opportunities for the educators who attend, and that attention to detail pays huge dividends.  Here are a few of the ingredients that I recognized in the secret sauce that makes iPDX so special:

  1.  A focus on participatory learning and student (who were in this case educators) voice: From the giant whiteboards and markers that greeted participants each morning, (asking them to share what they hoped to learn that day, or illustrate what success looks like, or describe their biggest takeaways from iPDX), to the collaborative notes that were created for each session so that every participant could benefit from the ways their co-learners processed the same information, to the giant monitors strategically placed throughout the conference displaying the ongoing conversation taking place on Twitter through the #iPDX16 hashtageverything about iPDX was designed to leverage the collective brain power amassed at the conference. 
  2. An emphasis on pedagogy and not technology: Although iPDX is a "technology conference," its focus is very clearly and deliberately on teaching and learning, not tech. Every session is a workshop of at least 90 minutes. And presenters are tasked with sharing innovative uses of instructional technology while modeling excellent pedagogical practice. That said, I'll be honest, I found this challenging.  I'm used to delivering this kind of instruction in my district, but in those situations the presenter comes in with more control and information. For example, if I'm doing a session for educators in a school district, I know before I walk in how many participants will be
    in the session and (roughly) what their level of expertise will be.  In a conference setting, these variables are unknown until go time.  And as someone who can be a little bit "type A" when it comes to my work, not knowing this stuff in advance, frankly, freaked me out. However, I soon realized a couple of things: a) this experience is far more reflective of what teachers encounter in their classrooms and libraries every day and b) having to adjust course on the fly, making sure I was bringing my A Game for every type and any number of learners, not only made me better at my craft, but also provided a model for the educators sitting in my session. For this reason, among many others, I wish I'd seen more librarians at iPDX. Don't get me wrong, there was a strong library contingent there, but, frankly, not enough.  And because librarians SHOULD be providing excellent, pedagogically strong PD for the teachers and admins in their schools and districts, iPDX would have been an excellent source of inspiration for even more members of our profession. 
  3. An emphasis on quality not quantity. iPDX is a small(ish) conference. I'm not sure what its capacity is, but when IntegratED sold out, they didn't add more sessions in order to accommodate more people (and therefore make more money).  As an outsider looking in, I couldn't help but imagine the conference organizers approaching every decision with a single question: Will this make for a better learning experience for our participants? And if not, let's not do it. 
All of that said, my sessions at #iPDX16 were a labor of love for me, as they grew out of real conversations I've had with educators in my own district and state who are challenging themselves to a) make instructional magic in situations that are far from 1:1 and b) use the technology they do have access to in ways that go beyond "what we've always done" and move towards engaging students in learning opportunities that simply weren't possible before the technology existed. These are big and important goals.  And it's my privilege to be a part of their journey towards reaching them.

Now, forgive me for a moment while I wax philosophical....

I'm both fond of and challenged by these words by Dr. David Lankes:

Go back and read them again.  No. Really. Do it. They are powerful.

By empowering the learners we work with (be they little learners or big learners) to use resources (be they digital or analog) in ways that:
  1. amplify their voice
  2. increase their agency
  3. help them contribute to the information tsunami that our world is currently generating in ways that positively alter the conversation, and 
  4. fundamentally change teaching and learning in ways that
  5. result in meaningful outcomes for students
WE are building communities. 

The longer I do this job, the more convinced I am that the mission of school libraries (and all teachers really) should be this and this alone: to change the world. 

I know what you're thinking, that's a tall order, Jennifer. And you're right. But anything else just seems trivial.  

I recently asked a group of teachers to share some of the reason(s) WHY they were in education. Although I wasn't surprised, I was disappointed by the sheer number of "June, July and August" responses I received. I went on to challenge those educators with this question:  If you were to ask this same question of your child's teacher/librarian/principal/etc., what answers would you hope for?  Most people I encounter hope ALL of the educators their child comes in contact with are rock stars.  No one wants their child to be saddled with a teacher whose favorite part of being an educator is the "summers off." No one hopes their child's librarian is just counting the days until retirement. No one dreams that the person whose job it is to light the spark of learning in their own child be stuck in the middle of an inspiration blackout. When it comes to the child who is most important in their lives, everyone I meet wants a teacher who is not only determined to change the world, but who also firmly believes that they can do it AND who is willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen for every child, every day. And of course, the thing to remember is that every child in your classroom, or library, or computer lab, or sitting in the hot seat outside of your office is the single most important child in the world to someone else. (And if they're not, you ought to do everything in your power to make them feel as if they are to you).

That said, call me naive, but I still believe that we can change the world - one lesson, interaction, conference, training, workshop, book study, reflection, _______ (fill in the blank) at a time. The day I stop believing that, is the day I need to pack it in and go home.

Finally, please indulge me while I publicly thank Darren Hudgins and the entire iPDX crew for inviting me to be a part of how you are changing the world each day.  Thanks also to Dean and Jeff for reminding me that in order to change the world, we sometimes have to unlearn what we've already learned and believe to be true.  And, thank you Nancy Mangum and Abbey Futrell for always pushing me to be better. I <3 you!