Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A New Adventure Begins | Some Lessons From The Road

Two years ago, I was given an amazing opportunity.

After only five years as a teacher librarian, I was asked to serve as a teacher (librarian) on loan with the state of NC.  As I often share during professional development, this position has taken me all over the state (and back again).  In the last 2 years, I've visited over 80 of NC's 118 school districts. I've put over 70,000 miles on my car.  I've lost six dongles.  I've visited countless libraries.  And I've worked with scores and scores of teachers, principals and, yes, school librarians - all of whom shared a desire to move their library programs forward for the benefit of students.  What an honor it has been to be a part of that process.

I'm so proud of the work I've done over the last two years.  But more than that, I'm so, so grateful for it.  As much as I've been able to share at each stop along the highway, I know I've learned so much more. All of life's journeys are like that.  Just as we leave a little bit of ourselves on every path we trod, so too do we take some of the path with us when we leave.  We change the path. And it changes us.   Which is part of the reason why I'm so elated that this wonderful chapter of my career is coming to an end.  Although I've loved the work of bringing new ideas to NCs teacher librarians, so often, I'd leave a district longing for the opportunity to implement some new idea in my own library, with my own students.

Now I have that opportunity.

My new home: NHHS 
In two weeks, I'll be returning to the school library.  This time as the librarian at New Hanover High School in Wilmington, NC.  And I could not be more excited about it.  In many, many ways this is a fulfillment of a dream for me.  Although I've spent the entirety of my teaching career in middle school, when I was as undergraduate (and even before that) I dreamt of being a high school teacher.  Incredibly, the very school where I'll be teaching this year, represented my "dream placement" as I finished up my student teaching. (But there were literally no openings for English teachers at that school at that time). And that same school is now in a period of great transition.  The library is in need of a massive transformation.  And the new principal there not only shares my vision for what that could/should look like, but, more importantly, he also plans to support that vision in a number of exciting ways.

But more on that later.

In the meantime, I feel like I'm still working through all of the things I've learned during my time as North Carolina's traveling librarian.  Indeed, it may take years before I truly realize the impact this period has had on my thinking, my practice and on me personally.  For now, though, here are a few of my big takeaways:

  1. The single greatest factor (negatively) impacting school libraries is low expectations. We can talk about fixed schedules, personnel cuts and disappearing budgets, but to me all those rivers (and countless others) flow from this one point.  In places where library programs are not up to snuff, the people who are served by those libraries have come to expect very, very little from their librarians and, in a lot of cases, those librarians are delivering just that: very little.  And, perhaps there is a conversation to be had about whether or not the librarians are reacting to the expectations or the expectations are a reaction to the librarian, but to me that's a chicken vs. egg wormhole that's better left ignored. Bottom line: teachers, principals and parents need to have higher expectations of the librarians. And I want to be clear, I don't mean folks need to expect their librarians do MORE work, but rather we need to be expected to do MORE IMPORTANT work. I believe, in most cases, we'll rise to occasion.  And if we don't, we need to go.
  2. Where libraries thrive, students thrive. I've seen this over and over again.  Rural, urban, rich, poor, big, small... it doesn't matter the school or the system. In places where libraries are thriving, active places where kids do more creating than consuming, those students do better. Period.  
  3. 1:1/BYOD programs are game changers for libraries. In schools where every students has access to a network device all of the time, libraries are either changing drastically or rapidly dying.  There is no in between.  Rightfully so, students, teachers and administrators are all asking the question: why do I need to go the library when I have access to all the information I could possibly need in my pocket or backpack?  Libraries that are continuing to thrive in these environments are those that are evolving from places where people go to get information and into places where the focus is on using that information to create new knowledge.  Libraries that are not making this shift are becoming obsolete and are going extinct.
  4. First impressions count. Over and over and over again, when I walked through libraries where either the principal or the librarian (or both!) are concerned about the state of things, their first comments were about how old, outdated and irrelevant that space felt.  What's more, those comments often had little/nothing to do with the age of the building, the furnishing or the chipping paint.  In the end, things like how the furniture was arranged (for collaborative work vs. individual, quiet reflection), the amount of student work displayed, the tone set by posted rules/regulations, the amount of noise students were allowed to make (more noise implies more life) and a clear connection between the work of the library and school-wide goals meant much, much more than the room's physical appearance.  Every person who walks through the door is a potential library supporter.  We cannot afford for our spaces to make bad first impressions.
  5. Principals are the key. To everything.  If nothing else, the last two years have instilled in me a new found love and respect for building level administrators. Their plates are so full, the very metaphor of the full plate is grossly inadequate. And, although I didn't agree with every principal I met, in almost every instance, their decisions were rooted in a sincere desire to do what's best for students. And in a state like NC, where principals are truly the kings and queens of their castles, where they have a great deal of autonomy when it comes to budget and staffing decisions, principals have the potential to be our greatest and most impactful allies.  It's not just unfortunate that so many librarians feel that their principals "don't understand their work," it's dangerous.  Because, in the end, while many of the principals I met didn't know exactly what they wanted out of a library program, they knew what they didn't want.  And they did not hesitate when it came to making changes.  As librarians, I am utterly convinced that we must, must, must do more to build bridges between ourselves and not just our principals, but with administrators in general.  We need to submit articles for publications in journals read by principals.  We need to participate in Twitter chats aimed at principals (thank you for this idea, Nikki D Robertson).  We need to conduct district level PD for our home grown admins.  And we need to apply to present at principal focused conferences.  Trust me, it's a very short journey between one principal stating that libraries are outdate instructional dinosaurs and that he/she was able to use those funds to greater effect in another area of the school, to an entire district, region or state without libraries/libraries. Principals are the key.  To everything. 
  6. And finally, this last take away is about me personally.  I'm not suited to life on the road.  Don't get me wrong, I love traveling.  I love going to state conferences or consulting with districts from around the country or indeed the world, but leaving on Sunday night and not returning home again until Friday night is a younger librarians game.  Plus,  I miss working with kids. Working with adults is so satisfying.  And I will continue to do that in lots of different ways.  But working with students is my first love.  And, I'll be honest, I miss it. 
So... in the days to come I'm sure I'll be sharing the missteps and (hopefully more!) successes of the next chapter in my journey.   As I said, our library is ready for a transformation.  Luckily, I'm ready to do some transforming! In the meantime, though, I want to finally, and publicly, say thank you to Neill Kimrey who called me up one day and offered me a job.  To my dear friend and daily inspiration Jennifer Northrup whose life is about to grow immeasurably simpler now that she'll no longer be responsible for making sure my head is screwed on straight, to all the other members of the NCDPI/DTL team who helped me learn and grow over the last two years and to the many, many, MANY educators in NC who invited me to be a part of moving their districts and schools forward. It has been an honor and a privilege.  Thank you. 

Onward and upward! 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

PLN Starter Kit Update | Summer Learning Challenge

Two years ago, I asked y'all to help me create a crowd-sourced tool to help other educators start building a PLN.  This request grew out of conversations I'd had at the time (and continue to have) with teacher-librarians, classroom teachers, administrators, etc., who know they *should* be participating in the global conversation about what it takes to prepare today's learners for the world of tomorrow.

And boy did you come through.

Click me! Click me! Click me! 

Together, we created a livebinder full of links to blogs/twitter handles of educators whose work NEEDED to be shared.  This wasn't a "Top 10/50/100 list" created by a reporter or editorial board, it was a lovingly curated gift chock-full-o PLN goodness and brimming with YOUR go to resources.  Since then, this resource has been pointed to and shared over and over again by many of you as you work to help your colleagues grow their personal learning and I could not be happier with how it continues to grow.

That said, while people still contribute to it from time to time AND occasionally someone will send me a note to correct something, I think it's time to give the PLN Starter kit a purposeful update.  Technically, it may be a little late to be doing spring cleaning, but I think it's time we clean up the stuff that is longer active and add some new names to our crowdsourced whose who of educational awesomeness.

One person I will definitely be adding to the list is my friend, and brand new principal, Todd Nesloney.  In fact, if I'm honest, it's Todd's work that got me thinking that it was time to update the Starter Kit.  This summer, Todd is challenging all of the teachers at his school to be "professional learners" by taking part in a Summer Learning Series.  Each week he'll issue a challenge to his teachers that will, ultimately, extend their learning and help evolve their practice.  I love, love, LOVE this idea! We often talk about students and the "summer slide" but if such a phenomenon is real, then it stands to reason that teachers experience it too. And yes, it is important to take time to rest, relax and rejuvenate during the summer break, it's also a time for to reflect and reboot. I just love that Todd is taking his role as the instructional leader at his school seriously and starting off by challenging and then HELPING his teachers make this summer one in which they grow and evolve, so that when the new school rolls around in just a few short weeks, they'll not feel rested, but they'll also feel better prepared to make some instructional magic with their students. What's more, Todd is opening up his Summer Learning Shallenge to ANYONE who wants to participate. Simply fill out the google form on his blog and you're in.

Easy peasy.

Click here, yo! 
Speaking of google forms, now's the time for you to tell me who you'd like to see added to our crowdsourced PLN mega pick! Like I said last time, there are no rules for how to do this, but I recommend not thinking about it too long. Go with your gut. And then, if your gut tells you to recommend others, go back and fill out the form again. Fill it out as many times as you like. I just ask one thing: once you've filled it out, share it.

Blog about it.
Tweet about it.
Talk about it over a cup of coffee.
Make some nice graffiti art (just don't get caught and be sure to send me a photo!)

But let's spread the word and help all those newbies out there begin the journey of learning that has helped us grow so much as teachers and learners.

Ok. Ready???


Monday, June 9, 2014

My ISTE Bucket List

As much as I love attending conferences, I'm not much of a NATIONAL conference goer.  I haven't been to AASL since '08, ALA since '11 and I've never been to ISTE.  But that all changes at the end of this month when I'll be heading to Atlanta to attend ISTE for the first time.

And I'm excited. 

But that's not all.  Not only will I be going to ISTE as an attendee, but I was also honored to be asked to give the keynote at the annual SIGLib breakfast on the last day of the conference.  I have to be honest, I'm nervous about this. Many, many of my heroes will be in the room.  I can't even think about it without getting butterflies in my stomach. But I'm also incredibly humbled and plan to give the presentation of my life. 

I'm also WAY excited. 

Then... my library wondertwin and Level Up Book Club partner in crime, Matthew Winner, recommended to the folks at ISTE that I blog about my experience as a first-timer AND my first post as an ISTE blogger went live today.  Since I've never been to ISTE before, I can't offer sage advice about how to get ready or what to expect, so I decided to create an "ISTE Bucket List" that is to say a list of experiences that I really want to accomplish during this year's conference.  Some of the items on my list are silly, but most are designed to help me get the most of out this experience. Also, if you plan to be there, some will require your help. :) 

If you haven't noticed, I'm excited! 

So... hop on over and take a look.  And please, if you see me at ISTE, be sure to say hello.  I can't wait to connect, face to face, with many members of my PLN and to enlist you as part of my #MissionISTEBucketList.  Let's do this thing! 

Monday, May 19, 2014

No More Technology (or Library) Initiatives, Please.

I ran across this great post by Nancy White the other day in which she questions the practice of referring to learning initiatives by the technology they include - like 1:1 or BYOD initiatives, as opposed to individualized learning initiatives, etc.  In her post she wonders...

"If we call an initiative by the name of the strategy, rather than the results we hope to see, will we actually achieve the end goal?"
A valid question.  But I couldn't help but wonder another question of my own...
"If we call the initiative by the name of the strategy, rather than the results we hope to see, is it because we haven't spent enough time thinking about about the results or, in some cases, even identifying desired outcomes for kids?"
Like Nancy, I've come to believe that this important.  First, naming our work more accurately solves the problem of compartmentalizing it. Not long ago a wonderful NC librarian (who shall remain nameless here because I've not asked her permission to share this story) asked me how she could become a technological leader in her school without "stepping on the toes" of the instructional technology facilitator that she works with.  My response was something along the lines of "kids are more important than toes, so you do what's best for the former and forget about the latter", (which is true, by the way), but the reality is that if we thought about, (and therefore identified), technology for what it really is, a tool for facilitating learning, then we'd eliminate situations in which a) we are afraid to step on toes because technology is "someone else's job" or b) we fail to teach in ways that prepare today's students for the world of tomorrow because technology is, again, "someone else's job."

Plus, identifying our work by the learning goal or desired outcome gives us flexibility to reinvent the strategies we use to achieve those goals mid game.  If we start an eBook initiative, (something I receive questions about almost daily), but then find we can't locate the titles we need in digital form or we realize that the eReaders aren't being used because many students do not have broadband access at home or we find that our kids just prefer print over digital for pleasure reading, our "eBook initiative" is likely to fail - even if, in the end, we do actually put books in students' hands and they read more and achieve more as a result.  Whereas, if we lead our school in a literacy initiative in which eBooks are just one of many tools used to achieve the goal of increased literacy within our school community, our strategies can change because we're focused on the thing that really matters: our kids.

Listen, I get it. Things change fast.  And it's hard to keep up.  And obviously what we call a thing is less important than what we do with the time and resources we have.  But the next time you're asked to participate in an initiative or roll out or program that is named for an inanimate object or a room in the building, I'd encourage you to take it as a cue to ask some questions like...
  • What do we want kids to be able to do at the end of this?
  • How will we know if this has been successful?
  • What will do do if it's not?
The answers to these questions are not only important in helping us identify more accurate names for the work we do, but they will also help us keep our eyes on the prize.  I don't know about you, but I'd much rather be involved with an initiative whose success is measured by how much a child grows or how much they report loving to learn or how many other learners they are able to connect with or how well they're able to to communicate or collaborate or by the kinds of things they're able to create or by the kinds of authentic problems they're able to solve versus those that are deemed successful simply by virtue of the number of devices we bought and checked out. 
In the end, we all shoot for the bar that's been raised for us (and our students do the same).  By refocusing these initiatives on the learning goal and renaming them with the weight of what we want for children as a result, not only do we set a higher bar for ourselves and for our kids, but we also free ourselves up to do whatever it takes to reach what is hopefully a far more important and more worthy goal. 

PS:  From the shameless promotion department: I've been feeling lately like the My Presentations page (at the top of this blog) was becoming unwieldily, so... after some experimenting, I think I may have finally tamed the savage beast! For the moment, anyway, I'm happy with the results. And, for the moment anyway, it's pretty up to date!  If you've got nothing better to do... please take a look.