Tuesday, October 3, 2017

When Adults Don't Read, Kids Lose! [Infographic + Resources]

One of my favorite questions to ask educators is... "so, what are you reading?" Whether I'm visiting a school, working with a group of principals or chatting with other librarians on twitter (yes, I'm looking at you #2jennsbookclub), I love to hear about the books my colleagues can’t put down. Over the years, I think I’ve developed a pretty decent BS detector too, because I can totally tell when people are fibbing, and not because they don't want me to know what they're reading, but rather... because they don't want to admit that they aren't reading anything at all! This doesn't make me stop asking, though. Rather, it makes me double down! Because I'm just sassy that way. Instead of letting them off the hook, I start making them a quick TBR pile. And if it’s someone I know personally, I send them one of the books from that list. And then, because I am nothing if not tenacious, the next time I see them, I ask if they’ve read it! Let's be honest, if you're embarrassed to admit that you don't read, there's really only one way to fix that. And this girl is happy to help. (BTW: This was one of my very favorite things to do at principals’ meetings, back in the day! There’s nothing more fun than getting a principal to admit they haven’t read anything in awhile and then fixing that by becoming their own personal book fairy godmother. But… I digress).

That said, I recently had a conversation with a very sweet librarian at a conference who was concerned about the teachers in her school who aren't readers. She shared an exchange that she had with a teacher, in front of children, in which she asked the teacher what she was reading, to which the teacher responded by saying "oh, I don't read. I just don't have time." Needless to say the librarian was mortified. Then she mentioned that she'd shared the post I wrote with Todd Nesloney last month, with tips to help all educators unlock their inner readers, with this teacher and with the rest of her staff. She said, “I just printed out the list and put it in all their mailboxes!” I'll be honest, I was so humbled by this, but it also got me thinking of ways to make our list of tips a little more shareable. With that in mind, I decided to make an Infographic out of our suggestions:

And then, I got inspired to create a small sign that teachers or administrators could print and post on their classroom doors to share what they are reading.

As is so often the case, I used Canva to create both of these resources. And as is ALWAYS the case, you are free to use and share them as you like. You can download a high resolution version of the infographic here (as either pdf or png). And the door signs can be found here.

Whether you use these resources or not, as reader leaders it’s critical that we make helping our colleagues who do not yet have rich and authentic reading lives, discover what they’re missing, a priority! As Todd and I said in our original post, it takes a reader to grow a reader. And ALL of our students deserve to have adults in their lives who can champion reading as a life changing experience because they themselves have been changed by stories. Now more than ever, the young people we work with need to be reminded of all the things that connect us as residents of this big blue planet. They need examples of how our shared humanity makes us more alike than different. They (as do we all) need to see how stories connect us.  

Friday, September 22, 2017

#BestPartOfMyDay - Mountain View HS

Last year, I became slightly obsessed with Colby Sharp's #BestPartOfMyDay videos. And I shared them at almost every conference and/or professional development session that allowed me to open my mouth for a few minutes. I'm super inspired by both the power of a short, unedited video reflection each instructional day AND the idea of making the best part of that day the focus of our reflection. Too often, in my estimation, we relegate reflection time (if we take it at all) to examining what didn't go well, so that we can improve next time. This is a huge part of a "data driven" culture. And don't get me wrong, that's important stuff, but a constant focus on our perceived failings can suck the life right out us, both as teachers and as learners.

(An aside: I wonder what would happen if we created opportunities for students to share the best part of their days? Would all of our students be able to think of something special or significant to share? Would we hear them list things that happened in our classrooms as the very best part of their day? Would we hear them list the things we hoped would make positive imprints on their hearts? And if not, what could we do about those things? I can't help but wonder what we'd learn about our kids and about ourselves if we gave them the chance to answer that one simple question. But... I digress)

Fast forward to this year, and I find myself at the very beginning of a year long journey with Evergreen Public Schools in Vancouver, WA. This year, I get to spend (approximately) one week per month visiting EPS' school libraries, working with their librarians on special projects and crafting professional development for the days when we all get to learn and share together. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, but it bears repeating now, y'all...  I am seriously the luckiest librarian around. That said, this afternoon as I was walking to my car, after my last library visit of the week, reflecting on the great experience I've had, and on a particularly powerful conversation just a few minutes earlier, I decided that NOW is the time for me to copy Colby and start doing my own #BestPartOfMyDay videos. So... here goes nothing. My first offering:

To be honest, I don't know if Colby is still doing these videos daily, but I can't thank him enough for the inspiration. Evergreen Public Schools and I still have a long year together, and I'm so excited to make this a part of our journey.  Finally, Colby always ended his videos by asking his audience what the best part of their day was, so I'll do the same here:

What was the best part of YOUR day?

Even if you don't comment or a leave a video response, I hope you'll think about the answer to that question and consider ways to weave reflecting on what goes right each day (or week?) into your own work with young learners.

Monday, August 21, 2017

When Adults Don't Read, Kids Lose.

Note: This post was co-written with my friend Todd Nesloney, who is both the principal at Webb Elementary School in Navasota, TX and the coauthor of the book Kids Deserve It.  It was so much fun collaborating with Todd to transform what started as a conversation over Voxer about teachers who don't read, into this piece! Thank you for working with me on this, friend! I'd also be remiss if I didn't extend a nod to Donalyn Miller and John Schumacher, whose influence is clear throughout.


Helping students create and grow authentic reading lives, is one of our most important jobs as educators. The research on this topic is very clear: Children between the ages of 10 and 16 who read for pleasure make more progress in vocabulary, spelling, and math than those who rarely read. (Sullivan & Brown, 2013) Further, we know that volume matters. Students need enormous quantities of successful reading to become independent, proficient readers. (Atwell, 2007; Worthy & Roser, 2010; Gallagher, 2009; Kittle, 2013; Miller, 2009; 2013) This is important. The recipe for growing readers really isn’t that complicated. First, give students access to many, many books. Then allow them to select the titles that interest them and with which they will experience great success. And then, let them read. Boom! As the old saying goes, this isn’t rocket science, y’all. And yet, in schools across America, students are being subjected to prescribed reading programs that we know don’t work. (Krashen 2003) These programs often require students to select books based on computer generated levels. Further, they reduce reading to a task that only matters if it’s accompanied by an assessment. What’s more, they allow teachers to assign texts to students without having a knowledge of children’s or young adult literature and, most crucially, without ever having a conversation about books and reading with their students. And while some innovative and brave school leaders are eradicating these programs from their schools (“Why We Are Moving on From AR” and “No AR? No Big Deal”) in favor of more authentic approaches, too many still cling to the familiarity of prescribed reading programs, which leaves us with one nagging question…. WHY?

Obviously, there are probably many answers to this question, but one possible reason may lie in the reality that far too many educators don’t have reading lives of their own. In short, it takes a reader to grow a reader. That said, we get it: educators are busy. But that’s no excuse. The reality is, we prioritize what we value. We all make time for the things we know are important. But here’s the thing, y’all: this is important.  It’s time for educators to make their own reading lives a priority so that they can, in turn, help students grow their own. Here are a few tips to help all educators unlock the reader inside them that’s just waiting to get out!

  • Increase your own access to books:
    • Visit your school library and become BFFs with the librarian. He or she will hook you up with the titles your students can’t get enough of.
    • Get a public library card!
    • Join a service like Owlcrate and just wait for new books to arrive at your doorstep!
    • Visit (or create!) a Little Free Library in your neighborhood!
  • Schedule time for reading:
    • When something is important to us, we put it on our calendars. Just as you block out time to go to the gym or to get a haircut, devote some time to reading. Just a few minutes a day is enough to get you on your way! It won’t be long before reading just becomes a regular and important part of your routine.
  • Harness the power of social media to create a reading community:
    • Join a traditional or virtual book club. Follow hashtags like #booksnaps, #2jennsbookclub #nerdybookclub #sparksinthedark #booklove #yearofYA or #bookaday for book inspiration and recommendations OR to share your own!
  • Forget your reading level:
    • Real readers do not select books on their “reading level.” When you go to the book store, there are no dots on the spine to let you know if the book is appropriate for you. Pick books based on what you love, or what you think your students would love. Let your interests be your guide and you won’t go wrong, but…
  • Move on from those books that you start reading but aren’t enjoying:
    • You’ll know when you’ve found a book that just isn’t for you. Give yourself permission to move onto the next one. There’s no shame in your game.
  • Always have a book with you:
    • If you always have a (physical, digital or audio) book with you, when some time presents itself, you’ll be ready!
  • Let your reading geek flag fly:
    • Passion is contagious! And while your students (or other colleagues) might not love all of the same books you do, they WILL love how passionate you are about them. What’s more, they’ll learn through your example that it’s okay to love something enough to completely geek out about it!
  • Talk about what you’re reading with others:
    • Reading is a social activity. While reading alone in a comfy chair may be really satisfying, the moment we happen upon a passage or character that moves us, makes us laugh/cry or challenges us in some way, our first instinct is to share it. So,  find some friends and get your chat on!
    • Create a Goodreads account.
    • Start (or join) a Voxer group to chat about what you’re reading!
  • Advertise the books you’re currently reading:
    • Put a sign on your classroom door.
    • Add a line to your email signature.
    • Wear a sticker on your shirt (Mr. Schu Style!).
    • Make the cover of your current read your cover image on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, etc.
  • Understand that listening to an audio book is also reading:
    • Listening to a book is not cheating. Plus, it helps you utilize all the time you spend in the car or on the treadmill.
    • Many public libraries have digital audiobooks available for checkout, or…
    • Skip that latte a couple of times a week and splurge on an audible account instead!
  • Ask others for advice on what books to read:
    • Find some people whose recommendations you trust and ask them what to read next.
    • Be that person for someone else.
  • Finally, remember that all of these tips are good for students too! A good rule of thumb is this: if you wouldn’t do it as a real reader, you shouldn’t ask your students to do it. OR if you must employ some scaffolding to help students develop the skills they need to grow authentic reading lives, remember, scaffolding is meant to come down.

The bottom line is this: your students need and deserve for you to be their independent reading champion.  Reading changes lives. Not only is reading the fundamental skill that underpins all learning, but it’s also a crucial component in the development in a curious mind, a gentle spirit and a loving and empathetic heart. And our world desperately needs more of those things. It only takes finding that one book to help a child understand, for the first time, that it’s okay to be who they are. Or conversely, that it’s also okay to be completely different.  Books open worlds of hope and possibility. When a child (or adult) is immersed in characters and stories, they are immersed in everything that makes up the vast human experience. And it is through that immersion that we become better at understanding both ourselves and others.

In her acceptance speech for the 2017 Newbery Award (for The Girl Who Drank The Moon), Kelly Barnhill famously said, “We need stories that are mirrors so that any kid can see herself clearly. We need stories that are bright lamps, shining hope and light in a troubled world. We need stories that are bridges and roads, connecting that which we know to that which we do not; stories that are safe harbors and welcoming sanctuaries; stories that are armor and shield, friend and companion; stories that free prisoners, heal the harmed, teach the ignorant, and feed our aching souls.” To that we would add that we also need teachers, whose lives are rich with stories, so that they might be the thing that connects children to that very singular and crucial light.

So… what are you waiting for? Get, reading!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Books For A Better World

On  11/10/2016,  Donalyn Miller posted the following on Facebook:

Since then, as promised, Donalyn has used Facebook as a platform to give away at least one book, that celebrates the diversity of our human family, each and every day. It's a remarkable pledge, both in its generosity and the sheer logistics of it. The idea of posting a drawing every day, selecting a winner every day AND mailing the right book to the right person every single day (all while traveling the world being The Book Whisperer) totally blows my mind. But as she has posted many times, it's a commitment she and her husband, Don, made together and it is as partners that they tackle it. Needless to say, I'm both in awe of and inspired by Donalyn.

Which is why, a little while later, I decided to do the same thing, but on a smaller scale. In the spirit of Donalyn's #bookaday give away, I started giving away a book every Monday. Like Donalyn, I use Facebook as the platform for these donations. And also, like Donalyn, I use the definition of diversity shared by We Need Diverse Books to select the titles I share through these giveaways.

That said, beyond striving to be just like Donalyn Miller when I grow up, my reasons for wanting to give away books that celebrate inclusivity and help readers understand experiences outside their own are deeply personal. Like a lot of you, I would imagine, I'm profoundly concerned about the devolution of public discourse in our world. I worry about our, often very public, rush to condemn and even threaten those who disagree with us. I am frightened by the effect of confirmation bias on our ability to evaluate information sources. And I'm made very weary by how often identity politics renders us incapable of even hearing out the other side. We are, as a species, growing more and more divided and at a time in our history when, arguably, we need each other more than ever. Finally, I'm deeply distressed by how all of this is reflected in the words and actions of our leaders. And I'll be honest, there are times when all of that makes me feel pretty helpless.

So... what's a librarian to do?

Of course, there's no one right answer to that question. In many ways, we have to keep doing what we've always done: provide safe spaces for every one, but especially our most marginalized and vulnerable, be defenders of truth, facts and freedom of speech, teach others how to evaluate sources for bias and relevance, and make sure everyone who walks through the door can see themselves, while also learning about others, through our spaces, collections and programming. For me, giving away these books is part of that work. Like, Donalyn, I'm hoping to harness the power of books to help foster empathy and, hopefully, build bridges of understanding between people. Yes, the world may appear to be getting darker and darker each day, but there's nothing to stop me from spreading light. So I choose hope over cynicism. I choose inclusivity over isolationism. I choose light over dark. I choose to shine.

To that end, I've also been working on a way to compile a list of all the books I'm giving away. But more than just a list, I wanted to create an interactive bibliography of sorts: a place where readers of all stripes could not only learn about books that reflect our diverse world, but also share what those books mean to them in the form of brief reviews. I'll update this space every week as I add a new book to the list of those I've given away...  but YOU (or your students) can add your reviews ANYTIME by a) going to one of the slides featuring a book you love and then b) clicking the link marked "Share your <3 for this book!" You can add as many reviews as you like, show other reviewers some love by clicking the heart next to their name or add comments.

How might you use this type of interactive bibliography with your students? First, note that you could make an interactive bibliography like this one for any subject, author or content you wish, as a way to both spread the word about great books in your library AND build a community of readers. Your students and teachers could EASILY be the reviewers to discuss the books you've culled together to share. Here are a few ideas for sharing them when you're ready:
  • Embed them in your library webpage or within your Destiny homepage.
  • Catalog them using a tool like Web2Marc so that they pop up within your LMS when students or teachers complete a search for whatever subject headings you put into the Marc record.
  • Share them in library news letters or PLC meetings.
  • Make them part of your students' independent reading program.
  • Etc, so on. 

And for those of you who are interested in making your own interactive bibliographies, here are the tools I used to do it:
  • Canva: I created the background image for each slide with Canva - which is a FREE tool that I love, love, love! 
  • Google Slides:  Google slides doesn't have to be used just for presentations! Simply publish your presentation to the web and it can be embedded on any webpage! Or download it as a PDF and then create a flipping book (like this one) using a tool like FlipsnackEDU.
  • Flipgrid: Now that Flipgrid offers free Flipgrid One accounts to educators, it's become my go tool for curating both educator and student voice. It's so easy and slick. I <3 the final products so much!
Finally, a word about the books I've selected. I've read all the books I've given away (so far!). 
and with the exception of two that were given to me as gifts from friends, with permission to give them away when I was finished reading them, I purchase them all myself and do not accept arcs from publishers in exchange for endorsing the book. Like Donalyn, I've chosen to make this commitment to both the authors and artists who work to create these books and to the children, teens and adults who will eventually read them, because the need to do so feels urgent to me. Still, I want to be clear: this post isn't about me encouraging others to give books away. This is about the importance of using the pillars of our work to create a more empathetic world. These give aways, thanks to Donalyn, are just one way that I feel empowered to spread light in an increasingly dark world. I DO, however, encourage you to find away that you can do the same and then, shine on!