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Back To School Special: 5 Tips for Getting Your Groove Back!

Ready? Set?  Go!  It's hard to believe, but it's back to school time, y'all.  Here's a few things I did this year to help me get my groove back!

Note: Since this photo was taken, I have filled the last four cubbies. :)

1. Get Organized. It seems like time is always at a premium for me.  Even so, I spent quite a few precious  moments this summer getting organized.  I purged YEARS of stuff I no longer needed.  I sorted, sifted and said goodbye.  And the stuff I DID keep got a new home in the proper file, drawer, basket or cubby.  It was liberating at the time and now, as the chaos really begins at school, it feel strangely calming. Bigger, harder tasks seem a little more possible without the obstacle of clutter standing in my way.  That said, you don't need to go so far as to create a color coded and hand labeled cubby system - although, I can't imagine why you wouldn't - you just need to spend some time getting your house in order.  The time spent now will pay off later.  Plus, given the number of things about our jobs that we can't control, finding the perfect place for everything can be indescribably satisfying.

2.  Set Some Goals for The Year.  Of course, the ways to do this are as numerous as the folks reading this post, but what's important is that you devote some time to your mission for the year.  Consider what your school goals are and then figure out what role the library has to play in furthering them. Goals related to our collections and physical spaces are only worthy if they grow out of impacting student learning.  I think librarians would do well to consider how we share our goals with others.  Early on, I started making a conscious effort to rephrase how I talked about the goals I had for the library.  Instead of saying, "this year, I am going to reorganize my fiction so it will be easier for kids to find books" I think it's more effective to say, "this year, I'm focused on closing the gap for our EC students, so I'm reorganizing the books in a way that will benefit everyone but that targets these learners specifically."  It may seem like a small thing, but putting the student need first emphasizes what you really care about and that the library is a place of learning where kids come first and everything else is second.

Here's what a couple weeks in February look like!

That said,  Fran Bullington recently wrote about her process for planning out a year's worth of library events and programming.  I like the way she uses her calendar as an outline for how her year will look.  Although I do my best to tie in national and international library events (like Banned Books Week or Dot Day), for me, curriculum and instructional needs are always the guide for what we do in the library.  Honestly, I just find it difficult to get buy in for a library event that isn't related to what's being taught or a specific student need.  That said, even if my state provided detailed pacing guides for every subject, I still wouldn't attempt (or even want) to plan out my whole year during the first week of school. What I can do, however, is set some goals for the year and start pinpointing opportunities to address those goals through programming/displays, etc.  For example, this year, a major instructional focus at our school will be closing the gap in reading  between our African American and Caucasian learners.  Looking through this lens, I go through the calendar and try to identify natural places where the puzzle pieces fit together - keeping mind annual projects and existing plans for collaborative instruction.  Of course, these dates may change (several times) before it's all said and done, but this is a way for me to look at the year as complete journey - rather than just trying to survive from one project to the next..

You may be wondering why I don't do this online or through an app - the short answer is, I do, in so much as the final dates go on my personal and library calendars. This is where I scheme.  My online calendar is where I schedule.  I look at the paper/pencil calendar as more of a sketch pad - a place to fiddle with ideas - which is why I write everything on post it notes - that way, I can just move or scrap the note if things change (which, of course, they are bound to do!)

3.  Share Your Vision.  Once you have vision for the year, share it.  I will admit that I am NOT much of a newsletter creator.  Don't get me wrong, I think newsletters can be creative and effective.  In fact, this year, after seeing the creative efforts of some of my PLN, I've been sorely tempted to rethink my strategy.  However, for me, using my webpage as the portal through which I dissemination information - rather than creating other publications - is the way to go. So... before school starts, I give my webpage the once over and then I share, share, share!  I send it to parents via the PTSA newsletter.  I put it on bookmarks in the library.  I hand it out at open house.  I email it to the staff (repeatedly) And I stick a QR code linking to it on the laminator and next to the coffee pot.

I also make a point of sitting down with my administration and other school leaders for a conversation about how the library is part of the solution to the problems that keep them up at night.  This is not a formal meeting complete with an agenda and presentation -this is a "hey! do you have a few minutes??  I've something awesome I really want to share" kind of meeting. The bottom line: if you've created a vision for the year that is focused on student learning and that you are excited about, share that passion and excitement with others! Not only is it motivating, but it helps solidify your place as an instructional leader in the school.

4. Get Connected.  There is absolutely no bad time to start developing a personal learning network, but the beginning of the year might well be the best time to do it.  Face it, as busy as we are during those first days of school, it's nothing compared to when students arrive.  AND these first few days are when we are the most energized, the most motivated and the most excited about new possibilities.  What better time to connect with other rock star educators?  If you've been putting it off, NOW is the time to build a google reader and create that Twitter account.  NOW is the time to put this year's schedule of AWESOME TL Virtual Cafe webinars on your calendar.  NOW is the time to become part of the grassroots revolution in education that has, and will continue to, change teaching forever.  NOW is the time to do it.  I promise, you won't regret it.

5.  Remind Yourself Why You Do This.  My first year teaching, a veteran teacher told me I needed to create a special file where I kept notes from students or other mementos that, on my darkest days, would remind me of why I do this.  Now, 16 years later, I'm glad I followed her advice.  I do have that file, but I don't wait until I've had a bad day to look through it.  Rather, I try to make a point of peeking inside at the start of each school year - just as a reminder of why this, teaching is the best job in the world.  Now, of course, I've got more options when it comes to finding inspiration.  I can check out one of about a million pinterest boards with ideas for library displays or ways to make my teaching look as fabulous as it is impactful.   I can dab my eyes while perusing a plenthora of inspirational videos. Or I can see who the twitterverse sees as a #dreamteacher.

In some ways, this is the best time of the year because it's a time when our focus is the most clear.  It's the time when we're all running around like crazy is for one reason - kids.  In a few days, all those desks will be full.  No matter how you prepare for it, I hope you (and they!) have the best year ever.


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