I'm spending this week in Florida with school librarians from (just about) every corner of the state. I started my week in Pensacola and will round out my journey in Ft. Lauderdale on Friday with stops in Daytona Beach and Orlando in between. Admittedly, I'm a nerd, but beginning of the year Professional Development is one of my favorite opportunities to learn and share beside other educators. Everyone is so happy to see one another. There's news to share, friends to make and stories to tell. But mostly, I love these gatherings because at the beginning of the year everything just seems so, so... possible. In what other profession do we get the opportunity to take everything we've learned from the previous go round, keep what worked, toss out what didn't, stir in a heaping helping of new learning and, then... try again??? As I said, I'm a nerd. But this kind of stuff gets me excited.
Anyway, on Monday, in Pensacola, as the day was coming to an end, a librarian in the back of the room raised her hand to ask a question:
"If you could turn back in time, to your first year as a librarian, what advice would you give your newbie self?"
So, first of all, I think it's important to just acknowledge that this is now stuck in all of our heads. #sorrynotsorry
Secondly, let's talk about how awesome that question is. I mean... whoa. That is quite a question. And one that I've been thinking about ever since she asked it. I can't remember exactly how I worded my answer, but here's an approximation of my response:
I spent far too long paralyzed by the fear that I was "doing it wrong" or that I'd make a mistake that would, inexplicably, result in someone telling me that I wasn't cut out for this work. When my instincts around everything from how to organize the library to how to create a culture of reading, didn't align with traditional librarianship, I spent too long shelving my own ideas in favor of what I thought was expected of me. In short, I was worried someone would take away my library card. And I spent far too long waiting for that same mystery someone to give me permission to do things my way.
If I could go back in time to give newbie librarian Jennifer some advice it would be this: stop waiting for permission to do what you know is right for kids.
That said, I want to be clear, I'm not suggesting we all just go rogue and throw everything at the wall to see what sticks. Our work is too important to just leave it to chance. I would, however, encourage myself (and others who I have seen stuck in this same spot) to trust myself. Yes, there are times when I let my gut lead the way. But my gut instinct is informed by a lifetime of professional growth and experience. I do the work, I explore the research. I have the conversations. I ask questions and get answers. I build relationships and recruit help. I know the facts and *then* I trust my feelings. I'm a reader, a writer, a teacher and a learner. And, what's more, I'm betting you are, too. You don't need permission to be awesome, but just in case, like me, you're waiting for someone to give it to you anyway, here it is...
You have MY permission to:
Reject the idea that "the way it's always been done" is the right way to do it now.
Question the assumption that what fits/works at one school should fit/work at ALL schools or for ALL kids.
Challenge the belief that REAL teachers/librarians do ________.
Be open to opinions that challenge yours.
Eventually, I came to trust myself as a practitioner, leader and advocate for kids. And when i did, people noticed. I remember having a conversation with my principal at the time about feeling more confident in my ability to lead from the library. When I told her I felt like I was becoming a little more brazen, she said, "that's what I hired you for. I was never a librarian. I need someone who can lead from that role and show the rest of us how it's done." All along I'd been waiting for permission, but what I didn't realize is that she'd given it to me the day she offered me the job.
And while I'm doling out advice, here's a few other pearls of wisdom I'd give my former self, if I had the opportunity:
Read Harry Potter the FIRST time someone hands it to you. All of it.
Take more pictures. Of everything. You'll wish you had later.
Give yourself a break.
Call your mom more often.
And that one time, when you're tempted to buy a pair of orange crocs, don't.