Thursday, October 18, 2012

Like a splinter or like a journalist

Last night I had the honor of spending some time (via Skype--thank you all for your patience with my technical difficulties!) with a group of school librarians in Nebraska talking about embedded librarianship. The slides from my talk are below.

Embedded school librarianship - NEMA from formanlibrary

It was a wonderful opportunity to talk about the why and how I've embraced the sometimes messy process of becoming a more embedded librarian. As I talked about in my presentation, I believe that embedding ourselves in different teaching and learning spaces is the natural evolution of the collaborative efforts that have been at the heart of our profession for so long. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Fight in the Dining Hall: A Research Allegory

I know it's been quiet here on the blog--it's been a busy fall in many ways. But tonight I finished a project I've been thinking about for a while, and I wanted to share.

When I talk to students about research, I always talk about trying to get as close to the original source as possible. This often comes up in discussions about Wikipedia, when I point students to the Reference list at the bottom of articles (which few of them had noticed before). The analogy I usually use is to explain that research works kind of like gossip--the story can get distorted the farther you get from the original source. I often create a version of the story depicted below involving students in the class. Using the gossip analogy has often helped students grasp the "get to a primary source" idea.

I'd been toying for a while with the idea of creating some sort of video to illustrate the story, but I don't have a lot of film making expertise. But as I was playing with apps for some different projects, I had an "aha!" moment about how I could make this project.

I used Skitch (to make the drawings) and Explain Everything (to create the video) on my iPad to make the video. I can't decide if it's nerdtastic, or the most nerdtastic thing I've ever made, but I'm pretty happy with how it came out.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sweat, Tears, or Sea

“The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.” – Isak Dinesen

The last school year involved a fair amount of both sweat and tears. At one point it was suggested that every time I cry at work I should get a pedicure; I am many pedicures behind.

In starting to write this I was hesitant to admit that sometimes I cry at work; I know some people will think that it makes me seem weak or unprofessional. I was getting ready to write a justification, but then I remembered that it's okay to cry:

Anyway, this summer I have been lucky enough to spend some time on the sea, which I think is the most powerful salt water cure.

There is something about standing in the ocean that makes me feel both insignificant and powerful. Insignificant because I am just this small, small person on the edge of a vast, unknown territory. Powerful because despite being up against something bigger and infinitely stronger, I manage to keep my head above water.

I usually first stand in the water facing out, so I can anticipate and react to the waves. But as I get my "sea legs" I turn and face the shore, letting myself be carried by the waves. I gradually trust in my ability to react to the waves even though I can't always see them. And if sometimes I get a face full of water? Oh well.

The ocean, like so many challenges we face, is huge and beyond our direct control. And while I find that frustrating in my work life, it is one of the things that makes the ocean so beautiful.

So much is beyond our control; sometimes we just have to trust in our ability to ride the wave, and keep our head above water. And even if we don't manage that all the time, it's just a little salt water, and we can prepare ourselves for the next wave.

Early on in the summer, I spent a day in Gloucester with some friends. While we were wading on the beach a little boy approached the edge of water. He was all limbs and belly, and watching him move I thought, "Ah, that's why they're called toddlers." And he loved the water. He moved as fast as he could get his legs to carry him straight towards the ocean. And, inevitably, fall either forward or backward onto the sand. And then immediately get up and charge full-speed ahead once again. Sometimes he'd start charging in the wrong direction, but as soon as he figured out he was no longer headed towards the water he did an about-face and headed towards the water once again.

I loved watching him approach something so big and so unknowable with such enthusiasm and joy; I loved that the last thing he wanted to do was turn away from a challenge.

The analogy became clear to me in one of those moments that I believe is only possible while standing in the ocean. There are challenges to face, but there are also forces larger than myself in play. I can run, full-speed, arms open to the challenges this year will bring; but that doesn't mean I have the power to control them all. I sometimes I wish I could choose which challenges I want to face, but then they're not challenges. You can't pick which waves come to shore.

And I was reminded, too, that I love the challenges. I can approach challenges with joy and with enthusiasm--even if the end result is a face full of salt water. That's all part of it.

This summer has been, very deliberately on my part, a time of reflection. I hope, as what promises to be another busy year gets underway, that I remember the sea, and that no matter how overwhelming things may seem, I can still stay on my feet.

With your feet in the sand, it doesn't matter what state your pedicure is in

Sunday, June 17, 2012


I was recently in New York City for the SLJ Day of Dialogue. I love going to New York, but I also find it overwhelming. I have lived most of my life in rural areas, and I spend so little time in cities (especially big cities) that I often feel a bit of sensory overload.

However, I had an "ah ha!" moment while walking around Sunday afternoon--I find New York overwhelming because, for me, it is all figure, no ground.

I'll admit I have a very basic understanding of figure-ground organization (I had to look it up to make sure I had the right terminology for my insight), but the easiest way to understand it (at least in the way I'm using it) is in optical illusions like the Rubin Vase. An observer can either see it as two faces in profile, or a vase. The definition of what the image is depends on the interpretation of the observer, not on the image itself. Again, I am not an expert in this; it's just the analogy that helped me make sense of my experience.

For some reason, thinking about how overwhelming my current surroundings were brought to mind a (for me) completely opposite experience. This was many, many years ago--if I had to guess, I'd say I was in middle school. Some of my cousins were visiting our house in upstate New York. I grew up in the Adirondacks, surrounded by fields and mountains, with our "next door" neighbors about a tenth of a mile down the road. A few of my cousins--most of whom lived in the suburbs--were visiting, and they were absolutely fascinated by the cows that lived in the field next to our house. And all I could think was, "What's the big deal? They're just cows; they smell and they attract flies."

For me, the cows were ground; for my cousins, they were figure. For me, everything in New York City was figure; for everyone around me, it was mostly ground.

As I was thinking about and contrasting those two experiences ("so many people! so much to look at! so many sounds/smells/sights!" vs. "what's the big deal, they're just cows"), I started wondering if there are professional conversations in which we've made things ground that really need to be figure--or are making things figure that really should be ground.

Kristin Fontichiaro's recent blog post What Admins Think of Librarian Messages highlights a perfect example of what I'm talking about. Maybe our advocacy efforts aren't as effective as we like not because our messages are being ignored; maybe the messages are being heard, but they're not the right messages.

I wonder, too, if it goes deeper than that. Are there situations in which we've made "the problem" ground, when it's really still figure? When we meet failure in our advocacy efforts, are we staying with the same definition of the problem even though the reason we've met failure is because we're trying to solve the wrong problem? If we've misidentified the problem, there is no chance of identifying the right solution.

On a different level, I wonder how much these figure/ground (mis)perceptions affect our teaching. I don't think we do this consciously, but many teachers (and I include myself in this) often make the process of learning ground, when for many students it is still figure--or, worse, the students have made it ground without actually having a solid understanding of the learning process and themselves as learners. This can range from the "good student" who has become adept at absorbing information and returning the "right" answers at the right time to the "bad student" who has given up on themselves as a learner because this process that seems to come naturally to others--which their teachers don't teach explicitly, further reinforcing the idea that students should naturally know how to do it--does not come naturally to them.

I hear again and again from teachers, "I don't have time for XYZ skill, I need to cover more content." We have, in many ways, made content figure, while keeping the process of learning ground. But is that what education is about? We tend assume (particularly as students get older) that the process of learning is ground for our students, that they have well-established habits of mind. But this is not necessarily true--and even if students have mastered the process of learning when they're younger, as brains mature they become capable of different kinds of thinking. And, as with any truly valuable and complex skill, learning takes practice. If you'll excuse the pun, by assuming that the process of learning is ground for our students, we may be building on a weak foundation.

I also wonder how figure/ground (mis)perceptions impact our teaching of technology. I know many teachers (of all ages) who assume that students just naturally know how to use technology of all kinds effectively. Students may have grown up around these technologies, but that does not mean they have any natural, innate ability. We all grew up around books and print, but I don't know of any "print natives" who had a natural, innate ability to read just because they grew up around books. Letters, words, and their meanings had to be raised to figure for all of us to learn to read. We need to help students raise the technology they're surrounded by from ground to figure in order for them to learn to be thoughtful, effective users of the tools available to them.

The same goes for all sorts of skills--just because a student is good at hanging out with friends does not mean they intuitively understand how to effectively collaborate.

For some of us, these skills have been ground for us for so long that we forget that they used to be figure for us. This is a big part of why I think ongoing learning is such a vital part of being an effective teacher--it makes it easier for you to stay in the mindset of your students, and remember how challenging the process of grappling with new information can be.

It's important for us to step outside ourselves and make a conscious effort to move our assumptions--about all kinds of things--from ground to figure. If we don't try and see things from another point of view, we risk losing all perspective.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Relentless Optimism

Maybe it was Caine who inspired me. I know this video has made the rounds, but if somehow you haven't seen it, take the time to watch it. And if you have seen it, watch it again (the fun pass really is an incredible deal).

There are other reasons, too, but I'm not going to get into them, as many are deeply personal, and that's not the point of this post.

Whatever it was, a few weeks ago I posted the following status update on Facebook:

It was, to be honest, kind of a lark. But somehow--in a way and for reasons I don't think I'll ever fully understand--the idea of "relentless optimism" caught on at my school. A few colleagues "liked" my status, some mentioned it to me. . . and I also started talking about relentless optimism, and shouting "relentless!" when I felt myself getting pulled into negativity. And then other people did, too.

I accidentally started a movement.

And as the accidental leader of this movement, I feel like I should be able to explain what it's about. So I'm going to try, with the disclaimer that my ideas about relentless optimism are evolving every day--in ways driven largely by conversations I'm having with colleagues and friends.

So what is relentless optimism about?

It's about believing in (and working for) the possibility of change despite evidence to the contrary. It's about believing that we're all in this (whatever "this" is) together. It's about moving forward, even when moving forward is frustrating and difficult and overwhelming and seemingly pointless because it feels like you've never gotten anywhere before (or even lost ground).

It's not about being delusional or ignoring problems. It is so NOT about that. It's easy to just pretend that everything's fine--easier still to simply complain about what's wrong and not do anything about it. Relentless optimism is about hope--and hope makes you vulnerable. It involves the potential of feeling let down--or feeling like you let someone else down. And that can be scary. But it's better than feeling stuck.

If you don't try, you are almost guaranteed to feel disappointed. If you try, and things don't work the way you wanted them to, you might still feel disappointed, but at least you'll know you tried. It can be easy--and comfortable--to succumb to negativity and defeatism. Relentless optimism involves risk; it can mean working without a net. It might not feel safe, but it's exhilarating.

And it's hard. It's exhausting. But it's worth it. And surrounding yourself with people who are on the same page is not just important, it's vital.

Relentless optimism is about being part of a team and being inspired by colleagues. The work we do is hard, but it's easier when you know you're not the only one; one of the best parts of the past few weeks has been when a friend or colleague will (seemingly randomly but it always seems to come at just the right moment) e-mail me or text me the word "Relentless!"

It's important to surround yourself with passionate people; it doesn't even matter if you share the same passions. Passion, like negativity, is contagious. So surround yourself with people who inspire you. And if you can't surround yourself with them (because we all have to deal with people who suck the energy right out of you), make sure you spend time talking with them, focusing on them, finding out what they're doing. It sustains you. Well, I know it sustains me.

The work we do is hard, on every level. Its harder still if we dont believe we can make a difference. And feeling like we're all in this together helps.

It's about, as Plato put it, being kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. And don't forget that "everyone" includes you--be kind to yourself. Indulging in hope is kind to yourself. Surrounding yourself with people who inspire you is kind to yourself. Taking a night off is kind to yourself, and makes the rest of life possible. Acknowledging that you're struggling and asking for help is kind to yourself. 

Relentless optimism is about taking the long view. Even when you feel like you're shouting into the void, you have no idea when the echoes will bounce back. There are projects and ideas that Ive been talking about for what seems like forever, and I was giving up hope on ever getting traction on them. And now, all of a sudden (but not really all of a sudden), things are happening. People are responding. Relationships Ive been cultivating for years are transforming into partnerships.

It's about not waiting for someone else to be the leader. No matter our position, we can all be leaders. There will always be other people and other factors that influence the direction of your work, but to cede all the decision making to other people is neither relentless nor optimistic.

Being optimistic (and being relentless) is a choice. It's not always the easy one. But the more often and more deliberately I make it, the easier and more powerful it gets. And I love watching people around me make that choice, too. Relentless optimism does not happen in a vacuum.

And relentless optimism is about so many other things, too. It's about whatever it needs to be about for you.

And optimism is, maybe, the wrong word. Maybe it's more about relentless momentum (which doesn't really have the same ring to it). Forward motion gives me hope. Acknowledging the struggle is optimistic because it means you believe that something can be done. Believing in the possibility of change is the most optimistic thing I can think of. And if you're in education and you don't believe in the possibility of change, I'd like to kindly ask you to get out my profession.

And, perhaps most importantly, it's about yelling "relentless!" at seemingly random moments. As a reminder to yourself, as a reminder to others, and because it adds a little levity. And levity is important.

Because every movement needs buttons

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Things that make me love my job

I'm working on a few big ideas that I've been meaning to write about, but can't seem to make the time and brain space to write about them in the way I want to. It's been a particularly exhausting few weeks, and a time when it's been easy to focus only on what's not working and all the work still left undone. But on my walk this morning (after a glorious nine hours of sleep) I was thinking about some of the projects I've been working on in the last week or two, and realizing that while I am, at times, legitimately frustrated and discouraged, I do have a lot of things to be grateful for.

1) Signing with Texas

When I was at Computers in Libraries in DC, I heard Carolyn Foote speak about how teachers in her school were using iPads in their classes, and she mentioned how her school's sign language teacher was using Skype and FaceTime to connect to other schools. My ears immediately perked up; there aren't a lot of schools with ASL programs, but we have one--and a teacher who I thought would love the idea of connecting with another school. And I was right! Last Thursday the two classes Skyped, and I have no words for how awesome it was to watch these two groups of students connect.

L pass O
Learning the sign for El Paso

2) My students

Friday was the Day of Silence. I was at breakfast Friday morning handing out buttons to student participants, and ribbons and stickers to supporters. Of the 100 buttons we got last year, I had over 50 left over, so I didn't get any new ones this year. But I ran out of buttons, which is the best "problem" I could possibly imagine. I think I had about 70 ribbons, and now I only have two left. My first year here, one student participated in the Day of Silence. To see so many students from diverse social groups take a visible stand for the type of school they want to have gives me "hope for the future" warm fuzzies.

3) Momentum

I've been given the go-ahead to start planning some edcamp-style PD for our school, which is something I've been wanting to do for a while.

4) My colleagues, both near and far

In a year that's been incredibly busy, exhausting, and at times frustrating, I am incredibly grateful for the support and friendship of my colleagues. I am thankful that Twitter and Facebook and this blog and conferences and so many other opportunities have allowed me to connect with colleagues from all over the country. Those connections are invaluable to me both professionally and personally, but I am most grateful for the colleagues at my school who are "in the trenches" with me on a daily basis.

I am given almost daily reminders of how incredible the people I work with are. Their innovation and creativity and passion inspires me. I am so lucky to work with so many amazing people, and so grateful that they seek me out to share what they're doing in their classrooms.

As I've been struggling with some challenges in the past few weeks, they have been there without fail encouraging me, acting as a sounding board, and letting me know that they believe in me and in what I'm trying to accomplish. If you are one of those people (and I hope you know who you are), thank you. So much.

5) Optimism

Last week, half in jest, I posted that having examined the available options,  I had decided on relentless optimism. Mostly this has consisted of yelling the word "relentless!" every time I or anyone around me starts succumbing to negativity. It is ridiculous. But, I swear to you, it works. Both as a reminder to stay optimistic, and as a way to bring levity and stop the slide into dwelling on what's going wrong. I'm not quite ready to write a self-help book based on this experiment, but I highly recommend it.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

"Do you ever come in here?"

We've just finished up Family Weekend at my school, a marathon two days of parent-teacher conferences and other events. Since I'm not a traditional classroom teacher, I only have a handful of formal conferences. I spend most of my time chatting with parents and directing them towards the right teacher's classrooms.

Fairly often during the weekend (and this has been true of every Family Weekend I've been here for) a parent will wander into the library with their student, and ask some variation of, "Do you ever come in here?"

It is usually not an idle question.

And regardless of how often I actually see the student in the library, I never blow their cover. Because most often the question is not really about how often they come to the library--it's about how serious a student they are. Serious students go to the library. And if that's the perception the student wants their parents to have of them--if that's the perception the student wants to have of themselves--I am more than happy to go along.

Do I think it's true that serious students go to the library? Yes. And no. I see very serious students who rarely come to the physical library, and not-so-serious students who are in there all the time. But there is, undeniably, a larger cultural image around library use and being "smart."

My thinking about librarianship and library as place has been shifting in very significant ways over the past few months. But this weekend reminded me that ours is not the only image we need to consider as we talk about the changing role of librarianship.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

My Students in the Rainforest!

Long time readers of this blog (hi Mom!) may assume that the title of this blog is a lead up to an analogy. But I'm being quite literal. For the past 20 years, my school has sent a group of students to the Costa Rican Rainforest in order to conduct scientific research. You can read more about the project on our website. It's an amazing project in many ways.

And I'm going to be a part of it! Wendy Welshans, the project leader, approached me right before the group left on this year's expedition and asked if I wanted to go to the rainforest. After clarifying that she meant next year (you never know. . .), I responded with an enthusiastic yes! I'll be going down with them in order to help them share about the research they're doing while they're there. We'll be blogging and sharing photos and videos, hopefully. As you can imagine, it's quite remote, and we're just beginning to figure out the logistics involved.

For this year, we're working on sharing the results and process of the group that's just returned. We've started a Forman Rainforest Project blog, and a Flickr group , and a YouTube channel (all in the beginning stages, with more to come). The blog includes a separate page for each different project, where we've posted the papers they wrote before heading off to the rainforest, and where we'll eventually share their final dissertations. We'll also be adding interviews with students about their experiences in the rainforest.

This is where I'd like to enlist your and your students' participation. Please, share the blog with teachers and students in your school, and encourage them to comment and ask questions. These students have a ton of great information to share, and their work deserves a wider audience. So share it! Share like crazy! And ask us questions!

Check out our Flickr slideshow and an awesome video of some leaf cutter ants below--if that doesn't pique your interest, I don't know what will.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Understanding introverts

I am way, way late on writing up anything from ALA Midwinter, but I told a few people I'd write up my reflections from Susan Cain's talk about introversion--and I'd also like to write them up in a more formal way for my own reflection purposes. Given the amount of time that's passed however, this is going to be more of a "what she said/what I thought" list rather than something cohesive.

Cain started by asking everyone in the audience to think about a moment in their childhood that illustrated their introversion or extroversion, then gather in groups of six to share those stories. Everyone shifted uncomfortably for a moment before she said she was kidding. You could feel the entire room relax.

I think it would be fair to assume that the majority of people in that room were self-identified introverts--and I think we've all been in situations where a speaker actually wanted us to actually do something like that. And then all tried to figure out how to escape. It was nice to have a speaker instead acknowledge how terrifying such requests can be.

The idealized extrovert:

What Susan Cain had to say:
  • In this extroverted world of ours, we all act more extroverted than we really are
  • We internalize the biases against introverts from a young age
  • We view introversion as something between a flaw and a pathology
My thoughts:
I know I, as an introvert, internalized biases against introverts. I figured there was something wrong with me because I didn't like being around people all the time--and often find social situations overwhelming. Some of that was shyness, but a lot of it isn't. No one who knows me well who would describe me as shy, but I am definitely still introverted.

I think part of this is that extroverts are more likely to be public figures--and introverts who are in the public eye put on an extroverted face. Which always makes me think: we're being told extroversion is the ideal--but who are the ones telling us that? Extroverts. So maybe their viewpoint is a wee bit biased. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with being extroverted--just as there's nothing wrong with being introverted. I think these two personality types can exist without value judgments.

Different kinds of attention:
What Susan Cain had to say:
  • Introverted children absorb information by observing rather than by participating, but they’re still involved.
  • When given a math problem to solve, introverts performed better when there were low levels of background noise, extroverts performed better when background noise went up.
This made me think of the constant debate around multitasking, and students' constant insistence that "I work better with music!" I'm also curious about what this looks like for people who have ADD/ADHD or other executive functioning issues. Does more noise still help? Or hinder? I don't know if there's been any research on that, but I hope there will be.

I also know that I, as an introvert, tend to absorb more by observing than by participating; I think "l'esprit de l'escalier" is the curse of the introvert. In meetings or other groups I am often so busy trying to absorb and process what's happening that it's not until we've moved on (or the meeting is over) that I'm ready to respond. Given the option, I prefer asynchronous communication on group projects--or at least the ability to follow up in writing afterwards (writing helps me figure out my thinking on a topic). Unfortunately, following up with an e-mail about something you "should" have shared in a meeting is often viewed as weak or passive-aggressive (and this is not me projecting insecurities--I've had people tell me this). I've tried to get better in these situations about at least speaking up to say, "I need to think more about this; I'll follow up with my thoughts in an e-mail later."

Lessons for teachers and schools:
What Susan Cain had to say:
  • Classrooms used to mostly involve individual work; focus has tilted almost too much to group work. We need to have room for both.
  • We do a good job facilitating the needs of extroverts; we need to be better at facilitating the needs of introverts
  • Small groups (managed well) can be good for both introverts and extroverts.
  • People learn well in groups, but that’s not the full picture; in real life, these groups are different than the “ideal model” being studied. And really, we learn best 1-to-1
  • Introverted students love to work independently and autonomously, and it drains their energy in order to have to work as an extrovert. 
  • In our push away from “one size fits all” education, are we just trying to cram students into a different mold when the old size actually fit them well?
  • We need balance. And we need room for both.
  • Solitude is an important catalyst to creativity, and introverts are comfortable with solitude. 
My thoughts:

The more we value collaboration in school, what is the impact on our introverted students? I think it's vital that we create ways for both extroverts and introverts to play to their strengths--and to stretch a bit beyond their comfort zone. Collaboration is, I believe, important to learning, but there are different ways to collaborate. Asynchronous collaboration is possible; it doesn't all have to be active group work.

I also think this needs to impact the way we teach and manage our classrooms. Having "active" classrooms is great for extroverts, but overwhelming for introverts. It's important to create room for quiet, too. Just as introverts can benefit from developing the ability to be more active in groups, extroverts can benefit from developing the ability to sit and be still.

Cain also said something else that made me think about how I, personally, work in a school setting. She said that introverts prefer to devote social energies to people they know well. I think this is, likely, why I like working in a small school--working with fewer people, it's possible to develop meaningful working relationships with a higher percentage of the people you work with. And given that librarianship, at least in my mind, is about relationships (more on that in an upcoming post), being able to build those relationships is important. I'm sure I could build those relationships in a bigger school, but building them with a greater percentage of my colleagues feels more possible for me in a small school.

General takeaways:
  • We are losing out on the skills and talents of introverts by compelling them to pretend to be extroverted.
    Introverts are social beings, too. We just express it differently. 
    Extroverts seize the day, introverts make sure there is another day to seize.
  • Everyone shines, given the right lighting. For some it’s a Broadway spotlight, for others it is a lamplit desk.
  • Collaboration between introverts and extroverts can be powerful. Each brings different strengths. 
  • I’m not saying John Donne was wrong and man is an island after all. We need each other.
  • We need a world where it is culturally permissible to go off and be quiet. At work and at school.
  • We need to let our children know that it is okay to be introverted
That last one is the big takeaway for me. We need to stop teaching--directly and indirectly--that extroversion is the ideal, and introverts better learn to measure up to it. Or we're all going to miss out.

Friday, March 2, 2012

One School, Many Books

My students have all headed off for Spring Break--a welcome break for all involved! I'm relieved to be on break (goal for break: get my sleep back in functioning condition), but also excited about what will be happening when students come back from break.

We started a program I'm calling "One School, Many Books" this year. I'd long been interested in doing a One School One Book program, but had no idea what book I would choose for such a program. As a result of working in a very small school with students with very diverse reading interests, all of my top ten checkouts have checkout totals in the single digits. What book could I possibly choose? Especially since much of my population is comprised of VERY reluctant readers. If the book doesn't appeal to them, there's no way they're going to even give it a shot.

But then I started thinking about what could motivate students to read a book over Spring Break. And I realized, as with so many other things, it's about making connections between people. A student who might not be interested in reading a book (or only have a passing interest in reading a book) might be more interested if reading that book was tied to a book club being hosted by one of their favorite teachers.

We have an amazing faculty here, and several of them stepped up right away to host book clubs. Each of them have different interests, and connect with different kids, and so picked out very different books. Which I love. We've got groups reading The Hunger Games, The Art of Racing in the Rain, Lola and the Boy Next Door, Gentlemen and Trapped.

Once I announced the book clubs, students would come in looking for "the book that Ms. _______ is reading." Didn't matter the book, they wanted to spend time with the teacher. They knew the teacher, liked the teacher, assumed

We're building on relationships that already exist in order to foster a love of reading. And it's really cool to watch it happening.

As part of this, we're hosting a visit from Michael Northrop (author of Gentlemen and Trapped) in April. Handing out those books to kids has been particularly cool. "This is mine to keep? Do you think he'll sign it for me? Awesome!"

In honor of that visit--and in the interest of generating more interest in those books, I made a couple book trailers.

I love making book trailers, as it pushes me to think in ways I don't usually think. "Thinking in pictures" is generally a weakness for me, but many of my students connect really well with images, so it's a skill I work on a lot--and making book trailers is a really fun way to develop that skill set. I use flickrCCBlueMountains for images, and have recently added PhotoPin to my "go to" sites for CC images. I use Jamendo for music, and I don't know what I'd do without it.

Overall we have about 30 (out of 180) kids involved in the book clubs in some way. I'm looking forward to the book club discussions that will be happening after break!

Monday, February 13, 2012

I'm not "just" anything

I have been kind of completely and totally overwhelmed at the response to my most recent post; it's amazing to me that something I wrote could resonate with so many people. What's been even more gratifying is the conversations I've been able to have with people about the role and perceptions of school librarians. 

In that post I hinted at--but did not make entirely clear--one of the two words that bothers me most when we talk about images of libraries and librarians.

That word: make.

The point I didn't make clearly enough in that post is that I have no problem at all with the doing what we can to help educators, administrators, and legislators understand what we do and why it's important. I think we should demonstrate, I think we should teach, I think we should share, I think we should tell. I think we should be very deliberate and purposeful about taking our lights out from under the bushel. But those are not the words I most often hear--the word I hear more often than not is "make"--and as a reader and recovering English teacher, I know that verbs matter.

I know, of course, that other parts of speech matter, too. Which brings me to the other word I hear again and again in these discussions, and that bothers me even more.


As in "more than just a librarian." Or "more than just books." That we need to "make" people see that we're more than "just" librarians.

I am often described by colleagues as being "more than just a librarian" and while I know they're trying to be complimentary, it always makes me cringe. Is there something wrong with being "just" a librarian?

It just seems so. . . dismissive. As if being a librarian isn't much to be impressed by.

It seems that people are looking for a term that encompasses more than traditional, stereotypical definitions of what a librarian is. In school libraries in particular, they seem to want a word that encompasses both teacher and librarian--and the term they most often go for seems to be "media specialist." For the record, I hate the term media specialist. I think it makes me sound like a PR consultant. Not that there's anything wrong with being a PR consultant--it's just not what I am. 
We seem to be in a bit of a "redefinition phase" and I think we need to be really thoughtful about the roles we're playing as people make up their minds about the terms they use to describe us, and the definitions attached to those terms. The dictionary definitions of librarian are vague enough that it's really up to us. And beyond the dictionary, it really is up to us as librarians to define who we are and what we do; we won't be able to "make" anyone have a particular definition of librarianship, but our actions will determine the limits of that defintion.

I really hope that the end result of these growing pains is not a new name for what I do, but a new definition of the term librarian. I don't want the idea of librarianship to be limited by "just"; I want to expand the limits of traditional definitions.

I worry, too, about the use of the word "just" when we talk about being about "more than just books." Even though what I do extends far beyond paper books, I don't think that the work I do with connecting readers and books (no matter their format) is anything to be dismissed; it's important work, and it's work I love.
I've heard other school librarians use the term "more than just a librarian" too (usually in the context of "how do we make them see we're more that just librarians). I always find this a little dispiriting--if we won't own the title, how can expect anyone else to?

I don't want a new name for what I do. I love being a school librarian, and I think that title fits perfectly for what I do and who I am.  Rather than looking for a term that means more than "just" a librarian and encompasses all that we do, I would love to see us broaden the definition of librarian to include all that we know librarians do.

I am not "just" anything. I am a school librarian. No more, no less.

Monday, February 6, 2012

"You're not really a librarian"

The other day I got into an "argument" with a student about whether or not I was really a librarian. His position was that I wasn't a librarian--I was actually a teacher who happened to have an office in the library.

It was a weird discussion to be having. As the conversation continued, it became clear that he was, in no small part, trying to annoy me. But I don't think the original statement was meant just to taunt me. We ended up trying to pull in other students to make our respective cases--his that I wasn't a librarian, mine that I really was. The general consensus seemed to be that I was definitely a librarian. And probably also a teacher.

I was thinking about the discussion I had with him, and with other students, in light of one of the phrases I so often hear when it comes to changing the perception/image of school librarians:

"how do we make them see that librarians [fill in the blank]"

This was not a student I know particularly well, nor have I worked with him a lot. He's new to the school this year. There's nothing I've done to try and "make" him see anything. I've just been doing my job the same way I've been doing it for years, and he came to his own conclusions.

We will never "make" anyone understand anything about school librarianship. We will do our jobs, and people will come to conclusions. It is frustrating that our colleagues, our administrators, and our legislators don't always understand our jobs. But there is no position statement or pamphlet that will truly change that. They are carrying with them perceptions of school librarians formed when they were in school.

If we concentrate on our students, our future colleagues, administrators and legislators won't need to be "made" to see anything. They will carry with them the perceptions of school librarians they are forming right now. Which is why we need to hold ourselves--and each other--to a high standard. Unfortunately, there are school librarians out there who are not doing us any favors when it comes to the perceptions of school librarians students will carry into the future.

I have met librarians who say, "this tech stuff is interesting, but it has nothing to do with my job." Or, "collaborating with teachers just takes too much time." Or librarians who express, in dozens of little ways, their general disinterest in students who don't come naturally motivated when it comes to reading and research.

We don't know which students in our library today are going to be future teachers, administrators, or legislators--but I guarantee their rosters are going to include today's unmotivated or struggling students who don't feel welcome in their school library. And by the time they're adults, there's nothing we will be able to do to "make" them change their perception. The only time we have for that is right now, with the students in our schools.

I don't know what to do about school librarians who are unconcerned with the perceptions their students are forming about libraries. It's a bigger issue than I feel equipped to address. So in the meantime I go to my library, and I do my job. And if my students graduate thinking of a school librarian as "a teacher who has an office in the library," I like to think I've done a pretty good job.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

14 Things to Tame

While at AASL in Minneapolis, I went to a session about 17 Things to Chew On, a 23 Things-style learning program for teachers created by two school librarians (Alicia Duell and Allison Cabaj) in Illinois. I'd been thinking about doing something similar for a while, but couldn't wrap my head around the logistics; the plan that Alicia and Allison shared filled in some of the blanks for me.

Inspired, I returned to my school and started to think about how to make my own "Things" program a reality. I'm lucky to have a very supportive administration, and even though I'm not sure they understood exactly what I was planning, they gave me the go ahead.

The next step was to create a video to promote the program. I wrote a script, and then gathered my performers. I also went around asking faculty if I could take a picture of them looking frustrated in front of a computer; none of them asked me why I was taking these pictures, displaying a level of trust in me that I both truly appreciate and plan to exploit again in the future.

I introduced the program, 14 Things to Tame, during our professional development day last week, and the response so far has been amazing (and I only had to strong-arm a few of them). There are incentives involved along the way; I've also been putting candy in the teacher's mailbox after each task they complete, in an effort to create a Pavlovian response (learn something new! get a piece of candy!). Dear colleagues: please do not think of yourselves as subjects in a science experiment.

There are teachers from all different departments participating; there are also at least a few teachers who are following along, even if they're not participating. And that's part of what I love about a program like this--you can participate in the conversation in whatever way you're most comfortable, but--one way or another--everyone becomes part of the conversation. The people who are participating are talking about it to the people who are participating--and they're all talking about the role that these technologies can play in their professional development and in their classrooms.

I'm excited. I already have more teachers participating than I expected, and I'm sure I can guilt even more into participating. I know it's going to be a lot of work, but I think the payoff will be worth it. If you're thinking of doing something similar in your own school, please feel free to ask questions or borrow anything from my own program!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Reference Question of the Day

"I need some sources on the history of Christianity before Jesus."

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Mid-year New Year

Having spent most of my professional life as a teacher (and most of my life before that as a student), the January New Year has never felt quite right to me. The real New Year for me was always in September (or August). The January New Year seems like a bonus New Year, a mid-year pause to reflect on the first half of the year, and re-focus for the second half of the year.

For the record, I am not much a resolution maker (or keeper). I have only successfully kept two resolutions: 1) to moisturize and 2) to make changes in my life when I felt like I needed to, and not when dictated by a date on the calendar.*

The second half of the year is, generally speaking, much busier than the first half of the year, at least in my library (though how my year can get any busier is beyond me; maybe I should go buy some more coffee). The fall is a warm-up in a lot of ways. Students and teachers are getting into the groove, getting to know each other, and just starting to dive into content. I, too, am getting to know new teachers, new courses, and testing out new ideas. Come spring, however, we're all warmed up and far more people are ready to dive in to more and more ambitious research projects.

I like this pattern a lot. I always have teachers who do research in the fall, and it gives me (and them) a chance to test out new ideas for instruction and resources. I'm then able to fine-tune, re-work, or completely abandon those ideas come spring, when the research projects and requests for instruction and resources start coming fast and furious (and usually with short turn-around time).

But, as I mentioned, this fall has been busier than most. This is a result of many things--having more on my plate (first as the de facto ed tech facilitator, and then as the actual ed tech facilitator), more teachers who want collaborate more often and earlier in the year (file that under "good problems") and, as I start to feel really "at home" in this profession, and more professionally active (both formally and informally) I am increasingly aware of what's out there, what other people are doing, what I want to do, and what I think I should be doing. And all of that adds up to a lot.

As a result, I feel both more and less ready for the second half of the year than I usually do--more ready because I have more ideas, but less ready because this fall has been so busy I've had less time to really reflect on what's working and what's not working.

This has been one of the downsides of being so busy this fall; as I have more and more I want to take the time to reflect on, the less time I feel like I have to reflect--both on the day-to-day of my practice, but also on the larger picture of how I work. How do I pace myself, without feeling like I'm leaving something out? How do I focus, while continuing to grow? What is the balance? Is there one?

One of the most amazing parts of this past year has been the many people I've been able to meet and learn from.** While more and more librarians are going solo, this experience is far less isolating than it used to be; even though I have no librarian colleagues in my school, I feel like I have colleagues all over the country. And because of all I've learned from these people, I feel the need to give back, but I want to give back something that is as good as what I've taken from people. It's a pressure that's coming from no one but myself, but it's a pressure I feel nonetheless.

I have ambitious plans for the rest of this school year, and for the calendar year as well. I know that I will fall short on some of them--I know because I've fallen short on my plans even when they're less ambitious. And I think I've decided that's okay. I would much rather over-extend and fall short, than just work within my comfort zone.

It's not exactly a resolution, but it'll do.

* I did, however, tweet the following last night: ""When someone asks you if you're a god, you say yes." /NewYearsResolution". This resolution was inspired by the fact that a) I had a couple nights earlier gotten into an "argument" with a friend of mine about whether or not I was well-liked (I was arguing to the contrary) and b) I'd been watching Ghostbusters.

**And holy crap, as I think back on the past year, I have met a lot of people and had a lot of amazing opportunities. I'm half-inclined to do a year-end inventory of everything I've done in the past 12 months, but just thinking about it is kind of overwhelming, and right now I'm trying to focus on being overwhelmed by the upcoming year.