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.