Tag Archives: Education

School Library Journal Leadership Summit #sljsummit

2013-10-03 07.47.46

SLJ Summit 2013 Bag

This summer I received an invitation to attend the 2013 SLJ Leadership Summit. I honestly did not know such an event existed, and as I explored the possibility of attending, I became excited to discover that many of the “School Library Rock Stars” that I follow on Twitter and greatly admire would be in attendance. Then I began to wonder how I could get myself from South Carolina to Austin, TX. Fortunately, one of the benefits of being active in your state’s school library organization is that you make connections all over. I am presently the South Carolina Association of School Librarians Legislative Chair and last March I had the pleasure of traveling to Washington, DC with the director of our state library. I remembered her mentioning something about travel grants for librarians to attend conferences and e-mailed her an inquiry. I applied for and received a travel grant and eagerly anticipated September 27, 2013. At last that date arrived, I boarded my plane, and just a few hours later stepped onto Texas soil (pavement?).

Upon arrival, I immediately recognized my own species as I awaited the shuttle to my hotel. I mean, what do you think when you see a grown woman in a Hogwarts Express t-shirt and another with The Hunger Games peeking from her bag? I asked, “Are you ladies school librarians?” and I’m sure you can imagine the conversation that followed. I discovered that I had connected with a past president and the current president from the North Carolina Library Media Association. Not only that, these women were better prepared than I and had already discovered that the Austin Teen Book Festival was taking place right across from our hotel. Yes, I had died and gone to heaven.

Day One 

ATBF 2013 Goodreads Shelf

ATBF 2013 Goodreads Shelf

Good fortune seemed to smile on me in Austin because I discovered after a little comparison of schedules that I had time to hear the keynote address at the Book Festival before the SLJ Summit began. Who, might you ask, did I have the honor of hearing? None other than Maggie Stiefvater! Squeeeee! Not only that, but there was a promise of at the very least seeing 40 other YA authors, not to mention the “swag” that several publishers and authors brought along to the festival. Maggie Stiefvater was a delightful and wonderfully entertaining keynote speaker. She was high energy and her stories gave me great insight into how she comes up with those twisted story lines that so delight our young adult readers (and me!).  Her speech revolved around her writing and how those words came to be on the page. Somehow she has been labeled a “risk-taker”, but based on her story about somehow ending up owning a race car, actually racing that car, giving the car away and ending up with 2 silkie goats, and then permitting her fans (and one gang-banger) to tag her personal car at a book signing, I’m sure this is a false impression. Her imagination is surely a dark and scary place, but when she lets it take the reigns, we all benefit from her wonderful prose.

The SLJ Summit

Opening remarks by SLJ Executive Editor Kathy Ishizuka reminded the 200 or so attendees that libraries are a “world beyond scripted curricula and standardized tests” and asked us to think about how we cultivate interest in our students.  Annie Murphy Paul, author of the soon-to-be-published Brilliant: The New Science of Smart, incredible thinker/research and frequent contributor to Time Magazine, then kicked off the Summit with a discussion of cognitive science and how important it is for us as educators to capture and hold our students’ attention if we expect them to perform and do well academically.

Some key points from Annie Murphy Paul’s lecture include:

  • Make something more comprehensive by making it more interesting.
  • We do not have to be “secret keepers” in education. Provide our students with a road map to learning. For example, if you are using a poem you know your students will not be able to decipher, give them the knowledge they need to do so. If you are studying a painting, give the students background about the artist so they can frame the artist’s perspective and interpret the art.
  • Developing background in any subject will help us intrigue and capture the interest of our students.
  • Demonstrate your own passion about a subject. If a student recognizes our personal interest, they may be able to connect as well.
  • Avoid the “this is going to be important to your future” spiel that we are inclined to give because we don’t know why students need it other than it is on the test. Let students determine the importance of the learning and let them establish ways it may be important to them right here, right now.
  • Help students develop a sense not only of why a subject or new knowledge matters to them personally but also the social value of the learning. If you have knowledge others need, want, or value then you have some authority over that subject. Who doesn’t want to be an expert? This is an ideal use of the jigsaw learning method.
  • We, as educators, are “evokers of interest” and must help students build confidence and self efficacy, increasing autonomy and self direction. In an increasingly digital environment, this should not be news to any teacher, regardless of our title.
  • It is “troublesome” that some schools, district, and educators are trapped in the “identify model” which assumes that only a few students are capable of higher order thinking, prompting us to spend all of our money and dedicate all of our resources to them, instead of doing our best to stimulate interest in all learners.
  • There have been some studies that indicate use of digital devices for reading may not be as productive or successful as reading a printed book. Factors include not having “landmarks” of where something is on a page in a digital reader and a person’s ability to move from reading to so many other things like gaming and surfing the web. With print, all we can do is read. In a digital environment, we are constantly distracted by whether or not we should click on a hyperlink, answer a text, Google something we don’t know, and become lost in our new pursuits.
  • While libraries are becoming more collaborative and social, we must still preserve some “sanctuary space” for those students who need quiet, security, and comfort. Students need a certain level of security and privacy, even in collaborative situations, to be able to speak their minds and share honest opinions without the fear of being overheard or berated.
  • Cognitive science research has continually disproved our ability to “multitask.” We literally cannot pay attention to two things at once. Therefore, educators must “cultivate the practice of focusing on one thing at a time when it is time to learn, think deeply, write, and work.”

Following our wonderful keynote, we had a delicious lunch and then dove right into a panel discussion entitled “Allies in Leadership: Pivot Points & Opportunities for Teacher Librarians.” Featured panelists were  Mark Ray, who was once a school library media specialist but has “crossed over” to the administrative side of education in his current role as Manger of Instructional Technology and Library Services in Vancouver Public Schools, and key players from that district including principal Kym Tyelyn-Carlson, curriculum coordinator Layne Curtis, and chief information officer Lisa Greseth. They discussed the changing roles of school library media centers and librarians, including opportunities afforded by Common Core to increase our leadership roles in our schools and districts, the digital shift and its effect on the 21st century classroom, organization of digital content, and flexible learning initiatives. Pivot points for our profession include our roles as technology integrators, content creation versus curation, and moving from a digital versus literacy mindset to one of digital AND literacy. My favorite learning moment was introduction to a new vocabulary word, “chopportunity”, which means taking a challenge and turning it into an opportunity. This, of course, should be a school library media specialist’s call to action.

Leadership Exchange

The panel flowed into breakout sessions where we were asked to explore the future of library media programs, library media centers, and library media specialists in 5 to 10 years. My main impression of this particular exercise was summed up when one of our participants stated there is simply no way to know where we’ll be or what library media programs will look like even in so near a future as five years. Look at all the changes that are currently taking place, changes that we anticipated to some degree, yet were largely unprepared for when they arrived. Advances in technology alone currently have the publishing industry, educational service providers, and even large corporations running to catch up with consumers and school districts who are embracing technology and parachuting into the digital landscape.

We did however have a few “ah-ha!” moments when Mark Ray, our facilitator, thew out a caveat as many of us focused too much on the limitations, challenges, and frustrations of the here and now and lost our future-focus. His asked, and I am sure I partially mis-quote, “What is sacred and what are you defending? The library or what happens there? What’s more important?” He went on to add that much of what we do in our libraries is “fluffy”, meaning it cannot easily be measured on a standardized test and may not generate the overwhelming mountains of data that administrators and other key players want to see. His challenge was to find ways to better link what we do to student report cards and achievement.

Storytelling in Transition

SLJ and authors treat us to Fantastic Flying Books, Chopsticks, and more!

SLJ and authors treat us to Fantastic Flying Books, Chopsticks, and more!

Most of Saturday was filled with library media rock stars, but the closing session was reserved for the people most library media specialists truly love to hear and see: authors! These authors were doubly engaging however, because they included Lambert Fabian and Brandon Oldenburg from Moonbot Studios which created The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, author Jessica Anthony of Chopsticks fame, and publisher Ben Schrank. I was awed. Fortunately, they were so engaging and entertaining, I quickly moved from awe to major fan-dom. Again, I learned so much more than I thought possible and increased my vocabulary to include the definition of transmedia play as provided by Becky Herr-Stephenson, coauthor of the USC Annenbergy Innovation Lab study “T is for Transmedia.” What is transmedia? Social play, across media types. Herr-Stephenson then pointed out that libraries are perfect places for such play to occur, an environment that fosters tinkering, exploring, creating, and so much more. This of course segued into discussions of libraries as makerspaces for many people at the summit.

Fitting End to a Fantastic Saturday

I ended my day at the Teen Book Festival, where I met some of my favorite YA authors including Jo Knowles, Lauren Myracle, Sarah Dessen, and Melissa De La Cruz. It was incredibly awesome. I resorted to complete book-nerdom with wild abandon and had the best time talking to some of the young people who volunteered at the event. I also scored autographed copies of books by Holly Black, Jo Knowles, and Maggie Stiefvater.

View from Congress Avenue Bridge

View from Congress Avenue Bridge

Not one to waste opportunity, I followed the Teen Book Festival with a tour of the Pecan Festival then took a walk over to the Congress Avenue bridge to try to get a peek at the bats. Apparently there are about 1.5 million bats living under the bridge and they normally put on a grand display each evening. They decided they weren’t going to cooperate this particular night and instead spent most of their time darting in and out, snapping up insects.

Day Two 

Antero Garcia, Assistant Professor of English at Colorado State University, opened our Sunday session. Word is he was only invited because he married a librarian, but he got us off to a great start by talking about his past experiences as an English teacher in South Central Los Angeles. His talked about how collaboration helps us build relationships and transform our schools and communities. Using methods such as “Ask Anansi“, he encouraged his students to go out and find the answers to questions that mattered to them and their community. He motivated students to investigate, interview people in the area, take photographs, and learn more about their own lives and their own stories. He then encouraged them to take the knowledge they gathered and share it to make a positive difference and inform those around them. He also gave us a bit of insight into everything from fan fiction to how authors use social media to market themselves. Why is this important? As Garcia points out, this shifts the relationship between the author and the consumer. This sparked ideas for many of us about how we market ourselves and our library programs. His final encouragement was for us to engage in and transform our world through our library programs.

ALA president Barbara Stripling told us that she considers herself a “lemonade maker” who sees opportunity in challenges. What are challenges for school library programs? Literacy, inquiry, social and emotional growth of students, equity and diversity. She reminded us that literacy empowers individuals to imagine, communicate, discover, and achieve. Barbara also encouraged us to sign the Declaration for Rights to Libraries, which I did. This was followed by 15 minute presentations from guests including YALSA’s Beth Yoke, public and school librarians, and Associate Superintendent of Lubbock TX IDS Joel Castro. Through this “Fast Learning” opportunity we overviewed several collaborative initiatives from coast to coast, and also had the opportunity to get an administrative view of library media programs. Mr. Castro encouraged us to make connections with our staff, particularly in the areas of math and science, where libraries and subject areas seldom meet, to be visible in our schools, take on leadership roles, and to gather hard data to share with our colleagues and our administrative teams.

I was forced to leave the summit a little early to catch a plane back to home, but I encourage anyone who has the opportunity to participate in the SLJ Leadership Summit or in other leadership opportunities to make every effort to do so. I learned so much, talked with and listened to some of the movers and shakers in our field, and came home still processing all I gleaned from the summit. To read what others have to say about the summit on Twitter, view #sljsummit.

Clockwise from top: Jo Knowles, ATBF swag, signing the Declaration, Lauren Myracle, Melissa de la Cruz and Sarah Dessen

Clockwise from top: Jo Knowles, ATBF swag, signing the Declaration, Lauren Myracle, Melissa de la Cruz and Sarah Dessen

Useful Links

Transformation Through Effective Collaboration – SLJ Summit 2013

SLJ Summit Wordle

“T” is for Transmedia: Learning through Transmedia Play

Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries Study

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Show Me the Awesome: Advocate or Vacate

Artwork by John LeMasney, lemasney.com

Artwork by John LeMasney, lemasney.com

Nearly a month ago, I stumbled across a blog post on Kelly Jensen’s  Stacked about a library program promotion entitled “Show Me the Awesome: 30 Days of Self-Promotion.” The premise is great. Give librarians from every venue an opportunity to blog about program advocacy, library promotion, and the wonderful things they do in their libraries. In fact, this blog post was the reason I began my blog, as I explained in my first post. Now, on the eve of my blog post date, I’m a little nervous. I’ve read other posts for “Show Me the Awesome,” which are all handily curated by Liz Burns and Sophie Brookover. I’ve commiserated with some of the bloggers, been jealous of a few others, and wondered about exactly what I was thinking when I signed on for this assignment.

School librarians, or teacher librarians, or whatever the name du jour happens to be are not by nature “horn tooters.” We do our jobs quietly and just are. We do our best to make sure that our school looks good, our students are happy, and our teachers have what they need at zero-hundred hours on the clock of doom. If we receive thanks or our efforts are publicly lauded, we hang our heads and whisper a quiet “Oh, it was nothing.” Well, guess what? Our “Oh, it was nothings” are giving legislators and administrators around the country reasons each and every day to eliminate our positions. Because we have shied away from talking about our programs, our value to the schools we serve, and the many duties we juggle on a daily basis, we are viewed as expendable.

The Evidence

In 2010, a Google Map was created entitled “A Nation Without Schools” to highlight all the schools and districts that have lost school librarians. It gets updated regularly. Just this month, School Library Journal reported that schools in Philadelphia might lose librarians due to budget cuts. Now Orange County, Florida is facing budget cuts and looking to move certified library media specialists to the classroom, leaving their positions vacant. All of this is happening despite the mountain of research that shows a certified school librarian improves student achievement. There seems to be a communication breakdown. Are the school librarians the only ones who are reading the research? Why don’t the people making the decisions about budgeting and funding know how much value we add to our schools’ academic programs? I think this phenomena may be traced right back to the hesitancy of school librarians to make a big noise about what they are doing, who they are serving, and how it is effecting the overall school program. We have to learn to advocate for ourselves or we need to go ahead and pack up our offices and vacate the premises. While funding decisions are not in our hands, if we can make our administrators, teachers, students, parents, and community understand what we do and why we do it, we can make ourselves more than an afterthought or a “bonus” program.

Overcoming Insecurity

We have to overcome our sense of un-awesomeness. We really shortchange ourselves and our programs. We may not all be doing some of the incredible, innovative, and wickedly cool things our colleagues are doing, but we make a difference in the lives of our students. That’s the point, right? That’s why we have TEACHING degrees first, and then actually went back to school to get a Master’s in Library Science. We knew what and who mattered most from the very beginning. Our students are what make us count. Sadly, our students are also the ones who just assume we will always be there, doing what we do, letting them know when that Diary of a Wimpy Kid book they put on hold finally comes in, remembering that Janie Shumaker in Mrs. River’s homeroom will absolutely die for the latest paranormal romance that just arrived, showing  Ramon how to download and edit a film he made using a flip camera, and figuring out how to deactivate the not-so-accessible accessibility function on Damon’s iPad before he has to be in science class. Teachers, too, take us for granted because that’s the way we have always wanted it. We know which teachers can’t figure out how to use a mouse, let alone download a video clip, so we do it for them. We remember where to find juried articles for those certification renewal classes the social studies teacher need and how to submit data for National Board renewals. We know who always asks to use the computers on the 23rd of May when she just cannot teach another student another algebraic equation and makes them research mathematicians instead. We also — hold on to your hat — teach. We teach digital citizenship, we teach web site evaluation, we teach document formatting, we teach book selection and reading strategies. We do what needs to be done to ensure the success of our patrons, all of them. And when another program comes down the pipe and “someone” needs to oversee it, be in charge of it, organize it, who is that person on most occasions? The librarian. Why? Because no one knows what we do, so they assume we have time to do whatever the new flavor of the day is. And you know what else? We do it TOO. Not in place of, in spite of, or rather than, but in ADDITION TO what we already do.

So, what do we do?

We continue doing what we do, but we learn to take a minute to let everyone else know we are doing it! We have to not only give ourselves that little smile (okay, sometimes I actually smirk) of satisfaction when that kid runs down the hall waving that book or that teacher collapses at our feet out of gratitude because we saved him from another boring poster board project by showing him Prezi, and he figured out he could grade everyone’s project in his bathrobe on his sofa. We ask those kids and teachers to tell someone else about our service or let the principal know how happy they are. We let people know that we wrote grants to buy new books, start e-book collections, and purchase e-readers because our budget hasn’t increased in six years or we didn’t even get a budget this year. We talk to our colleagues about what we are doing, ask for their help and suggestions, we tweet about our successes and make sure we include the board members and school superintendent. We become active members of our school library associations and actually participate instead of tuck the membership card in our wallet or use the membership number to get discounts in the product store. We volunteer to write blog posts even though we are absolutely terrified even if we wonder who on Earth wants to read about us because we can send the link to our administrators. We begin providing ourselves with the same level of support we give every other person in our school.

Moving Forward

I have served four schools, at all levels, in my 18 years as a school librarian. I have been in really big schools and really small schools. I have only been in my current school two years, and am just getting my feet wet with a new staff and new demographic of students. School librarians are, after all, nothing if not adaptable. We know how to study our surroundings and learn to fit in. That’s often why we are forgotten or just assumed to be around somewhere. In fact, I have been out of my school on several occasions this year for professional development or fulfilling my duties as Legislative Chair for the South Carolina Association of School Librarians [SCASL] and my faculty barely realized because I continued to answer their questions and provide them with resources remotely through e-mail. They are used to asking me questions and getting answers. They are used to me giving them what they need on the spot, and I do. But this year, thanks to encouragement from my colleagues, advocacy tips from SCASL and ALA, my principal’s passion for social media, my deep curiosity, and simply being in a climate where all of the staff is encouraged to share and grow together, I have made a real effort not to promote myself, but to let people know that I am promoting them and our school through my programming.

Showing My Awesome

I have a Twitter account, a school library Facebook page, a Goodreads account where I review books my students are reading, and now I blog. I use these methods of communication to build my professional learning community, share what works and what doesn’t for me, learn new things, and glean fresh ideas to keep my program relevant and useful in an increasing digital landscape. I am learning to use Edmodo since my district is embracing it as a communication and instructional tool. I volunteered to serve on my districts Library Advisory Committee and I served as a member of one of several forums as my district planned a move to 1:1 iPad implementation, which begins next year (blog material!). I served on SCASL’s Junior Book Award committee while also learning what a Legislative Chair does. I ran small, easy programs throughout the year based on national library events like Banned Books Week, National Library Week, and National Poetry Month while orchestrating a surprise renovation of my traditional library space into more of a learning commons. I had lots of contests, most of which I borrowed from colleagues’ blog posts since I am not particularly creative in such areas. I began searching Pinterest for more ideas. I have received four grants in two years to expand my program, and have written a couple more I am waiting to hear about. I communicated monthly usage statistics which my principal shared on the school website and I created bulletin boards sharing this information with students and anyone else walking our halls. I took a small group of students to our state Read-In and participated in ALA’s Library Legislative Days in Washington, DC. I have had more requests for my services as word of mouth and my mountain of e-mails, surveys, and direct inquiries  have shown my new faculty that I am approachable and want to help. I requested and received permission to offer teacher recertification workshops on technology, which I will begin this summer and continue into next year. I have cheered my colleagues along, applauded and bragged about their efforts, discussed my plans and asked for assistance, and in return they have shown their support of me and talked about my library program.

This summer, I will also work on creating some form of student-accessible blog or website or something to curate all the great things I have collected and make them useable to students who will have access to an iPad each day on campus. These students may not need to access my physical space in the building in the same ways they have in the past, but they will need my knowledge and the information I can provide them. I’ll plan programs, figure out how to navigate a new learning environment, and try to implement changes that will keep my library program fresh and interesting when students have the distraction of iPads as not only learning tools but entertainment. I want to work on a marketing plan based on Jennifer LaGarde’s blog post School Marketing 101. Her blog post gave me new ideas and a better perspective on what I want to achieve.

Your Turn to Be Awesome!

We matter. We know we do. We see it on a small scale every day. There is even hard data to prove it. Let’s just let our awesomeness shine and light our successes and the successes of our colleagues, let’s give our students and teachers something to be excited about. Now, go ahead,  you can do it. Show us YOUR awesome!

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