Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Guest Post: Are Media Specialists Irreplaceable or Dispensable?

For the last five years, I was a library media specialist in two elementary schools in a small school district in the Midwest. I loved my job; I loved the students I taught; I loved working with the fantastic paraprofessionals in the libraries and being surrounded by books and new ways to learn every day. But it wasn’t enough for me. Is it for you?

Ever since I started grad school to get my library media license I’ve heard professors and fellow media specialists go on and on about how no one understands what media specialists do; how we are never supported; how we are often the first ones cut, even though studies have shown that having a library media specialist in your school raises test scores. I’ve read about how important it is that we advocate for ourselves; how we need to help administration and school board members understand what it is we do and how we help the entire school – teachers and students – reach their full potential. Honestly, though, I rolled my eyes at all of these articles and blog posts and conference sessions. After all, I had a secure media job. Sure I covered prep time (that is, after all, what made it secure), which meant that most of my day was spent teaching, and the remaining moments (including my own prep time) were spent doing the jobs that actually define a media position – assisting teachers with technology, setting up computer programs for students, reading up on new technologies and books. But it wasn’t until I resigned this spring that I really began to understand how little we media specialists are understood.

I resigned in order to move closer to my family, but when another media specialist in the district decided to go back to the classroom, and the other two specialists in the district were interested in tech jobs that were open, the district saw an opportunity to rid itself of media. (While at the same time adding about 1000 student iPads, thus officially becoming a 1:1 iPad school, K-12.) What a punch to the stomach. What a way to say goodbye. While I joked that I was like Beyonce – “Irreplaceable!” – I was actually very hurt. When I was hired five years ago, there was no media curriculum. Over the last five years, I created my own, and while it was by no means perfect, I am proud of the program I created.  But now no one was going to continue what I had started.

I think what we all want in a job, whatever our occupation is, is support, understanding, and accountability. I did my job well for five years, but I wonder who noticed, besides the students who (hopefully) learned a little bit -- about technology, about learning, about literature. Perhaps that’s all that matters – that I taught my students well, that I shared my own love of learning and literature and technology with them. But it’s not enough for me.

In my next job, I dream about having the full support of my bosses. I dream about my bosses actually understanding what it is I do. I dream about having a job description. I know I won’t be finding that in a school library media position. And while it’s been sad to say goodbye to the students and to the colleagues and friends I’ve worked with for five years, I am ready, excited, and optimistic that, while I do not expect to find a “perfect” job (Does that even exist?), I do hope to find one that holds me accountable for what I’ve been asked to do and that makes me feel appreciated for doing it. I sure hope to find it.

Author has asked to remain anonymous.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Honesty is Alive and Well

Now that we are about three weeks into the summer, I decided to stop by school to catch up on mail, deliveries etc. It turned out to be a very interesting day. In my box of mail, there was a rather thick and rather well-taped box which bore a return address from West Virginia. When I said it was well-taped, I meant really secure. Of course I was suspicious, since 1. I never ordered anything from West Virginia, 2. I had no idea who the person was who send this package, 3. The news makes us concerned about strange packages. Once it was opened, I was surprised to see a library book which was stamped with our school's name, and a note which read:

Well thank you, Ed! You were honest enough to take the time to wrap up our book and send it back home. (We are Ridgefield Park, not Ridgeview Park) The book had last been renewed in 1969 and cost $5.95. Copyright: 1937. I was reminded of the Seinfeld episode in which Jerry has a book which is decades overdue, and the library sends a man name Bookman to collect the outstanding fee.

This event proved to me that there are still honest people out there. Oh, and by the way, Ed, when a late fee exceeds the price of the book, we don't charge the late fee; just the price it will cost us to replace the book. Thank you again for taking the time to send the book back to New Jersey!!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Guest Post: Turning the Faculty Meeting Upside Down!

upsided down.jpg

I have been a big fan of the movement in education towards free Professional Development via Edcamps.  An Edcamp is a form of unconference designed specifically for teachers and their needs and are built on principles of connected and participatory learning.  They strive to bring teachers together to talk about the things that matter most to them: their interests, passions, and questions. Teachers who attend Edcamp can simply participate...but more importantly, are free to lead sessions on those things that matter to them, with an expectation that the people in the room will work together to build understanding by sharing their own knowledge and questions during the sessions. I attended several Edcamps in Boston and helped plan the first Edcamp in Grafton, MA with a good friend and former coworker of mine, Cyndy Engvall.  I am an addict!

It bothered me that no matter how strongly I evangelized about the benefits of Edcamps, only a small number of my co-workers have attended one.  I knew the solution was to bring an Edcamp to my district, but how? My solution?  Turn a faculty mtg into a mini-Edcamp!

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I spoke to the principal and assistant principals in my Middle School building about the idea, and was immediately granted an entire faculty mtg to put my plan into action! Since few of my co-workers really understood what an Edcamp was, I needed to plant some seeds with the staff to assure that this would be a success.  First, I created a Google Form to gather feedback about the kinds of sessions teachers were interested in learning about and whether they would be willing to lead the session.  Then I confirmed and cajoled some of the staff to lead some sessions. I asked those brave teachers to suggest other teachers who are doing interesting things in the classroom, not necessarily technology based, just pedagogically speaking.  I spoke to these teachers and the momentum began to build.  I learned of some amazing things happening at my middle school that evolved into the following agenda:  

Math Madness - learn about a creative approach to MCAS prep that can be used in any curriculum area that includes student choice, prizes and student engagement!
Make and Take Gclass folders - learn how to use a new ipass report and the gclass folder script to develop a folder system for students and teachers to simplify and streamline your Google experience in the classroom.
Buzzword Lingo - Discussion based on buzzwords we hear in education. Are we all speaking the same language?
SLAM across the curriculum - Join the conversation about how you can use the ELA "SLAM" writing principles in your curriculum area
Managing Your Google Data - share your strategies and tips for organizing data in Google
Evernote Tips and Tricks - What ideas do you have on managing your time in evidence collection? What tips have you learned for using Evernote to document your practice?
Evernote Evidence...what are you using? - What evidence did you use for the many indicators in the new Teacher Evaluation system?
Using theater to aid in student memorization - See what clever ideas you can use in your classroom to help students memorize!

The meeting ran flawlessly!  I opened the mtg with a brief explanation of how the Edcamp was to work and reviewed the ground rules.  We had 30 minutes for teachers to attend one of the 8 sessions.  At the appointed time we ended the mtg with a quick App Slam (which is where you get 2 minutes to demonstrate a cool app or google extension that you want to share).  Again, I searched out a few teachers who promised to share an app in advance so that I knew we could be successful.

The results were phenomenal!  In a survey that I administered after the session, the teachers overwhelmingly indicated that this was an effective use of contracted time and they preferred mini-Edcamps to the traditional faculty mtg format.  My Technology Director was incredibly supportive of the effort and encouraged other tech team members to do the same at their schools.  I assisted other co-workers to make Edcamp happen at the high school (one of the teachers at the high school spearheaded the creation of our own Edcamp logo!) and one of our elementary schools.  I also tweeted out the results of the Edcamp and connected with several members of my PLN to provide them guidance on how to run an Edcamp at their schools.

To me, this was only the beginning.  I am hoping that this small bottom-up success will result in other changes in our PD paradigm.  Curriculum days, department meetings and other contracted time provides other potential opportunities for ground roots PD.  What are you doing at your school or district to turn traditional meeting times upside down?

Technology Integration Specialist
Groton Dunstable Regional Middle School
Groton, MA

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Are Librarians Obsolete? NO WAY!

If you are too young to remember Rod Serling's Twilight Zone series, you can catch episodes today on the SciFi channel. "The Obsolete Man" was originally broadcast in 1961 and tells the story of a  totalitarian society killing people who they find to be obsolete. This was the case of Romney Wordsworth, a librarian played by Burgess Meredith, who also appeared in another episode as bookworm Henry Bemis. Here are the two episodes:

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Guest Post: 5 Things Your Library is Trying to Tell You

When I stepped into my role as an elementary school librarian in my current school last year, I was in
awe. The library had been completely rebuilt from the ground up and stocked with brand new books.
I had worked at this school a few years before and the transformation was absolutely astounding. As
I spent more and more time in my new “home”, it became apparent that as nice and updated as this
space was, there was still some room for improvement. As the months rolled by, my library began to reveal to me five important things I would absolutely need in order to keep my students engaged and
falling in love with books.

You Need To Know Your Collection
While almost every book in the library was brand new, I noticed that our fiction and biography
sections  were lacking. While we had books in these areas, there definitely wasn’t enough. Most of the books in the biography section were on a level way above what my students could read without difficulty. My school serves students in K-2, so it became imperative to find books they could actually use. I found several books in our collection that were appropriate, so I made sure to shop from those publishers to beef up our collection in these areas. The process is still ongoing, but we’re headed in the right direction.

You Need To Use What You Have
I also noticed a wireless barcode scanner tucked away in a cabinet that had never been used by the
previous librarian. I got our district technology coordinator to connect it properly for me and it makes
inventory a breeze. There were also a ton of literacy center games that had never been used. I dug
those out and put them to work. What I discovered in my new library was that we already had a ton of
resources but they were doing nobody any good tucked away in cabinets. See what you have and if it’s not what you want, think of how you could use your resources in a different way.

You Need To Step It Up
When I first started as a librarian years ago, my main job was merely checking out books and keeping a class quiet. Gone are the days when this was the norm in school libraries. My library is a hub of learning and a visitor walking in might mistake it for a regular classroom because of the energy inside. I know that in order to keep this momentum of learning going, I have to stay in a constant state of learning myself. This spring I took three online classes that have taught me some new ways of teaching my students. I would also encourage you to join online learning communities for librarians and get digitally connected with your peers. I read a ton of blogs written by librarians just like me and connect with several of these librarians on Twitter and Facebook. I love to see how others are doing things in their own libraries and gather new ideas to try in my own.

You Need to Go All Out
This was the first year that I went “all out” for my school library. We held a reading fair, a book fair, and had a fun-filled week of celebrating Read Across America. Was it a lot of extra work? Absolutely. Was it worth it? Absolutely. I am fortunate enough to work with some really great people who are always ready to lend a helping hand when it comes to extra projects and events. These events got the students so excited about books and reading and had them literally begging for more. I’m already thinking ahead for this next school year to make these events even better.

You Need To Take Risks
As I’m challenging myself to stay current on library trends and professional development, I also had an 
experience this year that taught me to take risks for my library. I had never held a school wide book fair in my years as a librarian. My principal encouraged me to give it a try this year, and although I was really apprehensive about our school meeting our goal, we did it. I’ve never seen my students so excited about books and experiencing their enthusiasm for reading during book fair week was an amazing thing. You see, I work in the Mississippi Delta where poverty is very high. I wasn’t too sure my students could afford some of the books that we would be selling. However, the parents were so supportive and Scholastic worked with me to provide my students a small book fair on an affordable level. My students and co-workers purchased so much that they made it possible for our school to receive over $800 in new books. As soon as it was over, the kids were asking when the next book fair would take place. I’m so glad I gave this a chance.

As I’m looking ahead to the start of a new school year in just a few short weeks, I’ll be keeping these things in mind as I prepare for the arrival of my students. Take a look around and see if your library is
trying to tell you something, too.

Mandy Zuniga is an elementary school librarian at H. M. Nailor I.B. World School in Cleveland, MS. She blogs at http://www.readwritemom.com.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Guest Post: Using Research Ready

As a teacher librarian, flipping our instruction has been made easy with ResearchReady, by Imagine Easy Solutions. This is a remarkable tool! There are pre-made courses easily customizable to adapt to every co-teaching opportunity. You can also write your own courses about anything you want to teach the kids. Videos, pictures, documents, etc., can be added to any page for instruction. The student management section makes organizing classes a snap. Viewing student performance gives immediate formative data to pinpoint students who need more help. This component is priceless and Imagine Easy has created an effortless way to construct meaningful assessments.

This year, to introduce new information or review skills they had been working on, my middle school students were asked to complete the online courses before beginning their projects. They would login and complete the coursework at home or at school. They were able to work at their own pace giving them the ability to spend more time on skills that were unfamiliar to them. These courses promoted more confidence, excellence and independence in the research process. I also wrote courses specific to our library like how-to use EasyBib, how-to use our databases, and what Career Day was all about for our 8th graders.
ResearchReady is geared for middle and high schools, but is worth a look by anyone interested in flipping their instruction.
Amy Kauth
Maple School
Northbrook/Glenview School District 30

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Want to Hear About the Good News in the World? Try Arkleus

When you pick up an issue of any newspaper (print or online) you are bound to see more bad news than good news. Negative stuff is all over, so much so that many people don't even read the headlines anymore. What if you could just read about the good things happening around the world? Wouldn't you do it? That's what the site Arkleus is all about; showing off the "Best of Mankind". The site is divided into these categories: Life, Sports and Adventure, Science and Technology, and Work. Sample articles include the Cool Job of the Day, The Dyslexic Girl Who Took on the NJ Legislature and Won, Surfing the Banzai Pipeline...Blind and Forever in Blue Jeans. Why not introduce your students to Arkleus today?
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