Monday, November 30, 2009


Thanksgiving was the usual traditions of turkey and dressing, holiday shopping, and fall cleaning in preparation for the Christmas season. But I did stop to count my blessings and be thankful for a few things.
  • My dear husband who puts up with my never ending calendar of professional meetings, social gatherings and general gallivanting and who keeps me laughing, challenged and inspired.
  • My sweet daughter who amazes me every day with her growing vocabulary and thoughtful observations about her world and who gives such unconditional love, warm hugs and sweet kisses.
  • My incredible cul-de-sac neighbors who check-in on one another, share good food and good times, who gather on the front porches and in the front yards to play games and share stories.
  • My loving parents who continually inspire me and challenge me and love me and remind me of simpler times and faithful foundations to keep me going.
  • My work family who maintain positive attitudes about teaching and learning and who always have the best interests of our students at the heart of all they do.
  • My network of friends who send good vibes my way, who are always interested in what's going on in my little world, and who say an extra prayer for me at night.

Thanks for sticking with me, folks.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Calgon, Take Me Away!

You have to be of a certain age to remember the old Calgon commercials. Frazzled woman needs rest and relaxation and finds comfort in a warm, bubbly bath.

I'm just a little overwhelmed at the moment. How do I know? Well, I've got absolutely no fingers left -- caught myself biting those off yesterday. I'm cranky. I really want to be left alone today. Curled up in a tight ball in bed would be good, but I'll take sitting in my comfy chair at work...just don't come in my office, people!

My to-do list is incredibly long. I reorganized the list the other day with tags so I could tell what items went with the many different hats that I wear. I can't keep straight whether I should be reading the latest YA novel, fixing broken equipment, managing the book fair, attending this meeting or that meeting, cleaning my office, ordering my groceries, or what! Oh, yeah! I'm supposed to be doing ALL that.

It ain't happening, people.

I'm a little frustrated, can you tell? Anybody have any solutions to make my life less stressful?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

AASL Conference - Day 4 - Our Presentation

My colleague and I did our presentation today at the conference: Headed to Victory Lane! Library Media Coordinators as Teacher Leaders.

Basically we introduced the concepts of managers and leaders. As librarians, we manage a whole lot of stuff: the collection, circulation, schedules, resources. But if we are going to grow ourselves and our library media programs, we need to move from managing stuff to leading our profession and our programs.

Strong teacher librarian leaders are confident in the 21st century skills and learners: they know how to instruct students for information literacy. They don't just cooperate with their teachers, pulling resources and assisting on the side; they collaborate with their teachers, designing lessons and curriculum and taking part in evaluation and assessment of student learning.

Strong teacher librarians are all about professional development. They constantly are pursuing their own learning in the field of school librarianship, but they also stay up on the latest trends in education, education policy, and other content areas. Not only are they learners themselves, they are teachers of teachers, facilitating professional development for other teacher librarians and for their content area classroom colleagues.

Strong teacher librarian leaders understand the need for personal and professional renewal, whether it's a retreat with their professional learning team or solitude to soak their feet and read the latest YA novel. Personal renewal makes them more amenable to professional renewal which ultimately helps to make them awesome teacher leaders.

Strong teacher librarian leaders are not just advocates for their library media programs; they are activists for their programs. They work to create strong support in their school and community for the programs that will benefit their students the most. They act on their passions, beliefs, and expertises to grow great library media programs.

AASL Conference - Day 3 - Spatial Intelligence and Information Seeking Skills

This afternoon I geeked out and attended a fascinating session that focused on a research study and dissertation that a colleague in the northeast had completed. In working with her students at her all girls’ school, she was concerned about how students learned the information seeking process. Why were some kids asking her to slow down her instruction and yet other kids were complaining that she moved too slowly?

After a number of different theories, studies, and research (that I’m sure I could link you to if you really need to see it), she basically drew the following conclusion:

Students with high spatial intelligence find information faster than those students with low spatial intelligence.

What followed her introduction to the research was a presentation of interventions, ways that we can help our students increase and grow their spatial intelligence in order to help improve their information seeking skills. For many students, all it takes is talking the language, using the vocabulary to get them thinking in those terms.

One intervention is to use gestures when answering spatial questions. For example, when asked about moving an object, you could just answer “move the objects closer” OR you could give that answer AND gesture with your hands to show the movement that you would make to move objects closer together. This helps build spatial intelligence. (I’ve also read that gesturing while talking improves vocabulary.)

Other early interventions to help build spatial intelligence:
Mapping – navigation, scaling
Math talk – equivalence, symbols, ordering, calculation
Block-building – building up, towering, instead of building out
Visual representations
Perspectives – zooming in and out
Aiming games – physical outdoor games, video gaming
Mechanics – putting things together, taking things apart

I can see how my daughter is already building her spatial intelligence based on these early interventions. Now I need to figure out where my middle schoolers are in their spatial abilities and intelligences and determine the interventions I can use to assist them in transferring that into strong information seeking skills.

Friday, November 6, 2009

AASL Conference - Day 2 - Social Networking and Our Students

All I can say is “Wow!” danah boyd really laid it out there in talking about social networking and our students. We are creating digital identities and there is an evolution happening and a possible identity crisis.

The most eye-opening information that she shared was the socio-economic and social disparities between MySpace and Facebook. You’re probably going “huh?” right about now, but it was incredibly interesting how the two social networking sites broke down in the teenaged mind. Basically, it’s the same old division from the beginning of time, just in the context of social networking sites. The lower socio-economic class and the less educated (remember these are perceived disparities that are proven in her research) use MySpace as their primary social networking tool. The more affluent, better educated turn to Facebook as their home on the web.

So all those class and social groups that are prevalent in the “real world” (read “middle school” or “high school”) are now becoming more obvious in the virtual world.

The at-risk kid in our schools will most likely be an at-risk kid online. In other words, we need to pay close attention to what those children are putting out there in their web presence. We have to look out for them, not only in our schools, but online. So how do we do this if we have schools that block social networking sites and school districts that make policies about “friending” our students and connecting with our kids online?

We have to be transparent about our online interactions with those in our care; we have to be the other adults in their lives, looking out for them and teaching them how to navigate the world of social media. They are going to use the tools, whether we like it or not and whether we are there to support them or not.

Doesn’t it make sense that we teach them the best ways to traverse the virtual world so that they have healthy, safe, happy online experiences? Why can’t we make it all about the learning?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

AASL Conference - Day 2 - The NASCAR Experience

Didn't you get the notice that I was coming to Charlotte? Where are you Dale, Jr.?!

So my colleague and I splurged and went on the NASCAR Valley tour this morning. We boarded the luxury motorcoach that took us from downtown Charlotte over to Concord and the home of the Lowes Motor Speedway.

We started our tour at the Hendrick Motorsports garages. Okay, I'm not a real fan of Jeff or Jimmy, but I can dig me some Dale, Jr. None of the boys were to be seen; however, we did see a good number of cars being worked on in this immaculate garage. Definitely not the backyard garages of back in the day, these multi-million dollar technologically equipped buildings.

The highlight of the tour, other than the incredibly personable and entertaining tour guide who had worked with Harry Gant for 14 years, was an actual lap around the track. no, we weren't at top speeds -- I think we hit about 70 mph in the 15 passenger van -- but you really did get a feel for the banking and possible speeds. Kinda cool! How many people can say they've ridden the track in Charlotte?

An interesting side stop that I hadn't expected was a visit to the Sam Bass Gallery. This is the fellow that designs all the cool paint schemes for the team cars. He has a nice little setup with a gallery and memorabilia on display.

Well, I'm racing off to the general session! Vrrrooooommm!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

AASL Conference - Day 1 - The Hilton Experience

My colleague and I arrived in Charlotte around 1:30 p.m. this afternoon and met up with one of my college friends for a late lunch. If you want an incredible Italian meal, then you should check out Dolce in downtown Charlotte. It was dee-licious!

We checked in to the hotel, Hilton Charlotte Center City, right next to the Charlotte Convention Center. Now when I attend a conference, especially a national conference like AASL, I want to be AT the convention center hotel; that's why I chose the Hilton for our stay. Forget that it is $160 per night. I can deal with that. You know why? Because the Hilton has wireless high speed internet, according to their site. No where does it say that that wireless internet is $9.95 per day!!!

This is a media and information technology library conference, people! And we are going GREEN! This means I need total access to the internet from every where in the hotel, especially my guestroom. I want to blog about my day, the networking, the excitement, the authors from the comfy, coziness of my plush hotel bed while plopped up on cushy pillows in my nightgown. You get the picture! I don't want to have to go to the Business Center, the only place where the wireless is free. Maybe they said it was free in the lobby, too.

So we load up our stuff and head over the convention center, where we have been assured that our "go green" conference will have a wireless internet connection. I even found the lovely "Laptop Pit Stop" sign with cute little tables for sitting at while you type on your laptop. Yeah, right! It took me five times to connect to a network although there were four unsecured networks available. The two designated for our conference -- AASL and AASL 2 -- each had about 2 bars. I managed to connect to a network called Worship Facilities, which surprisingly enough had 4 bars, but that heavenly connection lasted for about two minutes.

I was resigned to use the internet cafe, hard wired desktops on tall tables, strategically placed at near the registration area to lure you in, but ergonomically lousy to discourage you from standing there all day. I managed to check my personal and school email, maybe 10 - 15 minutes of good computer time, before my lower back said enough.

Right now, I'm writing this while sitting in the lobby of The Blake Hotel. That's where my NCSLMA board meeting is in a few minutes. There's FREE wireless in the lobby, but they, too, charge $9.95 per day for wireless internet in the room.

What's this connected world coming to?!

Off to my meeting....and searching for another lobby after dinner.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Blogs as Literacy Engines

My Monday morning was spent sitting in a tech contact meeting, tyring to decide which "hands-on" sessions to attend and being pulled toward a couple of colleagues just to have good old fashioned one-on-one networking.

The first hour of my meeting was spent listening to David Warlick talk about blogs and wikis. Obviously, I’m already a blogger and read blogs and write in my four blogs (this one, another one, the other one, and now this one) on a fairly regular basis.

I was much more interested in the presentation software / application that David was using with his presentation. He was moving in and out, zooming (I think that zooming was partly just a feature of the Mac) and flipping and spinning facts and figures up on the screen. Pretty cool stuff. I’d rather hear about this software, Prezi, than blogging, something that I already know.

And something that I really understand. I know how to use blogs in the classroom; I’ve been talking with teachers for two years about using blogs in the classroom and connecting with professional blogs for themselves.

It’s amazing how many blogs and about some crazy topics there are out there. David threw up some statistics about bloggers and blogs and some great bloggers to follow.

The best turn of a phrase, though, was when he called blogs literacy engines: read, think, write. I like how that sounds. And that is exactly what we do with blogs.

Read. Think. Write. Read. Think. Write.

I read over 30 blogs and get news in my reader from another handful of sources and sites. And I think about what I read and discuss it out loud with my dear husband and a few colleagues. But it's true: I write about what I read after I have processed my thoughts. I write in my own blogs.

What I find I need to do more of, and I would like for more people to do on my blogs, is to comment right then and there. How come nobody's commenting?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What I Want in a Principal

A few weeks ago our principal announced that she is retiring at the end of December. Obviously, this news has left our staff speculating and fretting about the future administration and how our culture will be affected by the introduction of a new leader.

We were invited to give input into what we would like in a future principal. While many of us felt that this was just a perfunctory session, about a third of our staff was able to be there and provide some thoughtful input -- as well as shed a few tears. Here's what I wrote and read at the meeting:

I want a principal who will take the time to understand and truly appreciate the culture of positive learning that has been created at our school.

I want a principal who loves middle schoolers with all their quirkiness and hormonal energy.

I want a principal who listens to her students when they want to share a problem or concern, or just updates about what television show they watched last night.

I want a principal who lets her teachers take risks, allowing her teachers to try innovative instruction.

I want a principal who empowers her teachers to take on leadership roles and who supports their professional growth.

I want a principal who is well respected in the community, who makes connections with parents and business leaders.

I want a principal who is a teacher leader first and foremost, never forgetting what it takes to do the hard stuff of teaching on a daily basis.

I want a principal who stands up for her teachers and students when the time comes.

I want a principal who listens to her teachers when they have a concern or a problem or a solution or they just want to share some personal news.

I want a principal who is seen on the campus, in the classroom, in the media center, in the cafeteria, on the athletic field.

I want a principal who implements strong teaching and learning programs that will impact student achievement.

I want a principal who makes the most of her dollars, imploring sound financial abilities to effectively and efficiently provide the materials and resources to run our school.

I want a principal who recognizes, appreciates, and supports all levels of learners from special needs students to academically gifted students.

I want a principal who understands and can effectively assess the data to make important instructional decisions and support successful teaching practices.

I want a principal who is honest, tenacious, caring, professional, vibrant, personable, organized, savvy, accountable, objective, and positive. I want a principal who is “real”.

I want a principal who is a cheerleader, recognizing teacher and staff professional achievements and student academic, behavior, and athletic achievements.

I want a principal who communicates her expectations to her teachers, students, and parents.

I want a principal who asks questions.

I want a principal who realizes that this is “our” school – it belongs to all of us: the staff, students, parents and community. We will welcome a new principal to be a part of our school, but it will continue to belong to all of us: “our” school.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

November is Coming! November is Coming!

November is almost here, and I'm getting really excited about all that's happening this month!

Daylight Savings Time -- Yes, I like my "extra" hour. I'm looking forward to snoozing just a bit longer this Sunday morning, enjoying my "extra" 60 minutes.

Tech Contact Meeting -- While most folks dread meetings, I actually like attending some of my meetings, this being one of them. All the tech contacts in the district meet a couple times a year as a group to get updates from technology services and instructional technology personnel. It's a lot of sit-and-get, but it's a great time to network with colleagues that I rarely see. And it has the fringe benefit of actually getting a lunch hour where we can sit down at a restaurant to continue our conversations about technology, integration, education, etc.

AASL Conference -- I haven't been to my national professional conference in a few years (life sort of happened in the form of a now three year old!) Well, we're headed west to this year's AASL conference, where I'll get to do even more incredible networking with some of the coolest people in school librarianship! Yes, people, I do get excited about my profession! Did I tell you that I'm presenting at the conference, too? And I signed up for a little side excursion -- a tour of the NASCAR track and museum! Vrooooom!!!

Student intern -- I'm getting another student intern, and she starts in November. Imparting knowledge on enthusiastic young people going into our profession -- let's just say, I'm loving it! Really looking forward to mentoring this future school librarian.

Veteran's Day -- What a great holiday! Saluting those that defend our freedoms everyday. And it doesn't hurt that it's a day off in the middle of the week this year!

La Boutique for Kids -- It's like Tupperware, but it's children's clothes! I'm having a party, where the rep brings in racks of name brand kids clothes at discount prices. I'm pretty sure that I get an awesome discount!

Book Fair -- The fall book fair is in November, and we've got some fabulous PTA volunteers helping us organize for the event. Love seeing all the books that the kids are scrambling to purchase. Love having classroom wish lists for the teachers, too. They're like little kids when they find a new, donated book in their bags.

National Board Certification support -- I'm gearing up to help my library media candidate cohort as they dive into the NBC process. Let's hope my guidance helps them get to the heart of their teaching and students' learning as they analyze and reflect on their instruction.

Thanksgiving -- I've always loved this time of year. Growing up, we did big cleaning over Thanksgiving break and geared up for the Christmas holiday, putting up the tree and decorating the house. I'm soooo ready to share the holidays with my little one this year.

NaNoWriMo -- It's National Novel Writing Month! And once again, on top of all the stuff going on in my life, I'm going to attempt to get 50,000 words on the pages in 30 days! Writing energizes me, so why not go for it?!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Instructional Technology Rocks!

Wednesday was an early release day for us at school. That means that we sent the kids home at 11:55 a.m., half-day, and we had staff development in the afternoon.

Okay, so I hear the moans and groans from those of you that have sat through the endless staff developments at your schools and offices.

Well, since I was one of the organizers of THIS staff development, I can assure you that it wasn't a groaner -- and the fact that like a dozen of my teachers have been energized and enthusiastic about technology and have requested equipment and time and space speaks for itself!

Thanks to the generosity of our administration, we have a number of SMART boards on campus and we knew that to get the most out of them everyone needed to be trained. Yes, some people are never going to touch a SMART board again. But others were knocking down the library doors to checkout the rolling interactive white boards. How cool!

While everyone rotated through the SMART board training, folks also attended two other sessions. We've got folks excited about using flip cameras -- my favorite is the family and consumer science teacher who is going to video yourself doing laundry to use with her students. We had folks amazed at all the extra stuff they can with their ELMO document cameras. (I didn't know you could make movies with it!?!) We also have folks clamoring for the student response systems -- the clickers -- to use for preassessment activities. Way cool!

I was responsible for introducing educational blogging to folks. I directed them to my blog first. Not sure how smart that was! Do I really want my colleagues following my every opinion? Maybe it'll start so incredible dialogues with other educators! Maybe....

I also sent them to the 100 Best Blogs for Teachers and pointed out some of my favorites. Overall it came back to time -- just having the time to explore Web 2.0 tools and instructional technology. Oh, and it didn't hurt to have some pretty awesome colleagues to step up and present some of these really cool tools!

Thanks, folks, for creating a great professional exchange!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Nine Stories about Kids

Inspired by a fellow educator from the Teacher Leaders Network , John Holland and his 12 stories, I wanted to share my stories about kids over the last almost twenty years that I have been an educator. These are the ones that come to mind from my years of teaching.

Cory - Most days of my first year of teaching seventh grade language arts Cory either sat on the stool next to me at the front of the room or stood next to me from whatever spot I chose to teach. Cory was my first experience with an ADD child. He fashioned angel wings that we attached to his back that he wore to the cafeteria one day. He wanted to "be good" so bad.

Tyrone - Every sentence was a song to Tyrone. It didn't matter what you said, he could find a phrase, a chorus, a verse from a song that fit right in to what you were saying....and he would sing it, out loud, right in the middle of instruction. He was sixteen and in the ninth grade. He dropped out of school that year.

Brett - Green Day was god that year, and Brett wrote lyrics like he was Billy Jo Armstrong. It was the year I was fired up about Nancy Atwell's In the Middle and used her writing workshop to get a group of seventh graders fired up about writing....even if it was lyrics that they wrote sometimes.

"Red" - I don't remember his name, just his fiery red hair, his bad attitude, and his announcement that he didn't read. EVER. He read The Outsiders in my seventh grade language arts class; he connected with literature. He said it was the first book he'd ever read. He was Ponyboy.

Sarah - She cried when I told her that I was leaving the language arts classroom to take a job as a media coordinator in another county, and she wrote me the nicest letter about how much she'd miss me. I don't think I've ever used the stationery she gave me. Using it up seems like it means losing the memory.

Jessica - That girl loved to read, and she was the BEST student media assistant that I've ever had. She was diligent about keeping her shelves straight and was always pleasant and excited about helping other students. She insisted that we have a Battle of the Books team, even if it meant only four eighth graders on the whole team. We lost the battle, but we won the "war".

Amy - Another of my wonderful student media assistants, I saw her at a local drugstore a few years ago. She told me she was now working in education and that she had a baby. She had turned out to be a little more serious than her seventh grade days. I felt old.

Michael - The day he hid in the media center, reading graphic novels, we knew there was a problem. We were his safe place most of the time. More than once, I had to calm him down when he was frustrated. Did I mention he was very smart and autistic?

Autumn - In the mornings, sometimes she'd help us check out books; other times she'd just want to crawl under the counter in a fetal position and go back to sleep. She always shared her stories of home with us. She was always planning to move and wouldn't be coming back after the semester, track out, the summer. I'm glad she came back each time.

So many students over the year, it's always amazing what sticks with you.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

R.I.P. Socrates

Socrates was my friend today, and we had a blast with a group of sixth graders!

Today I introduced the Socratic seminar to four different classes of sixth graders. One of our social studies teachers had given formative assessments on her recent content instruction, Ancient Greece. Those students who scored below the requisite score remained with the teacher for remediation on the content; those students who scored above the requisite score spent their class time in the media center with me.

After viewing the painting, the Death of Socrates, we read an excerpt from a text on the death of Socrates. I opened the seminar discussion with the essential question: was Socrates' trial and death justified?

While students struggled with the seminar style in the beginning, some of the students provided some really thoughtful responses and comments as the discussion moved from the basic indictment that Socrates corrupted the youth of the time to thoughtful comparisons with historical figures in our own culture, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., who faced imprisonment and assassination.

The seminar format is such a unique instructional style and a real change from the usual lecture/sit-n-git of some classrooms. While some of the students remained quiet and maybe unsure about jumping into the discussion, other students shared interesting insights into the history and culture of ancient Greece, the philosophers, and freedom of speech.

Ultimately I was energized in my role as seminar facilitator today! Thanks for letting me teach and enrich today, Ms. S!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Purpose of Staff Development

In my Google reader today, I had a great image from Doug Johnson's The Blue Skunk Blog about staff development. How appropriate since I'm currently sitting in an in-service, a staff development session, about student intervention strategies.

So what does it say about me that I am actually blogging while a clip of Abbott and Costello doing "Who's on First?" plays? I know the clip is to demonstrate how we all need to be on the same page, we all need to use the same language, and we all need to be the experts to instruct appropriately for our students.

Is this professional growth opportunity geared toward me and my needs or is this a "sit-and-git" where all that's said today will go in one ear and out the other?

So far, the presentation has been interspersed with video clips, which unfortunately the librarian in me is questioning whether copyright laws have been broken -- yes, I'm pretty sure we need a training on copyright laws and fair use and educational use. And I definitely need to talk with my staff about Presentation Zen because the PowerPoint slides in the presentation are waaaaay too packed with words -- I'm having trouble reading them from my seat in the back of the media center.

I'm a little confused at this point. Possibly because I'm continuing to blog and have had a non-normed sidebar with my equally cynical and witty colleague. Colors. The presenters are talking about colors. Red. Yellow. Green. Blue. These coordinate with all the wonderful labels we stick on our students. Academically gifted. Special education. Limited English proficiency. Assessed but not identified. Oh, and now there's purple. Who remembers what purple was?

So how effective is such a presentation among a staff of 60 certified teachers at the end of the day? Okay, so it's not at the true end of the day. Today was an early release day, so our workshop began at 12:30 p.m. Some "lecture", some hands-on (looking at data in cumulative folders), some video clips, some handouts. They could really use a microphone. *sigh*

Core content teachers have a real opportunity to strategize, work together, determine the intervention strategies to use with students. Even the elective or specialist teachers are pulled in to the conversation, especially since they see students every day. The drawback for me and the folks at my table are that we don't fit the mold, or at least the mold for this particular staff development.

As a teacher-librarian, I work with all kids. I collaborate with teachers to integrate information literacy skills, but I don't see students in a formal instructional setting every day. Students behave differently in the less structured circulation and independent research setting of the media center. And while I recognize their varying academic needs, we meet a very different need for many students during their library visits.

So while I appreciate the workshop environment and presentation style of this particular staff development, what is the purpose of this staff development for me?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

School Librarians, Where Do You Hang Your Hat?

At my library media learning team meeting yesterday, we looked at the beliefs that are the cornerstone for the standards in library media programs using the book, Standards for the 21st Century Learner in Action (AASL, 2009).

First, we looked at the nine common beliefs through our own eyes, as library media coordinators. If we had to hang our hat on just one of the beliefs, where would we hang it? What did we see as our focus in our library media programs?
  • Reading is the window to the world.
  • Inquiry provides a framework for learning.
  • Ethical behavoir in the use of information must be taught.
  • Technology skills are crucial for future employment needs.
  • Equitable access is a key component for education.
  • The definition of information literacy has become more complex as resources and technologies have changed.
  • The continuing expansion of information demadns that all individuals acquire the thinking skills that will enable them to learn on their own.
  • Learning has a social context.
  • School librarires are essential to the development of learning skills.

We were split between two of the beliefs: 'Reading is a window to the world' and 'School libraries are essential to the development of learning skills'. Some of us felt that reading was the main focus of our programs and our work with students while others took a broader approach to seeing themselves and their programs as the place, environment, and access to all. No real surprises there.

But when we looked at the beliefs from other perspectives, we began to see how others view the library media program and how this affects our work. We asked ourselves which belief our principals would hold up as the hallmark for the media program. What would our students say is the most important belief? And what about our parents and PTA? Where would the superintendent or the school board member hang her hat on these common beliefs?

That's when we realized that we have to consider all perspectives about library media, our influence on others, and the advocacy to promote our entire program. If a teacher views the library media program as a place for reading and that's it, will they ever begin to incorporate instructional technologies or encourage educational and social networking with their students? If our principal sees our program as the place for students to improve their technology skills, will we ever get a budget to purchse the latest and greatest fiction? If the superintendent is most worried about and focused on ethical behavoir in use of information, will he recognize the need for inquiry and critical thinking skills within the framework of learning?

We as librarians know that these are a set of beliefs and one does not necessarily outweigh another. It's important to understand the perspectives of all our users in order to meet their needs, build influence and advocate for out total program. However, our hat rack may tell a different story if we tend to hang our own hat on only one or two of the beliefs instead of wearing the many different hats of our profession.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Writing Challenge

Laurie Halse Anderson, who you all know is one of my favorite YA authors, has issued a challenge on her blog: write for 15 minutes every day this month.

I'm already four days behind! But none the less I am dedicated to catching up, or at least starting from this fresh point onward, to writing my 15 minutes of prose, poetry, recipes, rants, raves, to-do lists....okay, so I'm going to try and kill two birds with one stone: write for 15 minutes a day on my blog.


It's been a month, a little over a month, since I took my week long writing workshop and I'm afraid that I haven't been any more motivated to find my comfy spot and find myself in the imagination and words that need to spill onto the page. Yes, there are tons of stories swirling around in my little ol' head, and I know that if I don't get them on the page soon they will be a nice swirly, yucky-mucky mess of goop and goo and I won't be able to flesh out the characters and figure out the settings and the plots will be majorly messed up.

What was once a mid-morning spark will be lost. Forever. Write. It. Down.

I don't really have writer's block. I'm not at a loss for words. I'm just usually at a loss for time. A friend always says you make time to do the things you want to do. Is it that I really DON'T want to write? I don't think so!

During my writing staycation, I was SOOOO majorly inspired every day, lots of ideas and characters trying to crawl out of my head; it was like I might explode.

An explosion of writing would've been nice. I need to trade my mouse and keyboard for pen and paper.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Master Manipulators, School-Based Leaders, and Big Cry Babies

We've all heard the saying "the squeaky wheel gets the grease", and I must say that some of my fellow colleagues are pretty well lubed! Whine about having a particular duty, and surely that duty will magically disappear. Complain about needing more materials, even in a budget crisis, and surely new books will appear on your classroom shelves.

See your fellow colleague go from a 10-month position to a 12-month position in order to provide the needed higher level math at a year-round school, complain about that incredibly loudly and indicate how you'd like to be 12-month, too, because it's not fair, blah, blah, blah....

Tonight I'm trying to decide into which of three categories these squeaky wheels fall. Are they master manipulators, school-based leaders, or just big ol' cry babies?

I guess I would define master manipulators as those teachers who subtly work the system, not for the good of the children, but for their own evil, selfish plots. Maybe they are the ones who agree to head up a committee, department, or other endeavor so they can control the time, money, and efforts surrounding said endeavor. Ultimately, I know they are out for themselves and they do not have the students' or their fellow educators' best interests at heart.

Sometimes those squeaky wheels are the school leaders. They are the teachers really trying to make a difference in the academic lives of their students. They squeak because they know that having that additional novel, resource, material, whatever it is will help them teach better, more effectively, stronger in order to help a kid learn, achieve, grow. They squeak because they are the voice for all their past, present and future students. They squeak for the rest of us who are timid, unsure, too reserved or frightened to speak up for ourselves and our students.

And then there are the plain ol' big cry babies. They wail about what's fair and unfair, usually about their own situations, their selfishness right on their sleeve. But while they aren't necessarily wanting to gain anything for themselves, they don't want others to gain anything either. They may think they are crying foul, boo-hooing to help their students, but they just wind up alienated themselves from their colleagues and coming across negatively to most.

Obviously I want to continue to be a school-based leader with the right amount of squeak to manipulate the system for the benefit of my students and my teachers and to ensure that we all get the best environment in which to teach and to learn. I'm just not sure how much of a squeaky wheel I truly want to be.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

'Between You and I', These Teachers Doesn't Talk Right

I've spent my forty years learning the English language, relishing in the fact that I speak and write it very well and trying my darnedest to help students, and now my own child, learn to speak and write correctly.

It still grates on my nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard to hear one of my colleagues, an educator in his or her own right, to butcher the English language, especially in front of other teachers. If I hear one more 'between you and I' or another subject-verb disagreement come out of the mouth of another classroom teacher, I think I'll scream, or explode trying to hold in the frustration and anger.

How can teachers expect their students to grasp the finer aspects of grammar when they themselves misuse words all the time?! And how can I as a former English teacher sit back and allow said teachers to throw around their misplaced modifiers?

While email and other technology has improved communication from teacher to teacher, it has also brought about a lack of professionalism, I think. The quickly typed email with misspellings and lack of punctuation or the abbreviated 'text type' makes me shake my head with disappointment when I find those in my inbox. It only takes a second to spellcheck, folks!

Mama always told me that it was inappropriate and rude to correct other people's grammar. She was referring to the adults who misspoke and my quick remarks to her about their faulty language. She reprimanded me more than once when I tried to correct family members.

Perhaps one of my great goals in life as an educator is to help young people speak and write clearly, effectively, and correctly. I wish my other colleagues would get on board and get it right!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

My Writing Staycation

I'm actually taking a week of vacation next week. I usually take off a day or two here and there throughout the school year, but I decided that it was time to do something more for me.

I'm not really going on vacation. It's more like a staycation: I'm staying around town. But I do have some big plans for the week.

I'm participating in a writing workshop all week. No, it's not a workshop where I'll have to come back to school and teach my teachers some new fangled writing process. And no, it's not a workshop that I needed to take any order to get those dang teacher renewal credits.

It's a writing workshop just for me! I signed up for the creative nonfiction session. I'm hoping to get inspired (once again) to get something out there in print, something written to send to a small magazine or publisher. This is actually the third time I've taken the writing workshop. I delved deeper into fiction the first time I took the workshop. The second time I decided to work on personal narrative and realized that was more my style of writing. So the third summer that I signed up for the workshop, I did the journal writing session. Every time the sessions have been fabulous.

So next week, I expect nothing less than a super week of inspired writing and a nice jump start to getting back into the swing of daily writing!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Best Day Ever!

Well, it might not have really been the best day ever, but Saturday was a pretty darn good day in the neighborhood!

Our cul-de-sac gets together a number of times a year for cookouts and dinners and games. One of the neighbors loves to cook and is more than willing to supply us with a yummy meal. Of course, we all don't might chipping in with our potluck dishes, too. And it doesn't hurt that most of us love to play cards and board games, and we're all, for the most part, laid back and likable people.

This past Saturday we pooled our resources -- a dozen eggs, a couple packages of thick cut bacon, sausage, strawberries, whipped topping -- and the results were more than a delicious breakfast of strawberry crepes, biscuits with sausage gravy, and scrambled eggs -- it was a peaceful day of some really good times with friends and family.

After breakfast, the two kids played in the front yard, running up and down the driveway -- we did have to comfort some pretty scraped up knees by the end of the day -- and riding their bikes. The adults, we just lounged on the front porch, enjoying the cool breeze of the overcast morning, sharing stories and laughs and good times. By noon my husband and one neighbor and her kid had ventured back to their houses. The four us remaining whipped out the cards for a few more rounds of Pinochle -- our card game of choice these days -- while my little one dozed on the couch, watching her favorites -- Oswald, Little Bear, Max & Ruby.

It was almost 4:00 p.m. before the party broke up and we all headed back home. Who could have asked for a better day?!

Of course, at 8:00 p.m. you could have found us back on the neighbors' porch, having our version of a nightcap -- good conversation and a laugh or two with friends.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Is National Board Certification in NC Worth Saving?

Legislators in North Carolina have proposed eliminating the payment of the assessment fee for eligible NC educators to pursue National Board Certification through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. This would eliminate approximately $4 million from the state's education budget. (This figure varies each year due to the fluctuating numbers of NC educators that choose to take advantage of this payment and due to the increased cost from NBPTS of the assessment fee.)

Over 14,000 educators in North Carolina have achieved National Board Certification (NBC) and the status of National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT). Some of those educators have retired; some of them have moved to other states; some of those educators are no longer in the classroom, having moved into administration or having chosen to get out of teaching altogether.

Critics of NBC say that the results generated in the classroom by students taught by an NBCT is no different from those non-NBCTs. Other studies have proved otherwise, stating that students of NBCTs show greater gains on end-of-grade tests.

So is National Board Certification in NC worth saving?

In my almost 2 1/2 years as the NBC Coordinator for the state, I was amazed at the extremes surrounding the certification process. First, there were those strong, intelligent, highly motivated, passionate professionals who saw National Board Certification as an incredible, personal professional development opportunity, a chance to really reflect and analyze instructional strategies and improve classroom instruction and ultimately impact student achievement.

And then there were those educators who signed up with only the dollar signs in their eyes. For NC pays a 12% salary differential to those educators who achieve National Board Certification and meet the guidelines under the statute.

But with recent budget shortfalls and economic depressions and the impending education cuts, the conversation is starting about putting National Board Certification on the chopping block. While many of my colleagues will argue that the state should not eliminate the paying for the assessment fee to pursue NBC (currently $2500 per candidate), I am going to step out on the proverbial limb.

I don't think the state of NC should be footing the bill for the assessment fee for teachers to pursue National Board Certification. (Okay, let the whining and shouting begin!)

Look, here's how I see it. My professional growth is my professional responsibility. I should not have to rely on another entity (state government) to fund my pursuit of advanced degrees and advanced certifications. I DO believe that we should get compensated (you know, a raise, bigger salary) for those advanced degrees and certifications, but that's another conversation for another blog entry perhaps.

While the number of candidates who did not fulfill the responsibilities of the promissory note that they agreed to with NC was a small percentage of the total who pursued certification, it has amounted to millions of dollars in lost funds over the past 12 years, something I only understood once I saw the NC NBC budget up close and personal. Teachers who did not complete the process (turn in the entire portfolio and take the assessment exercises) or who did not teach the year following the initial certification process were expected to repay the state the assessment fee that was paid on their behalves. Some people took care of their obligations; others did not.

Too me, it's those others that ruin it for us all, and make me take the strong stance of saying, NO! to payment of the assessment fee.

Yes, there were educators with legitimate sob stories: illnesses, injuries, RIFs, accidents. And yes, the repayment of the assessment fee to the state of NC has been waived for some folks who were able to document and plead their cases over the years. But so many others just failed to complete the process, choosing not to "read the fine print" of the promissory note. Wake up, folks! A promissory note is when you promise to do something in return for a favor. The state gave you $2,500 (the current cost of pursuing National Board Certification) and the state asked only two things from you. (You didn't even have to achieve certification, just complete the tasks!)

All candidates have the opportunity to withdraw from the process for whatever reason, too. To me, those educators without legitimate reasons for failing to comply with the promissory note (or failing to withdraw from the process) lack the professionalism and high standards that ARE National Board Certification. NBC is about accomplished teaching and accomplished teachers.

Some of my colleagues will argue that the state paid assessment fee gives every teacher an opportunity to pursue this advanced certification. Since I do agree that the process was incredible, personal professional development, shouldn't every educator have the opportunity to experience that same growth through the NBC process? But is every educator capable of being an accomplished teacher and of achieving National Board Certification?

I think that each educator should have to put her own money where her mouth is and prove herself by achieving National Board Certification before the state of North Carolina recognizes that advanced certification with a 12% differential.

Yes, National Board Certification in NC is worth saving, but not the expense of the assessment fee.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Good Help is Hard to Find

My assistant recently quit. She was on a terminating contract which would have ended June 30th, but she chose to give her two weeks notice and left us last Friday. We wish her well in her endeavors, as she pursues her incredible art career more fully.

Her leaving got me to thinking about "good help" and how hard it is to find, even in this supposed recession and high unemployment rates. So with that, I give you the top ten things I will miss about my assistant (and hope to find in her replacement):
  1. Great rapport with the kids. They liked her! They really liked her!
  2. Good interaction with most of the teachers and staff.
  3. Ability to complete a task. Sounds basic, but you'd be surprised the things that have been left incomplete in my past experience.
  4. Those great book displays. She came up with some neat topics, content, holidays, events to highlight with book displays.
  5. Her helpfulness to staff and students. She was the first to jump up and offer assistance in finding a book, using the scanner, making a poster.
  6. Laminator extraordinaire. Let's just say that I was banned from the laminator about ten years ago by a former assistant. Heat, sticky paper, and I don't mix.
  7. Avid reader. She knew her young adult literature and was able to share with the kids.
  8. Covering the circulation desk. While this is the main job responsibility of most media assistants, I appreciated her being there so I could actually get lunch!
  9. Computer savvy. She didn't just know how to use the basic applications, but was helpful at explaining web 2.0 tools and sharing with students, teachers, and me.
  10. Incredible artist. Okay, so I can't expect everyone to be the next Eric Carle or Brian Pinkney, but we sure did appreciate her sharing her art with us all.

Accepting applications and soon as they lift the hiring freeze...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Finding My Element

I finally started reading Ken Robinson's book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, and I totally get it. Robinson describes the element as the point where "natural talent meets personal passion".

So I started thinking about what I'm really, really good at AND that which I get really, really excited. And every time I come back to the same thing: teaching teachers.

When I spent two and a half years at our state's education department, I worked with teachers all across the state. I wasn't always excited about three hour drives and late nights, but I did get pretty enthusiastic about engaging with other teachers, seeing their passion about teaching and offering them new ideas on instructional strategies and thinking about their professional growth.

Before my stint as a teacher-on-loan, I had conducted school-based as well as district staff development workshops for colleagues. The most enjoyable for me were the sessions on reading. When the state required reading credits for teacher licensure renewal, there was a need for workshops and professional development opportunities to satisfy those renewal credits. I had the chance to satisfy my own passion for teaching teachers by creating and delivering some of those workshops.

Another media coordinator and I taught workshops for middle school content area folks. It was amazing to see those teachers have "aha moments" and realize that reading across the curriculum was not quite as daunting as it seemed. I also taught reading workshops for arts educators. It gave me a chance to explore the great picture books available to introduce all sorts of arts-specific content and middle school novel tie-ins.

So now that I'm feeling stronger about being in my element, what's the next step?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Word of the Week: Singleton

I spent last weekend on a beach retreat with a group from my middle school library media PLC. We were a group of six women who love to read young adult literature, to talk about the latest and greatest instructional technology, and to bounce ideas off one another in regards to improving our library media programs.

Most recently we've been discussing how our colleagues, other library media coordinators, are often alone in a school. We're one person, sometimes two, managing the library media program, doing collection development, managing the facility, designing and implementing reading incentive programs, planning and collaborating and instructing. We are often a singleton in a school of many core content teachers.

And we've decided that we don't like the term singleton!

For some reason the term has a negative connotation: an outsider. In this collaborative environment, I don't want to be an outsider. I want to be an insider, one who is in the know and who is sharing my expertise with my colleagues, one who is working with others to impact student achievement.

A slip of the tongue and singleton becomes simpleton. Maybe not for most, but it's too close for comfort. And as one colleague reminded me, our principal is only one person in her position. Do we call her a singleton? Of course, not! She's our administrator!

So now we have to come up with a better term for singleton. I'm kinda partial to expert, but then I suppose there are many experts in the building. How can I define a single/one individual in a program area who most likely works collaboratively with all? (The singletons in my school also include academically gifted teacher, guidance counselor, music teacher, Spanish teacher)

Fellow experts, specialists, individuals, educational beings, what do you think of the word singleton?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

How Smart is a SmartBoard?!

Back in February, I attended a two day training about using SmartBoards, the interactive boards that you hook up to your computer and projector that allow you to tap or touch the board in order to move and manipulate projected onto the board.

My first thoughts were glorified touchscreen. What could I do with a SmartBoard that I can't already do with my presentation equipment and software? To me, it just looked like a bunch of tap-tap-tapping on a board to move things along. I supposed that this could be a little more convenient when presenting. I wouldn't have to keep moving between laptop and board to point out items and click to different screens or slides.

But at the end of my two days of training, I was pretty awed by the software and how you could create very interactive presentations and lessons, presentations that would get students up out of their seats, presentations that would hopefully more fully engage kids in their learning.

Now I'm trying to justify the costs and whether our teachers will actually use it. Will the nine SmartBoards that we have purchased (yes, our administration is generous with the technology!) be used effectively and consistently. Will teachers see it as a glorified touchscreen, or will they create dynamic, interactive lessons for their students? Of course, I will be providing some staff development at the beginning of the next school year to get them excited about the possibilities.

Let's hope we're all smart enough to get the most out of our new technology!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Do YOU have permission to use THAT?!

I'm sitting in a presentation on Copyright and Fair Use. Most would probably think this is the most boring way to spend a Tuesday afternoon. Sometimes I might agree with you.

But with the ever changing technology and all the information on the internet, folks think that everything is theirs for the taking. NOT! Just because it's put out there on the internet -- a blog, a wiki, a company site, a database, whatever the source -- that does not mean that you can use it, carte blanche, with no indication of whose work it is. And you certainly can't take credit for it. That's just plain old stealing.

We (that's the collective librarian we) tell students that they must research their topics, take notes, and put the information into their own words. You know, creating those regurgitated research reports (cue vomiting sounds) and they absolutely CANNOT cut and paste information into the document, PowerPoint, presentation. Ummmm....yeah....right!

We tell this to our students, but then we (that's the collective teacher we) seem to have no problem taking some one's posted lesson plans, educational article, research dissertation from an internet site and including it in our own presentations. Hmmmmm, did we ask permission to do this? Did we read the copyright information about the plans, article, dissertation, document? Maybe we do have rights to use it.....maybe we don't!

Maybe you need to check out Creative Commons! The site allows you to find, share, and use others' work. The key is that it is all done within the legal confines and consistency of copyright law. Yeh! Basically they allow an author to modify copyright terms to suit his work and to grant copyright permissions for use of his work. Read more about it at their site!

The next time you think about making 100 copies of something from a website, a book, or other source stop and think about the copyright and fair use guidelines. Consult one of our gurus like Carol Simpson. We'd hate for you to have to fork over your salary and your freedom for a copyright infringement!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Writing: Publication is not the end of the process

"What we do in school doesn't have much of an impact on the world of writing that's going on around us." --Kathleen Blake Yancey

Have you read Kathleen Blake Yancey's report for the National Council of Teachers of English on Writing in the 21st Century? The report highlights the challenges of writing in the 21st Century: developing new models of writing, designing a new curriculum supporting those models, and creating models for teaching that curriculum.

I had an opportunity to listen to an interview with Yancey on the site Powerful Learning Practice . Yancey indicates that teenagers claim they don't write or like to write in school, but they don't see their writing outside of school as writing. They see it as communicating, not writing, when they are blogging and texting. Yancey asserts that in the past, writing has been dominated by assessment. Writing also doesn't enjoy the same cultural support that reading has enjoyed.

So my question is what does it mean to be a writer in the 21st Century?

I have always held the assertion that to be a good teacher of writing you must be a writer. When I was still in the language arts classroom, I would journal with my kids everyday. I wrote some of the best stuff those few years in the seventh grade classroom. But writing is different for our students now. While they don't call it writing -- texting and blogging -- they are still putting the written word out there online. Should teachers be network and social writers? And if they are, do teachers even consider that real writing?

How do we teach kids to be empowered writers? Kids love writing to someone that isn't a teacher, even a trusted adult, according to Yancey. She shared a story where students' writing was given to the local civic group, a partner for the school. When the members read the students' writing, they wanted to write them back. The act of reading became an act of writing. Should we encourage kids to publish more of their ideas and writings on the web in order to have other read and respond?

The model used to be that we filtered information and then we wrote to publish our writing. Today publication is not the end of the process: the conversation continues about the writing, or published work, thus the learning continues.

Write on!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Hanging with Laurie Halse Anderson

I first met Laurie Halse Anderson over five years ago at a local conference for the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators when I heard her speak about writing. I was attending the conference to learn as a writer and lover of words, looking for inspiration to stay motivated about my own writing and hoping to meet some incredible writers. The conference didn't disappoint!

I had an opportunity to chat with Laurie for a good while that time, talking about being part of a writing group and really putting on paper the voices that are talking to you in your head. She also provided some materials about her presenting at conferences. At the time, I was still on the board and conference planning for the NC School Library Media Association and having Laurie at a conference would be spectacular!

I met Laurie again a few years ago when she was promoting her newest book and made a visit to our favorite local independent book store, Quail Ridge Books. At the time, she was as witty and authentic and inspiring as I remembered her. She offered her advice for aspiring writers and read from the novel. It's always a great thing to hear author's read their works!

And last night, I had yet another opportunity to hang with Laurie Halse Anderson. And once again she was the incredible, inspiring and entertaining writer that I've come to expect. Over dinner with a few fellow library media coordinators, she shared her day's experience, working with students at one of our high schools. She jokes that just the smell of the school building makes her twitch and gets her excited. After dinner, we had the chance to hear her share her research and thoughts on her latest book, Wintergirls, about a young woman's struggle with an eating disorder. The audience, mostly women and about half teenagers, hung on her every word as she again inspired us to be the best writers, the best readers, the best people we can be.

Thanks for autographing yet another of your works. I can't wait to cozy up and discover your latest protagonist!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Saving NC Governor's School

Word on the street is that the budget for NC Governor's School, one of NC's premier programs for gifted students, is about to be cut in half. Even with all the talk of preserving the education budget by our governor, it's come down to this: some education programs have got to be trimmed.

As a gifted child growing up in a rural part of NC, there weren't always the same opportunities that you might find in a larger city. That's not to say that my parents didn't work to provide those opportunities -- piano lessons, summer camp, attending the symphonies and plays -- but the public schools were not on the academic cutting edge to provide for some of their best and brightest. I remind myself that this was almost 25 years ago, and perhaps the better integration of instructional technology and the proliferation of online courses and the access to NC Virtual Public School will improve the situation for those gifted children coming through the public schools today.

But unfortunately the general concensus is often this: those smart kids will "get it" (whatever it is) no matter what.

Well, guess what people?! I don't want other gifted children coming through the system to just have to "get it". I want them to be exposed to incredible educators who challenge their thinking skills, who push them just a little bit harder through the process, who ask the essential questions to get those gifted children motivated to explore, to create, to learn, to challenge themselves.

I want gifted children in North Carolina to have the opportunity to experience NC Governor's School.

For me, the six week summer experience introduced me to thought processes and mathematical theories and skills that I had never been exposed to and don't know that I would have been exposed to at my high school. I was put in a setting with other intelligent and talented teenagers who for the most part had the same wants and desires about owning their education, being challenged by others. For many attendees, attending Governor's School can be the first time that they feel like they are with their true peers, other gifted individuals who are not picked on and put upon just because their IQs are a certain number and their grade point averages are at the top and they use those big fifty-cent words!

Through the years, there have been articles, essays, and letters written both disparging and supporting the program. On the homepage of the NCGS website, the philosophy of the program is stated as a program

"... where students who are among the best and brightest gather for the love of learning and the joy of creativity
... where teachers and students form a community while searching together for answers to challenging questions
... where there are no grades or tests
... where a synergy of intellectual curiosity fuels the exploration of the latest ideas in various disciplines"

Ultimately for me, NC Governor's School met my expectations. I just want other gifted students in NC to have the same opportunity.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Dear Jacqueline Woodson...

You, my friend, are an incredible writer!

In every book of yours that I have read, I have found such strong, interesting, and powerful characters with incredibly authentic voices.

You introduced me to the sweet, caring, and passionate Lonnie Collins Motion, aka Locomotion, in your books Locomotion and Peace, Locomotion.

You took me back to the days of integration and the playground bully through the eyes of Frannie and the Jesus Boy in your book Feathers.

You made me fall in love with Jeremiah and Ellie (and you made me incredibly sad) in your book If You Come Softly.

You made me a champion of Lafayette, Charlie, and Ty'ree as they worked through the death of their mother in your book Miracle's Boys.

You opened my eyes to the friendship and struggles of racism of friends Lena and Marie in your book I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This.

Thanks, Jacqueline Woodson, for creating such wonderful characters for me and other readers of your young adult books! I can't wait to read After Tupac and D Foster next!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

My Box o' Books

I got a box in the mail yesterday. A beautiful brown cardboard box with the words in big letters across the side. Nothing like new books!

Of course, I ordered some unusual titles, not the usual Paula Deen cookbook or a compilation of scrapbooking ideas or picture book for my daughter. Not even the usual library media or teacher educator books that I might have ordered a year ago.

I ordered the following titles:

In between reading the usual fare of young adult novels, I hope to explore this crazy world we're living in through the books in my box o' books! I'm sure I'll be sharing my thoughts.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Technology! Take Me Away!

I survived our PC Refresh last week. Through tech bond monies, we turned in 72 old desktop computers and received 80 brand spanking new ones. Nice! Of course, that meant days of plotting, mapping, and moving equipment -- thank you, Mr. Bobby and Ms. Pat, our custodians! -- and prepping for the team of movers and shakers. We also just setup four more laptop storage carts which included 60 more laptops.

While most folks would see this as an incredible addition to our technology resources, right now, I'm seeing it as 1000 more headaches and fires to put out when stuff doesn't work the way it's supposed to work. Printers need to be installed. Virus definitions need to be updated. Software needs to be installed on specific machines in specific rooms.

When did I sign on to be the technology facilitator at my school?!

The role of media coordinator has definitely changed, even in the almost 12 years that I have been out of the traditional classroom and in the library media center. There are tons more instructional technology resources to integrate into the core curriculae. The information skills that students need in order to navigate resources and the vast amounts of information have changed my instruction as well....or sometimes that lack of instruction. (See Please Don't Google Search!)

I'm not necessarily tired of the technology itself; I'm just tired of dealing with the equipment.

With over 200 desktops and 150 laptops on my small middle school campus, that's a heck of a lot of equipment to service! In most business models, there would at least be an IT person or some sort of technology specialist in the building to keep up the maintenance on the machines. While we have an incredible group of technology service folks in our district, there's only about 10-12 folks for over 150 schools that actually come out to take care of the equipment. A handful of others perform duties and updates remotely. But at the school level, that can be an overwhelming job for a classroom teacher, media coordinator, or instructional resources teacher who also is expected to wear the hat of technology coordinator.

I think my staff views me more as their technology specialist than as a library media coordinator and teacher. When I offered to work with one teacher's classes today, he looked at me with surprise and responded, "You can do that? Teach my kids?".

I've got to reclaim my true job description: planning, collaborating, teaching and integrating the information literacy skills into the curriculum.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Going Public and Getting Organized

I haven't really shared my blog with least not until today. I was working with three teachers on blogging, sharing some of the educational blogs out there and inviting them to search professional and personal interests to find some of the incredible entries and conversations going on about any topic imaginable.

So in a teachable moment, I shared my personal blog site with them, as well as the TriangleMommies blog site to which I contribute. One of the teachers was ready to create his on blog, trying something simple -- he came up with the I Am Awesome Blog -- and hoping to revisit blogging later on to really setup a neat mathematics conversation.

I can see the power of information and connections with blogging. There are blogs on absolutely everything out there. But filtering through the information can be overwhelming. I attended a session at the NCTIES conference last week in which Will Richardson talks about organizing your blog reading through Google Reader. It was just what I needed to feel less insane and just as informed and sparked to read some of my favorite sites without traipsing all across cyberspace. Google Reader is basically one stop reading for me. I've read my daily dose of news, my mommy stuff, and my tech talk entries without having to pull up each and every one of the sites.

I should have gone public and gotten organized sooner!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Choosing Elizabeth

Today I was offered a job, a position that I truly enjoyed when I held it for two and half years a few years ago. The job offered great opportunities to work with educators across our state, to travel to conferences to present to eager attendees, to visit other school districts and meet with folks who genuinely care about students and want to improve their own skills in order to to help students achieve.

When I was in this position before, my days were packed with many telephone calls. From anxious teachers working on their portfolios to district coordinators looking to get answers to their questions, my phone rang non-stop for the eight hours I was there. I also came in each day to several voice messages to return.

My days were also packed with emails, tons of emails. Again from teachers to coordinators to university faculty and research students, everyone looking for information about the program that I coordinated for our state. I would rapid fire emails -- send, send, send -- giving each one appropriate information with links to legislation and data and websites.

My days were also spent creating materials for workshops, whether that was drafting basic handouts, developing PowerPoint presentations, designing brochures and flyers, or updating the program website. I used my creativity to come up with powerful, exciting presentations for those many educators and coordinators across our state that counted on me.

Many of my days were spent traveling, sometimes as much as four hours one way to conduct a two hour workshop or meeting just to turn around and head back home for another four hours. But the graciousness and appreciativeness of folks made every mile worth it. I had the opportunities to attend and to present at national conferences, networking with colleagues in my field for three, four, sometimes five days at a time.

Today I was offered that job again. But today I turned it down, instead choosing Elizabeth, my two year old.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Sick Day

I've been home the last three days with a sick child. Obviously that means that I've had to take a few sick days from my job to stay at home to take care of my child. Sometimes I wish every day were a sick day. Not that I really want my child or myself to be sick, but I find that I get so much of my household work done while I'm home on a sick day, chores that are otherwise left to the weekend or put aside until some undetermined time.

In-between dosing out medicine, rubbing her back, and holding her so she's comforted, I've managed to fold a load of laundry, put in another load to wash and dry, wipe down the kitchen counters, pay a few bills, pick up the living room floor of toys, sort through holiday cards to pull out the pictures, and wash a sink full of dishes.

I wonder when I'm working when I actually find time for living, not that doing chores is real living in the sense of the big adventure, but it surely helps to keep me sane if my house is fairly organized and clean and everyone has clean underwear to wear!

When I first starting teaching almost twenty years ago, my principal was very big on "mental health days", encouraging us to take a day every once in awhile when we weren't sick to do something for ourselves. She wanted us to make sure we were healthy and happy and not burned out and sickly and then missing a week of work. It made sense to me then, and while it makes sense to me now, sometimes it's harder to justify that mental health day for myself when I have that little one that may need a sick day here and there.

In the meantime today, I'll keep loving on my cranky little one, wiping her runny nose, and soothing her cries while the dishwasher runs in the kitchen, there's a casserole in the oven, and the cleaner works in the toilet waiting for me to come scrub it.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Baby, It's Cold Inside!

The Monday before Christmas was a teacher workday for me in my large suburban district. I had two options: 1) take an annual leave day and enjoy my day off or 2) go to work and mark some items off my "to do" list. I decided to go to work.

Too bad our school district decided to turn the heat off to all its buildings on the students' last day of school, the Friday before the workday. The half dozen or so of us that ventured to our school building found frigid temperatures. Even though our custodian hit the override to turn the heat back on, the temperature never seemed to make it above 60 degrees.

Am I overreacting when I ask that the heat be turned on -- on one of the coldest days we've had so far this winter -- on a day that I am expected to go to the "office" to work? Am I making too big a deal out of the fact that this just seems like one more of those little things in the list of things where teachers find themselves being treate unprofessionally?

When stumped with such a question, I result to the the "education vs. corporate world" question: what would Bill Gates do? Would Bill Gates expect his employees to work an eight hour day in unacceptable temperatures? I don't think so!

When we talk about teacher working conditions, facilities certainly play a part in what we expect to be appropriate and professional. I don't mind a smaller than usual classroom. I can deal with having no windows, if I have to. I can make do with concrete flooring, even though my feet may ache at the end of the day.

But I've got to have heat!

Please don't Google search!

One of our teams is starting a big project on Africa. Each student chose a country to research and will create a product (brochure, flyer, etc.) with a travel itinerary. It's an okay project, giving kids the chance to hone their research skills and some autonomy and creativity in choice of product and presentation.

Today was their first day in the media center. Today you CANNOT do a Google search!

Why is it that folks see Google as the be-all-end-all in the cyberworld search?! Yes, it is an intuitive search engine for the most part, finding the most likely hit for which I'm looking. But then I use pretty good search terms with some boolean search strings, too. Most of our kids aren't that savvy....yet.

But they are getting more savvy. They were able to tell me some specific websites that they might visit to find factual information. Imagine that?! Facts! Most ended up pulling up the CIA World Factbook for their country overviews. Nice place to start, guys.

But don't forget the books! The kids need to include their country's flag in their final product. We have a whole set of books, Flags of the World, that includes color images of the flags and a few facts about the country. I also directed kids to Junior Worldmark's Nations of the World. And we actually have about 60 books on various African nations.

It was a good day not to Google!

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Year of Skinny

During our Christmas celebration with the family, my parents said they had an "offer that I couldn't refuse". At first they made no other indication what this offer was or what the whole sordid deal was about, but the conversation soon turned to my constant battle of the bulge!

Yes, I've been overweight most of my adult life. Chalk it up to bad eating habits learned in college and late night paper-grading sessions with snacks close at hand. Or maybe it's the desire to feed others -- the way to their hearts is through their stomachs -- and the constant supply of sugary baked goods and rich casseroles and other less-than-heart-healthy fare that I have been known to cook for family and friends.

After three rounds with Weight Watchers where each time I was successful at counting my points and tracking my food and weighing and measuring, I'm not sure I want to go back there. Each time I would fall off the wagon. Mostly I was like the schizophrenic or the manic-depressive who decides he feels great; therefore, he must not need his medicine. After a year or so, I would decide that I did not need the meetings, the journaling, the counting, the weekly money out of pocket, and I would abandon the way to a healthy lifestyle.

But I turned forty on Saturday -- the big 4-0! And I need to get healthy. My foot hurts lately and my knees aren't doing much better and I just seem to have that general "falling apart" feeling all the time. I know in my head what to do. I'm just not sure why I'm so scared to do it...

....and while there were no specifics about "the offer I can't refuse" -- they want to see some results first -- I know what price I may pay if I don't lose weight. I just don't know what price they'll pay if I do!