Friday, December 19, 2014

I am a Rocking Librarian

Click the image above to enlarge and read
Today I received one of the best presents that a teacher could receive. A sixth grader gave me a note expressing her love for books, and the things that I do for her and all the students in the library. She calls me "hands-on," and I agree. I work very hard to be hands-on---how did she know that? However, I believe that I do what I do because it is my job; it is not special to me, but I am sure glad that Julia thinks so. 

This is what I do to create a quality library program in my school for Julia and the other 449 students at Patrick Taylor. I want to figure out ways to get my students to love books and reading as much as I do. That is hard to do with 11-18 year olds who would prefer interacting with their many electronics and gadgets rather than books. I understand; I like tech, too. I want the kids to be successful when they begin a research project. I want kids to use information in an ethical manner. I want kids to visit the library by choice because it is an active and fun place to hang out. I want the library to be a safe place where students treat each other with respect. I want to have a library stocked with all the resources a student needs to complete an assignment. I want to be a collaborator who the teachers can count on to help support the curriculum. I could continue, but I don't think that I need to because I think that you get the idea. 

Running a library means lots of multi-tasking. I love that about my job. I am looking forward to the winter break that begins in a couple of hours when I can sleep past 5:30AM and read for hours every day. Have a great holiday, and I hope that you are a rocking librarian too or at least someone who knows a rocking librarian they can count on when needed. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Senior Project with a Focus on YA Authors

Senior, Destiny Burnett and her mentor, Susan Larson
I am writing this post to brag about the president of Bookmarked and share some links showcasing her wonderful writing skills and ability to offer insightful reviews for the books she reads. Destiny has been in the high school book group since she was a freshman, and she is an avid reader and reviewer. Bookmarked members have been writing reviews and nominating books for YALSA's Teen's Top Ten since 2010. The group also reviewed books over an 18 month period for SLJTeen. During that time Destiny had six book reviews published as well as an author interview which you can read here

When I heard that Destiny was looking for a mentor for senior project, I knew just the person, but there was a problem. Destiny wanted an internship with an anthropologist. Lucky for her we couldn't find someone like that to mentor her. I have known Susan Larson a long time, and I knew that the two of them would make a connection. Susan was the long time book editor for the local paper and currently has a radio show about books on a local station. Susan is the most well-read person I know and has interviewed more authors than anyone that I know. As I predicated they hit it off spectacularly, and I think that both of them would agree.

For her senior project, Destiny made an exploration of several YA authors to find out what influenced them the most in their writing. Her mentor made some book recommendations, and then the two of them made a decision on which authors would be best to interview. After each interview Destiny posted what she learned on her blog. 
Follow these links to read her wonderful posts: 
1. Interview with John Ed Bradley author of Call Me by My Name
2. Interview with mystery writer Julie Smith who's YA novel is Curse Busters
3. Interview with Adi Alsaid who's debut novel is Let's Get Lost. Review of Alsaid's book.
4. Interview with Greg Herren author of the YA novel, Dark Tide 
5. Interview with M. H. Herlong who wrote the middle grade novel, Buddy

If you enjoy reading Destiny's interviews, please post a comment on her blog. I think that Destiny would love knowing that her writing had an impact on you. (By the way Destiny did an awesome job on her senior project presentation last week. She really nailed it.)

Monday, December 1, 2014

Making a Livebinder Interactive

I have designed several tools for students in Mrs. Higgins' science classes to use for a specific project. When Mrs. Higgins and I sat down to talk about the balloon car project for her 9th grade physical science class, I knew that a Livebinder would be the best way to collate the tools for the students. Usually, there is a link to the library OPAC as the first tab in any tool used for research. This time I decided to create a bibliography of all the print material and just insert the bibliography in a tab. I also pulled the books and had them ready for the students on a cart, but with the bibliography I really didn't need to do that. I always thought of Livebinders as a take only resource, not a give and take. I happened upon a blog post from Livebinders with a link showing how to create interactive tab/s. I loved the idea of adding a padlet inside my binder. It is super easy to use an embed code in one of your tabs. 

For the balloon car project, the students had to conduct research and then design their car. The cars had to run at least five meters. We asked the students to use the padlet tab to list what materials they planned to use to create their car. Since each student would get points for posting, we made a padlet for each period to make it easier for the teacher to grade. Find the Livebinder here for the balloon car project

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Taking Thanksgiving Week Off

All the teachers at school received these before the holiday
I am always working. Even at home I am constantly thinking about ways to improve library programming, and I usually have an electronic device - iPhone or iPad - at hand reading posts on twitter and seeing what is the latest and greatest in ed tech in the classroom. Sometimes we just need to stop, clear our minds and interact with family and friends without work on our minds. 

No, I did not go cold turkey on electronic devices over the nine day break. I still checked my email and made a few Facebook posts for school and the library, but I didn't post here or to the library website or plan the lessons that I will be teaching next week. I just needed some time away. While away I read two and a half books in print and finished an audio book. You could say that those were work because I was reading books that my middle book group will be reading. I just find such great pleasure in reading well written literature that it didn't seem like work to me. Just so you know I finished listening to Rick Yancey's The Fifth Wave, I finished reading Dovey Coe by Frances O'Roark Dowell and The Paperboy by Vince Vawter, and I began The Real Boy by Anne Ursu. 

I received the turkey that you see at the top of this post on the last day before the break. The whole staff at PFTSTA received one. The students were given the task of writing on the feathers and describing what each staff member does that they are thankful for. Our principal instigated it. Her boss who is called the Network Executive Director (NED) asked her to have students complete the slips of papers of thankfulness which were inserted in a letter that he wrote to all faculty members in his NED. It was a great way to begin the holiday, and neither my principal or NED knew that the other had planned a similar activity. 

Tomorrow it is back to work, and the final push to the end of the semester. We are on a block 4 by 4 schedule, so most classes will be done for the year in just three weeks. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Downside of Being a School Librarian

I have spent the last 30 years working in public schools in Louisiana. I have to say, except when I taught in a classroom that was federally funded, that I never had the funding that I needed to run my program. When I became a librarian in 1991, I knew immediately that the budget from the district and the state would not be enough to maintain and improve the collection. There were some block grants and some school money that helped in the early years, but I knew from the first time that I stepped into a library that I would have to hold fundraisers if I wanted to provide my students with a vibrant program. You can't run a library on nothing though I wish that you could. 

When I arrived at PFTSTA eight years ago, the district gave me a budget to match our student body of 175 students. I was starting a library from scratch at a new school. I needed funding. The principal, at the time, had received grant monies to outfit the school, and luckily, she was generous with the library. You may think that $40,000 is a lot of money, but when a library has nothing, this money does not go far. I began to write grants and found funding to build a collection. This was just after Hurricane Katrina, and there was money flowing into southern Louisiana. Most of those sources now require schools to show high poverty with 85% or higher free or reduced lunch. My students are not wealthy, but our percentage is much lower than that making us ineligible for many grants. 

Gearing the middle school up for the library fundraiser
Running a fundraiser is one way that I ask for support from our community and raise money to stock the shelves and have money for programming. This was the first year that we held a book fair because we didn't have the space until we moved into our new facility. I was happy with the results of the fair, but our profit of $1000 does not go far when buying books or electronic resources. On November 10th we kicked off the fundraiser for the middle school students. We work with Great American Opportunities (GA) and have done so for many years. A few years ago the sales rep asked if I wanted to try a special program with GA. It is kind of crazy, but we earn a profit of 50%, so it is well worth it. The students sell out of a catalog that changes each year. Family, friends and neighbors place orders in the catalog, and I have to submit the orders before the Thanksgiving holidays. The items are not shipped until early February. The students do not collect the money until the items arrive at school. It is a long wait from ordering in November and receiving the items three months later, and sometimes, people forget what they ordered. Since I always make a tidy profit, this fundraiser is a necessary evil. I really hate to ask students to sell for me. It just doesn't feel right, but without fundraisers, there would not be enough money to keep the library up to date. 

I usually love my job, but this is one aspect that I wish would go away. I wish that every library could have the funding needed to provide quality services to our students. High quality libraries are libraries that students want to use because they are attractive, have new books, have resources needed for class assignments and offer programs that make the library a fun and vibrant place to visit. I talked to a colleague who recently went to work at a private school. There are two libraries in the school with one budget but that budget of $35,000 a year is extremely sweet. My total budget in a good year is about $4000. Before you say that is crazy for a school serving 6th-12th grades, I need to tell you that the district pays for a couple of databases (Gale and World Book) and the library management software (Destiny). The school pays for another database (Britannica Online) and  a couple of other electronic resources including Turnitin, Easybib and Britannica Image Quest. If my budget had to fund those wonderful resources, I don't know how we would make it. 

I know that other libraries have fewer resources than we do, but I also know that there are many libraries with lots more resources. Though fundraisers are not something I enjoy, I do what I think is necessary. In my dreams I imagine a library with a large budget, but for now, I am staying here and using my problem solving skills to figure out how to buy the latest reads for my students who never want their favorite series to end. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Louisiana Book Festival 2014

Two years ago, I took a group of about 9 members of Bookmarked to Baton Rouge for the annual book festival. We skipped last year, but there were so many young adult authors who were attending this year that I thought it was a good time to go again. Since the students had to get their own transportation to Baton Rouge which is about 90 minutes away, it cut down on who could attend. I had two members of Bookmarked join me as well as a sibling who attends a different school, and two members of BRiMS who spend every lunch period with me. The kids all had a blast. From 10:30 until 4, we attended three author sessions and three author signings, ate lunch, visited the exhibitors and authors hawking books at tables and climbed the steps of the state capitol. 

Ruta Sepetys on the left and Chris Wiltz on the right

The students with the authors, and I am standing on the right
Our first stop was a 30 minute presentation by Ruta Sepetys, who I call my friend and who visited us at PFTSTA in 2013. Ruta says that Chris' Wiltz's book, The Last Madam, was the book that pushed her to try her hand at writing. I have heard them speak before, and they are both delightful and insightful as to the state of mind of a writer. Ruta writes historical fiction that is a hard sell, but her two books are so beautifully written that it would be a shame to pass them up just because of the genre.

Our second author event was the presentation to Kendare Blake for her book, Anna Dressed in Blood, which was the honor book from the Louisiana Teen Reader's Choice awards. She spoke for over an hour because she talked about the honor book and another series of hers that begins with the book, Anti Goddess.  Her books are creepy with lots of supernatural elements. Her work is not my kind of thing, but the kids were on the edge of their seats as she described the premise for each book and her inspiration.

These two were thrilled to get Kendare Blake to sign their books

The third and last author event of the day was a panel with Natalie Parker, Julie Murphy and Tessa Gratton. These three authors had been on a road trip for 2 weeks visiting book stores and attending book events as well as finding unusual roadside attractions. All three find setting a crucial aspect to their stories, and they used their travel time to get inspired. They were funny, told stories on each other and gave the audience a glimpse into their writing process. One thing that surprised me was their description of the short stories that they posted online as writing exercises with their critique partners. They said that some of the stories were good but many were not, but the stories remain available online for all to read. I couldn't post anything that would embarrass me later. I think they are very brave ladies.

Tessa is on the left with Julie in the middle and Natalie on the right 

Books by the three authors
Meeting author, Vicky Shecter, who wrote Curses and Smoke

What a great day we had in Baton Rouge! 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

SLJ Summit 2014 Learning

Photo taken and shared on Flickr by SLJ
I just had a very intense but wonderful weekend in St. Paul, MN with 200 other school librarians. Every year, for the last ten years, School Library Journal has sponsored a weekend where librarian leaders from across the US can convene and learn and talk and network and figure out how school librarians will save the world. We will you know, even if it is only one book or one kid at a time. It is called the SLJ Summit.

The conference is free, and the many vendors help to provide meals and receptions where the librarians can spend time talking with their colleagues. It is very cool to be in a room with the many people that I follow on Twitter or through their blogs. It is impossible for me to process everything that I learned and talked about last weekend, but I thought that I would list some of the highlights here so that I can remember what the weekend meant to me.

Slide from Dr. Mark Edwards' presentation

The Summit opened with Mark Edwards, who is superintendent of schools in Mooresville, NC. He is an active advocate for school libraries and school librarians. When he had to make cuts two years ago, he said that he never thought about cutting the library programs in his schools because they are too important for the kids in his district. He knows that not all superintendents agree with him, and he has served as an advocate for all librarians when he talks to district administrators throughout the US. He brought a cadre of librarians from his district with him. They spoke on a panel talking about how they infuse the four Cs of 21st century skills including collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity into their library programs. They had some great ideas. Here is a link to the presentation that Dr. Edwards made along with the librarians from his district. Rather than list my take aways from this panel, I am going to suggest that you open the link to the presentation and see what each of the media specialists shared. There are ideas and links with lots of examples from their libraries. 

Patricia Polacco shows the keeping quilt that her children had made for her
One of the author speakers for the event was Patricia Polacco. I love her work because she creates picture books for older students. When I was an elementary librarian, I used her work with 3rd and 4th graders. She spoke from the heart and let us know that teachers and librarians don't know the power they have to save the students under their care. She had multiple learning problems herself that made school very difficult, but she had several teachers along the way who helped her foster her gifts. She made for a very inspiring speaker. I was thrilled to have a chance to tell her how I would read Pink and Say every year to the 4th graders and how I would finish with asking them to shake my hand because I shook the hand of Patricia Polacco who shook the hand of the man who shook the hand and so on until her many greats grandfather shook the hand of Abraham Lincoln. All the kids would anxiously put out their hands until I shook every single one of them. I use to love reading that book even though it always made me cry. 

Rock star librarian, Joyce Valenza, led a panel of librarians who all spoke on how they viewed their role as leaders in their schools. They used the metaphor of an animal to describe their style of leadership. Here is the padlet that Joyce created for all the attendees to get a chance to voice what kind of leader they are. Some of the characteristics of a leader that were listed include: evolutionary, brave, have grit, adaptable, able to take care of others, able to endure and empowering of others. Before I attended the Summit, I went to a local library conference where the keynote speaker said that every library leader has one thing in common. All know how to advocate for themselves and for all libraries by sharing what they do with those who make the decisions be it in the school, the district or at the legislative level. I think that the leaders at the Summit would agree. 

My lego duck
The keynote for the second day was given by Stephan Turnipseed from Lego. He gave us five legos and told us to build a duck. He said every time that he does this with a large group, no two ducks are alike. He talked about creativity and how as librarians we can inspire our students. Then he explained that transformation, combination and exploration are the three types of creativity that can be done alone or in collaboration. All students can be creative we just have to figure out how to tap it. Love that idea.

One of the best panels of the whole weekend was near the end, when six librarians and one teacher gave five fifteen minute learning sessions. Each of them spoke about a successful program that they have instituted in their school. I especially liked hearing how Andy Plemmons gives the students in his school voice by deciding what books should be purchased for their library's collection. Each year he gives the group a chunk of money to spend. Very cool idea. I also liked the inspiration behind Pernille Ripp's global read aloud. I have been following her on her blog and was delighted to get to hear her speak. 

It was a wonderful weekend, and I was thrilled that I could be a part of it. Now I have to see how I can continue to transform my library into a place that serves all the students in the school.

Read some blog posts from other school librarians who attended this marvelous event:
Jane Lofton in California
Cathy Potter in Maine
Jennifer Reed in Massachusetts 
Highlights of the Summit from School Library Journal

Monday, October 27, 2014

Sometimes Getting Nominated is All you Need

The other day I received news that I was nominated for an Outstanding Educator Award from the University of Chicago. Every year, the university asks freshman to nominate a teacher from their high school who have made a direct impact on them. Patrick Taylor alumnus, Thomas Sostarics, nominated me. After receiving the letter, I texted Thomas a big thank you, and he responded by telling me that it was the least that he could do for all the support that I gave him and all of his classmates over the years that they attended Taylor. I feel so honored that he thought so much of me. Thomas was always an outstanding student, and when I wrote recommendations for him for college, I ended this way, (Thomas) "is going to be a real asset on any campus where he lands, and he will take advantage of every opportunity that you offer him. This is one of the students whom I will miss most of all when school starts up in the fall of 2014." It is so true. I miss him each and every day, but I know that he was more than ready to have flown the coop. I also know that he will soar now that he has the world of opportunities open to him at the University of Chicago.

I was sent a certificate, the plaque above, and the letter below

Double click on the letter above to read

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Thank you, Chris Grabenstein

I met Chris Grabenstein at a conference last March, and I was delighted by the way he captured an audience's attention. I knew that my students would love having a chance to talk to him. So I selected his book, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library as the read for the middle school book group in October. It was difficult to find a date that worked for both of us, but a few months ago we were able to confirm a date for skyping with him. BRiMS had the best time talking and listening to Chris because Chris Grabenstein is a hoot. He was very entertaining, and no question went unanswered. Some of the kids had some super questions for him, like asking him how living in New York has influenced his books. You can find out more about this Skype session and see more pictures by visiting the library website here
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