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










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