Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Dealing with Stresses in the School Library that are out of your Control

Middle School Lunch 
Running the library last year was extremely stressful for me. There were a number of factors that made it so. None of those factors were in my control, though how I handled the stress certainly was. I was dreading getting ready for the new school year a few weeks ago because I considered that little had changed for this year. I have to give a big shout out to my principal because she has figured out a way to make my job in the library a bit easier this year. I want to let you know that the year has gotten off to a very good start. 

The first problem that made teaching extremely difficult in the library occurred right at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, and it had to do with the furniture. We moved into the new building in August of 2013. We had only about 400 students then, and there were many empty classrooms. The library had been outfitted with only four rectangular tables which was certainly not enough when a class of 32 students arrived in the library for a lesson. Since there were so many empty classrooms, I just took tables and chairs from one of those rooms. Then in 2016, we opened with 580 students and every classroom was in use. The tables and chairs in the library needed to be in a classroom. Now what was I going to do. I tried to have the students bring in a chair from the classroom when they came to the library, but there was a concern that the floors would get scratched. That was not going to work. I borrowed a couple of folding tables from my mother, but she only had two. Then around the middle of November I found eight tables stored under the steps in the PE pod. We do not have a gym, so the PE teachers are using three classrooms. One of the PE teachers said that she only needed the tables when she was teaching health for one quarter otherwise I could use them in the library. She also had stacks of chairs. She was moved to a classroom for health, and I got to keep the tables for the rest of the year. Then we started school this year with 680 students and no tables and chairs in sight. Then my prinicipal came to me last week to say that the furniture vendor would be visiting school, and I should make a plan as to what I wanted for the library. It took 12 months, but the district finally heeded my prinicpal's request for money to buy more furniture for the school. Currently, I have tables and chairs only because teachers are moving tables from classroom to classroom as needed depending on the sizes of their classes. I am excited about what I have ordered. It will look different from the rest of the school. The tables are on wheels and nest together allowing for lots of flexibility. 

High School Lunch

Another issue that was not an everyday problem was the scheduling of students taking online classes in the library. We run on a 4 X 4 block system and have four academic periods a day each semester. I had students scheduled in the library for three periods. During the other period, I ate lunch for half the time and had middle school in the library during their lunch the other half. When I scheduled classes in the library for lessons there was plenty of room for the online students and the class that was not the stress. The online students would talk and make so much noise that I had to constantly stop my teaching and ask them to be quiet. I heard that this year because the class sizes were growing that there would be many more students taking online courses. I was dreading what would happen. Then I found out that at 3rd and 4th period there were so many students that a teacher is scheduled to sit with them in a classroom. Actually, at 4th period, students with transportation are allowed to leave school. My schedule has 6 students at 1st period and 5 at 2nd. I can deal with that. If the students are noisy when I have classes, I have space to separate them. 

Then there was my job as AP coordinator for the school. I have been handling all the AP tests for about six years. At first, it was easy because the school was small, and I had time to complete all the duties required for the job and be an effective librarian. Last year, there were 50 more students taking tests than the year before. AP tests are given in May, and I also am the coordinator for senior awards night and graduation as well as the resident speech editor for students speaking at graduation which also happens in mid-May. April and May were so hectic that I totally neglected the library. Library circulation was down for 2016-2017, and I attribute it to the fact that I had to keep closing the library at lunch so I could deal with AP. At the end of the summer, I emailed my principal explaining in a very nice way that I had too many responsibilities in May and that I couldn't be AP coordinator any longer. She understood, but she did not have a ready replacement. Then on the first day of school, the district assigned a dean of discipline to our school. A week ago, my principal told me that the new dean would take over AP. Unfortunately, he has never done it before and knows little about the program. I will serve as his guide this year, but he will be doing the brunt of the work. That is a huge load off of my plate. 

Why did I tell you all about this? Because we all have to deal with issues beyond our control. I have been a school librarian a very long time and have been asked to shoulder burdens or take on tasks to which I would like to say no. I just can't. Being a team player is paramount to getting along with your administration and your teachers. I have always had good relationships with my principals. I don't always agree with their decisions, but I always abide by them. My principal realized that some things needed to change in the library, and she made that happen for me. I had to wait longer than I wanted to, but it did happen. I appreciate so much that she had my back, and so I will always have hers. 

Watch how you treat those around you. It is often best to just grin and bear it. Usually, if you wait long enough, whatever the issue it will turn around in your favor. I really love my job. There are great kids at my school, and I enjoy the teachers with whom I work. My principal and assistant principal are easy to work for because both of them are extremely kind. After 33 years working in public schools, I can say that I have good and bad years, but the good definitely wins out. 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

What a New School Librarian Needs to Know Part 2

As I reflected on my last post, I realized that I had more to say about being a new school librarian. First, I want to talk about technology. I remember many years ago (in the 90's) one of my colleagues in my district told me that she did not need to learn how to use technology in her library. The building that she was in was built around the early 1900's, and she had only one electrical outlet in her library. At that time, my library was computerized. I still had the old card catalog card system, but circulation was all done by computer. I thought she was crazy because technology was changing my world. If I wanted to prepare students for the next step after they left me, I had to embrace the technology.

If you are a techno-phobe, I don't think that you can be a good school librarian. You don't have to know all the answers, and you don't have to know everything there is to know about computers and programs. You do have to be a risk taker and willing to try technology. We are preparing our students for a future that we cannot imagine. It is important to model for our students and teach them that you don't have to know everything about the capability of any device to use it. You can have students use Animoto to make videos or Swift Playgrounds to code robots even if you don't know how to use those programs. Let's show our students that we are life long learners. 

As librarians we have always been curators of information. I spend a lot of time curating the resources that my students need for particular assignments by creating digital tools for them. This is very similar to the old days when a librarian would pull books off the shelf and find magazine articles about a particular subject only now it is in a digital format. When the alumni come back to visit me after their first year of college, almost all of them want to explain how much they are using the databases at their university for research papers. Most tell me that they spend little time in the college library, but they make use of its many, many resources. If we don't give our middle and high students many opportunities to access digital databases and other electronic resources, they will be at a real disadvantage in their later education.

As the only librarian in my school, I am the only teacher in the school who serves every single student in an academic capacity. Of course we have others on staff who work with all students including the administration, counselor, and PE teachers, but  I am the only one who assists directly with the curriculum being taught in the classroom. As such, I believe that I have a responsibility to set up parameters for the whole school in regards to research, note taking, creating citations, and following MLA guidelines. When students visit the library for lessons on information literacy, I expect the teachers to listen too because both of us need to have the same expectations of the students. The same holds true in an elementary school only the librarian will focus on the beginning steps of information literacy. This is one of the aspects that I like best about being a librarian because I get to build on the skills that I begin with the 6th graders until they reach 12th grade, and I am making sure that they are ready for college. 

One of the very reasons that I created this blog back in 2009 was for advocacy. What happens in the library is usually the process not the product. Unless we blow our own horns, no one will know what we are doing for the students in our schools. You have got to let all your stakeholders know about the exciting things happening in your library on a daily basis and that includes parents, teachers, and administrators, and depending on where you are that could be community members also. My principal knows about my blog, but I don't think that she reads it very often. So when I say something that I think she needs to hear, I send her the link to the post. We have daily announcements that are read to the students and emailed to parents, and I try to post something from the library every day. I always write an article for the school's monthly newsletter. I also have a Facebook and Instagram account for the library and post there regularly. I know that parents and the community see those posts. Then I have a twitter account for me, but I use it professionally to share what is happening in my library. You need to find your comfort zone in spreading the word about what you do, but consider it a critical part of your job. 

Lastly, I want to talk about leadership. When I said earlier that you need to set the tone for teaching research skills at your school, you must do so with confidence. If your teachers are going to listen to you, they will need to view you as a teacher leader. Some of you will take on this leadership role with ease, others will shy away from it. You are teaching every student in your school. You have expertise because of this--make sure your faculty sees this expertise. Don't worry about assuming this role on day one, that is not possible. You have to grow into, but you need to see that you can grow into it.

Just remember to breathe and take one day at a time. I will never be able to finish everything that I want to do in my library, my school, for my patrons, and for myself professionally. Realize that is normal, and that if doesn't get done now, it will at a later date. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

What a New School Librarian Needs to Know

This was taken in the 1990's in my first library job at Lusher Elementary
If you are embarking on your first job as a school librarian, I can give you some tips based on my over 25 years in the biz having served students in grades kindergarten through 12th. This year I have had several newbies approach me for assistance. I love serving as a mentor, but just like you as a newbie, I have lots to do to prepare for a new school year. So first piece of advice, a librarian's job never ends. That means you should not sweat, just breathe, and try to take one day at a time. There is always something to be done in a library. I mean that literally. This will be my twelfth year at Patrick Taylor, but that doesn't mean that I get to sit back and let the library carry on as it did last year. I have new ideas, new projects, new students, new teachers, and every year I want to see improvement in my library program. 

This was taken in 2009 with Mai Vu who was salutatorian of the first graduating class 
Second bit of advice--Take the time to get to know your collection. When I moved from the elementary setting to middle and high, I had lots of books to read. I had taken adolescent lit in grad school, but I was way behind in my reading to keep up with the kids. If your collection is heavy in electronic resources and less in print, you still need to get to know the collection. I believe it takes about three years to settle in. For you, it will be a journey to get to know the expectations of your administration, the needs of your teachers as you strive to support the curriculum, and the interests of the students who you will serve. I believe that every school library collection will look different depending on the patron. So you can look at my collection, and I can make suggestions to you, but only you will know exactly what you need to buy to work best at your school. 

Thirdly, find teachers who are excited to work with you. Being a librarian is all about collaboration. I cannot do my job effectively if I work in isolation. When I collaborate with teachers, I want to plan lessons to teach skills that the students will be using immediately in the classroom. Anyway, co-teaching is a whole lot of fun, and it helps to have another adult in the room, and I wrote a blog post about the second person in the room here. There will always be some teachers who will not find your services useful. Don't worry about them, and spend your time planning and co-teaching with those who want to use the library. Their students will truly benefit from your input. 

In my current library circa 2016

This last one is truly important: Don't be afraid to ask for help or advice. I believe in life long learning, It is what makes my job interesting. I know that even with my many years of experience and Master's degree plus 30 hours that I have more to learn to be the best librarian that I can be. In August of 1991 I took my first library position after teaching in a classroom for 10 years. This was also before the Internet and social media. I had/still have two friends working as librarians whom I consider mentors. Whenever I was in doubt of what to do next, I would call on them for advice. Their experience helped me tremendously. I also had some awesome teachers in graduate school who gave very sage advice. You are so lucky now to have librarians across the globe who can be there to offer you suggestions and ideas. Twitter is invaluable to me. Try the hashtag #tlchat or #libchat. Follow me @Taylorlibrarian. I began to use Facebook personally, but over the years, I have been blown away by the librarian groups where you can post a problem or question and get so many wonderful ideas from thousands of librarians to help you solve that problem. My favorite librarian groups are Future Ready Librarians and The School Librarian Workshop, but there are many more Facebook groups for school librarians or the ALA Think Tank for all librarians. Then there are the blogs like this one. There are many, many amazing librarians out there who share all their wisdom in a blog. There are none that I follow regularly, but there are many that I read on and off over the school year. Try Librarian Lisa's list of 50 best librarian blogs. Or this list of 50 of the best school librarian blogs from Teacher Certification Degrees.

Good luck in the new year! Remember I can't tell you everything you need to know to be a librarian. That is what getting your degree is all about. I can be of assistance when you have a particular issue, lesson, or problem. If you have a great suggestion for new librarians, please add it to the comments below. I would be interested to hear what I might have missed.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Getting Ready for 2017-2018

I am to report back to school on August 7th. It has been a great summer of travel, visiting with friends and family, reading, and getting projects completed around the house. Yet, all good things must come to an end, but on the other hand, I really do love my job especially working with so many wonderful pre-teens and teens. Being in the library is the best place to be in any school. There is always something happening and no day is like the previous one.

This will be my twelfth year at Patrick Taylor. Over these years I have developed an incredibly strong program to service the students and teachers through the library. As new teachers arrive I have to get them on board with the school's expectations for conducting research and writing papers and how I can help support the curriculum in their classroom. With the addition of eight new teachers this year, I began thinking of how I will make sure they know what I can do for them and their students.

I did some research and found this from the Mighty Little Librarian, and I used it as my inspiration. On Facebook, I found a librarian (Karen Hoppis at Coal Ridge Middle School in Colorado) who created a menu for her services, but I just saved her work as a photo and cannot find the link to share with you. That helped me too. Then I went to Canva to look for a menu template. I chose one and created what you see below. I did it in black and white so I can print it, but I plan to share with my teachers in electronic format, too.

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