Techy Love & Hate

I’m reminded today that technology is friend and foe all at once. More friend than foe mind you, but the foe side can be a real pain in the rumpus. As I worked on my MacBook Pro side by side with my PC at work to do an important video project, I encountered the usual crop of issues, including a bad saving disaster that set me back about an hour. While in the end I know the finished product will be well worth the time and effort, I can’t help but think about what I’ve gone through to get to my current level of comfort with technology. I’ve spent hours on things that should have been quick and easy. I lost and recreated things that seemed to vanish into thin air when my tech tools crashed. I’ve lost my place, my files, and a chunk of my sanity climbing up a steep and slippery learning curve ….. YET, all the while I have held true to my conviction that it would be worth it in the end.

In reflecting on my techy roughrider journeys, I can’t help but think about the people in my life who sincerely want to use technology but feel ill-equiped or even scared. There is good and bad in sharing my struggles with my tech reluctant friends …. it probably brings a measure of relief knowing “It happens to Gina too” … but I have to be careful that it doesn’t dissuade them from taking the plunge and trying new techy tools. The good news is most of my buddies are tough cookies. They will hang with things a long time too — especially if they have a partner in crime. ūüôā

Who says media and technology educators aren’t essential?

Library Impact: Beyond the 4 Walls

This afternoon I worked on a video for a presentation I’ll be making for the AASL President’s visit to our school as a part of her Vision Tour of exemplary libraries across the nation. As I pulled together pictures that fit various categories of strategies I believe are important in building a successful school library, I was struck by a very simple observation. About half of my pictures come from places on campus OTHER THAN the library itself. Classrooms, flexible labs, video conferencing space, the cafeteria, auditorium, hallways, the lobby … you name it, I have photographic evidence of the media center’s reach into our school’s entire physical space. It’s kind of funny to think about how the flow of information, the integration of media and technology into instruction, and the results of collaboration have permeated our entire school. While I personally play an important role in this process, none of it would be possible without a supportive principal, media/tech savvy teachers, student buy-in, parent volunteers, fellow instructional support teachers, and a hefty dose of community spirit.

I made the decision a long time ago to embrace the idea that a viable library’s reach must include every nook of the building. I’m just as comfortable teaching, planning, and planting resources directly into classrooms as I am housing and showcasing them in the physical space of the library itself. This mentality has been most helpful in building a virtual presence on the web. Using new avenues — blogs, wikis, webpages, electronic pathfinders, virtual galleries of student projects — a future-ready library can give students the forums, resources access, tools and recognition they need to ignite learning and foster important dispositions necessary for success.

Gearing Up: High School Cometh My Way

Well, it’s been awhile since I exercised my blogging muscles, but here we go. ¬†Today, I had the opportunity to visit the library media center of A.L. Brown High School ¬†in Kannapolis, NC. ¬†I have to admit that a big motivator for this journey was pretty simple. ¬†I wanted to see a real, highly functioning high school library in action. ¬†The A.L. Brown media team came highly recommended — and I was definitely not disappointed in my trip.

While I walked away with plenty of high school ideas, recommendations, and thoughts, I think best part of the experience was the realization that a great high school is really more like a great elementary and middle school than most people probably think.  The principles that make for an excellent lower graders environment are still key in promoting a successful learning environment for teens.  Most of this truth is rooted in the fundamental human need for interaction, personal connection, and relevance.  Those ideas may take different shape and form in different school libraries, but I think these elements must be present for our students regardless of the age group.

As I enter into a newly expanding world of middle and high school patrons next year, I find comfort and encouragement in knowing that my high schoolers will still want visuals, book displays, collaborative spaces, soft seating, flexible access, friendly & responsive library-teachers, a voice in decisions, virtual and real spaces that appeal their interests and address their needs, and relevant and rich resources.  They will want opportunities to participate in book clubs, student focus groups, seminars, blogging experiences, lunch events, and engaging research projects.

Sometimes, high school libraries can be ¬†depicted as study halls, lunch hangouts, and (worse yet) drafty/empty zones without relevance and connection to teens’ real learning needs. ¬†I’ve seen too many outstanding high school programs nationally to believe that’s how it should be. ¬†Selling some of my dearest non-library friends on the potential vibrance of a high school library may be one of the biggest challenges I have ever faced. ¬†Yet — I stand ready to do just that. ¬†The irony is — I plan to use the same recipe I’ve always believed in to cook up a sizzling, nourishing learning space for my new high schoolers. ¬†I plan to work hard to earn my keep as a valuable collaborator with their classroom teachers. ¬†I intend to offer them exciting opportunities to engage in rich and meaningful programs. ¬†I will seek their input for new resources and programming ideas. I’ll offer them a visually appealing space that gives them independence when they need it, as well as collaborative common areas when they need to work in pairs or groups. ¬†I’ll extend the library into every legitimate nook and cranny of their real and virtual world I can find — offering them access to print and electronic resources designed to make their learning experiences what they need for their present and their future.

I don’t think learning has to be dry or boring to be relevant and rigorous — even in a high school setting. ¬†I will do what I know works with learners of all ages — make it fun and meaningful. ¬†It’s nice to know that smiles, soft seating, and thoughtful teaching and learning will always be a great fit with students regardless of their age.

Wishing Away

I haven’t felt great for about two weeks.¬† My allergies have flaired up in their usual post Labor Day fashion, leaving me snifflely, drained, and grumpy. I keep catching myself having thoughts like:¬† “Only 2 days until the weekend …”¬† I’ve always been wired to look ahead and anticipate great things that are to come — vacation, birthday, anniversary, Christmas.¬† That’s probably not unusual.

I think about my mindset when I was 15.¬† I think at least every 10 minutes my mind filled with thoughts of “wishing I were 16” so I would have the precious piece of plastic that entitled me to spool down the highway with the wind in my hair and my tunes blasting.¬† From 16, I started focusing on graduation from high school.¬† Since then,¬†there’s always been some sort of event or milestone that shines brightly on the horizon.¬†

This morning, it occured to me that this pattern of looking ahead can leave a person prone to wishing away life in general.¬† I’ve always known this and tried to curb my tendancy to see the future as better than the present, but I admit it isn’t easy.¬† I’m reminded of a quote I heard this summer:¬† “The grass is greenest where it’s watered.”¬† Much truth rests in these words. If we take time to relish the blessings and special moments that surround¬†us in the present, I think it’s much easier to enjoy life and avoid the looking ahead mentality that can leave us wishing away our life.

I don’t know that I would want to go back to being 16 again, but I do wish I had realized at the time how amazing the age was as I lived life in my teens, 20’s, and to some extent my 30’s.¬† I’m trying to apply the same lessons in my walk as a mother.¬† It’s so easy to look forward to your baby walking, then talking, etc.¬† I’m trying to relax and relish every moment of that journey.¬† Kindergarten, driver’s license, proms, and graduations await.¬† Having a healthy balance of loving living in the now while planning and dreaming of a bright tomorrow is a key part to a fulfilled and happy life.

“Warning: I May Contain More than a Trace of Nut”

quote by S. Colbert on the Colbert Report, Sept. 5, 2008

Just as I was about to entitle my blog post, “Mold Breaking,” Mr. Colbert comes on and delivers a quote that captured my current state of mind perfectly.¬† Merci!

I spent a fair amount of time thinking about the library media “brand” over the summer. I first heard this term (brand) in the library context¬†while watching a vodcast of Joyce Valenca. A gentleman in the audience pressed her to clarify what she meant by referring to library/media as a brand. She restated her point and gave a brief explanation before moving on to her presentation. I, however, really didn’t move on. I continued to think about this topic for weeks. As a matter of fact, I still think about this topic almost every day.

What does it mean to define library/media as a “brand”? What are the implications of building this brand, and are there potential ramifications for not building the brand? Is there merit to thinking like Nike and Coke as we evaluate our place in an everchanging educational climate?

For me, the library media “brand” is all about literacy. Specifically, the brand is about reading, writing, and information. It’s about finding a way to position the library media center as a vital part of the instructional program of a school. In order to do that, I’ve decided that building the brand takes vision, hard work, and a healthy scoop of “nuts.”

The vision and hard work elements of building the brand are pretty easy to comprehend. Having a clear mission and focus along with a commitment to roll up sleeves and do the hard work of educating students makes sense. As a matter of fact, I don’t think these two ingredients are typically missing from a school library media program. However, I think the real ah-ha for me is the “scoop of nuts.”

I seem to find myself involved in conversations with colleagues who truly want their library media center to be a thriving place, filled with avid readers and teachers who crave collaboration. Unfortunately, I more often meet librarians who seem at a loss for how to accomplish this vision. It’s easy to see how they have gotten into this corner. Budgets are tight … technology is gleaming brightly (casting a shadow over the stacks of aging books that line our shelves) … and standardized testing weighs heavily on the minds of teachers near and far.¬† Limited time and money loom over our shoulders, and we quake.

I don’t think we can continue to rest on our blessed assurance if we desire to be a vital part of 21st Century teaching and learning. We can’t assume that “libraries will always be around” and neglect to define, refine and reinvent our “brand.”

I went into this year convinced that I need to refine and reinvent my media center’s “brand image” in the following (some would say “nutsy”) ways:

  • ¬†Kids need a voice.¬† I will not be afraid to ask their opinion.¬† I can’t read their minds.¬† I need to find out what they are interested in, what they want to read … then, I need to deliver quality resources that match those interests/needs.¬†
  • Teachers need a voice.¬† I will not be afraid to have conversations about how I run the media center and make adjustments to address the needs they share with me.
  • PR matters.¬† We tend to be a meek bunch, shying away from promoting the valuable resources, services, and instruction we offer. I believe we must communicate our message and promote our program and resources to all stakeholders.¬† Most of our budget and all of our buy-in hinges on others and their support of our media center.
  • Reading is still fun.¬† In spite of the bling and blips of video games and other high tech diversions, reading a great book still delivers a healthy dose of satisfaction.¬† The trick is to find the perfect match of reader to book.¬† I will seek to give each child the magical experience of finding a book he/she can’t stop reading.¬† I believe that is possible and that I can’t use technology or anything else as an excuse not to try to be a library matchmaker for all students.
  • I will use technology to accomplish my goals.¬† I will not hide from, will not shy away from it, will not view it as the enemy.¬† I will capitalize on the magical lure of blogging to entice students to write book reviews.¬† I will use vodcasts, podcast, wikis, social bookmarks, my website, ebooks, and every gadget imaginable to hook my readers and to teach students how to handle information, answer¬†important questions¬†and solve problems.¬† I will not abandon hope of nurturing critical and creative thinkers, even in a testing climate some believe makes this hope impossible.
  • I will make friends.¬† I will not have a one-woman pity party and whine about being all alone as the one voice of media in a school.¬† Frankly, that’s not even true.¬† I am plenty blessed to have colleagues and adminstrators who routinely reinforce the value of our media program.¬† However, I believe in the power of networking, so I will continue to grow and give to my professional learning community by collaborating, plurking, tweeting, chatting, and sharing in online and face-to-face forums.
  • I will break rules.¬† I refuse to obtain a PhD in “old school library lady shush-ology.”¬† I will not squelch students who are talking productively in the media center.¬† I will help teachers design instruction that maximizes collaboration and dialogue in the¬† media center.¬† I will horrify (hair in bun, glasses on tip of nose) librarians near and far by playing music, encouraging food in the library, breaking my own check-out limits, and deviating from every possible guideline set forth by structured, leveled¬†reading programs.¬† As a matter of fact, I won’t even pay tribute to their book levels or force students to take reading tests without allowing them to reference the text of their book.¬† What a heratic I am.
  • I will use the library lady stereotype to poke fun at the brand of the past and reposition our media center as a new, improved place for the future — A place where technology and books and videos and magazines and other resources coexist peacefully.¬†
  • I will laugh at myself and constantly remind myself that the media center is most likely to reflect my frame of mind.¬† If I am a worrywart or a stoggy “Library Dragon” whose mission is to protect the collection, that message will snuff out any glimmer of hope I have that the kids will desire what we offer.

I share these ideas in hopes that it will help others with the same concerns, while movitating them to think of even more ways to demonstrate our value and importance in the world of education.

In a heartbeat …

I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me that some people have the attitude I’m about to discuss, but it bothers me nonetheless. Being a fairly optimistic (read: nearly Pollyanna type), I am often on the sunshine side of a heated discussion. I’ve learned to accept that my opinions are often going to register as naive or idealistic.

A couple of weeks ago I had a conversation with a couple of teachers who were in their late 50’s. (I’m 41.) The conversation began as a discussion of the state of our country/society and quickly slid into a very pessimistic conversation about bringing children into the world. One lady declared, “I think it’s borderline irresponsible to bring a child into this world … and it’s only going to get worse. …. It’s almost selfish.”

At the time, the comment really blindslided me and took me off guard. I actually don’t remember exactly what I said, and, frankly, I may have sat there completely spellbound and speechless. (A pretty rare reaction for me.)

Since that conversation, I’ve thought a lot about the comments made by the other ladies and tried to sift through my thoughts and feelings. For me, having my daughter changed my life in every way — for the better. I am a better wife, better educator, and better human being having my daughter to remind me of my greater responsibilities as a member of society. Is that selfish? Surely, times have been hard before. Wars, recessions, depressions, plagues, storms, crime, disease, and hardships have and will always be a part of living on Planet Earth. If everyone decided that the world was simply unbearable and never opted to have children, would that rid the world of these issues?

Personally, I think the selfishness of this discussion was the notion that someone would feel compelled to label someone else as “selfish” for having children. I guess it’s easy to say things like that without thinking … and even easier to say something like that if you’ve already had your children and somehow lost touch with the joys of parenting. It makes me wonder if the sad reality is that some people let their memories fade over time.

I don’t think a happy and fulfilled life is impossible without having children. I simply think it’s inappropriate to judge someone as irresponsible if they choose to expand their family — even in hard times.

For me, I wouldn’t change a thing in my life when it comes to having my child. I don’t fear the future and I don’t focus on the inevitable problems that my daughter will face in this unstable and uncertain world. I believe that my faith in God, my commitment to parenting her to the best of my ability, and my belief that the world is a better place with Chloe in it will be enough to live a happy life in spite of perils that surround us.

I wish I could have found these words during the actual conversation and stood up for my opinions. My blog will have to serve as my voice for now. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.

What Hurts One Hurts Many

Our superintendent delivered his annual “Welcome Back to School” speech (video) for our district employees this week.¬† Our staff watched it today, and I haven’t been able to get it off of my mind ever since.¬† Along with a discussion of No Child Left Behind and the realities of the AYP measures, he addressed sexual harassment.¬† Specifically he focused on harassment involving employees behaving inappropriately, while clearly stating the district’s policy toward the topic in general.¬†

It seems like I hear the all too familiar news story involving a teacher who developed an inappropriate relationship with a student at least once per week.¬† The frequency of this misconduct has painted stereotypes of coaches with videotapes and beautiful young women seducing adolescents with technology.¬† Stigmas that cast thunder clouds over every single dedicated educator.¬† The images don’t do much to help us advance the integration of technology either, but that’s another topic for another day.

It’s incredibly sad but even more angering to me that adults move into our profession and take advantage of their position of trust and respect.¬† These breeches of trust inevitably hurt all of us.¬† The victim obviously suffers, but the victim’s friends are also left to sort through the fog and make peace with what happened to their friend and to their teacher.¬† The parents are left to examine their role and responsibilities.¬† And all of the educators near and far are left with some degree of shame to overcome.¬†

Education is a small world.¬† We are all interconnected.¬† When¬†a fellow teacher makes a bad choice toward a student or even a peer, we all suffer.¬† I don’t know about anyone else, but I am tired of feeling the¬†sucker-punch¬†and disappointment I experience when I hear another negative news story about sexual harassment.¬†

I was proud of my superintendent for pointing out that employees who are victims of this misconduct have the right to choose not to report but that choice will most likely result in the offender simply finding a new target.¬† Actually, I am most proud that he took time address the concerns he and other district leaders have about this area of concern.¬† It couldn’t have been easy to look into a camera and speak candidly about the process and procedures we should follow in the event of a sexual harassment situation.¬† What a burden it must be to have to interview educators and investigate accusations of this nature.¬†

My mind went full circle after the video to a conversation I had this morning about an administrator I once knew who tackled a drug problem that had been ignored and left to fester.¬† It’s easier for leaders to keep their rosy glasses in place and try to convince the world (not to mention themselves) that everything is beautiful and fine, when the reality is much more complex.¬† I appreciate bold leadership that seeks solutions to complex problems.¬† These positive steps help heal the damage done and move us all to a better place in the future.



Ode to “Little Debbies”

I’m finding as I get older that true friends become more scarce and valuable.¬† I have a couple of “Debbies” in my life who qualify for the friend status.¬† At the risk of embarrassing either of them, I decided that I wanted to spend some time reflecting and writing about them in my blog.¬† There’s something special (in my book) about taking time to express appreciation for others in a formal forum, such as this.¬† I hope they will appreciate (rather than decide to come after me with a big stick) my effort to state my feelings about them within my blog world.¬†

Both “Debbies” are tough cookies.¬† Unlike the sweet, icing coated¬†confections that come wrapped in cellophane, they have grit and substance.¬† Both of them will take a stand and voice their opinion, especially if they are concerned that the welfare of students¬†isn’t¬†at the heart of a decision.¬† This determination and gutsiness both endears and frustrates people, but it’s always appreciated by those who also believe children should be the focus of education.

Both Debbies make no claim to being “creative” yet they are always willing to learn, grow, and try (most anything) at least once.¬† Neither seeks attention or recognition for their accomplishment.¬† They both are happy to applaud others and rarely claim any credit for their own hard work and contributions.¬† Ironically, I think they are exceptionally creative — especially when it comes to problem solving.

Both of them are “long haul” types.¬† You can count on them from beginning to end to be there, execute, and carry out every stage of a project.¬† In an era of quick buy-in but poor follow-through, I appreciate this attribute above all.¬† It’s so easy for folks to put on a positive face and say what others want to hear.¬† Both of these ladies go well beyond the easy enthusiasm.¬† They are 100% ready to roll up their sleeves and work until the very end.

Finally, they make time for others.  They stop what they are doing and listen.  They follow-up to see how things went.  They remember details and look for ways to help.  As the pace of our world seems to quicken, they still take time for others. 

The two Debbies couldn’t be more different in many ways … But in these important ways, they are very similar.¬† The world is a little sweeter because my “Little Debbies” exist.

Leaving Baggage on the Claim Belt

I spent some time today thinking about baggage.¬† In this case, baggage represents problems, issues, negative habits, rudeness, or poor attitudes.¬† Sadly, I’ve spent my entire life trying to fix other people’s baggage.¬† I find myself picking up their baggage from time to time in a well-meaning but misguided attempt to change their course.¬† Sometimes I put patches on their baggage.¬† I often rather try to change the person or carry their baggage rather than letting them heave their own baggage along their chosen trail in life.

Today, I started reflecting on this habit and decided my tendency toward this behavior is rooted in a deep desire to avoid rudeness and to deflect¬†the negativity of the other person’s behavior.¬† I can become entirely too concerned about what others might think of me if someone around me acts rudely.¬† This concern can quickly escalate to severe stress and anxiety.

If anyone else presented this scenario to me, there is no doubt that my advice would be to stop picking up the baggage and to let the person own their own issues and the consequences of their actions.¬† In reality, it’s very hard to disconnect from a person who is making a scene around you or crossing lines of socially acceptable behavior.¬† It’s even harder to trust that everyone around you will attach the negative conduct to the person himself/herself rather than associating the behavior with those around.

In life, few things matter more than gracious generosity and kindness.¬† Acting entitled to service from others and demanding more from someone else than you would expect of yourself are both destructive attitudes.¬† While you can’t necessarily disassociate yourself from with these tendencies in others, it’s important to minimize the internalization of someone else’s conduct.

I remind myself that I don’t judge others by conduct that’s out of their control.¬† I have to remember the advice of my mother and most of my elementary teachers.¬† Take care of myself and the rest will take care of itself.

Using Data to Draw a Crowd

We had two open house sessions this week to welcome our middle school students.  During both open house events, I set up 5 laptops and opened voting polls for students to cast their vote for their favorite fiction genre and their favorite non-fiction topics. I gave each student a piece of chocolate to reward them for taking time to cast their vote and for listening to my sales speech on the importance of using their media center.

 As they logged on and voted, I explained to their parents that our media center had just received a $12,250 grant for new library books.  I had planned to use the online poll as a way to generate excitement about our program and the new year.  I had not planned on the extra bonuses I noticed along the way.

I was simply amazed at the reaction of parents as they quickly recognized the power of using student input in the selection process for new library books.¬† Every single parent expressed appreciation for our attempt to gather data to make purchasing choices for fiction and high-interest non-fiction areas of our collection.¬† The comments usually went something like this, “That’s smart.¬† I like that.¬† You’re really on to something — I bet they are much more likely to read your books if they’re helping you pick them out.”

While I knew the voting was a great way for me to give students voice and ownership in THEIR media center, I have to admit that I didn’t realize how much the parents would value and appreciate this approach.¬† I was thrilled to watch them walk around and browse the shelves and displays, and even more delighted as they asked questions and wanted to know if I need parent volunteers.

We often use data to make decisions in school.  We value it internally, but I suggest that we should use our skills to generate, analyze and use data to reach out to our school communities.  People really do like to give their opinions and input.  More than that, they appreciate knowing this input is valued and used to make future decisions. 

It doesn’t make a lot of sense for me to sit alone and pick out books I “think” the kids want to read.¬† I need to apply this principle in every aspect of my programming and planning.¬† With the ease of online polling and survey tools, I have no excuse.