Monday, December 26, 2011

Counting My Blessings

In the movie White Christmas, Bing Crosby sings a song called "Counting Your Blessings". Even though it's not technically a Christmas song, I've heard it a lot lately. It begins: "If you're worried and you can't sleep, try counting blessings instead of sheep and you'll fall asleep counting your blessings."

Sometimes I can get as crabby as a Grinch when I think things aren't going the way I might have hoped but I have a lot to be thankful for. I have a great husband and two wonderful kids. My health is good and I have a decent roof over my head. I am a teacher-librarian, the best job you can have in a school. My workplace is filled with marvelous students, hard-working staff and supportive parents. It's Christmas, a special time of the year for me spiritually and emotionally. When I'm at Mass on Christmas Eve and I hear the words to "Silent Night", the grumpiness melts away.

T'is the season for giving, not getting, so let me give a little video viewing to the few folks still checking their blog feeds over the holidays. I don't think I ever posted the link to a video my students made about why they love the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading. Trying to show this video at our recent assembly nearly made me crazy (gotta love technical difficulties) but sitting and watching these kids wax poetic about books makes my heart glad and adds to my blessings.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Library in the News - Again

Sometimes bad news brings good press coverage. On December 6, the Book and Periodical Council hosted an Idea Exchange on the topic "Crisis or Opportunity: School Libraries in the 21st Century". The panel consisted of moderator (author/broadcaster) Kevin Sylvester, Annie Kidder from People for Education, Patsy Aldana from the National Reading Campaign, and me. Linked here is the promotional page from the BPC and the information page on the issue from the OLA, a co-sponsor of the event. Look for the #ideaexchange hashtag on Twitter to get a few highlights from the event. During the panel, Annie and Patsy alluded to an upcoming press conference they were jointly scheduled to have.

On December 12, they held their press conference, where they shared the results of some statistical analysis they conducted using EQAO attitudinal survey data. As both P4E and the National Reading Campaign state in their report "Reading For Joy", the percentage of children in grade 3 who report they “like to read” dropped from 75% in 1998/99 to 50% in 2010/11. The number of students in grade 6 who “like to read” fell from 65% to 50% in the same time period.

I received a call from the Media Relations Department of my board asking if I would be able to accommodate two film crews that wanted to tape some segments at my school library, interview me, and talk with some of our students so they could provide some footage to accompany the press conference report on the drop in pleasure reading. We set up the specialized media release forms and sent them home at lunch. We first heard about this opportunity at 11:10 a.m. and by 12:40 p.m., we were busy filming. Mike and John came from CBC; Dana and Pat came from CTV. Both crews were very nice. I tried very hard to give them different angles to use for their broadcast so that no one would feel like they were getting the same footage. Since the report focused on the EQAO years, I arranged for the CBC to have grade 3 students to meet and provided grade 6 students for CTV. We worked from 12:45 to about 2:00 p.m. and the results of the interviews can be found here from CBC and here from CTV. I was actually a bit surprised at how short the CTV segment turned out to be, especially considering how eloquent and knowledgeable Dana was on the topic - she's a parent as well as a reporter so she had a good grip on the issue. I found the CBC segment to be a bit more in-depth and positive in tone - and my students will be delighted by how many images featured them reading and chatting excitedly about books.

I guess in this case "no news equals good news" isn't true - maybe it's more like "out of sight, out of mind". When disappointing statistics like the ones cited in "Reading For Joy" hit the media, this is when interest in school libraries peak and the public becomes interested in what's currently happening and what's possible. As Annie Kidder said at the panel on December 6, it's the public that creates policy - and we need the public to care about and advocate for school libraries so that we can ensure that every school in Ontario has a properly funded and staffed school library.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Working out

My parents bought my husband/my Christmas gift early this year and had it delivered this weekend - a treadmill. I'm not very good about keeping to an exercise regime and I hope that this treadmill is going to put me on the right path to a regular fitness routine.

In the late 1990s my husband and I used to belong to a gym but once we had children, we found it impossible to take the time away from our babies to work out.

Around 2009, I used to be quite devoted to my Wii Fit and would use it nightly but I was derailed when I began to work on my Masters of Education final paper in the spring of 2010 and I had to devote my Wii Fit time to M.Ed writing time. When I tried to re-establish my Wii Fit pattern after earning my M.Ed, I found that I couldn't crack the top 10 of any challenges and I became discouraged.

I discovered Just Dance for the Wii later on and found that to be fun to do with my daughter but I fell out of the habit when my daughter had other things she'd rather do in the evening. I've started a Just Dance Club at school on Fridays at lunch for junior division students so that teachers and students could see dancing as fun and fitness rather than just as  performance, but once a week is not enough to stay fit.

What does this have to do with schools and school libraries? In Ontario, students are required to have twenty minutes of daily physical activity - this link to the Ministry of Education's site explains more and offers resources. I'm not a "regular classroom teacher" so it's usually up to them to incorporate the DPA time. I know many of our students lately have been hiding out in stairwells and bathrooms to avoid going outside for recess; I'm not sure if it's the cold they fear or the free time. School libraries support reading and research but can also play a part in working out the body as well as the brain. I'm trying to do it at school with my Just Dance Club (which is insanely popular - kids have asked if we could do it every day but I've got Tech Crew, Student Council, and Boys Reading Club on the other lunch hour time slots). I need to talk the talk and walk the walk at home as well.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Going Shopping

Last week, I mentioned that I was late for my appointment with the students to go book shopping because of my pet emergency. I thought this week might be timely to explain a bit about my version of this practice, especially since many people are currently in a "shopping mood" as Christmas nears.

I've been taking my students shopping with me since 1998. Back then, I arranged a field trip to the now-defunct Children's Book Store for entire classes, including their teachers. At my two most recent schools (including the one I am currently at), I bring a small handful of students with me to the GTA Resource Fair, which I learned from James Saunders of Saunders Book Company is the biggest vendor fair in Canada, and quite possibly in North America! The GTA Resource Fair assembles nearly thirty different book vendors all in one place in the Queen Elizabeth Building at the Canadian National Exhibition grounds. I choose these students from my student Library Helpers. This is one of the biggest perks about being a Library Helper and rewards them for all their time spent shelving books. My Library Assistant president and vice-president help with the selection - we try to choose students who have never missed a scheduled duty and we try to invite a range of grades. (My library assistants are in grades 4 through 8.) I know that my union frowns on teachers driving students around but I still transport the students in my car. Taking a cab would be too expensive and using public transit would take too long.

Before we go to the Resource Fair, I sit down with the students accompanying me and we go over the board's Selection Criteria for choosing books. We also discuss our library's specific needs, such as student requests and areas of the curriculum that need more materials. For our most recent visit, we needed to purchase more books on medieval times because my adult volunteers and I are in the middle of weeding our non-fiction section (we're working backwards and only in the 700s right now) and we purged many of the old and musty books on that particular topic.

Entering the large hall can be an intimidating and awe-inspiring sight. On the car ride down, when we aren't listening to the radio, I remind the students that the GTA Resource Fair is a media creation. All of the vendors are competing for our business. I advise them to carefully watch how vendors display their merchandise and the other tactics they use to attract customers. I remind them that many of the vendors offer the same titles and to compare prices between companies. We always take a quick overview tour of the different tables, describing the specialty focus the company may have (i.e. graphic novels, reference books) and then the students are free to travel in pairs or small groups to shop.

We bring walkie-talkies with us so that the students can contact me when they are ready to finalize their purchases. I double-check the items they select. Occasionally I ask for a brief summary of the book from them or ask them to persuade me why they believe we should buy a particular book. This is an authentic use for those skills we teach in school. I'm spending school funds and I want to be responsible.

My students have proven to be extremely responsible. The vendors now expect to see me with my students whenever I attend these fairs. They report to me that my students are polite, well-mannered and select the books very carefully. My students check inside the books to see if the reading level is appropriate. They consider the pros and cons of hard cover vs paper back editions. They compare prices and worry when they think they've gone over budget.

When I first started bringing my students to the GTA Resource Fair, I actually received some negative reactions from other teacher-librarians, who resented seeing children at what they considered to be an adult-only event. I encounter this attitude rarely now. In fact, I notice that other teacher-librarians have started bringing their students shopping. Both the students and the teacher-librarian benefit. The students have a say in the collection development. They use their critical thinking skills to choose the best books for our school library. The students know how much I pay for the books, which makes them much more careful when handling them. (Our most recent shopping trip cost $1800.) They are also the biggest promoters of the latest additions to the library; they tell their friends what was bought.

When we return, I display all the new books on tables in the library so teachers and students can see the newest books. Teachers will request titles. The only problem with this post-purchasing practice is that the students will incessantly ask/beg me to bar-code the new books as soon as I can and/or reserve them that special book they are dying to read. I still have teaching, yard duty, clubs, and other activities to do in the meantime but I try my best to make the books available. A large amount of books are ready today for borrowing. I hope they enjoy some of the great titles we've obtained and I look forward to continuing our shopping excursions with future library helpers.