Monday, November 28, 2016

Effective Facilitating and Blogging

This past week, I had four separate meetings to attend, half of those as the person partly responsible for running them. I've been thinking a lot about facilitating because of the Teach Ontario course I'm running online about graphic novels, and because, for two days (today and tomorrow, November 28-29, 2016) I will participate in ETFO's "Presenter's Palette" course. The aim of the course suits my needs to a T:
This program is designed to promote the ongoing continued development of members’ presentation and facilitation skills. It has been developed to meet the needs of experienced presenters who are looking for ways to re-energize and improve their presentations.
There are three modules in this course, focused on:
  1. Strategies to grow as a curriculum workshop leader
  2. Ways to develop effective voice and facilitation styles
  3. Strategies to develop a high level of audience engagement and understanding
I thought it might be useful to reflect on my most recent meetings as a way to prepare for the Presenter's Palette class. I'll use the Stars and a Wish format to examine the strengths and areas for improvement for the recent area teacher-librarian meetings.

⭐👍 Stars / Strengths

  • Being flexible with the agenda and pace
  • Moving on when the technology wasn't working
  • Ensuring all attendees had a chance to speak and ensuring their needs were met
  • Reflecting feelings of the participants
I checked in with teacher-librarians after the Tuesday and Thursday sessions and everyone I spoke to indicated that they got something out of the meeting.

🌈👎 Wishes / Areas for Improvement

  • Arriving late and not starting on time
  • Missing the timing on shared speaking with co-facilitators 
  • Pointing out the time mid-way through
  • Having a "wishy-washy" ending as people filtered out in on their own
My co-presenter spent a ton of time preparing this beautiful Google Slides presentation but the Google Form messed up. We felt the time pressure (as the meeting was only 90 minutes long, after school) and unfortunately that leaked into the presentation.

Doug Peterson got this reflection thing rolling earlier with his post on blogging reflections. Blogging and facilitating have things in common. Instead of stars and wishes, Doug used five tips as his springboard for analysis and added five more. I'll follow suit and see how this blog measures up.

1) Having a plan is essential for making your blog a success.

My plan has evolved since I first began blogging in 2009. Now, my plan involves personal reflection on the past week's events and tying them in with my professional practice. Often, it's personal reflection ON my professional practice. I didn't research competitors. I started on the Library Network Group because they wanted people to blog, so there weren't many examples at all there. I migrated to Blogger and do it once a week, like clockwork. I didn't really consider about evaluating its success. 

2) Your blog is more likely to succeed if it's social.

That's true. Nowadays, I always post a link to my blog post for that week on Twitter, and I'll mention the people who are included in the reflection. What I could be doing but haven't yet is cross-posting my blog link on Facebook or other sites. I did that when I wrote about the death of my friend Jeff, because I knew his mother was on Facebook but not Twitter and would like to read what I wrote. I discovered that Facebook, despite reports to the contrary, is still a popular place to post - I received many more hits for that particular week than I did when just sharing via the blog and Twitter.

3) Content is king.

The funny thing about this point is that content that I think is huge isn't what draws in readers. Sometimes a "fluff piece" hits a chord with some people in ways I didn't imagine. 

4) You may have to learn basic Search Engine Optimization

I'm worse than Doug at this. At least he knew what it was. I don't tag my posts. I don't name my posts in ways that grab search engine bots. I skipped reading the multi-chapter guide that was linked to the original LifeHack article. 

5) Relationships matter

This is important to me in my blogging, my facilitation, my teaching ... probably my life! I started my blog with the intent of writing for myself. I was shocked to learn that people read it or cared what I wrote. Blogging helps develop other relationships too, not just online. I just shared my blog post about learning how to sew with a Grade 7-8 class as a way to promote the Library MakerSpace with them and connect on a personal level on learning new skills (and mothers who sometimes foil plans). 

6) Commit to posting regularly

I'm really proud of this, and it was key advice that my husband gave me when I first started out. I post every Monday (ergo the title of the blog, Monday Molly Musings), even when I think the stuff that I've written isn't so stellar. This is part of the "planning" portion that was the first tip.

7) It doesn't have to be in print

I'm still a traditionalist - I write. Sometimes a blog post is a series of photos, yet I don't have Snapchat and rarely use Instagram or Pinterest.

8) Take risks

I'm doing it here. I admit when a lesson tanks, or when I did less than a bang-up job with running a meeting. It's scary for me to talk about equity issues because I worry I'll do it wrong, or offend people, but if we don't talk about these things, how can we learn?

9) Reciprocate

I won't post replies to blog posts unless I feel like I have something valuable to contribute. I should change that policy, because even just a "good post" comment shows that I found it worth the effort to answer. I know I like seeing when readers post even a single sentence comment to one of my blog posts.

10) Look for a niche not already done

I can't say that I do this. I started writing for me, as a way to preserve what was happening in my school life. Others write about what it's like to be a teacher-librarian. The only unique part is that they aren't living my life, so my experiences might be common, but they're mine. 

Doug, you analyzed your blogging habits and evaluated them accurately. I'll share what I learn at my ETFO course - I've even booked time with my pal Denise Colby to report on the course at her house Tuesday evening!

Monday, November 21, 2016

The CCBC Awards - Be Both

On Thursday, November 17, 2016, I was at the 2016 TD Canadian Children's Literature Awards ceremony at the Carlu in downtown Toronto. This was my second time at this gala event. I enjoyed myself immensely. My fellow teacher-librarian, Joel Krentz, and I were the last to leave and I didn't return home until midnight. As I looked through the photographs I took and read the tweets that were shared with the #CCBCAwards hashtag, I was struck by a couple of contrasts.

Exclusive and Inclusive

The Canadian Children's Literature Awards is a very exclusive event. Invitations are non-transferable and not particularly easy to obtain. (I received mine because I was on one of the Best Books for Kids and Teens review committees. It's one of the perks of the volunteer job.) Attendees are a whos-who of the Canadian children's literature scene - authors, publishers, and significant movers-and-shakers. - YET - The group of people I spent the evening with were the most welcoming and inclusive bunch I could have the pleasure of socializing with. I'd occasionally hesitate before speaking with a particular famous face, shy and uncertain about the reception I'd receive, and every time I was addressed warmly and enthusiastically. It didn't matter that I was "just" a teacher-librarian; I was worth affection and attention, and the same was true for other educators who attended.

Lisa Dalrymple (author) and me

Jess Longthorne, Teresa Totten (author), Melissa Jensen, Pam Jeffrey

Willow Dawson (author/illustrator) and Joel Krentz
Diverse and Uniform/Homogeneous

The awards ceremony was a treat to see and hear. Unlike the Oscars, where it is unlikely for me to have experienced the nominated works, I was pleased to discover how many of the titles I own in my school library and have read myself. The acceptance speeches were heartfelt and grateful. The bravest speech, in my opinion, was by Cory Silverberg (@aboutsexuality on Twitter), who wrote Sex is a Funny Word: a Book about Bodies, Feelings, and You, the winning book for the 2016 Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children's Non-Fiction. He expressed a desire to see greater diversity in the Canadian's children's literature industry and in those we recognize - different faces, reflecting different experiences. I thought it was courageous of him to use his time on stage to draw attention to concerns about homogeneity, and it's true that the podium and audience held many similar looking faces.   - YET - there seem to be steps made towards greater diversity. The winner of the top prize, the TD Canadian Children's Literature Award, was Missing Nimama by Melanie Florence and illustrated by Francois Thisdale - Melanie is of Cree and Scottish heritage (see

Also, this tweet:

Independent and Dependent

Corporate involvement in non-economic affairs can be a dicey business and a delicate balancing act. Many of the activities and awards of the Canadian Children's Book Centre would not be possible without companies like the Toronto Dominion Bank, Sylvan Learning Centre, Friesens and other sponsors. I know that the York Region District School Board used to refuse to distribute the Grade One Book Giveaway title because it was funded by TD and the book had the TD logo on it. (They didn't like what they considered advertisements.)  The CCBC is dependent on these patrons. - YET - Good things happen because of these generous donations. Half a million children receive a book of their very own, to keep forever. I myself have seen the thrill on the faces of the young students as they are given these quality books. Selection of the winners has nothing to do with the businesses funding the awards. Alec Morley, the Senior Vice President of TD Bank Group joked several times throughout the night about a sad lack of children's books about banking but I doubt it will actually have any impact on the stories told or honoured.

Don't misinterpret my list of contrasts as a slight against the Canadian Children's Book Centre of the Canadian Children's Literature Awards. I think it's pretty amazing that they can be simultaneously inclusive and exclusive, diverse and homogeneous, dependent and independent.

I was delighted to be a part of this incredible event, especially because it gave me an opportunity to thank someone in person. Gail de Vos presented the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People. She was my professor for my "Comics and Graphic Novels in School and Public Libraries" course at the University of Alberta in 2004. My Masters of Educations studies was conducted completely online, from 2004-2010. It was that course and her guidance that led me to learn so much about the medium - and I was finally able to tell her the impact of her teaching on my learning path face to face.

Thanks Gail. Thanks CCBC.

Me with Gail deVos

Monday, November 14, 2016

Book Helpers Everywhere

I notice there are some recurring themes to my latest reflections - they are all intertwined.

Last week was a busy one. My car (see October 24) died again on Monday night after my boot camp session (see September 19) so there was the hassle of renting a substitute. On Wednesday, I drove to Niagara Falls to run two sessions about Minecraft at a conference (this time with Andy Forgrave and Jen Apgar at #BIT16, instead of Denise Colby at #ETFOT4T - see October 31). On Thursday, I had hoped to talk with the fabulous Andrew Woodrow-Butcher about titles for my upcoming Teach Ontario course while at the GTA Resource Fair but it was too busy a time to conduct that sort of business at the fair, so on Sunday (yesterday) I drove to Little Island Comics to spend some quality time planning and reviewing (see November 7).  While at the GTA Resource Fair to purchase books for the school library, my students and I met someone with whom we just clicked (see October 17).

My students and I go book shopping regularly, and I really don't know what I'd do without them. They know the collection much more intimately than I do. They carry all the heavy boxes. They get excited when they see new books and they take purchasing seriously.

Another type of "book helper" is the individual who volunteers to help their vendor comrades with customers and questions. This group is varied, from retired teacher-librarians like Cathy Baker, to publishers like Richard Jones, to authors like Tory Woollcott, but all united in their love for literature and willingness to help.

Tory charmed my students (and me) with her enthusiasm, knowledge about graphic novels, and her sense of humour. My students had no idea they were speaking to a real, honest-to-goodness author and illustrator until I told them. Books were autographed and photos were taken. I don't have permission to post my students' faces, so apologies if this looks like a police lineup!

I'm going to rely on another set of book helpers in the next few weeks - my fellow staff members. In preparation for our Forest of Reading program launch in January 2017, the teachers read the nominated titles in advance so that they can chat with the students about the books. I'm grateful and relieved that the people who work at my school love to read and volunteer happily to read these books and give up their recess times to have conversations about books.

I will end with a shout-out to another book helper - my adult volunteer, Mrs. Pat McNaughton, mother of talented teacher-librarian Kim Davidson. She helps to train my library helpers and comes to my schools two half-days a week to shelve books and keep the library tidy, despite my crazy projects strewn around the space. (I'm not joking - we're filming six different media videos using everything from Lego to Fisher Price toys to claymation to puppets to acting in front of green screens and in Minecraft. It looks like a tornado passed through, but Pat is the calm in the storm, ensuring that books are put back properly.) Last Friday, she and I were able to Quick-Cat process all of the books I bought the previous day from the Resource Fair. Thank you to all the book helpers everywhere!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Restricting Revision

In November, the TDSB character trait of the month is empathy. I'm feeling very empathetic towards George Lucas lately. Why?

George Lucas, creator of the insanely popular Star Wars movie franchise, is known for returning to his films to revise them. Some of the changes seem minor. Some seem monumental. George responded to his penchant for revision in this interview.

Why does he constantly go back? Early in that interview, he says that he's trying to make the best possible movie he can. It's about improvement.

Right now, I'm working on the content for a course for Teach Ontario, called "Panels, Gutters and Bubbles: An Introduction to Comics for Educators". I've fretted about this course because, like George Lucas and his projects, I want it to be the best it can be. I'm already hyper-conscious about the end product because I was less than satisfied with a a webinar I did for Teach Ontario in the past, and many people will be able to see this course. I want this course to be successful and a great opportunity for many people to learn. (Let me clarify - I want that when I teach in the classroom too, but this is a wider arena with a bigger audience and a longer lasting digital footprint.)

I'm fortunate to have a team at TVO helping me create this course - Matthew, Karen, Elina, Albert, and Katina - and they have been incredibly supportive. Other courses and work zones on Teach Ontario have been exceptional in terms of the quality of their content, the design, and the level of engagement has reflected this. Check out Makerspaces on the Spot and on a Dime by Melanie Mulcaster, Mentoring for All, facilitated by Jim Strachan, the book clubs run by Alanna King / Melissa Jensen or Mindful Facilitation, run by Peter Skillen and Brenda Sherry.

I know I'm not the only one keen to make this a fabulous learning experience. Matthew, who took video footage of me for mini-videos to be shown as part of the course has tinkered with how images appear. Even though the "final" version looked fine, Matthew returned to alter it to make it a bit clearer.

Here's Matthew during filming - he's amazing!

In the attempt to make this course the best it can, there's a danger that I spend too much time fixing things. There has to be a cut-off to my revisions. As I explained to Karen, I'll be tweaking ad nauseum if I'm not stopped! I've got to trust the team and my own efforts and let go.

Often, our students are less than thrilled with the revising and editing stages of the writing process. They may not see that it is in these moments that the learning happens, where we realize what could be improved or changed and make it happen. It may be arduous. It may be challenging. However, if I can look back on the final product afterwards and admire it (like I do with my Masters of Education capping paper, which took many curses, tears and prayers to complete), all the headaches will be worth it.

The course Panels, Gutters and Bubbles: An Introduction to Comics for Educators, begins November 21, 2016 on Teach Ontario and runs for two weeks. It will be followed in January 2017 with a book club discussion of Secret Path by Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire. Register at