Monday, September 16, 2019

The Gift of Staying Connected - Thanks Andrew and Diana

This week, I had a pair of visitors. They come by at least once a year. It's time I mentioned on my blog who they are, where they are at, and how honoured I am to still be connected with them.

The photo that will be appear first in this post was taken twelve years ago. Some students from Agnes Macphail Public School and I had the once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet J.K. Rowling, hear her speak, and received autographed copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Two of these students were Andrew and Diana.

I've known Diana and Andrew since 2004, when I first came to Agnes Macphail Public School as their teacher-librarian. They've been in many classes I've co-taught with their classroom teachers and we've shared many experiences in extra-curricular clubs. Diana and Andrew graduated from the school in 2010. They visited regularly throughout their high school years and continued to support their alma mater in many ways. For instance, in 2013 they decided to create an incredible "Meet the Teacher / Meet The Creature" display for the hallway in time for Curriculum Night. They drew all the teachers as monsters. I still have my original copy and scanned the illustrations for use in our yearbook for that school year.

Mrs. Maliszewski, the "library dragon"

Speaking of yearbooks, Andrew was instrumental in designing and perfecting many of our elementary school yearbooks, even after leaving Macphail. Both Diana and Andrew graduated from high school in 2014 and went on to post-secondary education in different cities. Andrew helped create the yearbook (using Photoshop templates he designed) even while away at McGill University in Montreal. I'd send him files and my half-baked attempts at page layouts electronically and he'd send them back looking 1000% better thanks to his skills. My fellow teachers used to say, "You're spoiled with all the support Andrew gives you with yearbook. You better not get used to his being around forever." I have moved on to creating the yearbook with Ms. Keberer without his assistance. We now use yearbook companies with paid staff to assist us and pre-made layouts. (They don't look as good as the ones Andrew helped make.)

My interactions with Andrew and Diana are not limited to just completing projects and doing work. One social example - they introduced me to sushi. When they learned that I had never eaten sushi before, they pooled their money and brought me a big platter of different kinds. They took many photos documenting my reactions. I still don't like seaweed but I always get a few California rolls with wasabi at buffets thanks to their influence.

I received a Twitter DM last week from Andrew asking if he and Diana could stop by the school to visit. Naturally, I said yes. He came by at lunch and spent the afternoon doing what he often does when he comes by - being extremely helpful and accomplishing what needs to be done without even having to ask.  He shelved books and added spine labels and tidied up while I taught my classes. Diana arrived after school with a surprise. As part of her last year of studies in Architecture, Diana traveled all over the world. She brought me a dozen of her watercolor sketches from her voyages, that she scanned and printed for me to keep. (These are just two of the incredible illustrations.)

I can't begin to tell you how treasured I feel to still be a part of the lives of these two wonderful young adults. Yes, the gifts they bring are lovely - like the pictures and the extra help in the library - but what I value even more is that they make the effort to come back to visit. That I am worthy of their time and attention is sometimes amazing to me. (Andrew commuted all the way from Barrie via public transit to see us.) We update, we joke, we reminisce, and we get glimpses of each others lives in between visits via social media. Diana is studying for her GREs and contemplating where she will go for her Masters in Architecture degree. Andrew is supporting his parents with their restaurant business and deciding what his next steps will be. I wish both of them health, wealth and happiness as they shape their future. They are both such considerate, talented and intelligent human beings and they will go far with whatever they choose to do. 

Monday, September 9, 2019

Erasing Niceness

How's that for a click-bait-worthy title?

Traditionally, my "first week back at school" blog posts are about topics such as how to properly address students, designing my learning space (including hall displays), and creating caring environments. What on earth would possess me to suggest I should be "erasing niceness" for September 2019?

This is probably doubly confusing because last week's blog post dealt with my worry about being intimidating. In that post, I specifically mentioned my Twitter profile. In that particular social media biography, I refrain from discussing any qualifications, credentials or awards and dedicate a large part of it to a quote that highlights my disdain for Edu-Celebrities.

Write-up says "(she/her) TDSB TL, ICT & PLC fan & user of many short forms!
It's nice to be important but more important to be nice. See"

It just so happened that I finally got around to finishing the book White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. It was part of a book club I joined but due to hectic schedules around the end of the school year, the group was unable to meet to finish our discussions. The final chapters dealt with strategies for white people to address the wrongs they commit against POCs (people of colour). I don't have my book here at home with me right now as I am writing, so I can't quote the section that prompted this train of thought, but it related to the idea that "safe spaces" or "being nice" meant that challenging conversations around race get swept away or buried. Naming behaviour as racist makes people uncomfortable, and that's "not nice", so in the interest of keeping peace in a group, learning about and dealing with racism loses priority or power. The book goes on at length about how Western society has unfortunately created this idea that only "bad people" are racist and explains why this is not a useful way to think.

So this led me to re-examine my Twitter quote and a few other things related to my teaching. In my AQ course this summer, we co-created group norms and we had a debate about the idea of a "safe space". In the end, we chose to describe it as a "safe/brave space". You can read more about safe spaces and brave spaces here.

Copy of our posted norms from our Summer 2019 Library AQ

Another example: I use an abridged/adapted version of the Tribes TLC agreements for my Early Years learners (and before you ask about the name of this program/process, I am aware of and uncomfortable with the appropriation of a term belonging to many First Nations communities used for it). The shortened and simplified version of these agreements are
  • Be Nice
  • Listen
  • Try Your Best To Do Your Job
Can we challenge discrimination effectively if one of our goals is to be nice? Maybe instead of rephrasing this (because after all, they are 4- and 5-year-olds), I'll focus on "try your best to do your job" and state that part of the goal of school is to help ALL students "do well" and that can't happen if some students are treated unjustly because of some part of their identity. After all, the mission statement of the TDSB is 
"to enable all students to reach high levels of achievement and well-being and to acquire the knowledge, skills, and values they need to become responsible, contributing members of a democratic and sustainable society"
I just need to figure out a different quote that encapsulates my philosophy to use for my email signature file and/or my Twitter bio.

Photo of the book give-away area in the crater

In case you were wondering, my first week back was actually quite ... nice ... or I should say pleasant? The new students at our school seem happy to be in our building, I'm really excited about working with our new principal, and most of the classes (despite the large sizes and variety of emotional and academic needs) feel manageable, at least right now. We began with a book giveaway - only the weeded books that were deselected due to excessive numbers of copies or worn condition, not ones that were removed due to outdated or biased content - and students seemed to like the freebies. I'm teaching STEAM as a prep subject in addition to my regular load of primary SERT, library, and media, and that looks like it will be fun. Here's to a "not-nice" year!

Tracking how many times the marble went L vs R

Monday, September 2, 2019


So much for my assertion that I learned to have "rock skin like The Thing" from last week's blog post. I could have chosen to talk about school set-up (thank you Pat McNaughton for coming in and helping me with weeding - you are the BEST!). I could have chosen to talk about my son's birthday (happy 17th, Mr. Peter - I LOVE you!). Instead, I chose to talk about one minor moment in an absolutely WONDERFUL professional learning opportunity with the TDSB Library Department.

Thanks Peter for allowing me to post this goofy green screen shot!

The TDSB new Teacher-Librarian workshop was held on Tuesday, August 27. It was a responsive, helpful, useful format. Our valiant leader, Andrea Sykes, gave a bit of an overview of the job responsibilities, alleviated some anxiety about circulation, gave some good advice, and then let everyone loose. Nearly a dozen experienced teacher-librarians were in the room; they volunteered to be there to act as a "human library". New teacher-librarians could approach any of the experienced teacher-librarians and talk to them about anything. To help facilitate the conversations, Andrea had wisely made papers with the names, schools, and a few topics of discussion for each veteran teacher-librarian.

Slide visual created by Andrea Sykes - used with permission

Before we spread out for small-group conversations, the experienced teacher-librarians were asked to introduce themselves to the whole group. We did this twice. In the morning, I went first. In the afternoon, there was a request that I not go first "because it's intimidating to go after Diana". It was a friend of mine that said this, and I jokingly scolded her for the comment, but it really stuck in my head. I asked my friends Andrea Sykes, and later that week, my husband, Denise Colby and Joel Krentz ...

Am I intimidating?

Their answers were mostly the same - you don't mean to be, but you can be. Your reputation precedes you.

But I don't want to be intimidating! What can I do to be less intimidating?

What do teacher-librarians do when faced with an inquiry question? They start researching. My people-based research didn't have a lot of answers to this question, so I turned to some online investigation. The definition made me feel marginally better ...

... but not by much. I definitely don't want to be frightening or threatening, but neither do I want to "over-awe" people. I dug a little deeper and found a Life Hacker article that promised to teach me "How to Be Less Intimidating". These were the points the article made.

  • don't hide who you really are
  • be less verbally aggressive
  • go less hard on competition generally
  • you're too confusing
  • you're really good looking
Sadly, this still didn't help a lot. I still wanted to give this advice a try. I reflected on this points on my own first, and then I consulted someone who can be brutally honest - my husband. He won't pull any punches if I ask his opinion of me; after all, he was the one who told me "just because you buy organizational products does not make you an organized person". (That stung but was totally the truth! Cleaning my office this past week was proof!)

My Reflections: I don't think I hide who I am. I asked the people at my ETFO Summer Academy session when I was doing a presentation on social media if the tone of my tweets and blog posts matched who I was in real life. The group, including colleagues I've known for a long time, stated that the virtual me and the in-person me align quite well. I realize that all media are construction and media construct reality (the first two key concepts of media literacy) but I try to be as authentic as I can. I write about failing and negative emotions (like this post demonstrates or this more recent one) so it's not all sunshine and daffodils. I try not to say too much in large groups and work hard on ensuring others are heard. I realize that being a teacher can be intimidating to students because of the power the position entails and the no-nonsense aura teachers can radiate, but in many of the situations I've come across where I've been told I was intimidating, it was by fellow educators. The last point just made me laugh, although the advice at the end came the closest to remedying my situation. (The "he" in the quote refers to psychiatrist Grant Brenner, who was consulted as part of the article.)

He doesn’t really have any recommendations for this particular affliction, but being warm and kind can help bridge the gap. And it’s probably best to consider all the other potential reasons people are intimidated by you first.

I think being warm and kind are critical, especially as an educator. There's a reason why my Twitter biography and the signature file on my work email uses the quote "it's nice to be important, but more important to be nice". I make a conscientious effort to be approachable, which is why I don't list my accolades, awards, or achievements in obvious places. (You'd actually have to dig into my little-used wiki to find it all.). So ... what would my husband have to say about this article and the 5 tips?

My Husband's Reflections (his actual words, no paraphrasing): "none of those apply, really".

This image is relabeled for non-commercial reuse.
It comes from buitenzorger on Flickr.
It's titled "Intimidating Bear"

So I continued to research. I found this Psychology Today article (by the same psychiatrist mentioned in the other article). Here he listed his ideas about "4 Reasons People Think You're Intimidating When You're Not"

  • a consequence of unconscious bias
  • the aftermath of using simplistic defenses
  • the result of a history of being repeatedly intimidated
  • as a result of unconscious motivations
I don't know what to think of this list, because it suggests that there's something wrong with those who have felt this about me now or in the past. My concern is that being considered intimidating will actually impede or prevent some great potential friendships from blossoming.

My son said one of his friends was intimidated by me. He reassured his friend that his mom was one of the least threatening people he knew. (The animal hoodies I wear help reduce the menacing, unapproachable persona, I hope. No shoulder pads or power suits for me.) When this friend visited our house recently, I made sure not to lurk or be too physically present, to reduce the amount of jokes or sarcasm I used so I would not be misunderstood, and made a point of speaking in a friendly and agreeable way.

Then I found this article and a different perspective on the topic. The author, Rania Naim, really put together all the emotions I have about being intimidating. I have to include the second-last paragraph to her post, "The Truth About Being 'Intimidating' (And Why You Should Embrace It)".

So if people constantly tell you ‘you’re intimidating’ — don’t take it as a bad sign, don’t try to change, because it’s so much better to be around people who find your intimidating qualities appealing and impressive than people who ask you to change because they don’t know how to deal with you or they’re trying to find ways to bring you down

Thank you Rania. Maybe I need to do more research on why people's opinions of me matter so much rather than why I might be intimidating and what to do about it.

ETA: Sunday's gospel reading from Mass may help me understand why being told I'm intimidating rubs me the wrong way: (Luke 14:1, 7-14) "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted". I would rather humble myself and highlight the wonderful people my path has crossed instead of focusing on me or any part I might have played. 

Monday, August 26, 2019

Developing Library Super Powers at #ETFOSA2019 and #FXC19

Three years ago, Melissa Jensen and I facilitated an ETFO Summer Academy session called "Follow the Path to Excellence" for teacher-librarians. In 2019, I was fortunate enough to be granted another opportunity to organize a three-day workshop, this time with the amazing Jennifer Brown. This one was called "How To Develop Your Library Super Powers". Working with Jenn and ETFO was an utter delight. Let me share a little bit about what we did and the super powers I may have developed myself as a result of the three days.

Pre-selecting a theme can be fraught with challenges, especially if creators try too hard to make the content fit the theme. Thankfully, this did not happen with our planning. We organized our three days around super hero topics and inquiry questions that suited teacher-librarianship.

Day 1
  • Who are you? What makes a superhero?
  • What's in a teacher-librarian's "utility belt" of resources?
  • Why must equity be a foundational belief in the library learning commons?
  • How might our "superhero headquarters" be improved?
Day 2
  • Why are inquiry and collaboration key "powers" for a teacher-librarian?
  • What technological supports help teacher-librarian superheroes "save the day"?
Day 3
  • How can literacy strategies be "amplified and supercharged" in the library learning commons?
  • Why might teacher-librarians want to "make the headlines"? Which media and communication tools and strategies might foster connections between the teacher-librarian and their school community?
  • What evidence best shows your transformation into a "teacher-librarian superhero"?

I also have to give a shout-out, once again, to Jane Bennett, Ruth Dawson, and Joanne Myers, for providing some of the best professional learning I've ever had with "The Workshop Presenter's Palette Part 2". I took it in late November 2016 (ironically, a few months after I gave two ETFO Summer Academy sessions) and I still use the tips and techniques I learned then for planning and providing effective PD.

Jenn and I were a little surprised when we heard how many people had registered for the course. In the end, we had 39 participants! 50% of the participants had never taught in a school library setting before. The other half had experience ranging from a single year to nearly thirty years in the library! A group this large meant that whole-group activities were significantly pared down. A class this varied in experience meant that tasks had to be chosen with great consideration, so participants weren't bored (because they already knew things) or lost (because they had never heard of things).

By the end of the three days, the room was filled with artifacts of learning created by the participants. It was pretty incredible.

Display about physical space - I notice / I wonder / What learning

Inner traits, outer attributes, speech/thought bubbles about equity 

Schedule for Un-conference

What super power would you want?

Jenn and I also need to thank our guest speakers: Andrew Woodrow-Butcher from Little Island Comics / The Beguiling, Jeff Burnham from Goodminds, and Salma Nakhuda, TDSB teacher-librarian. They brought great resources to share and they themselves were great resources. (I have no solo picture of Salma because she was so busy interacting with the participants!)

I also have to thank all the participants from the course (or as Elisabeth Lion said in her tweet, "Thank you The Room") and my wonderful co-presenter, Jenn Brown. I only met Jenn about three years ago, and I'm so glad our paths have crossed. As I already said on Facebook, "Jenn gives and gives and gives - her time, expertise, and energy". I'd also like to add that Jenn's passion fuels her and inspires others. What you see is what you get - a genuine person who cares deeply about equity and putting her students (and her family) first. Astute, caring, and driven, the Ontario School Library Association is lucky to have her as the 2019 OSLA president. She is a hero to me.

So what super powers did I discover and/or develop after #ETFOSA2019? I think I ended up being the entire team of The Fantastic Four.

Energy like The Human Torch

Burn bright, Johnny! I had to wake up pretty early to take the TTC from north Scarborough to ETFO headquarters in downtown Toronto, and being available during breaks and at lunch and after the day was over tested my endurance, but I persevered. I did take a nap in the evening on the first day, but that was also because I had to pick up my daughter after her shift at work was done.

Rock Skin like The Thing

Jenn and I read the course evaluations on the very last day. We reminded ourselves to not dwell on anything negative that was said. It's almost inevitable that despite our best efforts, someone will have something unfavourable to say. (Please note that I don't mean something like useful, constructive feedback.) There were a couple of those former types of comments in the feedback, but I'm not dwelling on them in quite the same way I've done in the past.

Increased Flexibility like Mr. Fantastic 

Plans sometimes need to change and we adapted as we needed. Consent around taking and sharing photos trumped some of the tasks we had originally considered, so certain tasks were eliminated entirely and others were minimized. Break time shifted based on what was occurring before and after. A date mix-up meant we extended one activity longer to stall for an arrival. It all worked.

Allowing Others to Take Centre Stage like Invisible Woman

Jenn and I were often asked to share our knowledge and there were a couple of times, like the requested lunch meeting about media literacy, where I was the lecturer and did most of the talking. However, I tried really hard to redirect questions to the entire group or to other individuals that I knew could contribute just as well (or better) than I could. The strategy saved my voice and gave the discussion much more depth and breadth. This was most evident during the Day 3 Literacy Unconference and the Day 2 High Tech / Low Tech / MakerSpace Sandbox. Playing the photographer (Jimmy Olsen? Peter Parker?) meant that I also needed to step back and observe the action instead of become part of the action.

It was perfect timing that in the very same week, I attended Fan Expo Canada. It's a tradition spanning ten consecutive years for my daughter. The super hero theme continued in a few ways.

I always cosplay when I go to Fan Expo Canada. (In 2018 I was Joy from the movie Inside Out. In 2015 I was a Hunter from the video game Left 4 Dead. In 2014 I was a Minecraft villager AND Anna from Frozen. In 2013 I was Wreck-It-Ralph. In 2012 I was a Minecraft creeper. In 2011 I was the Bride of Frankenstein. In 2010 I was Yoshi. In 2009 I was Jessie from Team Rocket.) Usually, I'm not a superhero but this year, I was. However, I wasn't quite the super hero you'd expect.

I was Recovery Girl from My Hero Academia. Recovery Girl is an "old lady" but still a valuable hero in the manga/anime universe where she resides. (I'm posing with my daughter who is dressed as Mei Hatsume from My Hero Academia.) It's refreshing to see different cultural interpretations of heroes beyond the Western trope that I'm accustomed to consuming, and considering how large the My Hero Academia Cosplay meetup was on Friday, there are many other people who enjoy this take.

(This photo was taken by Kirill Kovaldin, a photographer. His website is

This "alternate take" theme on heroes was supported by a panel I saw at the end of the day. The "Almost Epic Squad" live reading at 5:00 pm was quite amusing. Canadian authors Richard Scrimger, Kevin Sylvester, Ted Staunton and Les Livingstone shared excerpts from their books and talked a little bit about how the concept was developed. What if super powers were part of the problem and not the solution? What if the extraordinary abilities you manifested were not particularly cool or welcomed? This is the idea that launched these books. The novels are interrelated, in that the characters share the same origin story and connect with each other. I've read Kevin's book and look forward to reading the others.

Kevin, Ted, Richard and Leslie
Another panel indirectly addressed the issue of superheroes. Three cosplayers spoke on the topic of "Changing the World Through Cosplay" - they are @Nadyasonika, @ladyDeeRich and @danielleggwp on Twitter. They spoke from the heart about finding like-minded people through the shared interest of cosplaying. They often dress as heroes (Nadya mentioned that in Mexico, which in the past was slow to accept local cosplayers, now loves cosplay and Mexican fans have a preference for DragonBall and superhero outfits). Despite their astounding good looks and impressive talent (with sewing like Dee or prop making like Danielle), cosplay helped them find community and acceptance for their "nerdy" hobbies and helped them overcome their insecurities. Thank you to those on the panel for your honesty, vulnerability and cool costumes. Thank you also for answering my question about how to satisfy the "cosplay itch" when conventions aren't running!

Danielle, Dee and Nadya

I had such a good time at Fan Expo Canada this year. Thanks to Connie Scott (who recognized me despite the fact that I was in costume) - it was so good to reconnect with you! Thanks to all the hardworking vendors and artists (in Artist Alley) that offered such tempting merchandise and chatted so warmly with fans.  Thanks to the parents who braved the crowds to bring their children to the event. Last but not least, thanks to my daughter, Mary - who lent me cash to buy Miraculous Ladybug comics, who hung around with her mom even if it meant missing a Pathfinder panel she was interested in attending, who indulges my love of dressing up, and who impresses me daily with her dedication, enthusiasm and kindness.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Redo the Report (Thanks to Library Inspirations)

With Jonelle and Fiona in Caledon

I know it's still summer vacation time in Ontario for the majority of us, but I can't help thinking about school. August is my time to fix up my school scrapbook and polish my school library annual report. It's a great time to look back and look ahead.

I've been doing annual reports for a long time, and as far back as 2012, I've been yearning for a new format that does a more thorough job of illustrating the patterns in my school library, be it with book circulation or program delivery. I've made some improvements, such as including graphs and charts generated from my library recess visit tracking form that I use throughout the entire year.

These are good steps, but the document itself is too long (6 pages) with a lot of long-term data (from 2004 to now, my entire time at my current school) that can be tedious to go through without incentives (such as the paid lunch I provide to my principal and chairs). My annual report needs a bit of a face lift!

There are a few people that have recently crossed my path that have been very generous about sharing their annual reports and inspiring me to make some changes.

Jordan Graham

Celebrating Jordan Graham on this blog is long overdue. (I even said so on Twitter, so it *must* be true!)
She was absolutely amazing and worth her weight in gold to my Additional Qualification course students this summer. She stayed late to help them locate the right resources and even helped improve their inquiry questions.
Jordan works at the Professional Library of the TDSB and is a font of wisdom. Don't let her youthful exterior deceive you - she has great experience and worked with the New York Public Library (in one of her many past positions) before joining the TDSB. Jordan helped my AQ students but she also helped me. I was a few statistics short for my annual report and she was able to obtain them. I asked her for some tips and she kindly shared a pair of annual reports she did for the NYPL. What I really liked about Jordan's reports were several things. I liked how she collected quotes from people who were happy with the work. I also liked how she described take-away nuggets from conferences she attended; it wasn't just about attending the conference but about the learning and next steps. One of the subcategories she had was "stories with impact". Combined with a photo, that was a powerful way to demonstrate the importance of certain programs or workshops. I have elements of some of these things in different locations (e.g. my blog when I write conference reports, or my scrapbook) but I need to consider how I might combine them into one document.

Lisa Wallace

I met Lisa Wallace in my AQ course this summer. She was the only Specialist candidate enrolled in a class of 15. She was so patient with me and generous with her own time, sharing her expertise with the other course participants. One of the assignments in the York University Library AQ course for the "part 3s" (designed by the marvelous Sue Peel) is to create an annual report. Lisa hadn't made one before but jumped at the opportunity. The annual report she created was absolutely beautiful. What I really liked about Lisa's report was the size - it was a compact three pages. I also liked how concise she was, limiting herself to 3-7 bullets per section. Her annual report was very forward-focused, and one section used the Start-Stop-Continue-Other Considerations categories to frame her next steps. I liked how she examined trends in things like the kinds of materials most borrowed, and I like how she included things I hadn't considered, such as how many parents were borrowing books. I may use a template similar to Lisa's for a nice, one-page executive summary of the school library at a glance.

Beth Lyons

I follow Beth (@mrslyonslibrary) on Twitter but only met Beth Lyons in person for the first time at the 2019 OLA SuperConference. We went out to dinner with a large group but it was so late, the group was so big, and I was so tired, so I didn't get the chance to talk as much or as in depth as I had wanted. I just got such a "*this* is a person I need to get to know better" vibe that I eagerly accepted her invitation to an informal Peel DSB TL gathering at Beth's house in Caledon.
It was delightful at Beth's house, but for some reason I was a little shy and didn't socialize much. Beth made me feel very welcome and when she heard about my annual report dilemma, she showed me the one she created as part of her Library AQ course. What I really liked about Beth's report was the inclusion of quotations that captured the philosophy of her school library. Her graphs, especially the one where she analyzed her collaborative teaching periods (from her Google Spreadsheet) and categorized the types of lessons most requested, were illuminating. I can't remember what tool she told me she used to create her document, but it sounded like a good one to employ.

Jonelle St. Aubyn

Peel District School Board teacher-librarians are pretty awe-inspiring. They do so many things! In my unexpectedly introverted state at Beth's gathering, I sat close to two dynamic secondary school TLs. Fiona Ross (@fionaross15) and Jonelle St. Aubyn (@Ms_St_Aubyn) were just as wonderful in person as they are on Twitter. I created a notes document on my phone during our conversation - that is a testimony to how much I learned from these two during our short time together. Jonelle showed me her annual report, which she made using Book Creator and featured her Bitmoji. What I really liked about Jonelle's report was how engaging and inviting it was to read. A narrative approach was something I totally was not expecting from a secondary school library annual report and the Bitmojis added a personal touch that made it less of a chore and more of a joy to dive into. I need to consider how to make my report just as playful and interesting.

I don't know exactly what my new-and-improved annual report will look like. I'm unsure if I will use Book Creator or Canva or Piktochart or even just a Google document. Whatever I decide, I'm thankful to have so many examples and so many colleagues willing to share their work. Thanks!

Monday, August 12, 2019

Further Reflections after Faith in the System Podcast

I'm not new to podcasting. It was part of my focus for my media unit two years ago. I talked about it as part of my MAD PD YouTube session and at the recent NAMLE conference in Washington DC. I've appeared on quite a few of them. However, I recently recorded a podcast that was challenging for me to tape and led me to a lot of thinking. It was Munazzah Shirwani's show on VoicEd Radio called "Faith in the System".

When I say it was challenging, I do not want to suggest that it was less than a pleasure to chat with Munazzah. She's wonderful! She and I had a phone conversation prior to the show to discuss the topic. We get along well. She was super-organized and took care of all the technical requirements necessary. The challenges were all with me and all internal. Below are two links to the show and a description of the show's purpose.

Faith In The System, hosted by Munazzah Shirwani, is about having authentic conversations that promote Faith Literacy for educators and stakeholders. The podcast covers religion, religious communities and interactions in both public and private school systems as well as in the wider public square. It’s a place for us, as educators to gain insight and empathy into handling the issues that come our way. The opinions of guests on the show are not necessarily those of the host or voicEd radio but are welcomed in the spirit of civil discourse.

The topic of our discussion was about my decision to give up Twitter for Lent. I knew that we'd chat about my job in education and about aspects of social media and religion. Munazzah has already written a blog of resources about our podcast here. I wanted to return to the conversation we had (and I even re-listened to the whole thing) because I was definitely not as articulate as I hoped to be, and there were so many things that I neglected to mention and/or needed more time to consider.

Questions That Needed More

Question: What is a teacher-librarian? Are you focused on the books?

I mentioned things like literacy and more (e.g. inquiry, finding information)

I forgot to say the role TLs play with integrating technology, research, digital citizenship, supporting teachers with curriculum. In other words, I left out a lot!

(Thank you Laura Wheeler for giving permission to me to include her visual in this blog post.
Credit and attribution for this image are to Laura Wheeler.)

Question: What is a typical day for you as a teacher-librarian?

I described what happens at recess, which involves sewing, using the makerspace, practicing dances, and helping students find books. A lot happens at recess! (You can tell by the graph below, based on the data I collect during the year about library recess visits, included in my annual report.)

I forgot to say anything about my teaching responsibilities! My schedule is not ideal - I have very few what I used to call "partner times" - open collaborative flexible periods where I can work with teachers and their classes to help them address grade-specific curriculum together. I provide a lot of preparation coverage and I have a very "fixed schedule". For instance, for 2019-20, I will have a library prep period with every class from kindergarten to grade 5-6 (but a collaborative library period instead for the 4-5, 6-7, or 7-8 classes), media periods for 8 primary classes and two prep classes devoted to STEAM. I also am the primary division SERT (Special Education Resource Teacher), providing academic support to the Grade 1, 1-2, 2, 3, and 3-4 classes. I suspect that I didn't mention the classes I teach in the podcast because, although I think I do a decent job of inspiring students and teaching them in engaging ways with the schedule I have, it's not the ideal. It could be so much more.

Question: Munazzah asked something about makerspaces and their connection to school libraries.

I said that the two were a good fit because of things like literacy, inquiry, curiosity, soft skills, the ability to test findings, discovery, and resources.

I neglected to mention maker culture, (also known as the maker movement) and that it's more about the philosophy and attitudes than the physical space housing equipment or supplies.

(This quote and this image were created by and should be credited to Melanie Mulcaster and Julie Cruise. It is used here with permission from Melanie Mulcaster.)

Question: What about creativity in digital spaces?

I focused on options / choices / many ways to share learning. I included references to my recent AQ course and how people selected different ways to share their inquiry projects.

I forgot to even say the word Minecraft. Maybe it's because my school computers can no longer run Minecraft? Maybe it's because it feels so "been-there-done-that-everyone-knows" to me? All I know is that on the radio recently (98.1 CHFI) I heard the host (John Tesh) discuss research that showed that your brain experiences a creativity boost after playing/exploring Minecraft for 30 minutes. (It was amusing that John Tesh asked his millenial coworker to explain what Minecraft was about, and the person used a similar analogy that my wise friend Denise Colby often uses comparing it to Lego.)

(This is a screenshot from our 2018 New Year's Eve Minecraft Party hosted by the incomparable Gumby Blockhead, aka Andrew Forgrave. It's a Maliszewski household tradition to attend.)

Question: How do you explain about why you gave up Twitter?

I said I found I was dependent on Twitter for entertainment and communication, purposes. I noticed that Twitter could be distracting from "bigger purposes" for me.

How ironic: I neglected to say the word "God" until the 14 minute mark of the program. This connects to the next two questions I struggled with immensely.

Question: How is your relationship with God as a Catholic? What is your faith practice?

Even though I was aware that this question was coming, I said it was very awkward to talk about because discussing religion sounds corny and I didn't want to sound like I was trying to convert anyone. I actually turned the question on Munazzah and asked her how SHE would answer.

Gracious and unflappable, Munazzah said she set aside her fear of being preachy, focused on the "I" (like "I believe") and described her connection to God.
I really had no clue how to articulate my faith practice and my relationship with God. I'll try my best in the next couple of paragraphs below. (You'll know when I'm trying to find the words for it when you see the asterisk.)

While recording, I could not, for the life of me, remember the different stages of prayer life. I looked it up (with hubby's help) and found a few sources to trigger my memory. There is recitative [with words], meditative [with images] and contemplative [beyond both]. Another explanation of the differences can be found here. (I'm good at recitative, okay at meditative and poor at contemplative prayer.)

This is a photo of me and my husband with a statue of Mary, Mother of God on our wedding day.

Question: I was invited to consider my Catholic background and upbringing.

I said I went to public school instead of Catholic (due to geography)and that my faith upbringing related a lot to Sunday School. As I grew older, I realized it resulted in some gaps in my own knowledge. This portion of the broadcast had a lot of "ummmmms" as I floundered to find the right words.

I realized that despite coming from a Catholic family, we didn't much talk about or practice religion at home. It was something we "did", at church. When I was a girl and into my teen years, my family was super-involved. At least one of us (my mom, dad, sister, brother or I) were part of the choir, Parish Council, lector team, Youth Group, ushers, catechism classes, RCIA (rite of Christian initiation for adults), sacramental preparation, and Legion of Mary. Now? In my childhood family, only my mother and I attend church regularly and I suspect her attendance is more out of habit than anything else. I think faith shriveled up for the rest of my family because (to use some words from Jesus), the "seeds didn't fall on good ground" (found in Matthew 13: 1-23, Mark 4: 1-20, or Luke 8:4-15). Some still consider themselves Catholic, but I wonder what that actually means (and conversations along this line tend not to end productively or happily if I initiate the discussion with them)!

Another photo of my husband and I praying during our wedding Mass (July 5, 1997)

I forgot to mention my own children. I had some initial angst about sending them to Catholic school when I went to and was employed by the public school system. However, it was a good decision. Being in a separate organization meant that I could be a mother (who happened to also be a teacher) during parent-teacher interviews, instead of having to watch my step (and my tongue) because my child's teacher was also my colleague or coworker. It also reminded me that faith development is too often left to the church or school to develop, when it should be developed at home (as well as church and hopefully at school - I'm not going to dive into the "funding religious schools" debate here but I know I'm fortunate to have the chance and I'll take advantage of it as long as it is available.)

Munazzah was so patient with me as I fumbled and talked around her question. She didn't scoff at my focus on the rosary instead of answering her question. She explained that it's easier to identify ritual before spiritual and helped me formulate my thoughts on prayer with a "manual vs auto pilot" metaphor.

So what is the way we've tried to develop my children's faith at home? What is my relationship with God like? What are my faith practices?

***As a Roman Catholic Christian, I follow the tenets outlined in the Apostles Creed. I am committed to attending Mass weekly and to the seven Sacraments. I pray (although not as often or as deeply as I feel I should) to God (in the persons of God the Father, the Son [Jesus] and the Holy Spirit) and I also have particular fondness / devotion to the Blessed Mother [Mary] and to my favourite saint, St. Anthony of Padua (the patron saint of lost things, who has always helped me when I appeal for help). I hope that people can see my faith through my actions and that I try to love my neighbour (Matthew 22: 34-40) and consider life to be sacred. I try to learn more about my faith through daily scripture readings and discussions with my family. God and I are like a parent and child; I mess up frequently but I believe God is forgiving and loves me unconditionally. ***

Here's a photo with two of the seven sacraments happening - Eucharist and Matrimony

Hesitations and Realizations

That last paragraph was extremely hard to write. It took a lot of edits. My husband asked me, "Why are you writing this for your blog? What is the connection?" I told him that I had to consider how this podcast and how my religious practices and faith impacts my teaching.

I hesitate to be too public about my religion because people have certain assumptions about practicing Catholics. I don't have my religious affiliation listed as part of my Twitter biography. It's not that I'm ashamed of my religion (although sometimes I get really frustrated about how the Pope or church authorities deal with some issues).

I want to reassure students and staff that my religion doesn't impede my decisions as a teacher-librarian. For instance, I purchase many LGBQTI2 books for my school library. (Once I was asked what percentage of my school library collection contained "gay themes" and my answer was "not enough"!) These resources include stories of same-sex marriages, even though Catholic beliefs about marriage state that it is between a man and a woman. There is some cognitive dissonance for me that I wrestle with privately (fueled also by the posts of @JamesMartinSJ, a Jesuit priest who writes often about supporting LGBQT Catholics) but I would never consider excluding books from the library because they might contradict my faith's doctrine. It's not about me; it's about providing a diverse collection that reflects Dr. Rudine Sims-Bishop's idea of "mirrors, windows and doors". I love my friends and their spouses/partners (regardless of their sexual orientation). I want students of all faiths to feel comfortable to talk to me about anything. I don't want them to feel that I think that certain topics are off-limits because they are atheists, agnostics, or any other kind of faith background and would not find a willing listener in me because I am a Catholic Christian. I support my trans friends and I use the pronouns that belong to them (i.e. the ones they tell me are theirs). I regret the role the Catholic Church has played in the genocidal actions impacting the Indigenous peoples of Canada. Yet, I still am Catholic.

I remember seeing a tweet by Jael Richardson that addressed the complexities of being a Christian while still respecting other faith traditions and groups that sometimes other Christians don't respect. I couldn't find her tweet, but I did find a blog post of hers - - that made me feel that it might be possible to support others and maintain my religion.

I read my "starred explanation" to my husband to see if I "missed anything" and he pointed out something to me: this is on my mind and maybe is the reason why I answered the door (August 10) when some Jehovah's Witnesses came by to evangelize. It was another opportunity to talk about my faith, acknowledge the faith of others, and sort it out in my own mind. It also made me feel more comfortable to talk with my friend Salma Nakhuda today about parts of her Muslim faith (Eid Mubarak Salma! Eid-al-Adha starts Sunday August 11 and ends Thursday August 15 if my quick research is correct.)

Faith isn't the "f-word" we should be afraid to use.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Using Our Power and Privilege to Make Change

Have you ever read about things in the news and felt the urge to want to do something? To take action and improve situations? To right wrongs and make a difference? The impulse has crossed my mind and heart before, but for certain reasons (see upcoming flashback below), I haven't.

Cue the flashback: I doubt that anyone in my family except for me remembers this, but long ago, my brother was in Cub Scouts. Something unpleasant happened at one of his Cub meetings, and I, a protective bigger sister, after hearing about it (second-hand) was incensed. I wrote a fiery letter to the Scout leader complaining about a person related to the incident. (I think I may have even recommended that the individual resign or be removed from the volunteer organization.) Well, the Scout leader phoned me to talk about the letter. I didn't keep a copy of the letter, so I couldn't recall almost anything I wrote. He firmly rebutted my points and verbally took me down several pegs. He took me to task about my understanding of the event that precipitated the letter-writing and my emotional overreaction. At the end of that conversation, I was completely humiliated. It led me to a couple of unhealthy,"warped" habits that I upheld for years - I became obsessive about keeping drafts of any correspondences I sent, and I grew very reluctant to speak up if I thought I saw injustice. (End of flashback.)

 (Note: this picture is "labeled for re-use" from Pixabay.)

I apologize for centering myself in this narrative, but I wanted to give some context as to why this past week's action was a bit of a big deal for me. I use my Twitter feed to connect with my network of friends and colleagues, but also to learn more about equity issues. Someone once recommended checking your Twitter feed to see who you follow and to pay attention to those faces to ensure you aren't in an echo chamber. I try and that's why it's such a great source of learning for me, despite the 280 character limit.

I am so fortunate that I follow Desmond Wong. I met Desmond when we were working with the Ontario Library Association's Super Conference. Desmond was part of the Careers / Mentoring Committee and I was one of the two OSLA Planners. (In the photo of all the Planning Team on this blog, he's in the far back and I'm right in front.) I followed him on Twitter (@desmondcwong) and paid attention to the things he retweeted and shared, because he's super-smart, aware, and fun. Recently, he'd been sharing a lot about Manua Kea. It inspired me to do more than just "like" or "retweet". I decided that, even though it felt like just a drop in the bucket, that I'd try to write a letter to the Canadian contacts behind the TMT Project that a Hawaiian librarian named Kawena (@pastelpatrol on Twitter) mentioned. Desmond agreed to proofread my letter. He did a great job of helping me ensure that these were my thoughts (he didn't put any words in my mouth) and that I was clear about why this was such a problematic project. Both Desmond and Kawena expressed heartfelt gratitude for my action - and writing a letter isn't earth-shaking. I've done it for education-related issues (like the recent provincial cuts) but that was, to be frank, somewhat in my own self-interest. This was an issue that I didn't know much about, but because of people like Desmond and Kawena, I wanted to know more about and help.

Below is the letter that I wrote to three Canadians:,, and I am sharing it here publicly not to make myself look good, but to use as a potential inspiration or template if other people would like to write.


My name is Diana Maliszewski. I am a teacher-librarian with the Toronto District School Board and an instructor with the York University’s Professional Learning office. I don’t usually write letters like this; letters in which I’m asking formidable institutions to reconsider a position they’ve taken about an issue that I’m still in the process of learning about myself. However, the more that I’ve read, the more I believe that even though my voice seems insignificant, I should still register my concerns about this project.
The project I’m referring to is the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project in Mauna Kea, Hawaii. I tried to ensure that the research I encountered as I educated myself about this project was as “balanced” as possible.  On, in which both sides were given ample air play, what struck me most was the statement that “Hundreds of scientists and astronomers, including many from institutions linked to the project, have also condemned the "criminalisation" of people opposing the TMT.” These people are specifically Hawaiian cultural leaders, Elders, Uncles, Aunties and Land Protectors on their own Lands.
According to Eve Tuck from the University of Toronto, “[m]ore than 3000 people are on Mauna Kea to object to this construction, and they are being monitored and arrested by police armed with guns, batons, tear gas, and Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRADs). Directly or indirectly, Canadian universities are involved in using militarized force to construct this massive 18-story telescope.”
Kaniela Ing said (in an interview found at that other options are available – some of the 13 other telescopes already on Mauna Kea can be dismantled or repurposed to make room for this big new one, or it can be built on the Canary Islands. There has been no consultation with Indigenous Hawaiians regarding the use or movement of this project and a distressing lack of care towards their needs and culture.
I implore that the people who are non-violently objecting to this construction project be treated with respect and that solutions be devised that take into account the cultural, spiritual, environmental, and educational aspects of this issue.
Thank you for your time,

Diana Maliszewski

I didn't include it in my letter, but I also want to call attention to a great article by Christine Torres. In an earlier draft of my letter, I said:

Christina Torres recommended that educators discuss issues such as this in her online article (found at; I plan on doing so and I hope I’ll be able to share that the Canadian involvement in this project is one of which I can be proud.
As educators (and especially for me, a white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, able-bodied, upper-middle-class, Christian woman), we have privilege. We should use that privilege to speak out more frequently than we do. I hope that maybe I can learn to do more than write letters or conduct lessons. As Kelly Wickham Hurst (@mochamomma on Twitter) said in something I retweeted, "I'm on a journey too." Hopefully I don't stall and continue to move forward to try and make the world a better place.