Monday, July 25, 2011

Comically Me

Stephen Smith is a graduate students pursuing his Masters of Education. He contacted me recently about answering some questions for him for a research project he is conducting on graphic novel use in the Ontario social studies / history curriculum. He intends to present his findings in "a hybrid of academic text and graphic storytelling" (to use his words). As part of the project, he tweaked photos of his interview subjects and added a quote or two in speech bubbles using Be Funky. This is what he made after my interview:

I like it! I also like learning new things from new contacts (just like at Library Camp OTF in early July) like this Be Funky site Stephen mentioned. As I've said before, the learning doesn't have to stop just because it's the summer. It's just a different environment for learning.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Putting it in perspective

I heavily edited this blog post before I scheduled it for publication. The initial draft was raw, emotional, personal, and had the unintentional potential to reflect badly on some people and some organizations. Writing can be cathartic and the process can lead to learning. Since shared learning is one of the purposes of this blog, I chose to rewrite, edit, and share.

Recently, I applied for a central position in my school board. This was the third time that I've attempted to earn a spot doing this specific job. My (former) principal was absolutely wonderful. She helped prepare me more thoroughly than I ever had before. She ran through mock interviews with me, proof-read my resume, reviewed the job qualifications ... the results of my application are by no means a reflection of her efforts.

As you might guess, I did not get the job.

Naturally, I was a bit disappointed and upset. "What's wrong with me?" I asked myself. "Don't I have what it takes?" I felt like I had let down all the people who had encouraged me to apply.

I discreetly let my friends know via email and Twitter the results of the interview. As I spread the news, I re-read a Twitter exchange between me and @thenerdyteacher, otherwise known as Nicholas Provenzano. Our discussion began with this blog post from Rick Hess' blog, Straight Up. He had a guest writer, Florida teacher Zak Champagne, talk about "opportunities to grow" for educators that often lead to removing great instructors from the classroom. He bemoans that practice as a loss to students. Nicholas and I talked a little bit about Zak's point. I pointed out that in my board, we have demonstration classrooms, where other teachers can visit experienced colleagues, to watch them in action with real students. We also have funds allocated for new teachers to spend a day with another teacher with a similar job description, so they can job shadow them, pepper them with questions, and gain a mentor that will help them with their first years teaching. Nick liked the ideas. We cc'd Arne Duncan in our discussion, who turns out to be the U.S. Secretary of Education. Wouldn't it be amazing if this sort of professional learning model spread?

It took a couple of days to sink in, but eventually I realized that I don't necessarily need a special title bestowed on me by my employer to make me an "educational leader". I do it when I engage in voluntary conversations with fellow teachers across the continent or offer to help a new teacher-librarian with some kindergarten class lessons on using the library. I do it when I support participants at Library Camp OTF or present at conferences and bring back the information I learn to share with my PLC. Teachers can still lead while working "in the trenches", making the theoretical practical by doing it in their schools with their students. Don't get me wrong - I would still love the chance to assist my fellow school librarians system-wide as part of my day-to-day duties rather than voluntarily after school and online - but I am blessed to have a job that I love, with supportive administration, enthusiastic students, committed staff, and plenty of "leadership opportunities" in and beyond my school.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Summer PD - Leisurely Learning

July 6-8, 2011 marked my third annual work with Library Camp OTF. Every year, the Ontario Teachers' Federation, in conjunction with different subject associations, offers an incredible deal - for just $50, you receive three full days of professional learning opportunities as well as two nights of accomodation and two meals per day in the city where the PD is held. This year, the Ontario School Library Association focused on financial literacy, the newest Ministry of Education initiative. I was asked to re-do my presentation on gaming in the library that I delivered at the Canadian Library Association's 2011 conference in Halifax on Friday, but I was there for all three days to provide support and assistance to the many teacher-librarians from all over the province that attended.

I was so very impressed by the committment and energy that the participants brought to the table. Here they were, only a couple of days into their well-earned summer break, and they chose to work together and learn together. Even if conversations were "off-topic", they were "on-education", and that was just fine by me. We need to respect adult learning styles and the different professional goals that participants bring with them to these sorts of events. Each year, I think the camp improves - not just in how and what is shared, but even in the people that attend. In the past, I found that we were more likely to have some people who placed more emphasis on using their nearly free temporary residence in Toronto to play tourist; now I find that more of the recent attendees have a marvelous balanced attitude. No one begged for us to end early; it was more likely that people hung out after the session had officially ended to continue their professional conversations with their new acquaintances.

I was delighted to reconfirm that I learn just as much from the participants as I do from the "experts" and presenters. As the people who blogged about attending the International Society of Technology Educators conference in Philadelphia showed (especially through their tweets - check the hashtag #iste11 for proof), some of the richest learning happens in the hallway conversations, the talks with others during breaks. I felt the same way during Library Camp OTF. Here are some examples of structured and leisurely learning that occured for me:

Just as I benefited from Elizabeth Gordon's review of creating norms in the introduction, I was enriched by Cyndie Sirsi's passion for using dance in the library as a tool for deepening understanding that we had in the parking lot, and Mary Catherine Doyle's insights into determining the best people to buy from as we drove to a vendor for some "after-session shopping".

Just as I benefited from Roger Nevin's instructions on how to create (and delete) webpages using Google Sites and ways to create and share videos with ease via Smart Board's recording tool and Google Docs, I was enriched by Artemis Manoukas (and the new teacher-librarian at Heritage Park P.S., whose name I have totally forgotten!) who shared with me their experience with the impact of pets on students and plans for incorporating financial literacy with ecological stewardship, and Lucia D'Arrisso's delightful uses of costumes to engage her school community (and retelling how her kindergarten students patted her and cooed "you are so beautiful" when she dressed as Snow White).

Just as I benefited from Joanne Laforty's pre-retirement presentation on assessment and evaluation in the library (remember the new paradigm as explained in Growing Success states that the main purpose of it all is to improve learning) I was enriched by Christy Den Haan-Veltman's writing and publishing experience and willingness to help with the magazine, and Karen Fong's expertise as a kindergarten teacher shaping her library program (using a "glow and a grow" to give positive feedback, for example).

Just as I benefited from Ruth Hall and Elizabeth Gordon's connections between financial literacy and the Together For Learning document I was enriched by Cindy Mohareb and Karrie Smith's reflections on their gaming experience and the benefits it showed them, and Bonnie Moffat's group plans to create QR code t-shirts ("scan me") and scavenger hunt activities for their school libraries, and Heather Sheehy's courage to try new tools even when they are less-than-successful on the first attempt.

Thank you to everyone that attended. As I said after distributing the certificates, let's keep the learning going, and the connections we've made with other educators alive and thriving.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Changing of the Guard

On the Thursday before the last week of school, our principal had an announcement - she was transferring to a new school. The news was quite a shock to most of us. Our principal had been leading our school for six years (and I've been there for seven). Many of us incorrectly guessed that she'd retire from the position, as all of her predecessors had done before her. I was once told about my current school that "the only reason people leave are if they either retire or are promoted". It's a great school. The students are pleasant, eager, and hard-working; the parents are supportive without being overbearing; the staff are friendly and cooperative. As my principal explained at our staff social on the second last day of school, she felt like she should challenge herself - it would be very easy and comfortable to stay in a school in which she had established herself and her routines and expectations. She mentored staff and encouraged teachers to take on new leadership opportunities and she felt she had to do the same for herself.

The changing of the guard can be an uncertain time. What will the new person be like? How will things be different? My principal was far from perfect, but there is one specific practice that I will definitely miss.

Every July, after the frantic last days of school pass away, my principal would take me out to lunch at a lovely hotel restaurant. There, just the two of us, we'd sit and she would read my school library annual report and flip through the scrapbook I compile each year. The visual record of the year's accomplishments presented in the scrapbook, combined with all the quantitative data I compiled in my report (like circulation statistics, amount of partner units taught, budget, etc) provided a well-rounded overview of what went on that school year. Then, my principal and I would talk about what she had just viewed and read. How could we improve the school library program for next year? How could we duplicate or increase our successes?

What I love most about this tradition (other than the free lunch) is that I have my principal's undivided attention. She is not distracted and she truly listens and thinks and reflects on school library issues. This annual gathering was my principal's initial idea: she felt that in June she was just too rushed to truly digest my photo album and my annual report. In a relaxed environment with just the two of us, we are able to speak frankly and chew over ideas as we chew our lunch. With this small gesture, she demonstrates, even when I sometimes doubted it, that she considers school libraries important enough to devote exclusive time and thought.

We won't be having our annual lunch meeting because she'll be busy preparing for work at her new school. I hope she'll remember those conversations we had with fondness - I will.