Saturday, August 4, 2018

4 Back to School Tips for New (and not so new) School Librarians

*This is the unedited version written for School Library Journal

Four Tips For New (or new to the school) Librarians

Congratulations on your new job as a school librarian! It is hands down the absolutely best job...EVER!  Last year, entering my twenty-sixth year as an educator and twenty-first year as a school librarian, I found myself in the position of bring a new librarian in quite a few ways.  I retired from Alabama and moved to Texas for an awesome school library position to work for an administrator for whom I have great respect and admiration. I moved from working at a high school library for the past twelve years to working at an elementary school. I moved from having a flexible schedule to a fixed schedule as part of the Specials rotation with Art, Music, and PE. I moved from having amazing, full time library aides to having no full time aide. I changed from having no district library supervisor to having and incredibly supportive one. I moved from not having a unified district library structure to having a very well structured program. So much was all new to me! Below are four tips to help you as you enter this new chapter of your life.

Get Connected

Being a school librarian can be a shockingly isolating profession, especially after having formed tight, supportive networks while you were a classroom teacher.  As a school librarian you are in a sort of no man’s land. You aren’t part of the teacher peer group, you aren’t part of the administrative peer group. Often, you are the only person in your school that works in and understands what it takes to run an active, engaging, supportive library.  Many school districts, unfortunately, often perpetuate this isolation by not allowing time for district librarians to meet and plan collaboratively which only exacerbates the isolation.

Don’t wait around for your district to connect you. Reach out to the other librarians in your district and find out what you have in common. Maybe your children both play softball, go to gymnastics, or dance class. Perhaps you could set up playdates, or other social interactions to get together outside the school day.  My favorite since my children are grown and out of the house is to set up weekend brunch/lunch meetings or after school dinner meetings. Talk, have fun, swap ideas and plan. Plus, it’s fun to have time away with friends who really get each other. Don’t stop there. Connecting with librarians outside of your school, district, and state, and country brings a unique worldview into your library program and enriches student learning.

Where To Find Your People
  • Twitter

Twitter is one of the best places you can go to connect, share, learn and grow with other school librarians and connected educators. Twitter is how I went from being a burned out educator to feeling like I never want to do anything else but teach.  Teaching before Twitter was lonely, frustrating, and boring. Teaching with Twitter is energizing, invigorating, fun, creative, and I never want to get off this ride of bringing awesome learning opportunities to my students and teachers.

There are a few secrets to truly harnessing the power of Twitter.  

  • Hashtags: 
    • By following, commenting, sharing, and connecting using hashtags you will      maximize your own professional learning.  
    • Three hashtags I’d recommend for school librarians are:
      • #TLChat
      • #FutureReadyLibs
      • #ISTELib

Don’t limit yourself to just these hashtags. Make sure to connect using state education hashtags, makerspace hashtags, and educational technology hashtags as well.

  • Twitter Chats: Twitter chats are the scheduled conversations, usually in a Q/A format lead by a moderator or moderators that take place on a weekly or monthly basis.

Two places to find hashtags for you, your teachers, and administrators are:

  • Facebook Groups
        Facebook is a great place to join groups to connect, learn, grow and share with other school
librarians and innovative educators. A few of my favorite Facebook Groups include:

  • Professional Development Resources for School Librarians

Below are a few professional development resources where you can find your people and have official professional development at the same time.

I owe my much of my success to my PLN. Without their strength, support, guidance, ideas and more I would not be able to accomplish so many of my professional and personal goals.  Through social media connections I have developed true friendships with other librarians and educators who will cry with you and lift you up when you are struggling and laugh, dance, and celebrate with you when you are successful.

Be fearless even if you are trembling on the inside.  Be the one who demonstrates that it is ok to not know something but be willing to learn, fail, and start again. We need to model for both our students and our teachers the willingness to not know everything and the need to not control everything.  

While I am in no way a fan of being on a fixed schedule as part of the Specials rotation, was awesome to have a captive audience to try out new ideas garnered through my incredible and diverse PLN (Professional Learning Network).  I loved learning about a new technology, app, website, craft, and more and knowing that I could go into work the next day and try it out with the kids even if I didn’t really know how to do it myself. Part of the fun was learning right along with the students and letting them teach me!

We also need to assist our teachers with expanding collaboration beyond the school building to forge authentic real world learning opportunities with others across the country and around the world using video conferencing tools like Google Hangouts, YouTube Live, and Skype. Events like Read Across America, World Read Aloud Day, International Dot Day, Andy Plemmons Picture Book Smackdown, Elissa Malespina’s virtual debates, Stony Evans’ #StonyStories empowering students to be in house PD and national presenters, National Poetry Month/Poem in Your Pocket Day, Mystery Skype, and so many more events can be made exponentially better by connecting with other schools celebrating or doing the same things.  I love that Shannon Miller put together a Google Document this past year where we can all share monthly Library Celebrations, any of which could be made collaborative.  

One new technology I want to use this year is #GridPals via FlipGrid. I introduced my students and school to FlipGrid during my first year.  Students, teachers, administrators, and parents could all contribute to our two FlipGrid topics; Book of the Day and Quote of the Day.  These grids were then incorporated into our morning news show. That way the whole school community had an opportunity to be part of the morning announcements.  

This year I want to connect my students through the new #Gridpals program. While FlipGrid has a Google Form where you can connect your students with other students around the world, you can always team up with another teacher or teachers you know to do something similar on your own.

I challenge you this year to be fearless! Part of being fearless is stepping out and trying new things even if you have never tried them before.  The willingness to learn and put yourself out there even if failure ensues (and it will) is the most fearless thing you can do!

Entering a brand new chapter as a school librarian I set an impossibly high bar for myself in part because I knew what I had been able to do in my past schools.  I failed to take into account all of the supports that I had in place in my old schools that I no longer had in my new school; a full time aide, a flexible schedule, student library aide (a great high school perk), and more.  

I worked myself at a frenzied pace to try to meet my own unrealistic goals. I weeded a collection that had not been weeded properly in twelve years with the help of my new district library supervisor, Becky Calzada. I genrefied the collection. I ripped shelving off the walls, moved and discarded furniture, and took apart and rearranged the circulation desk. I started a morning news show for our school’s morning announcements. I created makespace style centers and introduced cool new technologies to the kids like green screens, robotics, coding, and more. My third through fifth grade students created and maintained digital portfolios.

I found myself working all night at home and all weekend just to keep up with all the tasks I had heaped on my professional plate. I was exhausted, frustrated, angry, and after just the first year at my new school I was quickly moving into burnout mode.

Then I talked to my library hero and mentor, Jennifer Lagarde.  After attentively listening to my woes she said, “What advice would you give another librarian if they were saying these same things to you?”  Jennifer also asked, “Would you talk to another librarian the way you are talking to yourself?” Wow! Jennifer’s words really made me stop and think.  

I would advise another librarian to choose just one goal for each school year and concentrate on that. I’d also say, “Give yourself a break. Celebrate the cool things you are doing rather than beating yourself up over the things you aren’t doing.”  Being a connected educator is great for ideas and support from people who “get you” but can also make you feel as if you aren’t doing enough. As long as students are your main focus you are moving in the right direction. You are not a superhero. You are a beautiful, wonderful, talented human being with much to offer to your new students, staff, administrators, parents, and community members.

Make Community Connections

The PTA, parents, and grandparents this first year in Texas were my saving grace. I was so fortunate to have an involved and supportive PTA.  They took charge of the first Scholastic Book Fair of two booked by the previous librarian for the school year. I still felt as if I was drowning when that first book fair came around and couldn’t have possibly done it without them.

I was also blessed with some pretty incredible parent and grandparent volunteers.  With over 800 students and a tight back to back fixed schedule the ability to just shelve books was overwhelming.  My two grandparent volunteers, Ms. Gloria and Ms. Jean came every Tuesday and Thursday to shelve books. Whew! If it weren’t for them I would be buried under piles of books.  Ms. Phan, Ms. Bercu, Ms. Roberts, and Ms. Williams were also great helpers, often coming in to shelve books but also to help out with our library center activities.

My new school also hosted a WatchDog Dads program. My very basic understanding of the program is that the dads come to school with their kids and help out where needed but also spend time with their kids in class.  Just at moments when I thought I would just curl up into a ball and start crying, a WatchDog Dad would walk into the library and save me. One day in particular the Internet went out which meant my book checkout system was down as were most of my center activities. I was frantically trying to devise a plan when three WatchDog Dads walked into the library. Together we quickly came up with a plan of action and the day was saved!

My principal and front office staff also helped me out by sending substitute teachers to the library whenever they had a planning period on their schedule. I liked this because I could learn more about the school and community by talking and making friends with them. I can’t believe I went 25 years without knowing you could have substitutes help out like that!

Final Thoughts

More than any other advice I can give I think the most important things you can do as a new librarian is have fun, don’t take yourself too seriously, and always put serving others with joy (even when you don’t feel joyful) before all other tasks (management tasks can wait...people are more important).  

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