International Women’s Day–Ode to Sharon Creech (or why I love Walk Two Moons)

Today is International Women’s Day. Across the globe there were marches and demonstrations. Social Media profiles turned red. A recent trend I’ve seen emerge on Twitter has been libraries and book stores either removing from the shelves or turning around books with only male characters or by male authors to highlight the gender disparity in publishing. This trend coincides a recent School Library Journal article about librarian rock stars that happen to be male.

I am an elementary librarian. This is a female dominated profession. Yet, through my white male privilege, I see the need for more diversity in children’s literature. Diverse literature includes books written by authors and featuring main characters of many backgrounds and experiences.

So on this International Women’s Day, I want to write about one of my favorite authors and my absolute favorite book of all time. This author and my favorite book’s main character are both strong female role models. My students know my favorite book is Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech.

The Newbery Award winning book follows the journey of Sal as she retreads a trip taken by her mother. We learn in the course of the book that her mother, feeling trapped, needed to venture on her own and learn more about herself. Without giving away too much of the story*, the journey does not have the ending any character foresaw. But the journey mattered. Yet, what I note that matters most to Sal as the book progresses to its end is what Sal learns.

She learns:

  • who she is as a person, daughter, and friend
  • that she is loved but also she must love and forgive others
  • she is a strong, independently minded person

This book has many layers and pulling back one layer only uncovers a deeper mystery or message that characters and readers learn alike.   As a classroom teacher, I read this book aloud to my students at the beginning of the year. We used the title as a metaphor to learn more about each other and walk in their shoes. Throughout the reading of this book and through our class discussions, I learned which students expressed empathy and which would need to learn how to be more empathetic. This book always brought my students and I together as a community who would spend a year learning and growing together.

Sharon Creech is an amazing author. I have been lucky to read many of her books and hear her speak at the National Book Festival sponsored by the Library of Congress. The first time I heard her present at the Festival, she spoke to me. After a long day of presenting and signing autographs, I imagine that the last thing she wanted to do was speak to a fan boy. But there she was walking to her car while I was heading to the Metro. I saw her and introduced myself. She listened as I told her that I had the job as a school librarian in Arlington, Virginia in part to her. At the time, my personal email address was a derivative of her book title. The library supervisor noted my email and was certain I knew children’s literature. Telling Ms. Creech this story, she smiled and seemed genuinely pleased I had shared it with her.

During one of her presentations, she spoke about her publisher calling her particular writing style “Creechian”. This is true. All of her books speak to me in many ways. While Walk Two Moons holds my heart in a way I cannot quite express, I love, appreciate, and can relate to her other books and characters. The playwright Leo in Replay, Florida and Dallas (and more importantly, Tiller and Sairy) in Ruby Holler, Jack, Annie, Rosie, Bailey, Phoebe, Sal, the list goes on and on…While reading her books, these characters become friends and family to me. I cry when they cry. I hurt when they hurt. I laugh when they laugh. This is what I believe is the “Creechian” style. Ms. Creech’s realistic fiction novels invite me into their worlds not as an omniscient reader but as a living, breathing observer of the heartaches, belly laughs, life lessons, and celebrations in each book.

While many libraries have pulled books off the shelves to visually showcase the male dominated world of literature, I would struggle if ever asked to pull Sharon Creech’s books. It would be taking a familiar photo off a wall and putting it in a drawer. Luckily, Ms. Creech is a fierce, strong female writing books about fierce, strong characters. Luckily, my students and I get to enjoy all her work now and for years to come.

*Really, if you have not already read Walk Two Moons, I cannot help if spoilers come your way. More importantly, stop reading this blog post immediately and read the book!

Library Assistants: Essential Personnel in ALL School Libraries

Every school must have a library assistant. Period. The End.

This blog post has been incredibly difficult to write. I have written and deleted a post-rant on the importance of these key personnel. But then when I write about my former and most recent library assistant, I do her a dishonor by including her in a rant. She deserves more accolades. She is a treasure to me. So I have written and deleted an ode singing her praises. But that does not get to the point of why we, as school librarians, rely so heavily upon our assistants.

So here I am. Struggling to write something of meaning that threads the needle between my love, admiration, and enteral gratitude for Jean and proving the point that library assistants are as essential to schools as custodians, cafeteria staff, and classroom teachers. Library assistants are not “nice-to-haves” if there is additional funding. They serve a key role within the library program and school-at-large.

First, meet Jean. She worked at Taylor for over 30 years: first, as a parent and parent volunteer; then as cafeteria monitor and crossing guard; finally dedicating over 20 years as library assistant. When I met Jean she had worked in the library for 10 years and knew it like the back of her hand.

It was a rocky start between the two of us. I started my tenure in Taylor’s library by redesigning the library space (including book shelves), program, and policies. The first day I met Jean I introduced myself and then showed her the thousands of books I had already weeded from the collection. I pointed to the empty bookshelves and told her we were moving them to rearrange the flow and layout. Our first day working together, we did more physical movement of the library and books than most librarians do over the course of their career. This is a lot to ask of a person making less than ½ my salary and who knew the school culture far better than me.

But over the first few weeks, month, and certainly that first year, I incorporated her in my vision. I listened to her and it became our vision: our vision to work together having our desks in the same space; our vision to make the library collection better reflect what our students wanted to read; our vision to make the library a lively, happy place open to all anytime of day.

Jean will tell you that I won her over when I threw out the card catalog and moved my desk to where it sat. Before me, the school kept copies of the all library records in the card catalog. No longer spending time typing the little cards and no longer needing the type writer to do it, she had time to help create displays and had more space on her desk for personal items reflecting her personality.

Jean became my knowledge bank when it came to school history and teacher personality. Her rapport with the staff served me well as I proved to be a change maker and tradition breaker. She advised me when to pull back or when to go full steam ahead.
Jean loved pulling books and setting up displays. Personally, I enjoyed that as well, but Jean really enjoyed it and was great at it. So that was all hers. I would decorate the display with student work or colorful signs. Her displays ranged from the typical holiday showcases to more obscure social awareness. During quieter times in the library when she was not shelf reading, shelving, cataloging, or repairing books, she was researching topics for her displays.

Jean ran circulation and library volunteers. I was teaching. When the library program switched from fixed scheduling to a wheel model, I was teaching all the time with no check out attached to lessons. All things circulation was Jean’s domain. She could get long overdue books back from students better than anyone I’ve ever seen. She knew what types of books each student liked reading and which ones their teachers wanted them reading instead. She helped them find both types. Parent volunteers checked in with her and she led them well.

Jean’s presence allowed me to focus on instruction, leadership, purchasing, and operations. Because of her, and for that matter any library assistant’s presence, I molded and oversaw the library. She did the tasks. Library assistants are workhorses. They put their heads down, ask for little, and work. Their work is imperative. If they cannot do this work, the librarian must do it. Circulation does not stop because there is no assistant. Books will always need shelving. Tasks always need completing.

The best example for why library assistants are so important comes from a WCPSS colleague of mine. Speaking with her principal about library staffing and operations she asked her principal what the principal wanted for the school: A librarian focused on checking in and out books or a librarian focused on instruction? The conservation is certainly more nuanced but the point is made. School librarians who serve as instructional leaders run a different library program than those who emulate public library programs. All libraries are important. But school libraries serve a different role for communities than public libraries. School leaders must decide what program best meets the instructional needs of their students and communities.

For the program I wish to operate, for the students I teach and have taught, for the teachers, staff, parents, and communities I have and do serve, I need a library assistant. To this day, I realize how much I took my assistants, and Jean in particular, for granted.

Library assistants make librarians better at their jobs. They are essential personnel.

Adoption Matters

Today is like every other day. But yet, it is also completely different. I woke up this morning hearing the loud, pattering feet of my son coming to say “good morning Dada!” This is his go-to wake up call every morning. It was the usual back and forth conversation. Me questioning: “How did you sleep?” “ What did you dream?” “Have you gone to the bathroom, yet?” Him responding in half-sleep speak: “Good.” “You and daddy sleeping.” “No”.

Then his prodding off to the bathroom after which begins his questions for me and my half-sleep answers. “What’s for breakfast?” “What day is today?” “Is it a school day?” These typical banters have started my days for the past 22 months. But over the past nearly two years, times have changed. The days have gone from me picking him up from the crib to his toddler bed to now his “big boy” twin-sized bed—basketball themed, of course.

As I said, today was the same as yesterday and the day before yesterday and the day before that. However, today is also so vastly different. Yesterday morning, the daily wake-up conversations were between my foster son and me. Today, they were with my adoptive son and me. You see, yesterday was adoption day!

Things are so different yet even more the same as they were before the judge’s gavel clanged. The judge’s order, the birth certificate, the legal acknowledgement all have great meaning and great heft. The daily decisions parents make for their children are now our decisions to freely make. Foster parents do not so easily accomplish things other parents take for granted. Doctor visits, patching up cuts and scrapes, school choices are natural parental obligations. But foster parents either need permission from or alert their fostering social workers for these things. Greater decisions such as Baptism, surgeries, and college choice are not given to foster parents at all. But now, they are our decisions to make.

That paper makes a difference.

Foster parents work hard to take care of other people’s children. They open their homes to children in need. They spend money on children who are not theirs. If I were to total what we have spent thus far on our son, it would be in the 6 digits. But money doesn’t matter. From the minute he arrived in our home, our son was just that: our son. When we were not sure if he would be placed with us permanently or ever placed back with his birth mother, it did not matter. What we had, what we have, was and is his.

As it became clearer he would eventually be our adoptive son, the days grew long in anticipation. Our anxiety grew in waiting. Our stress grew as we unraveled red tape after red tape.   We were nervous. We were cautious. We were constantly wondering when everything would clear and the adoption set.

However, no hoop or court date or delay ever changed us. We were always a family. We were a family before he arrived in our house. Our visits with him as he transitioned from his first foster family to ours showcased our love for one another. We were family before our visits. He is my husband’s cousin. We knew him. We loved him. We wanted him always to be with his relatives.

When we were told to take foster parenting classes, we signed up and attended. When we went to get background checks, fingerprints, documents notarized or any other paperwork complete, we met the deadline with days to spare. Rarely were we told to do something that did not start the minute the phone call ended or email logged off.

It took a long time and it was needed. Red tape is not always bad. It is there to slow down the process ensuring best interests of children are met. Foster children have already been through the worst our society can put out for kids. They have witnessed or experienced abuses no rational adult should even contemplate. They deserve to be wrapped in red tape, bubble wrap, packing peanuts, protective cloths, and more! Our son deserved the time, contemplation, and consideration it took before he was placed with us. His previous foster family who loved him as much as us, had opened their home, fed, clothed, educated, and spent their hard-earned money taking care of him, deserved the time and consideration it took to move him from their home to ours. We are forever indebted to this family and love them. They will always be part of our family. We are fortunate they vacation with us, visit with us, and pray for and with us. And now, more children are blessed placed in their home and on their way to adoption day as well!

Adoption matters. My son has been saying that adoption “means being a family forever and ever.” That’s what we are now…a forever family. We are no more a family than we were 24 hours ago. The love is no greater today than before. But what we are now is a family forever.

The gavel clanged!

Power of Connectivity: Parenting and Teaching

Sometimes confluences of ideas converge. This happened to me today while I attended a parenting workshop. Marbles Kids Museum hosts parent workshops in addition to all of the kid innovative and creative play times. Today, I began a Triple P seminar. This 3 session series focuses on The Power of Positive Parenting.

The series teaches parents on child development and what to expect of children at age milestones. Centering on positive discipline techniques and raising independent and resilient children, The Power of Positive Parenting empowers parents with child-centered approaches fostering effective parent-child relationships.

While listening, I could not overlook each strategy’s connectedness to Responsive Classroom (RC) and Positive Behavioral Intervention & Supports (PBIS). I have taught in RC schools and currently teach at a school using PBIS. Each program has differences but they have some common core principles. Explicitly teaching children appropriate behavioral expectations, practicing the expectations, and then holding children accountable creates positive experiences and equips children for better understanding of societal, classroom, and/or home norms. Setting and sticking to routines ensures children know what happens next providing a sense of security and independence. When a child errs, talking calmly and rationally with her/him about the mistake, which rule was broken, and what she/he should do instead fosters a sense of accountability rooted in love, compassion, and forgiveness.

I look forward to learning more in the next two seminars. I imagine I will see more similarities to RC and PBIS.

Who Am I?…In 5-4-3-2-1…

My life is not completely an open book. Being educated at Appalachian State University’s elementary education program during the 90s, I was constantly warned to act professional and keep my personal life private. As a male studying to become an elementary teacher, I was indoctrinated to never touch, hug, high-five, and even shake hands with students out of a fear of impropriety. I always so the hypocrisy in this mandate as women were encouraged to be “warm and inviting” to students. When finalizing placements for our student teaching experiences, males were encouraged to train in upper elementary grades while females had more flexibility. I split the middle requesting and training in 3rd grade.

Beginning my career in a rural North Carolina county, I was advised to not go on dates “in town” and certainly never order a drink other than tea or water while in a restaurant. Ensure that I have an unlisted phone number. I took these warnings to heart and learned to only be seen as an educator and not as a person.

Therefore, I was late to joining many social media sites. Further, I refused to accept friends and connections with coworkers. However, none of this helps my students learn new skills, demonstrate their understanding, or prepares them for their future. What I have learned over time is that students should see their teachers are people with hobbies, successes, and even flaws and failures. Thus, I am exposing some of my thoughts, successes, and failures within the New Adventures of an Old Librarian.

So enjoy this peek into whom I am without a lot of other details.

5 random facts about me:

  1. Favorite color: orange
  2. Favorite meal: sushi
  3. Favorite beverage: Diet Dr. Pepper
  4. Favorite book genre: Mystery
  5. Favorite TV show genre: sit-com

4 bucket list items:

  1. Permanently live in Key West, Florida
  2. Travel to all 50 states by the time, I’m 50
  3. Travel to Africa and Asia
  4. Research my genealogy to know when my family ties began in the U.S.

3 personal hopes for this year:

  1. Try Moroccan food
  2. Prepare and eat more fresh fruits and vegetables
  3. Take a daily walk or bike ride

2 things that have make me laugh as an educator (and personally):

  1. When I am intensely focusing on a lesson (or activity) and something completely random and unexpected happens that breaks my focus. But for a true, hearty laugh the others around me must still try to keep focusing like nothing just happened. At this point, I usually burst into laughter.
  2. Whenever I fall, stumble, dance, or otherwise act as a clown.

1 thing I wish more people knew about me:

  1. I am more fulfilled as a worker when I 1.) Advise and support others; 2.) Serve as a leader; and 3.) Create and implement educational initiatives and programs, then train teachers on the programs.

What Makes a Great Mentor?

Dictionary.com defines a mentor as 1.) a wise and trusted counselor or teacher and 2.) an influential senior supporter and sponsor. In education, beginning teachers are assigned mentors to help them grow into the profession.

So what is mentoring?

In her TedX talk Modern Mentoring: the good, the bad and the better, Karen Russell starts off by defining the act of mentoring as “a relationship that helps people find their highest and best use.” She goes on to reflect about her legal colleagues who have benefitted from mentors even when they did not recognize it.

As a beginning teacher, I was assigned a mentor. But that relationship did not make the educator and learner I am today. I sought to build relationships and gain trust from colleagues and administrators from which I valued their opinion or could see their vision. The mentors I relied upon throughout my career have fulfilled a need to push me further in my career and challenged me as a learner.

My mentors encouraged me to pursue my National Board Certification. They dogged me until I earned my degree in Educational Leadership. Both of these accomplishments will forever drive my instructional practices, my career trajectory, and passion for education. I will forever be indebted to my mentors that would not let me say no, who periodically checked in on me, and made me set career goals.

Mentors can be administrators and leaders. Mentors can be your teaching partners. They can be colleagues from other schools, districts, and states. The key to good mentors is they not only understand your vision but they must have a vision for themselves and for you.  A mentor is the water, sun, and soil that help a flower grow. The mentee is the flower. The mentor/mentee relationship is the root. But in kind, mentors receive nourishment that helps them grow. Teachers should constantly seek out mentors not merely relying on the beginning teacher program.

Entrepreneur magazine posted a web article about the power of mentorship.  Five successful business leaders tell about a mentor in their career. They range from family members to bosses. Mentors are available. Teachers need only find a potential mentor, build a relationship with, gain trust of, learn from, and grow with her or him.

30 Day Challenge—Day 1: Start Blogging

By now, I hope it’s fairly evident that I intend to blog as a form of reflective writing. I always have good intentions to start this blog but I allow excuses for why I should not. Back in November 2016, my school district, Wake County Public School System, hosted its semi-annual Convergence conference. This conference is the district’s professional development for instructional technology and library media staff. Modeled after state and national technology conferences, Convergence hosts two days of congruent sessions bookended by keynote speakers. Each Convergence is structured through a theme. This most recent Convergence focused on innovation. Kevin Brookhouser and George Couros were the opening and closing keynote speakers respectively. Brookhouser* spoke about 20Time Project and Couros* The Innovator’s Mindset. Each keynote session was truly inspiring.

Each keynote speaker also let some congruent sessions. Due to timing of other sessions, I did not attend any of Mr. Brookhouser’s sessions. However, I did go to one of the three sessions Mr. Couros presented. It was on blogging as form of professional portfolios. I left the session knowing I needed to blog but not sure where or how to start. The session was both inspiring and overwhelming. Writing is fairly easy for me. As a librarian, organizing a blog is easy. But knowing what to say or if what I have to say makes a difference is more challenging for me. My understanding of Couros’ view of blogging is “you’re already doing this stuff inside and outside the classroom, just put it down in a digital footprint.”

Of course that is an overly simplistic view of his session and much more “plainly spoken” than what I took away from the session. Blogging is important. But more important than leaving a digital footprint is reflecting on my instructional practice. I believe that is the key to blogging as Couros sees it. As a National Board Certified Teacher (NBTC), I know how important reflection is on my daily instruction and student learning. I know why I must be systematic in my blogging. And I believe I put a lot of pressure on myself to make my blog/portfolio “good enough”.

In the past, and for the most part, I still do, I have viewed reflective writing as a dairy, as something for me to put my thoughts just for me. When writing for NBPTS (National Board for Professional Teaching Standards) and for graduate school, I framed my instructional reflections for a particular audience. Blog audiences are more varied. Am I writing for other teachers to learn from me? Am I writing in hopes of making connections and learning from others? Am I writing for future administrators as I advance my career? The answer is yes to all. So where do I start? I start by writing for myself. I apologize in advance if my writing takes a more direct or conversational tone at times. When I write for myself, I always read it aloud to myself as if I am presenting to an audience of one. I listen for the natural pauses and ponder when something profound is says. It may seem weird to some people, but I bet if you try it, you will understand why I do it. So this blog is for all the readers out there. But at the core, it is for me.

Because of the many audiences and because it’s for me, there are so many directions I can take this blog/portfolio. There are so many journeys I want to pursue over the next chapters of my career. But I need to start by first putting word to print. I need to make writing in this blog a habitual practice.

I decided to search for how to form a habit and came across this article. For me, it presents too many steps but I believe it’s designed for broad appeal. I have read and reread the ones I think are most applicable to this journey and me. Therefore, I’m committing to 30 days of daily blogging. Furthermore, I found a 30-day blogging challenge for teachers. I like its approach and guidance. I plan to use it as training wheels.

Day 1’s challenge is to write a goal for this school year. My goal for now is to blog as a form of reflection. I will do my best over the next 30 days to connect both the day’s writing challenge to my thoughts of a lesson or takeaway from something happening at school. But most importantly, I plan to write each day. For it to be a habit, I have to start. To make a digital footprint, I have to step. This is that starting step.

*Do yourself a BIG favor! Follow their blogs, Twitter feeds, thought patterns. These two are truly innovative and changing the way other’s view education in the modern era.