Parent Volunteers: They are your extra arms.

handsCommon fact: Parental involvement in schools is directly correlated to a school’s success. Most educators reading this statement are nodding in agreement. My library operation is centered on parent volunteers. I do not have a library assistant—neither full nor part time. In my over 16-year career, this is the first school I have worked in that does not have additional library staffing. Without these volunteers, my day-to-day operations suffer.

I lean HEAVILY on my volunteers. They check in and shelve nearly all the library books. They copy catalog and clean up records. They repair books, apply stickers, and pull books for displays. (And there is always at least one volunteer who loves to shelf read. That volunteer is always a hero!)

My volunteers work in the library because they wish to help out the school. They are rarely thanked or shown appropriate appreciation. Most days, they arrive, work an hour or 5, and leave without even a word spoken between us. Some days, when I am teaching in classrooms or otherwise out of the library, without seeing my return shelves empty, books on tops of shelves face front, and/or the parent signature in my library sign-in sheet, I would not even know anyone has been there. My parents are that good! They are library volunteer ninjas!*

But it has not always been so throughout my career. I started my career young and with a library assistant. I did not know nor had a mentor teach me how to reach out to parent volunteers. After a few years in the classroom, I began to understand a parent’s role INSIDE the school. But when I went back in the library, I was at a school with complicated parental politics. I wanted volunteers but did not want to embroil myself in battles that were not mine to fight. So I mistakenly and feebly reached out to a few parents who could not spend time in the library. So I thought that was how it would always be.

Then I went to Taylor Elementary were the expectation from parents was they were involved within the school building. I had no choice. It was imperative that I learned to accept their presence and how to harness parental volunteer power. Luckily, I had an awesome library assistant who had been in that library for over 20 years. She showed me the ropes. She taught me.

I quickly understood that parents can do the tasks that I love doing: shelving, cataloging, book repair. It was hard for me to give that up. But by doing so, I found more time to create better book displays and bulletin boards. Tapping into the power of creative parents for bulletin boards freed me up to focus on more library programming.

Suddenly, I had time to focus on collection development. I have a reputation as a “ruthless weeder.” I took Taylor’s library collection from 21,000 books with an average collection age of +20 years to a stable 15,000 books and average collection age of +9 years. Circulation improved drastically!

Parent volunteers see what happens in the library while they are there. They see the circulation. They see which books are well loved. They understand the librarian’s actions.   They become an advocate for more funding to improve the library collection or get another author to visit. I believe this advocacy is the greatest asset of parent volunteers. They become a much greater megaphone than I could be. But they also champion me to speak up when necessary.

As stated, I do not currently have a library assistant. Naturally, I gain strength through collaboration and conversation. Last year, as I learned the new school, new students, and worked on opening the library, I did not actively seek out parent volunteers. I suffered. The library program suffered. Circulation suffered. I needed adult conversation within the library. I needed help.

This year is completely different! I have a dedicated crew of awesome parent volunteers. I started a program having a parent to help with check out (and another adult body in the library) during open check out each morning. I have my superstar shelvers, cataloging extraordinaires, shelf reading phenoms, and otherwise awesome parent volunteers!   Because of their support, their dedication, their thankless help, I am focusing on programming and circulation.

Little by little, the library is becoming what I want it to be—what it should be. It’s all because of parent volunteers. They are my arms doing heavy lifting.

*Total aside: Stat! Someone make a logo, bumper sticker, t-shirt with that moniker. My parent volunteers deserve it.

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!

Find Your Tribe: They are your wind, energy, and dreams.

 

Dreamers, realists, doers, thinkers…people are grouped into categories. These labels have a ring of truth but most often one person is a mixture of all types. In Launch Cycle by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani, the first chapters outline the types of teachers within a school building. The premise is it takes all types to create a well-rounded instructional program and enact systematic educational change.

Much like the various types, my small “tribe” at Taylor had a mixture. While all groups and my relationships to each group mattered, it was the small tribe that gave me wings. The music and art teachers comprised this tribe. Much like when the architect, engineer, and artist collaborate, the three of us dreamed, designed, and built.

The relationship mattered because we found common allies who were not afraid to challenge the status quo of education. We saw a greater vision and understood for it to become reality, large and small changes were needed. The tribe began with art and music collaborating. I was already a friend with them so they would run ideas by me for my input.   When I saw how I could support their dreams, I jumped aboard their ship.

Some of the plans only impacted our individual programs. More often than not, the dreams were wide scale. Something seemingly insignificant as tweaking the master schedule for the next school year has huge rippling effects throughout the building. It touches core principles and beliefs of teachers. To change the master schedule required important, tactful steps.

School dreams only become reality with administrator support. Our tribe never dreamed anything without plotting out the entire approach and presenting information including all possible pros and cons, along with human impacts, to our principal. In many ways, he was our tribal leader. Our sage was the ITRT. Their wise council moved our vision to either become reality or go back for rethinking. Our tribe never accepted “no”. We tolerated and understood “not right now”.

A functional tribe understands its impact. Our tribe was a force. Much like a hurricane, our force grew when we were fueled by one another. The more we allowed each other space to dream, the greater our dreams became. The bigger our dreams, the larger instructional impact we would have.

Our tribe identified and understood unproductive dreams and instructional changes. Those ideas never were spoken to our principal. Sometimes, they were addressed with our ITRT to see if there were tweaks to make the dreams plausible. Because we tolerated each ideas, we happily agreed with one of our tribe members who pumped the breaks.

This relationship made us all better instructors. As a dreamer, I am always imagining what can happen in the future and constantly looking for improvements. I become bored when work is the same day after day, year after year. This tribe ensured it never was boring.

The Dynamic Duo: Librarians and Instructional Technology Facilitators

School librarians and Instructional Technology Resource Teacher (ITRT) are islands within their school buildings. Most schools have 1 of each. The librarians and ITFs in these buildings are the lucky to have a counterpart. Some schools only have 1 person to do both jobs! How lonely this must be. The luckiest of all, are schools that have larger teams with more than one librarian and/or ITF.

My Batman to Robin was Ena Wood, former ITRT in Arlington Public Schools (APS). We were truly the “Dynamic Duo.” Ena’s supportive shoulder, guiding thoughts, and listening ears served to be invaluable to my career. Actually, Ena had a large impact in me teaching at Taylor Elementary School in APS. She knew of me through common connections. When an opportunity arrived for me to transfer, she encouraged me to apply. When I was hired, she served as my unofficial mentor. This mentorship grew into a true symbiotic relationship that helped one another grow personally and professionally.

The key to this relationship is that we understand what it is like to be a “silo” or “island” in our school. Her focus was professional development and increasing the effective use of instructional technology while mine was similar in terms of information literacy. We saw the connectedness of our programs. As the school population grew and classroom/office space shrunk, we contemplated moving Ena’s office into the library.

She subbed for me teaching library skills when I was absent. I served as her back up for technology support. We met at least weekly but rarely in a formal capacity. We made sure to eat lunch together no less than once a month. Our friendly informal rapport allowed for greater free flowing ideas. During these “chats” we planned professional development, lessons, and the vision information and technology literacy’s impact to our school.

But just as importantly, we helped one another personally. We shared our personal lives with each other. Serving as counselors and confidants, we ensured appropriate work-home life balance. Having someone at work to share and celebrate home life helped me focus at work and focus on home when each needed it most.

Our Dynamic Duo collaborated to present at ISTE and VAASL (then VEMA). We helped create and implement many APS I-Safe initiatives. But our impact at Taylor was vast. Together, we shaped the school’s technology and library programming. We served on our school’s leadership teams, helped design the school wide instructional focus, and challenged and supported all teachers and students.

We challenged one another as well. When one of us noticed a sign of boredom or static growth in the other, we talked about it. I encouraged her to take leadership roles in the district and state. She encouraged me to get my administration degree. We wrote letters of reference for one another as we pursued other career opportunities or were nominated for awards. This relationship matters to me. Librarians and ITRTs who do not have this same type of relationship, please do yourself a favor and start talking. Start collaborating. Start building trust. Your relationship (or lack there of) matters to each other and to your school community.

Relationships Matter Series

Relationships are key to functioning civilizations. Schools focus on PLCs and other teaming factors to help teachers grow and increase educational effectiveness. Throughout my career I have always built relationships with teaming partners, administrators, parents, and students. These relationships challenged me and made me a better educator. I want to take time to highlight some of my key relationships. Within this series I will not address student to teacher or teacher to administrator relationships. These topics are well covered within the educational world. They matter and have mattered to me. However, I want to focus on the relationship teams I have purposefully sought so I could be a better teacher.

These relationships came both naturally and were forced. I have always found the best relationships to teeter on the edge between comfort and chaos. In that small space is growth, learning, and excelling. Relationships take work to survive. Without these relationships, I would not be where I am in my career: physically and emotionally.

The relationships I will highlight have all come during my time as a librarian. My relationships as a classroom teacher were—and still are—important. I feel like they transcended into the relationships within this series.

I look forward to learning about others’ professional relationships. Leave a comment or find me online to drop a note.

Rosie Revere, Engineer…It’s a Boy Book Too!

Books should not be labeled.   This is not about categorizing for easy access; it is about defining books by who should read them. Teachers, parents, librarians, booksellers, and publishers are all at fault. I am guilty too. I have labeled a book a “boy book” or a “book perfect for girls.” I have said that is a “older book” or “book just for Kindergarteners”.

Each label assigned to a book limits the audience.   This limits a connection between the book and a potential reader who does not fit the assigned label. Rosie Revere, Engineer written by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts is a perfect example. The main character, Rosie, is a young girl. She is a dreamer, innovator, and engineer. Because a family member laughed at one of her inventions, she builds in secret hiding her talent. Through the love, guidance, and even laughter from another family member, she learns that failure is good because it leads to success. She comes out of hiding as an engineer and creates openly once again.

Tonight, my preschool aged son asked to read this book at bedtime. He clapped and giggled at each invention. When Rosie began to build in secret he was upset. As she built her cheese-helicopter (Really, you need to read this book. It has a cheese-helicopter!), he smiled in anticipation.   It flew, then wobbled, and then fell to the ground.  My son cheered!  He screamed, “It flew!” After Rosie learned it was ok to fail but keep going, my son yelled, “She’s awesome!”

we_can_do_it_3678696585If I prescribed to labels, this would be a “girl book.” With a main character paying homage to the iconic character Rosie the Riveter, this book is not a natural pick up for boys. With its rhyming cadence and relatively large font, most upper elementary students would not read this book. But this book is for everyone! The story is about failing forward. It’s about preserving even when you are down on yourself or when others mock you.   It’s about seeing everyday objects for unintended purposes.

In light of political movements gaining much needed attention, we need to be careful when labeling books. Books are for everyone. Rosie’s story is applicable to us all. So are the many other books on shelves to which we try to attach unnecessary labels. Recently, I have been trying to begin my book talks by identifying a character’s trait rather than the character’s gender or age. I believe students are more inclined to try a book about someone who does not look like them when they can identify with the trait first.

After all, Rosie Revere, Engineer is a “boy book” too!

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.