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.

 

Does My Library Program Model Global Literacy? (repost from 2016)

It is a snow day (or more specifically an ice day) for my district.  Which means, I am home, planning lessons, cleaning out email, learning from #ncsnowchat, and reflecting on my teaching.  I’m in the process of putting together a large research process unit and activity for 4th and 5th grade.  While I should spend my afternoon delving in the curriculum and ensuring standards are in the project, I am reflecting on my library program and it’s importance to the school.  In particular, I am thinking about a question posed by one of our district library coordinators.  Just as I sitting down to eat lunch, I looked at my phone.  There in my Twitter feed was this profound question:  How does your school library program model global literacy at your school?  So much for digestion and a quality nap I had planned.   Work on my unit has also ceased.  My mind is swirling with am I doing enough and have I designed my library program to model global literacy?

In order to quiet my mind, I need research.  Off to ALA’s (American Library globelightAssociation) website I go.  There I find two articles that have begun to frame this question for me:  The ParentAdvocate Toolkit and Who School Librarians Are and Learning4Life.  According to the former, school librarians empower students to become:

  • Critical thinkers
  • Enthusiastic readers
  • Skillful researchers
  • Ethical users of information

It is easy for me to check off each one saying of course I do that but do I really?  I need to further examine my instruction.  At staff meetings, teachers in my building are presenting how they infuse the 4Cs (Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, and Critical Thinking) into instruction.  When I look at my instruction, I easily can see how I’ve embedded the first 3 Cs.  But I need to better target critical thinking not just relying that it comes as a byproduct from higher order questioning or a particular research project.  The unit I am currently designing focuses on helping students to better evaluate research tools, hone research skills, determine appropriateness and application of information, and teaches ethical use.  Therefore it does hit on Critical Thinking.  But as I build the unit’s mini-lessons and formative assessments, I need to ensure I am targeting critical thinking.  My previous school had created definitions and posters for each of the 4Cs as applied to our school’s STEM focus.  Pointing to the posters helped me remind students and myself the importance of thinking critically.  While I cannot use those posters, I can create a visual to help me to teach the 4Cs—especially critical thinking—as I go through this research unit.

As already mentioned, this new unit hits squarely into cultivating skillful researchers and ethically using information.  I believe these are strengths within my typical instruction and can often be found infused within my lessons.

That leaves enthusiastic readers.  While I have not ventured to genre-fying the library and I am not sure if I agree with the process, I do have some special collections.  Certainly, Mr. Dewey would be unhappy with my library shelves and design.  The shelves are messy because I am a “close enough” shelver.  This means weather is in the “weather section” but believe when I tell you 551.5 and 551.6 are completely mixed and I am embarrassed to discuss the 560s.  But Dewey would not like my “popular series” or “graphic novels” sections.  I have pulled particular and more popular books for these sections.  Yes, I have heard they are “gateways” to more enriching literature but who is to say these books are not already enriching?  I want my students to have quick and easy access to books they want.  This is an on demand generation.  My library needs to help and it does.  But I know I need to help students find the other 80% of the collection more easily.  I need to create better signage and teach browsing.  But in the meantime, I know they are reading and using the library.

So I realize that I can technically check off each of the four areas but I know that I have more work in each area.  As a teacher-librarian, I know we never stop learning, growing, improving and I have much to learn, grow, and improve.  This is certainly true when I broaden the term “literacy” to go beyond books.  There are so many tools and resources online.  The amount is suffocating if I were to constantly jump from one to another to the next new thing.  But I know that I have developed patterns and habits.  Even with this unit I am currently creating.  As I build it and find resources to introduce to students, I need to remember to not rely on my “old standbys” but look for something that helps me grow and learn as well.  I need to think about what skills my students already have and what skills I want to cultivate.  So they will not receive paper for this unit.  All handouts will be Google Docs, their work will also be in Google Docs.  Students will use my website to find all web resources and library catalog.  And as I write this reflection, I realize I need to allow time for creative expression.  At the end of the unit, I want student groups to indicate which resource they found to be most useful and why it is to them.  I now envision students using an online tool to create a visual or presentation to share with the class and beyond.  While I am globally connected, I want to give my students the opportunity to be as well.  This unit might be the first step.OK, so I am inspired!  A spark is lit to ensure this unit hits the 4 areas ALA and incorporates communication literacy and visual literacy in a presentation.  I need to plan.

Please share any thoughts or ways in which your library is a model for global literacy at your school?

Image from wikimedia commons

Snow Day Questions…So Many Questions (repost from 2016)

pic0035I need to be upfront at the beginning of this post.  I do not have answers or solutions.  I have questions—and lots of them.  By the end of this reflection, I doubt I will have answered my questions.  Rather, I need your insights.  Please comment and email your perspectives and experiences.  My blog is about learning after all.

So what are my questions?  They are about the virtual learning on snow days.  In mid-January 2016, the eastern portion of the United States experienced a massive snowstorm that left many school systems closed for upwards of a week.  Luckily, we were on the southern end of the storm and were only out of school for two days.  However, those two days hit right during the middle of the year and only three weeks after returning from winter break.  Teachers know how crucial this time is.  Students are showing growth and many formative assessments indicate directions for the 2nd half of the school year.  But this is winter after all, and El Nino or not, winter storms cut into learning.

School districts across the United States are embracing technology and finding ways to lessen the impact of school closings.  Many districts have begun to institute snow-learning days at home through “virtual school days” and snow day packets.  My questions relate to using online resources to continue learning outside of school.

Is it beneficial?  Truthfully, I cannot believe I am asking this question.  Yes, it’s beneficial.  Further exploratory learning, allowing students to be masters of their learning in a virtual setting, flipping the classroom, and online classrooms are trends that I believe are not only improving education but also teaching lifelong skills of collaboration and critical thinking.  Students are learning about life in the “real world”.  After all, I continue my work on snow days by sitting at the kitchen counter planning lessons, creating book lists, and participating in Twitter chats to just name a few. (As an aside, I want to give a quick shout out to #ncsnowchat for awesome pop-up professional development on snow days.) But for students who are excited about their snow day, are we taking away the “joy” of snow days to put focus on nonstop schooling?  Is that a bad thing or another way we are improving as a society embracing curiosity, exploration, and home:school connected learning?

So, if we embrace snow day “e-learning”, how do we proceed?  Many districts have taken to Twitter as a means.  Within my previous district, Arlington Public Schools in Virginia, many librarians have effectively utilized Twitter to sponsor snow day Twitter chats, virtual librarian access, and encouraging reading from their e-book collections.  During this past snow storm, APS teachers participated in a #APSchats focused on how teachers have continued students’ virtual learning during their extended snow days. This is certainly one way to go.  But can this be measured and are students able to show progress when participation is voluntary?

What about the great economic divide?  Who does virtual learning positively impact and are students most in need of continued growth able to participate in virtual learning.  I’ve only begun a cursory search—this is a topic that could be and is well studied—but I found a 2013report showing that in 2011, roughly 70% of the U.S. homes have Internet access with the Asian and Non-Hispanic White households having the greatest Internet access.  Only 58.3 and 56.9 of Hispanic and Black households respectively have Internet access.  Simple Internet searches reflect positive aspects to household Internet access.  So if we are offering virtual school on snow days those benefiting are the ones who already have benefit from Internet access.  Are we furthering the space between the have and have-nots?

What if we provide the technology?  In North Carolina, Transylvania County School System has given all 6th-12th graders laptops.  Teachers have set up continuous work, even on snow days.  The thought is school is still “in session” although at home therefore no make up days needed.  Teachers hold online hours when they are available through email, phone, and other means to help students with their work.  This is amazing! Much like the online professional development teachers participate, students are learning from a truly blended environment.

Snow days are great even if I complain about not wanting snow or a day out of school.  Encouraging virtual education is one of my passions.  Then, why am I pondering this virtual snow day trend?  Shouldn’t I be showcasing its boldness and need?  Maybe I am doing just that.

What about you?  What are your thoughts and experiences?  What resources are available to support this trend?

Snowflake image created by:
Moulton, Jim. pic0035.jpg. February 1, 2009. Pics4Learning. 11 Jan 2017

Why I Did Away with the Circ Desk (repost from 2016)

Like all Smart Phone users, I have a camera at my disposal every minute of the day.  But unlike the selfie-consumed generation, I forget there is a camera in my pocket and rarely take pictures of what is important.  I miss out on commemorating sunsets, birds in flight, and more importantly where I spend my working hours.  My library is brand new and I only took a few photos at the beginning of the year.  When I decided to begin moving shelves and the circulation desk around, I forgot to take before and after pictures.  Alas, I am unable to show you how it all looked at the beginning and how it looks now.  Trust me, it was beautiful then and now.

So why did I get rid of the big, beautiful, and amazing honey-colored circulation desk?  It comes down to feel. How do I feel when observing my students check out?  How do I feel when moving around the library?  The answers to these questions are more nuanced than a few words can capture.  But I will do my best.

Opening up a new library has huge advantages! Everything is spotless.  Everything is brand new.  All the books are in order!  When I accepted the position, I was told not worry about anything because the district does the heavy lifting for opening libraries. Our district library supervisor is awesome!  He does his research, knows trends in librarianship and collection.  He purchased the opening day collection and oversaw library design and build.  On my first day of walking into my library, everything was set up!  Imagine it…walking into a library where all the books have been unboxed, shelved, and meticulously placed to bring students’ eyes and excitement to where they should be.  All, I had to do was inventory and manage circulation.

When I left my previous school district, they were in the process of opening its first brand new school in many, many years.  True to that district’s nature, everything was transparent.   So I knew how that school’s library (or learning commons, I think they called it?) had been designed:  lots of glass, rounded shelves, kiosks, modular and comfortable seating.    Doing my own reading about new library design and trends, I imagined how my new library would look.

Day one in my library, I was surprised to see a large circulation desk greeting me.  This impressive piece of furniture was full of storage, hid electrical cords, and had plenty of space to house two circulation stations, printers, and book return bin.  Truly it was a remarkable piece of furniture!  In my previous librarian life, I would have coveted that desk—designed as a perfect place to sit and oversee circulation.  However, there is no library assistant who mans the desk and I usually stand while checking email and planning lessons.  This piece of furniture was becoming a catchall rather than living to it’s fullest potential.  I felt uneasy about its presence from the onset.

Then I watched as students used the circulation desk.  When an entire class checked out at a time, students formed lines in front of each circulation computer blocking traffic flow into and out of the library doors.  If I was behind the circulation desk, it was hard for me to easily navigate and help students find books or assist students using the circulation computers.  If I was directly in front of the desk, I felt in my students’ way or boxed in by the classes as they used the circulation computers.  As impressive as this piece of furniture was, I felt it weighed upon the library in an intrusive manner.  However, it was brand new.  I was brand new.  How could I do anything about it?  I certainly did not complain about it because how can I complain about something so amazing in the best-designed library I have ever worked?  That would be rude.

But its fate was sealed when I attended a conference in November.  Our district hosts a library and technology conference for all media and technology teachers.  It’s a great opportunity to learn from and alongside each other.  As individuals in our buildings, we yearn for learning from likeminded peers.  This conference provides that opportunity.  At the conference, our district library supervisor presented about future trends.  He mentioned circulation desks going by the wayside for smaller circulation kiosks.  The next day, I walked into the library with hex screwdriver in hand and began taking apart the circulation desk.

What I have now is five new stations:  two circulation kiosks and three areas for library centers.  The pieces are throughout the library rather than at the entrance.   Students now check out more easily and freely.  No longer is there a long line blocking the entrance while a whole class is checking out.  Plus, I have place for the brand new globe I have ordered and a computer station for students to search CultureGrams and Google Maps.  I am happy.  The library feels more open and free.

 

But is it perfect?  No.  The book return bin no longer works.  Students are returning books to empty shelves right beside the entrance.  This is new to them and new to me; and I am not sure about it.  I promise to remember my phone has a camera and take pictures.  The return shelves need further thought and I need others’ perspectives.  Thus, this adventure continues…

Welcome to my blog (again–repost from 2016)

Here is my first ever blog post from last year when I used blogspot.  Much, if not all, of it still applies today.  I am still new to my district.  I continue to recreate everything.  But each day, I feel stronger.  Enjoy!

Welcome to my blog.  My hope is that I can provide you with a little inspiration, a little amusement, and some insight into my thoughts and actions as an educator.  Before I get too far ahead, let me introduce myself.   I am a veteran (some say seasoned) teacher working for the last 16 years as school librarian, classroom teacher, and teacher leader.  I am well credentialed but I believe it’s the daily experiences and reflections that truly shape my instruction.

Summer 2015, my family moved states.  After being at the same school for the last 10 years, I find myself in a new state, new district, new curriculum, and new library.  I say new because not only is it all new to me, the school building itself is new.  The school opened August 2015.  Being at a brand new school is exciting.  Everything is fresh.  Everything is shiny.  Everything is being created!

While I have experience creating and transforming classrooms and libraries, I have never opened a new space before.  So I find myself not just a veteran but also brand new.  In many ways, I feel more vulnerable and unsure of my librarianship this year, than I did my first year out of school.  Back then, I was new, naïve, and felt I could do almost anything.  Now, I know my limitations yet have that desire to be bold and naïve once again.

screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-11-10-41-am

This blog is first and foremost for me.  As you read and follow, should you do so, I hope you find something for you.  But if not, know that I am writing not only to provide you with new knowledge but provide me with clarity.  In some ways, this is a personal diary and should be written in private.  Yet, when I read others’ thoughts and experiences, I tend to find one nugget I can use or store away as “food for thought”.  Hopefully, you will find your nugget.

Much as an early Twitter user who follows and sometimes retweets, I am an early blogger.  The Internet is a vast storehouse of information.  Some information is important and some seemingly random and unnecessary.  My posts may often fall into the unnecessary column for your professional learning.  Know that for me this blog is furthering my professional learning.  Not only reflective, it will provide me a place to look back and see what I have done, what I thought, and why I made decisions.  As I stated earlier, I feel much like a new librarian this year.  Through my writing, I plan to learn and grow.  As a reader, and commenter, you will help with my growth.

Welcome to the new site

My blog is back up and running and on a new site. New Adventures of an Old Librarian

Hello and welcome to the new site rickydhamilton.com.  Last year, I started a blog on blogspot and enjoyed when I wrote.  But, I rarely gave myself time to do it.  After a few weeks of not posting, I thought, “Why bother?  No one is reading anymore anyway.”  But November 2016, I was fortunate enough to sit in a conference session by the one and only (and totally amazing…I’m geeking out here, just so you know) George Couros.  The session focused on blogging as form of professional portfolio.

This session challenged me in a way I had not anticipated.  Honestly, I thought I would enjoy hearing from him.  I have followed him on Twitter for years. I truly was going to the session as a fan an less as a learner.  Now before you skewer me for attending a conference and not opening myself as a learner please understand I value cognitive breaks.  As a teacher and librarian, I am focuseimg_0510d on instructing all day.  My learning muscles are not as sharp as they were when I spent my whole day in school as a learner.  So after attending a previous full day of attending sessions, taking notes, and devouring as much learning as possible, by day two I was a bit tired.  But I entered a packed room and found one empty chair I rushed to claim as mine so I could sit and be mesmerized by an edchat guru.

Instead of being mesmerized by his knowledge, I was dumbfounded by my lack of blogging; my lack of reflective writing; my lack of proving my passion.  I left his session wanting and needing to write.  But I did not.  I have sat on this for upwards of two months.

Why?  Because I was not ready.  Why? Because I was holding myself back.  Why? Because I felt inferior to those around me.  I allowed myself to forget how to correctly #failforward. And I have felt ashamed because I have kept myself from stepping out on a limb.  If I truly believe and want and demand that my students take risks, I have to as well.  So, here it is.  I’m back baby!  I have a lot to say and I hope others will learn from it.  But more importantly, I hope others will continue to push me, challenge me, and help teach me so I can continue to grow as a learner.

The next few posts are copies of the 4 posts from blogspot.  If you have not read them before, I hope you get something from reading them.  If you have, I believe rereading is always a good thing.  Once you read, please connect with me and share your thoughts.

Now let’s step onward in this new journey together.