Collaboration = Convergence of Ideas

I have written about Convergence before. It’s a 2-day professional development conference sponsored by my current school district, Wake County Public Schools (WCPSS). The name is not happenstance.

Dictionary.com defines the act of converging as meeting “in a point or line; inclin[ing] towards each other, as lines that are not parallel.”   WCPSS Convergence brings together library media and technology teachers across the vast school system to share with and learn from each other. It is clear Spring Convergence 2017 is focused on collaboration.

Almost every session I attended today used collaboration as its core whether the collaboration was virtual (Google Drive & Classroom) or the keynote address by Chris Barton and Don Tate about their collaborative efforts in creating the book Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions.

I, too, presented about collaboration with my “batty” partner-in-crime, Krista Brinchek. Krista and I collaborated on a unit with 4th and 5th graders. Students learned about bat conversation and white nose syndrome in Science specials class with Mrs. Brinchek. In library, students learned how to conduct research, determine important information, cite resources, and use Google Classroom while researching general information about bats and their habitats. Our unit hit the next level when Christy Bigelow, technology teacher, incorporated 3-D modeling having students create 3-D models of bats using geometric shapes.

Today’s presentation, titled “Does Collaboration Make You ‘Batty’?” was fun to create and present because my collaborative partners make it so. We allow each other to dream an idea then help one another bring the idea to fruition. Part of today’s session allowed attendees the opportunity to think about and note drivers and barriers to collaboration. It is clear collaboration can happen within any organization if adults allow it.   Teachers are not silos. They work best in groups holding each other accountable and pushing one another outside of comfortable spaces. The session ended with an opportunity for attendees to share their successful collaboration stories. This was my chance to learn from those to whom I had been presenting. I now have ideas to implement!

As the name implies, I believe Convergence is about building relationships, trusting others, and bending my instruction to others’ best practices and successes. My presentation is linked here for you to view. If you have any collaboration ideas, and especially if you have success stories to share or how you overcame barriers, please share in the comments below. I want to continue my learning.

Photo credit:  @stacydarwin

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.

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.

 

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 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.