I’ve realized where I am. Now, where do I go from here?

I started the school year with a vision and goal for doing more to build our community of readers. At the LLA Conference last spring, there were two sessions that really inspired me — a session from my friend Elizabeth Kahn about her library’s book clubs and a panel I facilitated that included students and librarians that are active in the Louisiana Teenage Library Association. This had me fired up to start something.

The start of this school year has been particularly challenging for me. This year brought on schedule changes that have me really struggling with library expectations and maintaining consistency in our library space. I’m spending a lot of time in a purely supervisory role during large amounts of free time for our students, and it is extremely draining. Coming to terms with this added stress took away quite a bit of my enthusiasm and slowed down my momentum in kicking off student book clubs. 

In early September, I was finally ready to get things started with three different grade-level groupings for book clubs: 6th & 7th, 8th & 9th, and 10th – 12th. I made announcements, posted flyers, and sent out surveys and email reminders. I wanted to spend time asking the students what THEY wanted from THEIR book club, and I had some fun Lit Chat cards to have some “get to know you” conversations. For the first group’s meeting, seven students showed up, the next group had four, the final group had two. These meetings are at a time during the school day when nearly all students are available. Frankly, I was disappointed by the lack of turn out. 

Both leading up to and immediately following the book club meetings, I asked quite a few of my students about coming (or why they didn’t come) to book club. The number of times I heard, “I’m not really a reader,” shocked me. Especially coming from kids that I know are readers — or that were literally checking out a book at that very moment. With those conversations, I started coming to the realization that our student body as a whole has some negative feelings towards reading or being considered a reader. The fact that I am at the beginning of my fourth year at this school and just now having this mind-blowing realization is embarrassing and has me feeling ashamed. How did I miss this?

In my previous school, my circulation numbers were astronomical. I know that was a different school, different enrollment size, different grade levels, and different demographics. Those results were also something that was built over time. I’ve done some good things at my current school and made what I thought was positive progress. I started off with weeding and genrefying the fiction collection, then continued on to complete the massive weeding of the outdated nonfiction collection. The circulation numbers here have never been high, but my teachers have quality collections in their classrooms and many of my students prefer to purchase their own books instead of checking out from the library. This is how I rationalized the low circulation numbers. With middle school, I brought over the same Battle of the Books program that I created for my previous school. I’ve been extremely proud of the student involvement in the program these past few years, although this year has taken a bit more pushing to get teams filled up for the kick-off. All of that to say that I’ve done things. I’ve made progress and had some success. I’m trying to remind myself of that as I’m feeling disappointed, frustrated, and inadequate.

Right now, I feel stuck. I’m a do-er, a planner, a person who likes to have ideas and put them into action. The fact that this particular conundrum comes at a time when I also have a lot of feelings and roadblocks from some other semi-related situations is keeping me stuck, feeling like I’m spinning my wheels. I’m hoping that a series of thoughtful conversations and brainstorming sessions can get me moving on a path forward. I know myself and my patterns, and I need to be busy, feel needed and relevant, and be making progress on specific goals/projects to feel solid in my work. These things have been lacking for me for a while now, and I have to find a way to turn it around.

Have you turned around the reading culture and views on reading in your school? I’m especially looking for ideas that have worked in very high performing high schools.

Middle-Grade Novels in Verse

My middle school students absolutely love novels in verse, so I’ve been purchasing as many as I can get my hands on this past year. I found, though, that some of the lesser-known titles weren’t getting much circulation, and I know that is in part because they are not otherwise marked or shelved as novels in verse within their genre sections.

I used Genially to create this interactive, Netflix-y style graphic to let my students know what novels in verse we have available in our collection. Each book cover is linked to the record in our Destiny catalog. I’m excited to share this one out because I’m sure it will get some of these less frequently checked out books in the hands of my students!

(I know this is annoying, but if you visit my library catalog page first, then the links in the Genially below will work. Otherwise, you’ll get errors.)

Thanks to my dear friend Nancy Jo Lambert for the inspiration! When I learned about Genially from her at ISTE and saw her Bookflix creation, I knew I would fall in love with this design tool!

Library Expectations

What has been on my mind lately is not the glamorous or fun part of our job as librarians (and educators in general). It is the part, though, that can lead to chaos and test our sanity if we aren’t careful. In the library we love to talk about the importance of building relationships and creating a welcoming, inclusive environment. This is at the core of any strong school library program and is something I speak about frequently. Something I always struggle with, though, is being consistent with library procedures and expectations.

Unlike the classroom, the library is a space that serves a very wide range of purposes throughout the day. I know that for me, I struggle with helping students differentiate between appropriate library behaviors during flexible times, more structured times, and direct instruction in the library. Especially because at any given time, any mix of those types of activities can be happening in different areas in the library. Finding the balance between structure, consistency, and maintaining an inclusive, welcoming space is something that I have always struggled with, but sometimes find it difficult to talk about.

Thinking through my daily schedule really highlights these struggles for me:

  • The library is open before school for 45 minutes and serves as a flexible space for students to hang out, work on homework, etc.
  • During class periods throughout the day, the library has several study hall periods, students working on independent study courses, free study (for Juniors & Seniors – more freedom than study hall), students working collaboratively, etc. This is in addition to any classes visiting the library or me going to meetings or classrooms to work with students/teachers.
  • Lunch is followed immediately by office hours, an unstructured time where students are able to meet with teachers as needed. This means that the library is a very busy space where students are hanging out and socializing. I’ve had issues in the past with lack of structure and overcrowding in the library during this time. This time adds up to an hour in the middle of the day on top of their scheduled study hall/free study built into their schedule. I would like to use this time for Book Clubs and other fun library activities, but logistically it is challenging.
  • After school, the library remains open until 5:30 each evening as a space for students waiting for practices, games, etc. It is very similar to our before school time, but longer and more active.

For my own sanity, I spent some time at the end of last school year and this summer thinking through my non-negotiable expectations. I also served on our Upper School Standards & Norms Committee — a group of faculty members looking to similarly set expectations across campus to help bring some consistency across the division. I work in a great school with minimal behavior issues, but that doesn’t mean that expectations aren’t important. We all know that students thrive in an environment where expectations are clear and consistent, so this was a great time for a reset for us all. Also, for security purposes (especially in the library) I need to know what students I am responsible for at any given time, so efforts to use clear communication between faculty members (and students) moving around campus during class times in common spaces is also getting extra attention.

I created this graphic with library expectations as much for me, my assistant, and other faculty members helping to monitor library spaces as for our students. I really dislike being a “rule enforcer”, but I have come to realize that laying out these expectations and ensuring that they are being followed is important for all of us. I also feel like many of these things should go without saying, but the fact that we frequently find yogurt containers under the couch or have to ask students not to sit four to a chair (or on top of the table) means that they do in fact need to be said.

I also created this graphic for Study Hall proctors highlighting some of our updated expectations, as well as some tips for time management. Again, putting this in writing is as much for me as it is for the students.

As a result of the work done by our Standards & Norms Committee, I am working on an interactive manual using Genially that will include our rationales, expectations, norms, and best practices for the different areas addressed. I hope to be able to share that with the faculty (and here on the blog) in the next few weeks.

So please tell me I’m not alone! What struggles do you face when it comes to expectations in your library? What effective routines have you implemented that have brought you some relief and sanity? This is year 12 for me in the library, and I still feel like I don’t have the answer (although I’m making progress).

Celebrate National Poetry Month

With such a late Spring Break this year, I was really excited to offer our students some fun, hands-on ways to create and celebrate National Poetry Month in our library.

I posted these fliers around campus to encourage students to visit the library and celebrate with us this week!

I was inspired by my friend, Laura Foy, who is the librarian at a nearby middle school. She posted her poetry station and I knew this was something I could put together pretty quickly and my students would enjoy the opportunity to get creative. I definitely recommend following Laura’s library account on Instagram — she’s doing really cool things and constantly sharing!

We cut out a ton of words from magazines and pages from discarded books so students could create their own found poems and black out poetry. I also printed out some poems for students to take from the Poem in Your Pocket Day collection.

We are having a great time celebrating National Poetry Month with these activities in the library. Students have been creating poems during their free time in the library. One of our English teachers who is in the midst of her poetry unit with Sophomores is bringing her classes by to join in the fun. I’m looking forward to adding more to our celebration next year.

What are some fun things that you’ve done to incorporate National Poetry Month into your classroom or library?

Reminder: Awesome Library Resources Available!

Our students and teachers need to be reminded of our library resources, along with the fact that we are just HERE for them pretty regularly. Especially at this time of the school year, when things seem to start spiraling to the end of year chaos, it’s important to reach out with gentle reminders. I recently shared this fun graphic I created in Canva to remind students and faculty of some of the tools available to them in the library.

I wanted to create a simple graphic to showcase some of our newer and/or underused library resources without overwhelming them with too much info.

Many of my teachers and students are into podcasting, and it is frequently an option for our students when creating a product for an assignment. We have a super fancy podcasting set up in the library (that is honestly beyond my abilities and understanding), but I purchased these simple dual lavalier mics so students can plug into their own devices to record quickly and easily. For $10, purchasing these was a no-brainer, and they’ve already been used a ton.

I also recently purchased a collapsible green screen in hopes that I can get more students interested in recording and editing videos. We’ve had another (much more cumbersome) green screen tucked away somewhere on campus, but I’m hoping that this very portible option will get more use.

We’ve had our Silhouette Cameo for a while, but it’s still one of my favorite tools. I’ve used it to put up wall quotes in our library (see blog posts here, here, here, and here). I have several teachers who are interested in learning how to use this resource, and I can’t wait to teach them to use this awesome machine!

Sure, these resources are great and will get more use since the reminder. The best thing, though, was that I didn’t JUST get responses about these tools and resouces. Sending out the reminder to my students and faculty reminded them that I am here for them all the time. I also had more requests come in that week for help in using or locating other library resources. Talk about a major win! I think sending out these kind of “reminders” once a month, or at least once a quarter, is definitely on my to-do list for next school year.

Thoughts on the AASL Session Selection Process

Twitter, while still my favorite place to connect with members of my PLN in order to learn, share, and network, is not necessarily the most conducive environment to discuss complex issues. It’s easy for one (or several) Tweets to come across in a way that does not fully encompass the feelings of the poster. I feel like I need to elaborate on my views on the AASL session selection process more, as some feel that the reason I am raising concerns is that I have sessions that weren’t accepted. Of course I wanted to have a session accepted, otherwise, I wouldn’t have submitted a proposal. I still have a session that is part of the “crowdsourcing” process, so again, that is not why I am questioning the process. Four years ago at AASL 2015, I questioned the process of blind review, and my opinions on the matter are still the same.

AASL uses a blind review to evaluate session submissions. I understand the intent of this is to be fair, but I argue that this fairness does not equate the best possible session selection.

Taking a presenter’s past work into account seems logical to me, and it is done at many other large and small conferences. Questions that would provide relevant background information on sessions include: Have you published content on this topic? Have you presented at your state conferences on a similar topic? What resources or mentoring have you shared with other librarians to promote this topic? Providing evidence that you are equipped and knowledgeable to present on a topic at a national conference makes sense to me. As librarians, we teach our students to critically evaluate sources by examining the credentials of the author. It makes sense that organizations would approach session selection for a national conference in a similar way.

Many librarians (myself included) pay their way to national conferences, taking valuable days away from their students and libraries to participate. An organization should do everything in their power to ensure a balance of sessions from quality presenters so attendees get the most out of their conference experience. We have all attended sessions where the description does not align with the content delivered or where the presenter is unprepared, and a national conference should do everything in their power to buffer the possibility of that happening.

By no means am I saying that having presented successful sessions at a past conference should guarantee you a slot at the next conference. Again, though, it would seem logical to me to take into account session evaluations on a presenter if they have presented at that conference before. I think reaching out to state affiliates for recommendations on sessions that were largely successful and had great feedback at state conferences would be meaningful and wise. I do everything in my power to drive my school’s library program with the data and feedback I collect from my students and faculty, and I would expect my professional organizations to take a similar approach.

What is AASL’s intended outcome for the conference sessions? It has been stated numerous times that reasoning behind the current process is to give new voices an opportunity to present. I applaud that goal and want to see it happen. Whenever I am speaking at a conference, I always seek out new voices that I can connect with, learn from, and amplify in any way that my platform allows. That is how we all learn and grow professionally. I think if the goal is to promote new voices, AASL should be intentional about it. The same goes for including diverse voices; if that is something that AASL aims to focus on (and I 100% agree that it should be) then be intentional about it. Look at data from past conferences — how many first time presenters were there? Not enough? Set aside a certain percent or number of sessions for first-time presenters and make it happen. Provide them with resources and maybe even a mentor to help make their presentations the best they can possibly be. Set them up for success with intention. Blind review doesn’t allow for this.

It is great that AASL is willing to try new things in the selection process as they are crowdsourcing sessions this year. The way that the crowdsourcing has been presented, though, seems to me to go against the spirit of crowdsourcing. While I understand the intent of redacting all identifying information from session proposals, I disagree with it for similar reasons to those identified above. If you want to allow AASL membership and potential attendees to have a voice, let them truly have a voice. The way that the crowdsourcing was rolled out left many with questions of whether it was okay to promote their sessions within their PLN, but the spirit of crowdsourcing, at least in other instances that I’m familiar with, encourages exactly that.

In no way am I looking to diminish the hard work of the conference planning committee this year or in years past. My hope is that there can be dialogue moving forward to assess the process for future conferences. I have been involved with conference planning on a variety of levels and understand the countless hours spent in preparation. I also understand that when you are so committed to a project, that criticism is difficult to hear — and believe me I’ve received my share of criticisms both directly and indirectly over the years. I know that all parties involved in this discussion just want the best for the association, conference, and our profession all around. However, this isn’t the first time that I have felt scolded or judged because I have questioned a situation or process involving AASL, leaving me questioning my relationship and value with the organization. After this whole exchange, I don’t like the way I’m feeling about AASL or the way that I feel like they’re feeling about me.

Update from LLA Conference

This year, I’ve served as the President of the Louisiana Association of School Librarians and on the executive board of the Louisiana Library Association. If you know me at all, you know that I am a huge advocate for getting involved in your professional organizations.

Our annual conference was last week, and serving as President meant I was involved in a number of events. We kicked off the conference on Wednesday with a Google Tools workshop, where I was lucky enough to present with some amazing LASL librarians: Kim Howell, Stephanie Wilkes, and Chris Young. I shared my love for Google Calendars, Keep, and Hangouts. The best thing about doing a group presentation, though, is that I always learn something from the other presenters, and this session was no different. Like learning that you can type doc.new in your Chrome browser and a new Google Doc will pop right open. Mind blown!

On Thursday, I was honored to moderate a panel for the Louisiana Teenage Librarians Association (LTLA). The panel was made up of several student leaders and their librarian sponsors who lead Library Clubs in their schools. LTLA holds an annual conference that is full of fun: book discussions, a guest author, contests, a talent show, and a dance. This group completely inspired me and I am so excited to shart my own Library Club and take the trip to the LTLA Conference next year!

On Friday morning, I presented with another great group: Kim Howell, Elizabeth Kahn, and Stephanie Wilkes on a session we called “So I’m a School Librarians…Now what?”

Again, it was such an honor to present with these amazing librarians that I admire and respect so much. We definitely went over our time on this session because there were so many amazing ideas to share and the audience got really involved with sharing their own ideas and experiences as well. When you’re in a room full of amazing librarians and have a chance to throw down some great ideas and library wisdom, you can’t help but leave feeling inspired and ready to take on new projects.

We wrapped up the conference with our LASL Makerspace Lunch & Learn. This was new for us, as we typically host an author luncheon at the conference, but we wanted to try something new that would give attendees a chance to network and have some hands-on experiences. I did a Facebook Live video tour of our Makerspace Lunch & Learn, which you can check out below.

Live from LASL Makerspace Lunch & Learn

Posted by Louisiana Association of School Librarians (LASL) on Friday, March 15, 2019

I’m going to end by saying that conference planning is stressful for all involved, so be sure that you thank the people in leadership roles within your professional organization when you see good things happening. I also encourage your to get more involved with your professional organizations if you are not already. When we work together for the good of our profession, we all grow!

Battle of the Books

I’ve been hosting a Battle of the Books competition with my middle school students for the past five years. The first two years at Central Middle (where their amazing current librarian continues the tradition) and for the past three years at Episcopal. This year, the competition finally expanded and we hosted three school-level competitions at area schools, with the winner from each moving on to a regional competition.

School-Level Competition

In October, I announced this year’s competition and invited students to form their teams. I require students to submit their team roster (with ten team members) and the name of their teacher sponsor to me via email. This year, I had six teams participate. Also this year, two other area librarians were hosting at their schools and collaborated with me every step of the way. For our book list, we pull heavily from our Louisiana Young Reader’s Choice Award List to select the ten titles that will be used in our battle. We try to round out the list with a variety in genre, character, and themes. This year, we used the following ten titles:

After the teams were formed, I ordered a set of these ten books for each team and distributed them so they could begin reading. The teams then have approximately 8-10 weeks to read as much as they can. I don’t micromanage or require students to read so many books to participate. I let the teams take responsibility, divide up the reading as they see fit, and dig into the books.

In December, we held our school-level competition. The competition consists of five rounds: three rounds of multiple choice questions using Kahoot, a written response round, and some type of puzzle/challenge round (that varies from year to year).

Each of the three Kahoot rounds has a total of 20 questions — two from each book. Each team has one iPad that they use to answer the questions, earning points based on speed and accuracy. Kahoot is easy to use and makes the scoring process much easier, too. I space the Kahoot rounds out, so we start with a Kahoot, do the written response round, another Kahoot, complete the puzzle/challenge round, and then the top three teams compete in the final Kahoot round in front of the entire middle school.

The written response round requires students to work together to formulate several responses to open-ended questions. For example, one of the written response prompts we used this year was: “In Restart, Chase’s memory loss gives him an opportunity for a fresh and new perspective. What character from any of the other books would have most benefited from a fresh start? Explain why you chose this character and what that opportunity would look like for them.” Each team responds to three prompts, and the responses are ranked against each other with points awarded accordingly.

The puzzle round has been different every year. We’ve done BreakoutEDU Games and puzzles of different kinds. This year, students had to match book titles, author, character, a quote, and an image relating to the book:

Having the final round in front of the entire middle school is a blast — it gets the teams hyped up and it helps students who did not participate learn more about Battle of the Books so they may want to join a team next year.

Our winning team was a team of 8th grade students, many of them have been together as a team since they were 6th graders, which made it extra special! That team went on to participate in the first ever regional competition.

Red Stick READgional Competition

My dream of having a regional Battle of the Books competition finally became a reality this year! Sara Gomez, librarian at Central Middle, and Laura Foy, librarian at Denham Springs Junior High, also held their school-level competitions and we all brought our winning teams to compete.

We were able to host the READgional at our beautiful Main Public Library. The Teen librarians there let us take over their gaming room for the day and they were incredible hosts. Before kicking off the competition, we wanted our students to get to know each other a little. We found a great ice breaker game from Cult of Pedagogy called ‘Lines and Blobs.’ First, students had to line themselves up alphabetically by first name (meaning they had to tell each other their names). Next, they got into blobs (groups) by how many of the books they read for the battle (get to know your competition). Then, they lined up by their birthdays (January 1-December 31). They had to get into blobs again by the number of siblings they have. Finally, they found a partner (from a different school, of course) that had the same favorite book genre and made each other’s nametags.

For this READgional competition, we had three rounds: two Kahoots and a game. The Kahoots were set up just like the school-level Kahoot rounds, but with new questions. For the game, we did the Saran Wrap Game. In the Saran Wrap, we put tickets worth 100 points. Students were lined up alternating by school (Episcopal, Central, Denham, etc.) and were asked trivia questions (we used the questions from the school-level Kahoots, but didn’t make them multiple choice). While a student answered questions, another student behind them in line worked to unwrap the ball (while wearing oven mits) until the student answering questions got one correct — then the ball and mits were passed on. Because there was definitely a level of luck to this game, we used the points from the ball to rank the teams in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place, then assigned points accordingly that were more in line with the Kahoot rounds and didn’t have extreme point gaps. Laura Foy, the librarian from Denham Springs Junior High, made this great video where you can see our day in action.

The competition was very close overall. The Episcopal team did me proud, though, and pulled off the win!

Our teams spent the rest of the afternoon together enjoying pizza for lunch, a behind the scenes tour of the library, time together exploring the Teen section of the library, and playing games. We had the students video reflections for Battle of the Books, and here’s what one of my students had to say:

Over the years, I’ve had lots of questions about how we run our Battle of the Books competition, so hopefully this will answer many of them. This is honestly one of my favorite events every year — it’s a great way to celebrate our readers and get more students hyped up about books!

6th Grade Community Read

Last week, we had the pleasure of hosting author James Ponti to help us celebrate our first 6th Grade Community Read project. This was something my lower school librarian, Catherine, and I began planning last school year. She hosted her 3rd grade event for Wishtree by Katherine Applegate in the fall. It was a huge success, so I was so excited when we were able to connect with another local school to bring in the amazing James Ponti for our event.

Before winter break, I distributed copies of Framed! by James Ponti to all of our 6th grade students, with a note to go home asking them to read with their parents in anticipation of our event in January. Parents were invited to attend a breakfast and book discussion, followed by the author presentation.

James Ponti’s website has some great resources for teachers, including a mystery game and curriculum guides for his books. I used some of the questions from his curriculum guide for Framed! to have available for our breakfast and book discussion.

Our 6th grade students and parents were joined by our 4th and 5th grade students, who also read Framed! as one of their Battle of the Books picks. Mr. Ponti kept his audience engaged and laughing with stories of his childhood, learning to love reading and writing, his very interesting career path, and of course, TOAST (Theory of All Small Things).

Next, our 6th grade students returned to their homeroom classes to use TOAST to solve a Breakout Game. Because we did not have enough time to use the game Jame Ponti shares on his website, I created a 30 minute game to fit our window of time. You can check it out here.

Finally, we ended the morning with a writing workshop with James Ponti. They worked as a group to practice developing characters and describing setting, then the students spent some time crafting their own stories.

If you’re looking for an author for an engaging visit, I highly recommend James Ponti. Students and parents loved reading Framed! and hearing from the author, and I anticipate that the other books in the series will remain checked out for quite some time.

Can little things have a big impact? Yes DEFINITELY

This post isn’t about any great, inspiring big idea. Instead, it’s about how sometimes little things can be big in that they help us build relationships and spark conversations with our students.

Our circulation desk, the massive monstrosity that it is, sits right in the middle of the first floor of our library. We are positioned so that we are the first thing everyone sees when they walk into our space. I’ve posted about how I updated our circulation desk with chalk paint, which gave it a fresh look. I usually do the seasonal updating on the chalk art. I invite students to give it a try, but it’s a little time consuming and frustrating, they often find. It’s a great conversation piece, even though people often find themselves “chalked” after leaning on the desk during a conversation with us!

We’ve acquired a collection of other fun things that live at the circulation desk that serve as conversation starters. When I ordered our essential oil diffuser over a year ago, I told my partner in crime, “I don’t think this will change our life or anything, but it could be interesting.” A year later, I think she would tell people that it did, in fact, change our lives! We have some students who love taking turns selecting our oils for the day. After reading up on the effects of different scents, we usually aim for things that will evoke calm and focus — a lot of lavender and peppermint defusing in the library! We do get lots of compliments on how nice it smells in here, and many of our frequent visitors try to guess the oils of the day. Fun stuff!

Another fun toy we have available on our desk is the Magic 8 Ball. Although not completely reliable, our students like to consult it about upcoming tests and assignments. I asked the Magic 8 Ball if little things can have a big impact…and here’s my response (after only two tries)!

Finally, our newest addition, that actually has a bit of academic weight, is our word of the week display. The board we use was a gift last year from one of our graduating advisory students, which makes it even more special! Students are invited to recommend words, and we have quite a collection going for words requested for future use. On the back of our display board,  we tape a page with the pronunciation, part of speech, definition, word origin, interesting facts, and use in a sentence. Want proof that our students are really into this word of the week thing? Last Monday morning at 7:35 AM I had a student ask me why I hadn’t updated from last week’s word yet. Needless to say, I did not make the same mistake this week! After several weeks of posting, it’s fun to see how many students are remembering and using the words from week to week. We are also having some really interesting conversations throughout the week with students about the word selections.

Sometimes, it’s the little things that keep life in the library interesting!

What fun, silly, or weird things do you have in your library that are really relationship builders in disguise?