First Quarter Success!

The first quarter was a whirlwind, and the second quarter is off to a similar start. This is my sixth year at my current school, and I can finally say that things are shaping up the way I’ve always wanted! I typically tell new librarians that it takes at least three years to hit the sweet spot where you know the school, the people, and enough about your library to really get things moving. Apparently it took me twice as long this time around, but between the 2016 flood and the start of the pandemic (among other things), I’m giving myself grace.

Last year our Writing Center relocated into the library, and that has honestly been the most positive and beneficial move for the library that we ever could have made. We have an incredible partnership with them — the coordinator is fabulous and she and I are able to tag team so many projects. The student Writing Fellows are in a space that has much more traffic than their previous spaces, so they are able to support their peers more often. It’s a beautiful thing, and it just makes sense in terms of being a one stop shop for research and writing.

We put together this infographic to showcase how busy we were for the first quarter. We are still constantly having class visits and the library space is being used as a productive, collaborative work environment for students and teachers — MY DREAM COME TRUE!

I have come to realize that I have to be consistent with my expectations and the use of the space. In years past, our space has been so busy (but not necessarily in a productive way), overrun, and chaotic that is was not the place where students would come to work or where teachers could bring classes to collaborate and research. Drawing some hard lines was hard for me, but it had to happen in order to really get this space to its full potential. As exhausting as this school year has already been, I’m looking forward to seeing what’s ahead for us in the library!

Library Re-Orientation

It’s a wild time to be an educator right now. The struggle is real for all of us, and at this point, I don’t even have the energy to write some clever but still encouraging intro about it — so moving right along…

I am trying to use the current state of things to my advantage and refocus our attention in the library. This is year six for me in my current school, and I still haven’t felt like I’ve arrived yet. I still haven’t been able to consistently get the library to have the vibe and focus that it deserves to have. Because of our schedule, high school students have copious amounts of free time and that can make managing a productive library space challenging. I want the library to be a welcoming and inclusive space where all of my students feel comfortable and welcome. That approach has at times taken us too far towards the side of chaos, though. The library also needs to be a space where students can be productive and get work done. Finding the balance has always been a struggle for me.

I listened to Kelsey Bogan’s ‘Don’t Shush Me’ podcast episodes on Dealing with Discipline in the High School Library and it really helped me to get some ideas and focus my plan for the year. In particular, I’m working on addressing issues during our busiest times. I totally stole Kelsey’s use of three simple library rules and using the technique of getting with students one-on-one or in small groups to address issues.

After next week, I will have hosted all of my middle and upper school students for library visits through their English classes. I’m calling this a Re-Orientation this year, since most of them have been with me for years, but the past year and a half has been anything but normal. I’m reminding them about all of our resources and chatting with them about our expectations for this space and the reasons that we are really focusing on maintaining a chill working environment here throughout the day.

Because I’m meeting with so many classes, I put together this overview video to kick off their visit so my delivery is consistent across the classes:

Students are also being introduced to the Writing Center, which was a great addition to our library space last year. I’m so looking forward to collaborations with teachers, the library, and the Writing Center that are on the horizon for this school year!

Summer 2021!

Like many, I have gone a bit into survival mode this school year, and that meant a withdraw from my blog and social media. This year was hard, y’all. It was exhausting. Like all of us, I am looking forward to summer!

The COVID project my husband and I took on was converting a Promaster into a campervan. And my best teacher friend and I are about to hit the road! We love a good road trip, so we are excited about this new travel experience that we are embarking on — if you’re interested in following our adventures in VanGeaux, check us out on Instagram at @travelvangeaux!

I hope you have a summer that recharges your soul!

Library Website Updates

In lieu of an in-person professional development workshop I had scheduled for early August, I was lucky enough to be able to build out some self-paced professional development for librarians as they begin navigating the uncertain 2020-2021 school year in the midst of a global pandemic. I was able to reflect a lot on what I feel will be important for us as school librarians in terms of focus and energy. No matter how our schools are kicking off this new year, it is more important than ever to be sure that our library resources are easily accessible in a digital format.

When I moved to my current school in for the 2016-2017 school year, one of my first big initiatives was to organize our databases and other resources to build a new library website. This website has served us well, but I felt like this year was time to make some improvements. I reached out on Twitter to see what others were doing in their digital spaces, and I was quite inspired by what was shared! I’ve collected the shared spaces on this Wakelet:

I decided to use Genially, one of my favorite design tools, to create our interactive database collection. I found that my students were struggling the most with deciding which database to use by the provided buttons. Even though I broke down each resource with a description on different content area pages, that was hidden behind an extra click that they rarely used. Genially allowed me to add scroll-over tool tips that provide a short blurb about each resource. I also divided resources into three categories: General/News, Humanities, and STEM. I wanted some division without too many options, so I am hopefully that this will work well for students.

I am planning to launch the new design next week. I did a demo with some of our fellows (juniors and seniors) in the Writing Center, and they were very excited about the new design.

I’m also working on shifting gears a bit for my middle school students. They don’t use or really need access to the wide variety of databases that our high school students use, so I am planning to use Destiny Discover to design a landing page that is more geared towards their needs. Our middle school students are 1:1 on school issued iPads. Although I didn’t love the Destiny Discover app, I am able to add the direct Destiny Discover button with Safari to their home screen.

I love that I can add “Learning Links” to include the library resources they most frequently use. I’m using Destiny Collections to gather lists for students and teachers, and that displays nicely on the page, too.

I’m using Google Forms for book check-out requests, and it’s working well so far for us. I’m using some pre-formulated email replies (Quick Parts in Outlook) to communicate with students about holds and books on order. I know that Destiny can do lots of automation with holds and all, but at this point we feel like we need more of a pulse on whats happening and more direct control.

I’m also loving the form I have created for Book Recommendations. Although this is a time consuming process, it’s working well as a substitution for typical in-person readers’ advisory.

I’m also using Quick Parts here to send emails with recommendations. I’m sending three book recommendations (including title, author, and a brief description from Destiny or Goodreads) for each submission. It’s been rewarding to then fill book requests for some of my recommendations!

I know these are weird times for all of us. I know that none of us feel like we are rocking, rolling, and doing our best work. Supporting teachers right now is hard. Taking care of ourselves mentally, physically, and emotionally while still managing our work responsibilities is hard. This is a year where we need to lean on each other and give plenty of grace. Be sure that you are regularly extending that grace to yourself.

Louisiana School Librarians Navigating School Library Programming in the Face of COVID-19

My friend and a constant source of inspiration, Amanda Jones, invited me to be apart of a webinar to talk about what we face in returning to school for the 2020-2021 school year. We were joined by another inspiring library friend, Lovie Howell. Although we still have a lot more questions than answers, it was great to share ideas and remember that we are not alone!

In the webinar, I remind everyone (myself included) that we need to go into this year knowing that we aren’t going to be our best. It’s going to be a struggle this year. We will try our best, but this year is going to be hard for us all. We have to remember that we have each other, and we are going to get through the challenges.

If you’re interested in watching Amanda, Lovie, and I chat about our survival plans, you can catch it here on YouTube:

The slide deck with links is here:

And Amanda created a Wakelet with other related resources:

Literary Clue Game Resources

To say that I’ve been neglecting my blog would be an understatement. Basically, what started out as a rough school year ended with COVID. I’m sure many of you can relate. If not, you could probably skim my last few posts and catch my vibe. I’m working on things, working on me, not giving up the fight, hopeful for the future — all that good stuff. In the meantime, though, here is a great idea with resources from my best friend, Alaina Laperouse, who also happens to be the best English teacher on the planet. Enjoy!

Teachers are always looking for ways to engage students with literature.  At my middle school, we started a literacy camp for incoming 6th graders.  The aim of the camp is to help students get a jump on their summer reading book.  Over the years, the required summer reading book has changed, but one thing has not.  The game CLUE.  

In the beginning of the journey to get students excited about the new school, camp, and learning, my co-teachers and I brainstormed ways to get students out of their seats, moving all over the school campus, working together, and helping them get familiar with some of the key elements within the text.

We stumbled upon the idea of the game of CLUE, but taking it life size.  In this game, students work in teams, they have a game card to collect clue information they find (characters, settings, and themes).  The clues to cross out are the cards the teachers have hidden around the campus.  Once they narrow down to one remaining clue for each category, students race back to the library to try to be the first to solve the game.  

Year after year, students report this is their favorite camp activity.  For their prize, students often ask if they can reset the game (hiding clues in new locations) and be the game masters themselves.  

Once students are proficient with the game, we usually make additional challenges such as:

  • Joining arms or ankles to another teammate.
  • One teammate wears a blindfold and must listen for instructions.

Each variation has a connection to what we are learning that day at camp.  I hope you find the game of CLUE helpful and perhaps inspiring. 

This link will take you to a Google Drive folder with PDFs of resources to go with games for Wonder, Fish in a Tree, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, and a school-based game. 

Just keep trying things!

I’ve shared some of my struggles this year so far on previous blog entries, so I wanted to share an update highlighting some of the things I am trying to implement that I hope will help make small steps towards progress.

The week of Halloween, I saw several of my library friends on social media sharing their candy corn counting contests. This was something I knew I could easily do — so I grabbed a mason jar, stopped by the store on my way to school for a bag of candy corn, and set up a box for guessing.

Having this set up at our circulation desk forced more students to interact with us, which was GREAT! It was quite entertaining to see how serious some of our students got about their guesses.

Students couldn’t pick up the jar — but there was still a lot of counting, measuring, and consulting of the Magic 8 Ball.

I also hosted a Literary Pumpkin Decorating Contest. Students were invited to bring in their own pumpkin, and I provided the paint and supplies for decorating. Although I only had two students participate (therefore they both got prizes!), it is still something I will try again next year. I hope that rallying more support from my English teachers in the future (and starting the competition sooner before pumpkins disappear from stores) will get more involvement next year.

I’m looking for more opportunities to use holidays (especially random ones) to create programming.

For National Stress Awareness Day, we hosted some mindful activities in the library and had a pretty decent turnout.

I’m also trying to use our library Instagram account to do more promotions of library activities.

I have two more events coming up this week as we roll into Thanksgiving Break:

I have a few new ideas that I’m adapting from others that I plan to start after Thanksgiving Break. My friend Elizabeth Kahn started doing a weekly “This or That”, which I think will be another great conversation starter to have at our desk. Here’s hers:

Do you have any passive programming ideas that have worked well in your library? Isn’t it interesting how the little things break the ice to build relationships in our schools?

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).