The Incredible 2013-2014 Year!

***Disclaimer: I feel kind of uncomfortable writing this post. It feels a bit braggey to write about all of the great things that happened this year. I’m having a bit of trouble processing the fact that all of these things actually did happen this year. I have so much to be thankful for!!!

This year, I’ve had to pinch myself so many times to make sure the things that were happening were actually real! It’s been such a significant year for me professionally, full of so many AMAZING experiences that I will never forget! All of these crazy, incredible things happened during the 2013-2014 school year:

I gave my first keynote at ISLMA! I was a bundle of nerves and excitement leading up to giving my first ever keynote presentation back in November, but once it was go time, I had so much fun! Since I gave my very first presentation at LACUE in 2010, I knew that presenting was something I loved and wanted to pursue. The fact that I had the opportunity to keynote at a state school library conference just a few years later was humbling (and a little scary!), but AMAZING! I had an absolute blast sharing with and learning from the amazing school librarians in Illinois, and they will always hold a special place in my heart for giving me such an incredible opportunity!

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And that was just the start of November. I also got to attend and present a number of sessions at AASL in Hartford with some of the school librarians I admire and respect the most! Just a few days after that, I received the news that I had been anxiously awaiting for months…I became a National Board Certified Teacher! YAY for November 2013!

I was lucky enough to spend my 29th birthday with some absolutely amazing educators in Missouri as a featured speaker at the METC conference. If you’re interested in seeing the video of my Power Up Your PLN presentation from METC, you can check it out here (although I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch it…weird!). I had so much fun sharing and learning with the awesome educators at this FABULOUS conference!

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In March, I was announced as one of Library Journal’s 2014 Movers & Shakers. Seriously, that happened to ME!!! I knew about it several months in advance (keeping that secret was hard!), and even attended ALA Midwinter for the Movers & Shakers photo shoot (shout out to Michael Pilla who took some great photos of us!). The fact that Joyce Valenza (my ultimate school librarian hero and role model) nominated me for this makes it even more unreal! This is so special to me, and something that I will always treasure.

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I’ve always been proud of the fact that I’m an ISTE girl. When the decision comes to go ISTE or ALA (and that happens every year because those two conferences are always at the same time), I always opt for ISTE. I see myself as an educator first and a librarian second, so I’m always going to take advantage of the chance to connect and network with other tech savvy educators. I’ve also been serving on the leadership team for ISTE’s SIGMS/SIGLIB/Librarians Network (I’m not even going to get into the name changing right now…) for several years now, and I’m currently finishing up my year as President of our group. This is why it’s such an amazing honor to be selected as one of ISTE’s 2014 Emerging Leaders! And just when I didn’t think I could get any more excited about attending the ISTE conference in Atlanta this summer! Here’s the video that was part of my application for this award:

And finally, in local news…I was featured on the news last night! Because just one more surreal experience is what I needed to finish off this school year 🙂

One of our local stations, WBRZ, does a segment called “2 Make a Difference” where anchor Sylvia Weatherspoon shares stories of people who are making a difference in our community. I’m so honored to have been selected to be featured on this great segment! This piece really makes me realize how lucky I am to work in such a great school, where I am supported and respected, with INCREDIBLE students who inspire me every day! And I would absolutely not be where I am today without the constant support, encouragement, and inspiration from my PLN. An extra special THANK YOU to my awesome friend and mentor Gwyneth Jones, for getting together an awesome group of students to Hangout with my kiddos during the recording of this segment!

I know if I went back and counted the adjectives and exclamation marks in this post, it would be excessive…but I can’t think of any other way to describe all of these crazy, humbling, exciting honors that I have experienced this year. Thank you to all of my family, friends, coworkers, members of my PLN, and readers who have supported me in this career that I love so much…I would not be experiencing this success without you!

My Case for Social Media

I’m very lucky to work in a great district and an even better school. There are so many great things about it — I work with awesome educators that care about the kids; we have high expectations and it is reflected in the school culture; we’re a small, community-based system that’s making positive progress.

However, there’s one area where my district and I are definitely not on the same page, and to me it’s something huge. In my district, Twitter and Facebook are blocked for students AND teachers. As teachers, we are instructed not to post on social media during the hours of the school day. Period. No posting for personal OR professional reasons. What this says to me is: “Social media has no value to you professionally.” Or perhaps: “Even if it does have some value, it’s something you’re going to have to do on your own time.” Obviously, I disagree whole heartedly. I’m pretty sure that everyone that I work with knows that…I’m not typically quiet or reserved about my opinions. But I thought it was time I made my case in writing.

This policy makes it virtually impossible for me to sell Twitter as a PD tool to my coworkers (and I firmly believe that Twitter is the most valuable PD tool out there). Let’s be honest — it’s really hard to show them how to use something when it’s blocked and you’re not allowed to use it during the day.

It’s also really hard to show my students what a strong digital footprint and positive use of social media looks like when it’s all blocked. My kids NEED to see that…so I take screenshots at home, but that can’t demonstrate its true power. This isn’t even touching the opportunities they’re missing out on because of the connections we could be making with other schools, authors, and experts throughout the day using social media…because we DEFINITELY aren’t allowed to have a school or library social media account where we share out the things we’re doing so the community can share in our learning. If I want to use Twitter to line up Skype or Hangout meetings to help my students make global connections, I have to do it after school hours.

I found my district’s recent professional development days to be very telling of the current stance on technology and social media. Last month, we had two full days of district-wide professional development training on Professional Learning Communities. All of the faculty members from all five schools in our district gathered together to participate in a PLC conference as a satellite location (sessions were streamed in from Arizona). In the days before these PD days, we were instructed that we were NOT to have any technology visible during the sessions (no laptops, iPads, phones, etc.). As someone who attends conferences regularly (okay, maybe excessively/obsessively), I know the power of a backchannel and was very disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to Tweet what I learned along the way. For me, that has become a way that I process my learning at a conference. So despite my extreme frustration and disappointment, I tried to enter these two days of PD with a decent attitude. Imagine my surprise when I arrive the morning of our PD to see a hashtag and Twitter stream up on the big screen.

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Since it was before our official start time…I went ahead and Tweeted them:

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Hm. Not on the same page. I followed the rules…put my phone away during sessions…and in my notes I wrote down the things I would have Tweeted, had it been allowed.

The argument against having technology was that it would be a distraction. For me, it would have been a tool to enhance learning. Do teachers need to learn to use technology the right way in the right situations at the right times? Absolutely. Just like our students need to learn the same thing. But it’s mighty hard to learn it (or teach it) if we can’t use it. I get that they think it’s easier and less of a headache to just block and ban. It’s not as scary, not as threatening. However, we are doing a disservice to our teachers and our students by not allowing them the opportunity to experience a different level of learning. We’re doing a disservice by not requiring them to develop the skills that are essential to be successful in our digital world.

We talk about how wrong it is to issue a blanket punishment for all students because of the actions of a few. What about being punished in advance for something that hasn’t even happened yet?

There is so much good in social media for education. There’s so much positive potential and so many endless possibilities. And if we aren’t taking advantage, then our students are missing out.

I recently shared about our March Madness Book Bracket. We are now down to our Final Four books:

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I’m so excited to see favorites See You at Harry’s and The Fourth Stall in the Final Four! I shared this picture on Twitter and tagged authors Jo Knowles and Chris Rylander. Our students LOVE their books. I was really excited when Chris responded to my Tweet:

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Back in November, my Multimedia students created a book trailer for The Fourth Stall as their entry for a video contest. Although they didn’t win, we were so proud of the final product. Last night, I shared the link to our video with Chris Rylander:

I was so excited when he Tweeted back about the video:

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So excited that I had to take a screen shot and post it on Schoology to share with my students. Naturally, they freaked out:

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And of course they rushed into the library this morning to geek out some more. They were so excited that the author of The Fourth Stall, one of their FAVORITE books, saw the video they created about his book!

This is just one small example of the power of social media. Connecting our students with others has so much potential to excited, engage, and motivate. Getting our teachers connected will introduce them to ideas, opportunities, and learning that just can’t happen within the walls of the school. This is something I’m passionate about and not willing to let up on because social media changed my path as an educator. I would not be able to provide my students with the opportunities, my teachers with the resources, or myself with the support that I get as a professional without my PLN. When I say that Twitter changed my life, I’m not exaggerating. The opportunities and experiences coming my way would not be possible if I were not a connected educator. And I want to be able to share that with my teachers and students.

Time to Connect!

We had such a fun week in the library, connecting our students with others in honor of Dot Day!

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My students had a blast connecting with and learning from students in different parts of the world!

On Monday, my BFF Alaina Laperouse‘s (who just started her new blog!!) students connected with students of some of our dear friends Sherry Gick (in Indiana) and Matthew Winner (in Maryland).

On Tuesday morning, two of my classes had awesome hangouts with some of Sherry’s students, asking and answering questions about our schools and hometowns. That afternoon, a class of our 7th graders did a Mystery Skype with Diana Maliszewski‘s students in Toronto, Canada. After a very lucky guess, my students were able to figure out their location!

On Wednesday, we connected with another of Sherry’s classes. I mean, can I just say how much I LOVE Sherry and her students? By doing multiple Hangouts with her classes, I were able to learn a lot and come up with a format for these types of Hangouts that flow really well! And I loved having out students discover similarities between our libraries, like self check-out and a genrefied shelving arrangement! Of course, my students are ALWAYS jealous when they see others in “free dress” — meaning they don’t have to wear uniforms. And discussing school lunches is always a hot topic for middle schoolers!

Thursday was busy with Hangout/Skypes with three different schools: Kari Healy‘s students in Minnesota, Sherry’s students in Indiana, and another Mystery Skype with Diana’s students in Canada!

Friday was a staff development day, so students didn’t have school, which cut our “Dot Day” week a bit short. But this was one of those weeks that gets you pumped up and excited to see what the school year will bring! I am so excited to make more connections throughout this school year! Connecting virtually with other schools allows students the opportunity to overcome nerves and speak in front of their peers. With speaking and listening being a key element in the Common Core State Standards, I feel that these virtual connections will be more important and powerful than ever!

I’m definitely going to be looking for more opportunities to connect this year — Mystery Skypes, sharing book talks, making presentations, and just fun get to know you Q&A sessions — let me know if you’re looking for opportunities to connect too!