Sunday, May 11, 2014

Blogging For Surprising Results! A School Year In Review - Part One

As we approach the ending of the 2013-14 school year, I can't help but reflect on a year that has brought the greatest professional growth of my teaching career.

It certainly didn't begin that way. In the summer before this school year began, I was dreading what the new year would bring. To be clear, I wasn't dreading coming back to our lovely school community, our beautiful library or our fantastic students and parents. Our district had made the decision to eliminate media clerks in elementary libraries, the seventh year in a row of changes to media programs that most would consider negative. As I prepared for a new year, the only word I could use to describe my outlook: discouraged. No one was advocating for our libraries and it didn't appear that anyone really valued them.

It was then that I began to search for answers. I searched the websites and blogs of librarians around the nation. What I found was not what I expected. What I found was a serious dose of tough love, and a good swift kick in the pants!  I began by reading a blog by Jennifer LaGarde and her series How to Survive the Zombie Librarian Apocalypse. I became more motivated with each blog post. 

Just a few of my favorite quotes in subsequent blog post by Jennifer LaGarde...

- It's time for all of us (librarians) to ask ourselves some tough questions relating to the focus of our work and the impact it has on kids.  It's not enough to just work hard. It's not enough to be exhausted at the end of the day.  The hours we spend with children must matter.  The work we do on behalf of students must result in measurable outcomes. 
- We can't just be busy, we have to be significant.  
- To me, it's simple.  The perception that library programs are unnecessary exists for one of two reasons:  Door #1: the work being done really IS unnecessary or Door #2: the work being done is not being shared effectively. 
The more school librarians who establish themselves as indispensable members of the learning community, the greater the chance that the perception (and in some cases, the reality) of school libraries as being nice, but not necessary, will change. 
After I cried for a bit, which is what I do when I hear truth, I dried my tears and continued searching. What I found were teacher-librarians and media specialists (really the same thing) who were in fact contributing to their school communities and beyond by sharing! They had heard Jennifer LaGarde's call to arms, or maybe they wisely figured it out themselves. Whatever their motivation, I am supremely grateful for their willingness to share and help me find my way out of the Zombie Librarian Apocalypse.

A few of my early mentors (though they have no idea who I am!):
John Schu - Watch.Connect.Read, Tiffany Whitehead - Mighty Little Librarian, Jennifer Reed - Reederama, Gwyneth Jones - The Daring Librarian, Shannon Miller - Van Meter Library Voice, Matthew Winner - The Busy Librarian, April Requard - AppsolutelyApril, and Andy Plemmons - Barrow Media Center (from my home town in Athens, Georgia!!) These were just the few I found at the beginning of my journey, and I have since found many more fantastic librarians and teachers willing to share!

From these wonderful library and teacher practitioners, I was inspired to begin blogging myself. I began blogging because I knew that although what I was teaching students was significantly impacting their learning, no one knew about it! Why would they? I had never really shared what my students and I were doing!

So I began blogging.  I threw myself into sharing what my students and I were doing in our library, and along the way, I did considerably more than advertise our school's media program. Blogging and sharing our learning fundamentally changed my perspective as well. I would recommend it for anyone with a passion. When you begin to share your passion for a topic, it is extremely motivating!  While you are trying to build other people's enthusiasm for the thing you value, it builds your own enthusiasm! It throws fuel on your proverbial fire! It helps connect you to others who share your passion! And for me, it also motivated me to step up my game! Not that I wasn't always focused on creative lessons that would motivate my students to learn, but now I wouldn't accept anything less than the best! Best books, greatest web tool/app, most engaging challenging lessons, and most of all, the best outcomes for my students possible! The ultimate beneficiaries of my blogging epiphany were my lovely students!

Occasionally my discouragement does still rear it's ugly head. I am by no means willing to give up the fight to advocate for my school library program! I believe a strong school library program is good for my students! I am certainly willing to pout, whine, and even kick and scream if I believe that it will counter the belief that libraries are old and no longer relevant. But I now believe there is a better approach to convince everyone that our school library program is vital for student learning!

Step 1 - Have a vibrant, innovative library program that impacts student learning, and Step 2 - write about it!

...and only whine occasionally! 

Final Note - Part Two of "A School Year In Review" will be the surprising impact of blogging in spurts of 140 characters (Twitter) has had on my professional learning and subsequently my students!