Tag Archives: reflections

Taking inspiration from music…

This weekend, I went and saw Andrew Bird perform. One thing that he is really good at is looping music, so it creates a rich, nuanced song. On the ride home, I was thinking about how educators do this on a yearly basis.

When I was first hired, I was told that there would be a chance that I would be split over a few buildings a few years into my career (thankfully that didn’t happen-I appreciate my admin for seeing value in my program!). Because of this ultimatium, I looked at my space/program and thought, “In 2-3 years, I may have half the time to get things done. How can I put systems in place that make that division of labor managable?” I was haunted by stories of friends trying to survive working in multiple buildings and the tasks that they had to cast aside for the sake of their sanity.

Loop 1: Collection Mangement

The biggest challenge I had was my collection. I had a collection in DESPERATE need of a big weed and my titlewave data was just horrifying to look at (the whole collection age was 1984, but some sections are still pretty ugly). My reference question hadn’t been touched in 22 years, and my paperbacks were in their own collection and not cataloged and put in the computer. As a first year librarian I had so many challenges, but since I didn’t know how much time I’d have the luxury of being one-building/full-time, I started building loops into my program.

These issues are things that only mattered in my world, and my teachers didn’t even know the full scope, so first I worked to educate my colleagues. I did some spot weeding of the truely terrible and had a “closet of shame” to inform my teachers that, yes some books would mysteriously disappear, but they were going to disappear for a reason. Now my teachers know that during my slow months, weeding happens, but I’m less likely to deal with PR struggle of “librarians throwing away books.”

Then I had to figure out how to handle my reference books. This is something that I am still working on 6 years later. I struggle with doing it all at once because I know some books can find a good home somewhere in my building, but that sometimes takes a while for it to come out of the woodwork. One thing I do that forces me to attack my reference pile is by building a “library tree” every year.


Yes, it’s cute and festive, but it serves an ulterior motive. When I clean it up, I make it a point to “evaluate and rehome” at least half of the books on the tree. In addition, it forces me to do a reference weed at least once a year.

Loop 2: Curriculum

Librarians are always reflecting on what lessons work, and adjusting for the next year. But when you live in a flexible schedule world, you have the added burden of persuading teachers of the benefit of the library. Every year, we use activities we have to advocate for our teachers to use the library more, and we improve on our activities to make sure we are teaching certain skills to the best of our abilities.

Loop 3: Displays

I’m a slacker librarian with displays….I save all my signs I put into sign holders to reuse year after year. Librarians and teachers also love laminators for reusing signs.


Loop 4: Empowering Students to Share the Library Love

Every year, we have students who get excited about books, who are willing to get more independant in maker challenges, who are always trying to get better at research. These students want to share their passions. These are the students who we can rely on to share book recommendations with each other. To help each other with various maker challenges. To assist each other with research. Each student we reach then is a resource for another student. In our library, we are building a network of assistance for our students. They can rely on us, teachers, and their peers to grow as learners.


On being a Slytherin…

Every person has a set of labels that they identify with. Some of them are labels we are proud of, and others have a stigma. Like most people in my profession, I am a HUGE Harry Potter geek. When I did the Pottermore sorting hat, I ended up in Slytherin.


Every so often I get in a heated Harry Potter discussion with my kids (don’t get me started on the Snape and unrequited love stuff…), and I ask them what house they are in and disclose that I am a Slytherin. I’ve noticed that my kids have interesting reactions. One of my kids became genuinely upset, and kept trying to convince me that I was wrong. Several other kids tell me, “That’s the BAD house, and you aren’t a bad person.” The more I have these conversations with students, the more I realize that we pass judgement really quickly. We keep trying to convince our kids to imagine people complexly, but it is so easy to see the world in black and white.

Harry Potter is a great lens for us to show that there’s good everywhere. My students know that I am a decent person (or not…they’re allowed to have opinions). When I talk about Harry Potter Houses, I remind students that there is good everywhere. It’s a great way to challenge myself to build a good reputation when there’s a bad reputation standing in your way. For me, it’s a good analogy for students who are trying to change how people view them .

Most importantly, if you are a Harry Potter geek, own your house. This is a situation where we choose our labels and what legacy we are adding to our House and the world.

AMLE Reflections

As a professional, one of my deepest fears is losing my professional center. I make it a point to talk to other librarians constantly to stay connected and avoid getting bogged down by the day to day drama. More recently, I’ve also been going to trainings that are specifically geared toward teachers. One that I really enjoy is the Association for Middle Level Educators (AMLE).

The more I interact with public librarians, the more I realize what a specific skill set teachers have. Getting to see teachers who are at the top of their game is incredible and allows me to brainstorm ways to embed their strategies, activities, and content into my own lessons. As a school librarian, I am always trying to take my students to the next level. Sometimes getting away from people who think the same way, can lead to some great reflection on my program.

Informal Take-Aways

This was a conference I attended with several colleagues. I love that I can attend a session, and then instantly talk to someone who is incredibly excited about trying to take their program and our school to the next level. As we attended sessions, I could catch certain teachers and say, “hey, I think _______ would fit well with your kids!” Having several teachers on the same wavelength is incredible when designing new activities and trying new things.

It’s also great to touch base with professionals that you only see a few times a year. I had the chance to talk with a friend who is a former middle school librarian about issues that relate to us, bounce ideas, and geek out about library stuff.


Librarians stick together! (with Heather Lister)

Classroom Management

One big thing in our district has been “trauma informed teaching.” As educators, we are working to keep open dialogues with guidance and school based services, learning as much as we can about our students, and try to be understanding of whatever trauma our students may be going through in their lives. We have a fantastic team in our building, and they inspire me to try and learn more about how to be thoughtful when interacting with my students. I loved seeing different ways to approach issues to help best serve my students.

Dr. Debbie Silver made a simple comparison about a hand model for explaining the brain. When trying to double check her analogy to make sure that I could explain it best, I found this summary of it. Your hand is your brain. The wrist is the part of the brain that focuses on the basic survival functions (breathing, eating, balance). If we tuck our thumb in, it represents our amygdala and mid brain. This is the part of our brain that handles our reactions. Then close the fingers over your thumb to make a fist. The represents the cortex, which is our logic and decision making. If you wiggle the thumb, it makes it harder for the fingers to keep the hand in the fist. (so it’s like a student flipping their lid). Dr. Silver called the amygdala the hot part of the brain, and cortex the cool part of the brain. We make smart decisions when we are in the cool part of our brain. I loved this analogy to explain intense emotions, and I’m hoping that it will be useful when I redirect behavior.

Kim Campbell was provided a great session on “If you can’t manage them, you can’t teach them.” When we think about discipline, we know that certain personalities respond to people they respect or have a positive relationship first. Because of this, a lot of energy is focused on building relationships with our students. But, on the other end of the spectrum, if the students don’t know your expectations, it’s hard for them to meet your expectations. She reminded us that it’s a balance of clear expectations and making the effort to build relationships with our students. In addition, she provided us with an assortment of strategies to keep kids moving, while keeping students controlled.

The Power of Failure

In another session, Dr. Debbie Silver talked about the importance of failure (which is covered more in her book Fall Down 7 Times, Get Up 8). As we know, failure is something that happens in life, and if it happens we get back up and try again. If students fail, we are able to guide them to try again and build resilience. At the end of our school day, we have a personalized learning period. This allows me to take my maker club to the next level, and I’m able to watch kids puzzle through problems. Going to sessions at AMLE reminded me that when students succeed or fail, to be thoughtful in how we praise/encourage our students. When giving feedback, we should only focus on what our students have control over (effort, ways to approach the problem, etc.).

Public Libraries Represent!

YALSA also had a few librarians from their Future Ready Program focusing on college and career readiness in middle school. The majority of these programs were in public libraries, and I’m so excited to see public librarians showcase collaboration opportunities. My favorite program was from Scottsboro Public Library in Alabama. This was a public library that had a fantastic dialogue with the school, well planned activities that taught career skills, allowed students to reflect, and had students working together. The more I talk to other librarians, the more I realize that we sometimes end up in a niche. The fact that there are some excellent public-school relationships that force public librarians to see problems that school librarians face, and forces school librarians to see what public librarians face. When we see the big picture, we are able to better serve our communities.


I have whiteboard tables, now what…

Last year, I had glass put on my tables to retrofit them into a white board table. Here are some of my favorite activities that we’ve done with them!


I know that many teachers struggle with how to articulate paraphrasing as a skill. It’s so easy to say, “don’t copy and paste” and even when we break it down and pretend we are explaining the topic to our lunch table or our parents, it’s a hard skill for students to pick up. What we did was we did a guided research project. We read an article together, and they could add more articles. We took sentences from the article and put them up on the screen.

First: They had to find the fact fragment, or the fact in it’s shortest/simplest form. There may be more than one.

Second: They had to identify words that they wouldn’t traditionally use or would change if they were writing.

Third: Find synonyms for the words they identified.

Finally: Rewrite the sentence in their own words. Use the fact fragment as a starting point. We could add in details we’ve learned about the topic, shift the order, and include our synonyms.

This is something that was a great co-teaching lesson, because the classroom teacher and I could go around and fine tune sentences. Many sentences needed tweaking, and the whiteboard setting prevented students from getting frustrated. We did this activity between the rough draft and final copy and the classroom teachers noticed a significant improvement in the quality of the final copy.  In addition, it was a great tangible activity that we could point to throughout the year whenever the topic of “using your own words” came up.

Planning for maker challenges/stopmotion movies

I feel like this goes without saying. Having whiteboard tables is a great way for them to brainstorm/blueprint. (and sometimes it makes for a great stopmotion medium)

“Take a Fact/Leave a Fact” Poetry introduction

We were practicing using print resources for a poet project. I set up stations with 3 types of print resources. They had to go around to each station and find a fact about a poet and leave it for the next group. Groups could not repeat facts. If they found a cool fact, and it tied into their project, they were free to take it and use it in their project.

Sometime teaching print resources makes me feel like a worksheet queen. This activity got the kids moving, challenged them to find better facts than their classmates, and really got them engaged in each type of resource I was promoting.


End of Year Assessment

At the end of the year, I did a scavenger hunt to see if they could navigate certain skills successfully in my room. One station was for them to leave me a thing I could improve on in my library. I loved the insight they gave me.


My favorite bit of feedback from 6th grade!

World Cafe

Social studies classes used this method to cover certain cultures, it’s a great way to document discussions and get kids up and moving around the room. Want to learn about this method, check out this site: http://www.theworldcafe.com/key-concepts-resources/world-cafe-method/


Reflections: Year 1 of using ebooks

I know I’m a tech savvy librarian, but ebooks scare the living daylights out of me. There’s something about the terror of hosting costs, legal issues with how long you own the books (multi-user, can I download it, can I print pages?), and the feeling of diving into the unknown with someone else’s money. I’m easily overwhelmed by the thought of taking a leap into the ebook fray and investing in something that my student may not use.

For this reason, I avoided the ebook question for my first few years. At the time, I didn’t think my population was interested and more importantly, I didn’t know how to take the leap in a way that my population would respond to it. Then the PA ebook consortium idea appeared. I was cautiously optimistic as I tried to learn more.

As I did research, I was really happy with what the organizers of the ebook consortium and Mackin were offering.

  • No Hosting Fees
  • You had the purchasing power of the whole state
  • Focus on fiction/high interest titles
  • Mackin allows you to keep the books you purchase
  • They were asking for librarian input
  • Google Single Sign on

Now, it took a few months to get going but I did some heavy promoting of the ebook through various scavenger hunts and hyperdocs. We’ll see how the program progresses, but I’m optimistic. We’ve gotten several teachers onboard, promoted to students, and found a way to embed these resources in our lessons. I’ve been happy with the usage and how easy it is for students to access the ebooks. I can’t wait to try a few ideas for next year!

What IMLS Means to Me…

With all the budget cuts, its easy to think that Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) doesn’t have as much impact as other programs. Sometimes, it seems like the same libraries benefit and other libraries (school libraries, rural libraries) feel left out. But sometimes things is not as they seem. IMLS’ impact can be felt even if your library has not directly benefitted.


Let’s look at my library. I am in a small, rural, public school library. I have applied for LSTA grants multiple times unsuccessfully, I tried applying for an IMLS grant unsuccessfully. Even though I have not received money directly through them, I’ve benefitted indirectly from grant reciepients. One goal of IMLS grants is to move the library profession forward. Their strategic plan focuses on innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. Many of their grants provide professional development for librarian professionals and educators.

I’ve had the privledge of participating in two mentoring programs at the state level funded by IMLS and LSTA. The first was Pennsylvania School Library Association’s (PSLA) Emerging Leaders Program. This program connected me with mentors, other strong librarians, and helped me grow a network of professionals that I still rely on. Rural librarianship has a tendancy to leave professionals feeling isolated and inadequate. I know that I would not be the same professional today if I didn’t access to this mentoring program early in my career. Working with other educators to see what they were doing acrss the state broadened my horizons and encouraged me to work harder for my students make sure they were as competitive as students from across the state. We were able to compare curriculum, technology, instructional strategies, library management, and programming ideas. Now I try and pay it foward and connect with other librarians face to face and online, promoting programs like the Emerging Leaders Program. As a young librarian, my goal has always been to keep myself centered and avoid feeling isolated. These opportunities have helped me flourish.


The second program was Pennsylvania’s ILEADUSA. This program did end up with grant money going toward my library, but the more important part came from the professional development that came with the program. This was an immersive program where we worked with a team to develop a project and expand our technology skills. These trainings opened my eyes to the great things going on in all types of libraries across the state.


I admit that I mostly speak to school librarians and view many problems through a school librarian’s lense. It was refreshing to see life through the eyes of a public or academic librarian. They had a different way of approaching problems and a different view. Although all three types of libraries promote life long learning, we all have drastically different ways of implementing it. In the school library, it is very direct. We give them lessons, maybe some clubs, but it is very structured. Academia is more hands off. Students are given a menu of options and very little structure. Public Libraries have to market themselves and develop programming depending on the needs of their community. Both public and academic don’t have a captive audience like I do. Talking with librarians from these settings made me realize that I could have a balance in how I encourage life long learning.

Programs led by IMLS give me a chance to grow as a professional. They help me think of new ways to service my students. They force me to step back and reflect on my school and my program and think how I can improve it. IMLS empowers me to be a better librarian and serve my community and my students in the best way I can.


Reflection on Part 3 of ILEAD USA

Last week we wrapped up ILEAD USA, which is a 9 month leadership/mentoring experience for librarians. This session provided technology training, but also gave us the chance to present our projects and appreciate each other’s hard work.

This experience was unlike any other that I’ve been involved with. I am so involved in the school library/education world, that I become unaware of what is going on in public, special, and academic spheres. While we have many similar issues, we also have different problems and approaches to those situations. It also helps us realize what resources are available at these other institutions and how to prepare our students to use public and academic libraries.



Our group presenting

In addition to presenting our projects, we had several techology workshops. Topics included Google Fusion Tables, Google Analytics, Marketing your library program and several other topics.

This program took me out of my building for several days, which makes many people wonder if it is worth it. It takes a lot of effort and anxiety to develop sub plans and be out of the library, but the in depth trainings that this experience provided not only got me out of my comfort zone, but forced me to reflect on my program and think about how I can develop a future ready library. Professional devlopment helps take our programs to the next level, but only if it’s worthwhile. ILEADUSA was in depth and incredibly worthwhile, and I would recommend it to folks who are looking for a fresh perspective.

Libraries are complicated places that fill many roles, depending on the community need. For me this means that I am always looking for collaboration resources, technology, information literacy resources, ways to foster intrinsic motivation for learning, and ways to promote a love of reading. Doing programs like this force me to assess my program and think of ways to keep moving it forward.

Our project was based on information literacy. Our resources can be found at tinyurl.com/dinfolitwp and our youtube videos can be found at tinyurl.com/dinfolit. More resources will be posted as the year goes by.

team picture.JPG

Our ILEAD Team with Glenn Miller, Acting Secretary/Commisionner for Libraries. Team members include Ellen Stolarski (St Marys Area Middle School,  Peggy Tseng (Frank Sarris Public Library),  Bryan McGeary (Ohio University),  Angela Hegadorn (Newtown Public Library), and Lauren Pfendner (Indian Valley Public Library).  Not pictured: Group Mentor, Barb Zaborowski (Pennsylvania Highlands Community College)