Sunday, January 4, 2015

Reflections and Renewed Resolve

It's the last night of break, and as I sit here contemplating my return to my responsibilities as a Teacher Librarian, I can't help but pause and reflect on how the first few months of my tenure have gone. Clearly from my lack of blog posts, to say that I've been busy and it's been eventful might be the biggest understatement of the century. But when I really attempt to articulate to myself what I've accomplished in the last 5 months, I can honestly say, I feel like I've made tremendous headway.

So what have I done?

1. I completely overhauled a library space.

My predecessor, to her great credit, truly built a tremendous collection for our students. However, as things came in, nothing went out. I inherited a collection of baskets scattered around the library, the organization of which was known by only one. And I wasn't her.

In order to familiarize myself with my newly inherited collection and to truly make the library space someplace accessible and functional for all, I spent countless (and by countless, I mean simply that I quit counting after I hit 100) hours weeding, reshelving, and rearranging.

My library serves roughly 945(ish) 2nd through 5th graders. In addition to adhering to the teachings of Lucy Calkins, the staff had recently adopted the Fountas & Pinnell leveling system. All this meant that it was vitally important to ensure that our students could find a "Just Right" book. While I don't believe in strictly adhering to a reading level (insert my belief that students can often read about their assigned level if the subject matter truly engages them, and that it is equally okay to read books that are "below" students' reading levels from time to time), I did want to ensure that the students weren't entirely overwhelmed when they walked into my library and that they had a sense of where to start. To this end, I divided my fiction section into three subsections, simply labelled "Section 1," "Section 2," and "Section 3." Anyone who has ever worked with any leveling system knows the variance between systems, but roughly each section corresponds to a group of Fountas & Pinnell levels (with some overlap between sections).

Needless to say, my work in overhauling the library is an ongoing process (isn't managing any library space?). I've already got visions for reorganizing the physical shelves (right now, the Fiction Sections are split apart and there are quite a few supervision blind spots), reorganizing the fiction section (to start) into a bookstore/genre format to further allow for students to find their "Just Right" books independently, and to create a more inviting atmosphere in general.

2. I have promoted literacy.

Okay, so this one most librarians might read and scoff at . . . after all, that's truly why a majority of us got into the business of librarianship. We love reading. We love books. We want our students to experience the same positive experiences we've had. We know that knowledge is power. And we know that reading gives us the keys to the kingdom . . . it allow students to live multiple lives, to view the world from multiple perspectives, to stretch their imaginations and to broaden their horizons.

We know all this, but from what I've gathered, literacy promotion wasn't necessarily a previous priority for my students. Sure students checked out books, but literacy promotion wasn't a big thing.

I believe strongly that the library should be a place where every child can find themselves, to cultivate a love of reading and the power of knowledge. To this end, I've been very intentional about promoting literacy in general (via various writing activities and vocabulary activities . . . my library has a "Word Nerd" that my 3rd graders "feed" words they encounter in their reading), but I've worked especially hard with book promotion. I always share the books I've been reading or books that correspond with the curriculum our students are working on in their classrooms via book talks and recommendations via my library site. We've done several book "tastings" and "samplings" (beyond their normal visits to the library), we've taken part in numerous literacy celebrations (such as National Picture Book month), and we have student and staff recommendation displays.

I have so much more I want to do with this, but it's more than there was before. And it's just the start. I can't wait for some of the literacy promotions I still have up my sleeve (think student recommendations and book clubs).

3. I have promoted information literacy via technology.

Prior to my arrival and that of another recently hired colleague, the integration of technology to enhance students learning was both desired, but was often hindered, whether by access, apprehension, or a combination of both. As a librarian, I understand that access to information, no matter the format, is integral to our students' success. I also know that our students and staff are inundated with technologies that allow them to access, manipulate, and share information. The demands on a teacher's time make it difficult to keep up with all the potential ways to utilize technology in the classroom and the astronomical amount of choices of apps and websites available. Now, more than ever, it is essential that they have someone to help them navigate the sea of infinite possibilities. My colleague and I have worked very intentionally to be supportive guides.

We have worked with our students and staff to create lessons and units that allow students to explore technologies that support and enhance their learning, that allow them to acquire and explore the curriculum in new and different ways, to reflect upon and share their learning, and to do both of these in ethical and responsible ways. We've helped our students and staff integrate several Google apps, we've helped them utilize Google Classroom, we've promoted various apps that support literacy, we've explored information literacy and the requirements of responsible online citizenry via authentic learning experiences. We created experiences that have allowed our students to interact with others beyond their classrooms, to explore coding, and to publish their writings. We've helped acquire additional devices for our students and we've implemented professional development for our staff to explore ways to enhance their curriculum via technology.

We've worked very hard to make technology a regular and authentic part of what we do.

3. I extended the reach of the library program beyond the walls of the library.

I have never liked conforming. I've always liked to make my own path. And, although I do love traditions, I am by no means traditional (an eclectic mix of irony and oxymoron right there). I have never wanted to be a traditional librarian. I don't want to spend my days in quiet isolation, keeping watch over the books that line my shelves. I want to be out among my students and staff. I want to promote literacy. I want to promote technology. I want to support learning in any shape or form.

Libraries should be the heart of the school, and I want to ensure that I have a firm grasp on the pulse of my school. And to do that, I have worked extremely hard to show both my students and staff that I'm there for them. I have made it my mission to constantly seek out opportunities to demonstrate what my library and I have to offer. I created a "Library Services Menu" for my staff that showed them what I could do for them (anything from pulling resources to co-teaching lessons), I have made it my mission to learn the standards and know the curriculum, I have attended leadership meetings, I have attended grade-level meetings. And I will continue to do so, because it's what I believe a librarian should do.

So overall, I look back at my first few months with a sense of pride. Not too shabby for a newbie. And, of course, I have so much more I hope to accomplish by the end of May (creating a MakerSpace, additional technology professional development, actually keeping up my blog).

As I return to school tomorrow, there will be a schedule change that will limit my amount of time outside of my library. My reflections on the first few months of my time as a Teacher Librarian have filled me with a new sense of resolve. I am resolved to keep moving forward. I'm resolved that I will continue to work for my students and staff. I am resolved that my reflection on the last few months of my first year will fill me with as much of a sense of pride as the first few have.

I'm proud to have joined the ranks of Teacher Librarian.