Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Fresh Eyes in the Library

This September I started working with a new library assistant, my third library assistant in three years, and I must admit that I was slightly apprehensive about it all.  The CNB library is an extremely busy library with 2000 loans, 50-60 classes in researching and 10-15 different projects on the go a month. And, I really need to be honest here, I'm not exactly the easiest person to work with (combination of redheaded stubbornness and A type personality is not the best combination). So, I headed into September not expecting greatness.

All joking aside, the relationship of the teacher librarian and the library assistant is key to a strong library program.  I find it difficult being the only teacher librarian on staff because the drama teacher or the Social Studies teacher is not going to understand my latest LMS problem.  For the most part, a classroom teacher doesn't really understand what I do.  I believe that my colleagues know that I am not sitting in the library lounging about and reading the latest YA book.  That said, they probably couldn't articulate what I spend time doing.  My library assistant on the other hand, sees the craziness that is my job and holds down the fort while I run to get a TTOC a set of speakers, troubleshoot computer problems, track down a missing DVD, do some marking, try to carve out time to plan with my colleagues...  My library assistant is someone I can vent to.  More importantly, my library assistant is someone I can bounce ideas off.  Fortunately, my new library assistant is brilliant at understanding where I want to go with the library program and seeing what we need to do to get there.

The physical space of my library was something I haven't liked since the day I started but I have been hesitant to start changing.  Since September we have tackled the walls, updating the library with wallpaper and art.

I also wanted to really make an effort with displays this year as I really struggle with this component of my job.  We revamped the magazines, taking out an old shelving unit that housed them and found a massive bulletin board hidden behind it.                                                                                                                                      

I also have made an effort to increase my technology understanding.  So I've delved into the Twitter realm and started this blog.  My library assistant started using QR codes in the library.

Three months into the school year and I am amazed at all that we have accomplished so far.  Can't wait to see how the library evolves over the next seven months.


Friday, 22 November 2013

A TL's philosophy after 5 years

During my first year in the library, I was fortunate to share the library with Carol, another teacher librarian.  My learning curve was steep, of course, but was aided greatly by having a veteran teacher librarian working beside me teaching me the ropes. It was invaluable to have someone to debrief with at the end of each day and Carol gave me many pointers along the way.

At the end of the year, my teacher librarian partner retired and gave me some advice:

1. Don't try to read the whole collection, just be sure to read a good cross section
2. Concentrate on your library program and make it yours.  It will take 5 years before you can start making wide sweeping changes to the program.
3. Don't get wrapped up in the library.  Eat lunch in the staff room.  Socialize. Make connections.
4. Be careful.  Don't give too much otherwise people will try to take advantage of you.
5. Advocate, advocate, advocate.  Be prepared to fight for your program.

It's been 5 years since Carol gave me that advice and it's taken me that long to realize that she was right.  I feel that I know my program and my collection well and now have a clear vision of what I what to accomplish.  My philosophy is that a combination of leadership, personality, balance, reading, and advocacy is key to a strong library program.  However, that belief is all for naught if my colleagues and my administration do not perceive the teacher librarian as being an integral and invaluable part of the school. 

I can talk and write about the importance of teacher librarians but as always, actions speak louder than words.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

TEAMS Award and AASL

Jenn Craig, an incredible grade 7 Social Studies/English teacher, and I collaborated on a project last year called "Create a Civilization".  It was this PBL project that we submitted and won the middle school division of the Gale/LMC TEAMS award for 2013.  (A video of our project, produced by Don Wellman of 248Pencils can be viewed here).  As part of the award, Gale and LMC sent us to the American Association of School Libraries (AASL) National Convention in Hartford.

While at the AASL, I was fortunate to attend two sessions that I thought were simply incredible.  The first was Hilda Weisburg's (@hildkw) session on strategic planning which was humorous and informative.  Hilda's approach to advocacy resonated with me and after the session, I sat down and wrote out both my vision and mission statements and hammered out 2 realistic goals for my library program. 

The other incredible session I attended was Jennifer Reed's (@libraryreeder), "Challenge your four walls with a Twitter PLN".  Jennifer's calm, professional, and polite approach to the topic was delightful.  I learned a few tricks and found some new TLs to follow.

What I loved about being at such a large convention was the buzz that was happening everywhere - from the sessions to Starbucks, people were talking librarianship.  Let's be honest, a teacher librarian conference is a pretty friendly and positive conference.  I found that everyone was willing to talk and share whether it be great advocacy ideas, project ideas or good book titles.  Thank you Gale/LMC and AASL for an experience of a lifetime.

Friday, 15 November 2013

When true professional development occurs

As my colleague and I sat waiting for our flight to Hartford and AASL's National conference, I started reflecting on professional development and what it is exactly.

I have been fortunate to have had many travelling experiences with my colleagues and they have all been tremendous.  No matter how outstanding the actual conferences has been, the true PD has occurred after hours.  Spending time outside of the school building and the timetable means that you get to know that colleague you usually only talk to when you are at the photocopier.  It is also the time when you get to sit back, internalize and talk about your learning.  And for me, it is an opportunity to begin collaborating with teachers around the new topic of interest.

That said, the conferences that I have gone to by myself have been equally enriching, yet in a very different way. Here the talk is about curriculum and tried and true activities/projects because we are all strangers trying to make connections.  As a result, the negativity is minimized and it becomes a time to share amazing ideas.

I have been fortunate to work with incredible educators who realize that professional development isn't a workshop or a conference, but rather an ongoing never-ending process of learning and improving the craft of teaching.

Great PD resources

Twitter, of course, is a great resource.  Follow an educational chat like #tlchat #bcedchat and the list goes on and on.  Check out
to find a chat that appeals to you.

Sign up for School Library Journal's amazing webcasts, found here:

Monday, 11 November 2013

Time & PBL

In my last post, I talked about the 5 things I had learned about PBL and the one thing I didn't talk about was time.  I left time off the list because I knew it was something I couldn't just discuss in a sentence.

As a teacher librarian, when I approach someone about trying PBL in their classroom, their number one concern is time.  More often that not I hear something along the lines of: "I'd love to try PBL, but I don't have the time.  I have to get through the curriculum." And although I understand the sentiment, I sigh because when a PBL project is done well, many thing occur:

1. The students are engaged in their learning.  They are genuinely interested in what they are learning and how to present their learning.

2. The students are thinking about the curriculum.  Not just thinking, but thinking critically.  I'm constantly hearing questions that show the students are delving deeper into the content.

3. The students are taking ownership of their learning.  Because they are engaged and thinking about the curriculum, they want to understand and present their best work.

And it's this third point that I battle teachers who are doing PBL over.  I find that many teachers panic at the end of the PBL project and start thinking like my non-PBL teachers; they worry about the curriculum and how much time the PBL project has already taken.  Most teachers tend to rush their students to finish but it's essential that students are given time to put their final product together.  The students are proud of their work and they want to showcase it at its best.

I'm in the middle of planning a science 8 project on water with two outstanding colleagues.  When we drafted the project out, we realized that it was getting quite big and was going to take a lot of class time.  And that's when we looked back at the learning outcomes and realized how much was actually being covered by this one project and it put everyone at ease.  That said though, we need to keep in mind that throughout the project the students will be collaborating, critically thinking, organizing and presenting.  As much as we as teachers love our curriculum, we need to remember that the curriculum is just the vehicle we use to teach students skills.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

5 Things this TL has Learned about PBL

I'll readily admit it; I love PBL.  I am enamoured with how the structure creates opportunities for students to make choices, to collaborate, and to think critically.  In 2011, I was fortunate to have an administrator who was willing to send his teacher librarian and two teachers off to Texas for PBL training with the Buck Institute.  That PBL 101 training was eye opening.  I immediately saw the potential role of the library program and the teacher librarian in a well designed PBL project.

Now into my third year of collaborating with teachers in designing PBL projects, I have seen a couple dozen projects in action and I've learned a few things in the process.

1. The driving question, the end task, and the learning outcomes are all interconnected.  You can't come up with one without keeping the other 2 in mind.

2. Another set of eyes is crucial!  PBL projects should not be designed in isolation.  I, of course, believe that PBL projects should be created with the TL but I also think that an 'outsider' (someone from a different department) should also take a look at the project.   If an outsider isn't enthusiastic about your project, your students won't be either.

3. Start small.  I encourage all teachers to start with a small 2 day PBL project so that they can see how the structure works and taste PBL success. 

4. That said, the best PBL projects I have seen are big projects, very big.  I think that is due to the teacher really understanding what the big ideas of the curriculum are and the incredible amount of planning that has gone on beforehand.

5. Own it.  Teachers should not try to find a PBL project online and try to implement it.  A successful PBL project is one that you've put a lot of time, effort, and thought into.  If you want students to take ownership for their learning, you've got to understand the intricacies of the project yourself.

Planning a solid PBL project takes a lot of time.  Ask your teacher librarian for help, that's what your TL is there for.  Ask your administration for release time.  Make sure everything is in place before you launch because odds are, something unforeseen is going to pop up.

If you want great PBL resources, I highly recommend BIE's PBL books which can be ordered here: - the PBL Starter Kit is outstanding.  High Tech High and BIE are great places to go to get ideas for projects.  If you are on Twitter, you must follow Andrew Miller (@betamiller).  If you ever get the chance to go to a PBL session run by Andrew, go.  I've seen Andrew present 3 times in Kelowna and he is amazing.  He understands the whole PBL package from curriculum to assessment and isn't afraid to tell you if you are off track.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Where are all the boys?

I’ve noticed a trend over the years that my strongest readers are boys, hands down. Let me explain. Every year I have 2 or 3 grade 9 boys (keep in mind that I work in a 7-9 middle school) who are devouring Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, Raymond E. Feist’s work or Brent Weeks’ The Night Angel trilogy. Really, I keep these three authors’ books on the shelves for those boys specifically because my 7s and 8s certainly couldn’t handle them. But they haven’t been read in over a year now and I’m searching the school population to try and figure out whom I can suggest them to but not a single student comes to mind, male or female.

Are boys in the library? Of course they are. This morning when I arrived an hour before the bell, I had 3 boys patiently waiting for me to unlock the doors. The boys waltzed in, turned on the lights, held the gate for me and sat down. Did they pull out books or magazines to read? No, they pulled out their gaming devices. When the warning bell went at 8:50 the library was packed and loud and 95% male. I don’t mind that they are talking and gaming but what worries me is that they are not reading at all.

Yet I struggle myself when a boy comes in and asks me for a book to read. It usually goes like this:

Male student: Can you recommend a good book?
Me: I try to only buy good books. What kind of book are you looking for?
Male student: A good book that is like action and adventure but not about sports, I don’t like sports books. And no romance.

And that’s when I hit a brick wall. Sure, I can suggest John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series or D.J. MacHale’s Pendragon series but something new, something current? Now, that’s a struggle. I love the move towards the dystopian genre and I love finally reading books with female protagonists but that comes at a cost. A female protagonist usually means that a strong romance theme is involved, one that turns away the boys.

What’s a boy to do?


Monday, 4 November 2013

A tentative toe in the blogging world

For years I have been scoffing at the idea of me, a teacher librarian, having a blog. What would I write about? Why would I write? And perhaps more to the point, who would read it? Over the past few months I've toyed with the idea and finally sat down over the weekend to brainstorm blog ideas and question my sanity. Because, as any teacher librarian will tell you, adding more to the already jammed packed plate is just not wise. Not wise at all. Shouldn't I be reading journal articles or trying out some tech that I can introduce to teachers or, better yet, reading YA books? And yet, here I am typing away.

And why? Perhaps because seven years into this teacher librarian job I am starting to feel like I'm beginning to understand librarianship. Well, I'm not running around scattered quite so often. Today, when a colleague asked for a trolley of science books at 8:15 for her 9:00 class I just took the request in stride and in those 45 minutes I got the books together and delivered, met with her about the project and talked to the drama teacher about an idea we had discussed about drama 7. Don't get me wrong, my library isn't quiet and calm. Indeed, it's a seemingly chaotic place but one I'm starting to understand and appreciate. Yes, I miss the control of the classroom, of knowing exactly what was going to happen next but I do love the challenge of the unknown. And in the library, you never know what issue is walking in the door next.

That steep learning curve that everyone talks about, well it's plateaued for me and I'm ready to better my library program and my teacher librarianship. I've turned to Twitter and found a wonderful TL PLN that's pushing me to re examine what I do. I've stumbled across TL blogs that leave me gobsmacked and make me realize I have a long way to go still. A TL PLN can humble and inspire in the same breath and what more could any TL want?

As I start this next endeavour, I would like to thank @SnowHydro for her inspiring and courageous writing. With you in my corner @SnowHydro, I can do no wrong. I would also like to thank @literateowl for being an incredibly supportive colleague. I'm very fortunate to have a strong LSA that I can lean on and learn from.