Thoughts from a teacher-librarian

Isn’t it nice when you are slogging along in your work and out of the blue someone sends you a really encouraging message? My most recent experience was a thank you e-mail in response to a screencast tutorial that I had shared with a group of co-workers. One of the recipients took the time to write me a little note about how much she appreciated it and how it would help her in her work.

*Time it probably took her: 2 minutes

*Time I will feel joyful about it: the rest of the day (at least)

It’s a good reminder to me that I should take the time to respond to people who have shared important/useful information with me. A “thank you” in any form is not only good manners, but it may be a huge boost to that person & their energy for the job that they are doing. It says, “You are valued!” While I am not one who needs tons of cheerleading comments, it sure is nice to get one when it is least expected.

I once had a principal who was so good at this type of thing. He was very visible around the building & had great rapport with the kids. It wasn’t unusual to see him pop in and out of the room while you were teaching. Sometimes you would find a little notepaper in your mailbox with a comment like, “I love how expressive your voice is when you read to the kids. Way to model enjoyment of reading! The students were captivated.” He was specific and sincere. I saved every one of those notes & looked at them more than once during the course of the school year. No wonder he is one of my favorite principals of all time; the personal touch really sticks with you! I know I was not the only staff member to receive these missives. He also took the time at staff meetings to give out a rose (or 2 or 3) to someone who had gone above and beyond that week….just to show that he had noticed. He would tell the story and we would all smile and clap as that person received their surprise award. What a special memory.

Do you keep a file with compliments you’ve received? If not, please start one immediately. I refer to it as my “Rainy day folder” and I pull it out when I need a lift. This recent e-mail reminded me that I should start an electronic rainy day folder, too. You never know when you’ll need a little boost! Apparently I did today, but I didn’t realize it until I had received that brief e-mail.

I intend to begin a new habit: giving at least one very sincere compliment to someone each day (in writing if possible). The “in writing” part is important so that people can look back at it and feel the joy all over again. I have some wonderful co-workers and I shouldn’t let them forget that they are valued.

 

The summer recharge

I am lucky enough to work in a job that gives me some time off in the summer. When my son was little this was invaluable bonding time with him. I guarded my time off carefully and tried not to commit to very many activities for myself. Now that he’s older (and doesn’t care quite so much about spending tons of time with me) his perfect summer day is probably:

  • sleep until he wakes up without the alarm (anywhere from 10am-noon)
  • eat something and watch some TV
  • chat with friends via text or social media
  • play Minecraft
  • go to sports practice
  • take a swim
  • eat a whole lot more
  • watch TV before bedtime

On a good day he might get dressed and go hang out with friends for awhile. He is a bit of an introvert, so I think he craves some alone time each day. I try to give him some space and just let him be. I usually get him to fit a chore or two into his schedule. Sometimes he’ll accompany me on a few errands. Beyond providing him with food and occasional chit-chat, I am not an integral component of his day. This is his way of recharging. So now that my summer is not all about “Mommy time” what is on my agenda for recharging my battery?

Some old co-workers have asked me to play 9 holes of golf once a week. I am really not that good at golf, but I know if I play regularly I can get a little bit better. Plus, the good news is that none of these ladies is a golf pro either. (Sorry, people who have to play behind us!) None of us is totally caught up in the competitive aspect of the game. It’ll be good to be outdoors, in the sunshine, getting some exercise and chatting with some good friends.

I will be attending a national ISTE conference. I am so excited! I have always wanted to attend one of these; I’ve heard it is an amazing experience. I hope to get lots of good ideas to share with other library media specialists in my district. 

There are some days when I change out of PJs and into my swimsuit and coverup, then basically stay in them all day. Eventually I shower and put my PJs and robe back on. These are the days that I will not be leaving my house/yard. I aim for at least one day like this each week. There is something so blissful about puttering around the house, yard and pool area. Of course, I jump in for a swim occasionally. I am usually heard uttering, “This is the life,” several times during the course of days like this.

I will read some adult novels. It seems that during the school year I am immersed in children’s and young adult lit. I really enjoy it, but it will be nice to concentrate on a longer, more challenging text. I will visit the public library for some of these titles. I do love that place, and I don’t get there much during the school year.

I will go for daily walks with my husband. He works from home, and doesn’t always take a break away from his desk. I leave him alone for the most part, but last year we started the daily walk and both enjoyed it. Sometimes we take a dog along, other times not. We talk to each other about all sorts of things, away from the distractions of home.

Just typing about these things has made me feel more relaxed. I am smiling at my computer right now 🙂

Hang in there, school librarians! The countdown is on. I hope that your summer is full of whatever brings you joy.

The Bitter Nut

The library staff members in my district recently held a party to honor the people retiring from library jobs this year. It was intended to be a night of celebration and fun. We met after hours at a public facility to have drinks, socialize and eat dinner together.  Then we sat back for the official program: recognition of the retirees and their years of service. Most retirees had a colleague introduce them, give a little speech about them, and then would take the stand for a few words of their own. There were stories, tears, some laughter….. probably typical of any retirement party. Then came person X. (I thought about calling her “She who shall not be named,” in a nod to Harry Potter.)

Person X went to the podium, pulled out a sheaf of papers, and proceeded to give a long list of all the grievances that she had with employees past and present. Many people in the room made her list, even though she didn’t  say many names, just job titles. It was a rude farewell address; she basically said that she was smarter than anyone else and had been treated badly because of it. Wow…..what an ego. I am a new employee this year and don’t know her well so I was quite taken aback. What a horrible way to exit.

I have to say that even though I barely know X she was in my thoughts as I drove home. I hope that I never lose perspective so completely. I could see from the faces of many people in the room that they were shocked and upset at X. Is that the lasting memory she really wanted? Did she feel victorious when done?

A wise co-worker summed it all up for me this morning. She said that on the way home after the party she also kept thinking of this person with astonishment. She said that over the many years she has known X she has sometimes had issues with her, but always kept a cordial relationship and admired X’s special talents. She said the party was like eating a handful of almonds and really enjoying it and then the last one you pop into your mouth is a bitter one. It takes away all of the pleasure you had in eating the first ones, which were so yummy. She said that X was the bitter nut. How true!

How sad to choose not to have anyone else speak about you fondly. How sad to choose to use your farewell address as a time to “get even.” I think that many people will remember her with distaste now.  Perhaps some will feel sympathetic, but I can’t quite get to that point. It was pathetic.

X, you bitter nut, good luck to you in your future endeavors. I hope that you learn that happiness comes from within, and that you can’t always blame others for your dissatisfaction. You get to choose how you face each day. Thanks for the reminder to choose a positive attitude!

Tough times never last, but tough people do.  – Robert H Schuller

Today’s post is in honor of my little sister. She found out recently that she has breast cancer. It is in the early stages, so optimism is there, but so is fear. It is hard to know the right thing to say to her, so I pour my thoughts out here on this blog. Maybe I’ll show it to her, maybe not. Is a blog a cheap form of therapy? Perhaps.

My sister is 40. She had her first (and probably only) child 18 months ago. She had her first mammogram this year. That led to a second mammogram, and then a biopsy. Today she is having an MRI to check to see if there are any other areas of concern in her body. Her husband is there by her side; he’s a good man. I am at work, but my heart and mind is with her. I am praying for her to feel calm and peaceful during this MRI. I am claustrophobic, so the thought of being in an MRI chamber for an extended period of time is truly  frightening. I know she is braver than I am.

At some point today she will find out if there are any other areas that need to be checked. Then on Wednesday she meets with her team of caregivers who will lay out a plan for her treatment. The minimum at this point: a lumpectomy and at least 7 weeks of radiation. It seems odd to be rooting for a lumpectomy and radiation, but the truth is that is the best case scenario at this point.

People say you should count your blessings, and I do. The doctors found it early….thank God for mammograms. (Public service announcement: Schedule one for yourself if you’re a woman who hasn’t done so in a while. Don’t listen to the doctors who tell you it’s OK to wait 2 years in between. Do it EVERY year.) My sister has a loving family. Our parents live close by and are semi-retired, so they can be a big help whenever she needs them to be. She has good insurance. She is feisty, so I know she will fight like crazy to regain her health.

Yet I know she must be afraid. So I will do my best to control my emotions (my sister hates it when people get maudlin). I will tell her I love her, just like I always do, and tell her I’m here if she needs me. I will make boob jokes with her, listen to her swear and complain without judging, and make her favorite foods for her whenever I get the chance. It’s the little things that really matter sometimes.

It’s that time of year again……interview season. After all of the retirees have given their notice, and some of the internal shuffling has slowed, school districts look at external applicants. This year I am staying put in my current position, and have been invited to be on the other side of the interview desk. I am helping look for the newest members of our library team. I am so excited (there is no sarcasm intended) because I like to think that I can spot a gem. Here are some words of advice from me to you, the potential new hire.

You obviously know how to draft a resume or you wouldn’t have made it through the initial screening. Your letters of recommendation are attached (glowing, of course). I have read all of these, and I have already cyber-snooped to find out about your online presence. I have a small impression of you. Now we are meeting face to face (or Skype account to Skype account). The interview team already knows the basics about you, so now is your time to show us your personality.

  1. Be friendly. Everyone likes a friendly co-worker. Look us in the eyes, shake our hands, smile. First impressions do matter. I care less about what you’re wearing than I care about your personality. I hope you like people……because your students are people, and they deserve a friendly teacher-librarian.
  2. Be honest. If you really prefer working with a certain level (i.e. middle school) it’s OK to say that. If you’re still working on your licensure, that’s not necessarily a deal breaker, just talk it through with us. Prefer to work at a certain school site or area of town? Let us know that (and why).
  3. Ask good questions that show that you have looked at information about our district. We feel a little bit flattered that you have taken the time to read about us or check out our web resources. That’s good preparation, and every teacher-librarian know how important good preparation is!
  4. Talk about (or show) samples of work that you have done with students. It doesn’t have to be high-tech, just creative & interesting. Think outside the box bit. We like fresh, new ideas; it keeps us motivated to learn more about you and how you can help us keep growing and learning as professionals.
  5. Show enthusiasm for something! Let us know about something (a hobby, one part of your job, a sport) that gets you pumped up. Positive energy makes us see your potential.
  6. Follow up with an e-mail or note that says something like, “It was so nice to meet you. I would love to work for your district because I am excited about……(refer to points 1 & 5 if needed).  I think that I could help you by…….”  Sell yourself, baby! This may be your last chance to tell us something about you that you forgot to say in the interview and will convince us to seal the deal.

Good luck with the interview process. I hope that our paths cross at some point and that you can wow me with your fabulousness! A district can never have too many fabulous teacher-librarians.

 

A positive attitude

Oh, yes, it’s that time of year. Everyone is hearing about reductions and reassignments for the 2014-15 school year. Add in the horrible winter that just won’t quit here in the Midwest and people are quite cranky. How do we keep a positive attitude and keep doing our best work? I wish I had the magical answer. Here are some things that work for me:

1. Be a little bit silly. I know a giggle (or a belly laugh) can do wonders for me. By this time of the year I certainly know who I can go to when I need to be silly and have some laugh therapy. Find ways to spend more time with the gigglers in your life. 

2. Focus on one thing at a time and do it well, then move on to the next thing. It’s almost like wearing blinders. In my case, whenever possible, I throw on my headphones and crank some tunes while I work on my computer! This keeps external distractions in cubicle world to a minimum. I dig into something and keep plugging away at it.

3. Get inspired by someone else. I follow a lot of great people on Twitter. Some of them post negative things (we all need to vent) but the vast majority share exciting news, engaging class projects, motivating articles, etc. I love to spend a few minutes reading posts from fellow educators who are working their butts off and finding joy in that.

4. Learn something new. This naturally follows item #3, because when another teacher/librarian leads me to a great resource/tool, I just naturally want to explore it. I have so many test accounts in things that I had to start a list. Yes, it can be overwhelming at times, but when you find a real gem that you know will help students or teachers, that is so exciting!

5. Share your positive energy with someone else. E-mail, Facebook, Google+, Twitter…..whatever your tool of choice is, spread the word. Say something nice to someone, or share something that you know they will love. It may or may not be work related; just spread a little joy.

6. Get a really good night’s sleep. Yes, my mother was right, this really does make everything seem a little less bleak.

One of my favorite tips from the book The Happiness Project is to act the way you want to feel. When you act happy and do things like smile at others, greet them cheerfully, give them a compliment, etc. it really does start to make you feel happy. 

A little vitamin D supplement or a glass of wine after work doesn’t hurt either 😉

Peace & love, people. May your day be full of happy moments.

 

My son is struggling a bit in his freshman English class. He has never been a huge fan of reading (a fact that is horrifying to his librarian mother…..maybe that’s why he always says it). Now he’s being required to read longer, more complex texts and analyze them in essay form. This is challenging to him. In addition, there is a student teacher in his classroom. I thought this might be helpful; you know, the young, cool teacher brings out the best in the young students. Wrong. This student teacher is stuck in the era where technology was not integrated into the classroom. He doesn’t use the projector in his room. Shared Google docs seem like they’re foreign to him. I set up a meeting to discuss my son’s progress. The student teacher looked at me like I was crazy when I suggested that, as a parent, it would help me to support my child (read that as: nag on him as needed) if he would post the major due dates for projects, tests, etc. on the calendar in Skyward. He said he didn’t know how to use the calendar feature! I looked to the regular classroom teacher, but he also said he had never used it. Yikes! Then I asked him to electronically share a rubric for an upcoming project so that we could see what the expectations are. Once again, blank stare. He said that he always writes that stuff down on the whiteboard in class. He offered to write it on the board for me so that I could copy it down. Really.

I feel so excited when I think of the technology available to students and staff today. The things I mentioned are actually really SIMPLE technology. I didn’t ask the teacher to create his own website for the class (although that’s a simple task with today’s tools)……..just communicate more effectively and efficiently. This would really benefit everyone in the end. I work in a different district than the one where my son attends school, so I’m not sure I have any pull (OK, I have none), but it is exasperating to me that my son is receiving basically the same kind of English class I received as a student. Except 30 years have passed, people!! I think there is still value in reading the classics and learning to look more deeply at them, I just think that there are much more compelling tools at our disposal these days. Is is too much to ask that teachers be expected to use them?

Here are some of my thoughts about changing this:

Schools for teacher training should make sure that the staff they choose to mentor student teachers are effective users of technology. I really think this is imperative to changing the culture in our schools!

Let’s go one step further…..schools for teacher training should be heavily emphasizing the need for using technology creatively in ANY classroom. Technology should never be used just for the sake of novelty, but in ways that modernize and improve upon educational tasks. How can technology help a teacher? How can technology help students? How can technology improve home/school communication? These should be common themes.

Principals should make sure that part of a teacher’s evaluation is whether they are using technology to enhance education in their classroom.

What other ideas do you have on the topic? I know I’ve only brushed the surface.