Thoughts from a teacher-librarian

A self-imposed tech break

We recently had a two week break from school and I decided to use that time to unhook a little bit from the tech world. I haven’t done this for an entire two week period EVER. Well OK, at least not since I have become so tech-immersed. Hey, what year was that, anyway? Sometimes I will go for a weekend without checking in, but never two weeks. Frankly, there is rarely a day that goes by without checking email (personal and work), Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+…..you get the idea. I know I am not always keeping up with what’s new and I feel compelled to log in and read things every time I have a few minutes. I am certain that I am not alone in this.

So how did it go? Overall I did well. I still checked e-mail a couple of times each day, but I didn’t spend much time on it. I think that I would have been very overwhelmed by the backlog if I hadn’t kept up with this. I looked at Facebook, but I rarely post on there any more and it seems like many others don’t, either. The people who post approximately ten funny/pithy/angry pictures a day won’t miss me since I rarely ever comment on their posts, so this might be something I can cut back on permanently. Eureka! Ten minutes a day gained. When it comes to Instagram, the only real reason I check it is to see my 15 year old son’s posts, since I don’t really post things myself. I could really limit my stalking of him to once or twice a week! What did I miss the most? You know and love it……TWITTER!!

For the first few days I felt a bit anxious that I wasn’t checking my Twitter feed. There had to be tons of good ideas being shared & I was missing them all! Once the first few days went by it became easier to ignore the call of Twitter. It was probably good for me to disconnect for a bit and really relax my mind. I found I was able to finish a few books, which I haven’t done often enough lately. It was nice to discover that I still do have an attention span that is longer than 144 characters. I know I missed lots of sharing, but I guess I’m OK with that. There are always new ideas to be had and I can’t possibly keep up with all of them. It’s good enough to check in with Twitter on a regular basis, but there is no official quota necessary. Keeping up with new ideas is what keeps teaching interesting and challenging and I certainly don’t want to give that up completely. Twitter is awesome because of the sheer number of ideas being shared and because it’s so quick and easy to skim and save a few gems. I love sharing the new ideas I’ve learned.

One unexpected consequence of me giving up technology for two weeks was the fact that I really noticed when those around me were in addict mode. A couple of my friends may need some intervention. One of them was playing games on her phone the whole time we were trying to have dinner together. She’s 65….so I guess tech addiction knows no age restrictions!  

In my own household, my husband, son and I had a good conversation about the tech rules in our house and decided we liked them. We have a lot of technology in our home: 1 Mac, 1 Chromebook, 1 PC laptop, 1 iPad, 1 iPad mini, 3 iPhones, 2 Kindles….yikes! It sounds really bad when you actually list it all out. One major rule is that we don’t bring any of this to the dinner table. We use that small amount of time to talk and connect with each other. Also, my son and I turn off technology use after 9pm so that we can wind down before bedtime. He’s a teenager, so it’s a struggle to detach from his friends and social media, but he agrees that the 9pm rule gives him an excuse to pull away. He says it’s good for him to have a snack and chat with us for a while before he heads upstairs to get ready for sleep. We seem to have our best conversations after 9pm; we snuggle the dogs, sometimes watch a taped show like “Modern Family” & laugh and talk together. 

I may not take a two week break very often, but I will most definitely remember the value of unplugging. I hope to reduce my screen time each week. I’ll maximize my time at work and unplug a little earlier each evening. It’s all about balance.

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This has often been a quandary for teachers. I’ve seen it firsthand over my many years of teaching. Heck, if I’m honest (which I like to think I am), sometimes I’m even the one who isn’t acting like a professional. I can get pretty goofy at times. A giggle or silly comment and I’ve distracted others from the speaker or the task at hand. Teachers can make the worst audience members; we talk a lot and don’t always listen well. We can be quite critical of others who are trying to teach us something new. We argue that we need time to learn new things so that we can keep up with what is expected of us, but then we sometimes piddle away the time we are given. Whose problem is it? I guess there are several issues here:

1. Teachers do need to make their own learning a priority. Show up on time for PD offered to you by your school. Do your best to pay attention & not distract others. Thank those who took the time to prepare lessons/information for you. Read more about a topic if you feel that you still need to learn more. Try to implement something that you’ve learned.

2. If the PD isn’t especially meaningful or helpful to you, take the time to complete the survey or give feedback when asked. Say it politely, but SAY IT. Districts can’t make improvements if we just sit there stonily when they ask our opinion.

3. Get involved in committees that plan and prepare the PD.

4. Take ownership of some of your own PD. Take classes that challenge you to learn something new. Try a new technology. Read some blogs. Join Twitter and start following some interesting people and read their posts. This is truly the only way you can personalize the PD you get.

I was just involved with a team that was planning one PD session and it did not go well. We had a large cross-section of K-5 educators in the room. The webinar had poor audio quality, some attendees were streaming in up to 30 minutes late, and the presenter was showing very basic things such as how to create a teacher account. I take part of the blame for the fact that the PD was weak. I sat back a little and let others make some decisions that I wasn’t in total agreement with. In hindsight, I think that I should have covered the basics with people prior to the webinar. An e-mail with directions for creating an account could have been sent out ahead of time, with the expectation that this chore be done ahead of time. Then everyone could have been logged in and using the tool right away during our PD time. I also could have conversed more with the presenter ahead of time to make sure that the presentation was tailored more to our needs & was more inspirational and idea-packed. The whole PD session was only 75 minutes, but it was a wasted opportunity. In February we get another chance to work with this same group of educators and we had better make it count. Our PD team has some work to do! Yes, we should expect teachers to show up, be prepared, be a polite audience and participate. In return, we need to make the session worthwhile and motivating. Both groups (attendees and presenters) need to bring professionalism to the room and work together to keep learning & growing.

After two years of being stretched way too thin and feeling stressed about being in front of a computer screen more than I’m in front of kids, I have finally made a job change. My old district was not going to change my job situation and I was feeling trapped. I got my resume together in the Spring and applied for a library media specialist position in a new school district and I got it! I originally intended to be at a single school site, but was offered a district level position. I guess with my diverse experience it’s hard to go back in time & just be in one school all day. In the Fall I’ll be commuting and working in a K-12 support position. I am so excited about a fresh start!! This district still has full-time LMS at most school sites, and I will be working with all of them in one way or another. It feels so good to have the next 8 weeks of summer stretching out before me and anticipation of a new job with new challenges ahead. I have time to relax and then start preparing for my new job site. Relax, refresh then start the year with renewed vigor for a job I love. Cheers to that!!

September state of mind

Wow!  September has been a whirlwind of activity.  I suppose that’s how all teachers feel.  Some highlights:

1.  The high school library is being remodeled, which is exciting & definitely something to look forward to.  The space was sadly outdated.  Hopefully it will be a beautiful, clean, creative space for students.  May is hum with activity in the near future.

2.  The local bookstore has again generously offered some author visits for our schools.  So far on the docket:  James Dashner will be visiting one of our elementary sites next week, and Heather Brewer will be visiting our high school in October.  We are so lucky to have a partnership with Books & Co. that helps us promote reading.

3.  My new schedule is proving to be a bit more manageable.  I still have 3 sites, but just changing up some of the days made a slight improvement to the craziness that is my job.

4.  My husband and I have been getting out and walking together after school a couple of times a week.  Now that he works from home & has a more flexible schedule, this is possible.  It’s good exercise and also therapeutic to talk about our days without interruptions from our 13 year old, our dogs, our phones, etc.

Some lowlights:

1.  Still at 3 schools…..still feel a bit like a gerbil on a wheel.  

2.  High school library is set up in a temporary space for now, with no end in sight.  Waiting is hard!  Also, not being able to provide enough computer space & work space for students is frustrating.  

I am trying to focus on the positives in my life, so that’s enough of the lowlights 🙂

Here’s to a productive year!  I’m off to finish an awesome book that I am almost done with, then log it on Goodreads.  Ahhh, reading…..the common denominator in all phases of my life.  It brings me comfort and joy.  

I was lucky enough to be able to spend most of July out of the school buildings. I really needed a mental break after a pretty grueling year of adjusting to a new schedule which included 3 schools. This left me feeling very disconnected from each building, as I missed many things that happened each week. I can tell that July has been good for recharging my batteries; this week thoughts of “What can I do to make this year better for me, and also provide better services to the students?” started creeping into my thoughts. I will be juggling 3 buildings again….that’s a non-negotiable. What is in my power to change? That’s what I have to focus on. So far, I have changed the days of the week for two of my sites, which will help a little bit. I also need to make a mental switch to view the high school as my home site (rather than the intermediate site where I used to be full-time). I will now attend all of the high school’s faculty meetings, which ought to help. I am usually a positive person so I need to try and keep my attitude positive. It’s a work in progress, but here are some of my thoughts:

1. I need to gear up for the Kindle pilot I will be helping to implement this year in all K-4 & 5-8 schools. 10 Kindles at each site will not be life altering, but it’s a start! We can do some really cool things with kids & books. Many kids will have a chance to be exposed to e-readers this way. I will spend some time online in the next week looking for ideas for use with small groups. I will also finalize the order with Amazon & get those devices and cases on their way to our district!

2. In August, I will re-read parts of the book THE HAPPINESS PROJECT, which for me is very helpful in reminding me of things I can do to adjust my surroundings and therefore improve my mental state.

3. I will take my district AA out to lunch & chat about some non-school things. She works her tail off all year long. I want to spend some quality time with her and let her know how much she is appreciated.

4. I will be helping interview for one of the district’s new library media specialist. I need to use some of the between interview times to promote library services to our C & I director and the principal who will be involved. I also need to help select a go-getter to join our team. We have several very young, new people. They have enthusiasm, but still lack practical experience. In an ideal scenario I could help find an experienced person for this position. That would be helpful for our team, but also for the single site he/she will service.

5. I will continue plowing through some of the new library books that I have carried home to read. This way I can recommend some new titles to the students right away in the Fall. I will also log reviews in Goodreads since that was a goal from last year that I have found helpful.

6. I will continue to post on this blog periodically. It is so good for me to model online writing to students and teachers. Communicating to others in the world is one way technology makes learning much more exciting & meaningful!

I’m sure I’ll think of more items for my list as the days go by. For now, it’s time to turn off the mental checklist & get some rest. Like any teacher who loves their job (which most of us do) I start to get a little revved up when the calendar is turning to August. A fresh start is such an awesome opportunity.

This week I am attending a Google Education Summit along with several other educators from my school district.  It has been exhilarating at times, but also exhausting.  Being a student for most of the day is always a good reality check.  It reminds you how hard it is to sit quietly in a chair for long periods of time, and it especially reminds you how hard it is to pay attention!!  Teachers can be such a bad audience at times (I am no exception).  Since most of us received a brand new Google ChromeBook with our registration to this summit, we are all using them; sometimes we’re even using them for the purpose the presenter wants us to!  Right now I am listening to a presentation on wikis, so of course I’m typing on my blog.  Someone else is checking Twitter, another is reading e-mail, looks like someone else is working on some prep work for the Fall.  This is probably the fear of teachers everywhere…..if you allow students to be hooked up to technology (cell phones, laptops, tablets, etc.) during class, will they be tuned in to the instructor?  Honest answer: probably not all of the time.  This reinforces the notion that classrooms need to change.  The lecture model has some merit, but is way overused at all ages.  Most software is very self-explanatory after some exploration, so demos should be minimal.  “Sandbox” time should be part of any class that is teaching technology.  Let the students play with the software and they’ll figure things out and help each other.  Give them a purpose, such as creation of something, and let them go.  I know this wouldn’t work for every grade level and/or discipline, but it’s worth a try!  I’ll have to ponder what worked really well at this summit and try to incorporate some of that into our district’s tech boot camp that we’re hosting in August for some of our staff.  

The discomfort of home

It’s amazing how one little change in your surroundings can throw you off.  My house itself is not changing at all; it still has my husband and son, my two energetic dogs, all my possessions.  It looks exactly the same, yet suddenly it feels different.  My neighbors are what’s changing.  After six years of being next door neighbors they are moving on due to a job change.  I feel a little bit sick.  I have seen their oldest grow up from a baby to a first grader.  Elle is so smart and such a perfectionist.  I have seen their second daughter, our godchild, growing up into an energetic, talkative three year old.  Adi is feisty, but so joyful and loving.  Being an only child, my son has totally bonded with their little girls; he is like a cousin to them.  Despite the age difference (he is 13) they play together in the yard regularly.  The for sale sign in the yard is a daily reminder of the looming move.  Part of home has come to mean living next door to them.  Our dogs play together, we have impromptu potluck meals on lazy days at home & swim together in our pool. We are like old time neighbors who actually do lend each other a cup of sugar when cooking.  We stand in our side yards talking way too long about not much at all.  We provide each other with therapy after family gatherings!  Friends are the family you choose, and part of my family is leaving home.