Thursday, August 14, 2014

An icy way to end a summer day

Eighteen years ago, I lost my mother to ALS in the month of June.

So how could I pass up the ice bucket challenge issued by friends who, unfortunately, have felt the same sting of loss from this disastrous disease?

Add one more thing to the list of this librarian's summer activities:

And if you are so inclined--douse, donate, or both.  Let's find a cure for ALS.




Sunday, August 10, 2014

What I learned during my summer vacation: Professional edition

Wordle: CMM Summer Learning 2014  Yes, I went to six and a half days of professional development this summer.  Only two days are required by our district, but I am a glutton when it comes to learning.  

Here are my take-aways from the five full-day and three half-day courses I attended:

  • Gifted/ Talented Training, Module 1--There is no definitive description of a TAG student, as their traits and giftedness are varied.  They are likely to learn quickly and independently (but can have a dual exceptionality and qualify for remedial services).  Some TAG students are great at persevering, while others cringe at challenges they can't accomplish perfectly on the first try.  They may have high moral thinking, but poor social skills.  What sets them apart is their overall ease of learning and out-of-the-box thinking when it comes to standard school work.
  • Gifted/ Talented Training, Module 2--Identification of gifted students varies from student to student and school to school.  There must be qualitative and quantitative data to support the identification, and a minimum of three instruments should be considered.  Students qualify when their academic needs cannot be met within the general curriculum and classroom (much like special education services).  Identification should involve more than just cutoff scores on assessments and teachers' perceptions.  We also need to be sure to screen the whole student population, not just those referred, because many gifted students may be overlooked otherwise.  We got to review the assessments used by our district, which was fun!
  • Picture Perfect Science, K-2--This training was based on the professional resources Picture Perfect Science Lessons by Karen Ansberry and Emily Morgan. Each lesson is paired with picture books, using fiction and nonfiction titles.  The materials include the stem questions to ask while reading the books aloud to the class.  The presenters led us through some of the lessons, modeling how the book is used and guiding us through the hands-on labs.  We got to spend the last part of the day reviewing our district's curriculum to see when and where these materials were recommended for use. One of my campus' kindergarten teachers was there, and we were able to look up which books were to be used, see if we already had them in our library, and if not, I added them to my fall shopping list.  I also came up with the bright idea to record myself reading the books along with the stem questions, so that our large teams could use the recordings when books were in short supply!
  • Picture Perfect Science, 3-5--This training was similar to the K-2 presentation, but with higher level experiments and books.  I have to admit that it was fun doing hands-on labs again, especially ones that involved mud!
  • Campus Leadership Retreat--What a difference a year makes!  Last year, I attended the retreat as a complete newbie, and felt so out of the loop.  This year, it was a reunion with the colleagues who helped and encouraged me through my first year as a librarian.  I was able to meet my new instructional tech support person, and can tell already that she will help us continue to have fun while we learn in the library.  We also jigsaw-read The Energy Bus by Jon Gordon.  I was really motivated by the book when I read it last year, and I'm glad I got to revisit it with my colleagues.  I'm also happy to know that our new(ish) superintendent wants to continue focus on the "whole child" when we consider our curriculum, culture, and climate.
  • Creative Commons training--I've used Creative Commons to find images for my own projects.  This class gave me sources to use for teaching CC to my teachers and students--not only as consumers, but as producers of material.  We got to play with several creative applications like Movenote, WeVideo, and PicMonkey.  Lots of useful info to use in the upcoming school year!
  • Interactive Read-aloud--This was a nice piggyback to the Picture Perfect Science training, since it utilizes the same method to teach key concepts through read-alouds. Pre-reading books and priming with questions written on sticky notes throughout the text allow us to squeeze teachable moments out of minimal time.  It was also emphasized, though, that sometimes we just need to read aloud for the sake of hearing the story, not over-analyzing the text.  Poetry was suggested for use, and I was happy to see the presenters refer to The Poetry Friday Anthology as a resource; we have a copy on every team at my school.
  • Screencasting--Another fun tech class!  I didn't know we had a YouTube account connected to our school Gmail--and that we could upload video directly to it.  The ITS (instructional tech support) folks presenting the lesson showed us four different platforms we could use to create digital lessons with video and screenshots/ slides:  Educreations, Screencast-O-Matic, Screencastify, and Movenote.  There were several librarians there, and we talked about the different ways we could use screencasting--orientation videos, booktalks, learning stations...oh, the possibilities!  Now if I could just get comfortable recording myself on video...
I learned a lot in the classes I took, and hope to apply at least one thing from each class in my library teaching and program management this year.  Always grateful for the learning opportunities afforded by our district!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The introverted librarian

Quick test to tell if you're more of an introvert or extrovert:

When you leave a large gathering of people (party, lecture, crowded store, concert) do you feel energized and ready for more, or drained and in need of quiet?

When you lack energy, do you seek out social stimulation, or prefer solitude to re-energize?

You've probably guessed that those who seek and gain energy from social stimulation tend to be extroverts, while those who feel drained and need solitude tend to be introverted.  I am definitely in the latter category.

This seems to surprise people, especially those I encounter in my workplace.  I can understand their confusion.  At work, I am talkative and engage others in conversation. I prefer to be out "on the floor" than tucked away in my office when classes are visiting, and make it a point to greet those who stop by for materials or even just to chat.  It's my duty as the librarian to make my learning community feel welcome in the space, and to be in tune with their preferences and needs; this is best accomplished by being present during their visits.  I am "on" pretty much the entire workday, and then some.  And I'm not faking it; I really do enjoy my job!

But when I come home...whoosh!  All that interaction takes its toll, and I'm like a deflated beach ball.  I'm ready for my usually quiet home environment, where I can take a power nap, collect my thoughts, and settle in for the evening.  In the mornings, I wake up especially early just so my day is started in silence, gathering up my quiet energy to serve my patrons. 

At first, I was worried about how tired I was at the end of the day. But then I realized that I was happy and tired.  I imagine it's similar to the way runners feel when they complete a marathon; you've given it all you've got, and you're proud of the accomplishment.  Most days, I've given the library all I've got.

Just don't ask me to Zumba with you after school.  A nice walk alone, or a chat with a neighbor or two, will suit me just fine.

And if you're up for a really good read on what introverts can bring to our typically noisy society, check out Susan Cain's book.  You might just find out you're a bit of an introvert, too!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Social stories
Raise your hand, those of you who have summers "off" and spend a lot of your free time on social media.  I'm waving my hand high in the air, right along with you.

As is often the case, my morning walk spurred some thoughts, and this morning's walk in the rain got me thinking about my summertime Facebook hobby.  (Let's call it a hobby; addiction seems too strong a word for a seasonal pursuit!)  I read a lot on Facebook--my friends' updates from around the world, book reviews from my summer reading book groups, news reports, professional learning articles, funny memes.  Politics, literature, education, arts, and entertainment all contained within my daily newsfeed.

And all of these are stories.  Stories about trials, tribulations, and triumph.  Stories about the mundane routines of daily living, and the struggle to make sense of our rapidly expanding sense of global culture.  Stories about the wonders and exhaustion of parenting, the letting go of relationships and the burying of loved ones.  

These stories encapsulated in posts and comments are great seeds for writing!  Just last night, a friend who was posting in the wee hours of this morning (figure that one out, young student readers!) was lamenting over his insomnia and asking for lullabies.  The ensuing comments and links were heartfelt, hilarious, and historical, as commentators went from sleep suggestions to stories of their connections with the friend.  As I walked this morning, I thought about that thread, and what fun it would be to write a story about someone who couldn't sleep, asked for advice from his friends far and near, and then tried out their suggestions.  It would be a great interactive story for an e-reader, with links to recordings of lullabies and read-alouds, just as they were presented in the Facebook thread.

In special education, social stories are used to help students picture themselves in social situations so they can navigate them in an appropriate manner.  With story seeds from social media, we can give students yet another source of inspiration for their writing, one with which they literally connect.

Go ahead; check your Facebook feed.  Only now look at it with a writer's eye.  What stories are playing out on your screen today?  

Friday, July 11, 2014

Creativity, book choice, and makerspaces

If you are involved in educating children in any capacity--as a teacher, administrator, librarian, parent, grandparent, nanny--and you have 20 minutes, grab a cup of coffee and watch the following TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson.  I promise he'll make you laugh--and think.  I'll share my thoughts on it below.

I've been in the education biz long enough to see the pendulum of pedagogy swing from one end to the other and back again.  

Whole language to phonics, back to whole language, back to picking apart text.

Math facts to math problem solving, back to math facts.    

Whole child to standardized test score expectations, back to....well, maybe it's starting to swing back.  Pushback against standardized testing and rigid curriculum is making the news.  There's been a few articles in my Facebook feed lately about creativity and the importance of play. An article from 2011 popped up just this morning, citing information from studies at MIT and  UC-Berkeley that seem to show that direct teaching can inhibit student exploration and problem-solving, while allowing children to explore learning situations on their own terms can often lead to creative solutions.

I've just begun reading a book on the subject called Play:  How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul   by Stuart Brown and Christopher Vaughan. I'm only one chapter in, and the author has already cited evidence that engineers "who had played with their hands were adept at the kinds of problem solving that management sought.  Those who hadn't, generally were not." (p.11).  

Play was originally published in 2009. The TED Talk above?  2006.  And while I see evidence in my surrounding schools of creativity and exploration making their way back into the classroom, I am bombarded with news reports regarding bubble-in assessments and lock-step curriculum.  Why?

And what does this have to do with book choice?  Everything, because books can be a great catalyst for creative thinking.  Books allow children to experience other lives both real and fantastic.  They allow them to explore alternate ways to problem-solve through realistic fiction, and travel through time to make connections between past and present.  Books can provide the data they need to solve problems on their own terms.  Choosing the books that speak to them helps them hone their identity by revealing what feels true to them, and discarding what doesn't through informed decision-making.  

A colleague and I were just discussing the trend of makerspaces in the library. This is evidence that librarians, the very definition of book-pushers, are aware that we need to provide opportunities to respond to learning in creative ways, to take those ideas and information from the texts we hawk to communal creation and sharing.  

The best part of all of these studies and trends?  It's F-U-N.  We shouldn't have to feel guilty about having fun in our schools and libraries.  As the evidence is bearing out, play may be just the ticket for solving our biggest problems.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Those crazy, futuristic sci-fi writers

Summertime, and the thinking is easy...

Seriously, I'm pretty sure I think deeper thoughts in the summertime, unlike the school year when my mind is full of details like filling out book orders, engaging 40 classes a week, planning lessons, washing band shorts, and making lunches for the week.

Summertime also brings a renewed effort at improving my health.  Long walks in our peaceful, birds chirping-lawnmowers running-kids playing-dog walking neighborhood give me ample opportunity to think.

And there's been a lot to think about lately, with the latest news on the Middle East, SCOTUS rulings, daily updates on the state of education in the U.S., questions about our Bill of Rights, and all kinds of op-eds, blogs, and memes highlighting our differences and how we can't get along because of them.
Photo courtesy of swamp dragon on Flickr

Which is why, naturally, my thoughts turned to The Face of Boe (don't question the randomness, not sure where it came from) which in turn led me to think about those science fiction shows and writers featuring body-less aliens.  You know, the ones that have evolved to just brains, living and communicating and transporting themselves on brainpower alone.   Do you think the writers were dreaming of a world where we are able to function through reasoning, where messy details like gender, skin color, and basic needs like food and water didn't become platforms for politics and wars?

Science fiction is known for couching messages for social change within the fantastic, surreal stories of the present on altered worlds, or our future on this one.  My favorite TV example is the famous kiss between Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura of the original "Star Trek" series, aired in 1968 when interracial relationships were just barely accepted in the eyes of the law, much less in popular culture.  

I encountered yet another example of strong social and political messages when reading The Forgotten Door (Key, 1965) with my fifth graders this year (anti-war, anti-racism) and my re-reading of A Wrinkle in Time (L'Engle, 1962), which isn't technically sci-fi but does lean toward it.  L'Engle includes messages about valuing the lessons from several different religions as well as the uniqueness of individuals and the importance of choosing our own life paths.  Both books were right in line with the civil rights and social movements of their time.

The futures both books speak to must be post-2014...because fifty years later, we're not quite there yet.  Not that I want to be a floating brain, either...after all, how would one enjoy a salted caramel milkshake without a mouth?  

Monday, June 30, 2014

Why do we read?

Russell Lee [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
My Facebook feed includes a lot of professional pages, so I get to mix business with pleasure each morning with my coffee (there go those blurred lines).  This morning's feed included an article from The Horn Book, one of my favorite book-related websites.  The post was from a guest author on the use of extrinsic rewards to motivate students to read.

You can read Nicole Hewes' post here.  The summarizing paragraph, if you just want the gist of it, follows:

I am convinced that we must rescue our students from contests of these sorts. If we don’t, we may end up with students who refuse to read a book without the promise of getting something. Surely there must be better ways to engage community partners in joining us on our journey to create lifelong readers who are intrinsically motivated to explore the wonderful world of books without resorting to contests that leave students reflecting that they read but “got nothing.”--Nicole Hewes

Her post echoes a discussion I had with teachers this past school year regarding how we approach reading. One teacher in particular bemoaned the fact that we don't have AR in our school, because she really liked using it in her previous placement. I tried to explain that while AR in and of itself isn't necessarily "bad", and does get some students to read more in the short term, it does not necessarily get kids hooked on reading--and isn't that what we ultimately want?
Photo by Vestergaard Frandsen

We had a lower number of students participate in a local reading program offered by an amusement park this year. Didn't bother me a bit, because I was hearing stories from teachers about how including more book choices for their students in the classroom had everyone excited about reading again. Excited about reading and sharing books.

I've always been a firm believer in answering students' questions of "Why do we have to learn/do/practice this?" with a real-life answer (because if you can't offer one, then really, why ARE you teaching it?). My teaching years outside of the library were spent in special education resource rooms. The majority of my students struggled with reading, so if any kids had reason to hate books, they did. Here are the reasons I gave them for learning how to read, and to keep on reading:

  • It helps you navigate the world around you.  We read street signs, job applications, driver's license tests to reinforce this.  Yes, I did this with third and fourth graders!
  • Love notes.  How else are you going to understand that text message from that cute boy/girl?  (Elicited an "ewww" from some students....usually accompanied by a smile.)
  • Learning.  There is a LOT of cool stuff out there to explore through books.  Help with performing the perfect ollie on a skateboard (or at least knowing how to read the search entry for it on Google).  How far rattlesnakes can jump (important here in Texas).  
  • Escape and fun.  Where else can a boy talk with a ghost from a mine explosion?  Who knew popular children's figures' stories could be rewritten as adventures?  That a princess could choose her own path?  That illustrations can lend so much to a book about a kitten and the moon?
And the reason that seemed to make the most sense to them:
  • Because Ms. Margocs loves to read, and will read with you, to you, and beside you to prove it.  
Once I started putting that "walk to my talk" (thank you, Donalyn Miller), I saw the spark light up in my students' faces.  I had never seen such a lasting spark result from a sticker, a tick mark, or the promise of a trip to an amusement park.  

Yes, I will support reading programs that my school, district, and learning community want me to promote.  They can be fun, and motivating, and be a gateway for some who might otherwise not want to enter the readers' den.  But I will also continue to promote reading as a lifelong pleasure and skill--not just a means to a short-term reward.  Feeling good about reading should last longer than a ride on a roller-coaster. 

By Halonen, Pekka (1865 - 1933) (Finnish) (Details of artist on Google Art Project) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Oops! I did it again...

Yes, this pile really does exist in my house.  Right now.
Right now, I'm picturing one of my alter egos, the one who is organized and tidy and does things the way they should be done.  She is standing in front of me, leaning ever so slightly forward, index finger waving back and forth in the air, saying, "Tsk, tsk, tsk."

Do you see this stack of books to the right?  Lots of good books there, cool titles, great reads.  Kid books and grown up books.  Fantasy, mystery, history, memoir, nonfiction, self-help.  All with one thing in common.

I've started them all, and haven't finished a single one of them...yet.  And I can't exactly tell you why.  The bookmarks on the top two books are less than sixty pages from the end.  I'm only a few pages or chapters into most of these.  I've gotten half-way through Outliers, but it's been awhile since I put it down, so I'll probably have to scan what I read before just to catch up.

I'm a notorious book-jumper.  I wrote about it briefly in my post "Confessions of a slow scanner".  If a book hasn't completely sucked me in (or if I don't have the time to slip into a book coma), I am prone to pick up another one that looks interesting.  I could probably add a lot more to this pile, since I tend to start reading books when I purchase them, despite what's already in-process at home.  I blame Amazon; they make it way too easy for that to happen.  I thought those deliveries would slow down once I became a bonafide librarian, but noooooo.  My living room, and several flat surfaces around the house, are starting to resemble those musty old bookstores, with piles of books stacked willy-nilly, gathering dust, waiting to be rescued and read.

Can't you just smell the intoxicating musty dustiness of old paper?
(This isn't really my living room...yet.)
Why am I posting this, you may ask?  Because this, too, is what reading can be.  Reading can be hard; it can be boring.  Sometimes, there IS other stuff that's more interesting to do than reading.  Really.  And it's okay to go ahead and do that stuff!  The great thing about books is that they will still be there waiting for you to get back to them.  (That's also why bookmarks are great, too!)  So I'm going to listen to my alter ego this week and finish a few of them...well, I have to finish The Book of Flying super fast, otherwise I'll have real-life librarian at the public library tsk-tsking at me.  It's due Wednesday.

And since I stole a line from Brittany to title this blog, here's a musical blast from the past.

Monday, June 23, 2014

One week into summer break

At the last school assembly of the year, I performed a short skit on what I do as a librarian during summer break.  Using props, I talked about sleeping, exercising, listening to music, cooking, swimming, and of course, reading.

So if any members of my learning community are reading this, here's what I've accomplished since the students left the building:

  • Exercised for ten straight days, and participated in a 5K
  • Turned up the tunes on the home stereo on several occasions, and practiced my singing with the car radio
  • Soaked in the pool half a dozen times
  • Slept at least six hours EVERY night!  Whoohoo!
  • Planned meal menus through August, cooked and baked a few times
  • Planned our family vacation and my daughter's September birthday event
  • Attempted to clean my desk and will be a summer-long project
  • Reading!  I've read four Bluebonnet books, and I'm working on the fifth one.  I've also read two books from my grown-up reading list, working on the third, and I'm dabbling in some professional reading at the same time.  
I gave myself a week "off" without worrying too much about library-related tasks and major home projects, but as of today, I'm hitting the to-do list with a bit more focus and effort.  The picture is a small start--finally got around to framing a tea towel from the Bodleian Library to display at school.

Reports on books to follow soon...after I tackle the remaining piles on my desk, in my bedroom, on the coffee table....

Monday, June 16, 2014

A difference of Wordles

This was from February 2013, made from my blog posts:Wordle: More Books Than Time
And this is the current Wordle from my blog posts:
What a difference a year makes!  

Friday, June 13, 2014

I am a librarian. I AM a librarian. I am a LIBRARIAN!

Yesterday, I finished barcoding what seemed to be a kajillion cameras and headphones, covered a couple more books, and completely cleared off the top of my desk.  Emails were exchanged, last-minute staff checkouts were made, papers filed.

Then I turned off the last two plugged-in computers, locked all the doors inside the library, turned off the lights, and locked the outside door behind me.

My first year as a librarian is "in the can", as movie makers say.  It is also the end of my twenty-first year in the education biz.  I've worn many hats during that time, but I don't think any have fit me so well as this librarian's chapeau.

Several times over the course of the year, I've turned to my library assistant and asked, "I did work today, right?"  To which she adamantly replied, "Yes, you've been running all day!  Let me reintroduce you to your chair!"  I think this quote best fits what I've finally found:

"A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both."

-Francois Auguste Rene Chateaubriand (1800′s French Writer & Diplomat)  

Here's to finding work that seems like play.  Right now, I'm thinking I'll retire as a a couple of decades.  Happy summer, friends!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Getting into the groove

The school was eerily quieter today, minus the sounds of even the teachers.  They finished their work calendars yesterday, unlike the skeleton support crew of office and library and custodial employees who get paid the big bucks to come in earlier and stay later on the calendar.

My tech support roommate deserted me midday for a meeting, so I was left to my own devices for lunch and beyond.  One of our wonderful paraprofessionals, filling in the last few hours of her obligations, came in to help cover the remaining computers with trash bags and pick up the professional books left after the last staff meeting.  We chatted a bit as I ate my to-go lunch and searched for data to include on a mandatory report, and then she left to go clock out.

It's the duties of these days, the ones before and after school, that really define the library as a program.  Taking inventory of the collection; writing reports on library usage, collaborative efforts, supporting lessons.  Tabulating funds and turning them in; placing orders for magazines and budgeting donations.  Talking about survey results, changes to be made, projects to get done, planning to meet the needs of the learning community of students, teachers, and parents.  Worrying about how to fit all those needs into this one space and limited time.

The library is a classroom, but it is so much more.  And I've only just begun to learn to manage it all.  In one of my professional development classes, it was said that it takes a librarian three years to really settle into the groove of a library program.  I'm enjoying the dance, and look forward to many more years to "get my boogie down" among the stacks!

Friday, May 30, 2014

It takes a village to grow a librarian

It's the last day of school with students, and I'm two weeks away from (officially) ending my first year as a librarian.  We've been in such a rush in the library these last two weeks, trying to finish up student-related tasks and inventory, that I haven't had much time to be reflective.  But today being what it is, I want to slow down, really look at the students and families today, truly be present at the fifth grade graduation ceremony and for those hugs I've been getting in the hallways, soak in the details.

This is what's come to mind this morning, as I sip my coffee and prepare for the day:

  • I am incredibly grateful for the acceptance and support I've been shown by staff, students, and families at this new campus and new job.  It's not always easy for a learning community to adapt to a new program director, much less one with no prior experience.  They have lifted me up and carried me through this school year--thank you, learning community at Sommer!
  • I have been blessed by not one, but two fabulous library assistants this year.  Heather was my experienced, knowledgeable, patient assistant for the first semester, just the type a newbie librarian hopes to have.  Melinda is a lightning-quick learner, organizer extraordinaire, and full of great new ideas to make the program run more smoothly.  Both of them are such "people" people, that watching them interact with folks reminds me to get out of my head (as this Piscean is wont to do) and connect with our visitors and volunteers.  Thank you, ladies!
  • The librarians in our district are fortunate enough to meet with their level colleagues once a month, and are in constant contact via email.  It is truly like having a "collective brain" at my disposal, and they have never failed me when I am confused about a process or have questions about programming.  Sharing successes and failures benefits all of us, makes us better program directors, and has helped me grow by leaps and bounds.  Thank you, fellow librarians (yes, that includes Carlyn and Diane, too) of RRISD!
  • I am also in contact with librarians in our neighboring district and my professors from my MLS program, who supply me with ideas, book recommendations, and a lot of support when I've been exhausted and worried about fulfilling my duties.  Thank you, librarian friends and esteemed professors!
  • My friends in- and outside the circles of education, and most importantly, my family, have been nothing but positive about this career change of mine.  I'm sure my children think I live on the couch at home, since many nights that's where I'd end up, brain-numb from the beehive of activity in the library that day.  Thank you for putting up with my ramblings, rantings, and exhaustion this year, friends and family!
See, it does take a village to grow a librarian...I hope I helped the village grow a little bit too, this school year.  Looking forward to more fun in the library for many years to come!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

From the mouths of babes

I am a sucker for surveys.  I want to know what's on people's minds, especially those in my learning community.  Thanks to our district going all Google on us, making Google forms to elicit info from my patrons is easy-peasy.  I sent out a mid-year survey to my teachers to find out how their library experience was going for them (pretty well, then, whew!).  I have another survey for them ready to go, but will wait until after the inventory process before I send that one out.  

My latest survey is for the students.  After reassuring them that their answers were completely confidential, noted only by grade level, I directed them to our computer bank in the library to let me know their likes, dislikes, and suggestions for improvements to our program.  I am learning a lot from their answers--and surprised by how much their suggestions and my plans for improving the library program overlap.

Suggestion:  Show us where the scary books are, funny books are, etc.
Plan:  Highlighting a different genre each month

Suggestion:  Help students edit their writing and publish them for library use
Plan:  A section devoted to student writing

Suggestion:  The library doesn't have enough books; I'm reading the same ones over and over.
Plan:  Issue a genre-exploration challenge for those who are hesitant to expand their reading repertoire.

They shared a lot more--another surprise was how many chose to fill in the non-required open-ended questions.  Yes, I got the occasional response with "fart" in it...but the wealth of information I gleaned to tailor the library program for my primary patrons, the students, has given me a sense of direction and a lengthy to-do list to start planning for next year.

P.S.  I discovered a new-to-me tool in the options of the spreadsheet that the survey results dump into on my Google drive.  Under "Form", there is a  "Show summary of responses" option--and it generates pie charts and graphs of the form responses in bright colors, as well as prints out all the open-ended responses.  Great data to share with my administrators and staff! 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Library visitors and love notes

We had a great day in the library yesterday.  Everyone was breathing a sigh of relief that standardized testing was done, and we were back to our usual schedule of Friday assembly and class visits.  We were fortunate to have not one, but two WATCH D.O.G.S. on our campus, and they almost always have library time on their day's schedules.  Two more pairs of hands to shelve books is always a treat!  One of the dads opted to join his daughter during our read-aloud time in the Book Nook, and got to listen to my rendition of Library Lil in honor of National School Library Month.  I was sure to extol the virtues of free access to books and intellectual freedom!

Several of our usual volunteers also came by and lent a hand getting books back on the shelves, returning "strays" to their rightful places, and getting flyers ready for our upcoming book fair.  It's not hard to imagine how wonderful it is for my assistant and me to walk out of work on a Friday afternoon with shelving carts cleared, shelves straightened out, and one more task crossed off the neverending to-do list. 

Here's another detail to add to this fairy-tale sort of day we had...and it involves several sets of hairy legs and a bag of insects.  I walked out of the library restroom in the middle of the day to a delivery man from the district.  He was ready to hand off a half-dozen plastic terrariums with a tarantula in each, along with their requisite food supply of live crickets.  I knew one of our grade levels was working on a PBL unit on spiders, and I know that the library is the usual drop-off location for live animal loans, but I was not expecting this delivery!  

Luckily, I am not arachnophobic, and thanks to a former colleague who kept tarantulas in her classroom, I'm kinda fascinated by the creatures--as long as they're enclosed in glass or plastic.  I could even tell that one of them was going through a molt, and passed that info along to the teacher who came to pick them up.  

Later in the day, I was visited by three lovely young girls who presented me with a handwritten-in-marker acrostic note of my name, with admiration for my job.  I received some wonderful notes during Teacher Appreciation Week, but this one, out of the blue, just made me smile from ear to ear.  During an email exchange hashing out the details of a project, I had a colleague compliment and thank me for my efforts.  By the time I left work, I was bursting with the feeling that I am right where I need to be.  

Some colleagues who were lunching in the library were not as thrilled as I was during our arachnid visit, but for was just another day among the stacks.  And I am one happy librarian, glad to be  there for all of it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The art of social conversation

I had the most pleasant exchange today in the library.  Two charming young kindergarteners, the class librarians for the day, came in to return books before their regular visit.  I happened to be standing at the circulation desk scanning books when they arrived, and greeted them with a hearty "Hello there, young gents!"  They immediately replied in kind, and then added a heartfelt "Welcome back, Mrs. Margocs!  How was your learning trip last week?"  We had a brief, but lovely, conversation about my conference, and then they began talking with each other about their classmates' choices of books as they dropped them in the return slot, remarking on which ones they had read and how they knew their classmates' book preferences.  I was blown away by their civility, listening to the give and take of their conversation, and relayed this to their teacher when she arrived with the rest of the class.

This may not seem like a big deal to you, but it is to me.  I am a greeter by nature; I feel it is important to acknowledge someone's presence with a hello, hey there, good morning.  This is especially true in the library setting, where I want everyone who enters to feel welcome.  But many students I've come in contact with over the past few years not only will not initiate a greeting or conversation--they won't even reply to a hello.  I've even encountered adults who will pass me in the hall, or enter the library, without a greeting or nod.  Whether it's social ineptitude, social exclusion, introversion, or full attention to another matter, I'm not sure.

I am sure that the pleasantries exchanged today at my circulation desk were warm and heart-filling for all involved.  I hope those two young gentlemen continue their habits of friendly communication, and influence others to do the same. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Stuff I learned at TLA '14--Professional edition

I learned something new at every one of the three tech sessions, three tech keynotes, one general session, five breakout sessions, and two meals with authors.  Most importantly, I learned that I need a tablet before I attend next year's TLA conference, because the laptop was only pulled out once and it was really hard to type on my Google Docs with my HTC One--no matter how big my daughter proclaims it to be.  I switched to writing notes halfway through for just a bit, to give my thumbs a break.  

I won't share every detail of the seven pages I typed/ wrote, but here are some nuggets of learning I was able to take away for professional purposes:
  • Dr. Bruce Ellis--Use specific, positive critique to help others (and ourselves!) make small steps to improve tech skills.  Perfection may not occur in six weeks, or even one year; focus on manageable steps.  Building relationships, recognizing effort, having a growth mindset, modeling with concrete examples, and shifting from lifelong learning to lifelong sharing are important when building community with technology.
  • Bluebonnet Committee presentation--Kudos to the team for powering through the tech glitches!  And thanks for providing all those wonderful resources on several platforms--Pinterest, Facebook, WordPress, and Symbaloo.  I will improve my promotion of Bluebonnet books next year with all these great resources!
  • Dr. Ellis again, with cybersafety.  Learned the difference between a passive digital footprint--anonymous data collected through our internet use--and active footprint--the stuff we share "on purpose".  We were reminded to Google ourselves on our birthdays and at Christmas, as gifts to ourselves in guarding our digital presence--and not to forget to search for images as well. is a good site to help manage privacy settings on several social media platforms.
  • Keynote lunch with Jennifer LaGarde, the LibraryGirl.  Leadership is not a position, it is an action.  Focus on students, not stuff.  Help our principals with whatever it is about our school that keeps them up at night.  Collaboration is not a goal, it is a strategy.  Build bridges, not barriers; the library space should reflect what we value.  The important part isn't finding info, it's using it
  • will be part of my summer self-professional-development.  It's a one-stop shop for web-based, education-related sites, tools, applications, and extensions.  Todd Nesloney is so full of energy and enthusiasm for using tech tools in the classroom, you can't help but dream of the possibilities after listening to him speak.  One tip was to let students use whatever websites they choose for resources, as long as they can prove the validity of the site.  Another is to keep tweets and blogs positive; let's share what we are doing right!  His take on learning is that there really aren't new ideas, just great stuff already there to be shared.  A great quote he shared--"Adults need to have fun so children will want to grow up."-Erica Bauermeister  Mr. Nesloney's session and keynote were both educational and motivational.
All of the above was just from our day of Tech Camp 2014!  Moving on to Wednesday:
  • James Patterson spoke at our opening General Session.  He is an engaging, humorous author who walks his talk.   Mr. Patterson spoke about free book choice for kids (with some guidance), and parental responsibility to model reading and provide resources.  I already have his literacy website bookmarked on our library Symbaloo:  ReadKiddoRead .  He provides scholarships for education majors, and has donated funds to one of my favorite causes, Libraries of Love.  
  • The authors on the panel for "It Can't Be Science, It's Fiction!" were Matthew Kirby, Nate Ball, Megan Blakemore, Shirley Duke, Wendy Mass, Kate Messner, and Suzanne Selfors.  They spoke about writing books that incorporated real-life scientific knowledge, processes, and theories.  What struck me the most about the panel was their willingness to stretch themselves to learn whatever it was they needed to know to "flesh out" their stories, whether by researching through print resources or contacting experts directly.  My favorite quote came from Ms. Messner--"Science is about wonder."
  • Lunch with the EBSCO representatives now has me intrigued by their Novelist   readers' advisory  product.  If anyone out there has had experience with it, I'd love to hear about it!
  • Jacqui Rash and Eileen Lee, public librarians, and Michelle Lee, pubic library assistant, gave us great tips and takeaways on the subject of Sensory Storytime.  We reviewed the meaning of sensory processing disorder/ dysfunction and how it can affect communication and behavior, and learned difference ways of preparing children who have SPD for library time through the use of accommodations, social stories, and special salutations. was offered as a resource for librarians who serve patrons with autism.
  • Michelle Luhtala, librarian for New Canaan High School in Connecticut, shared how mobile technology is being used in her school.  Their motto is "We Trust You."  The future of learning and research is heading towards what we can access through the devices in our pockets, and sharing what we learn through social media.
Whew!  Now to Thursday....
  • After my 5K walk, I joined a session featuring an author panel speaking on the subject of bullying.  The panel consisted of Trudy Ludwig, Michael Buckley, Stuart Gibbs, Christine Pakkala, Michael Fry, and James Howe.  Ms. Ludwig talked a bit about the nuances of bullying, and recommended the International Bullying Prevention Association website.  Some memorable points (there were many!) from the discussion:  popular kids often lose their fizzle by reunion time, while nerds are usually still achieving and accomplishing great things; teachers can be bullies, too; try looking at the bully's point of view for understanding and defusing; bullies beget victims who can become vengeful bullies themselves; solutions need to go beyond posters and lessons--a culture shift has to happen.  We have to make being kind a cool thing; ask kids "Who do you want to be?".  Remember that power plays start occurring as young as preschool.
  • John Grandits and Michael Allen Austin  received their Texas Bluebonnet Awards for Ten Rules You Absolutely Must Not Break if You Want to Survive the School Bus with great back stories and humor. The students who presented the award were the most poised children I think I've ever seen, speaking to hundreds of librarians in a huge ballroom!
  • My Thursday was rounded out by a trip to the exhibit hall, a Gale reception, and a gathering of SHSU alumni and professors. What a great day!
Friday, day four!
  • My own children would never have forgiven me if I passed up the TASL Breakfast with Lemony Snicket...and I'm so glad I went.  His speech was as interesting and entertaining as the books he writes.  The one concept that arose again and again was curiosity; "It's interesting when things happen."  Asking questions, even all the wrong ones, leads to great stories.
  • I had to head down to the exhibit hall one last time, to get my copy of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library signed by Chris Grabenstein  and take advantage of any last-minute freebies from vendors.  After picking up a couple of books and purchasing a few more for my school library, I decided to call it a week and head for home.
I've learned so much, and will continue to learn, thanks to the resources and motivation I've received from attending the Texas Library Association's 2014 Annual Conference.  A big thanks to Round Rock ISD and my principal for accommodating this continuing education opportunity for this newbie librarian! 

Stuff I learned at my first (full) TLA Conference--Personal edition

It has been 24 hours since I returned from my first full Texas Library Association Annual Conference...and I'm still recovering, mentally and physically.  It was a whirlwind of activity and learning for three and a half days, and I learned a LOT.  Aside from the seven pages of notes, there was a wealth of experience gained, which I want to preserve in print for future conference-attending.  This blog post, and the next,  are summaries of my personal and professional take-aways.

  •  Do not dismiss colleagues' suggestions about wearing comfortable shoes.  I brought two pairs to alternate, and these Propet Travel Walker Mary Janes were the outstanding winners.  My other pair, some bungee-laced flats from another company, were comfy for eight hours...and they need to be comfy for eighteen hours.  Trust me on this.  The convention center itself was huge, and add in exhibit-hall wandering, trips back to your hotel room, and dining on the town afterwards....Comfy shoes are a necessity.
  • If you have an early start on your first day, stay at the hotel the night before.  I did not do this, and waking up at 3am for a 5am departure behind the wheel was not the best way to start a long day of learning!
  • The suggestions for snacks and bottled water were spot on, though I admit to overpacking these.  Which is fine, since I'll be using the leftovers for my lunches-on-the-run for the rest of the school year.
  • Jeans are perfectly appropriate, even for fancy sponsor luncheons.  Remember--eighteen hour days.
  • Those printed address labels we were told to bring were for the backs of tear-out coupons from the exhibit guide, to turn in for drawings and give-aways.  Glad I printed some out!
  • Having tote bags to start out was helpful, too, even though I scored two more from tech camp and a vendor.  Next year, I'll be better at getting down to the exhibit hall earlier to snag some more free bags. 
  • Take advantage of the health-related events.  I walked the Hetherington 5K on Thursday morning, and it was so nice to be out in the fresh air doing something good for my health--especially after my yummy, not-so-healthy Mexican dinner combo plate the night before.
  • Do not be afraid to ask your colleagues, the concierge, other conference attendees, and random people for advice and help.  There are so many events to attend, breakout sessions, places to eat, etc.  The choices are mind-boggling; talking it out with someone may help you decide where to go and what to do.
  • The advice to take cash was spot on.  One of the author-signings I lined up for was charging for books and only accepted cash or checks, as was one of the major publisher booths.  And there were no receipts for the author-signed I may not get reimbursed.  Arrrgh.
  • I was so excited when the conference-provided mobile app worked for me at the beginning, and I spent time arranging my breakout sessions, events, and exhibits I wanted to visit.  And then the app stopped working for me halfway through the conference.  Thankfully, we had our handy dandy mini printed conference guide.  Lesson learned--be flexible.  Don't sweat it  if you can't remember which exhibits or authors you wanted to see.  I was so focused on attending breakout sessions that I didn't make it down to the exhibit hall in time to beat the lines for author signings...and that's okay.  I wanted to be learning rather than standing in lines, anyway! 
  • I reached my limit by noon on Friday.  I had attended a full day of tech camp (with three keynote speakers), five breakout sessions, two sponsor receptions, dinner with some of my district colleagues, the opening general session with James Patterson, the Bluebonnet Luncheon with John Grandits and Michael Allen Austin, the TASL breakfast with Lemony Snicket, dinner with my SHSU cohort gals, another SHSU sponsored food-and-fun on a riverboat ride, and spent approximately six hours in the exhibit hall.  I'm guessing that's not too bad for a beginner.
And I'll be sure that both pairs of shoes are super-comfy, at next year's conference.  Next blog post--the professional learning edition!