Saturday, February 28, 2015

Oops, I thought I read this one!

I honestly thought I had read The Giver by Lois Lowry before.  I mean, it's a classic, and I've read the classics, right?

It was one of the wrapped choices for my fifth grade lunch book clubs, and the boys' group picked it this time.  I figured it had been awhile since I've read it, so I took a copy home to review before we meet again in a few weeks.

Two pages in, and I realized I had never read this before.  Looking at the publication date, I realized why.

It was published the year my eldest child was born.  The year I quit teaching elementary special education (the first time), spent an idle summer (for the first time in a long time) gestating that new little being while I swam leisurely laps in the neighborhood pool, turning golden brown as I basked in the sun.  Then summer turned to fall--a fall spent visiting my daughter in a neonatal intensive care unit.  She came home a month earlier than expected, but still a "newborn"--and as every parent who's ever experienced that time in their lives, it was an exhausting blur.

I'm thinking now that I probably missed out on close to a decade of middle-grade children's literature, just because of my job in special education and parenting young children.  I didn't go back to the classroom as a teacher until seventeen years after the publication of The Giver.

So I'm getting the chance to catch up now.  That is the beauty of books, right?  They are always there, waiting for you.  No expiration dates.  Well, maybe book club deadlines and library due dates, but even those are negotiable.  :-)  

Saturday, February 21, 2015

An awesome end to a discombobulated week

It was one of those "off" weeks for me (and apparently, for several folks in my circle).  Nothing catastrophic, just minor hitches and glitches and an overall feeling of being out of sync, unprepared, not at the top of my "game". 

And then Friday happened.  I started the day before dawn by dropping my teenboy off at his pre-Disneyland marching band practice.  It was nice to get to work a few minutes early, to breathe and check emails and practice walking in size 7 men's scuba diving flippers.

Yep, I walked onstage at our bimonthly Friday school assembly in ginormous flippers and a mask (with the help of our music teacher, so I wouldn't break my neck on the steps and microphone cords).  Of course, this was a hit with the kids, especially since I announced the opening of our "Under the Sea" book fair next Friday--book fairs are a HUGE deal at our school. I also announced our campus Battle of the Bluebonnets team so they could stand up and be recognized.

Then I got recognized as one of our Spotlight Teachers of the week.  And our Library/ Instruction Tech team was announced as the Sunshine Committee's Team of the Week.

I went and checked my mail cubby, and there were three letters from kindergarteners telling me how much they liked the library and books.

After assembly, we had a 2nd Cup of Coffee with the Principal event in the library, featuring math and reading strategies for parents from the Math and Literacy teams.  We had a great turnout, and I helped to present ideas on finding good-fit books for kids and reinforcing reading for fun.  I had several parents approach me after the meeting with comments and questions about finding books.

It was one parent in particular who made my day.  She broke into tears as she explained that one of my Bluebonnet Battle kiddos, her child, had a rough beginning of the year.  The Bluebonnet program, our library environment, and the recognition at assembly that morning had made a positive difference in his attitude toward school, and she wanted to thank me for that. 

What an awesome ending to this discombobulated week.  Have I mentioned how lucky I am to be a librarian?

 Image: Computer-generated chaos fractal Y1  - 2015/02/21/SO  - Encyclop√¶dia Britannica ImageQuest URL  - ER   

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Pangs of disconnection

Image from
I have decided to "go dark" on Facebook for Lent.  Not so much as a sacrifice, but for using the time to do more of what I'm missing these days--time to meditate, pray, read, write, crochet, plan, and connect with folks beyond sharing inspirational quotes and pithy comments.

This is difficult, because Facebook is more than just a virtual coffeehouse chat site to me.  It's the place I get my weather updates, news, links to websites and blogs that I like to follow, and professional learning from colleagues, professors, and library/literacy organizations. On any given morning or afternoon, I could be commenting on friends' posts from Denver or Saudi Arabia, reading about a new book promotion idea, and checking on the five day forecast.  I follow blogs on physical and mental health, keep in touch with my fellow military BRATs, and see pictures of how my brother's landscaping is coming along.  

And yes, there is the playing of Bejeweled Blitz.

Lots of cool stuff to be found on Facebook, lots of ways to learn and be connected.  Lots of minutes flying by as I stared at the screen and neglected other needs of my inner and outer life.

Let's hope that within the next forty days, I'm able to figure out how to balance my online community with my within-reach circle.  There will be more emails, handwritten notes, and phone calls, to be sure.  Because Facebook is not the only way to stay connected.  My friends and family deserve more face-time.  My home deserves more care.  My spirit needs a different way to be filled, if only for this space between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.

Let the journey begin.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Discovering my passion/ A case for departmentalized teaching

(Disclaimer:  The opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and not representative of my campus, department, or district.  I am not, nor do I wish to be, an administrator at any level who has to deal with the intricacies of master schedules, district expectations, and state requirements...thank goodness.)

I had a wild and woolly Friday in the library.  I work with six different grade levels on Fridays.  My assistant was taking a much deserved day off, and I scrambled between morning assembly, teaching lessons, doing read-alouds, running Bluebonnet Breakfast invitations, and trying to keep up with the books that were being returned for check-in and shelving.  My principal happened to stop in for two classes in the library, and I received a really nice note from her about my contributions to the library and the school.

It was in my reply to her that I verbalized why I really like my job--I get to focus on two areas I am passionate about, print and digital literacy.  Never before in my educational career have I felt so empowered to really teach on those topics.  

That's not to say that I wasn't passionate about education while I was teaching in a resource classroom and ARD facilitating.  I was passionate about my students' learning, and making sure students receiving special education received appropriate services.  But I can honestly say that I was worn down by the paperwork, testing mandates, pressure to meet all the curricular and physical and emotional needs of my students in the much-interrupted 175 days, 745a-245p days of school.  That determined candle was worn down to a stub from burning it at both ends. And part of that stress was teaching curriculum that I wasn't completely comfortable with, that didn't align with how I would approach the content area to meet my students' needs.

But now I'm a librarian.  And I get to focus on reading and information literacy.  I have learned that no matter what the subject, life experience and reading comprehension are the heart of success.  Math at the elementary level consists of understanding the vocabulary:  addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, 2-D, 3-D, volume, perimeter, area.  It's also comprehending what a word problem--emphasis on "word"--is asking you to solve.  That's reading.  Social studies and science follow suit; it all boils down to literacy skills.

With this newfound purpose, I feel fired up going to work everyday.  And I get nice comments from my administrators and colleagues as a result.  A win-win!

So what does this have to do with departmentalized teaching?  Some colleagues and I were just discussing this at the circulation desk this week.  When one feels passionate AND confident in a subject area, it affects your performance.  There is a palpable energy that is communicated to your learning audience.  Your creative juices flow, students are engaged, authentic learning happens.

We expect elementary teachers to be jacks-of-all-trades, a feat which many are able to admirably pull off. But ask a teacher what they feel most confident teaching, and I bet it will be a specific subject. And there shouldn't be any shame in that.

We can collaborate and share lessons 'til the cows come home, but teaching someone else's lesson in a subject that's not your niche doesn't always have the same zing as one you've developed, and it requires a lot more effort.  I liken it to being an actor on a stage, reciting the playwright's words--only actors get LOTS of rehearsal time to hone their delivery.  Teachers don't really have that luxury in the curriculum-packed, high-stakes testing environment they work in today.  Maybe after teaching the same lesson a few years in a row...but really?  Do we really want to wait that long before it "clicks"?

Why don't we consider allowing teachers to teach to their strengths, their passions, instead?  Let's make room for teaching and learning to "click" from the get-go. That's not to say that we teachers shouldn't stretch ourselves to model lifelong learning for our students, but let's not allow that to get in the way of focused, empowered, creative teaching.

What do you think?  Should elementary ed teachers be allowed to departmentalize? Chime in the comments section below!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Geeking out over the ALA Youth Media Awards

(Picture from ALA Youth Media Awards Facebook page.)
I had fully planned on turning on the American Library Association's webcast of its Youth Media Awards ceremony this morning.  I had even Boomeranged the email with the details to the top of my inbox at work.  

But then library life got in the way.  The broadcast script had to be updated before airing this morning, there was a story to read to first grade, then a research resources lesson for third, a geology presentation for the entire first grade in the presentation get the picture. 

So I had to settle for downloading the official press release of the award winners.  After geeking out on my own as I read over them, I forwarded the pdf copy on to my staff and fellow librarians, so we could all geek out together.  (I have some major book-lovers among my staff, a fact that makes my job even more amazingly fun!)

I am only familiar with a handful of the books written for my elementary kiddos, but I plan on getting really familiar with all of them, beginning with adding those we're missing to my growing shopping list for the library.  

Caldecott, Newbery, Belpre, Coretta Scott King, Schneider, Batchelder, Sibert, Geisel...they will all make their way into my online cart.  Diversity, engaging topics, fiction, nonfiction, beautiful words and beautiful illustrations--what more could I ask for? Sharing books like these is a dream come true for this educator-become-librarian.

ALA Press Release:

Description of the awards: