Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Tuesday Slice: There and back again

Midweek trip north
After mild arguing over the schedule
Me, caving in,
Though dreading the exhaustion
I knew would come on the other side
of twenty-eight hours.

The three of us in the car
Driving into the night, into a storm
Youngest sleeping in the back
Husband white-knuckled
Barely able to see headlights
Me, insides winding tighter.

Friendly hotel staff
Comfy room, and college girl
Has to come by and get hugged
Another flicker of energy
Me, fading as midnight nears
Parting ways, see-you-tomorrows.

Restless sleep, now dazed
We eat breakfast, check out of the hotel
Head into town
Me, impulse buying at the antique store
Lunch with college girl
Then back to her dorm to prepare.

Crowded chapel, smiling folks
Lots of professorial caps and gowns
Lots of awards--look, there's her name!
Me, feeling proud of her
(and of myself, for keeping a secret)
On to a steak dinner, well-deserved.

Back to the dorm,
Exchange heels for sneakers
Yes, there's room for your winter clothes
Waving goodbye until she's out of sight
Me, anxiously looking at the clock on the dash
Estimating our arrival home.

Four hours later
Pulling into the driveway
All of us bone-tired, dragging
Me, close to tears as I imagine the alarm 
Going off in four-and-a-half hours
We all hit our pillows hard.

It wasn't about me.  It was about her.  About us, as a family.  And it was worth every mile.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Tuesday Slice: Details in three parts

"To be really great in little things, to be truly noble and heroic in the insipid details of everyday life, is a virtue so rare as to be worthy of canonization."
--Harriet Beecher Stowe

Do we pay attention to the details
Weave them into life's tapestry

Or do we not sweat the small stuff
And focus on the big picture

I can delight in the smallest detail
And get overwhelmed by an avalanche of them

The curl on my child's head, for example
Or the mountain of papers on my desk.

I feel like I've been dealing with a lot of scattered details these past two weeks:  train schedules, conference notes, appointments, landscaping, deadlines, laundry, weather, standardized testing, technology, travel plans.  I'm in a maze of details; I know I'm moving forward, but will I get out?  Most evenings, I find myself glassy-eyed and paralyzed on the couch while plans whiz by in my head like ticker-tape.   I arise with effort to tackle just one thing before falling into bed too late and berating myself for wasting time on the couch.  Not unhappy, not necessarily harried, just moving a bit too unfocused and quickly for my liking.  Perhaps this song should be my mantra for the next few weeks:

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A slice of TLA 2015

Too little sleep
Cool night air 
On a sparsely populated
Train platform.

Familiar faces
Await my arrival
To help register attendees
And one very excited newcomer--

"Will you take a picture with me?
It's my first time at TLA!"

Rush across the downtown street.

Listen as these well-spoken women
Play riffs upon "Three Billy Goats Gruff"
This one spoofing, that one puppeteering
Another one acting, and a fourth, singing.

Drawing out the actors 
And singers
And storytellers
From us all.

(Here's me, surprisingly willing
To mimic a troll
Who hasn't had his morning coffee yet.)

Back to the convention center,
Hunting lunch--paid too much
Sat next to a friendly, familiar author
And a friendly, unfamiliar librarian.

More storytelling--digital, this time
Animated presenter
Showing us animated avatars
So many cool resources to play with!

(Oops, tablet almost dead.
Find a plug, barely charged
Head back across the street.)

Looooong line outside
The speed-dating room
Will we fit?
How does this work?

Over a dozen full tables
Authors and illustrators and
Committee members circulate
Librarians hanging on every word.

(Free, signed books?  Why yes, don't mind if I do!)

Back across the street
To the shadowed train platform
Weary, silent
Brain full of ideas.

Home to dinner and slicing and bed.

(Let's do this again tomorrow, shall we?)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Fixed but flexible

April seems to be the month when I start taking stock of how the past school year has gone.  Perhaps it's the testing season, professional self-evaluation requests, and looming deadlines that put me in this frame of mind.  

Since the 13-14 school year was my first as a librarian, I weighed heavily upon the input I got from mid- and end-of-year surveys of the teachers and students.  I was pleasantly surprised that for the most part, they were happy with how the program was run.  Any criticism I received was constructive, and I have tried to implement their suggestions this school year.

One of the biggest components of the elementary school library program seems to be the scheduling--or should I say, it's a major consideration in our big school of 1000 students.  We don't get a longer school day or week just because we have a large student population.  That hasn't stopped me from trying to maintain a fixed weekly library schedule for all of my prekindergarten through fifth grade classes--all forty-nine of them. 

Some librarians might think this is plain crazy.  When I was in "library school", the popular schedule most often discussed for an elementary was fixed for kindergarten through second grade, and flexible (at-will) scheduling for third through fifth. 

Popular, maybe....but see, I was an educator first, with the bulk of my experience coming from special education and disciplinary settings with upper-elementary and secondary students.  And I saw with my own eyes how, without regular library visits, the readers kept on reading, and the struggling or non-readers....well, they had a great excuse to avoid books altogether.

And then I read The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller and Readicide by Kelly Gallagher, and found myself saying YES, yes, yes to insights on making reading enjoyable again, flooding students with books, presenting one after another to those non-readers until one of them clicks.

Because one book will.  There are just too many books out there these days, too many genres, too much variety to say that a child will just never be a reader.  If they read comics, they are a reader.  Same goes if they read magazines, Captain Underpants, Rainbow Magic fairy books, Harry Potter, or the Guinness Book of World Records. And if we can get 'em hooked on one book, we can follow with another, and another.  The best (and in my opinion, the easiest) way to do this is to take them to the library.  Every. Single. Week.

My teachers agree with Miller.  Those surveys I mentioned?  They overwhelmingly preferred having a weekly, regular library time.  Yes, it gets interrupted by vision screenings, school photos, standardized testing, and book fairs taking over the library.  But we have built in flexible time during the week to reschedule classes and host presentations.  We double up on many upper-grade classes during time slots, so they get read-alouds or lessons every other week (kindergarten is the exception--one class at a time, story every week).  Students, teachers, and parents are always welcome to come in individually to check out materials.

Yes, the library will incorporate more tech next year.  And one of these days, I would really like to implement a makerspace in the library. Our afterschool schedule is filled at least three days a week with chess club, newspaper club, professional meetings, and math pentathlon.  Our library is a busy place! 

But the bottom line in my program will always be literacy and creating lifelong readers, first and foremost.  I am fixed on that goal--no flexibility there.   

Friday, April 10, 2015


By this time next week, I will be waking up to my fourth day of the Texas Library Association's annual conference.  My brain will be buzzing with new skills and ideas for the library.  Digital storytelling, traditional storytelling, educational apps, and promoting books will have been covered.  I will have painted a lovely picture with my SHSU alumni, and will be happily anticipating the Children's Round Table breakfast on Friday morning with Chris Van Allsburg (of Polar Express and Jumanji fame).  My book fairs will be tentatively scheduled for next school year, and another Bluebonnet Luncheon will be a happy memory. There may even be a signed book or two in my possession.

Some time this weekend will be spent reviewing the train schedule and the breakout sessions I have chosen.  All-important lunch venues will be perused, and time will be allotted for walking the exhibit hall.

Come next Tuesday, this teacher-librarian will switch into full-on learner mode.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Nonhuman library visitors

Critters that have visited our library:
  • Tarantulas
  • Roadrunner 
  • Dog                                                                                   
  • Ants                                                                                         
  • Beetles
  • Mealworms
  • Bats
  • Cockatoo
The tarantulas arrived via the district delivery system last year, as ordered by the kindergarten team for their PBL unit.  I have to admit, they fascinate me--as long as they are encased and not in my home!

Technically, the roadrunner wasn't in the library, it was on our windowsill.  For hours.  Interrupting storytime, posing for pictures, and making me aware that we did not have one single book on roadrunners in our collection.  Twenty books on penguins, but none on this iconic Southwest feathered friend. (I've since remedied that problem.)

The dog was a recent visitor during fifth grade's PBL launch event.  I sadly missed him during the visit, as I was teaching nonfiction text features on the other side of the library, but I did get to catch up with him in the hallway.

The ants are recurring visitors, little black moving specks that pop up now and then on our shelves.  The district "ant man" has visited us several times, and that particular six-legged population seems to be decreasing.  Fingers crossed.

Beetles, well, they're infrequent guests, but I didn't want to leave them out.

The mealworms were delivered from the district for distribution to the second grade team.  They are studying life cycles.  I did not open the carton to see what stage they were in upon delivery, just took the bag upstairs.  Happy trails, grubs.

This past Monday, we had one very lively 44 year old cockatoo named Avery and two very sleepy, teeny, fruit-eating bats visit from the Capital of Texas Refuge Zoo.  Mr. Michael Hicks patiently explained the differences between birds and bats to our first grade classes for their PBL unit.

I wonder what we'll add to the library-visitor-menagerie in years to come?

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Technology, handwriting, art, and Star Trek

The visitors who walked into my office this past Thursday were expected, but not for me.  My instructional tech support-person (ITS), who is housed in the office space next to mine in the library, told me on Wednesday that her "big boss" was coming for a visit.  I joked about being on my best behavior so I wouldn't embarrass her.

The three gentlemen made a beeline for my office first.  I only recognized one of them--an assistant director for tech support who was housed at my previous campus, and with whom I had spoken frequently while working on my MLS.  The other two turned out to be another assistant director ITS, and the ITS "big boss".  They stopped by to see me because I'll be participating in the Next Gen pilot program next school year, with new tech devices in the library.  

I am really excited (and a bit anxious) about participating in this program.  Hoping that I'll get tablets of some sort, I'm already making a mental list of ways we can use them in the library.  I want to find ways that students can do more than just consume information--I want them to be producers, too.  But production takes time, both in the learning how and the process of creating, and in a school of 1000 elementary students with the same hours as those with 500...well, that's where the anxiety comes in.  Luckily, I have a few months to sort that out, and a large community which includes librarians to help with the questions.

So what does this have to do with handwriting, art, and Star Trek?

While I was thinking about students as producers, I noticed how products are changing in schools.  Handwritten essays are now submitted in .doc format electronically.  Dioramas often give way to Powerpoint and Prezi slides.  I just taught a small group a mini-lesson on Windows Moviemaker this week, so they could make a PSA for their PBL

This stream-of-consciousness continued with the memory of a father who spoke at the school board meeting I attended a few weeks ago.  He was against kindergarteners and first graders having access to technology, and had already pulled his oldest children out of a district middle school due to worries about students using their own digital devices without supervision during transition times.  He stated concerns about social-emotional development before his three minutes were up.

My first reaction to his speech was to think his stance anachronistic.  Students need to have tech skills if we are to prepare them for participation in society after graduation.  And I think we do a pretty good job of teaching social skills at school, too.  Our students don't sit in front of monitors all day, watching videos and answering multiple choice questions.  They read "real" books, write, work collaboratively, and access fine arts and physical education weekly.

But I can understand a bit of what that father may be worried about, too.  Access to the interwebs can be a scary thing.  Methods of getting and producing information are rapidly changing.  My own teen son can't really write in cursive--and even has difficulty reading it--because it wasn't emphasized in elementary school. Batteries fail, broadband is sometimes overloaded, servers go down--and then what?  The low-tech pencil and paper can't just go away.  When we use technology in the classroom, there always seems to have to be a Plan B (another one of my tech anxieties).

Are we, as a society, going to continue valuing the handwritten word, the strokes of a paintbrush, the binding of a book?  I think of Star Trek:  The Next Generation, with Captain Luc Picard's unusual book collection.  I can't remember if there were paintings on the walls of the U.S.S. Enterprise.  "Crude" writing methods were shown when depicting worlds which were not as technologically advanced.  Is this where we're headed?  

Can a personality come through a Word document as fully as it does in the loops and swirls and slant of the handwritten page?  Does art produced digitally evoke the same feelings as thick swirls of paint on a canvas?  Can technological and manual products continue to co-exist, or will the latter be thrown out?  Will future generations value the same products we "old folks" do... and if not, does it really matter?

Lots of points to debate.  I know my personal preferences of writing out my grocery shopping lists and painting with a real wood-and-bristle paintbrush.  My daughter straddles the divide with her acrylics and brushes and digital drawing slate.  Who knows what her children will prefer?

In the library, we will continue to have books.  And coming soon, handheld devices.  The current student art displays are handmade, and there is a can of pencils on the circulation desk.  There will be lessons on Dewey, book care, genres, Smores and blogging and internet safety, while the art and music teachers paint and sing and create Powtoons and Animoto projects with their classes.  We will bridge the divide, for now. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Thanks for the memories

Late, as usual, in getting Easter cards out, so I'm sitting at my computer sending Hallmark e-cards to family.

As I'm typing out personal greetings, "memory-making" keeps repeating itself.  

That's really what life should be all about, right?  Creating good memories for those around us.  If we "begin with the end in mind" a la Stephen Covey, that's what we want to leave behind--no regrets, no second-guesses, just happy, positive memories.

This applies both personally and professionally.  It seems obvious that we want our family and friends to think of us fondly, to associate us with happy times of support and celebration and community.

The principle is the same for schools.  Children learn best in welcoming, safe environments.  When learning is associated with punishment and drudgery, we are not creating positive lifelong habits--we are enabling avoidance strategies, because that's what we learn in negative situations.  As for our professional colleagues, I want folks to smile when they see me in the hallways and behind the circulation desk, not run in the other direction.

So here's to making happy memories this holiday weekend, and for the weeks and years to come.  Happy Easter!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

I did it! Now what?

I completed the Slice of Life Challenge by writing every day on this blog during the month of March.  I also commented on at least three other blogs daily.

I should feel accomplished--I do.  I should feel relieved, now that the challenge is over, and I don't "have" to write each morning.  I don't.

I feel a tad discombobulated instead.  Maybe the writing has become a habit, as I wrote yesterday.  

I do feel the need to get back to more job-related writing.  I'm also seriously considering joining the weekly Tuesday slicing challenge.  We'll see if I can pull that off this coming year.

Wow, this year's March SOLC challenge, my third, may have just tugged the writer in me to emerge.

No April fooling.

File:Stipula fountain pen.jpg
By Power_of_Words_by_Antonio_Litterio.jpg: Antonio Litterio derivative work: InverseHypercube (Power_of_Words_by_Antonio_Litterio.jpg) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons