This time last year I was about to move into a new school building and anxiously waiting for an opening day collection to arrive from Follett, ready to fill empty shelves. I’ve been a school librarian for a year and a half now, and in building a library program from scratch, I’m definitely proud of a few things: students love coming to the library; our collection is awesome; I have a cadre of parent volunteers who provide tremendous support and feel personally invested in the library.
All of this is great, but I still have so far to go. One thing I miss about being a classroom teacher is the feeling that I was good at what I was doing. Of course there was always room for improvement, for professional growth, but after ten years in the classroom, it was more about fine-tuning than it was about second-guessing myself. I’m nowhere near that feeling as a librarian.
And why should I be? I remember being a second year teacher. I still had a lot to learn at the time. And part of making the switch to the library was the promise of a new professional challenge. I need to remind myself of this. Rome wasn’t built in a day. And I won’t be top librarian in year two.
Thank goodness for the winter break. For the precious time needed to catch up on sleep, clear the head, regroup and reflect. When I think about the changes I need to make in the remaining months of the school year and beyond, these resolutions are at the top of my list:
- Stop lesson-planning like a teacher. I see my classes for 45 minutes per week on a fixed schedule. That’s all the time I have with students to get through a lesson that involves teacher input, time for practice or group discussion, and some kind of assessment. Take away the time students need to search for and check out books – a MINIMUM of 20 minutes, and that’s rushing the kids – and I have 25 minutes to teach a lesson, if I’m lucky. The lessons I’ve been designing, from how to use an atlas to finding books using the OPAC, are not fitting into this amount of time. I’m still designing lessons like I have students in a 90 minute block, which would be lovely, but is just not the case. It’s time to be realistic about what I can do with my students in the amount of time I have with them. Which brings me to. . .
- Give students more time to look for books. The scenario described above, long information-literacy lessons crammed into a short amount of time, frequently leads to short-changing students with their favorite part of coming to the library – looking for books. While I believe that instruction in the use of information resources is important, it is equally important to give students time to explore the collection, to be more strategic in searching for books at their reading level or to discover subjects they don’t encounter in their core classes. Too often I am sending them to the shelves with warnings like “Keep your eye on the timer. We only have fifteen minutes to look for books!” How terrible is that? That’s no way for students to get to know the collection, to stumble upon new authors and genres. Maybe it’s because I’m worried that from the outside it doesn’t look “instructional” enough, maybe it’s my science teacher baggage, but I’ve been focusing more on developing research skills than a love of reading. I need to devote equal energy to both. My plan is to alternate, where one week students will have some kind of information literacy lesson with a short amount of time to check out books and the next week students will have the majority of the time to explore the collection and find the perfect book. Which brings me to . . .
- Bootalks! Why have I not been doing this!? I have been reading books from our library like crazy. Great books! Books that I love and that I know my students would love. I can’t believe I’m admitting this, but I rarely talk about these books in a whole-class setting. I should be doing this every week with each class, sharing the books I’ve just finished, or showing them old favorites that I read when I was their age. Even if I only booktalk one book at the beginning of each class, that would be a big improvement over what I’m doing (or not doing) now. I just finished reading Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer over the holidays and was inspired by her call to serve as a reading roll model for students. Kids need to hear adults talk about their reading lives, how we select books, what we liked, what we didn’t, what we couldn’t put down and what we couldn’t finish it. And they need to hear it from us all the time. At the very least, they should be hearing it from their librarian. And finally. . .
- Expect and embrace failure. This mantra could apply to any professional trial and error, but here I’m referring specifically to the roll-out of a new information-literacy curriculum for my middle school students. This will involve the use of a new class set of iPads that have been purchased specifically for use in the library (yes, I love my principal). Having gone without much access to technology in the library, I now have the ability to experiment with 1:1 computing, and I’m hoping it will lead to a more engaging and authentic approach to research for my middle school students than I have been able to give them so far. I’ll describe my vision for middle school teaching and learning in the library in a later post, but as a guided-inquiry approach to research involving differentiation through student choice, I think it has the potential to be very messy, although hopefully very meaningful as well. Add to that the fact that this will be my first time incorporating iPads into a classroom setting and we are looking at a very steep learning curve. It could turn out to be a great learning experience for me and my students, but I know there will be a lot of setbacks along the way. So I’m reminding myself ahead of time: There will be screw-ups, let-downs and frustration, both from me, my students and the technology itself, and all of those will be opportunities to try again and improve. It’s going to be messy, and I will let that be part of the fun.
Nobody who knows anything about teaching does it because it’s easy. Here’s to mistakes, challenges, learning and growing!
Wishing all the best to fellow educators in 2013!