Entrances and Exits

classroom management worldeI was speaking with a colleague and friend who was having some difficulties with classroom management in the library.  It is a challenging task for many—even for former classroom teachers.  From elementary through high school, the open space along with less close supervision is a great temptation for students to behave as though the facility is similar to the cafeteria or playground, leaving you to spend important time in trying to maintain order.  How do you deal with this?

wild things

copyright Maurice Sendak

How you begin is usually how things will continue.  Think of students’ entrance into the library. Look at your physical space.  How does the traffic pattern cause them to enter? If it’s wide open, elementary students will have a tendency to rapidly spread out before you can start the lesson. See if you can move some counter height shelving to create a directed flow.  This way you can greet your class as they enter.  Smiling, speaking to them individually, asking one or two to help their classmates with the book return and getting seated will set a tone for cooperation and participation. Once this becomes a routine, students will respond to it more quickly.  Ask different students to assist at each visit—including those you find challenging.

At the middle and high school level, you rarely have problems with the drop-ins, but depending on how well the teacher is at managing, a class can enter being rowdy.  A sense of humor goes far in restoring order. Comment on how pleased you are at their enthusiasm. Some of you use Exit Tickets to bring a library visit to a thoughtful close.  Try Entrance Tickets to quickly focus students on the task ahead of them.

As they walk in, hand students cards, each with one question.  These may be duplicated so you only need three or four.  For example, if the class is going to be working on World War I, you might have cards with the following: “When should the U.S. go to war?” “Chemical warfare was a big part of World War I. Is it ever justified?”  “Does war have rules?  Who makes them?  What should be done if they aren’t followed?” Before starting the lesson, discuss the Entrance questions and get students thinking about their own views on war. This will help them determine what issues they will explore in their research.

index cardsExit Tickets, if you haven’t used them, serve to foster metacognition and “lock-in” the learning. Among the questions to ask, culled from an AASL listserv, are: “The most important thing I learned today was…” “I knew…I now know… and I was surprised to learn…” “I would like to learn about…”  Elementary students can answer as they line up.  Have middle and high school students respond when you call them back together after they have completed their research for the period.

And remember, give yourself a break.  Some days you are not going to be successful.  However if you focus on good classroom management practices, your own confidence level will improve and you will be able to keep the problem days to a minimum. With the school year coming to an end, it is a good time to consider what changes you can make for next year.

What are some of your favorite techniques for managing the school library environment?

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Posted in Librarian Life

Show and Tell

Pet BirdDo you remember “show and tell” from grade school?  You would bring something you valued to share with your classmates, letting them see the object as you talked about it.  Depending on what you brought, you might explain how it worked or why it was so special. Having the item with you for them to see helped them understand why it was special to you.

For the past two weeks I have blogged about why you need to focus on emotions when you want to reach people and have them recognize the value of the school library program.  Go back to your childhood “show and tell” experiences and recall how effective you were when you communicate emotionally.  Some of the same principles will help you as you craft the best way to deliver your message to key stakeholders.

Buffy Hamilton

Many of you blog, and if you don’t you should consider it. Your blog is a vehicle for sharing the value of your program in a meaningful way.  Feature what students are doing in the library.  Include some individual explorations along with class projects. My favorite blog is Buffy Hamilton’s Unquiet Librarian. (I recommend you subscribe to it for her great ideas.) She often shows the process of how students are learning and enjoying their discoveries over several weeks.

I particularly liked her post on Markerboard Surfaces, Collaborative Conversations, Academic Literacies, and Libraries. The many pictures addressed two areas that resonate with administrators and boards of education: students engaged in active learning and how a new purchase is making an impact (money well-spent). In other posts students are interviewed and talk about their learning experiences.  The visuals are what is compelling.  Even if stakeholders don’t take time to read the post, they will see students in action and watch a video of them talking.

If you are not ready to take on the task of writing a blog on a regular basis, consider how you sent reports to your supervisor/administrator.  It’s imperative to keep them informed about what is happening in the library or you will be another librarian who says, “My principal doesn’t know what I do.”  Part of your job is to ensure your principal is aware of what you do. Which is another way of saying s/he knows how valuable you are.

Most of you don’t have time for monthly reports unless they are required, but you should at least send out a quarterly one. The format for the report is critical.  A text-based report listing what was accomplished, the number of classes and departments using the facility and books circulated and databases are worthwhile data but it won’t be retained without that emotional content.

collaborate Students and visuals give you that content.  Deborah Gottsleben, a New Jersey librarian I know well, sends her reports using a variety of web resources.  She has done them with Animoto and Vimeo choosing a different method each time.  She reminded me she has also used Issu and most recently Piktochart to create an infographic for the report.

To get your message out and have stakeholders “buy” into the library program, lead with emotion. Students pack the emotional punch and are the vehicle for carrying the data in a meaningful way.

So one more lesson from kindergarten.  Learn once again to Show and Tell.

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Are You In Business

open for businessI have just returned from the New York Library Association/Section of School Librarians Conference, where I gave a presentation on tag lines, branding, and elevator speeches.  Later that evening I was speaking with one of the participants who said she learned a lot, but her big “take-away” was that she had to start thinking about her program in a business-like way.  It’s not an easy concept for librarians – or any educators—to accept, but the reality is if you don’t realize you are in business, you may very well be out of business.

The presentation I gave at NYLA/SSL draws heavily from the business world.  I often said to people, while I am a school librarian, I am also in sales.  I sold my program every day to everyone who came into my library whether it was a student, teacher, or someone picking up a piece of equipment going out for repair. I am not saying we can or should run our libraries like a business.  We are not in it for a profit, and we are limited in bringing in new “customers.” But we can adapt many sales principles to sell our program to our various customers and stakeholders.

Someone I worked with had sales training and she noted how important it is to always remember no one wants to be sold—but everyone wants to buy.  What she meant was, we resist any sales pressure, which is one more reason we don’t get anywhere when we lead with research findings showing the value of school libraries and librarians.  It’s obvious to whomever we are speaking that we are “selling” our program.

The idea is to make the program something they want to have.  This is where marketing comes in. Marketing identifies a problem the customer has and shows how your product (your program) can solve it. You can see it easily with your students.  You introduce a research project and the students’ problem is find relevant, accurate information in the most efficient way, know how to organize it, and use the finding to create something of value.  If you are doing your job, they know you are the best person to help them get on track and stay there even when research gets messy.  Look at the image to the right – can you see how these words apply to your program and getting it noticed? marketing

Apply the same approach to your administrators.  What problems do they have that your program can solve or make easier?  How can you demonstrate that? Once you begin to think in these terms, you can tackle a bigger challenge—figuring out what problems board members have and your ability to help them.  What about parents?  Parents of elementary students have different wants and issues than parents of high school students.  What can you do to assist them?

solving problemsThe first step is to alter your mind set.  It used to seem as though everyone took for granted that what we did was important and valuable. But in reality, people were just accepting it because it was there. Once money became an issue and everything was on the table, if the library program was not of high value to the stakeholders with power, it was cut or eliminated.  It’s time to show them, your program is one they definitely want to buy.  Remember – you’re indispensable.

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Librarians and the Pareto Principle

pareto principleHave you noticed that around 20% of your teachers constitute 80% of the collaboration projects you develop.  This is the Pareto Principle. Named after Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist who observed in 1906 that 80% of Italy’s wealth was owned by 20% of the population, it has become an increasingly important concept since it has been noted that this 80/20 split occurs in many other places in life.  For example 20% of your time produces 80% of your results. Those of you who are frequently distracted by various interruption in your day know how true this is.

The business writers focus on this aspect of the Pareto Principle, arguing it is important to focus 80% of your time on the 20% of your customers who are responsible for 80% of sales.  That doesn’t translate into the school librarian’s world.  You need to maintain continued contact with your core 20% but you can never minimize the other 80%.  Their students need your services and expertise, so you must keep trying to get them to connect more with your library program.

The Pareto principal can help out in another way. It turns out that 80% of our decisions are based on emotions and 20% are based on logic—and then we use logic to assign a reason to our emotional decision.  This is true from how we vote to which car we decide to buy. So the teachers who are not making use of your services can logically say they have too much to cover in the curriculum to “take time out” for a library project, but an emotional reaction is underneath it all.emotion v logic

Your challenge is to figure out what is at the root of their emotional antipathy so you can use emotions (not logic) to change their perspective. In some cases teachers are concerned about their lack of tech skills and knowledge.  Perhaps the concern is you will judge how they teach or that their class will not behave well in the library.  Sometimes it is more basic.  They don’t know you well, or there is something about what you project that turns them off.

If tech skills are the issue, find a way to bring the teacher in to show some new program (offer coffee and a snack).  Suggest you can teach to his or her class in conjunction with a class unit and offer to give a special “tutorial” to the teacher and the two of you can report on it to supervising administrator. If you suspect worry about behavior is the issue, discuss how you take responsibility for managing group work in the library, but work with whatever structure the teacher prefers.

heart head decisionThe emotion vs logic percentage also impacts how administrators make decisions about the library.  We have justified the importance of school library programs based on research and statistics. All true – and all logical.  In general, people really love libraries.  We need to focus on the emotional connections to libraries without getting too warm and fuzzy which makes us seem like a frill.  It’s a challenge to figure out the right approach but you can work with taglines such as “Your library program – open for your thinking 24/7,” or “Bring your questions, we can help you find the RIGHT answers.” Brainstorm with your librarian colleagues to create the message that will reach your stakeholders.  And notice – that 20% of you probably will do 80% of the work.

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Acknowledging Others and Building Relationships

relationships aAs librarians we are in the relationship business which means constantly strengthening the ones we have and always reaching out to form new ones.  We must cultivate relationships with students—not as a friend but as a trustworthy, safe adult.  We build relationships with all staff members.  Although we are closer with some than others, every teacher, secretary, nurse, and custodial staff should feel welcome and comfortable in asking for and getting assistance.  And we develop a relationship with our administrators.

One of the best techniques for improving all our relationships is to acknowledge others.  Saying “thank you” is a natural courtesy, and most of us do it without thinking.  And that’s the problem.  A thank you is a nice gesture, but it doesn’t foster relationship.  Be specific in your thanks.  “I really appreciated your willingness to wait while I finished helping a student,” is much more impactful than “Thanks for waiting.” “It was so thoughtful of you to bring me a copy of the handouts in that session you attended,” means much more than, “Thanks for giving me this.”thank-you wordle

Acknowledging others goes beyond thanks. Sometimes it’s as simple as noticing an item of clothing or a new haircut.  Other times it is focused on academic activity such as being noticing when someone does something particularly well and making a comment indicating why you found it noteworthy.

Handwritten messages are an excellent way to acknowledge someone.  We are all so busy, and making time to find a note card, write the message, and put it in a teacher’s mailbox shows caring. The recipient, who is equally busy, will recognize you went the extra mile and remember what you did.

take timeWe are all quick to say “good job” when a student does something well, but that too is offhand. Point out what you thought made it such a good job.  Also be aware of those not yet doing “a good job” who feel you only notice those doing well—or those getting into trouble. Saying “I think you are showing such perseverance in using that app.  You are developing a great habit,” shows you are tuned into all students’ “dispositions.”

Focused acknowledgement seems simple, but it requires you to be an active listener and a careful observer. Instead of thinking about what you need to do next, you have to tune into the other person.  In an age where multi-tasking is extolled that centered attention on just one thing is hard.  As with most difficult tasks, practice makes perfect.  Work at acknowledging at least one person every day. In time, you will get so good at it, it will be as natural as a simple thanks.

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Leadership Is Not An Option

learn to be a leaderALA and AASL along with other divisions work hard promoting the value of libraries and librarians with legislators, the community, along with the various partnerships they have built over the years.  If these efforts are to succeed, librarians need to be stepping up their game in their own buildings consistently demonstrating their importance to student learning and to the entire educational community.

What does this mean? Leadership is not an option; it’s a job requirement.

By being a leader you prove you are essential—and indispensable.  Those of you who read this blog along with the School Librarian’s Workshop tend to be leaders.  In order make the most lasting impact, you need all the librarians in your district to be leaders.  One single pro-active librarian surrounded by those passively doing their job is not enough.  I urge you to reach out to these librarians.  Learn what’s holding them back. Provide encouragement, advice, and support.  A month ago I blogged about mentoring.  Offer to be a mentor.leadership

Believe it or not, I wasn’t a leader when I began my career, but I soon learned and saw the importance of continuing to develop as a leader.

In 1973, I became the elementary librarian in a new school modeled on the British infant school concept. Grades 1 and 2 were together as were 3 and 4, and 5 and 6.  Teachers at each double grade level worked in large rooms with dividers separating them from the others.  They planned their units together.  This highly collaborative model, overseen by a principal who was open to new ideas, led me to finding different ways for students to learn, mostly on their own and guided by me and their teachers.  My role became vital for the success of what happened in the classroom.

Energized by what was happening, I began taking on new challenges.  I became an active member—rather than just a dues-paying member- of my state association and then AASL.  Although the term didn’t exist, I developed an extensive PLN.  When the time came to automate my library, I was an early adapter and I knew qualified librarians in other states who guided me through the process and made me look good. I took on more leadership roles in my state association and wrote a book.  My confidence kept growing and my ability to explain the importance of librarians and what we do grew with every experience.

Lead - learnAssure those who have not taken the plunge into leadership, that all they need to do is to take one small step. Focus at first on what is easy and natural to you.  Go to leadership institutes if your state association offers them.  Read what others are doing and try doing it on a smaller scale if necessary. Anyone can become a leader. All that is necessary is the will, and all of us must be leaders if our profession is to thrive.

Who among your colleagues needs to hear this?  How can you help?

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Changes – Either you’re changing…

changeThere are still reminders of the season that was and some days the air has a chill, but winter has past and spring has arrived.  The seasons change, and we all welcome it.  Yet in our own lives we resist it. We are accustomed to what we do, feel that it’s working well enough, and certainly don’t have the time to learn new ways of doing things. Nature knows better.  Change is refreshing.  It allows us to see our world in a different way.

When the recession hit in 2008, many businesses panicked.  They tried to minimize all expenses and for the most part circled the wagons hoping to ride out the crisis.  Most of those who took that approach failed. The more successful looked around and identified what made them or their product unique.  They looked to see who besides their current customers could benefit from it and what changes in marketing would be needed to attract these potential customers.

If your library looks the way it did in the 1990’s with the addition of more computers and a Smartboard, you have not changed.  Having a website and adding e-books doesn’t make you a 21st century librarian. And certainly it isn’t having a quiet library with kids polishing their Dewey Decimal skills. card catalog

Have you taken stock of what makes you unique? At the end of February, I blogged on how librarians transform student learning.  That’s about change. Do you do those things?  Have you let your administrators know?  How?  Emailing memos and reports is not 21st century.  Videoing students exhibiting these transformative behaviors and sending those out is 21st century.

Is your library a place where students find things or is it one in which they create things?  Do you provide opportunities for them to go beyond your walls?  Across the globe? Who are you following on Twitter?  What’s the best idea you got from these outstanding school librarians—and have you adapted it for your library program? new school libary

if you changeWhat do you know about Learning Commons?  Find out how other librarians have transformed their facility, often on a shoestring budget.  Share with your administrator the excitement of the possibilities a Learning Commons creates.

Life is about change.  You are either changing or you are dying.  We have lost too many libraries and librarians.  If you haven’t done so, decide it’s time for a change, and if you need help… I, and many other librarians, are here for you. Reach out!closed

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Cooperation vs. Collaboration

Working-togetherSchool librarians are quite specific about the difference between cooperation and collaboration.  In the first case, the librarian and the teacher work independently from each other but share a common direction with each contributing content or process based on what there are of expertise is. The second involves a much closer connection.  While the teacher is likely to be the architect of the unit in question in a cooperative arrangement with librarian adding pieces unique to the library program, in a collaborative relationship both discuss the unit together, determine the Essential Questions and the desired Learning Outcomes.  Together they create the structure of the students’ learning experience and often are together in presenting concepts, injecting information as needed, and working simultaneously with students.

Obviously, the second model is the better one for transforming student learning, but for most elementary school librarians and many middle school ones, the constraints of a fixed schedule make collaboration challenging.  That doesn’t mean it can’t happen.  You just need to choose your partners in a different way.  A post on the AASLForum electronic discussion list reminded me of how stop collaborate and listencollaboration can be achieved within a fixed schedule day.

Many years ago, I worked in an elementary school modeled on the British infant school. All first and second graders were in one large room with 5 feet high dividers separating six classrooms for five teachers with the last being used for group gatherings.  Each teacher had a class composed of first and second graders, allowing for a more ungraded environment.  Third and fourth graders also had a large room with pairs of team teachers – one for math and science and the other for social studies and language arts. Fifth and sixth graders were “departmentalized” and moved as a homeroom to the different subject areas. With a principal open to innovation, all the teachers had room to experiment.

One of the great concepts we created were school-wide events occurring several times a year.  I along with the art, music, and gym teacher would develop a theme designed to culminate in an evening showcase to which parents were invited. Among the memorable ones was the one entitled “Under the Sea.”  In music, the students learned sea chanties and other relevant songs.  In art they designed murals.  In gym, the teacher created games simulating underwater environments, and in the library I worked with students researching marine animals and plants so their murals and oral presentations were accurate. We had a dress rehearsal by day and a grand presentation in the evening.  The halls were decorated with student murals. In the gym they cavorted in “underwater games.” At various locations in the corridors, students sang songs or talked about marine life.

Many years later, when I moved to the high school of the same school district, those who had been my students would talk to me about those presentations. It was what they remembered most of their elementary days. Where fixed schedules are present, all the special teachers have the common challenge of making their weekly (or less) meeting with students meaningful.  When you collaborate on a project of this scope you can make a huge difference in student learning and spotlight the value of what each of you bring to the educational community.

all subjects togetherThose with a flex schedule often have their own difficulties in getting teachers to collaborate.  Instead of focusing on the English, History, Math, and Science, consider making connections with art, music, and computer teachers.  Also look for possibilities working with world language teachers.  If you can develop a large, visible culminating activity, preferably one which the parents can see, you will lay the foundation for many more collaborative projects – including some with the more difficult-to-reach teachers.

Have you had any success working with those teaching special subjects?  Share your projects here or on the School Librarian’s Workshop Facebook group.

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Spring Cleaning – Fresh Perspective

happy-springFriday was the welcome arrival of spring.  Even if the weather has not caught up with the calendar, most of us are glad of the promise of warmer weather and enjoying the increasing hours of daylight.  There is the feeling of renewal which most ancient civilizations realized.  In the days before formal calendars and clocks ticking away hours, people knew the year began with spring, not in the middle of the night in the depths of winter.

Spring also means a break in the school schedule, usually for a week or more. Before you leave, do a bit of spring cleaning of your own.  Your desk is the first place to begin.  It’s amazing how much accumulates over the months school has been in session.  Do the same for the circulation desk.  If at all possible, get as much shelved as possible. Although the custodians will be working for at least some of the time, do what you can to put your library in order.  You will appreciate it when you return.spring cleaning

This is also a good time to clear out old ideas and bring in some fresh ones.  Just as we stop seeing our library the way first-time visitors see it, we tend to become too accustomed to what we teach and the resources we use. Without realizing it, we are failing to refresh approach to teaching and learning.

We know we live in a rapidly changing environment, but are so busy with the day-to-day we don’t realize when a frequently-taught lesson or a tried-and-true resource is no longer get the same level of response from students. A learning experience will not resonate as well with them when you have delivered it so often in the same way, you no longer focus on the outcomes you are trying to achieve.

fresh-thinkingNothing ages faster than technology.  It’s easy to keep using a web resource or app you have become familiar with, but there are many others out there that do the same thing.  Is there something better than the one you are using?  Are your students tired of the one they have been using over and over?

Revisit those units. Are the Essential Questions tied to it still the best ones?  Have you fully defined the Learner Outcomes?  Are any (all) part of Common Core Standards?  If not, can you tweak them?how can I

When was the last time you fully explored another way for students to share or present their research?  What can you use that gives them an opportunity to possibly connect globally with others?  Check Twitter and Google+ groups for ideas.  Use some of your vacation time to explore them.  When you return you will have more than a clean desk, you will have a clean perspective on where you want to take students for the rest of the school year.

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Mentors – Get One, Be One

keep calm - mentorI mentioned this topic almost a year ago, and my stand on its importance hasn’t changed. Charting your library program, managing students, and dealing with teachers and administrators, all in addition to the your ongoing tasks and responsibilities, can cause you to make damaging missteps. Library school prepared you for much of your job, but a lot wasn’t covered. Where do you turn to get help?

Some states require mentors for anyone new to librarianship.  If you are a classroom teacher, you usually get someone in your building who is from your grade level or subject area, but since there usually are no other librarians in the school, you are assigned a teacher as a mentor. Unfortunately, the teacher has no background in some of the problems you are confronting.mentor wanted

It’s important for you to be seen as the “expert” in managing the library so rather than asking a principal or a non-librarian supervisor for help, you need a mentor outside the building.  Other librarians in the district are one possibility.  Another is to check your state association’s electronic discussion board.  Who brings great information to it?  Which librarian seems highly skilled?  Contact her (or him) and ask if she would be willing to mentor you.

Be specific in what you want to know/learn.  Be open to whatever communication channel your potential mentor prefers. E-mail?  Phone? Skype? Respect the time your mentor gives you.  This means not missing any arranged phone calls and responding quickly to emails.  Listen to what you are told—and do it.  If it doesn’t work as planned, get back to your mentor.

Some of you are way past the newbie stage but are looking for more advanced knowledge.  Perhaps you want to propose your library become a learning commons, or you want to launch a makerspace program and are feeling uncertain. Instead of only doing research on your own, see who has successfully achieved the goal you want.  Ask them if they would mentor you in accomplishing it in your facility.  You will be amazed at how many well-known librarians are willing to make time to help you make your program better.

mentor modelIf you have been successful in developing a great program, look for opportunities to mentor other librarians.  Districts have begun filling positions.  Reach out to a new hire and offer to help. Find out how she (or he) is doing and where she might be floundering.  Being a lifeline can be very reassuring to an uncertain newbie.  Be mindful of your own time.  Let the librarian know what you are offering time-wise and how your want to manage this relationship. It’s too easy to get sucked into a situation where the librarian is contacting you on a daily basis.  As mentor, you are the one to set the guidelines.

For our students’ sake, for the sake of school library program, it’s vital for all librarians to be successful.  If you are struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help from those best able to give it.  If you have a program that’s well-regarded in your school/district, it’s important you give back by sharing your expertise.

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