Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Those Bad Kids!

Managing student behavior can be tough. What is a librarian to do? 

This is how we handle behavioral issues in our high school learning commons.

We keep it simple. The rules are kept to a bare minimum, but flexible enough to cover a lot of ground.

Our rules:
4 to a table during lunch blocks.
Have work out in front of you.
Enjoy your food and drinks in the cafeteria.
Be nice.

We have no signs. We do a lot of walking around and talking with students to explain our expectations. Consistency is key. If a group of six is working diligently they still need to get their numbers down to four, because that rowdy group of five is watching and they don’t like what they view as favoritism. Four means four, for everybody.

Reward the Good
Positive reinforcement earns better behavior than rules and signs. Praising a students’ work ethic, behavior choices, praising just about anything, builds trust. This is money in the bank when a student is making bad choices and needs to be corrected.

When conflict arises I keep my emotions in check, and my voice low. When you yell you have lost the argument. If a situation is escalating I get very quiet and watch my body language. No hands on hips, no crossed arms. I stand at an angle to the student and validate his/her feelings of anger. “I can see you are upset with my decision. Let’s step outside so we can talk about it, because I want to settle this so we are both on the same page.”

Removing a student from the conflict helps decrease the chance of things turning into a spectacle. Head’s up, if you get into a power struggle with a student in in front of his/her friends, it will be a battle that you will lose. They will not lose face in front of their peers, and even if you do succeed in winning, you will lose that student forever. It is better to let it go and follow up later.

Occasionally I find myself saying “These kid…” and realize I am in a funk. It helps to remind myself that the overwhelming majority of our students are polite and incredibly hard working. It is a small minority who are consistently causing problems, and who require more drastic intervention. For these students our staff keeps a behavior log. We document when we have repeated problems with a student to see if there are patterns, and to make sure we are dealing with the issue. It also helps if we get questions from administration, faculty or parents.

Most importantly, I try to always remember that I have no idea what issues a student is carrying with him/herself when entering the learning commons. Stress at home, illness, anxiety over schoolwork, social problems, there are so many worries in a student’s life. Today as I write we have two teams about to compete in state championships. This is great, but it is also very stressful. Our staff understands that we could have some behavioral issues and this will impact how we deal with problems.

Lowering the Boom
When talking and reminding fails to bring about improved behavior we revoke privileges. Anywhere from a day to a week without access to the learning commons, the technology and resources and most important, their friends, usually brings them in line with our very basic expectations. We document whenever a student has privileges revoked.

The Goal
If a student is disciplined and never returns, I have failed. The goal is to have the student comfortable to return, and successfully meeting his/her goals in the learning commons. In dealing with some of my most challenging students I have been able to forge new respect and friendship. It is a great feeling.

Saving Grace
Laughter. Reminding myself that I have the best job in the world and that dealing with student behavior is part of that job, helps me maintain balance.

This 2.25 minute video on rules and business has a lot to offer school librarians. Work a look.

Don't punish everyone for one person's mistake from Derek Sivers on Vimeo.

Thanks to Free Technology for Teachers: Don't Punish Everyone: for the source of this video.

'via Blog this'

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Beyond Gold Stars

The days of the gold star on a worksheet have passed. Engaging in meaningful assessment tied to specific learning outcomes is no longer limited to classroom teachers. It needs to be integral to the information literacy curriculum of every school library.

Like many school districts, we have been engaged in curriculum mapping, discussions around the new Common Core State Standards, and the new regulations surrounding the supervision and evaluation of teachers in the state of Massachusetts. These are complicated discussions with important implications for school librarians.

Student achievement is at the heart of these activities and discussions. How do I, in my role, support student learning? What data do I collect that documents this learning? Am I holding myself to the same standard as my classroom colleagues?

These words from Richard DuFour were shared during a recent leadership team discussion:

"To what extent are the students learning the intended outcomes of each course? and What steps can I take to give both students and teachers the additional time and support they need to improve learning?"

The full article is well worth a look. It focuses us on what we need to do to participate as fully accountable educators within our schools.

  1. Clarify outcomes - What is the goal of each lesson? Is the goal transparent and assessed?
  2. Common assessments - How do we know if we are succeeding? Regular assessments are important, but we also need to be developing common assessments to obtain evidence on our effectiveness as teachers in improving student learning.
  3. Analyze results - Share this data with collaborating teachers and our administrative evaluators. Where is there room for professional growth? Where are our strengths, and where do we need to focus on improvement?
Working with our English Department, we have developed a core curriculum unit with embedded common assessments.  Sophomore students will be doing historical research to build context before starting to read The Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison. During this inquiry I will be teaching research skills, source citation, and providing a final, summative assessment on student works cited pages. This requires generating assessment rubrics for the skills I want my students to acquire.

Things I am thinking about:
  • How effectively can I provide formative feedback to both the student and teacher during the course of the unit? 
  • How will I leverage the face-to-face class time with students into an effective online partnership as they do their research independently?
  • How will I effectively collect and manage the assessment data to provide evidence of student learning and growth? 
Identifying opportunities for grade level common assessments will be an ongoing challenge, and a change in the way I have worked in the past. I am looking forward to moving our information literacy curriculum to a new level, with assessments to gauge the impact on student learning.

Gold stars are still nice. I'll stick one at the top of each summative assessment. 

The Learning-Centered Principal

May 2002 | Volume 59 | Number 8
Beyond Instructional Leadership    Pages 12-15 
The Learning-Centered Principal
Richard DuFour

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Saturday, October 1, 2011

Are We Having the Same eBook Discussion?

The eBook discussions seem to be getting muddier instead of clearer. Colleagues from the world of public libraries are posting incredible, informative and cautionary information on their experiences.

Three recent posts have been particularly fascinating:

INFOdocket Gary Price and Shirl Kennedy:
eBooks, Privacy, and the Library « INFOdocket

Chris Harris:
EBook Summit 2011: Don't Buy Ebooks

Bobbi Newman:
Public Library eBooks on the Kindle - We Got Screwed

Our learning commons has been writing grants and purchasing ebooks. We are focusing purchasing on developing a complete ebook reference collection, and a professional development collection. Future purchasing will concentrate on nonfiction, to support the goals of the ELA Common Core. (Unlimited access, where one ebook can be used by an unlimited number of patrons, is definitely the way to go.)

All our ebooks are web-based, because, as research resources, they are ideal for keyword searches and are not meant for extended reading. Text-to-speech functionality also allows reading disabled students to access the content. Push your vendors for this - they need your input to push publishers.

I worry that the frustrations surrounding Kindle, Nook, Overdrive and other proprietary platforms and devices, will deter school libraries from entering the ebook waters. Like our public library colleagues, we need to get in there and experiment, and learn about this environment. We need to accept that, during this transitional time, not everything is going to work.

But that doesn't mean it won't work! It is time to read up and start advocating administration, and writing grants, to do whatever it takes to start building our ebook collections.

A recent Facebook interchange with a school library soul buddy (Hi, Anita!) really crystallized this

Be brave. Be prepared to get it wrong, document your learning curve, and accept the transitional nature of "the book." I have high hopes for ebooks in school libraries.

If you want a fabulous FB school library friend, check out Anita! I am always looking for new library friends on FB, Twitter (concordrobin) and my new HAPPY PLACE Google+!

: )

PS - Thanks to Gwyneth for permission for the pic. She had already given a creative commons license on Flickr, and when I contacted her for permission she readily agreed. How wonderful to find photos from a school librarian on Flickr Creative Commons! I pledge to start posting school library photos tagged for other library bloggers. Thanks, Gwyneth!

Photo Credit:
Flickr Creative Commons
Kindle Library Skin
 The Daring LibrarianGwyneth Anne Bronwynne Jones

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A library in crisis

It was the morning of September 11th. I was an elementary school librarian. It was a perfect, serene, blue-skied September day.

My library aide and I were preparing the library for the new school year. Our roving tech guy came in on his rounds. “You guys have a TV? It sounds like something big is going on.” 

I remember being a little put out. I had things to do. But he was the nicest guy in the world, and he made it sound pretty urgent. We wheeled the TV out on its massive stand, plugged it in, and then screwed the cable connection into its port. The TV screen flickered on, and as I stood and looked at the screen, a plane slammed into the second World Trade Center tower, inches from my face.

Faculty began to get the word that something was happening and began to come into the library. The day evolved into faculty and staff rotating in to watch the television reports while their students were at recess or lunch. People wept. Our community was gripped with worries about civil crisis, their own families, and the sheer emotional trauma of the attack. That year we had a new faculty member. We hadn’t met yet, but as people gathered in front of the TV, I watched as she first looked at the television and then came to my desk and asked, “How do I dial out?” Her brother worked there. On one of the top floors.

Our principal joined staff throughout the day in the library, giving updates for dissemination throughout the building. We all wondered whether school should close. The message came from the Superintendent. Children were safest in school, and the day would continue.

In the years since then, I have moved from elementary to high school. Here our mission is different. High school students are active consumers of news. It isn’t a time to shelter them, but rather an opportunity to expand their understanding of global events. It is commonplace for us to stream breaking news on our ActivBoards during the school day. In the past year we have shown important events using diverse sources such as Twitter and live streaming news from Al Jazeera. Students, faculty, and staff come to us for the most current information, because our mission is to locate and organize information quickly and effectively.

On this 9/11, I strengthen my resolve to be the information center for our school community and to teach our students the information skills to navigate these challenging times.

Let’s roll.

Photo credit:
Flickr Creative Commons
Fabio Marini 

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Day 219photo © 2009 Fergus Randall | more info (via: Wylio)
‘There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth…not going all the way, and not starting.’ ~Buddha

We had a great year. There were more opportunities for students to access and manage information in new ways, and our Kindle roll-out that included new ways for students to read, review and blog. There was intense grant writing to expand our e-book resources, more staff development to keep us all at the top of our game, and best of all were the deeper, collaborative  connections with teachers to expand information skills assessment of student work.

Transitioning to a learning commons model  allowed us to think differently, give ourselves permission to try new things and share ownership of the program goals and space. We are an academic center, a classroom, a media production center, a performance venue, a place for relaxed social learning and intense individual study. We are a resource for all learners and fierce advocates for those who read and learn differently. We are the cultural center of our community. And we have so much more to do!

Believing all this was possible was a leap of faith. The change began with committing, and starting.

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Friday, June 10, 2011

Thanks, Oprah, but you got it wrong

"Oprah Winfrey ended the 25-year-run of her wildly popular talk show with the announcement of two school-library initiatives, one of them partially funded by her audience members."

Oprah Ends 25-Year Run with Spotlight on School Libraries

It's not about the carpets, the furniture or about the room. It's not about the books.

The real mission of the school library is teaching. The real "treasure" is the school teacher-librarian who effectively advocates for resources to teach children to become information and technologically literate. In the global information economy we need audiences to cheer and open their wallets for school budgets and funded libraries staffed by certified teacher-librarians.

Sure, reading is central to the mission. The books are important. But without a school librarian people are mistaking the crucial, instructional mission of the school library with that of a browsing bin.

It is time for school libraries and teacher-librarians to stop being identified with books on a shelf.

So, thanks for the shout-out, Oprah. Nobody has been a more effective advocate for reading than you. Next time I hope it will be a shout-out for the skills students need to organize and make sense of their quickly changing world and the curriculum instructors who teach these skills. School teacher-librarians.

Photo Credit:
Oprah's Book Club

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Seth and Me

On a quiet Sunday morning I woke early, made a cup of tea, and checked my RSS feed. Seth Godin's post It's not the rats you need to worry about really made me think.

I thoughtfully reflected on my practice in school librarianship. I wrote a blog post. 2010.

Being a thoughtful practioner, I emailed Seth for permission to link to his post  via the email on his website. On that quiet Sunday morning, to my shock, he responded less than ten minutes later. Twenty minutes later he posted his now infamous, in our circle, the first of his library posts in which he he exhorts libraries to train people to take intellectual initiative.
I respectfully suggest to librarians that Seth really does get it as his latest post shows. This is what we do in schools, IF we are doing our jobs. As leaders in our field reflect, Seth is the ultimate patron. School libraries, public libraries - all libraries.

Thanks for paying attention, Seth.

Photo credit:
Green tea
Dano via Flickr Creative Commons

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

LA Unified needs GaGa

With the disturbing grilling of librarians in California, maybe the defense should call Lady Gaga.

Lady Gaga: Self-professed Librarian of Glam

This card certifies the little monster named above is a member of the Haus of Gaga Library.
You may be held responsible for your own cultural education.

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Death by To-Do List

 How long is your to-do list? It is probably as ridiculous as mine. Overwhelming.

The list is great until something pops up and takes precedence. That thing (a purchase order that needs to be straightened out, planning a new research activity, or a messy student media project that needs to be untangled) blows the to-do list out of the water. The to-do list starts to become a guilty annoyance rather than a productivity tool.

As a busy librarian I was responding to teachers, students and administration and not feeling like I was moving forward on important goals and my vision for our learning commons. The day-to-day stuff was becoming a negative black hole of my time, and I was losing the capacity for the big picture planning and collaboration I wanted to accomplish.

I got some clarity from a great blog called Zen Habits. The post Kill Your To-Do List really resonated. It is a short post and worth clicking through to read.

Does this describe your to-do list?
"They’re long, you never get to the end of them, and half the time the tasks on the list never get done. While it feels good to check items off the list, it feels horrible having items that never get checked off. This is all useless spending of mental energy, because none of it gets you anywhere.
The only thing that matters is the actual doing."

Consider this:

"The One Thing System
  1. I wake up in the morning, and decide what One Thing I’m excited about.
  2. Then I focus on doing that, pushing everything else aside, clearing distractions, and allowing myself to get caught up in the moment."

This system doesn't include the regular day-to-day things you are going to do anyway. Those things are variations on your routine obligations. The One Thing System prioritizes your time and energy to focus on your vision and passion. Imagine the liberation of a to-do list with one item, and it is something you are excited about.

There are still days that are overwhelming, and the to-do list never really goes away. But my mental One Thing helps me carve out time for what I value. Like blogging : )

Photo Credit
Flickr Creative Commons
:- To Do
by Rob Ward

Photo Credit:

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Monday, February 28, 2011

The Cushing discussion continues

Many thanks to Shannon Acedo, Department Head of Library and Information Technology at the Harvard-Westlake Upper School, for her thoughtful comments to my blog post Cushing: a new model for libraries. I contacted Shannon and she has generously given me permission to re-post her comments.

Thanks for providing the opportunity to revisit “The Cushing Effect” after things have settled down a bit. Your blogpost has engendered a lively discussion among independent school librarians.

Cushing has moved away from a ‘Collection Maintenance Philosophy’. Personally, I’m a firm believer in the ‘Collection Development Philosophy’, and the primary value of our collection (both print and digital) is that it is carefully crafted to support the curriculum at our school. We weed old materials, purchase new materials (print and digital), and work closely with teachers to make sure we have what our students need. Format is not an issue; content is.

Cushing’s print art books are kept because they are hard to get in digital format; in spite of this perceived value in print materials there is no intent on maintaining that collection or adding to it. This must eventually lead to a gap in resources, as the art world is decidedly not static. If a particular area is not easily duplicated in electronic format, doesn’t that emphasize the need for a complete collection consisting of print AND digital resources?

All the work our students do is to prepare them for their future lives, with an immediate goal of success in college. We need to be aware of the resources at the colleges and universities our students will attend and make sure we prepare them to navigate those resources productively. We also must support our students as they do their work here on campus, and our teachers require a variety of different resources for this purpose. We work hard to make sure it is ALL available.

I do love the information literacy curriculum as presented by Cushing—indeed I’m jealous. We are working on defining our 6-year information literacy program, moving ahead a bit at a time, but I’m inspired by what they are doing at the Fisher-Watkins library.

• The library at Cushing is neither a pariah nor (imho) a powerhouse—it’s a library with its own strengths and weaknesses
• There are aspects of the space and program at Cushing that I can benefit from
• The value of a library collection is based on its content and not on its format; format is important only as it impacts access
• One of our most important roles in the Independent School world is to prepare our students for success in college; to do so we must teach them how to use libraries like the ones they will see in college.

Thanks again for inspiring a lively debate on a very timely topic.

Thank you, Shannon, for your wonderful contribution to this ongoing discussion.

Photo credit:
via Wylio
Amazon Kindle eBook Reader

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Banner ducks!

For some people a certain groundhog is the harbinger of spring. For others it is Red Sox Truck Day - the day they pack up the gear at Fenway for the drive to Fort Meyers and the start of spring training.

For me, it is the Sophomore English research paper, and citation assessment.  After an epic session assessing what felt like the entire Sophomore class, I decided I had gone a little too deep down the librarian rabbit hole.

So I checked in on Facebook.

THEN I saw the feed from my brother-in-law (Thomaaaaas!) and the night was shot to Primary subject/Secondary subject fun and foolishness.

The  Random Paragraph Generator is such a cool little site! Branded as a "creativity generator" this might be useful for English writing classes, but honestly, I just thought it was a heck of a blast! Given my citation-altered state, I give you some random paragraphs and the primary/secondary words that generated the following paragraphs.

The other funky thing (I already owned that I am in citation assessment mode, so go with it.) is the url: is a very fun site with three categories of "creativity tools". 
  1. Brainstorming
  2. Random generators
  3. Name finder
Anyway, check out some examples on the "Random Paragraph Generator": 

Primary: library
Secondary: research
"Will library mend within research? Library gears research past the aunt. Why does research trade library? A banner ducks! Research argues next to library."

Primary: citation
Secondary: bibliography
"Citation hashes bibliography. Bibliography strikes. Bibliography leaps upon the genetics before the hope. The increasing inheritance ascends outside the controversial glow."

Wishing everyone a banner ducks spring!

Photo Credit:
Via Wylio
Rubber ducks with sunglasses

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