Tuesday, April 21, 2015


I posted this originally on the SCSD Media Services: Making Connections web page.

#fail and #win

A year ago I told my supervisor, Matt Townsley that I planned to retire at the end of the 2015 school year. During the last twelve months, I've had time to reflect on my 37 year career and my 12 years at Solon CSD, my first and only experience in a school library setting. I've gotten a lot of positive feedback from my administration, staff, colleagues and even our local media, but maybe surprisingly, I've thought a lot more about what I didn't do than what I did do.

A couple months ago, I started making my #fail list. Things that didn't get done, things I wish I had done, areas where I didn't meet my own expectations. I was pretty hard on myself, but I did try to balance it out with a (shorter) list of good things.

When it came time for my annual presentation to the Leadership team, I decided to be vulnerable and share my thoughts.

But I softened the approach a bit.

I wish I had...
I'm glad I...

I was hired during a 3 year period when school librarians were required to have a master's degree in library science, but not  a teaching certificate. I was in the dark about the political situation that created that gaping hole in the code and was just thrilled to have the job as we moved back to Iowa after traveling the world for a couple of decades. I didn't understand the implications for me in terms of interacting with teachers and teacher librarians. I felt isolated and defensive. #iwish I had understood the ramifications of working in a school system without a teaching certificate.

Several years into my tenure, I looked into what it would take to achieve the status I craved. I contacted the AEA, the SLIS at University of Iowa and talked to several colleagues I respected. It was discouraging. One friend told me I'd be better off finding a different job and I took that advice applying for academic positions in the region. I didn't meet their needs and I continued on as the K-12 media specialist. I learned later of other people in a similar situation that were able to find programs that helped them achieve their certifications with special programs. #iwish I had been able to do that.

I believe there is value in the degree. I understand how important it is to speak the same language and to understand what you are talking about. 

I tried. 

I read a lot. I attended workshops. I signed up for webinars. I listened to my colleagues. But I didn't have that basic foundation and it was a hindrance in terms of credibility and implementation. #iwish I had.

Pedagogy. It isn't just jargon.

I never found my comfortable spot among the Professional Learning Communities in my district. Because of that I missed opportunities for collaboration, networking and curriculum integration. I considered myself a "singleton" and found my community among colleagues within my Personal Learning network. #iwish I had found meaningful connections closer to home.

Reading is central to the mission of SCSD Media Services. Having academic training in the teaching of reading instruction would have been very valuable. #iwish I had sought out those opportunities.

Statistics, reports, stories, blogs, tweets, student work published on the web site. I still could have done more to connect the library program to student achievement. #iwish I had more non-anecdotal evidence to show that having a strong information literacy curriculum and a well supported collection has made a difference in student learning.

We've had dozens of student teachers cycle through the district during the last 12 years. What did they learn about the role of the school librarian? #iwish I had made more of those connections.

The counselors and TAG teachers are natural partners. #iwish I had sought more opportunities to collaborate.

New teachers are such an amazing asset to the district. They bring enthusiasm and new ideas. I've been grateful for the chance to meet with them during their orientation period, but#iwish I had been more assertive with followup - to offer assistance and to suggest opportunities for collaboration.

I might have gotten some good feedback on how to communicate more effectively if I had done annual evaluative surveys of the staff. #iwish that I had asked more often and directly, "how am I doing?"

Our students have excellent access to technology (and I ran a weekly tech club for several years), but I was never successful in organizing and running a student run tech help system.#iwish that I could have persuaded students to take ownership of this learning, to share their skills with both staff and the student body.

In the last twelve years, there has been a deemphasis on print collections, but they are still important. #iwish I could have spent more time weeding the collections and making them relevant, up to date and attractive to readers. We came a long way, (purchasing new materials, organizing the fiction into genres) but there is still work to be done. It is a never ending process.

We've invested in ebooks and there are pockets of use, especially for unlimited simultaneous access nonfiction for the classroom, but students don't really think of the school library as a source for pleasure reading via download. #iwish I had done more to get the word out.

Students doing independent study could benefit from a mandatory checkin with the librarian.#iwish I had pursued that. It would have helped develop relationships and perhaps helped students and instructors discover new resources and connections.

After 12 years of modeling the use of Print Preview and reminding students of the importance of conservation, the amount of waste still makes me cringe. #iwish I could have helped save a tree or two.

It breaks my heart to see students so disappointed when my mind goes blank on their names (even though I've known them since they were in in kindergarten). #iwish I had steel trap memory so that I could recall the names of the hundreds of students that I've had the pleasure to know. I've loved seeing them mature into wonderful young adults.

Lakeview Facilitator, Lori Grimoskas, posted this message on the staff lounge door a couple of years ago and there has not one school day since that I haven't thought about it. How can I have significant relationships with 1,400 students and over 100 staff members? #iwish it was possible.

Differentiation is the mantra. #iwish I had been able to work more closely with Learning Center staff and classroom teachers to understand the specific learning styles of their students and to develop approaches to assist them.

#iwish I could have read more books. Picture books, middle school books, YA books, award winning books, books the kids love...

I talked a lot about books. But it still wasn't enough. #iwish I had done much more hand selling of books, especially at the elementary school.

For some staff, my most visible role was as AV wrangler. It's a job I taught myself and wasn't especially fond of (I don't miss the days of cleaning overhead projectors). #iwish that I could have somehow upgraded those transactions into possible collaborations that involved student learning.

I work with phenomenal women. They do it all. They support me. They love the kids. They greet everyone with a smile. They always give 110%. They manage the day to day operations of each library. They deal with problems and think independently. They have an enormous amount of responsibility. #iwish I had been a more effective advocate for them. I haven't heard one complaint about their salaries, but one thing I know. Their value far exceeds their compensation.

One librarian for 1400 students and 3 buildings is not ideal. The reason the list above is so long is that I constantly felt like I wasn't doing enough, that more was possible. It bothered me - a lot. I hoped that I was demonstrating that successes would be multiplied with another professional on the team. That with additional staff, collaborations would be routine, not special. #iwish I had successfully made the case that a district of our size needs to follow the lead of districts like Mt Vernon, Williamsburg and Washington and restore the staffing levels that predated my tenure.  

This was my biggest #fail.

So, what about #win? Or #i'm glad?
The list isn't as long, but there are a few things I'm proud of.

#i'mglad that I pushed myself to write and to publish in indexed journals (YAY! my name is in Ebsco!) I wrote articles for Knowledge Quest (thank you Carolyn Starkey for thinking of me) and Teacher Librarian (thanks to a post shared on the AASL email list). Doing the thinking, the research, the editing and feeling the pressure of deadlines reminded me what it is like to be a student - not a bad thing. It was also an intellectual challenge that (aside from the stress), I enjoyed. I recommend the process.
I'm coming up on my 5 year anniversary as a user of the social media platform, Twitter. For me, it has been a strictly professional connection that changed my professional life. Prior to the discovery of this tremendous resource, I felt lonely and isolated as the single librarian in our district. Yes, I read blogs, subscribed to journals online via our databases and was addicted to LM_Net, but it was really a one way relationship. I was just taking it all in. I wasn't sharing. Well, after all - what did I have to share? Attributing my change of heart to a video might seem a reach, but looking at sharing through the "obvious to you, amazing to others" lens was a turning point for me. 

Little by little, I started posting ideas, photos, links and comments rather than just lurking and I developed an odd, but strangely compelling affection for the routine of "checking the Twitter". Through this 140 character dialog, I've learned so much, been challenged to try new things and "met" so many amazing people. Thank you to Matt Townsley for being my Twitter mentor. #i'mglad I took the plunge.

When students are producing digital artifacts, why not share them? Yes, it is a lot of work to gather the files, upload them and post them, but when you are done you have an accessible catalog of what they have accomplished, with your guidance. #i'mglad I took the time to share.

Transparency. What I've done is out there for anyone to see. Over 1,400 posts on my various blogs (including this one), hundreds of photographs, dozens of Google sites, dozens of iWeb pages, videos on YouTube, an eportfolio on Pinterest. I have so many accounts that I can barely remember or keep track of them. I'm not hiding. #i'mglad that I've shared.

Technology changes everyday and it is a struggle to keep up with it. But I tried! I wanted to be a resource to students and staff, so I challenged myself to learn how to use new services and devices. It was fun and I learned so much. #i'mglad I embraced my inner geek.

Over the years I've attended innumerable workshops and training sessions. At SCSD, I decided I could be in the front of the class, partnering with some talented and smart colleagues - Dawn Posekany, Jan Johnson, Maria Schroeder... Matt Townsley and I have presented together at least 5 times, maybe more. Is it easy? No. Did I get nervous? Yes. Was it worth it? #i'mglad I pushed myself to share.

It is impossible to develop authentic relationships with 1500 , but it is possible to establish meaningful ties with a handful of individuals and that is what I did. After years of feeling like a failure for not finding collaborative ties with certain teams, grade levels or teachers, I decided to concentrate on successes and there were many. #i'mglad that I focused on and acknowledged those partnerships.

Each building has its own distinct personality and culture, but media services is a team. We plan together, share our ideas and support each other. I am so proud of this crew of smart, talented, empathetic, passionate and dedicated women. #i'mglad that I could be a member of this extraordinary team.
And then there is this team of administrators. These are busy people. They have responsibilities and stresses that we can't comprehend, but each one of them supported me, my team and the program. Although I may not have had the coveted monthly meetings that I hoped for my first couple of years, I did have their full attention at least once a year during an administrative team meeting and I know they were aware of what was happening in media services. I received many kind notes, words of encouragement and positive feedback, making me feel that I was making a difference. That is what has really mattered. #imglad I had the opportunity to play a part in the success of this team.


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