Thursday, October 30, 2014

Old school

I took on an additional extracurricular role this fall, coaching our high school's scholar's bowl team. We have our last county tournament today, but basically my Wednesdays and Thursday have been spent with a bunch of smarty pants kids, mostly boys.

There are differences from my own scholar's bowl days 25 years ago. Looking at those, you can practically hear the coaches thinking about ways to increase collaboration -- "worksheets" of twenty questions which whole teams (six players, including the two alternates) work to complete in two minutes and "bouncebacks" where opposing teams can "steal" bonus points, so they have to listen to the other team's bonus questions.

The content itself isn't that different, and neither are the skills. There's a lot of recall, a lot of drill and memorization of dry facts like names and dates. So basically, it's the embodiment of everything they keep telling us twenty first century learning is NOT.

So I spend most of my days showing kids how to find information using external sources, but then I have these afternoons concerned with what students can do without tools. It is cognitively dissonant, but very very fun.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Like Coming Home

I have the BEST gig. Sometimes, I forget that.

I have been spending time lately in other areas -- capital L Librarianship, international children's literature, advocacy, and I have been spending more time at school on administrative tasks (whole school, not library -- technology planning, state standards, pulling together emergency curriculum). Not to mention my far-from-ideal temporary space. With all these preoccupations, sometimes I forget what an incredible lot of great work school librarians are doing all over...

That's why this was the perfect time for me to go back to School Library Journal summit. I have been to many of these, in Chicago twice, in Scottsdale, Fort Lauderdale, Crystal City. They are always stellar. And seeing all these librarians from all over, here on the weekend and most on their own dime, to improve the libraries in their schools is inevitably heartening. But this time it was like a homecoming. So many old and new friends, it felt like half the people I knew were in the room...and it has given me some courage I've, frankly, been lacking.

I know I was more audacious in my old position. I had tenure, I had a body of colleagues in the district, including the terrific Holly Whitt, who won the SLJ/Lego Build Something Bold! Award at the Summit.  I had central office people I knew I could ask for help. Things are different in a smaller district, and I've appreciated how that helps the students. Things are weird on the state level, too, with more bodies titularly working on library media but with what results? Not to mention that I have spent much of the past two years biting my tongue, when I moved into a temporary space with poor climate control, termites, and leaks, when my principal didn't give me materials funds last year, when I had 147 students assigned to the library for classes this year. I'm a team player, but I'm not a magician. 

There are a lot of question marks with the 1:1 iPad deployment slated for the spring and with the new facility. I had a teacher last week tell me she hated the idea of me putting old books on the new shelves. I am downright terrified to report that one of the PCs has a virus, because that will mean it might be taken away, never to return, and then we'll be down to two. These are issues about resources, but they are very real. So to hear from boots-on-the-ground librarians who had great out-of-the-box ideas was really inspiring, and it's given me the strength I needed to work towards more and better support for our students. It's the students who only have access to three PCs instead of the state's1:75 guideline, which would give us at least twelve. It's the kids who suffer when I don't dip into my own pocket for the latest Rick Riordan (which I did last year, when I was feeling luckier and more generous). It's the kids who need to learn better information skills even when the assignments are a Google-able. 

I need to have some hard conversations. It's not something that comes naturally to me. But I've left the intellectual cave of my doctoral dissertation and am ready to get back in the swing of things, especially considering how wonderful things CAN be. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

What I've Been Reading Lately...

Blame the Odyssey audiobook award committee work, but I've been reading adult titles almost exclusively over the last few months. It's an antidote to all the children's books I've been listening to...

Since Mexico City, I've been all about suspense. I steeped myself in some Sarah Rayne (What Lies Beneath, House of the Lost, The Roots of Evil), F. G. Cottam (The Colony).

I read the wonderfully creepy and atmospheric Long Lankin in Washington, and also pretty much all of Sarah Waters in a big gulp. I had encounters with Affinity early on, and had avoided her, but I found Fingersmith and The Night Watch much more compelling, and The Paying Guests was a particular treat.

In Vienna, it was a British women's literature binge after a stop at W.H. Smith in Heathrow. I read Shopaholics to the Stars (which ends with a cliffhanger! more Becky Bloomwood stateside), The Third Wife (which was as terrific as I'd anticipated), and The One Plus One, which was an incredible feat of storytelling but seems to have lost its titular article in the U.S. edition. I adore JoJo Moyes' work and am thrilled her books are being reissued stateside with more neutral covers.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


We spent fall break in one of the world's most civilized cities.

There was reading material everywhere...

Cultural landmarks...
A cat cafĂ©...

A Vermeer...

...but there were still selfies!

(at the mumok modern art museum, but still!)

Friday, October 3, 2014

A scary October!

I spend way too much time looking at my calendar, and this month it's scaring me silly!

I'm the new sponsor for our school's Scholar's Bowl team and we're deep in the fall season -- I spent the two last Thursday evenings and all day Saturday with those terrific kids. I think I got some cred as coach when "A Modest Proposal" popped up in competition after I drilled them on it just last week. It's taking me way back to my own high school days, and I'm realizing how much participating in something which showcased my own strengths meant to me at that age. And at school, it's Homecoming week -- the kids (and faculty) here go all out.

I went as Coraline get up for costume day Wednesday and seeing who recognized "me" was very gratifying.

I have to make a dash up to DC this weekend for the Newseum Teacher Open House... come if you're in the area for an introduction to their great teacher resources and some superior swag.

Want to come to gorgeous Point Clear for our 2015 Alabama Library Association Conference next April? Program proposals are open...