Shaking up the PD game

I could swim in a sea of professional development for librarians and never tire of it, and yet last spring I felt I needed a change, so decided to take a 2nd-year university statistics course to better support our AP Research students. I liked stats in grad school and it would exercise some neglected grey matter – how bad could it be? (TL;DR bad then not bad).

By week 3, I had learned what I came for which was unfortunate as there were 9 weeks left to go. However, this spoke to one of the most valuable takeaways: 

It was very helpful for me to re-live the student experience.

As Courtney noted in her most recent blog post, “it’s important to place ourselves in the shoes of our students”. Taking one little course reminded me of the deft juggling required to manage a full course load. Managing one’s time, seeking extra help, pushing through dense material and continued stepping up to the plate while regularly striking out – I had seriously forgotten what this all felt like from a student perspective.

Online asynchronous learning is not a vibe for me.

Online is one thing, but asynchronous is a whole other, and the combination was not conducive to good learning in my case – but this may just be me. I’d love to ‘hear’ a comment from someone who’s had a different experience.

I am definitely the turtle, not the hare.

Slow and steady wins the race for me. Bombing most of the timed tests was balanced out by thoroughly completing weekly assignments; knowing this, I’m curious how I can apply it other areas of my life.

I can do hard things.

Despite there being many, many moments when I may not want to.

I’m glad I tried something different; it felt great to exercise some long-dormant brain cells. And while I struggled mightily (including failing a midterm), I finished stronger than I thought possible. More importantly, I developed much empathy for our students in the process.

Kudos conundrum

At our 2021 (virtual) Speech Day last week, our head prefects were very kind to mention me in their graduating address:

“Mrs Straughan can find any book on the library shelves and is the only person who can fix the library printer”.

Sigh. So kind but so concerning.

My initial reaction was a feeling of appreciation followed quickly by a melodramatic “I’m SO glad I went to grad school to have this kind of impact on the upcoming generation!” with eyeroll accompaniment. All to myself of course.

However, like you, much of my time is spend fostering effective search skills, guiding through citation, recommending great books, sourcing elusive information – why didn’t they mention any of that?

But what if I looked at it differently? What if I applied a Seth-Godin-like perspective?

“Mrs Straughan can find any book on the library shelves” may mean that DDC remains a mysterious code for my students.  So, do I do a better job at de-coding OR do I finally get over my lack of confidence about  “bookstoreifying” our collection? Keeping DDC for retrieval purposes while re-organizing in a way that makes sense to students, with MUCH better signage?

“…and is the only person who can fix the library printer” may mean that as much as I value my education and champion my professional expertise, sometimes what matters to a frantic student is that I am able to do a small technical task quickly at a time when it really matters to them. Hopefully with a reassuring smile on my face.

Let 21-22 find me immersed in a reorganization plan with more patience for that darn printer and less inclination for eye-rolling.

Making the most of April 9th

Aways appreciative of PD opportunities, I have been particularly eager for ways to connect with others through virtual workshops, blog posts, Zoom meets, etc. during this heck of a year.

So I’m pretty excited about our upcoming AISL conference – but also a little trepidatious. To be honest, as incredible as the lineup is, it’s only going to be valuable to me if I have a game plan to focus as much as possible. While I appreciate virtual PD, it has proven far too easy for me to be interrupted and distracted. So here ‘s the plan –

In advance

I’ll make sure to carefully review the conference schedule in advance; with the banquet, presentations, seminars & table talks all happening in the span of just a few hours, I need to have a strategy (priorities with alternatives noted)

Being in the moment

I hereby acknowledge that taking part in virtual PD from my office is not going to happen in any meaningful way. Maybe my supervisor is supportive of me leaving school early to connect from home?  Maybe there’s a corner of my library, or even better, hidden away in my school? I’ll plan to put a sign on the door,  email on out-of-office, and phone on silent. I’ll also give myself ½ hour in advance to eat, fill my water bottle and take a bio break.

Wrapping up

A few years back, disheartened by the number of conference bags sitting in the corner of my office – filled with valuable notes not looked at since the day of return – I began using travel time home to create a list of actionable items that can be implemented either short- or long-term. I’ll do the same on Apr 9th. Fewer things done is better than more things stagnated.

After the fact

While I will miss sitting around with friends (preferably by a pool with drink in hand), nothing is stopping me from reaching out and connecting virtually – so join me in reaching out to someone! I took part in a recent AISL Zoom chat and ‘met’ some people I’d love to get to know better. Here’s to checking in with people we miss and making new friends!

How do YOU prepare to make the most of your online PD?

Ages & stages

I can’t be the only one thinking a little bit more about retirement these days.

When looking at lists of pending retirees in recent years (both within AISL and at my school) , I have been taken aback by the increasing number of people listed whom I consider mentors. It really does seem like yesterday when I first met them, had the pleasure of learning alongside them, and began seeking  them out for guidance and direction. These librarians and teachers have had a seminal effect on my growth, largely professional but in many ways, personal. I focus on being happy about someone’s planned retirement while feeling something akin to distress. 

So – where to from here?

Theorist Donald Super offers these 5 stages of self-concept & career development

I wish I’d seen this a couple of years ago when I was flummoxed by the plateau I was feeling; I now realize that it was the stagnation noted in the Maintenance stage. 

Almost 20 years into librarianship, I have been fortunate to be involved with some major tasks: three LMS migrations, the revitalization of a school library program, a renovation and integration into our new school commons, and much technological transformation. I firmly believe that our school deserves dynamic people at the helm, and my diminished emotional state was making me question whether or not I should be passing the torch.

Fortunately, by this time last year, I seemed to have gotten my rhythm back. Just in time for the pandemic – ironic, but also timely, and it has provided opportunity for creativity and innovation in ways we couldn’t have imagined.

I’m going to embrace being at the Maintenance stage: holding on to what is serving my students well, updating what needs to be refreshed, recognizing feelings of stagnation if they return but aiming to push past them by continuing to innovate

I’m also going to work finding a new word for the 5th stage: “Decline”, my posterior. It’s clear Super never met a KARL 😉

“Moment of opportunity”

It wasn’t until I began queuing up my draft that I realized it would be posted today – January 20th, 2021. My planned topic isn’t be very relevant to the occasion; even as a Canadian, this day is looming large. So rather than musing about retirement (not anytime soon, more about that next month), I offer this….

Dear American members of AISL;

Happy Inauguration Day to you all! 

Today’s ceremony & celebration will look and feel very different for many reasons. I do hope that every one of you, along with everyone in DC, keeps safe and healthy as you transition to leadership that seems to reflect what we hold dear: honouring education, respecting science, listening to and working with each other towards shared goals.

Once immediate and critical issues impacting your county are addressed, I am hopeful that the Biden administration will be more responsive than the previous to issues affecting school libraries and therefore students, as thoroughly noted in this letter with a particular focus on this “moment of opportunity to shape the future of education for a stronger, more equitable, and just society” (ALA/AASL, 2021).

I will raise my glass to you and yours this evening!

Being (self) judgy

Recent email from a colleague at my school:

Click here for quick (Screencastify) tutorial. It was a one-take video, don’t judge!

Don’t judge. 

Judgment as a whole is a bit much to wrangle, so let’s focus on the one-take video. 

I was new to Screencastify when we moved online in the spring. Well, not quite new, but certainly not comfortable. This fall, I continued to create what was necessary but spent an awful lot of time deleting, re-recording and attempting to edit.

Until recently, when a Gr 9 teacher asked me for some resources with little notice. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity, so I quickly produced 5 short videos:

  • Noodletools (setting up account; the basics; more advanced)
  • Using SIFT to evaluate a resource
  • Doing a basic database search

I don’t consider this my finest work, but the teacher was thrilled! Really…I couldn’t believe how grateful he was for what I produced.

We know that buying into editing culture is damaging, but I’d never before thought of editing/re-recording my own videos in that light. It got me thinking about what I’m aiming for. Certainly my work needs to be clear, thorough and understandable, but it need not be perfect. If I appreciate imperfection in others, why the heck am I worrying about it in me?

I now rarely edit or re-record; the time-saving has been considerable, I think the delivery seems more natural and I’m even making (some) peace with hearing my own voice when people are listening to it.

I’ll be over here toning down my self-judgement – hope you’ll join me.

Best laid plans

What I had planned to write about this month: something about growing into the early-twilight stage of my career, or how to prioritize/plan for collection development. 

What I ended up writing: nothing. I’m sure this is not a surprise to anyone living the 2020 back-to-school experience.

So here, in the spirit of Oprah, are some things I know for sure:

It is SO much better being on campus than online.

I am enormously grateful for the PD communities that have kept me afloat since the world went sideways. AISL is a significant part of my library life. I LOVE that I have people I consider close colleagues spread across much of this crazy continent we call home, people I lean on as much as I do those I work with in person.

Ensuring that everyone is masked and physically distant is a challenge indeed.

I don’t want to get sick. I don’t want to make my family sick. I don’t want to be online again. 

This hard. And I know that we can do hard stuff. But still.

Thinking of you all and counting the days until #DC2022,

Shelagh

Self-auditing

Last summer, I attended the excellent AISL Summer Institute on diversifying collections (offered by the wonderful people at John Burroughs School).  During the iceberg activity (my quickly-sourced reference, not theirs), I felt a much needed slap to my privileged face to realize that when I walk into a room, people see a white, middle-aged woman. Gender and age may preoccupy my attention a bit, but thinking about my race is something that I, as a white person, am not forced to do on a constant, relentless basis.  If you’ve had any uncertainty about white privilege, THIS IS IT.

I am grateful for all that I learned at this SI and have been applying it to my senior school library. For example, an audit of the past 7 years of our summer reading program revealed a preponderance of white, male authors, so we were very intentional in having better representation in this year’s list in terms of authors and characters – the smallest of baby steps.

I’ve recently realized though that I’ve been slow to turn my eye inward – looking at the books and blogs I read, the podcasts I listen to, the social media accountsI follow. Keeping in mind that this is very much a cursory glance and I have much more work to do, here’s what I found when I dug in:

Books: while my taste runs to narrative nonfiction (heavy on anything involving food – I love reading cookbooks, the older the better), I am a high school librarian and so read quite a bit of YA. While much of it offers racial diversity, it turns out that I read more with plots involving socio-economic diversity and/or featuring LGBTQ+ characters. When it comes to race I’m still leaning heavily towards mirrors, rather than seeking out windows and sliding glass doors.  Noted and on it, with my summer goal being to alternate YA/popular fiction and NF books specifically about racism/antiracism.

Social media: I tend to use Twitter for professional development and Instagram for personal use (I have two accounts – one private, and one public).  My Twitter feed is much more racially diverse than my IG feed, so I am grateful for IG recommendations such as @ava and @cleowade. I am now following authors whose books have made a profound impact on me (@ijeomaoluo, @ibramxk). A shoutout to @monachalabi, a remarkable data journalist and artist whom I had the good fortune to hear from at this past January’s provincial library conference – the work she shares through her IG feed is superb (appalling, heart-wrenching and superb).

Podcasts: Looks like I’m pretty selective, heavily on NPR and CBC content. While their stories are fairly diverse, all of the hosts are white men. So again, I’ve been grateful for suggestions from others; as  I enjoy learning about personal finance, I am currently enjoying Frugal Chic Life and Popcorn Finance. 

The more I learn, the more I feel that what I am doing is inadequate, but the alternative is to let myself become overwhelmed and do nothing. Which I refuse to do as this is too important. I’d love to hear what you’re reading/watching/listening to – more recommendations welcome!

Verily vulnerable

I can’t be the only librarian who follows the work of Brene Brown, particularly her study of vulnerability. Under normal circumstances, I would say that I embrace being vulnerable, but these are not normal circumstances, and it seems glaringly obvious to me now that I’ve not been walking my talk. 

The transition to e-learning and working from home has made me feel particularly vulnerable in a few ways that challenge me. From silly to serious, here are some thoughts:

My online appearance

As in awe as I am of those of you who look so polished when I meet you at conferences, I’m just not that kind of gal. However, whether it’s the lighting or the paint colour in my storage room home office, I’d been feeling (and therefore acting) kind of schlumpy, even though I continue to dress as I would for school – likely because it’s not the clothing that’s mostly showing up on screen (although perhaps not in this case). I am now paying a bit more attention to my hair and actually putting on some mascara and lip colour before opening up the virtual library for the day. Taking these extra 3 minutes makes a positive difference in how I look, and therefore feel – who knew?! (all of you, I’m sure…I’m keenly aware that I’m late to this party)

Parental engagement

Like many of you, I love having parents engaged in the life of the school but it’s a bit unnerving having them actually in the classroom. At the end of a recent AP Research class, the mom of one of my students leaned into the video to say hi – so lovely but so unexpected. Once the gerbil wheel of panicked thoughts (was she there the whole time? what did I say today? how did I sound? I often joke with my kids – did my informality come across as unprofessional?) finally slowed down, I realized that it can only be good for me to teach all the time as if a parent is in the room.

The future

I love working at an independent school, where my job depends upon how well I support students and staff; I think the accountability helps to keep faculty engaged and evolving in how best to serve students and families.

Of course this means is that my position is inexorably linked to pandemic / economic-affected admissions; I assume this is the case for many of you as well. The B side to my anxiety about the virus has been concern about what September looks like. I feel valued and supported at my school but I don’t teach math (my slightly-in-jest litmus test of all things necessary). While our virtual library has been steadily busy in the online environment (me being available during the academic day in a Google Meet link for research support & readers’ advisory, as well as visiting virtual classes for instruction), I feel that what I offer to the school is not as obvious as it was on campus. This knot of concern was fairly debilitating for the first few weeks but through much100 walking, I’ve been trying to park it in the land of things-I-cannot-control, and focus on the here and now. Where I am healthy and employed and have much to be grateful for.

Brene tells us that vulnerability is showing up and being seen. Well done you (and me), for doing this each and every day.

A rose by any other name

I recently wrote an article for our school newsletter and in doing so, struggled with how best to refer to myself (job title: librarian) and my colleagues (job titles: library assistants).  I ultimately went with “library team” as it acknowledged how I view us collectively, while allowing me to conveniently sidestep the issue.

Which apparently is something to do with the fact that I am very proud of being a librarian; graduate school was tough and I feel that I earned the title – plus it is my official job title. In the same vein, my two colleagues hold the official title of “library assistant”.  Why do I worry that this somehow implies something negative? That the definition of them being people “who rank below a senior person” (OED), while technically accurate, is demeaning? Or that someone might think they’re my assistants? I too rank below a senior person (and had a short but satisfying stint as an assistant in my former corporate life), so what’s my problem? 

This issue came up in a workshop discussion at a recent library conference. I learned that there had been a big dustup about an association-level document referring to anyone working in a school library as “library workers”.  Some people were upset about not being referred to as librarians; others were upset about teacher librarians and ‘non-professionals’ being lumped in with professional librarians. “Library workers” seemed to be a good example of a compromise that satisfied no one.

So when does a title matter within our school community? I guess when putting the staff directory together. Certainly when the buck stops with me regarding a sticky issue. And absolutely in terms of compensation and being viewed as a stakeholder. But when it comes to our students, most do not distinguish us by job title; to them, we are all librarians. At my school, they focus on the interaction rather than the title of person with whom they are interacting – is this the same for your schools?

I like the slightly facetious wording suggested by one person at the workshop: “all beating hearts who work in a school library in support of students”.  This doesn’t address my weirdness, but it does in some way reflect how I feel. Roses all 🙂