Friday, December 29, 2017

Letting Go

The picture at the left is what remains of my first home, the house where I blissfully spent the first seven years of my life.  It now sits on the city's demolition list, abandoned and used for too many drug deals to make its restoration desirable.  Doors are busted out, broken windows are boarded.  But you should have seen it back then.  

Well, maybe not.  The truth is it was a small two bedroom, one bath house situated on a foreboding hillside and in the midst of a bad turn on our town's major highway.  The front porch was always dirty from the traffic, and heavy concrete posts had been driven in the ground in front of the house to keep errant vehicles that missed the turn from coming in our living room.  The living room was an acceptable size, but the two bedrooms and bath were barely sufficient to sleep our family of five.   Steps from the living room led to the basement and then to the dining room and kitchen beneath that.  There was a back porch that set off the dining room that seemed entirely too high in the air.  The metal cabinetry and old appliances in the kitchen were utilitarian at best.

But in that kitchen was a cheery red table where I drew pictures as Grandma fixed dinner, backed a pie, or canned the harvest from our garden.  My brother and I could ride our pedal-powered cars in the ample dining room and on the back porch.  We had fun there. We colored, cut paper, used glitter and daydreamed there.  It was warm and safe.

My favorite part of living at 714 Milford Street was being outside, where I was mostly alone and unsupervised. (Mind you, we moved before I was eight.  The freedom I enjoyed as a small child is difficult for most to believe.)  I swung on the fronds of the willow tree, no doubt singing at the top of my lungs.  I picked the sweet peas and Rose of Sharon.  I played on my swing set.  And most importantly, I played with dogs that lived under my porch - two beagles, Sherry and Duchess.  My cocker spaniel, the house dog, followed me wherever I went, which may explain why no one worried about my escapades.  If I left my yard, it was to walk along my neighbor's walled garden.  I spent plenty a day trespassing, bringing no harm, simply enjoying the fragrance of the wonderful garden.

If my dad was working split shift, we would sit on the front porch in the afternoon and watch cars go by.  He would wave and yell "who that?" at every car that went by.  He would wave respectfully as Pop Bottle Pete trudged by, pushing his wheel barrow.  He taught me to recognize and name every Chevy and Ford that passed, and I could promptly discern the differences among the BelAirs, Biscaynes and Impalas from  the late 50s to 1967.  I learned a few Fords and Mercurys, too.

Whenever my dad was home, I was his shadow.  He tended a magnificent garden on the lot next door, and I was there with my toy rakes and hoes working alongside him.  I can still smell the Rose of Sharons, the dusty beagles, and the aroma of my grandmother's canning Concord Grape Jam as it I were smelling them for the first time. I can see the bumblebees as they moved from the Rose of Sharons to other plants

In the evenings or on weekend afternoons, we would sit on the back porch and watch the boats cruise up and down the West Fork River, back in the days it was navigable, before the Flood of '85 and subsequent flood control initiatives left it shallow and debris-filled.  In the winter we would lay across one of the beds upstairs and watch folks skate across the  frozen body of water. The West Fork was an unofficial calendar of the arrival of summer and winter.

These were peaceful times.

Now my hometown is anything but peaceful, taken over by drugs and prostitution, the recourse of those with no viable economic future.  The walkways around my house have eroded to gravel, weeds choked out the sweet peas.  I have not been around back to see the Rose of Sharons, but I doubt they remain.  The lot next door where my dad maintained his garden is filled with sumac trees and the occasional deer carcass.  I want more than anything to buy it and fix it, to restore my memories, but what would be the point?  My memories are my own now, as everyone who shared them with me in that house is dead.  It is best just to let it go.

I have been doing a lot of letting go lately.  It is not my  favorite thing.

To be continued

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Random Thoughts: Things are Looking Up

Random Thoughts: Things are Looking Up: The Texas Association of School Librarians has put us firmly on the right track.  Their idea is simply to plan on posting a message via s...

Saturday, September 16, 2017


Disappointment is a humbling emotion.

I spent a great deal of time and energy in 2015-2016 designing a new library for my school.
I researched AASL and ALA publications and drew various renditions for months. I decided on an arrangement and labeled each subset of shelving with the book range it would contain.  My design had three separate sections - one for k-2; a makerspace, and a space for general instruction. I was very proud of my design, and was elated - no, on Cloud 9- when the architect used my design for the basis of the final blueprints.

Yesterday, I saw the completed result.  My heart dropped. I felt betrayed, angry, depressed, disregarded and tossed aside, and a myriad of other feelings I cannot begin to catalog.

Here is what I drew:

Notice how each section is marked off by a range of moveable shelving.

These are the architect's rendering:

My design was rearranged, but key functionality was maintained.

What actually arrived is a shell:  a room with bookcases along each wall, a circ desk that is double the desired size with a book drop on the wrong side of the desk. There are no interior shelves that support the three defined areas of instruction.  There are no predefined sections.

In short, all the time I spent was for naught; worse yet, dismissed by someone who "knew better."

I am sure this post reads like I am whining and feeling sorry for myself (I was). I have a certain deal of respect in the library community and many seek my advice and opinion.  Did I ever think my design would be cast aside?  My ego has taken a tumble for sure.

This is a very sad cautionary tale,not because of  comeuppance, but because of the lack of respect for school librarians as professionals who understand curriculum and the needs of students and teachers.  If you have the chance for a remodel and are fortunate enough to give valued input in the design, stick with all details until the end.  There are still too many who feel a library is a room with tables, chairs, and books but have no understanding of function.  Stick with it.  I never in a million years dreamt the architect's design would be disregarded when it came to ordering shelving.  Never.

Yesterday my emotions flowed.  Today I am in control.  But I am so sorry for my school's loss.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Opportunities of Early Retirement

When I retired as an elementary school librarian in December, I was looking forward to leisurely days of reading, gardening, learning and writing of all my experiences. I wanted to sit by the wood stove with a cup of hot chocolate and watch the snowfall.

 I intended to continue working 19 hours a week at a public library, handling social media,writing newsletters and creating adult programs, but in no way did I imagine I would be doing what I am now:

  • Working almost full time at the public library, informally supervising teen and children's programs, and being an event coordinator, in addition to my other responsibilities;
  • Teaching short-term classes in technology at the adult education center;
  • Teaching productivity software professional development at a Fortune 500 company; and
  • Creating or revising courses for online teacher professional development.
I have a couple additional projects (job opportunities)on the horizon, and I have been nominated as secretary of our state library association.

While I didn't plan on any of this, I am extremely excited about all the opportunities that have come my way. It has been interesting viewing librarianship and teaching through these different lenses.  I am very proud to see that my degree and skills are indeed marketable in other areas than the school library.  It is gratifying that my curiousity about all other work experiences are being sated.

By doing this,  my growth as an information professional continues. Professional growth should be an ongoing goal for all of us. I believe these opportunities have opened up for me because of my ongoing professional development experiences.

To my colleagues contemplating retirement, I would say that other opportunities are available, if you so desire, but to be offered these experiences and opportunities, one must step out of his comfort zone and be seen and heard as an information professional, a change agent and a leader in your present position.

One has to believe that his professional opinions have value. One must articulate these opinions and take the lead in negotiating change. Choosing to be a leader opens many doors of opportunity.

As a colleague told me, don't wait to be asked to the table.  Grab a chair and sit down. Get your name out there.

As a school librarian, I did not advocate to call attention to myself.  I advocated for best practices in school libraries and for equality among the counties in my state.  I would like to think this is what got me noticed.

Probably in three to five years I will really retire.  In the meantime, I am learning more everyday and enjoying these opportunities.  If the snow falls heavy one day, I most likely will have the flexibility to sit by the fire and enjoy that hot chocolate.  I hope you can, too.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Value of Becoming Information Creators

For all we have learned about Bloom and Marzano, we are reluctant to employ higher level thinking skills in lesson design.

Call it assimilation or application of knowledge, or content creation, students show true understanding of content when allowed to create a product of their own design as a formative assessment.  Yet it is a rare thing for teachers on a regular basis to let students design their own assessments.

There are many reasons for this - time being a main issue.  To groom students to be able to work independently or in groups to produce content requires great patience and persistance.  Many might feel they cannot spend precious time of activities that are unorganized.  But organization takes time and practice.  I assert by a third attempt using a consistent approach, students would be well on their way to managing themselves appropriately.

I think another key reason teachers might refrain from this method of assessment is personal lack of understanding of all content creation might entail.  Technology advances quickly, and while most teachers are trained in integration, few practicing teachers have experimented in tools to create unique content for their students. Teachers expect to be the experts and know the how-tos of tasks required of their students.  Teacher professional development is falling behind.

Ironically, in the early days of web integration (ca. 1996-2000), web design for teachers was an important piece of professional development.  But technology moved faster and before teachers were comfortable in designing their own platforms, content providers with premade platforms came along, and the teacher training changed from creation to integration.  Now we must change back.

I firmly believe that teacher-made materials are better for students understanding, because the teacher is the expert in her content area and knows how to deliver that content to her students.  Just as I dislike the end of the textbook test, I feel most commercially produced content only grazes the surface of content a teacher hopes to cover.  By creating their own teaching products and assessments, students are bound to know more.

I am thinking about this because I am in a unique situation: I teach Office 365 classes for teacher professional development and also for corporate staff development.  The demands expected of the corporate clients are much higher than for school personnel.  The reason?  School personnel rely on reusing the works of others within the bounds of fair use (a terribly misunderstood concept), while the corporate world takes no chances and requires original work.  Would it not ultimately be to teachers' benefit to insist that they only use orginal content in their Sways and Mixes?  

In a world that is awash in multimedia, we should ensure that teachers have the skills to best model their expertise.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

I Love Being a Librarian

 I believe that to be effective, people must love their work. I love being a librarian.  While most see this as an old-fashioned, stereotyped profession, I disagree.  I see librarianship as the most adaptable profession imaginable.

In December I retired from the school library position I had held for 21 years.  I truly loved the job, the people and especially the children. Over the course of the 21 years, my school transformed from baseband Internet to a T3 line with wifi connections.  Our PCs moved from dumb clients to 1:1 Chromebooks for each child in grades three through five, with other grades being added in coming years.  The philosophy of the library moved through two versions of Information Power to Standards for the 21st Century Learner. Collaboration, tech integration and information literacy skills became the focus of the library program.  So many federal mandates came and went.  There were truly more changes than I can remember.

It was only for health reasons that I retired. Now I serve as a part-time program outreach librarian at a public library.  My collaborations take me out into the community to spread library resources to everyone possible.  It is exciting to make new contacts and to help people.

There are so many things going on in all kinds of libraries today.  One can never be bored. I have so many projects on the burner now that I could work 72 hours a week and not be close to running out of things to do.  It is all about offering more to the public and making sure that all members of the community have the opportunity to benefit from library services.  I love my job!

When I worked in the schools, there were those who felt calling me a librarian was an insult.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Librarians throughout history have dealt and embraced every change that has come at them.  I think change is exciting.  Bring it on!