Monday, July 25, 2016

Gut-Level Teacher Reflection Part I

I am an avid follower of The Cult of Pedagogy podcast, published by Jennifer Gonzales. It is an excellent resource for all things teaching. But a few weeks ago, she put out an episode that literally blew me away. She called it, "Gut-Level Teacher Reflection." In the podcast, she goes over 5 tough reflection questions that really tap into your emotional responses to your teaching, in an effort to dig in to what is really going on in your classroom. I actually listened to the podcast three separate times, it was so thought-provoking for me.

The reflection questions are intense, so I am going to answer them in a series of five different blog posts. I will try to be brutally honest so that I can uncover my own truths about my teaching practice. 

1. Look around your classroom (or picture it in your mind). What parts of the room make you feel tense, anxious, or exhausted? What parts make you feel calm, happy, or proud?

This is super-tough for me, because I'm leaving my classroom for a new one. So I have lots of emotional triggers when picturing the library. You can enter the library from two different hallways, one on each side of the space. That main entryway makes me feel very tense and unsettled. This is because it acts as a hallway for lots of kids after every class period. Because two schools with different schedules use the space, it meant lots of noise during my instructional time. So as I stand there in my mind, I see a worn out carpet, an overused copy machine and printer, and doorways into other people's spaces (which also brings me tension, although it's not their fault. It was an awkward "marriage" when the technology department was moved smack dab into the library, taking the two office spaces. I just never knew how to really feel about that situation).

If I move out of that entryway, I enter my new fiction reading space, and I immediately feel calm and at peace. This is a space I put together right before the end of the year, and am extremely happy with it. I have comfortable chairs, mood lighting, cute pillows, and the entire area is surrounded by books. It's somewhat closed off from the entryway, so it is almost it's own space. I have a lot of pride in this little reading nook.

Moving further back, I run into the newly created office space for our instructional coach, tables for the new study hall, and my circulation desk. This area makes me feel guilty. I didn't know when we started making those plans that I would be leaving, and so I feel like I let down my colleagues who were invested in that space. I also have some tension because the circulation desk was an area of great stress for me. Without an aide, I was constantly being "paged" back to the desk to answer phones, check out books, process new orders, etc. Even imagining it right now, I feel my blood pressure rising and my breathing getting shallower. 

If I keep moving around the room, I wind up in the middle school instructional space. This makes me feel excitement, contentment, fatigue, and purpose. This is where I would hold my bimonthly middle school library lessons, and it holds my favorite memories at this job. I can just picture laughing with my kids, painting book ends, working on research projects, and learning. There's nothing fancy about this space at all, but it's what happened IN the space that makes it truly special for me.

Looking at the center of the room, I see the bank of 40 computers. I have mixed feelings about this space. It was the area in the library most coveted by teachers (not enough technology in the buildings=making use of these 40 computers as much as possible). It meant cramming in as many classes as possible, which sometimes went well and sometimes went badly. But I also have memories of helping out kids, looking over their shoulders and offering advice. I have a lot of peace about that role of my last position. I loved hanging out with kids in those times.

So what patterns am I seeing in this reflection?

1. I need/want interaction with kids, particularly at the middle school level. This is where I have the most positive emotional response in my library, my middle school instructional space. Teaching is vital to my sense of purpose and fulfillment. 

2. I do not like chaos and unstructured time. It makes me feel lost and out of sorts. I think much of this will be alleviated in my new setting, where I will be working with one schedule and younger students.

3. Relationships are very important to me. I will do pretty much anything to protect the people around me from discomfort, even if it means hurting myself. The shared technology/library space is a prime example. It hurt me deeply that a significant move like taking office space from the library happened without letting me know. Rather than being honest with those involved, I hid my feelings and suffered with some pretty serious frustration that eventually turned into bitterness. This is key for me, and I am reading and learning about honesty, setting boundaries, and self-care.

What do you all think? Would you share your gut-level reaction to a walk-through of your classroom? 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Review: The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book Talk:
Lizzie Lovett leads a picture perfect life. She has friends, a great job, and a handsome emo boyfriend who adores her. And Hawthorn hates her for it, because she wants what Lizzie Lovett has...until Lizzie winds up missing. Hawthorn decides to investigate, and winds up on a crazy adventure where she learns that not everything is at it seems.

My Thoughts:
I am so surprised by the number of five star reviews. This was NOT that good. It was entertaining and a very fast read, but weak compared to other YA novels out there. Hawthorn is a whiny, self-centered character who I just wanted to shake and tell to grow up. Lizzie's boyfriend is also whiny and pathetic. The only characters I cared about were small ones, like best friend Emily who stands up to Hawthorn, and Rush, the brother who tries to protect his sister. Oh, and the hippies. I do like the hippies. Still, a very uneven novel.

My Recommendation:
2.5/5 stars
Grades 8+ (mild adult situations, language)

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

How to Get the Most Out of EdCamp

Image Courtesy of EdCampHershey
This week I got to attend my very first EdCamp, @EdcampHershey. What an awesome experience!  I got to hang out with old friends, meet some new peeps, and even connect with some members of my PLN that, until now, I only knew virtually.  Now that I've had a few days to really reflect on my time there, I put together some tips to help you get the most out of your next EdCamp.

1. Get outside your comfort zone and strike up conversations with anyone nearby. This is so very hard for me, because although I can be friendly, I am at heart an introvert. So I had to make a very deliberate attempt to reach out to those around me. And I am so glad I did! I met a super-cool 4th grade teacher who is doing awesome things in his classroom. I connected with a tech coach who introduced me to a brand new tech tool that I am hoping will drive my instruction next year. And I figured out some new strategies for using Twitter with my students.

2. Come prepared with charged up devices AND paper and pencil. I had a laptop with me, and used it to look up apps and programs as they were mentioned in sessions. But we didn't have access to outlets and it died on me halfway through the day. Bring a backup power source or a second device just in case. I also forgot to bring a notebook, so when my laptop died, I didn't have a way to track notes or strategies. Something else that I need to work out for myself is that I have a hard time multitasking. When I was on my laptop I was easily distracted and found myself missing info. In the future, I think a notebook will be my primary data collection tool, then I will scan those for future searching and tagging. I will keep my phone nearby for times that I want to check a link, etc., but I want more of my attention on the discussion and less on the technology.

3. Share out your learning. I have really come to rely on Twitter as my PD "go to." I am working on a separate post about Twitter for teachers, but in short, it is a very quick way to connect with like-minded educators. As you go through your EdCamp experience, Tweet out (or pin, or post on Instagram/Facebook/SnapChat/your social media poison) powerful quotes from facilitators and colleagues. Share apps that you find interesting. Post links to podcasts that you hear about in a session. Just be an active link in the chain of information-sharing.

So what did I learn at my first EdCamp? Here are some resources I want to share:

  • SeeSaw. Never heard of it until @kickkrowley shared it in a session. Will be using it next year to track student progress towards library standards, and to keep data for student learning. 
  • Twitter for students. Been sitting on this one for a long time, but I think I have a plan, thanks to @lisa_hollenbach. I will be assigning a "Tweeter of the Week" for each class, and they will be tweeting out updates from our library time.
  • National Blogging Collaborative  ( A free mentor to help me be a better blogger in the education community? Yes please.
Do you have any tips for getting the most out of EdCamp? Please share!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Review: Britt-Marie Was Here

Britt-Marie Was Here Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Talk:
"If a human being closes her eyes hard and long enough, she can remember all the times she has made a choice in her life just for her own sake. And realize, perhaps, that it has never happened. If a human being closes her eyes she can remember all the choices in her life. And realize they have all been for the sake of someone else. It's early morning in Borg, but the dawn seems to be holding off. As if it wants to give her some time to raise her hand. Make up her mind. And jump."

Britt-Marie doesn't want to start over. She is perfectly happy with her daily routine of cleaning, and cooking, and doing the laundry. Even when she discovers that the laundry she is doing smells like another woman's perfume. She doesn't really want to start over. But she is faced with an impending divorce, and Britt-Marie finds herself at the unemployment office looking for work. And the only place that is hiring someone like Britt-Marie is the dying town of Borg. Except when she gets there, she finds there's some life there, after all.

My Thoughts:
I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this book. It was precious, and funny, and sad, and endearing. In the first few pages I was not sure HOW to take Britt-Marie, but by the end I loved her dearly. This is usually not my genre to choose to read, but I am so very glad I did. This will go down as one of my all-time favorites.

My Recommendation:
5/5 (or more)
Grades 8+ (language)

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Friday, July 15, 2016

Review: Under the Harrow

Under the Harrow Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book Talk: Nora is excited to spend the weekend with her sister Rachel and to do the things they always do together: drinking, eating out, and hooking up with guys. Except when Nora's train pulls into the station, Rachel isn't there. Nora walks into Rachel's apartment to find that she (and her dog) have been brutally murdered. She must now unravel the mystery of her sister's death, and in so doing, uncovers secret parts of Rachel's life.

My Thoughts: One of the reviewers on the book cover compared this novel to Broadchurch. As a huge fan of the BBC show, I was immediately hooked. Unfortunately, this was a far cry from the amazingness that is Broadchurch. Yes, it happens in Great Britain. Yes, there is a murder that has to be solved. That's where the comparison ends. I just could not follow this story line, there were too many characters. And because I was reading a paper book and not on my Kindle, I couldn't stop and look up all of the British references that don't make sense to my American mind. I felt lost throughout the story, and was just really disappointed by the ending.

My Recommendation: 2.5/5 stars, Grades 10+ (brief adult situation, language)

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Saying Goodbye

Dear Incoming Librarian,

I am handing the reigns of this place over to you. As my library hero librariantiff says:

"I’m going to go ahead and apologize now — there will be things in this library that make you wonder about me. You’ll wonder WHAT I was thinking, why did I decide to do this that way, why didn’t I make such and such a bigger priority" (para. 2).

And as librariantiff says:

"Just know that everything I’ve done here, every choice I made, was driven by a desire to make this space the best possible environment for my students and teachers...I’ve always wanted it to be about the kids" (para. 2).

That's the essence of everything I did during my tenure at Etown: it was all about the kids. My driving force was creating a 21st century space that appealed to both middle and high school students, that was functional, and that worked in the constraints of one person serving two schools without assistance.

So be gentle with me as you look around the space (and especially as you work through the office, **shudder**). This place was my home for three years. It has so many lessons with middle school students, pizza parties with my newspaper kids, hanging out with my colleagues. I didn't know ANYTHING about being a librarian when I started out here in 2012. It was my first library position, and I truly had no idea what I was doing when I started. Over the years I figured out how to make it work, but my "system" will probably seem odd to a newcomer. That's ok,  you'll have to adjust it and make it work for you. 

Please humor me as I leave you with some tips for getting started:

1) Get to know the kids as fast as you can. Yes, the fact that the library is a hallway, and 200 kids will walk through it 5 times a day, is overwhelming and frustrating. You can't fix it, but you CAN use it as a time to high-five students as they walk by. Give a hug to a kid who looks like they are having a bad day. Give the "look" to the one who wears his hat EVERY DAY, no matter what you say to him. 

2) Connect to your co-workers. Fast. They are your life-line and your support. There are some nearby who will literally carry you across the finish line on those really tough days. You'll have to figure out for yourself who you can rely on. There are a few "mean girls" (and boys). Kill 'em with kindness. Let them only see you smiling, and don't get caught up in the negativity. There is SO MUCH GOOD in that place, focus on it. 

3) Make friends with the custodial staff and the tech people. They are amazing resources, and will go out of their way to make your life better. Chocolate goes a long way in making friends...

4) Set some boundaries. This is really hard for me, as I throw my heart and soul into my work. Choose a few committees to serve on that you are passionate about, and say no to the rest. Prioritize a few things a day, and work hard to accomplish them. Create your schedule, your rules and procedures, and stick to them. It is SO HARD to say no when that co-worker looks at you with those big sad eyes, but trust have to do it. If you don't, you are shortchanging other colleagues who followed the procedures and hurting relationships.

Lastly, give yourself time to adjust to a new situation. I learned the hard way that people don't like change. Don't go in with both guns blazing and expect people to be happy about it. Tread gently, trust the system, make changes slowly. I say this as much to myself as to you, as I am also going into a new situation. 

I truly wish you the very best as you start your new position in this library. It is a wonderful, magical place. I hope you love it as much as I did.


Sunday, July 3, 2016

Review: Everything We Keep

Everything We Keep Everything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Talk:
Aimee has everything she wants...a handsome husband, a job she loves, and a future that she has been dreaming about her whole life. In an instant, it is all taken away when her fiance is killed on a business trip just days before her wedding. Aimee believes her life is over as she buries the love of her life on the day she was supposed to marry him. But when a stranger approaches her at the funeral with a message, Aimee begins to hope that maybe James isn't dead after all...

My Thoughts:
This is a quick beach-read kind of book. I definitely got hooked in fast and wanted to get to the end. It was kind of a cheap thrills sort of book, but awesome for a summer holiday weekend (which is when I read it).

My Rating:
3.5/5 stars
Would not put this on HS library shelf (language, adult situations)

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Friday, July 1, 2016

Review: Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier

Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier by Tom Kizzia
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am always a sucker for a book about cults. I don't know why, I can't really explain it. I'm not sure Papa's family could be considered a true "cult", but it's got the same feeling.

I was totally engrossed in this book. I loved reading about the tiny town in Alaska (McCarthy). I actually went and found YouTube videos just so I could get a picture in my head about the context (, if anyone is interested). I also found a clip of the Hales and the Buckinghams singing together (

I will warn readers that some of the content in the book is dark and very sad. If you followed the court case on television, you already know what to expect.

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Review: Not Alone

Not Alone Not Alone by Craig A. Falconer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I am so disappointed in this book! I read the reviews and everyone raved about it, but most of the book was just setting up the context. There was so little action, I literally had to skim pages and pages of boring dialogue. Ugh, now I have to go find something more interesting to read!

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