I can talk the talk, but can I walk the walk?

I can talk the talk, but can I walk the walk?

A friend of mine wrote to me about how crazy these times are. He said that the country is at war with the police. I don’t see it quite that way. To me it feels more like a civil war. People seem unable to see any perspective than their own and are unwilling to try. Whatever side they are on, they believe they are right and the other is wrong. What’s worse, we seem to be resigned to the settling it with violence.

My son was involved in a nasty altercation with a fraternity on campus during his freshman year. All of the young men involved were white and even then, three years ago, we discussed the fact that the outcome of that situation could well have been different if Evan had been black.

Like it or not, the truth is that there is a different standard for black men than white men. We have to acknowledge that reality before we can get anywhere. It’s not politically correct, but it’s truth.

There are bad police. White and Black. There are bad teachers. White and Black. There are bad people. White and Black. There are a LOT of stupid people.White and Black.

But most people are good. Black and White.

The good people have GOT to start calling out the bad. We have got to stop looking the other way when we see hateful or disrespectful behavior. We have to speak up when we hear adults disparaging police (or teachers, or other authority figures) with blanket, generalized accusations. ESPECIALLY when children are present.

As long as we remain silent, we are complicit.


My Take on Ted

My Take on Ted

The culminating project of the two year teacher leadership program I’ve been in was a 5 minute TED-style talk. We were directed to present a talk that would reflect on our growth over the past two years and share our passion.Now that the talk is over, I thought I’d get a few more miles out of it by using it as a blog post. Recycling is a good thing, right?

Here goes….

What am I DOING here? This is a question I’ve asked myself countless times over the past two years. What on earth possessed me to sign up for this program? I have no desire to be a building principal. Kudos to those of you who do. Someone has to do it, but I just don’t have the skin for it. Too many people mad at you for things you can’t control.

In all seriousness, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on my motives. In the first place, I’ve always taught my children to take advantage of any opportunity that comes your way. When this program was offered, I saw it as less a chance to pursue a dream job and more as an opportunity to have another career option. 

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Sixth grade self.

I wasn’t, and am not, comfortable with being considered a leader. That role just doesn’t jibe with the 6th grader who was the butt of everyone’s jokes who is still in charge of my brain. What on earth do I have to offer the cool kids of the world? The cool kids include pretty much everyone who isn’t me.


As many of you have experienced, there was some discomfort involved in stepping up for this. I have a colleague who consistently makes comments about how I want to be someone I am not. And, then there’s the whole school librarian thing. The stereotype. I still meet people who are surprised that we need a masters degree. Or any degree at all for that matter.  I bet there is at least one person in this room who had doubts about a librarian’s qualifications to be here. It’s okay. We’re used to it. There are still too many people out there who don’t know what a school librarian offers to a school and here I have a chance to help dispel some of those misconceptions.

For many reasons I lived most of my childhood through books. The public library was my haven. I still remember the day my parents finally let me walk there by myself. My mother had people watching me along the way and by the time I got home she had already heard that I was foolish enough to speak to a stranger en route. Luckily life at home was crazy enough that it was easier for them to trust that I had learned my lesson than to retract my independence. The library was  safe place. It was familiar and consistent and quiet. No one could tease me there. My clothes were acceptable and I didn’t need any money to get in. My best friends lived in the books that I read over and over again.m.clark - TL Talk And I taught myself the mechanics of being a growing female by reading everything I could find. My school library was a tiny room, with limited access, but again, it was a safe place to escape the stresses of the classroom for a few minutes.

The library is the equalizer for students. Especially students in poverty. Students from low income homes come to school knowing 13 million words. That may sound like a lot, until you learn that students from middle income homes come to school with twice as many words. According to the US Department of Education, 61% of children living in poverty have no books in their homes. The school library is an essential source for these children.  Research in many states demonstrates that students who have access to a quality school library program perform better on the all important standardized tests. Recently, research has also proven that the greatest increase in achievement occurs when the school librarian and classroom teacher work together.

There is nothing more frustrating that possessing this knowledge and not being able to put it to work. Too many administrators continue to view the library as a special, allowing information skills to be taught in isolation with little opportunity for real life application.

For years I’ve sat through advocacy sessions on how to become “indispensable” while we all lament the fact that people don’t know what we do. My problem with librarians promoting the benefits of a strong library program is that I think we have a little less credibility in the eyes of an audience. Of course we believe in the value of our programs. The common thread is always that we have to open administrators’ eyes, and how better to do that than to immerse myself in a program training administrators? Really, I’m just taking one for the team here.

Librarians have the ability to play a huge role in equalizing opportunity for children in poverty, but with administrative support we can do even more amazing things. Which brings me back to why I’m here. Stepping out of my comfort zone into the realm of administration has given me the opportunity to promote the benefits of libraries from within the ranks of decision makers. And that can only be a good thing for the children whose lives are touched by a great school librarian.

Thank you for listening. Now, shhhhhhh! 🙂

I don’t know. Figure it out.

I don’t know. Figure it out.

I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve uttered those sentences in the past two weeks. I can tell you how delighted I’ve been with the results.

I borrowed a class set of Cubelets from our county wide Center for Instruction, Technology and Innovation (Citi) to inject some fun, hands-on, inquiry based, learning into state test month for my third and fourth graders. I started by having them finishing the sentence, “A robot is __________.” We then had a lively discussion of what a robot is or is not. Is a vacuum cleaner, a remote control car, a toaster, a robot? Why or why not? (I’m sure my students feel like I’m an annoying five year old because I always ask them why.)

I showed them a video of the Roomba vacuum cleaner and we discussed why they all agree that THAT is a robot,  but can’t agree about the vacuum cleaner the custodian uses. How are the two different?  The Roomba navigates a room on its own. The custodian’s vacuum requires human guidance. Eventually we came to agree that, by definition, a robot needs power, senses, and actions.  Conveniently, these terms match the types of blocks in the Cubelets set.


The following weeks I distributed the six piece Cubelets sets to groups of 4-5 and let them explore. Depending on the class I might have started them with a challenge, such as “Build me a motion activated light.” but I mostly let them learn by trial and error. And boy did they learn!

Here are a couple of examples of their creations!


Do you do anything special in your library to relieve the state testing tension in your building?

Yes Virginia, learning bibliography can be fun.

Yes Virginia, learning bibliography can be fun.

That was fun! Can we do it again? Oh, I didn’t get to finish, can I keep going?

These were the kind of comments I heard as I wrapped up my bibliography unit this year. <Wait, what? Did she say, “bibliography”? As in, citing sources?>

Yes, that’s what I said. True confession here – I haven’t actually taught formal bibliography lessons in, well, a long time. I know. Bad librarian. But. It’s soooo boring. And I can’t even  properly write a bibliography without looking it up, so how can I really expect elementary kids to? And with the advent of citation generators, it just seems like an obsolete skill. (Don’t get me wrong – I taught the kids that you have to cite your sources, but I let them do it very informally.)

Anyway, last year I was convinced that I’m doing a disservice to my students so I promised myself I’d do better this year. Our district required us to receive training in Explicit Direct Instruction and then teach a lesson using the model.  Bibliography seemed like a perfect topic for using the EDI model of instruction, so it was time to keep my promise to myself.

I was still of the mindset that this was a boring topic and was grudgingly searching for ideas when I came across this blog, in which she relates bibliographies to movie credits. That connection alone made introducing the topic feel much more palatable. At the same time, my district started a free trial of Flocabulary and I discovered a fantastic bibliography rap. CaptureIf you haven’t heard of it, Flocabulary is a database full of content area rap songs. They also offer printable lyrics and note taking sheets, as well as a weekly current events rap.  It’s a pretty awesome resource! I printed out the fill-in-the-blank bibliography lyrics and then taught mini-lessons as we filled them in. The bad part is that now we all refer to a list of sources as a Ba-Ba-Ba-Bibliography.

But none of that garnered the comments that started this post. Those were for the assessment. <Ok, now she’s really off her rocker. The assessment of bibliography instruction was fun?>

Yes. The assessment. I’ve been a librarian for a long time and it’s not at all unusual for me to change course midstream. This was one of those times and it was magical.

I had purchased this Bibliography Bundle from TeachersPayTeachers and printed out a set of the task cards for each student. (The bundle is fantastic! Worth every penny!) My original vision was that they’d each work through their set of tack cards individually. (Boring!) I’m not sure what inspired me, but literally 10 minutes before my class arrived I decided to try hanging the task cards around the library and sending the kids on a hunt for them. I did not hang them in numerical order and had each child start at a different number in order to avoid crowding in any one location. IMG_6563

I gave out the Task Card Recording Sheets, directed them to work in number order, and let them loose. It was amazing! I have a pretty large open space and the kids were running back and forth looking for each card. They were calling out the numbers they were looking for and others would point them in the right direction. It looked chaotic, but they were 100% on task 100% of the time. How often can you say that? As I watched, I imagined ways that it would have been easy to cheat, but no one did! The closest they came to cheating was when they discovered the pile of extra cards that I had printed. They thought they’d be clever and use that stash of cards rather than searching around the library.

The following week they used iPads to scan the QR codes on the task cards to check their answers.

I put a chart on a white board where they could tally the questions they got wrong, which gave all of us a great visual of the questions that we need to go over again. The great part about that was that I asked them to identify which questions I need to reteach, so when I get to that next week, they’ll already know that I’m teaching something they need.

How do you teach bibliography to your elementary students?












Why I love my job!

Why I love my job!

I’ve been running an after school robotics club for the past several months despite having almost zero knowledge of robotics. I started with blind faith that the kids and I would figure it out – emphasis on kids. The last official day is tomorrow and it’s been successful beyond my wildest dreams. I’ve watched the kids invent, plan, build, troubleshoot, adjust, and grow. When they learned there was going to be a school talent show they wanted to enter a robot and the last month has been a whirlwind of building and programming.

As it became clear to them that their robots wouldn’t be seen well on the stage, they (with a nudge from the talent show director and me) decided that videotaping their show would be a better option. However, a group of amateur videographers working with older iPads weren’t able to capture the true essence of the shows these young perfectionists had designed.To my surprise and delight, one group decided to build a special robot that could carry and iPod Touch and capture the action from the floor. The small robot you see in the upper half of the screen is the “camera-bot.”

That’s the only video I’m free to share before the big premiere tomorrow night, but I’m just so impressed with the innovation and tenacity of these young people. I couldn’t wait to share a sneak peak. It gives me hope for the future.


Time to reclaim the joy

Time to reclaim the joy

I just finished reading The Library Girl’s post about reading champions and she truly hit the nail on the head. (No suprise, right?)

I am so guilty of pushing aside the joy of reading as I attempt to make my position seem valuable to those in the business office. I vowed to change that this past spring when one of my second graders looked at me sadly and asked, “Are you ever going to just read us a story again?” With so much time and attention spent on skills, especially technology; reading to the children has largely fallen by the wayside. It wasn’t always like this, though. In my early years I read to my students a lot. One of my favorite read-alouds was Fourth Grade Rats by Jerry Spinelli. I read it to my third graders at the end of every year for several years in a row. They loved it and so did I.

Then the trauma of a layoff several years ago made me fear being viewed as a someone only read stories.  And heaven forbid anyone walk into the library and catch me, gasp, reading a book to myself!


Now, I will grant that part of my experience is colored by that layoff years ago, but my colleagues in the classroom feel the same pressure. No one wants to be seen reading, and especially not reading for pleasure. School is for serious teaching and learning. If you have time for pleasure reading, then you’re not obviously doing something right.  Admit it. Most of us would see a colleague reading People magazine in the teacher’s room and get a little jugdey about their use of time.

So why are we so surprised that our kids don’t read for pleasure?! They are surrounded by the subconscious message that reading for fun is not only uncool, but frowned upon.

So, while I had already vowed to make more of a point of reading to my students this coming year, The Library Girl has strengthened my resolve. I think I might start the year by reading Fourth Grade Rats to my fourth grade classes. I can’t wait to reconnect with Suds and Joey.

How much time do you spend reading aloud to your students just for the fun of the story?

We’re here, but a little gray

We’re here, but a little gray

Where Are All of the Female Leaders?. This blog post struck a nerve with me. Because I am one of those teachers who is choosing to become a leader after my children grew up. I felt like the writer was chastising my choice, and this is really the problem that keeps occurring among professional women. Why do we have to try to do it all before forty? 

I just finished the first year of a two year teacher leadership program. Honestly, I can’t imagine how I would have done it with kids at home. I just don’t have the stamina to be three people (mom, teacher, student) at once. Oh yeah, and wife. I admire those who can do it, but I am not one of them. I have an extremely supportive husband who always handled 50% or more of the parenting duties,  but I didn’t want to miss anything. I was a mom and a student (and wife) during the last year of my BS degree and later while I completed my Masters degree.  I know what it’s like to juggle those two roles. I think I did it pretty well. To be honest, I find teaching to be more demanding than parenting. I don’t think I juggled the roles of teacher and student nearly as well as I juggled being mom and student.

I don’t regret the choices that I’ve made… except when my classmates are all chatting about their young children and I feel ancient.

The author raises good questions, but I submit that we could increase the number of women in educational leadership if we spent more effort encouraging older, more experienced teachers to consider making that transition.  I’m not yet 50, but I do feel old in my leadership classes. I would say the average age of my classmates is between 35-40.

Even though I still have potentially 15+ working years left,  my principal was surprised that I would want to pursue something like this “at this point in my career.” Perhaps women are receiving the message that they can’t, or shouldn’t, pursue leadership if they choose to wait.

I bring to the table the wisdom that comes from years of teaching and surviving raising two kids through toddlerhood and teens.

If a female teacher leader chooses to limit herself at one point in her career, that choice should be accepted just as we we accept and encourage the one who decided to go for it early on. That teacher has years ahead to take on more leadership roles. Please don’t write her off! If she has the potential now, it will only get better with experience.