Today, a colleague I don't know very well yet complimented me by saying, "I know you have a lot going on, but you always have a smile on your face." I appreciated that interaction, and I answered by saying, "Well, there are really only two options, right?"
Still, I have not always been able to keep the smile going. I'm not talking about times when it's valuable to feel other things, but about maintaining a general sense of positivity. It can be difficult to keep a forward-looking, hopeful mentality if the people around me are stressed out or negative; I find I absorb those feelings like a sponge. That energy is so defeating, and it can be hard to climb out of that hole.
I am extremely fortunate to work in a space with three unusually positive people. Two are consistently nurturing, calm, and open-minded, and the third is unfailingly patient and funny, no matter how many needs or tasks present themselves throughout the day. I have more energy because I am around these people, and I realize I am mirroring their positive demeanor. I hope to be the kind of person who brings that same sense of encouragement to others, no matter what is going on around me.
"Lighthouses don't go running all over an island
looking for boats to save.
They just stand there, shining."
- Anne Lamott
I've long been a fan of this quote by Anne Lamott, because this is a challenge for educational leaders, and, well, people. How do you exert positive influence without being overly insistent, or nosy, or ignorant about what people need most? How can you consistently be a force for good in a system that relentlessly demands your time and attention?
With all due respect to the insightful Ms. Lamott, I don't think there's any "just" involved in shining. Offering ideas and kindness to people requires energy, and sustaining the light so it is accessible when people need it is an art. Not everybody will see the shine coming from a lighthouse, but it's invaluable to those in the shadows nearby, trying to find their way.
It can be easy for teachers to doubt ourselves, or even to cover up our light and be consumed with a thousand small things. "When I finish this task," we tell ourselves, "Then I will take time for what will really make a difference." But there are always more tasks on the list.
I have been incredibly fortunate to witness the shine of some amazing educators who have informed and shaped my path and my view. I hope to be a shiny teacher - not the one who talks the most or has the prettiest classroom or the most social media attention - but one who knows what matters, and keeps the light focused there. I invite you to shine, too.
I'm one week away from my two-month mark as a school librarian. Many things have been new and different for me, from learning the names of 70 colleagues and knowing what they teach, to knowing where items in the collection are shelved and how to catalog new pieces. The budget comes with a huge set of rules and regulations (as it should), and finding a successful method for scheduling and learning the school's student broadcast system are a few more components of the new job that involve learning - in addition to the main task of teaching students and supporting teachers and families with resources.
I belong to several social media groups for new librarians, and the question about what to expect comes up a lot. Every situation is different, but here are three key differences I notice about working as a librarian, compared to classroom teaching.
First, relationship-building is key, but learning names is so much harder. There are over 800 students in my school, and I had a plan for students to enter the library every time, circle up, and have a few students share something about themselves before checking out books. It is still difficult to learn names, and I hate not having that information down. I spoke to a colleague who is a specialist teacher, and she mentioned seating charts, but that doesn't work so well for our checkout times while students are moving, or lessons, which occur in different spaces, depending on the learning objective. For some reason, human beings don't stand still and they keep changing their outfits every day, and this complicates the name-learning!
As a visual learner, I brought class lists home to study and make a few sample seating charts even if I never use them, to help memorize the names, and make it easier to attach to the faces. Some of my school involvement helps, too - I supervise PreK dismissal, mentor a student, and co-manage the morning broadcast, which involves different student teams. However, as a classroom teacher, I knew 24 names before lunch, and being deficient in this area is rough for me. I did a mental count last week and I only knew about 50, but the good news is that it will never be as hard as it is right now when I'm trying to meet everyone all at once.
A second big difference involved with moving from the classroom to the library is time. No matter how well I try to orchestrate the schedule, most days have ten to fifteen minute gaps, but very few longer blocks of unscheduled time. This includes before and after school times when people stop in for various purposes. Let me be clear - my primary goal as a librarian is to create a space where people love to come to for learning, so I am happy that people are coming in! The difference, though, is that I have a number of tasks that require concentration and can't be interrupted, especially when I'm new and not sure how to do each step. Most are tasks I can't take home to do, either, as I could with classroom teaching. Figuring out how to maximize small blocks of time to complete small steps of bigger tasks is a goal. It's also important to build relationships with everyone in the school community, which means taking time to chat and get to know people, so balancing time for that and time for everything else can be tricky.
The third change is something that every specialist teacher deals with, and that is being able to shift from grade level to grade level with very little transition time. I have taught students in preK - 12th grade before, but I've spent the last eight years teaching fifth grade. It is quite a shift to be tiptoeing from the story corner to the Everybody section with the kindergartners so as not to "scare" the books as we approach, singing a Hokey Pokey song to use our shelf markers correctly, and then to talk honestly with fourth and fifth graders about fake reading, and how to choose books that change or challenge your perspectives.
It's true that every role change in education has brought a period of discomfort and uncertainty with it. It's hard to be an immediate rock star unless you happen to follow someone who was not well-respected. There is so much to learn about the school culture, individual people, and how to manage all the tasks efficiently, and there are mistakes you have to make on that path of newness. However, I am so incredibly lucky, because I can see where I'm heading, and I love it. Even as I stumble, or ask the same question the third time, I love it. Even though I get to read a lot less than I want to, because to keep this job, I need to take four more classes which claim most of my weekends and evenings, I love it. I happen to be super fortunate in that I have a school team that is incredibly supportive, a district library team that is unmatched in awesomeness, and teaching colleagues I respect and can learn from. I basically got to work in library heaven for my first library job. So, to new librarians out there, I will say, it's different from the classroom, and it won't be easy, but you'll love it.
A new dream came true this summer: I am going to be the new librarian at the STEAM elementary school in our district this fall. This is an absolutely incredible opportunity to incorporate all the things I love best about teaching into one role - from growing inquiry through maker experiences and project development to analyzing literature and helping people find incredible books to read and love.
I have so many things to learn, and more than a few logistical hurdles to cross, but I am thankful to have so much room to grow creatively and professionally. I am finishing three courses this summer, and I will continue to take more over the next school year to finalize my library certification. Of course, I will continue to be on the lookout for ideas and titles to expand this site's resources. Here's to new pages - new chapters - and all the new books!
My students have been out of school for four days now, while I've been out for two. I'm a night person, so I admit that I love the luxury of not setting that 5:15 alarm . . . but I miss my students already.
Teaching fifth grade is especially strange, because my students will go to middle school, and I won't see them in the hallways next year. They may come back to visit for assemblies or younger siblings' events, and I may see them when we tour the middle school next February and we exchange waves or hugs or book recommendations.
But this is not the same.
We know so much about each other. We've spent eight or more hours of the past 190 days or so together. We know stories about families, about activities, about trips. We know about the struggles and sadness and triumphs and creativity over the past year. We know how to push each other's buttons, and we know how to make each other laugh.
Around April, all this familiarity becomes a little too intense. Really, you can see fifth graders transform on the bus ride back from the middle school tour - they sit a bit taller, and their elementary world seems too small. Lining up in the hallways and sitting flat at assemblies - these things no longer seem to apply to them as they reach toward French class and passing time and sitting with friends from other classes in the cafeteria. Elementary school suddenly seems like clothes that no longer fit.
Spring becomes an exciting time of year to try new things and mix it up. Fifth graders are ready for new challenges, so they are open to new projects. They create work with more unique voices and formats than they did in the fall, because now they are more interested in expressing themselves than in carefully following the modeled work sample. They are more confident, independent, and experimental. They are also less patient with each other, and in trying to assert themselves and figure out who they are, there are inevitable conflicts. These are painful, and personal. There are also extraordinary examples of kindness and generosity. We walk through all of this together.
And then the year ends.
I am happy for my students to move on. I know they are ready. But I think about them and wish so much for them: that they will keep reading, that they will continue to create things and pursue their interests, that they will use their voices for good.
I won't know all the details of those journeys anymore, but I did, for a time. I hope I have had a small part in making those paths brighter and better.
"My hope for all of us is that the 'miles we go before we sleep' will be filled with all the feelings that come from deep caring -- delight, sadness, joy, wisdom -- and that in all the endings of our life, we will be able to see the new beginnings."
My colleague and I offered fifth grade students this writing prompt as part of our current unit of inquiry - Who We Are. Our central idea is "Conflicts transform communities," and although I have some hesitation defining "who we are" with an emphasis on conflicts, it does make for an interesting lens as we study the Civil War, food webs and interdependence, and persuasive arguments.
I notice many of the students personalized the writing, rather than connecting it explicitly to the curricular standards, but I love seeing the diversity of students' responses, so with their permission, I'm sharing some of them here.
What's worth fighting for?
I've had the privilege of working with hundreds of students and families in IA, CT, NC, MO, TX, and Canada.