Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Begin 2017 with the 3 R's: Rest, Reflection, and Recommitment

By Cathy Hause, Librarian @ Harpeth Valley Elementary School
January 1st seems to be an arbitrary spot for educators to start anew, as it lands smack dab in the middle of our school year.  Yet, the end of the semester offers librarians time to stop mid-stream, reflect, and perhaps change course a bit.  In other words, our winter break is a good time to rest, reflect, and recommit.  So I thought it would be helpful to consult several of my colleagues and learn how they…

• Rest and establish a healthy work/ life balance
• Reflect on the past semester noting their successes and progress
• Recommit to some project or initiative that may have fallen by the wayside during the first semester.  

Here’s what I learned…


When taking time to rest and restore work/ life balance, many of our colleagues recommend that we get moving… exercising, walking, or joining a gym.  Science is always proving that exercise and just being outside is not only good for the soul but our bodies and brains as well.  Becky Hornsby, at Glendale Spanish Immersion, says that getting enough sleep and eating healthy meals adds to the benefit of her exercise routine.  Becky closes the library each day for her lunch.  Taking time to nourish and care for ourselves not only benefits us but ultimately those we serve…our students and teachers. 

Mark Hoesel at Shane Elementary is a big proponent of setting boundaries between work and home.  Mark says, “I try my best not to look at or respond to email after I leave school. I try to be actively present and engaged when I am with my wife, children, and friends.”  I, too, try to do the same and have found it helpful to keep MNPS email off of my personal devices.  While technology can be so handy, it is all too easy to let it blur the lines between work and home   Also, checking email at set times on the
weekend or my days off gives me a sense of control and helps me to keep work concerns away from my personal life.    

Emmie Stuart, at Percy Priest Elementary, also keeps email off her phone.  However, she finds it beneficial to use technology to keep in touch with her colleagues.   She adds that texting, emailing, and getting together with these friends “is very energizing and helpful and puts things in perspective for me.”  Kelly Bulbulkaya, at Eakin Elementary, has not banished email from her phone, but says taking the MNPS alerts off her phone has helped.  She also uses her drive home to set work cares and worries aside. “So by the time I get to my kids I have pushed work out of my head and I can focus [solely] on them.”     

Finally, travel and stepping outside of our usual boundaries nourishes many of our colleagues.  Just the act of getting away puts distance and perspective on our lives at home.  It also expands our horizons as well.  Encountering other cultures and people around the world surely helps us understand and better reach the diverse student population we serve in Nashville.  Plus, as Mark Hoesel contends it “gives me something to look forward to” and on a tough day don’t we all need to look forward? 


I believe that good teachers, librarians, and really all educators are constantly in the process of reflection.  Haven’t we all had the experience of changing course in the middle of a lesson because the students were not responding the way we had hoped?   Yet winter break offers us an opportunity to reflect more deeply on the entire first semester and build on our successes in the next.  

Kathy Kelly at Head Middle focused on working with students this year and is proud to have offered more collaborative lessons this semester than all of last year.  Becky Hornsby has found a niche at Glendale by working with small groups to teach reading in Spanish and creating simple reader’s theater scripts in Spanish.  Susan Schmidt, at Glencliff H.S., has worked with teachers to get them to bring their classes into the library which allows her to better serve and meet the needs of students who might not come in on their own.  Emmie Stuart taught her students how to appreciate the artwork in picture books.  She feels her students are now well prepared for her “all out” Mock Caldecott election in January.  

Of course, working with teachers is a big part of any librarian’s role.  Steve Martin, at Norman Binkley, collaborated with his instructional coach to create a list of mentor texts for teachers.  He hyperlinked the spreadsheet so that teachers could easily navigate and find the books they need for instruction.  Mark Hoesel is helping to develop a schoolwide plan for technology use.  He hopes the plan will guide further purchases and updates.   Becky Hornsby and Susan Schmidt focused on keeping teachers informed about online databases and subscriptions.  Clearly, MNPS librarians are focusing on their roles as instructional leaders.    


Where are our colleagues finding challenges and recommitting their focus next semester?   We all wear so many “hats,” it is easy to get off track and let some commitments slide.  I know that Kay Johnson and I want to focus on collaborating with teachers at Harpeth Valley and reach out to them with lesson ideas.  Being new to Harpeth Valley, I have found that it takes a while to get to know the staff and their unique instructional needs.   Kay has worried that we have let library management tasks, testing, book fair, and scheduling constraints keep us from planning with teachers.  Kelly Bulbulkaya wants to continue her focus on students and teachers and let all the other “noise” in the building fall by the wayside.  I think many of our colleagues want to do the same: attend more planning meetings, reach out to teachers individually, and restore our focus on instruction.   

Of course, there is always the possibility of marching off in an entirely new direction.  Mark Hoesel plans to investigate Maker Spaces at other schools and wants to explore possibly creating maker “tubs” for teachers to check out…how cool!   Kathy Kelly is collaborating with Head’s technology teacher to start a coding club.  Steve Martin hopes to explore using an online calendar for scheduling lessons and library events.   Heather Graves, at Dodson Elementary, plans to level her books “according to Lexile/Fountas and Pinnell .”  She hopes that accomplishing such a behemoth task will not only “ensure that students are checking out at least one book on their level,” but guide her future purchases as well.  Emmie Stuart hopes to find a way to challenge her high readers.

After consulting the “experts” in the field, I have a renewed appreciation for the people who power our school libraries in Nashville.  It is my hope that each and every one of you finds time to rest, reflect, and recommit to making your library program the best it can be in 2017.  

Blogger:  C. Hause @userofwords
Harpeth Valley Elementary School
Further essays and musings can be found at www.tinyletter.com/usewords

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Hour of Code- It's Like Magic

By:  Lucy Dixon, Librarian @ West End Middle School

How to light a technological fire under middle schoolers: combine students with Hour of Code and throw in a tech guru from the local community.  The result?  Fireworks!   In this warp-speed world of computing, jobs in computer fields dominate our lives.  And it’s just going to grow.  Like reading, it is a librarian’s responsibility to introduce computer coding and foster a life-long love for it.  Being an IB school here at West End Middle, the global week of Hour of Code was a natural match.  The students were very taken with the concept that students throughout the world were doing Hour of Code this week.   

I have to admit that I was a bit nervous because we’d never officially tried it with an outside community member.  Emily Bristow with the Nashville Technology Council arranged for Chris Peck with Computer Technology Solutions to visit West End.  Chris was terrific.  He was prepared, having studied the Hour of Code website.  He introduced coding with a brief intro describing what the future looks like for computers and what kind of classes will help with future computer careers.  He mentioned that there will be technology jobs not even yet invented.  He touched on potential salaries.  Wow!  His relaxed demeanor made the students feel comfortable interacting with him.  They asked questions and were eager to show off their coding results.  The students had been chosen by math teachers in each grade.  I wanted a variety of ages and abilities.  Clearly some students had never explored computer coding.  “It’s like magic!”  Those who had were happy to share their knowledge.
You could practically feel the electricity from all the synapsis popping in the room as the students explored the Hour of Code site.  Students chatted with their neighbors while staying laser focused on their screens.  The site is very easy to use with dozens of coding programs targeting preschoolers to high schoolers.   There are filters to refine the search results.  The site used block coding and javascript.  It also linked to sites that used coding techniques such as ‘Sketchup’.   Students were creating art, geometrics, and games.  One student was eager for me to try his new game.  He coded it so that as soon as the opponent made a move, it said “Game over.”  Cracked everyone up!

I would recommend a few things for Hour of Code events.  
  • Introduce yourself to your community contact.  Chris and I arranged for a phone call to make sure of expectations on both sides.  By the time he arrived, I felt like I already knew him.
  • Be sure to check all computers to make sure they are fully charged and on the domain.  Have a few power cords nearby just in case.  
  • Skip the headphones. The site does not require them and the students didn’t miss them at all.
  • Post the name of the Hour of Code website where everyone can see it.  
Lastly let me share a couple of takeaways.  Even though I was nervous about hosting the event, I now feel confident to teach classes on coding using the Hour of Code site.   I received several thank yous from parents, teachers, and students via social media and stopping by the library.  There’s nothing better than that, right?  And best of all, Chris enjoyed the event so much he has promised to come back next year.  Hour of Code - a new West End tradition!                                                      

Blogger:  L.Dixon @WEreads
West End Middle School