This is Why I Will Never Be Joyce Valenza

They say the first step is admitting you have a problem.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the new Delicious interface, and if you read it you already know that I wasn’t thrilled.  The site looks different, and some of the features have changed, and there’s some new terminology to learn.

Did you catch those key words?  New.  Different.  Change.  Oh, how many times have we shaken our heads in pity over our less-enlightened colleagues who bemoan these very things?  (tsk tsk tsk)  I thought I was above all that.

The day after I posted my reaction, I read Delicious Stacks by Joyce Valenza at her Neverending Search blog.  (Go ahead, take a moment to read it; then meet me back here.)

As you can see, Joyce immediately embraced the positive aspects of the new Delicious and began using it with her students.  She didn’t waste any time freaking out over the unfamiliarity of it; she just plunged right in and made it work for her.  That’s why she’s Joyce Valenza and I’m just me.

So I’m taking this lesson in keeping an open mind to heart, and I’ll remember my own feelings of resistance next time I’m sharing a new way of doing something with an apprehensive teacher.  I think Joyce would approve.


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OmmWriter – When You Just Want to Think and Write

A few weeks ago I was catching up on some older Clever Sheep podcasts, and Rodd Lucier mentioned a free download called OmmWriter.  Its purpose is to turn your computer into a Zen zone that allows you to focus your mind entirely on your writing, and after trying it I think it does a pretty good job.


OmmWriter takes over your desktop with a watercolor-ish background that blocks out everything else.  (The black control buttons disappear unless you hover over them with your mouse.)  You have a choice of four different fonts and font sizes, and you can drag the text box to make it larger or smaller.  The program offers you three soothing soundtracks to play while you write, or no music at all if you prefer.  There is a save option, or you can simply cut-and-paste your writing into a Word document, email, blog post, etc. 

Now, I am not New Agey at all, but I do love me some good relaxation music, so this feature is what convinced me to try OmmWriter.  (Track 3 is my favorite.)  It has not been as helpful in writing blog posts as I anticipated, mainly because I’m constantly referring to other writings and linking to various sites while I compose, and all the switching in and out of OmmWriter really harshes my mellow.  But for reflective writing – things like newsletter articles or letters to congressmen – it does help me keep my train of thought.

You’ve gotta love a site that lists their FMQs (Frequently Meditated Questions)!  If you decide to try it, let me know what you think.


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Library Lessons Online – Do You or Don’t You?

One of my goals this year is to do more to reach out to the families of our students.  I want to share the good things we are doing at school, and to get families more involved in the learning process. 

So, in that spirit, I spent some time this past weekend setting up a new blog with the intention of posting my lesson plans there.  My idea was that parents could see what their kids are doing in the library each week (complete with links to the resources we use), and I could also include follow-up ideas to promote literacy at home.

But now that the time has come to share the site, I’m feeling a bit reluctant about publicizing it, and I’m not entirely sure why. 

I realize that many of you don’t have scheduled library classes like I do, but for those who do:  Do any of you share your lesson plans online?  Why or why not?  What are the pros and cons?


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A New Year of Blogging

It’s been almost a year since my last post. Where have I been all this time? Well, last year was a difficult one, both personally and professionally. In addition to dealing with some serious family issues, I was also dealing with some rather debilitating school issues, and I just didn’t have the heart either to dwell on them or ignore them in blog posts.

Sumter School DistrictThis year will be different. Very different. In Sumter County, where I work, we’ve always had two school districts. This year, those two districts merged into one. We’ve had three years to prepare, but we’re all learning that you really can’t ever be fully prepared for such a sweeping change in policies, personnel, and procedures.

We have a new superintendent this year, since the former superintendents of each district have retired. In addition to all the new department heads at the district office, our school also has a new principal. (Our former principal also retired.) We have a new assistant principal, too. (Our former assistant principal was assigned to another school.) And we have a new curriculum resource teacher. (Our former CRT became our new assistant principal.)

So the name of the game this year is “Change.” Now, I’m not opposed to change; change can be not only good, but necessary in the raipdly evolving world of education. But too much change at once, particularly when the stakeholders (i.e., the teachers) have had little or no voice in the decision-making process, can be overwhelming. It can be frustating. It can be discouraging to the point that you just want to sit down and cry.

So why do I want to start blogging again now of all times, you ask?

I’ve stated before that for me, one of the most beneficial aspects of this blog has been the time spent reflecting on what I’m doing. In an earlier post titled Fighting Burnout I said,

 “Through writing this blog I’ve come to appreciate the importance of taking time to reflect on what I’m doing in my professional life and why…. I can see the benefit of including more posts here about what is working in my library, and what impact I’m having on the students I see each week. I need to remember why I became a school librarian in the first place, and resolve to keep that at the forefront of my mind…”

This year, I want this blog to be a celebration of everything good in my library, in my school, in my district, in my state, and in education in general.  I want to focus on the positive, rejoice in the successes, and share what’s working for me in my little corner of the world. 

After all, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”  (Epictetus) 

By the way, the logo you see here is actually not exactly what our new district logo looks like.  This is the original design, but it was changed at some point (I’m not sure when), and in spite of searching the district website, several of our school websites, and Google Images, I cannot find a save-able image of the new logo.  The words “UNIFIED FOR SUCCESS” have been replaced with the words “EDUCATE*EMPOWER*ENRICH” at the bottom of the circle.  Not that it really matters to any of you readers out there, but it does give you a small taste of the way things are going for us so far this year!

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The Conference Experience

As I was checking my feed reader yesterday, I saw a post by Mother Reader titled Kidlit Con 2010 Recap.  (By the way, Kidlit Con is a conference for children’s literary bloggers, authors, illustrators, and publishers.  Doesn’t that sound heavenly!)  I was interested to see what she had to say about the conference, but the opening paragraphs of her post are what really struck me:

I’ve been wondering why I’ve been having trouble writing up my experience at KidlitCon 2010, and I finally realized that I was trying to write about the wrong thing — the conference itself.

Please don’t take that the wrong way. The sessions boasted wonderful speakers featuring interesting presentations with useful applications for blogging. You’ll find helpful recaps from a variety of posts on the KidlitCon blog…. But though I enjoyed the sessions, the KidlitCon experience for me was the people.

That really resonated, because I have also been struggling this week to blog about my experience at the SC EdTech Conference, but I couldn’t figure out why it was so difficult to write the post.  Now I understand that what made the conference so invigorating for me wasn’t merely the words of the speakers, or the resources they shared.  It was the ideas those words and resources sparked within me, and it was having the time apart from work and family to really develop those ideas and form a plan to put them into practice.  So actually, just sharing a description of the sessions I attended doesn’t tell the full story.

For example, in my post on Thursday I mentioned that Lights Camera Action shared many different ways to use video in the classroom, which is a great session topic.  However, with all due respect to Dennis Duszynski, the most important thing to me about his session was the cool video idea I thought of during his presentation!

So I’ll continue sharing my conference experiences with you via this blog, but to paraphrase Levar Burton, don’t just take my word for it!  Check out the links for yourself, view the presentation notes through the lens of your own mission and vision, and let your imagination lead you into brand new territory!


*In case you’re wondering what my idea was, our book fair starts next week and I’m going to make my own promotional video to display on my school website, since the book fair company doesn’t supply any online videos of their own for us to use.  Can you believe Scholastic hasn’t already thought of that as a marketing tool?)

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Writing About Books

book buzzI’ve started a new feature on my Book Buzz blog this year.  (Book Buzz is the children’s book blog I write for students; I post information about books, authors and illustrators, and about special book-related events.)  Each week I post the Thursday Theme, where I present three or four books related to a common topic.  Themes so far have included Bats, Johnny Appleseed, Little Red Hen stories, and a couple more.

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to begin a project that requires regular input, and how burdensome it becomes to follow through consistently with it?

By the time I think of a theme, search my library catalog for books that fit (all the books I write about are from my collection), save a copy of the covers to use, write the description for each book, and type it all up, I’ve got well over an hour invested each of these posts!  (And of course that doesn’t include the time it takes to actually read the books!)  Is it really worthwhile to keep doing it week after week?

Yes, I think it is.  For one thing, it’s helping me to really discover what’s in my collection.  Usually when we receive a shipment of new books, my assistant unpacks them and handles any processing that’s needed, and then they go out to the shelves for students and teachers to check out.  Occasionally I have time to sit down and read them first, but not always, particularly with chapter books.  In researching these themes, I’m re-discovering titles I’ve ordered for our library, and I’m seeing which books on a given topic are the most current and useful, which ones may need to be weeded, and where the gaps are for future ordering.

I’m also honing a different type of reading and writing skill.  I’ve always thought I’d like to do some book reviewing, but it’s hard for me to keep a critical eye on a book that I’m reading for enjoyment, and nearly all the books I read are for enjoyment.  (Hmmm, I may have just put into words why so many kids don’t like book reports – it spoils the fun of reading!)  So this is an opportunity to take the time to read for the specific purpose of summarizing and sharing what’s special about each of the books I include in a theme post. 

I’m still finding my voice with this.  I’m trying to aim this blog at kids, but sometimes my summaries sound more like book reviews for adults or book annotations for teachers and librarians, who I hope are also reading Book Buzz, rather than persuasive booktalks for students.  But I plan to stick with it, and hopefully it will keep getting better!

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What’s My Real Mission?

All teachers have a philosophy of education.  Whether we’ve put it into words or not, it’s there in some nebulous form in the back of our minds as we prepare our lessons and interact with our students, and it determines how we approach the task of teaching each day.

I’ve recently been attempting to define my vision and mission as the library media specialist at my school.  The springboard for this inner dialogue was a statement I made in an email to a fellow book blogger.  I told her, “My mission is to match kids up with ‘just right’ books that will help them discover a love of reading.”


In the 22 years since I became a school librarian, a lot has changed.  There is much more emphasis on technology now, because there is so much more technology available.  Fortunately, it turns out that I am a not only a book-loving nerd, I am also a computer geek, so that suits me just fine.

But maybe I’ve been focusing too much on the technology side of things lately.  As the Technology Coach for my school, it’s inevitable that much of my time will be spent helping students and teachers learn to use technology effectively.  But as the Librarian, I need (and want) to concentrate on helping students fall in love with reading by introducing them to great authors and illustrators, by exposing them to award-winning books, by helping them to hone their book selection skills, and by encouraging them to share their favorite titles with one another and with the world.

Can technology play a role in doing all of this?  Absolutely!  Most authors and illustrators have wonderful web sites, our library catalog is available online to students 24/7 and includes eBooks as well as print resources, and our students are invited to leave comments about what they’re reading on my Book Buzz blog.

But there’s really no substitute for old fashioned story time sessions and face-to-face book talks.  Yes, I know students can enjoy books online; I’ve purchased a subscription to TumbleBooks for my school.  Yes, I know book trailers are all the rage right now; I’m following the School Library Journal Trailee Awards contest right along with the rest of you.  I just don’t want to lose sight of the fact that in addition to learning how to read, kids need to discover the sheer joy of reading.

storytimeSo I’m re-examining my library lesson plans to make sure I’m achieving a balance between sharing the Internet tools and the printed books.  Because in the end, computer content can’t replace human interaction, no matter how engaging the digital world may be. 


Photograph by John Lovretta. Click to enlarge.

p.s. As an interesting side note, my original title for this post was “What is My Real Mission,” just as it appears now.  But as I proofed my writing before hitting the publish button, I realized that I had inadvertently typed “What is my Read Mission” instead!  Actually, I guess either one would have worked!

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