Tuesday, December 23, 2014

What Makes a Great Teacher?

What does it take to be a good teacher? A colleague of mine, Dr. Teri Lesesne, shared a link yesterday that has a great message. You can read it at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/12/19/are-you-a-truly-bad-teacher-heres-how-to-tell/

I went to it thinking it would be one of those fun quizzes where you pick choices and get a quick answer. It is far more thoughtful than that, and I agree with everything included.  When I finished reading, though, I was left to the feeling that there is more to being a great teacher that these important qualities.  Looking back from the vantage of 40 years in education, I tried to remember how many REALLY BAD teachers I have known. I have known some that were less effective than others, or less talented, or even less caring. But as far as REALLY BAD, only one person came to mind. The odd thing is that she possessed, at least in some measure, all the qualities listed in this piece. For starters, she was/is a nice person, a bit eccentric but someone I liked. As for the points in the article:
1.     I believe she liked, or wanted to like, her students. She enjoyed conversing with them one on one.
2.     She did NOT find her subject matter dull. She was in fact passionate about it.
3.     She absolutely knew what she was talking about in her subject area. She was brilliant with a stellar college background and a master’s degree. I found this out because she left her resume in my workroom one time, and because this was clear from talking with her.
4.     Did she ignore a large subset of her students? Well this one is a maybe. The problem was that her students ignored her. There was no real connection.
5.     Was she totally disengaged? No, I don’t think so. She told me that she wanted to and was trying to improve and I took that at face value, though she continued to flounder.

How do I know so much about this one person?  I was asked by my principal to videotape her in her classroom as she delivered instruction. He said the reason was for us to then talk with her about how to improve, but we all knew he was documenting her with in order to eliminate her from our faculty.  What I saw during several visits was distressing and sad. Her students were leveled and at the lower end of the spectrum at that school. They were relatively well behaved while I was there, but there were stories of how out of hand things got at other times. She came in and talked very rapidly, often with her back to the students as she wrote on the chalkboard in barely legible writing. One lesson was about how to write a “compare and contrast paragraph” for the state testing prompt at that time. The example she gave as Athens and Sparta. These students had no idea what she was talking about and could not answer even the simplest of her questions about Greece and history. Still she pressed on. At one point a boy near me began whispering to me urgently. “Please…get me out of this class. My parents complained but (the principal) says no, too many people have gotten out of the class already. I want to learn! I can’t learn in this class!”  I felt so bad for this kid, and did appeal to the principal but don’t remember if it helped. Things culminated much later in the year when a boy shoved her and she stepped backward, ending up half sitting in the trashcan. She couldn’t get out and a kid went for help. She was sent home for the day and when she returned she pretty much drew into herself. She resigned at the end of that year and moved to another state right after that. I felt sorry for her and sorrier for the students, who lost that year’s instruction because their parents were not influential enough to get them out of the class.

 Based on this experience, here are some things I would add
1.     Are you able to communicate with youngsters at the ages of your students? She was spectacularly lacking in this area.
2.     Are you able to maintain order in your classroom? This CAN be learned! I have seen people make great strides. In her case this just didn’t happen which leads to the next question.
3.     Are you a “Yes But” person? I was asked to pass on some tips about classroom management to her. At every suggestion she would say, “Yes but that would not work for me because…”
4.     Can you collaborate with others? There were avenues for help she could have sought. She made ironic jokes about her situation rather than seek ways to improve. She did not have friends among faculty, even though we had an unusually tight knit and supportive group. She was very much a loner. I was probably the closest thing she had to a friend in that school and I was documenting her shortcomings.

Why am I taking the trouble to put all this down? I am not sure but I think it is because I want to point out that teaching is not something that just anyone can do. It requires more than expertise in a subject area. A good teacher cannot be defined by some list of qualifiers composed by people who think they are experts in education because…Hey! They went to school! Teaching is a helping profession, one of the highest of callings. It pains me to see it denigrated as it is today, at all levels from the earliest childhood to post graduate. Teachers and professors bring so more to the profession than most people seem to realize.  One of my Christmas wishes is for people not in the field to return to the general attitude of respect for teachers that was present when I was growing up, and when I started out in education.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Carolyn Foote's IL2014 eBooks...Wow or Meh???

 Official Presentation Title: Ebooks: What can we learn from student data?

Carolyn Foote is a library hero. If anybody can launch a successful program with ebooks, she is a prime candidate. She is librarian at Westlake High School in the Eanes ISD, Austin TX. This school has plentiful technology, and teachers and students are techno savvy. It is a one to one iPad school, having first issued them to teachers and some teachers back in 2010. That the library would roll out eBooks was a given. The likelihood that students will eagerly adopt eBooks as a favorite way to enjoy their iPads seems a no brainer. In actuality though, their enthusiasm is less than one might predict. Last year she took a look at numbers and discovered that out of a student body of 2300, only 93 students were repeat users of eBooks. So maybe they should try promoting them or at least letting people know about them? Done and done. Carolyn rattled off a list of ways they had been spreading the word: announcements, posters, QR codes, online postings, reminders in bathrooms (!) and other means. Still, student enthusiasm was, well, meh. Recently she polled students using a variety of means in an effort to understand their lackluster interest. She used rolling boards made for her by the shop teacher, stickynotes on windows next to question options, as well as PollDaddy.  The first group she polled was this year’s senior class. Next she will poll freshmen, and is interested to see if their opinions are different since they have had iPads since junior high. Carolyn compared her library to a petri dish in which she is trying to learn from her students. One thing she learned through polling is that the ability to enlarge text with an eBook means very little to students. Also, if a student really likes a book and feels a personal connection with it, he or she is going to want the print copy.  Additionally, students are more likely to use eBooks for reference when doing research than to use for reading fiction.

One thing that impressed me about this presentation was that Carolyn was willing to stand up and present about the fact that implementation of eBooks at her school, seemingly a likely candidate for student adoption, turned out to be disappointing. Now she wants to figure out what is next. She does not want to spend a lot more money on a resource that is less popular than expected. In case you don’t already follow Caroline, she blogs as Technolibrary.

PS She introduced her presentation with a great video that you can find here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlp_K0ww2FQ
I’m looking forward to watching more of this young lady’s videos at https://www.youtube.com/user/polandbananasBOOKS
You’re welcome.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Dr. Ken Haycock on Advocacy BEYOND the School Library Studies

One of the highlights of my conference experience at Internet@Schools West was hearing Ken Haycock. He has been a library hero of mine since the 1990’s, and his wisdom about the need for us to be our own advocates has been a major contribution for longer than that. I looked forward to his presentation with high hopes, and of course he did not disappoint.

He stated that he’s been researching why cuts are made to school libraries and what to do about it. We should think about how we advocate, with full knowledge that past efforts have been less than successful. In addition to being a librarian, Ken has public school experience as a teacher, a librarian, an administrator, and a school board member. He knows about public schools. One striking thing he said was that when principals hear the words “librarian” and “advocate” in the same sentence, they run in the opposite direction. Yes, we have all those studies that show that strong library programs result in improved standardized test scores. And more such studies are underway, and likely to strengthen this claim. The problem is, other programs that are in danger of being cut, such as PE, music, art, etc. ALSO have studies. Their passion to show worth through studies is just as strong as that of librarians.  He also noted that even armed with these studies librarians continue to find their programs threatened. He shared the adage that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is folly.

With this in mind, Haycock has been researching different ways to advocate. If we are going to use the studies, we need to stress that the important component is not the library facility or collection. We need to impress that a certified and committed LIBRARIAN is what is invaluable. He went on to share some other ways to approach advocacy. First, he suggested that you make a chart with four columns. In the first you should list all the staff in your institution that has contact with your program. In the second column you should rate them by influence, using words such as low, medium, high. In the third column you should list strong supporters of your program. Then start building strong ties with those who are at or near the top of your chart as far as influence and support. Do not worry about the naysayers. We librarians aren’t in position of great power but DO have enormous influence. To illustrate this he reminded us that some librarians get followed by money wherever they go. Such a librarian can build a great program with plenty of funding, but then leave and go to another school. Within 2-3 years he or she will again be heading up a library with ample funding and success.

What are these librarians doing?  For one thing they are building strong ties with their principals. He said “every principal has money in bottom drawer or stashed away somewhere.” That may be a cliché but it’s also true. That money is always for what they think important.  Another way to make progress with an administrator is something I have learned for myself through experience. That is to go into any meeting with a solution in hand. If you are going to your administrator with a request, you should also have ready some way that the request can be expeditiously granted.

If librarians are going to keep their jobs, they need to demonstrate and publicize their importance. Being credentialed is great but you need to be more than “a warm body with a diploma. “ It is of utmost importance that we are front and center proving our worth. Interestingly he said that one thing that resonates with administrators is how librarians HELP TEACHERS. That gets their attention even more than how they are helping kids! Thus, he said, every teacher librarian should have two essentials:
1.     He or she should be trained for collaboration with colleagues
2.     He or she should be trained and eager to offer informal staff development. Principals really like to see informal staff development via brown bag lunches, before/after school short sessions, etc. They want to see the librarian as a leader in technology and collaboration

While the first half of his presentation was about advocacy and kinds of advocacy, the second half was his tossing out gems of wisdom one after another about how to improve our situation in the future. I found myself trying to write down every single thing he said!  A lot of the things he mentioned are psychology served up with a dollop of common sense, but are often things we forget to do. They are about gaining people’s good will and trust. This is key, says Haycock. I am going to try to get these gems down in a bulleted list.

·      When people trust us to do what we promise, we get more support.
·      Most principals are evaluating you by your work with colleagues even more than with students.
·      Use persuasion and influence!
o   Learn how to connect agenda to that of others…you want to connect with administrators’ agendas.  If your principal wants to stress inquiry in instruction, show how you can help with that. Ask a leader… what do you want in two years and how can I help?
o   People do things for THEIR reasons, not ours…understand your target.
o   Advocacy is about RESPECT. The person you are petitioning holds all the cards.
o   Advocacy is like banking. You cannot withdraw if you never make deposit. You can’t ask for support for program about what they don’t know, have never seen. As school board member he never once saw librarians come to a meeting and tell the board  thanks for what they do or ask for support. He shared an anecdote about a meeting he attended where home economics teachers were asking for support for a project. They said, “We don’t just make muffins anymore. We prepare young people for the future with financial planning, child raising, etc.”  They got thumbs up from the board.
o   He went on to say that during his years as a school board member and then president, he got lots of letters with complaints, causes, suggestions, etc. In all that time he only got THREE letters expressing thanks. He REMEMBERS WELL those three letters and who sent them.

o   Attitude and behavior are not the same. Person can appear to support but then cut. You want attitude to move toward behavior
o   So you need to seek who has influence and focus on those people.
o   Also who are barriers and what do with them? LEAD with best option, don’t save it for last.  Ask for much but tell them can make work for 1/3

o   How initiate, build or repair a relationship. THE RELATIONSHIP is the message
o   People will listen to people they like and listen more closely
o   Reciprocity…we give back to people who we have given to.
o   Get people to move in your direction
o   Social proof…example principals talk to each other and do wthat others do..
o   Authority…administrators tend to listen to people who have authority. Teachers perform to perception of what principal wants.
o   Consistency and commitment…philosophy of administrator and prevailing view within school or district. If principal values inquiry, this affects all teaching. Much easier than principal who thinks everything is in the text.
o   Scarcity is a non starter…people think information system is rich and free. Stress your value in this environment. Again show the need the expertise of school librarian.

·      Liking…we tend to like people like us. We like people who praise us. Praise is most powerful when giving someone else so object is 2nd hand. In our building position, think if you ran someone down and it got back.

·      It works well when doing collaboration if we say “WE and OUR” other than me/mine.

·      It’s not whether I like you but if you THINK I like you.

·      Reciprocity—Giving gifts is important. He is not talking about traditional gifts only. Gifts can be actions, such as volunteering to chair a committee your principal is organizing.  Gifts should be meaningful, unexpected. In sales it is all about the relationship.

·      Introduce people. Send cards.

·      Say thank you differently.  When someone thanks you, don’t say “It’s nothing. Say I’m sure you would do the same for me…sometime…” NOTE FROM ME…I love this tip!

·      SOCIAL PROOF…we have our challenges…get opinion leaders to transmit information. Testimonials—get them. Show up at principal conferences.

·      AUTHORITY…Trappings count. If you dress professionally it makes a difference. Hang your credentials on your office wall. Give business cards.

·      TRUSTWORTHINESS…Be secure enough to address weakness. Don’t pretend to know everything.

·      SOPPADA… This acronym stands for Subject, Objectives, Present situation, Proposal, and Action.  This is a template for making proposals that he recommends.

·      CURSE OF KNOWLEDGE…if we know so much may have trouble stating succinctly. When answering questions, don’t tell them more than they ever want to know.

o   Liking/reciprocity
o   Consistency/commitment…people’s values…try to find connections…people don’t like to portray their values.
o   Social proof

·      Sometimes we’re so desperate to work with someone that we end up doing all the work. When working collaboratively, work should be shared.

·      We need to focus on learning rather than access to information.  Dwindling resource is authority, influence, of school librarian. Implication of cutting should be stated.

·      Opportunity is everywhere--Never leave home without it

·      The 4 Es  of interacting with someone you want to impress:

o   Establish eye contact
·      Extend hand
·      Exchange cards
·      Engage conversation

·      Follow up with your contacts using social media
·      N.E.T.W.O.R.K.
·      THANK YOU NOTES! What if you wrote one every day?
·      LIKE the people you work with…OR MOVE ON

Two books to read:
·      Work the Pond
·      Yes! 50 scientifically way

Finally STORIES are what we need to share. He once asked Mary Matalan and Steve Carville what they thought was importance of libraries. THEY AGREED FOR ONCE! Mary stated that she wished more people recognized the worth of libraries. That is what we can and must do with stories. This is more likely than studies or statistics to gain the support we want and need. Get out and about and tell your stories every way you can!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


As has been the case for 10 years, now, I conclude this gathering with a mixture of awe and gratitude, and also maybe a little regret. I am most definitely a victim of sensory overload but at the same time wish it went on a little longer. I want to write an overview and then go back and write in more detail about specific ideas and/or sessions. First I am going to sit and think, and then I am going to briefly list a few highlights that rise to the top of my mind upon reflection. I will limit myself to no more than five of these.

I did pause for a few minutes and asked myself what surfaced I my mind without looking at my program or my notes, and I came up with four things. Here they are:
·      I try to never miss a keynote, and came into the last of the three mornings without even bothering to see who was speaking on what topic. This allowed me to be happily surprised to realize I would be hearing Josh Hanagarne, aka The World’s Strongest Librarian.  He also spoke last year and thus I knew I was in for a treat. His topic today was…are computers changing the way we think? Of course they are! I will write more about his speech. It is causing me to engage in self-examination as well as to reflect on the larger meaning for all of us and our brains, separately and collectively.
·      Next to pop into my brain is Tuesday’s keynote by Nina Simon, Executive Director, Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History Author, The Participatory Museum, & Blogger, Museum 2.0. The title was Radical Transformation & Co-Created Magic! She gave a fascinating and inspiring account of her institution’s turnaround from bankruptcy to enjoying community support and financial success. This was done largely by conducting a series of public events that cost little or nothing but brought in citizens from all walks of life, from traditional museum supporters to people from the local homeless shelter.  Most of her ideas could be springboards for ways to engage patrons at any library, and I am also thinking about how to adapt for use with my students.
·      The third standout from all sessions was Tuesday afternoon’s opportunity to hear Ken Haycock. I have followed him since my days as a doctoral student, and have heard him speak before. This time the relatively small room allowed for a much more personal feeling of connection with him and fellow members of the audience. His topic was…ADVOCACY. He has been a leader in this arena for longer than I have been involved in librarianship and his advice has influenced my career both as a school librarian and as a MLS professor. I need to write more about his common sense ideas that are quite simple, but hardly easy for many of us.
·      The final thing to come to mind as a highlight is not a speaker but rather a large part of the conference experience, and that is collegiality. I had so many great conversations with old and new friends, some of which bear repeating later. In particular I enjoyed spending time with Dave Hoffman, Carolyn Foote, and Diane Cordell.
Every year I approach this conference with great anticipation. It is an annual gift that provides me with ideas and information that I call upon all year and in some cases for longer spans. Often I hear about devices or trends for the first time, weeks or months before they reach me in Texas. This year did not disappoint. I gained more than I can tell, and once again leave knowing I will hope that I get to return in 2015.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Anticipatory Delight...I love the anticipation of a great conference! This time Internet Librarian West 2014

It feels good to be in the air and headed west to California and the Internet Librarian Conference again. This is my 10th year to present, and one of the highlights of any year.  For much of my academic career,, this conference has been my goto event for new learning and inspiration. It has sparked ideas that have led to a large portion of my writing and presenting over the years. Through this conference I found myself writing a regular column for Internet@Schools Magazine, and also used ideas and new knowledge for three books, numerous articles in other publications, and presentations in conferences throughout the US. Its not an exaggeration to say that this event helped me move up through the ranks  to full professor before taking retirement to my present half-time position. I am looking forward to seeing familiar faces, including the inimitable Dave Hoffman,  whom I can thank for my continuing presence and also my column. I am also looking forward to two special colleagues, Diane Cordell with whom I am presenting, and Carolyn Foote, fellow Texan and librarian extraordinaire. Let the learning begin!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Getty Images--GET Them!!!

Recently I heard great news about royalty free images that people can use in blogs, websites, and presentations. I really do love photography and infographics, and digital literacy is a special interest of mine. I went to the Getty collection (http://www.gettyimages.com/) and registered to be a user. This is also free. I took a look at the collection, doing several searches, and became even more excited. I found lots of images that I could have used in past projects. There was one small problem. I was not sure how to get an image for free. If you click on a particular picture, a window pops up that offers pricing information on the right. The picture is watermarked so you cannot just copy paste from that preview. That was where I hit a wall. I knew I was overlooking something but could not figure out what. Then yesterday I saw this helpful blog entry via Facebook, thanks to Georgia Wells: http://blogs.wsj.com/personal-technology/2014/03/05/gettys-images-are-now-free-for-twitter-tumblr-and-personal-blogs/?mod=ST1
I knew I was missing something that was probably easy, and sure enough what I was not noticing was that BELOW the picture there was this symbol: < >
That of course should have clued me in to the fact that I could click on it and get the html code needed to insert the picture. That was my missing piece of the puzzle. Now I have a super resource for images for presentations, etc. I will still use Creative Commons and morguefile, but it's great to have this option both because of the ease and also because of the rich collection of images. Here is one I may use in an upcoming presentation:

And here's another great plus...Getty nicely puts attribution right below the image for you! If you want to have students add a formal citation you can, but I would say for many uses this is fine and much better than lack of any sort of citation which is too often the case. Give it a try!