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EdTech Update





The broader the audience, the greater the care

Many years ago, I received a phone call late on a Saturday night. It was from an eight grade girl who had been creating a webpage on a WWII local veteran as part of an oral history unit for a class. She'd been looking at the page she and a partner had composed and discovered something terrible.

Mr. Johnson! There is a spelling error on Dr. Heinmark's page. Can you help me correct it right away? If he sees it, I will be so embarrassed!

It was the first time in 30 years of teaching I actually heard dismay about spelling from a student. And the experience taught me the power of a audience to raise the level of concern about the quality of one's work.

While I know exceptions exist, I really don't think most kids care a lot about their teachers' opinions of their work except as related to a grade or satisfaction of a course requirement. Or maybe I should say, students care a lot more about what their peers and families think about their work. Or even the general public.

It's hard to remember a time before social media when sharing ideas in written, visual, or aural form was a real challenge. The WWII pages created in the early 2000s had to be uploaded by library and tech staff, not by students themselves. GoogleDocs, SeeSaw, Instagram and common "sharing" tools today did not exist so making student work public by publishing it online was a deliberate (and pioneering) effort.

Establishing an audience that is broader than the classroom teacher still requires effort - just different effort. Teachers need to:

  • Analyze student privacy needs and share carefully.
  • Link student work to caring audiences (parents, peer groups in other schools, etc).
  • Consider the challenges and possibilites of cross-cultural sharing.

Writers write to be read. Writers understand that to be understood, their writing must be clear and compelling and as free of errors as possible.

A responsive audience helps raise student concern and care about the quality of their communications. 


BFTP: What professional materials do you actually read?

Today ... it's the difficult work that's worth doing. It's worth doing because difficult work allows you to stand out, create value and become the one worth choosing. Seth Godin

Spring - the season of discontent. At least is always has been for me. As the weather gets nicer and the bike trails clear, the lawn and flower beds peep out from under melting snow banks, and the end of the school year gallops toward us at a breakneck pace, I always question whether I belong in education at all. Wouldn't I have made a better forest ranger, electrician, pharmaceutical salesman, or long-haul truck driver? As I wrote in a column some years ago:

Spring has always been the time I seem least content with being in education. I am usually pretty fed up with the antics of students, teachers, administrators and a few parents. I am actively questioning whether I actually taught anybody anything during the year or any of my department’s initiatives did anything for kids. I am worried about the next round of budget cuts. 

This spring it seems that I am not the only one suffering from this malaise.  I received this question from a friend in Wisconsin last week:

I believe a great deal in professional organizations, as I'm a member of several, but I'm starting to get a little tired of ISTE's Leading & Learning. I just don't find it a compelling read for some time now ... do you feel the quality of L & L is slipping? Or am I getting to be an information snob?

Hmmm, I find myself skimming rather than actually reading most education journals, not just L&L. In fact, I am skimming a lot more professional reading period, whether is a book, a blog, or a white paper. But is the reason the content, the sheer glut of content gushing past, - or is it personal boredom?

In his little diatribe "Please stop spreading manure," Gary Stager writes:

Almost daily, a colleague I respect posts a link to some amazing tale of classroom innovation, stupendous new education product or article intended to improve teaching practice. Perhaps it is naive to assume that the content has been vetted. However, once I click on the Twitter or Facebook link, I am met by one of the following:

  1. A gee-whiz tale of a teacher doing something obvious once, accompanied by breathless commentary about their personal courage/discovery/innovation/genius and followed by a steam of comments applauding the teacher’s courage/discovery/innovation/genius. Even when the activity is fine, it is often the sort of thing taught to first-semester student teachers.
  2. An article discovering an idea that millions of educators have known for decades, but this time with diminished expectations.
  3. An ad for some test-prep snake oil or handful of magic beans.
  4. An “app” designed for kids to perform some trivial task, because “it’s so much fun, they won’t know they’re learning.” Thanks to sites like Kickstarter we can now invest in the development of bad software too!
  5. A terrible idea detrimental to teachers, students or public education.
  6. An attempt to redefine a sound progressive education idea in order to justify the status quo.

I don’t just click on a random link from a stranger, I follow the directions set by a trusted colleague – often a person in a position of authority. When I ask them, “Did you read that article you posted the link to?” the answer is often, “I just re-read it and you’re right. It’s not good.” Or “I’m not endorsing the content at the end of the link, “I’m just passing it along to my PLN.”

Despite the fact we disagree on many issues, Gary, I am right there with you on this one. I get the sense too many "experts" are more concerned about being the first to tweet or blogging the most links that any sense of vetting has gone by the wayside. Nothing should be "just passed along to my PLN" without some kind of personal commentary explaining why the piece is worth sharing. (I still think we'd have a better, more discriminating social network if we had to pay for each posting. See The Signs of Over Communication.)

As readers and writers, are we doing "the difficult work that's worth doing?", as Godin asks?


Original post April 29, 2013


10 traits of successful school librarians

I've been a school librarian or school library supervisor since 1979. In the nearly 40 years since I've had the pleasure of working with many outstanding individuals. Librarians who make a huge difference in the lives of both the kids and adults with whom they work. Librarians who have a passion for books, for technology, and for ideas and, by sharing those passions, imbue other with them. Librarians whose jobs never seem to be on the cutting block. 

The librarians I most respect for their success share many of these traits:
  1. They value people more than stuff. It's funny how the best librarians don't seem to worry much about lost, broken, or overdue materials. They worry about the people they serve and in caring for patrons, those lost, broken, and overdue things seem to simply not be a problem. Good relationships, not lots of rules, are effective for these individuals.
  2. They own the responsibility for the effectiveness of the library program, but not the library itself. The librarians I respect most understand that the whole school "owns" the library, not them. They are the custodians of this jointly-owned resource. All advocacy efforts have at their core WIIFMS (What's In IT For My Students/Staff) They will never refer to where they work as "my library."
  3. They over communicate. Respected librarians understand that those in schools with discretionary time and discretionary budgets need to be very transparent about how their time and budgets are spent. They understand that others cannot advocate for a program if they don't know what that program does. Administrators, teachers, and parents all know the exciting things happening in the libraries of the best librarians.
  4. They understand the long view and are critical to the over arching mission of their parent organizations. Collaboration is not just between themselves and classroom teachers. They are also collaborative leaders, serving on building committees - curriculum, building, planning, etc. The role of the library becomes deeply embedded in making other individuals, programs and the school itself successful.
  5. They don't evaluate their programs based on arbitrary standards. Effective librarians know and understand state and national library standards, but they tailor them - selecting some, rejecting others - to meet the specific needs of their buildings, staff, and students. They take on jobs and acquire resources that may not have been covered in library school but are mission critical in their work environment. They are flexible about everything but their values.
  6. They create safe and welcoming environments. For students, the libraries created by these librarians  become Oldenburg's "third place" - a space of comfort, welcome, and safety. Great librarians take pride not in collections, technology, or furniture within the library walls, but in the groups of students, especially those who may not "fit" in the regular school societies, working and playing in the space. It seems these folks libraries are rarely empty.
  7. They know that empowering others is the source of their own power and security. Too often people believe job security comes for having knowledge that no one else has. But as my dad liked to say, "The graveyard is filled with indispensable people." The librarians I know who are critical to their organizations are not knowledge and skill hoarders, but natural teachers who help others develop life-long skills in technology use, information evaluation, communication, problem-solving. 
  8. They swing both ways: lit and tech. The bifurcation of the profession started just as I entered it in the early 1980s. Yet the best school librarians retained interest, knowledge, and skills in both children's and YA literature as they learned how to use technology to find and communicate information. Most of us in the profession have a preference - lit or tech - but the best support both and find powerful ways to combine them.
  9. They put the needs of kids before the wants of adults. "nuf said.
  10. They are mission driven.  Angela Falkenberg writes" mission is to guide students’ development towards a love of reading and passion to use their knowledge to achieve their dreams as they learn to navigate the world. ...  I simply want students to believe in their possibility." It was Angela's words that were the impetus for this post. She reminded me that truly great librarians let a greater purpose drive them, give them courage, blunt criticism, let them sleep well at night. For many years, one of my keynote talks addressed courage as a vital technology skill. But I have since come to realize that courage is a necessity for all successful individuals.

I suspect there is little in this list you've not heard or read before. I am sure I have missed some attributes of the best librarians I've known. Pat yourself on the back a bit for the qualities from this list that you display. Work on those you don't. I am sure as heck working on a lot of them myself.