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Thursday
Sep222005

Preaching to the Sinners or Only to the Saved?

Home after a wonderful time at Encyclo-Media in Tulsa. As I expected, the folks there were both gracious and organized, just as they were when I visited in 1999 and 2000. I commented earlier that I’ve long thought Kathryn Lewis has some of the best school librarians going working in her Norman program. I’m going to have to add Tulsa as another exemplary group, led by its outstanding director, Ellen Duecker.

Encylo-Media just ought to be the model for educational conferences. It started, I believe, as a school librarians’ conference, but they just kept inviting more and more kinds of educators to join them in the fun and learning. Now tech-types, gifted and talented teachers, school counselors, and administrators attend as well. It’s a great chance for cross-discipline networking.

And as a speaker, it’s both a delight and challenge to speak with mixed groups. School librarians and techies are without a doubt, my favorite people to visit with. We share the same concerns, talk the same language, and work toward the same goals. (I know what jokes and stories work!) But at the same time, I often feel like I am preaching to the choir at library and technology conferences and worry I’m not reaching the unconverted, so to speak. One of the comments I get most often is: “If only our administrators/teachers could have heard this talk!”

All of us in education need to hear each others’ “talks.” Should the issues of social studies teachers, reading teachers, superintendents, elementary classroom teachers, PE teachers, and business ed teachers be of concern to me as a techie and librarian? You betcha. Do these same folks need to learn about how libraries and technology can help make them more effective. Of course.

Do we need to re-think discipline-based conferences and move in the direction of Encylo-Media?

PS. A personal thanks to David Warlick. Late Tuesday afternoon I received an e-mail from the keynote speaker we had arranged for our MEMO conference that is about three weeks away, explaining that for health reasons (documented with a really ugly digital photo) that he would be unable to come to Minnesota. I gave David a call and he’s agreed on very short notice to step in as a replacement. Whew!

If you aren’t reading David’s 2 Cents Worth blog, give it a look. Today’s entry makes four interesting points including this provocative quote from William (Neuromancer) Gibson: “The future is here. It’s just unevenly distributed.”

Wednesday
Sep212005

Gonzo or Reflective?

I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say. Flannery O’Connor

In a recent comment to this blog, Dennis Conner wrote: “Doug, kudos on the Blue Skunk. I enjoy reading pages with voice and personality…and your pages do all that and more. Is Gonzo Librarianship a genre? A quick glance at your blogroll seems to say yes.”

Thanks, Dennis. I think.

To tell the truth, I had go look up what “gonzo” actually meant. My main reference is the strange blue bird with the crooked beak on the Muppet Show. And of course, Hunter S. Thompson’s writing of which I’ve read little.

So a quick search found a definition in that most suspect of all sources, Wikipedia: Gonzo is a style of reportage, film making, or any form of multimedia production in which the reporter, filmmaker or creator is intrinsically enmeshed with the subject action (rather than being a passive observer). (September 20, 2005)

Given writer Thompson’s flamboyant lifestyle, I find the label uncomfortable as a shy and retiring Minnesotan. I’m not saying we in the north don’t have Thompson’s urges and tastes, it’s just that we are less forthcoming about them and feel guilty, rather than proud, when made public.

I’d hope that “reflective practitioner” is a better term for my writing perspective. While I deeply admire and even envy the theorists and visionaries in the fields of both librarianship and technology, I also am rather proud that I am working “where the rubber meets the road” – where theory actually gets put into practice as the media and technology director for a pretty average school district.

Writing about one’s experiences is one of the best means of active reflection (is that an oxymoron?) I often think of O’Conner’s quote that begins this entry. The physical act of writing forces one to clarify, summarize, prioritize and defend those thoughts that fly about the brain like wild birds in an aviary.

One area where we as practitioners need to be more reflective is in our collaborative efforts. My article Proactivity and Reflection: Tools to Improve Collaborative Experiences, Minnesota Media, 2004 explores this idea and offers an activity that may facilitate reflection.

Academic research articles frustrate me. I suppose they are a necessary evil. But if the researcher would simply add a short statement at the end of any study called “Applications for Practice,” the lives of all of us working with real kids and teachers would be made much simpler. Start the reflection for us.

I encourage everyone on a daily basis to jot down some thoughts about how the day went and why. Hey, share your thoughts with others as well through your own blog or articles. I’m sure I’d enjoy reading them and the more “gonzo” the better!

What things do you do that make you more reflective?
Tuesday
Sep202005

“We’re on a Mission from God”

Whether you take the Blues Brothers’ movie line figuratively or literally (small g or large G), your have to admire people who seem to be driven by a higher cause. That’s why I like Stephen Krashen’s work. You just get the feeling that he thinks about nothing but getting kids to read by reading - joyfully and with the help of libraries. And he will keep writing letters to the editor of various newspapers and journals until everyone in education sees the light.

His book, The Power of Reading, 2nd ed., is a must read for all school librarians and anyone else in education librarians can get to read it. (My review which appeared on KQWeb.) Through extensive research, he builds an excellent case for how Free Voluntary Reading improves both reading ability and desire and why libraries are vital to supporting FVR efforts.

But if you want to really want to see Krashen in action, sign up for the mailing list on his website. He shares all his “letters to the editor” pummeling the educational establishment for their benighted views of reading instruction. Lively reading and he must write four or five of these things a week.

I hope all educators are on a “mission from god” when it comes to their work. I hope we are less about technology or math or reading and more about ending poverty, bringing about social justice, and giving kids fulfilling lives. I know the test scores loom large, but it’s really about the changing the world. If we aren’t about that, we ought to all get jobs in industrial adhesive sales or something.

What’s your “mission from God?”