Throughout my more than 25 years as a classroom Science Teacher and then as a School Librarian I’ve attended dozens of staff meetings, professional trainings, seminars, conferences, and planning sessions. I get wonderful ideas from all of these experiences, many of which I used in classroom and library with students.
But it seems the best advice I’ve gotten about my job has been, not from fellow professionals, but from the most unlikely of people and incidents: a sub, a student, a saleslady, an inclusion specialist, and my son.
DO THE THING YOU HATE MOST, FIRST
This nugget of wisdom came from a library substitute who covered several days for me. As we were conversing on the phone afterward, she complimented me on how organized everything was in the library. I said I seemed to have a real knack for organizing things, but organizing my time was my downfall. I never seemed to get all the things done I needed to, and hadn’t found a way to make planning my day very effective or enjoyable. That’s when she shared the above. She explained that if we tackle our least pleasurable task when we’re fresh, we can get it done more quickly than if we postpone it to later in the day, and once it’s done, we feel a sense of accomplishment and confidence about tackling the rest of our daily tasks.
Later that day I made a sign and hung it above my desk. From that time on, it reminded me daily to determine the least likable task I had to do that day, and then get right to it. Best ever advice!
USE SHOE OR VOICEMAIL FOR IMPORTANT REMINDERS
Out of the mouths of babes…
Both of these ingenious pieces of advice came from students when I was working on getting back overdue books. The first incident was with a young lady to whom I’d given an overdue notice. She asked to use the phone, and when I asked why, she said she was sure the book was at home, so she wanted to leave a reminder message on the answering machine so she’d look for it and bring it back. I was so enthused about that idea I began having all the students do it, though nowadays it’s leaving a message on their voicemail. In fact, I began using this method to remind myself of important things to do when I arrive home from work!
The second incident was with a young man. When I gave him the overdue notice, he proceeded to fold it up into a small square, remove a shoe, and place the folded note inside. I was stunned! He explained that he could feel the note, so when he got home and took off his shoe, the notice would remind him to find the book. He said he’d put the note back in his shoe overnight, so he’d see it before he put it on the next morning and it would remind him to bring the book with him to school. This was another idea I immediately adopted for students, especially those who didn’t have the phone option.
This little gem came from a saleslady at The Container Store; she emphasized that she couldn’t function without having the pockets in her store-provided smock, and I realized pockets would simplify my job as well. From that day on I began purchasing only clothing that had pockets, and eventually donated items that didn’t have them because I’d quit wearing them to work. Now, all my dresses, skirts, and slacks have pockets!
With pockets I never misplace my keys. With pockets I always have a pen handy. With pockets I can always carry something I’ll need when going to copier, office, cafeteria (or snack machine), or a classroom. I even downsized my wallet so it fits in a pocket for a quick trip to the store! Yes, keys, phone, pen, sticky notes, USB drive, laser pointer, extra cable, paper clips, staple remover; you name it, we probably need it at some point during the day, so I encourage you to have pockets on your clothing (or an apron or smock with pockets) to carry stuff around. Just putting this out there again…POCKETS!
MAKE LESSONS SIMPLE & ENJOYABLE
Any mother can tell you that if you don’t give kids something enjoyable to do, they’ll do something on their own that may not be as productive! When I came across this wonderful quote, from Kathie F. Nunley at Help4Teachers.com, I realized it, too, encapsulates my attitude about Library Lessons:
Children would rather do something than nothing. If they don’t enjoy the ‘something’ you give, they will entertain themselves with ‘something’ of their own device. That’s where the problems begin. By offering a wide range of activities and giving them in the form of choice, students perceive control over their situation, and engage themselves actively in the learning process.
I’ve said often that everything in the library is just an accessory for a Library Lesson. Lessons are why states require a teaching certificate to be a School Librarian. I learned quickly (and in middle school, quite emphatically) how important it is for students to have an enjoyable library visit, but I don’t do meaningless gimmick or frou-frou lessons just to fill time and avoid behavior problems. I want students to understand that the school library is a place for learning, not a funhouse. That’s why I keep these lesson tips in mind, and hope that you will also find them helpful:
- Customize activities to the grade level and focus on a single objective with a purposeful activity that allows students to practice what they learn.
- Teach only what students need for the short time they are in the library and avoid anything that does not achieve the purpose of the visit.
- Focus on the library process, rather than content—how rather than what; let the subject or classroom topic be the what.
- Have some kind of student document to keep kids on task and to turn in to teachers for a daily grade.
USE NEW “EYES”
The actual quote, from John Lubbock, British statesman (1834-1913) is “What we see depends mainly on what we look for,” and comes from my son, who helps me see beneath the surface to the true essence of things. Shortened by me, this profound insight became another sign on my wall that has most influenced planning my lessons, so what I’m giving students is meaningful, engaging, authentic, transferable learning of content and skills.
It also prompted me to quit thinking in terms of marketing “the library” or “the resources” or even “me the school librarian” and to market a specific lesson to a specific teacher so s/he will value a library visit and want more. It’s true that one-on-one takes time, but when a Library Lesson becomes part of a teacher’s Lesson Plan, they don’t want to sacrifice it, or you, when budget cuts threaten!
Finally, the quote helps me analyze various educational issues that crop up from time to time, whether locally or globally. I force myself to look beyond the quick-fix to the overall effect on all students and teachers. It is so rewarding when I share my perceptions and someone understands what I’m saying and pushes others to reconsider. It’s like getting a pat on the back from my son!