How to transform your library into a real learning community

Is your school library mostly a place to store books? Is it empty and silent? What if you could transform your library into a dynamic learning hub?

Award-winning school librarians Kristina Holzweiss and Stony Evans are on a mission to incorporate library media centers into your learning community. In this excerpt from their new book, Hacking School Libraries, you learn how to transform your library tomorrow, with three quick tips from the authors.

How to Transform the Space

Weed.

Why are you holding onto books that are outdated, inappropriate, or damaged? This sticks you right into that old-fashioned, no-longer-relevant teaching column. Upload your collection and analyze it through your circulation software to determine the average age of the entire collection and the average age of each section.

Then start to figure out how you can change it up. Focus on the areas that are the oldest first, as those are the ones that need the most attention.

We all hope that we will fit into our old clothes at the back of the closet, but do you really need a book about space written before the astronauts landed on the moon? You are a school librarian, not an archivist.

Declutter.

Do your patrons suffer from sensory overload when they enter the library? Clean it up and simplify to immediately and easily update the space. Remove or modify signs and displays. Create a short list of positive expectations, rather than the list of “do-nots.”

Inspire reading with a reading lounge. Click image to learn more.

Ditch your desk, which is old-fashioned and taking up valuable floor space that could be used for a reading nook or collaborative workspace. Attach anti-slip tape to the bottoms of bookends to keep books in place, use paint stirrers as shelf markers, and place baskets on the floor for students to return books that need to be reshelved.

Rubber refrigerator door liners will keep books from slipping on carts. All of this will clean up the space and make it easier and more pleasant for students.

Organize.

Many of the following suggestions are based on libraries for the younger grades but can be adapted for the ages of your learners. Create a cubby system where students can store their belongings so they don’t have to worry about keeping track of things while they’re browsing or working.

Learn how to make students makers–not consumers

Scrapbooking storage boxes are the perfect size for makerspace or literacy kits.

Hang curtains from spring tension rods to hide supplies, and use hanging shoe organizers for pens, highlighters, markers, scissors, and crayons. Numbered and color-coded baskets make it easy to distribute supplies.

Utilize mobile, lockable charging carts to keep track of and organize any technological devices you have in the space. Use clothing racks to hang posters and charts so they remain straight and protected, and use PVC pipe to create a storage system for headphones.

Learn to engage with EdTech in your library

Purchase a personal laminator to create long-lasting, color-coded labels. Create signage that is visually appealing and clear, and use both text and images to make it easier for all students, especially English language learners and special education students, to understand what you’re asking of them.

Learn more

For all 10 ways to incorporate library media centers into your learning community, look inside Hacking School Libraries today.

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Changing the Conversation with Parents

Is it time to reconsider parents’ role in teaching and learning in

your space? Parent and family involvement in education can now be

so much more than a phone call, open house, or parent-teacher conference.

In her new book, Hacking Early Learning, Principal of the Year Jessica Cabeen

shares some practical strategies for engaging parents in daily teaching and

learning, using 21-century technology.

See how you can bring parents along for the entire journey in every school

year.

THE HACK: CHANGE THE

CONVERSATION WITH PARENTS

Having your first (or second, or third) child enter the K–12 system

can be a milestone in many ways for families . . . and for teachers

and leaders. Setting the tone for when and how you communicate

and build a mutual relationship goes a long way toward establishing

trust with the stakeholders you will be serving on the journey.

Authentic family engagement is more than a parent night, more

than Dads and Donuts, and if you do it well, it will start well before

students enter the classroom, and leave a lasting memory well after

they leave your school.

How we welcome and end every day with students can also be a

great starting point in building relationships with families. In what

ways are you intentionally taking time to show care, concern, and

empathy for the students in your class? How often are you checking

Click image to look inside

in with families after a difficult time? When do you recognize that

student who just seems to be doing the right thing every time you

turn around? How do you celebrate every child during the school

year—and make sure that the family hears about it as well?

If you have an opportunity to live where you lead, you have the

bonus of engaging with future, current, and previous families in

your community every day. This is a chance for parents to see that

you are more than a principal, and for you to see how much they

love being parents. Building relationships with families can occur

on Saturdays at the swimming pool during a swim meet, Sundays

at church, or at the library when you check out new books after

school and see former students studying.

WHAT YOU CAN DO TOMORROW

Find the right platform(s). Families these days

receive information in more ways than ever before.

As educators, we must work to find the right fit

for each family, to make sure they are receiving

information in a timely manner. Our school community

recognized early on that parents were

Starting tomorrow, figure out your own process for positive communication.

engaging more with their phones than the school

folder. Armed with that information, we created a

blog that links directly to our Facebook page. That

way, families can see an intro to a subject and click

to go right out to the blog for further information.

We also post pictures of the school day, host

Facebook Live events, and push out reminders on

this social platform. I used Twitter … so

parents can see inside their child’s day. YouTube

has been a great vehicle for pushing out monthly

your stakeholders so that you are choosing

the right tools to reach families, and recognize that

there may be more than one right answer.

Jessica Cabeen, Minnesota Principal of the Year, author of Hacking Early Learning

Make sure to teach the tool, and then use it!

Teachers use tools like Seesaw, Remind, Facebook,

and Twitter to communicate with their families.

Before posting, they spend time at back-to-school

conferences, demonstrating the tool and helping

families get signed up and logged in. We want to

make communication between home and school

easy, accessible, and supportive for families. I have

even seen teachers highlight the tool during subsequent

parent nights and conferences. But once

families are signed up, use the tool to communicate

early and often. The more you post, the more families

practice using it, and the stronger the bridge

between home and school will become.

What are some communication tools you

can use to communicate? Jot them down—

and then start to figure out how you’ll pull

them into your daily, weekly, and monthly

communications.

Reach out the old-fashioned way. One expectation

to maintain is that families receive positive communication

about their child within the first month of

school. Starting the second week of school, armed

with addressed postcards and classroom lists, I sit

in classrooms and look for the good in everyone.

Once I have observed a class, I take the time to

write three to five postcards to specific students

engaged in learning and positive social behaviors,

and/or contributing to class in a specific manner. I

use the class list to keep track of who I sent

cards to, and then move to the next room.

This process takes almost a full thirty days,

but is incredibly worth it! Parents and students are

proud to receive mail from the principal, and it helps

me shift the defined role of what a principal is “supposed”

to do to what our vision of school leadership

is. Plus I get to contribute to the success of our

learners every day!

Starting tomorrow, figure out your own process

for positive communication. Make your way into at

least one class, observe, and decide how

you’re going to give the students—and their

families—positive reinforcement.

This excerpt from Hacking Early Learning is shared with permission

from Times 10 Publications.

For more episodes of the Hack Learning Podcast, hosted by Mark Barnes,

visit the archive at HackLearningPodcast.com and subscribe to the show.

Separating Feedback and Evaluation

Hey evaluation, you can’t fool teachers who understand assessment; we know you are not feedback.

You won’t find this sentence anywhere in Hacking the Writing Workshop, by Angela Stockman, but in the Hack about creating a writer-centered workshop, Angela clearly expresses that writer- or student-centered learning environments are founded on the kind of feedback that does not behave like a grade or an evaluation.

In one of her most thoughtful sections, Angela shares a powerful anecdote that underscores the value of meaningful feedback for all learners.

from Hacking the Writing Workshop, by Angela Stockman

I remember the first time one of my writers found herself grappling with what I’ve come to recognize as a sort of culture shock. This is common when kids who have been coached to become interdependent find themselves inside of a classroom whose leader is decidedly authoritarian.

We’d been writing together throughout the morning when she came to me and quietly asked if we could chat after all the other kids had gone home. I noticed that she seemed nervous, and it wasn’t characteristic of her.

“What’s up?” I asked, closing the door behind the last writer to leave.

“Do you remember how I set a goal last summer to finish writing an entire novel?” she asked, and of course I remembered. I smiled brightly and said, “That was quite an accomplishment.” 

Here’s the thing, though—it’s not uncommon for people to confuse feedback with evaluation.

“Yeah,” she bit her lip, taking a long look out the window. “About that.” As she tried to continue, tears began to form in her eyes. “So, I was really excited to take creative writing at school this year,” she told me. “I know the teacher is well-respected. He’s a very talented writer himself. In fact, he really intimidates me.”

I nodded. “Go on.”

“Well, I asked him to give me feedback on my manuscript, and he kept it for a while. Then, when we finally met, he told me that maybe if I stayed after school every day for this entire year and spent even more time revising it, I might be able to publish it. He said it didn’t show much promise.”

My heart broke. The writers that I support are trained to provide quality feedback to one another. This is hard learning. It takes time. It also takes a great deal of empathy. Many of the kids that I write with provide better feedback than the adults I know.

This writer was one of the best. I was hurt for her, because she spent so much time improving her writing and serving other kids in our community who always wanted her feedback.

Click image to look inside

I was also furious with her teacher, who I knew fairly well. I wanted to tell her that truly talented writers never tear others down. I wanted to tell her that he was wrong and that she could publish her writing that very day if she wanted to. I wanted to tell her to complain to her principal and to ask her mother to call the guidance department to switch her out of his class.

I wanted to say so many, many things in that moment, but instead I nodded and quietly asked, “How did you advocate for yourself?”

She looked confused.

“I’m serious,” I said sternly, looking her dead in the eyes. “How did you advocate for yourself?”

“I’m not sure what you mean,” she stammered, scanning the floor and the walls, as if the answer was waiting there.

“Well, as I understand it, you asked your teacher to provide you feedback,” I told her. “Did you ask for his evaluation? Did you ask his opinion on whether your work was ready for publication?”

She shook her head. “No.”

In fact, it’s better than okay if this provides our students opportunities to practice strength spotting and self-advocacy.

“You did not. Here’s the thing, though—it’s not uncommon for people to confuse feedback with evaluation. Maybe you should try again. Maybe if you’re clearer about what you need, he’ll be able to help you better.”

“Maybe,” she wiped her cheek.

“How will you do it?” I asked, inviting her to rehearse the exchange.

“Well, I could give him our peer review protocol and ask him to use that instead of his own opinions,” she offered, and I told her this was a great idea. I asked her how she would request this from her teacher in a way that wouldn’t offend him.

the feedback you need

“I’ll just tell him that we use it here, in our writing studio, and it helps me a lot,” she told me. “I’ll ask him if he minds using it when he talks with me about my writing.” This seemed respectful.

She would ask if he might use the protocol that helped her, and she would also make it clear that she respected his right to refuse.

“What if he says no?” she asked, horror washing over her face again.

“Then, you need to find someone who is better able to provide you the feedback you need,” I smiled. “It’s your work. You’re responsible for making these choices. It’s hard to find good people to review our writing. We get better at knowing who to ask—and when—over time.”

When we met again a few weeks later, she was glowing. “He really liked the protocol,” she told me. “In fact, he started using it with all of us in class.”

This didn’t surprise me at all. “It’s how you handled yourself,” I told her, and then I said that her courage and willingness to own and share her expertise made me proud. When we create learning cultures that are vastly different from the ones our colleagues maintain, it’s likely that some may not handle things so well, and that’s okay. In fact, it’s better than okay if this provides our students opportunities to practice strength spotting and self-advocacy.

These are important life skills. Finding the words for what we’re good at can be challenging, though, and without those words, strength-spotting is almost impossible. This is why it’s so important to create or adopt a framework that makes character strengths explicit.

end of excerpt

Many Hack Learning books, blogs, and podcast episodes are filled with examples of the kind of feedback that helps students ask important questions and reflect on their paths to learning. In Hacking the Writing Workshop, Angela Stockman reminds us once again that feedback is more important than evaluation in helping kids see work through the most important lens of all–their own.

 

Visit the podcast archive at HackLearningPodcast.com.

When Teachers Bash Teachers, Education Suffers

I love connected educators. While I have no hard data to prove this, I believe that educators who tweet, join live Twitter chats, and converse in Facebook, Voxer, and Flipgrid groups are better, in many cases, than teachers and leaders who are not connected.

My experience on all of these platforms is that these connected educators are working very hard to be the best at what they do. They share links to wonderful resources and articles about innovative teaching and learning, and they participate in some inspiring conversations that help me reflect and, in some cases, drive content at Times 10 Books. This is powerful, free professional development.

If you’re not sure of a tweet’s intended meaning, why not simply ask the tweeter what she means?

In spite of all the thought-provoking PD happening on social media, there’s still a problem.

As I observe a mountain of marvelous content on Twitter, I’m also seeing an increase in what looks a lot like subtle bashing of other educators who submit their ideas of “best practice.” I put that phrase in quotation marks, because many EduTweeters can’t agree on what “best practices” are.

This bashing, which some people defend by saying, “I was talking about the idea, not the person” is, surprisingly, prolific, which might make you wonder, How can this happen in the education space? These are adults, after all, who are supposed to model proper behavior for kids.

Someone recently posted the following tweet:

Good teachers will spend some time this summer thinking about how they can improve their lessons next year. That’s just what they do.

The tweet was liked thousands of times and retweeted over 500 times. I have to assume this indicates that thousands of people agree.

One popular connected educator disagreed, though, and replied to the “Good teachers…” tweet with this:

The rest of us crap teachers will use summer to rest and take a break without feeling guilty about not thinking about work. That’s just what we do.

That comment sparked a furious conversation that included tweets about unfollowing the author of the “Good teachers…” tweet. Others said the author should simply be disregarded for various reasons. Soon, more zingers followed in support of the popular dissenter, all seemingly aimed at disparaging the “Good teachers…” author.

One well-known connected educator defended the “Good teachers…” author, expressing shock at what he believed to be a “mob mentality.” This was swiftly met with the “I didn’t do anything wrong/ he didn’t do anything wrong” defense.

As I continued to read and offer a different perspective with a few tweets of my own, I envisioned a similar scenario in a different venue with different participants.

It looked like this:

A young girl at school was sharing a poster she’d created for a class project. A few kids liked it and said it was beautiful. Some asked the teacher to hang it up, so visitors could see it when they entered the room.

A few students, though, didn’t like the poster; they understood it to mean something entirely different from what the girl had intended.

They felt it made a statement about the kind of kids they were and that it smeared them in some way, even though they never asked the girl to clarify the poster’s message.

They said the girl had created content like this before and that she should be ignored. “Let’s not play with her anymore,” one zealot shouted. “Truth!” one of the popular kids yelled.

Soon, a few other students, who didn’t know the girl at all, heard the commotion and stuck their heads in the room.

They noticed the popular student shouting at the girl, so they joined in. It had to be the right thing to do, if the popular kid thought so. None of them, though, bothered to ask what the girl’s creation meant.

The ridicule continued. The people who liked the girl’s work lost interest, while the others became louder. When the teacher said they should stop, they shrugged and replied, “We didn’t do anything. We’re just talking about the message on the poster.”

Meanwhile, the girl, who had drawn a beautiful picture of three children with lightbulbs over their heads, dropped the poster and hurried out of the room.

One of the students who had wandered into the class picked it up and read a quote under the picture. It said:

Good students will spend some time this summer thinking about how they can be better students next year. That’s just what they do.

Thanks for reading and, as always, let’s try to hack learning every day.