Media Seasons


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Barriers: What My Son Reminded Me About Life

My son is a college frosh, who after successful cross country and indoor track seasons, surprised me at a recent meet by showing up at the line of the 3,000 meter steeplechase.  It’s tough enough to consistently race running events at that distance — without barriers.

Don’t mistake this message as a bragging opportunity. We lost his father unexpectedly to a heart attack just four years ago during his frosh year of high school.  We have met a number of barriers since that day.  My message is about how we continue to support and teach one another beyond the loss.

I have always credited my many years of long distance running as the training for my ability to breathe deeply (long before I tried yoga) to steadily plow through work that had to be done, both at home and professionally.  What I had forgotten is how each of the other events I tried taught me something.

I didn’t run at states with my high school team that year my dad lost his job, so I quit because I thought I could only focus on helping my mom pack up for the family move to another state during the semester break. What I learned in the first track season after that move is why I embraced the Triple Jump in my new home state. It taught me that sometimes you have to hop and skip before you can soar.

So this past week in my professional life I attempted crossing a mental barrier, with both metaphorical hurdles and water pit I had placed in my path.  I may have surprised a couple teammates and certainly need to practice, but I know I have what I need in me to cope with the barriers as well as stutter steps yet ahead.

What I also try to remember is that every week as we educators interact with our students and peers, we need to find opportunities to cheer them on because we don’t always know all the barriers that are on their path.  Instead of labeling them, we need to meet them where they are. Too often we may only view them one dimensionally instead of on a path of growth.

Just another reason why I’ve always touted that track & field offers something for everyone — even the spectator.

steeple at MuhlBarriers: my son taught me


Value of Story (to a white, middle-aged librarian)

Almost immediately during the Women’s Marches following the Inauguration of Donald Trump, I began to see more social media posts challenging “white women” to stand up instead of remaining silent.  One doesn’t necessarily learn silence in a vacuum.  We know from Nazi Germany as well as other wars that both women and men remained silent. Families and culture build ways to value certain stories and practice silence with others.

My maiden name is Cline, yet my father and extended family can recall no stories that touch on Jewish ancestry.  Those same relatives joke about being 1/78th Native American because a great, great grandfather went west and came back with a young bride from a reservation in Oklahoma. All I know about her life as an ancestor of mine is that she cooked and cleaned and bore children. All I know about her life with the family she was born into was that she came from a family with many sisters.  I have spent much time lamenting those facts. So many stories in many cultures repeat that pattern of circumstance.

My father jokes that he’s smart because he was “born in a schoolhouse.”  Although born during the end of the Depression, his family was not homeless.  Their home was a former one room wooden schoolhouse on the designated schoolhouse quadrant on the county roads grid outside a small midwestern village.  His father had obtained some schooling but before the family had rebounded from the Depression, they lost him when my dad was nine. After the Depression, Dad would be the first to earn a college degree. That was after he served in the Navy as soon as he was old enough to join so that he could secure a regular paycheck.  One of the few stories I know from that time period is that dad lost both of his grandparents during his service time and missed by just a few hours the burial of his beloved grandmother as he traveled home from Guam via rail from California to Ohio, where less train stops were already another story about mass transit in America.

My grandfather’s young bride was who I knew as Grandma Kate. As the oldest of 11 children, most of her siblings and grandchildren to this day might tell you how she seemed to prefer taking care of her County Fair-winning garden plants and productions to the obligatory raising of 4 children from that first marriage and 2 more from a second.  Now that I have become a widow at a young age, I better understand how others might misread her actions and tell only a part of a story that portrays a less than perfect woman.  Aren’t we all unreliable narrators–even to ourselves?

As a school librarian, I have always valued stories.  Perhaps those silent, missing gaps of my own family history are part of why I continue to feel the pressing need to share stories.

One of the most strikingly honest books I have read is Lovesong: Becoming a Jew by Julius Lester.  Recognition as an outstanding African American author had brought me to his fiction stories for young adults and children. An online class offered an opportunity to interact online with this author who now practices the Jewish faith, a faith he is convinced he was drawn to because it was that of the stories that others attempted to keep silent regarding his bloodline to that of  a white slaveowner.  

While we adult students were interacting with authors to obtain a post-graduate certificate in youth literature and technology from an outstanding school library program, Lester was the one I first encountered about how easily misuse of technology can not only share falsehoods for biased reasons but create a chain of domino effect results.  Not too long after that class ended, Lester one day posted on a listserv in which we both continue to participate.  It was an announcement that he was not dead.  Why such a sensationalist-sounding statement?  Because someone had decided to misuse the democratic opportunity of wikipedia by inaccurately updating that Lester had died.  Lester responded in outrage with every fiber of his still very much alive feelings. I continue to share Lester’s story as I know with my young students who now rely even more heavily upon what they consider news in this mix of stories that they must determine reliability.

As a library media teacher, the stories that I now find most meaningful are the ones that my teaching peers and I can use to connect our students to people or characters on a page who seem different to better understand our universal commonalities.  The most important underpinning of a democratic society is that respect for differences leads to fair and equitable opportunities–not that some are valued more greatly than others.

Regardless of the silences of my childhood that I am not more fully unpacking with my relatives, I was struck in 2014 by the searing injustices in the life of my birth year counterpart Jacqueline Woodson in her autobiographical brown girl dreaming. Hopefully, the garnering of multiple awards, including the Newbery Honor Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, and the National Book Award will guarantee many readers of all ages and skin colors will connect with Woodson’s story.

Similarly, this year, I am captivated with a story by another birth year counterpart, Andrea Jones Pinkney, who shares the depth of her reveling upon meeting a brown child character in the snow, during the same years I did as a young reader, in her new story A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day.  

Now that our first African American president has vacated the White House with his family, I feel such excitement to continue to share these recently created stories with young readers with whom I work.  On the eve of ALA Midwinter awards, I hope these kind of titles continue to garner all kinds of accolades, but most importantly, that they arrive in the hands of young readers who will one day create their own contributions to share with the broader world in all its many stories of the human experience so that we might continue to move forward as a society.


Leadership Sharpens the Saw

 

“I won!” The usual statement after winning a raffle prize at a conference  (in this case the Bucks Lehigh EduSummit) was quickly followed by contemplating how best to share the contents of the prize Every Teacher a Leader: Developing the Needed Dispositions, Knowledge, and Skills for Teacher Leadership by Barbara B. Levin and Lynne Schrum with my colleagues, who at this point so close to the beginning of the schoolyear are focusing on their “to do” lists. That may be exactly why recognizing that every single member of the community has something to contribute to the good of the whole can produce the most satisfying results to change “I win” to a “win/win” scenario.  

One of my roles as a library media teacher is to share resources with my colleagues who teach various content areas, so I communicate info about new professional resources via various platforms from booktalks to tweets.  I have challenged myself to do something different with the latest, unexpected text to make its way onto our professional development collection.  This 2017 copyright title speaks to all educators, so I’m committing future blog posts devoted to each chapter.  While we prep and work through the first six weeks of school, I will share meaningful connections to our practice of how to help others succeed.

As an educator who embraces inquiry as a basic approach to learning, I like the questioning framework the authors use for each chapters.  I teach in a district committed to the Leader In Me initiative, so I’ve focused on how this text might help me “sharpen the saw,” since we are past initial implementation so that we can make our efforts “win/win” scenarios as often as possible.   I am a firm believer that using metacognitive strategies as we make connections and share what we do produces better results.  Blogging allows me an opportunity to assure that this happens.

The book’s subtitle indicates how much the authors value not only knowledge but development of dispositions and skills. Establishing a climate for learning with dispositions essential to success is important not only for our young learners but those of us who are modeling lifetime learning.  If one’s working definition of “teacher leadership” does not include all staff, then it is time to reconsider and begin to find ways to recognize how each staff member can contribute to the good of the whole.  

At the elementary level, we have been focusing on writing workshops, so our libraries offer Resource Lists of mentor texts, but the lists are not static. We look forward to everyone contributing to help these lists evolve by sharing texts that motivate and engage budding student writers.  Veteran teachers may have read aloud titles that never fail to captivate, but new teachers may  just as effectively offer a fresh perspective. I look forward to finding opportunities to hear why various texts work so well. The best indicator is when students arrive in the Library begging to check out a story read aloud in their classroom. Love to think of the ways that engaged, independent revisiting of texts sharpens the saws.

A new title I’m most excited about is School’s First Day of School by author Adam Rex and illustrator Christian Robinson. While the illustrations help readers visualize the setting, Rex’s language fully frames an understanding of a cleverly personified school building with his own set of jitters about the first day of school.  We’re extra lucky in our school building this year to be able to use this text to help introduce our new janitor, too, as all janitors are essential to the success of a smooth-running school!  

What school story do you plan to share in your school community?

 

 

 


Inquiry Learning for Teachers, too

Recently, administrators in the school district in which I teach challenged learners in our community to frame learning via inquiry. As a library media teacher, trained to help others on not only teacher-assigned tasks but their own self-selected learning quests, inquiry has always been an essential building block of how I support learners. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have more to learn.

For over 25 years, as student body needs have shifted, so has my assignment.  The presence of a new classroom that includes physically challenged students, whom I’m meeting with not only during class visits but supporting through library class visits with their building peers, has prompted me to switch lenses repeatedly as I frame inquiry lessons with various media. 

I can prepare what I think is a perfect lesson, but the presence of just one new student may change all that.  To meet the needs of my present students, my plans include many more hands-on and tactile experiences than ever.  Sometimes, just when I think I have the perfect scenario, a new need arises and I reconsider yet again. 

Less than a month ago I discarded what I considered a dated book.  I’d added this title to my elementary school’s collection many years ago after meeting author Sally Hobart Alexander at a summer session for post graduate work at University of Pittsburgh.  Over the years, I shared it, along with newer titles, to expand my students’ lenses and perceptions of physical challenges.  Just last week a new student arrived—and I’m reminded of Alexander’s still relevant message yet again.  As a teacher, I need to consider and accommodate whomever might potentially walk into the public learning space of our school library—regardless of physical challenges.

With the presence of another student in the group, how I used books and other media about color last fall will no longer work.  How I used the felt board will no longer work. I am asking questions, experimenting, as well as sometimes failing and going back to the drawing board.  I will find opportunities, however, so that my students can successfully create meaning.

As author Alexander shares so fearlessly in her books about blindness, life is a journey about not only what we know we must prepare for but also the unexpected.  Those of us who interact with young learners must give them experiences to be curious and confident. Can there be a better stance to teach that knowledge than via inquiry?


Life’s Complicated: Rounding Characters via Retellings

For months, my book discussion group buddies and I have had tickets to go see Fun Home, a Broadway Musical.  Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home is not the first graphic novel we have explored in its various groundbreaking media forms, as we read and watched Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis soon after the movie was released.

Personal events in my extended family changed those Big Apple trip plans for me today.  Somehow, that mix of unexpectedness with the planned seems fitting for this scenario.  What I realized is that because I have been listening to the soundtrack with music by Jeanine Tesori and lyrics by Lisa Kron, I already have experienced growing the characters in my mind via this  second media form and the power of music to portray a storyline.

What child cannot relate to the desire of having a parent allow them to fly in the game of “I wanna play airplane” exulted in the opening “It All Comes Back”?  Alison and her father Bruce’s brief duet lyrics exclaim the same:

“I want to know what’s true

Dig deep into who

And what and why and when

Until now gives way to then.”

Their search for truth appears almost like the criss cross trails of jet airplanes left behind in the blue sky that never truly touch as they follow their own trajectories, yet their chosen family dynamics never allow this particular parent and child more than the briefest snippets of understanding one another until it is too late.  In the end, we all have common needs to be understood.

I hope the poignant dynamics of Bechdel’s characters will reach out to many audiences, whether it be through her book or the retellings in music and on stage.


Challenger Deep is Worth the Trip

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When I travel to support my son’s athletic events, I always pack a book, so I selected the new National Book Award for Young People title Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman. Already a favorite author of mine, I often recommend his titles to young readers in my roles as a middle school library media teacher.

Little did I realize that the new Ocean Breeze track and field facility on Staten Island, with its gorgeous view of the waterways, was the perfect backdrop for reading this particular title.  Taking breaks as I read about Caden Bosch and the crew, headed to the Marianas Trench, included moments to break from reading the short spurt chapters packed with fitting poetic language, to contemplate as I watched cargo ships going in and out of New York City harbor.

Of course, I was also there to watch some of the most focused high school athletes in the country hit their PB’s and maybe even snare a bigger indoor record or best mark of the season.  The contrast between these successful teens and the increasing numbers who struggle with mental health concerns was enough to wind me as a lap around the track would have.

The backstory to the illustrations are even more amazing, as they are authentic artwork created by the author’s son, who has worked through mental health issues that greatly inspired the work.  I’m not finished with the book yet, but the fictional Caden and his family reflect how challenging the race is for families as a teen or young adult in their intimate nuclear family tries to overcome the deep.  I hope that more of this honest art can continue to offer stories to help young readers find perseverance and resiliency as they meet their own struggles in life.

As a library media teacher, I applaud Shusterman for being brave enough to offer a new story, as well as paths to securing support.


Explosive News for Educators

Media networks rely on the power of revisiting anniversaries of events to sell news and keep people focused on the format, but what young viewers do with it has changed dramatically in the last 30 years. In 1986, I was just launching my career as an educator.  For a student teaching requirement, I designed a bulletin board to encourage my first batch of junior high students to read books about space exploration by highlighting the space shuttle “Challenger” and our first teacher in space

While NASA and the President were processing how to handle the news coverage, I was processing how to treat it with students who were not yet of age to vote or pay taxes. Suddenly, students and staff gravitated to that bulletin board just inside the library doors for the remainder of my assignment.  Unassigned, students started to ask permission to post newspaper clippings and brief poems to honor our teacher in space Christa McAuliffe and her teammates because unexpected loss captures our attention, regardless of age.

During the remainder of my time there, students suddenly became interested in not only the success of their favorite ball teams or whether they found a dress for the 8th grade dance, but listened to the President reflect on where do we go from here. Yes, we had engagement that would not be tested that year nor any other, but probably one of the most memorable experiences of their junior high years.

15 years later, in 2001, a group of my students were lined up at the door for the end of library class when a staff member walked in to share the news of a plane accident in NYC.  Just as I turned on the large screen TV, we witnessed, via media coverage, the twin towers falling. The most tense personal moments for me were the ones until my instructional aide heard from her husband, who was a major airline pilot in the air from a major hub between the three areas struck that day.  What would end up most challenging, though, is how we educators help students respond to news coverage.

15 years later, we no longer have junior highs, but my middle schoolers still walk thru the library doors and troll webpages seeking information.  They can find the short, sensational media clips on their school-issued laptops, but as a trained researcher, I can help them sift through the overwhelming amount of information they can access.  When media coverage of 9/11 piqued students’ interests’ this fall, my most recent student teacher could also share searching tips but also point them in the direction of our print treasures, such as graphic novels about 9/11.

Social media trends will assure that when the next unexpected event to capture the world’s attention occurs, by the time they get on the bus at the end of the school day all our middle schoolers who want to will have viewed the video footage on the their smartphones, passed it on to friends, and already be mining the spoofs, including posting photo images of their heads, along with their BFF’s, on the stunning of the most recent event.

I’m not against students’ use of social media. I am an educator who uses social media. I’ve been tweeting since 2009 for many reasons, including news, developing a PLN, following fav authors and illustrators, gathering freebies from publishers, and promoting what my students do in the library.  But I still read novels that touch my heart (Palacios’ Wonder), poetry that make me want to sing (Kwame Alexander’s Crossover or anything by my birth year counterpart Jacqueline Woodson), and non-fiction (Daniel James’ Brown’s Boys in the Boat).  I want my students to distinguish between the formats so they know the joys of each as well.

As powerful as media visual images may be to view and share, I want my students to dig deeper than the beached body of a child on shore, the reclining image of a potential first of a First Lady, or another victim of the most recent shooting.

So I look for opportunities to help them be more than consumers of information so they might dig meaningfully as student researchers to create new connections for their own unique contributions to how and why information is necessary for learning.


Comic Books and Graphic Novels

What do you do after attending two days of sessions at a state library conference?  Go get a free graphic novel at the comic book store!   I managed to hit State College, PA with my teen-aged son who couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a free comic book at just the right time to meet a new favorite of mine—Jay Hosler!

I grew up viewing comic books as unworthy of attention, but my reading of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (long before the movie release) broadened my reading interests.  I learned more from that graphic novel about life in Iran during my lifetime than I did from that same lifetime of years watching and listening to Western media plus a college course in Middle Eastern studies.  Now I’m reading about Darwinian theory in The Sandwalk Adventure–and my 11-year-old son is soaking it up faster than I can.  Is that natural selection or what?!

This guy is amazing!  Who needs an avatar when you can manage to be a college biology prof by day and a cartoonist on the off hours?  Check out his double life .

Take my short poll

  about reading comic books and graphic novels.


The Wide Open Range of 21st Century Learning

Back in the 1990’s when I designed my first webpage as a library media specialist, I wanted to use the site as a teaching tool so that my elementary students might easily use it as a springboard to make meaningful connections.  I borrowed the persona of a cowboy–a digital representation of Wes Tern, a character brought to life by my principal at the time, who on Halloween donned his chaps, boots and hat as if he were the prequel to the movie Night of the Museum. 

This digital representation was far removed from any depiction of virtual reality.  The computer graphics of the time left Wes Tern’s facial features blank.  He was little more than a glorified Pac Man with cowboy boots and hat.  Now I might use software sophisticated enough that I could insert original art. 

As I emphasized then, Wes Tern’s most important tool was his lasso.  Just as the cowboy’s lassoes reached out to gather something and bring it back to be used, I encouraged my students to gather information they needed and wanted to use.  Our use of the Internet at that point was focused on information literacy. 

Now, instead of challenging our students to be merely consumers of information following a well worn course I’ve traveled over and over, each group of students are also producers blazing their own trails out on the open range.    21st century learning is exciting because now each of my students can be that cowpoke out on the open range with greater freedom to chart his or her own course. 

One might sing using GarageBand.  One might paint the landscape.  Another might document in film or animation the highlights of events.  Many might choose to text, or twitter or chat.

Legends of cowboys have not disappeared.  Today’s trailblazers, though, are more likely to gather round the laptop than the campfire. 


Even Blues legends use the library

I was fortunate enough to hear blues musician B.B. King in concert this week at Easton, Pennsylvania’s State Theatre.  It wasn’t my first time to be amazed by his presence and his band’s musical prowess.    My husband and I were amazed how King captivated us as a crowd between sets of music.   What struck me most was King’s ability to interweave his music through his stories told on stage. 

My favorite was his hats off to his local library when he mused that he visited the library to look up the word “legend” because so many people were referencing it in conversation with him.  His working definition was “something or someone that has withstood the test of time,” and he certainly followed that up with specific credibility as he shifted from one tough life moment to another—always followed by a rift of blues with his favorite guitar, Lucille.

Hear the legend speak about…

One Kind Favor EPK

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