Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Thing 37: Annual Reports

I was indeed lucky enough to attend Jennifer LaGarde’s workshops last Fall (2015) when a consortium of our regional BOCES groups hosted her for our annual meeting in Saratoga.  And furthermore, I was even more lucky to sit right next to you, Polly, for the entire day :-)

I learned so much from Jennifer that day - but my two biggest take-aways were a) Things are way better in NY for libraries than they are in many other states and b) Reporting really matters.... a lot.

I came home from that day with a lot of big ideas and some great resources to investigate.  Jennifer had us break into teams to take a closer look at a variety of Library reports: the good, the bad, and the ugly.  At that point, I was giving my administrators just one annual report each year, and it was a pretty concise overview of basic statistics and a few highlights.  In comparison to what we looked at in the workshop, I would lump it in with the "unimpressive" bunch at best. 

I'm pleased to report that I decided to up my game after that revelation.  Once I realized what other school librarians were doing to showcase their work and their value, I knew I could do better, too.  So last year, I still stuck with one annual report, but I added some photos, lots of eye catching color, and an overview of not only what the kids were doing in the Library, but also a snapshot of what I was doing for professional development.  Here's that report.

It was a hit!  My admins loved it, and I asked them to share it with the BOE, too.

But then I took the post-grad class with Hilda Wiesburg this Fall (2016) about Leadership for Librarians, and it became evident that I needed to do even more.  And that's the thing: no matter how good we are and how much we up our game - we always need to strive to be bigger, better, and go beyond.  So this year I knew I needed to increase my visibility even more, and I know communication is key - so I decided to create quarterly reports instead of one annual report.  Here are my Q1 2016 and Q2 2017 reports.  They follow the same general format I went with for my annual report last year, including a tiny section for basic stats, grade level highlights, collaborations, and professional updates. 

So I'm feeling pretty good about the direction I'm moving in regard to reports, BUT.... I know I could do it so much better if I used some of the fancy web tools available.  Right now I'm making my reports in GoogleDocs just because we're a Google school and it makes it really easy to share and archive.  That said, I already completed the presentation tools assignment (Thing 5) for my second time, but I still haven't found a free tool easy enough for me to use that would just create a nice report or newsletter.  I've tried the templates in GoogleDocs, but they seem to lock you into one basic lay-out, which I don't want.  I tried Bunkr, but had a hard time importing photos.  I've used Prezi, but that makes everyone motion sick!  What I really need to do is go back to my notes from Jennifer's presentation and explore some of the tools used to create some of the more awesome reports she collected.  I think this is going to lead to a couple DIY posts because I know I want to check out S'more and LibGuides for starters.  Polly - if you could direct me to maybe 2 or 3 more free tools that are fairly easy to use and that would help me to create more professional looking documents, I'd really appreciate it.

So in sum, I'm heading in the right direction, but my journey is far from over.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Thing 36: Evidence Based Practice – Collecting Data

I started to explore this assignment by reading through the Jan/Feb 2015 Issue of AASL Knowledge Quest and exploring Lyn Hay's 2013 slides.  Both reinforced the importance of identifying and collecting relevant data to support the value of the work that we do each and every day. 

My conversion to EBP started back in 2012 when my school district hired a new superintendent/principal that decided our school needed a whole new make-over in light of Common Core mandates and APPR regulations.  This was my wake-up call that I needed to start collecting measurable data, and that the best way for me to do this was by revisiting my learning objectives and determining how to show student growth.

It should come as no surprise that this new school leader was not popular among staff, and her changes were viewed as unrealistic, unachievable, unfair....  But I will tell you one thing for sure, I became a much better educator as a result of the hard work I put into self-assessing my program and then carefully redesigning it such that every learning outcome had measurable goals and students produced tangible products.  It really changed everything for me.

One helpful source not listed in the resources and tools for this activity are the rubrics and books by Charlotte Danielson that so many schools now use for APPR.  When my school adopted Danielson back in 2012, these became my guiding beacons on how to survive in this new educational landscape that seemed to be shifting faster than NYSED could post updates. 

When I first read Danielson, I was horrified that I was a "2" (Developing) in most measurable categories - and that the evidence of a "2" in my eyes seemed quite respectable in most cases!  The evidence for a "3" (Effective) seemed at that moment as unattainable as lassoing the moon.  And "4" (Highly Effective) - well, let's face it - I could not even visualize what that looked like in the real world.  I will never forget a speaker who came to our school during this transition, who said, "4 is not a place where you live; it is a place you may visit from time to time". 

That said, I turned to evidence as my salvation.  I read Danielson's examples for evidence and I put a lot of thought into how I, too, could produce such results.  That first year - 2012 - only 5 members of the faculty in my school achieved an overall score of "3" (Effective), and I am immensely proud to say that I was one of them.

Joyce Valenza speaks so clearly on how we can collect evidence.  In both her articles, "Evolving With Evidence" and "Capturing Evidence" she lists lots of great tools.  Unfortunately, many of these tools do not work well with elementary aged students, especially in situations where library time is fixed scheduled and lessons are taught in isolation.  What I find works best for my K-3 students is more traditional, print evidence.  For example, I do a lot of biography work with my 2nd graders, so my students create their own interview questions (creating "wonder" questions is such an essential part of the inquiry process), then interview someone during Thanksgiving Break, then they take the interviews and convert them into short biographies.  They produce both a rough draft and a final draft.  We culminate by "publishing" our own book of biographies.  Now in that unit alone, I have TONS of evidence of student learning and engagement: 1) the student generated questions, 2) the transcribed responses, 3) the rough drafts showing revisions, 4) the final drafts incorporating corrections, and 5) the book itself.  Who needs an exit ticket when you have all of that?

Likewise, my 4th graders participate in a "Library Passports" unit where we "travel" to various sections of the library and learn about NYS resources.  In this unit, they are learning how to navigate our online catalog independently, how to filter search results, how to identify and evaluate resources (print and digital), and they explore a variety of resources, both print and electronic.  For each "stop" on our journey, they have an activity sheet and they complete an independent activity before they earn a "stamp" on their passport,  By the time we're done, they've accessed tons of great resources and have impressively thick packets showing exactly what they achieved - more evidence!!

And it would hardly be a blog post if I didn't mention NoodleTools at least once :-)  My 5th and 6th graders are constantly engaged in projects recorded in NoodleTools, and I could not have a better record of research skills - from using sources responsibly to synthesizing information - it's all there - time stamped and recorded.

I will end by saying that thanks to that one highly unpopular administrator back in 2012, I really learned how to be an effective educator by adopting EBP.  Change is hard - and scary - but it is also necessary and can be a very good thing.  I'm glad I changed my ways even if it was one of the hardest years of my life professionally - and I'm still changing and evolving every day.  Each year I learn about more great tools thanks to workshops like this, and I make it a point to incorporate what I learn into my practices.  I am so much more proud of the work I do now than the work I did prior to 2012, and part of that pride is because I'm not only proving to my administrators the value of what I do - I'm proving it to myself, too.  And the best part is that the students are the real winner in this situation.  I am engaging them in relevant learning that will have an impact on their lives, and that's what this should all be about.