Hold on tight – I’m about to get my Usher on. This is my confession…
I became a media coordinator to promote my love of technology, not reading.
There. Don’t throw things at me, though. My blog, my reflections. Just stay with me.
In my district, there is no such thing as an instructional technology facilitator/specialist. In January 2011, I started an online program through East Carolina University (the Pirates… not even kidding) to earn a Master of Arts in Education in Instructional Technology. In early May 2012, I graduated. I flew through that program and loved every minute of it. I was devastated when I spoke with our HR and found out that there was no funding (nor would there be) for these positions. He did let me know that our media coordinators in our district were filling the role of instructional technology facilitators in many cases and that perhaps I should look into that.
So I did. After applying in late May 2012 for the online Master of Library Science program at East Carolina University, I was accepted, and within a matter of days found out I was expecting our youngest daughter. I had to make a decision… was it worth it to me to earn my MLS when I could get paid for having an MAEd in the classroom?
I enrolled in classes reluctantly. The only reason I was pursuing this degree was that it was my only avenue for sharing my passion with other educators. Incorporating technology in seamless and meaningful ways was the goal. I finished the MLS program in May 2014, fulfilling my internship requirements by already being hired as media coordinator in an elementary school media center. I never went into my role in the media center because I wanted to promote a lifelong love of reading.
Don’t get me wrong… I enjoy reading. However, I despise everything about Accelerated Reader, Reading Counts, and other read-then-quiz-to-get-points programs. Those programs were the norm in my district. Also, I despise Battle of the Books. I CAN admit that I always enjoy the book list. But those questions? How much more arbitrary can we get? Unfortunately, this club is the norm in my district as well. (I’ve tried to make the best out of the situation. You can see how I gamified Battle of the Books to try to incorporate my own passions to make it more palatable for me to sponsor in this archived post.) With these two programs that I am adamantly against, I can confidently say that I dreaded my role in the media center with the expectation that I would have to not only support these programs, but encourage participation in them.
I did it for 2 1/2 years. During those 2 1/2 years, I discovered my own love of reading children’s books. My favorite media classes were those in which I read aloud a story. I loved our mobile Book Bus, a school bus that traveled a combination of our bus routes to deliver new books and a snack to students multiple times during the summer months. Our local Rotary Club supported literacy by gifting kindergarten students with a free book four times a year! They would come and buddy-read to the students and personally give the student the book. It was a highlight of my time in elementary school. Dr. Seuss Day made me smile. Our character parades were amazing and a dance party ended the day with lots of “characters” dancing to celebrate reading! I fell in love with literacy when there were no strings attached.
See, I grew up with Accelerated Reader. I remember taking those quizzes as a student. I remember being in Academically Gifted (AG) classes and being required to take a certain number of tests, cheating on the tests because I hated the books we were required to read. It destroyed my love of reading. I’ve watched my own 4th grade daughter lose her love of reading; “Oh, Bailey, you loved the book?! How did you do on the test?” I won’t let that happen on my watch. Not anymore. If there is any silver lining at all to a loss of funding, it’s that the AR program was cut in nearly every school in my district. This has given an opportunity for significant growth, thinking outside the box, getting creative. All schools have been tasked with casting a new vision for promoting literacy in our schools.
After reading Lead with Literacy by Mandy Ellis, I am armed with TONS of new ways of promoting literacy in our school.
This isn’t a program, it’s a culture.
In truth, our district is asking every school to change its culture. That’s not happening over night, but it will happen. And we’ll all be better for it.
I knew from following Mandy on Twitter we were going to see eye-to-eye when I finally got to read her book. Unfortunately, at a #BookSnaps workshop this summer (see Be REAL by Tara Martin post here), someone accidentally took my book (I choose to assume positive intent). Mandy immediately replied asking for my address so she could send me another copy. Not only did she send me a copy, she sent me a signed copy with stickers! She’s got a heart of gold! (Thanks again, Mandy – I cherish my book!)
Mandy’s passion and intentionality in creating a culture of reading is evident both in her twitter feed and on the pages of her book. There are so many ways to embed reading into the culture of the school that can be applied to every level of education! Before reading this book, I didn’t see myself as a literacy leader by any definition. Even though I advocate for choice in reading, I’m still very much seen as the technology person among media folks in my district and in the state. As I read Mandy’s book, I noticed that I do many of the things she does in her school! I was blown away!
According to Mandy, I am certainly a lead reader (#DBC50Summer is clearly evidence A, and my insanely full bookshelf of children’s books in my office would suffice as evidence B). I tweet and blog my book reflections regularly, sharing with faculty and students what I’m reading. I ask what students are reading and dive into conversations with them about their books. I make suggestions to students for books to read next, but do not mandate book selection. I encourage choice in selection of books, and offer a variety of options for our students. I value quality of books over quantity of books, regularly stating that I’d rather have 500 books that I can’t keep on the shelf than to have 5,000 that sit on the shelf unopened. Mandy’s book is so full of ideas that there are at least 5 or 6 things I’m looking to implement as we move forward with our updated literacy plan. Knowing that culture won’t change overnight, I’m focusing on just a couple things at a time.
Here is a copy of the draft of our new literacy plan. This is a living document and will be changed throughout the year. These plans are only a starting point. My first year at middle school, I only had around 400 circulations in a media center which served approximately 400 students… yes, one book checked out per year per student. Sad.
Last year we increased that number to around 2,700 circulations in a year. A 600% increase, but still nowhere near enough reading happening. I am thrilled to say that we are already at 1,689 circulations and students have only been in school for 6 weeks! We’re moving in the right direction!
The greatest factors to students checking out books, I believe, has been time and independently set reading goals. Students have been given protected class time to check in and out books twice a month. I really appreciate our teachers making this a priority. Students were asked to determine their own reading goal each quarter with no strings attached. There are no rewards, other than the satisfaction of reading amazing books, and no consequences (absolutely no ties to grading, quizzes, point systems, etc). They aren’t “in trouble” for not meeting their goal, and I’m only disappointed if they don’t set a goal. I was honestly worried how this would turn out when I took this risk. I was expecting a ton of students to set their goal at only reading one book, while others focused on quantity versus quality by reading 20 books. (Although I can say from personal experience that this may be a false dichotomy as my goal of reading 50 books this summer was strongly rooted in quantity AND quality… just saying.) Here are their goals for the first quarter.
Let’s see if the Ss reach their goals by the end of the month! So impressed by their first reading goals… not too shabby for students who know this is reading with no strings attached! No rewards, no consequences. Just reading for fun! #LeadLIT #SparksintheDark #DBCBookBlogs pic.twitter.com/UkpagTRQ0B
— Alicia Ray (@iluveducating) October 7, 2018
Aren’t they impressive? I’m excited to see where this takes us! Mandy’s book is one that is available for media coordinators in our district as we partake in a small group book studies this year. I am excited to see what others in my district will implement from this insanely amazing power-packed Lead Like A Pirate guide book!
*Side Note: This is the second of the #LeadLAP guide books! Mandy continues the tradition of excellence that Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf established, and Jay Billy built upon in his guide book Lead with Culture.
More information can be found on Twitter using the hashtag #LeadLIT! There is such greatness waiting for you there, so jump on over if you’ve not already! This book is an incredible addition to any media coordinator, or principal’s professional library. Classroom teachers will also take so much from this book! I’m feeling a bit like Oprah – YOU need this book and YOU need this book and YOU need this book! (Sorry, can’t give them to you like Oprah, but man wouldn’t that be epic?!) Check out the first few chapters here! Once you fall in love with it (because you will), go ahead and order your own copy! Mandy’s website can be found here!
Also, share what you’re reading on the flipgrid created by Andrea Paulakovich (which I get to copilot, thanks Andrea!)
Next book up (because you should always have a book on deck) is Balance Like A Pirate by Jessica Cabeen, Jessica Johnson, and Sarah Johnson.