Sunday, October 1, 2017

Save the Best For...Now!

Save the Best for ….Now!

I’m a collector, a saver, a cataloger, a miser, an archivist, a curator and a steward of stuff. Notice that I made no reference to being a hoarder. Not even close. However, I save stuff for rainy days, a future size, hope that styles return, the next curbside collection, etc. I save for that number one student, favorite teacher, potential goodie bags, Teacher Appreciation giveaways, etc. In other words, I hold on to things with the intention of giving or rewarding them to me or others and as result, often forget what I have, where it’s located, who it was intended for or where I got it in the first place. This summer I was able to devote many hours to major re-organization of the stuff and ended up realizing I spend an awful lot of time on it! So with some radical purging, several bags of clothes went to the Salvation Army and countless school items landed on the free carts in the Media Center. Blessed were the teachers and others who happened to be there that day!

So as I basked in the glow of being semi-clutter free, a scary thought came. What if it creeps back in? After attending a district vendor fair, I toted bags of freebies with the plan to redistribute the wealth to my teachers at my school. But there it sits, in my office, rolls of posters, bookmarks, buttons, highlighters, etc. Maybe even a stray mint or 2! And with plans to attend our state Media Conference this month, I’m already swooning at the swag that will make it back to my car and beyond. And then what? What am I saving it for? Why not just walk in my first day back, freely strewing freebies to anyone within reach. “Pens for everyone!”  “Who needs a Love My Librarian Lanyard?” “How about a highlighter, kid?” What am I saving it for when I could make someone’s day right now?

One of my heroes in the writing world is Erma Bombeck. Her humor and insight into the human condition is brilliant. In her heyday, mid-1960’s through the 1990’s, she wrote numerous bestsellers and over 4,000 newspaper columns. Many were the days I’d call my mom to see if she ready Erma that day and we’d nearly wet our pants laughing together over them. But she also wrote a bittersweet column “If I Had My Life to Live Over ” after discovering that she was dying of cancer. That column provides just the antidote for my ridiculous collections for “someday”.   One of her observations, “I would have burnt the pink candle that was sculptured like a rose before it melted while being stored”, really resonated. Why am I saving the best for last? Who is it really for? What’s the harm in giving that stuff away now…for anyone who wants it? In fact, it’s often the very people who we don’t think deserve it, who actually need it or would appreciate it now. “No, these 3-D bookmarks should be for student X”. “Mrs. Y  would love this cloth-y cat bag from a vendor”.  “These posters would be perfect in Mr. Z’s class”. And all the while X, Y, and Z move on and you still have the stuff! And more besides.

So just for today, I’m going to sort one more bin, or shelf or cabinet and boldly go where this librarian has not gone before…straight to the teacher giveaway cart or freebie student basket to hand out when they check out their books. Why? Just because! I don’t have the room, tubs, or energy to keep saving the best for last. I’m saving it for now….and then passing it on! Go ahead, make somone’s day and give them the best of what you have now. If you’re not the archivist that I am, you might not have the stuff I have. So how about your best smile, listening ear, compliment, hug, lesson, effort? Your best 5 minutes to encourage? Your best planning time to spend with a struggling colleague? Your best lunch to share with a student? Most of our “bests” don’t cost a thing…yet are priceless to the recipient.
It's time to save the best for now! One more step to help you stay Grounded!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Get One More

 This is the time of the school year when some teachers have started doing assorted countdowns (X more Mondays, Y more Faculty Meetings,  Z more exams, etc.) as a way to get through to the end of the year. I usually don't start the process until May, but this has been an especially challenging year, not only personally, but for several of my Media friends. Somehow watching the numbers tick off, marking x's on a calendar, counting off the last of things helps us know that no matter how hard things have been for us personally or professionally, they will come to an end and we'll get a break before it starts up again in a fresh new way. But in the meantime, we have to get through each day...we have to "get one more".

I recently saw the acclaimed "Hacksaw Ridge" movie and as is usually the case in inspiring war movies like that, I am in awe of the courage, fortitude and strength that our soldiers have had in battle, from "The Patriot" to "Glory", from "Sergeant York" to "We Were Soldiers". I can't say I like all war movies, especially the more modern takes on them, but "Hacksaw Ridge" had something that put it in my "must see" movie list. No spoilers here, but the main character Desmond Doss, played by Andrew Garfield, struggled to save his fellow soldiers in a horrendous grueling at a time. And that became his mantra, "Please, Lord, help me get one more" as he rescued roughly 75 men. He says it was 50, witnesses claimed 100, so they settled on 75!

Now I know we're not in such dire straits as Doss was during the battle at Hacksaw Ridge, but I find his expression of "get one more" helpful, if not lifesaving in everyday situations at work and personally. My "get one more" at work has enabled me to prepare 100's computers for our computer based testing for our 1000+ students, have the patience for students who think vacation has already started, show another teacher how the copy machine works and/or unjam it after they leave, run copies for another unprepared sub, re-arrange furniture and equipment for another unplanned meeting, send the link for Reading Counts quizzes to teachers who finally realized the power of that for motivating their students, etc. In other words, my job! Just when I think I can't or don't want to do/guide/re-teach/connect/promote another thing, I'm reminded to do "get one more". This year there have even been days when "get one more" got me back the next day. Meetings where "get one more" helped me focus and contribute. Rowdy students who "get one more" got me to finally  hook one of them up with a new favorite book. 

Maybe your "get one more" is personal..."get one more" leg press at the gym, "get one more" step/block/mile in your fitness; "get one more" bedtime story for the kids, "get one more" season of "24" that I binge watch, "get one more" potato chip! Whatever your situation, those baby steps and small increments can get you a long way when they all add up. This year I've managed to lose 20 pounds with that "get one more" mentality. Lots of ups and downs and slow going, but faithfully attending  my 7:30 AM Weight Watchers meetings on Saturday mornings and sticking to the plan and "get one more" day proved a winning strategy.

So are you counting the days until the end of the year? Are you facing what you think is an insurmountable Media/Teaching situation? Is it a struggle just getting out of bed and off to work? Try to    get a "get one more" attitude and face it one hour/half-day/day at a time until it's over. Nothing is impossible. And if, like Doss, your plea invokes the help of the Lord, you may find a strength you didn't think you had. But if not, at least facing it in small doses helps turn what you think is impossible to the possible. 

Right now I'm watching "A Hard Day's Night" on TCM. Sometimes I have to NOT do a "get one more" when I'm watching old movies! But I'm having some serious nostalgic thoughts now...I was in elementary school when the movie came out and still remember going to see it with girlfriends, then buying our Beatles' trading cards at the drug store after the movie, hoping for pix of Paul. And also, striving for the perfect flip hairdo those cool English girls had! So after this "get one more" I'll  "get one more" meal for the weekend, and prepare mentally to "get one more" day of school. Fortunately, the good days far outweigh the bad, and I'm not in the countdown mode yet. There's still plenty of good stuff this year to enjoy and look forward to. That's what I'm focussing on, friends!

Have a happy "get one more" and Stay Grounded!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Why I Plan to Stay At My (High Needs) School

One of my favorite articles in recent months is Justin Minkel's "Why I Plan to Stay in Teaching" (Education Week 2/24/16). It is more than a pep talk/tough it out/what did you expect kind of treatise. It is really inspiring and is saved to my desktop to read from time to time as a concise reminder as to why I love teaching and have been in this field for 39 years. I could've written it, but he beat me to it! LOL. But recent events at my school have given me reason to come with another version of that article and it is Why I Plan to Stay at My School.

I have been the Media Specialist at my current elementary school for 14 years. Before that I was a Media Spec at another school for 3, and before that I had over 20 years as an SLD/EH teacher in Secondary, and before that I was in Elementary for a mixture of ESE students when it was kind of getting started. When I came to my current school, I was not necessarily planning to finish out my career as an educator at that location, although I did feel called in a divine sort of way that this was my new mission field. As the years went on, I felt it was my home, and I certainly moved enough stuff in to make it that way! Anything we were getting rid of at home ended up in my Media Center: Christmas trees, decorations, party supplies, kids books, know what I mean! When the demographics of the school started to change, thanks to a completely illogical boundary the District established, mini-exoduses became a regular occurrence. "So are you coming back next year, Mrs. Penvose?" "Of course" I'd always respond. They would wait for a reason, since it was quite an unexpected response. At first my reason was (jokingly) I had too much stuff to move or some such thing. More recently, however, the reason became "I am one of the only elementary schools with a Media Clerk and a Tech Specialist, why would I leave?" We are a Title 1, Renaissance, 1000 student high needs school...those positions are crucial! But with our District looking to reduce resource positions, and not fill the vacancies, our Tech Specialist opted to take a classroom teaching position in a middle school. Ok, so there went half of the reason I repeatedly gave as to why I'm staying. I'm hoping my clerk, who is at retirement age, will hang in there with me for a few more years. I'm treating her with kid gloves to help make it happen!

But seriously, why AM I staying at my school? It is for students like Kristen, who is now in 8th grade and came back to visit with a little sister at a recent Conference Night. "I was hoping you'd be here. None of my other teachers are left". When asking about her family, who had been unstable, to put it mildly, she responded that her mom was back on drugs with a boyfriend and dad was in prison for armed robbery. Grandma and Aunt took Kristen and 2 siblings in...and Grandma has since died. "She just had to come a see 'her' Mrs. Penvose", said her Aunt.
It is for students like Jack and Trevor who, when learning that I lived closer to some higher SES schools, asked why I don't want to teach at those schools. "Because you're here" I said, truthfully.
It is for the middle school students who experienced the suicide of a classmate and clung to me when I went to the funeral, not seeing many of their previous elementary teachers in attendance.

These are just a few of the students who see their elementary experience as more than the fun and learning that took place. It was and is their foundation, their entry into the world of education that is populated not only with friends and classmates, but also adults that they want to turn to, and return to, for a sense of stability and security. In their worlds of more upheaval and uncertainty than I might ever experience in a lifetime, they live every day. When they come back to visit their old elementary school, I want them to know that there will be someone there for them, that remembers them, that is interested in them and has genuine love for them and gives them a sense of constancy that they are searching for.
When I was talking to Kristen, I asked what she thought of all the changes in the Media Center. In the past few years, I've gotten the furniture recovered, tables re-laminated, carpet replaced (thanks to a water fountain flood) and generally tried to keep up with renovating the space to keep current with media trends. To me the change is dramatic, yet cosmetic. She looked around and said, "oh yeah, it looks nice". Her nonchalance struck me like a ton of bricks..she wasn't here for the decor. She could have cared less if the tables were Seafoam green or Arizona turquoise. Whether the baseboards matched the carpet or not. She didn't note the dust in the corners. She was there for the human contact, the interaction, the relationship. How much time have I spent searching for funding, ideas, etc. for the externals in the Media Center (which of course make a difference) when the students are there for the human element?

So as I labor on, adapting to taking on more of the Tech role at my school and being in the rotation for Specials classes, I remember why I'm there. For the kids. For the current students who come in every morning before going to their free breakfast (don't forget, you need a pass first...oh yeah, I forgot), for the students who have had more books deleted from their record due to moving/family trauma/foster situations/acts of nature/ etc. than I'll ever know, for the students who arrive on their bikes in the dark in the morning who just feel safer at school than at home, for all these and more. My heart breaks that I can't do more, but perhaps just staying at my school is enough. Being some sort of constant and consistent adult in their lives will give them a hope that they're not being given up on or forgotten.

I know that most educators, facing a multitude of challenges, will choose to change schools this year...if they wait that long. I don't fault anyone for making changes they deem necessary. In fact, I think it's healthy and wise to have several educational experiences and different schools, grade levels and subjects. But unfortunately, the most movement and transition seems to be at schools like mine, with needy children who don't have the option to go to other schools. For that, I am sad.

So take some time to reflect on why you're where you're at, or even why you're staying in education. Maybe why you even pursued it in the first place. If you truly are answering a call to change lives, it shouldn't matter where you do it...there are lives there who need you, want you, and are seeking to be changed.

We are in a mighty and powerful profession! Encourage each other, seek support as needed and Stay Grounded, friends!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Doing, Not Deciding!

Five frogs are sitting on a log. Four decide to jump. How many frogs are left on the log? (cue the Final Jeopardy music...despite the error in my questioning...your answer can be in the form of an answer). Raise your hand if you said "One". Now look around to see if anyone wonders why you're talking to yourself. Actually, of course, the answer is Five. Deciding to jump is not the same as jumping. Deciding isn't doing. Doing is doing.

As we start the new school year, how many new things have you decided to do, either in your library, classroom, or school? Throughout the summer I thought about doing Orientations differently, looked on Pinterest, Twitter, etc. for inspiration for something new. But when it came right down to doing something different, I relied on the powerpoint I usually do, with a few additions for our theme, etc. and did it in the same face to face way I've done for the past few years. And it was perfect, with a couple additions. While I'd love to do the cool scavenger hunts, start the first day without any orientations, broadcast on CCTV to everyone at once (all of which I have tried) I decided to stick with what works and there's nothing wrong with that. I had to consider my population, large number of homerooms to orient, large numbers of new students, and other unique school factors that lead my decision making.

However, since I had made the decision to inject something new and exciting, mainly to stave off my own weariness in presenting basically the same info almost 60 times, I added a couple fun things. For my second graders, I met with 2 classes at once, for 45 minutes, so there'd be time for the lesson and book checkout. However having 2 classes book browsing and checking out at once is too chaotic, so one class stayed at the tables, which I'd covered with white butcher paper, gave them markers (really!) and said to write a reading message for the next class. They loved it! A great substitute for those cool whiteboard tables you actually CAN write on! After a few classes came through, they became graffiti banners that have been hanging in the media center and our windows.

The second new and exciting thing I did was create a Photo Booth. I've had a big book rack that has been "upcycled" to display poetry, twitter chat banners, reading projects and more. When I was trying to decide whether to stick it in the back or hang something on it, I pictured a frame (recycled cardboard from a western theme we did one year) with a jungle backdrop (cloth that I dug up that  is, no lie, at least 15 years old) Our theme is "Learning is an Adventure" and it would be perfect. So after students had checked out their books, they had the option of taking pictures of each other in the photo booth with appropriate handheld signs. What a crazy, spur of the moment hit! And I can't even tell you the adults who want their picture taken! I'll change the backdrop to space, underwater, and other "adventures" the students want to take this year. The possibilities are endless!

So have you started with a "To Do" list or a "To Decide" list? It's not too late to implement that cool new idea, display, lesson, etc. In fact, it's never too late! But remember, deciding isn't doing. Weight Watchers can tell you that! I've decided to go, get back on track, count points, exercise, maybe even go back to being a leader, etc. more times than I can count, but if I don't DO the program, it won't work!

What keeps us from actually doing what we've decided to do? More things than I can write about
here! But often, especially in the case of trying something new at school, it's a fear of failure, that it won't work out and then what....well, probably nothing! Even if you've done it wrong, it's better than not doing it all. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

So, here I've followed up on a doing, not deciding, and resumed my blogging! I usually have too much to say that won't fit in a Tweet, so I'm doing what I love and hope it touches someone out there.
Hope your new year keeps that "new car smell" way past the honeymoon period!
Remember to Stay Grounded, Friends! (not just decide it!)

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Old Movies, Reagan, and Library Love!

I love old movies. TCM, Turner Classic Movies, is my go-to channel most evenings and weekends. And if they aren't showing something good, then it's TCM On Demand. Our kids pooled their resources and got us a "smart" tv last year when everything we watched looked like the lovely green fairways of Augusta National Golf Course, only we weren't watching golf! But they teased that all my shows were  black and white anyway, so what does a crisp colorful screen matter? Well, my husband likes it! And the glorious old Technicolor is quite spectacular!

So a classic I watched recently had some powerful scenes that screamed "if that doesn't start you writing again, Sandy, I don't know what will!". It was "King's Row" with Ronald Reagan, Robert Cummings, Ann Sheridan, and some fantastic supporting players. In the movie, Ronald Reagan (yes, our former president) played a character (Drake McHugh) who had his legs amputated unnecessarily by a wicked surgeon. He portrays a gamut of emotions, as you might expect, but is unaware that the procedure wasn't necessary. His best friend wants to withhold the truth, fearing it will destroy his fragile recovery. But then he decides to tell him what really happened. Reagan's character responds with a strength and defiance and renewed will to live instead of remaining in the depths he had sunk into. "That's a hot one, isn't it? Where did Gordon (the doctor) think I lived... in my legs? Did he think those things were Drake McHugh?" Bravely liberated and renewed, he hugs his wife declaring his intentions for their new life.

This has been one of those years for me. Increased demands for testing, faculty turnovers, 2 principals, retirements of longtime friends, personal and home name a few! At times I felt like old Ronnie, like I lost my legs. My confidence was misplaced in my circumstances, which resulted in my being shaken by the changes going on. But something about that scene in the movie jolted me back to reality. Is my joy and passion for my job based on the circumstances (my legs), or is it somewhere else? Am I doing what I do because things are pleasant and comfortable, or because I just love what I do, no matter what's shaking around me? In fact, I've come to Ronnie's realization that the challenges and difficulty that seem to define our school and the year only served to strengthen my faith and resolve to continue to advocate for kids and promote reading. Parts of what I used to do may be missing, but the heart of me and what I do is still there: kids, reading, and relentlessly pursuing making their lives better for having been in our library to hang out with the right books or just hang out!

I hope your year is wrapping up with some time for reflection on those challenges you've faced. I know you're stronger and better for it, despite some shaking that may have occurred and a longing to check the vacancies on an hourly basis! Shaking will always be's called life! But let your passion for what you do and why you became a librarian and teacher carry you through. Your faith and confidence can't be in something as uncertain as your day to day activities, or in people who can and will disappoint you, but in something more substantial and enduring.

It's how I stay grounded, and I hope you find your grounding, too! See you after the next movie!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Making Lemonade

 In the first two weeks that we've been back to school, I've been open 2 whole days. The other days, the Media Center was either closed completely or up until the last 30 minutes of the day. Frustrating! But more than that, how unfortunate for our children to not have access to the books, computers, etc. Well, you could say they had access to the computers, but it was to test for 90 minutes at a time. Not exactly World Book, BrainPop, Cool Math or PBS Kids. And this was for something called an "Interim Test" for what? Or who? And we're only half through these Interims! When these testing decisions are made, schools are large as ours, with the number and sizes of small groups that are pulled to test (ELL, ESE, etc.) can create a logistics nightmare. But this isn't a testing rant (oh really?) That's not my thing (yet!)
But as they say, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade! If I couldn't get the kids to the Media Center, I'd take the Media Center to them. I was  asked to cover several classes whose teachers missed their planning times, so I wanted to come up with something fun for these over-tested kids when the Media Center was closed. So here's what I did, on my shoestring budget, minimal technology, yet abundance of enthusiasm for some fun activities:
Grades 2 and 3: We feature penguins in the Media Center in January, so I took copies of a reader's theater for "Tacky, the Penguin", some hastily collected props, and led several classes in Drama 101. Most kids love to participate in these activities, and we had lots of fun. Then I led them through a cartooning exercise that started with the letter "P" on the whiteboard, and with the addition of a few strokes, created a penguin on their paper. More learning fun, with opportunities to encourage the creative side, both artistically and dramatically (wait, is that the same thing?), that often gets short-changed.
On to Grade 4. Since this is the time of year that our 4th graders need a shot in the arm for our district Battle of the Books, I used a 25 minute video of book trailers of all the books, which I didn't have time for when we did our kick-off. The students were all given a "Movie Review" sheet in which they marked if they'd read the book, or gave it a "Thumbs Up" or "Thumbs Down" as to whether they wanted to read it. They then kept the papers for future reference. The result? More students at our weekly BOB Lunch Bunch than ever this year!
And finally Grade 5! What book do most of them ask for? Wimpy Kid! So I showed a video of a brief interview with Jeff Kinney explaining his writing process, then went to "Art Hub for Kids" in which a cool dude artist and a cool dude kid create popular characters step by step and side by side. After handing out paper and skinny black markers to those who needed something to write with (everyone), we proceeded to create our own versions of our favorite stick figure. The results were quite varied, but it was another great opportunity for tapping into and encouraging their creative side. Sadly neglected in these days of "Interim Testing".
So I know it wasn't exactly rocket science, but we were able to have a fun learning experience, lemonade, in the midst of the lemons of testing. Another upside was seeing all the students I haven't seen in the Media Center due to their being new, missing books, lack of teacher sending them, or of course, us being closed for testing! A few new relationships were forged as I could reach out to these unreached kids.
So how about you? Do you have some great go-to activities, "emergency plans" or a trunk packed when you have to take your show on the road? I'd love to hear from you about how you make the best of these testing times. I'm not going to let any "Interim Anything" get in the way of maintaining a
media program that is engaging for our students. That's how I'll Stay Grounded!