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TL v61n4: Sarah Culp Searles
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Tennessee Libraries

Volume 61 Number 4


It's My Opinion!


School Libraries


Sarah Culp Searles


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 It’s fortunate that students actually like you better if you own up to your nerdiness, because I’m afraid I can’t contain mine.  My teenagers would smell through it in a second if I tried.  It’s always spilling out, usually because I love my job and learning ways to do it better.  What’s nerdier than that?  Fortunately, librarianship is a perfect refuge for us nerds, because it’s full of folks who are enthusiastic and love to learn! 

Enter the conference.   I am something of a conference junkie, as my husband can attest when we pay the bills.  It’s a pricey habit, especially for those of us with no financial support from our institutions, but it’s so worth the investment.  Not only is it an indispensable vehicle for professional development—and we cannot afford to fall behind the curve if we are to continue to thrive in the digital age—but conference attendance is an invaluable way to fight the feelings of isolation that are so desperately common for school librarians and others who are the sole librarians in their workplaces.  I recently had the pleasure of attending the AASL conference in Minneapolis and want to share a few of my favorite takeaways:
• Lou Greco did a fantastic session on using iPods to dramatically turn around a struggling reading class—and by struggling, he meant an inclusion EBD class that the principal had identified as the worst in his school!  He stressed that we shouldn’t think in terms of “Is this an instructional app or device?”  Instead, we should always think “What can I do with this that is instructional?”
• In Len Bryan’s session on building a collaborative school culture, I got a reminder that was difficult but important to hear: get out from behind the desk and into classrooms.   I know I sometimes feel like I need to stoically man that desk and be available for every emergency that walks in—and we do stay busy solving emergencies—but when we’re out with classes, we’re doing the educational work that’s our real value to the school.
• Violet Harada gave a great and timely session on assessment, which is my next mountain to climb and a highly relevant topic as we wrangle the TEAM evaluations.  She described assessment not just a process to give students feedback and improve their learning, but also one in which we get feedback from students and improve our teaching, thereby modeling the learning process for our kids.
• Also regarding assessment, I had already started experimenting with posting Google Forms on my website to gather online “exit tickets” from my kids, but I saw a great idea in a poster by Donna Ohlgren and Jennifer Perusse in the Exploratorium.  They were helping their teachers build similar response forms, but instead of having each kid fill in their own, they were bringing up the response form on an iPad that the teachers could carry around and fill out together with each kid, so that they also got personal contact and conversation in the process.
• I really enjoyed Mimi Ito’s closing session, which was all about broad views on technology and patterns about how people, especially young people, use it.  Particularly important to me were her assertions that a) adults tend to see their role as moderating and limiting, not facilitating, technology use; and b) young people often use media as a way of disconnecting from adults; but c) rich intergenerational connections are possible if we purposefully harness technologies to forge them.  We can’t get there if we fear changes, so it’s important that we embrace the best uses of technologies while carefully minimizing the risks to individuals.
I tend to leave conferences feeling both inspired and daunted.  It’s very exciting to be full of fresh ideas to improve my program and services, but there is so much to do to get where I want to be!  I think the most important outcome of attending a conference, though, is being immersed in the best of the field along with friends and colleagues pursuing the same goals.  I’m always awed to look around the room in a general session and contemplate the vastness of the collective experience represented there.  It reminds me that what we do is bigger than any one of us as individuals, and each of our day-to-day activities is small compared to what all our work means to our world. 

Sarah Culp Searles is the school librarian at West High School in Knoxville.


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