Gosh! You could have told me that!

At IASL, I gave a presentation highlighting lessons I’ve learned about being a first-year teacher librarian. It was my second IASL meeting, though, so I took it from the angle of these are things that I wish I had learned last year – hence the title. I did all that through the lens of the movie Napoleon Dynamite – a favorite of mine. You can imagine that I was pretty wary of giving such a presentation, using music, images, and video clips from a copyrighted work, in front of a bunch of librarians! So I emailed Rebecca Butler, author of Copyright for Teachers and Librarians. I thought I was fine as far as Fair Use, but I wanted to make sure. I said since it was for education, I was only using clips, it wouldn’t impact the sale value of the movie (and in fact, might increase it), and that the music and videos and images were legally obtained, I figured I was good. She agreed, but added the warning to not get paid for my presentation. Shucks on that! πŸ™‚

But I did promise that I wouldn’t post images or anything online about my presentation. Which is too bad, it was quite good, I think! But I’ll outline it and if you know the movie, you’ll recognize what I’m talking about.

First I introduced myself and how I became a teacher librarian. It’s been a long and winding road – it took me 21 years to graduate with my bachelor’s degree, but only 18 months to get my MLS! It was well worth it, though, and I think that road has helped me be a better librarian. I’m now the K-12 teacher librarian/technology integrationist at Manson Northwest Webster Schools.

Teachings from Napoleon Dynamite:

I. Being a communicator is your #1 job.

A. Give positive feedback.
Isn’t that important, especially when working with our paraprofessionals? I’m the only teacher in my district who has people who report to them. I had to hire one of my paraprofessionals, and she’s at the high school when I’m not. So I’ve only worked with her for two days in training. She’s on her own a lot – my other para, too – and giving positive feedback is really vital.

Of course, that goes to Napoleon watching Pedro do tricks on his “sweet” bike, telling him after Pedro jumps off a very small ramp, “You got like three feet of air that time.” Positive feedback goes a long ways.

B. Be complimentary.
Specials teachers at the elementary school are somewhat like grandparents. You get to enjoy the kids for awhile, and then send them back! So we have a great opportunity to get to know the kids in a different way than their classroom teachers. My elementary para, Donna, is great at this. She asks the kids about their weekends, knowing who would have been riding horses, who would have gone to the lake, etc. Kids can have bad days, too, and doing this little thing can really make a difference for a child.

Napoleon knows all about being complimentary. When he dances with Deb at the school dance, he declares his now famous words: “I like your sleeves.” He also asks her about her photography business, something she cared about. Napoleon’s a great communicator.

C. He brings food!
I do something called, “Lunch and Learn” at each school, where teachers come enjoy their lunch in the library, just getting together to talk about some new tech tool, or to meet a special guest in the school that day. This has been a good way for me to get to know the teachers. Pie is always appreciated.

Napoleon and Pedro bring food to Trisha when Pedro “builds her a cake” in order to ask her to the dance. The answer turns out no – but I’m sure she ate that cake!

II. As a librarian, you must be resourceful.

A. Take note of resources.
Librarians are ever-resourceful, but it’s important to be smart about it. There’s a plethora of resources out there, really a deluge. How do we keep track of it all? I talked about three resources that I depend on to keep my head afloat. I use Twitter, Diigo, and RSS, my favorite really being RSS.

I hadn’t remembered this scene in the movie until I watched it to take notes for this presentation, but there’s a scene where Kip is watching TV and Rex comes in with his Rex Kwan Do commercial. You see Kip get out a notebook and a writing instrument to take down the information. I resemble that remark!

B. Be the first to try new things.
If we’re going to be the leaders in our school, we need to be willing to try things first. As we do send along that resources to teachers, we need to try them first, too. I talked about GIS technology, which I first heard about a tech conference. When a tech grant came available, I told the curriculum coordinator someone should do something with that – not me, I don’t know anything about science! But she talked me into it. I was way out of my comfort zone, but I did it with the biology teacher, and we got a grant for a classroom set of GIS handhelds and other materials to study the Manson Impact Crater using GIS technology. I have to do is lead 7th graders as they research other areas of the world with impact craters. I can do that!

Napoleon isn’t afraid to take the lead, either. When he’s working with some other boys at a chicken farm, the lunch looks less than appetizing. To me, it looks like egg salad sandwiches and egg yolks to drink. (Some people online say it’s orange juice with egg yolks. In some strange way, that makes it much better!) The boys all stand there, until Napoleon goes for it, taking the food. The others follow, just like we knew they would.

C. Need moar skillz (a LOLcats picture shown)
Sure, librarians are well read, tech savvy, and willing to try new things. But the skills we have today simply aren’t enough for tomorrow. We have to keep at it. What are you doing to keep up? Follow some great Twitter feeds, read Wired magazine, take an open courseware class. You have to keep learning.

Napoleon’s lament about all the skills he lacks is pretty famous: “You know, like numchuck skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills . . . Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills.” What skills do you have?

III. Just do it, gosh! (Okay, he didn’t really say that. But if he did, he’d say it just like that . . . GOSH!)

A. Your to-do list
I’m a first-year teacher librarian and a first-year teacher, so that means I’m going through teacher mentoring. My administrators don’t really know what to do with me, having never assessed a librarian before. As the only teacher librarian in my district, it could be easy to go through the motions and not get anything done. Who’s going to know? (I will, of course!) Having a to-do list (I use Evernote) is essential. Also, I have long-term and short-term goals spelled out. This helps me keep track of where I need to be going, even if no one is looking over my shoulder. (The new BOEE Matrix of Teacher Librarian Roles and Responsibilities helps, too.)

This feeling of being on our own is what makes going to conferences like IASL, AASL, ITEC, TICL, IRA so important. (I’m presenting at the TICL conference in Storm Lake in June – please come!)
Napoleon has a thing to say about what he’s going to do today: “Whatever I feel like doing, gosh!” That scene alone, where he takes an action figure for a ride out the back bus window, makes the entire movie worth it. (Of course, that isn’t how we should deal with our to-do list, though! Guess you just had to be there.)

B. Don’t be afraid to stand out
If the school’s primary goal is to educate students, the library – where we try to capture all of human knowledge – should be the symbolic if not physical center of the school. As such, we as librarians need to stand out. We can’t be our stereotype of the quiet, bespeckled lady behind a book all day, shushing kids. Okay, so there’s some days we want to be that! But we need to be more – we need to stand out. I discussed a program that we’re doing at MNW to bring Chinese students to our school. Guess who is a pilot family to house one of the Chinese students? Mine. My son is concerned that people will think we’re weird. They probably already do! I told him, “Life is full of experiences. This will be quite an experience.”

Napoleon isn’t afraid to stand out, either. I love how he saunters down the road wearing a sweet three piece burgandy suit. For my presentation, I didn’t have on as sweet of an outfit like that, but I did wear a Napoleon Dynamite shirt – “Don’t touch my tots!”

C. Do what has to be done.
Grandma tells Napoleon it’s time to feed Tina, the llama. He doesn’t like it, but he does it. Don’t you sometimes have to do things you just don’t want to do? Whether it’s haranguing kids about their overdue books or shelf reading the nonfiction, someone has to do it. Has Napoleon might say, “Just do it, gosh!”

One thing I’ve struggled with is seeing what fantastic things librarians like you do. It’s intimidating! I told this to a librarian friend, and she told me, “Remember, you are a half-time librarian at two different schools. Don’t be so hard on myself.” I really took that to heart – that’s right! I can’t compare myself to those librarians! They are only at a high school, or a junior high, or a K-2 school. I’m K-12. I can’t expect that I can do all that!

But then I told that to another friend, who is a K-12 librarian at four schools (not my two!), and she said, “That’s true, but those kids and teachers expect you to be their full-time librarian.” Hmmmm. So what I do now is I try to work only on things pertain to the school where I physically am. If I’m at the secondary school, I work on the PLN class I co-teach, or digital textbooks the biology teacher and I are implementing, or I do blogging with the 7th graders. If I’m at the elementary, I pull good-fit books, or write lessons for tech teaching, or do preschool storytime. So now I try not to compare myself to others, but I try to be present in the moment, wherever I am.

IV. THINK BIG

The final point I made was that it’s important to think big. I showed pictures of my high school library when I started and it was, to say the least, surprising. The books weren’t in the large library space but a small cave-like room within the library. At my interview, I was asked what I would do to change the library space. That was a really hard question, because I didn’t know what my options were. Did they want me to say it’d take a huge building expansion project, or to just put up some cheery posters? I can’t remember what I said, but even I couldn’t have envisioned then where the library is going to this summer. The high school library is a huge improvement already – really, some comfy furniture and moving the books back to the space did wonders. At the elementary, a retired teacher passed away and gave a gift to the library. We’re building a stage-like area inside the library, and painting, and adding new lighting. It’s going to be a two-year project, and I have tremendous support from the superintendent and principals. It’s a wonder what thinking big can do. When others see and embrace your vision, you can really make a difference.

It’s not just the space of course. It’s teaching at the high school, a career collection, blogging with the 7th graders, bringing Google Docs to the upper elementary, doing a competitive reading contest in the library. There’s so much to do. But if I have the vision, it can be done.

So in short:

  • Your #1 job is as a communicator: give positive feedback, be complimentary, bring food
  • As a librarian, you must be resourceful: take note of resources, be willing to the first to try, need more skills
  • Just do it, gosh!: your to-do list, don’t be afraid to stand out, do what has to be done
  • THINK BIG

If Grandma Dynamite asked me about my day, like she did to Napoleon, I would say, “It’s the best job of my life. Whatdoya think?”

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5 thoughts on “Gosh! You could have told me that!

  1. Not sure how I even found your blog today (was it Twitter? Maybe) but you can bet I'll be back. You had me at Napoleon Dynamite. That was filmed in my parents' hometown where every summer family vacation of my childhood was spent. Had burgers at Big J's and totally been shopping at Kings. ;]

  2. Thanks for stopping! On long road trips, we make lists of pitch-perfect books, songs, and movies. Definitely, Napoleon Dynamite is always on the top of the list for the movies. Could it be any better?? It was a ton of fun presenting that. My audience skewed young, I will say! πŸ™‚

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