On Surviving the First Mile of the School Year, aka August 2010

With three weeks behind us, now is a good time to reflect and catch up on the highs and the episodes of mild turbulence  of the beginning of the school year.   Getting back into the routine of the school year is much like the first mile of a run—it is always a challenge to adjust mentally and physically even when you have experience and have maintained a regular routine over time.   While you are eager to get started and looking forward to the run, finding your rhythm and getting past feelings of initial discomfort can still be a challenge.  Just as I’ve had to adjust to the increased heat, humidity, and smog in my transition to running in late afternoons and early evenings with the advent of the school year, I’m also adjusting to some changes in my school environment.    Whether dealing with the environmental issues of running now that I’m back at work (weather, heat, allergens, fatigue from being on my feet nearly day as well as mental fatigue from teaching most of the day) or the demands of first month of school craziness,  experience has given me confidence and coping mechanisms to embrace the chaos and to know the initial feelings of discomfort will melt into a zen routine in which I am focused on the joyful aspects of both activities.

Here is a brief rundown of library life since the students have returned three weeks ago:

How We’re Dealing with The Loss of Tammy, Our Glue

I am happy to share that Tammy Beasley, our beloved clerk whom we lost to district budget cuts, is still a vital part of our school, but now she is a paraprofessional in the Special Education Department.    Roxanne and I are thrilled that she is still a member of our learning community and that we get to see her nearly every day, but we’re still mourning her absence.    There have been more than a few moments already in which I missed her steadying presence.  However,  our principal, Dr. Bob Eddy, has stepped up to help mitigate her loss in several ways.  First, we now have adult assistance six of the seven class periods through the day;  three members of our secretarial pool now float in and have picked up several of Tammy’s former responsibilities and tasks.  Roxanne and I are grateful to Dr. Eddy for this intervention so that we can continue to focus on our instruction and programming.   In addition, we also have a wonderful student helper the last two periods of the day as well as a teacher on lunch duty during the second half of each lunch period; these additions have truly been a godsend and enabled us not only to serve our lunch visitors but also to better accomodate the increased number of class sessions we are have already seen in August.

Teachers Taking First Steps

I have been bombarded (happily) with more teachers who are wanting to integrate the use of wikis and the creation of multimedia learning products into their curriculum to nudge toward student inquiry and student generated research questions.  Other teachers are using wikis as a means to go paperless and for students to gain experience in posting their work virtually.  While we are taking baby steps now,  I am thrilled by the interest.   Here is a synopsis of what has been cooking:

  • Mary Panik and Nathan Cline, Environmental Science:  students are developing research questions related to the Gulf Oil Spill disaster and sharing their findings and learning artifacts (including multigenre options) on group pages in the class wikis we created.
  • Freddie Foster, Current Issues:  students are posting weekly current event reflections on individual student wikis
  • Susan Lester, 10th Literature/Composition:  we are using our class wiki to post inquiry circle meeting notes and group research
  • Lisa Kennedy, 11th American Literature/Composition:  students are investigating and exploring the Colonial/Revolutionary writers and sharing their research/reflections on the themes, writers, and genres of the time period.  Students are also developing VoiceThread presentations to interpret Native American myths.
  • Lisa Kennedy, 9th Literature/Composition:  creation and development of a class wiki to support YA Literature Circles.
  • Deborah Frost, 9th Honors Literature/Composition:  developing class wikis for an independent reading project and the use of Glogster
  • Erika Carden, 11th Honors Literature/Composition:  developing a class blog for sharing group reflections on readings
  • John Bradford, 11th American Literature/Composition and 9th Honors Literature/Composition:  developing class wikis for posting independent reading project and literary lenses reflections
  • Jason Hubbard, Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement:  Jason was the first teacher to pioneer the use of wikis last year; we will be using them more extensively this year with his Level 1, 2, and 3 students to explore and share our key learnings about careers in law enforcement and criminal justice, the Bill of Rights, and the CSI Effect.

What has been challenging the first three weeks is trying to meet that demand (truly, a happy dilemma to have); consequently, I taught all seven class periods six of the first ten days of school; all other days I have been working with classes either five or six periods of the day with the exception of this past Thursday when were in downtown Atlanta to receive our Exemplary High School Media Program Award.    While I can keep up this pace of teaching all seven periods in short term spurts, I recognize that I cannot maintain this pace physically or mentally over the long haul; at the same time, I don’t want to drop the ball and lose teachers just as they are ready to take that leap of faith and first steps forward toward a different model of learning or incorporating a technology tool as a vehicle for learning.

With this increased demand for instruction, support, and use of library resources,  we’ve been scheduling numerous class periods with three sections; while we have done this sporadically in the past (two usually maxes out what we are able to do), I am thinking about how to better meet this demand.  While getting a third librarian is not an option for this year, I am working on a formal request to get an additional 16 station mobile laptop lab to round out my first set for a total for 32 computers.  Right now we currently have 30 stations on the main floor/commons area, 28 in the lab (although a new bank of tables and four more desktops are coming soon, I think!).  With the addition of one more mobile lab, I can easily outfit a third class (I do have the physical space) or accommodate overflow of two large classes, and this year, all of the classes are larger with numbers of 30-35 students per class.

Coming Later This Week on the Blog:

I will be blogging more this week about these topics:

  • Media 21/Learning 21 2010-11:  Initial Observations, Challenges, and Celebrations
  • Alternative Assessments and Digital Portfolios
  • Action Research and Ethnography
  • Issues of Scale and Identity as a School Librarian
  • Building the Unquiet Library Geek Tribe

Although I’m working around and adapting to some technology hiccups, the complications of larger class sizes, and increased demand for library services and instruction, I feel I’m starting to now hit my stride, which is important for the flow of reflection and creative analysis of what is going on as I try to juggle so many pressing issues, initiatives, and projects.  Finding balance, a theme I’ll be elaborating more on come October in my keynote speech at  the MEMO (Minnesota Educational Media Organization) Fall Conference, is more important than ever as I try to juggle my five roles and additional professional responsibilities while trying to innovate and give legs to a myriad of projects I’m driving with the stakeholders in my learning community in 2010-11.

3 thoughts on “On Surviving the First Mile of the School Year, aka August 2010

  1. Buffy,
    It’s reassuring to hear that I’m not the only one who goes through the Back-to-School transition…yes, it really is the first mile of a run.
    Have a good run!

  2. Buffy,

    First, congratulations for all of your highly deserved awards and recognitions as of late.

    Also, I just wanted to say that you are the living example of the grassroots kind of work my professor, Dr. Sandra Hughes-Hassell keeps talking about at UNC. If you start with a few teachers, after a while they see the value and the floodgates open. Too many teachers to help: What a wonderful problem to have!

    Thank you for sharing your work in this space. It is truly inspiring. I am looking forward to starting my own grassroots movement as soon as I graduate.

    Katy

  3. Buffy, it is wonderful to have such super administrative support from a principal who truly values your role in student learning. I, too, have wonderful administrative support, but for those who don’t, this is wonderfully reassuring.

    Good luck on getting the third LMS!

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