The Unquiet Librarian: An Epilogue

Photo used with written permission from Zenonas Meskauskas .

Ten years ago today, I began The Unquiet Librarian blog.   It’s hard to believe a decade has passed, but the years have passed in the blink of an eye.  When I began blogging, I simply did it to have a space to reflect on my practice, period.  So many other great librarians were writing and sharing their work, and I thought how fun it would be for me to do so, too.

Ten years and 800 posts (!)  later, very few of the librarians who were blogging then are still doing so.  The entire landscape of social media has changed (not for the better, I fear), and so has librarianship.  This blog has reflected my professional journey as a librarian for nine years and then back to the classroom this past year; it has been one with many unexpected turns and twists.  In recent years, I’ve felt a little like Odysseus trying to find my way back “home” to a space where I could do what I’ve always aspired to do:  that is to simply do good work that is meaningful and to be respected for it.  The last five years have definitely presented many tests and challenges, and I am proud to say I feel I passed them with as much as grace and dignity as I could even when things were messy and less than ideal.  This is not to say I had moments of questioning or when I stumbled, but overall, I feel I passed the tests that were thrown my way.  I am also thankful for the clarity and understanding that these trials have brought as well as the amazing people I’ve been blessed to befriend in the last four years.

I have always tried to keep learning at the center of my reflective writing and shared openly in hopes that not only would doing so bring me insights and push my thinking, but I also hoped that perhaps my writing help others along the way, too. I am proud that I have blogged this long, and even prouder that I did some of the best work of my entire career after I had won several major professional accolades in the library profession.  I am even prouder that I continued writing and reflecting in the midst of tremendous professional and personal adversity and upheaval.  I am proud I kept my blog my own and did not commercialize it even though there were several opportunities to do so.

A year ago, I made a very deliberate decision to leave the library profession and return to the classroom.   There were many reasons for making this choice, but ultimately, I needed to be in a positive space where I could dwell in teaching and learning and innovate with support and encouragement instead of being marginalized or ostracized for those passions.  More importantly, I missed having my very own community of learners that I could connect with daily in deep and authentic ways.   I realized the library was no longer the space that allowed for these needs, and I returned to my first love where my career began:  the English Language Arts classroom.  I can now say without any hesitation and with absolute certainty that this decision was the best thing I could have done for myself both professionally and personally.  This is not to say there were not times of doubt and questioning in the last twelve months, but I can now see these moments were signs of the growth I was undergoing.  I have also learned throughout my life questioning and doubt give you opportunities to really think about what you believe in (both professionally and personally) and what matters most.  I am forever thankful to Chestatee Academy principal Jennifer Kogod for believing in me and supporting me—she never doubted in my ability to transition back to the classroom successfully.  That confidence and faith were and continue to be invaluable to me as she shares my passion for literacy and learning.  The freedom I’ve been allowed as an educator during the last year has been the catalyst enabling and fueling tremendous growth for me as a teacher and as a person.

I am also indebted to my CA students in grades 6, 7, and 8 of this past year.  You pushed me and challenged me to think about everything I thought I knew about Language Arts and writing instruction, and I became a better person and teacher for it.  I hope that I was able to give as much to you as you gave to me.   You have my love and know I will always be in gratitude for our time together this past year.  I will forever cherish all of the moments when I saw you grow and even more importantly, when you recognized your own growth as a writer and learner.

Being back in the classroom has not only fueled my energy and passion for teaching, learning, and literacy, but it also has helped me emerge from the long dark tunnel of grief that has imbued every aspect of my life since my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in June 2013 and all that followed for the next ten months and then aftermath of her passing.   This is not to say I still do not have moments of immense sadness because I do, but teaching and learning with my students and fellow teachers has helped me re-calibrate my inner compass and to feel happiness again.  Teaching in the classroom again has given me a sense of purpose and meaning, and frankly, it has saved me—I do not say that lightly.  After seeing so much ugliness in life between 2013 and 2015, I was losing myself.    Being in the classroom again, even with all the challenges teachers face, has renewed my sense of optimism and faith in the good of humanity.  I know my mother would be so happy to see me teaching with joy and feeling a sense of hope and excitement about life.   In addition, the steadfast friendships that have remained in spite of so much adversity, the encouragement from colleagues near and far, and your prayers have helped me continue to draw upon the inner fortitude instilled in me by mother and beloved grandmothers to arrive at this place.

Though the space where I do this work is different, my commitment to inquiry, literacy learning, and doing quality, authentic work remains as steadfast as ever, if not more so.   However, it no longer makes sense to reflect and write here on this blog; therefore, this is my last post at The Unquiet Librarian.  However, I will leave the site up as an archive of my work and journey for you as well as for me.   This decision was not an easy one, and I am thankful to all who supported me as I wrestled with this decision, including Brian Mathews, Joe Fox, Jennifer Lund, and Anastasia Diamond-Ortiz.  It would have been easy to have continued blogging in this space, but those who know me well know I am not apt to take the path of least resistance (for better or for worse).  This space simply no longer fits, but I am thankful for the time that it did.

I am thankful to all of you who have supported my writing, thinking, and work for the last ten years in this space. Though there are many who have served as a point of light, I would be remiss if I did not thank Brian Mathews (formerly of The Ubiquitous Librarian).  Brian not only inspired me with his blogging from the beginning of my career until he ended his blog in 2015, but he was also the person whose quality of reflective thinking I aspired to do in my own blog.  In addition, he has been a sounding board and a source of sage professional advice at key points in my life in recent years.   I am also indebted to the teachers, students, librarians, and fellow educators whose stories have filled this blog and the work embedded in it.

The beauty of letting go of something is that you are free to grasp new opportunities and to embark on new paths.  I sincerely hope you will join me at my new blog, Living in the Layers.  I will continue to reflect on all things learning and literacy as well as read, write, and revise my practice as a Language Arts and Literacy educator wherever the next decade takes me. It seems fitting to begin my new blog, inspired by Stanley Kunitz’s poem “The Layers”, today on Independence Day as I embark on this new phase of my work as a literacy educator.   As the header image for my new blog (pictured below) implies, sometimes we must be brave and courageous to venture into places we might not go in order to make those turns and moves that will “clear our vision” of what once was and to begin to see what can be.

Vote, Discover, Learn: Edublog Awards 2010

While the Edublog Awards honor excellence in educational blogging, social media, and social networking, this annual opportunity to vote is also a fantastic medium for discovering new voices to add to your personal learning network.    Check out the nominees in these categories to expand your thinking and nodes of wisdom to your personal learning network:

Assessment and Metacognition: Blogging Research Reflections

Last year, I piloted Research Reflections blog posts with our Media 21 students as a means of getting students to actively reflect and think about their information literacy skills and research processes.    Susan Lester and I decided to incorporate these blog posts once again into our Fall 2010 Issues in Africa research project; the directions for blogging research reflections below are nearly identical to the ones we used last year.

However, after reading the first round of research reflections with this year’s Media 21/ Learning 21 students, I quickly realized that more scaffolding was needed in the writing directions and the assessment rubrics to nudge students to think more deeply and to avoid repetition in their reflections.  For the second and third research reflections, I created more specific writing prompts and corresponding rubrics [see below]:

While I hate being so prescriptive with the directions for writing and reflection, I’ve come to realize that few students come with enough prior experience in actively reflecting on the research process:  the information literacy skills they’re acquiring and using, strategies for evaluating information sources, and decision-making processes as they engage in inquiry.  The experience of articulating the how and why of information seeking behaviors and participating in active self-assessment of how they are demonstrating standards for learning and specific information literacy skills is one that has required some intense scaffolding this fall.

As you can see from the rubrics above, the emphasis is on the content and thinking reflected in the blog posts.  However, I also incorporated evaluation criteria for grammar conventions and usage as well as sentence structure since these are reflected in the course Georgia Performance Standards; in addition, we want to reinforce the expectation that clear and coherent communication as well as careful editing/proofreading are hallmarks of quality blog posts.  Although we emphasize that blog posts are read by a global audience, this concept is still new and abstract for many of our students as this is their first experience writing in this type of public space for an audience beyond the classroom teacher.

The research reflections not only provide students an opportunity to engage in metacognition, but they also provide me meaningful insights into their thinking that help me understand their perspectives on information sources and how they evaluating those sources through student eyes, patterns of research skills problems/challenges they are encountering as a group, topics for writing and grammar mini-lessons, and any gaps in understanding that we might need to address as a whole class, small group, or one on one.

As you can imagine, it is fairly time-consuming to read, evaluate, and provide written commentary on each post.  I have been evaluating and providing the detailed feedback for each set of research reflections; I provide written commentary on a printed copy of each blog post as well as the corresponding rubric.  With roughly 65 students in both sections, I’ve been knee-deep in assessment the last month, but the experience of taking even more of a hands-on approach in the creation and structuring of the writing prompts and rubrics (these were all spearheaded by me and then rolled out with Susan’s approval as my c0-teacher) has been one that has given me important glimpses into how students are evaluating information and applying the information literacy skills we’ve been introducing and emphasizing in class.    Although they have not necessarily been thrilled with all of the individual assessments I’ve provided, many of the students have taken the constructive criticism to heart and shown progress in moving forward on the continuum of deeper and more critical thinking.  I have tried to stress to our students that the feedback is intended to help them grow as learners and to challenge them to engage in more specific and thoughtful self-assessment and inquiry.

Below are a few of the exemplary blog posts from our students; these posts are linked here with permission from each student:

I’ll provide some additional links as I receive additional student permissions in the next week from Research Reflections 3.

I think the research reflection blog posts have also encouraged students’ participation literacy in being active agents in the research process rather than passive beings who aren’t thinking through their information seeking behaviors.  In addition, these blog posts are a springboard to the annotations they will compose for each information source on their final Works Cited page created in NoodleTools , a digital learning portfolio,  and a cumulative VoiceThread portfolio assessment they’ll be creating after the Thanksgiving holiday.

I’ll be blogging soon about the final set of research reflections (#4) that students submitted this past week; I’ll also be blogging about the learning portfolios and VoiceThread assessment projects students will be creating in the next six or so weeks as well.   In the meantime, how are you assessing students’ information literacy skills and processes beyond a traditional quantitative tool?  Are you as a school librarian actively  involved in the creation and evaluation of assessment tools?  What qualitative assessment tools or pieces are you using with students to encourage active participation in the learning process and to gain insights into their thinking?   Please share your experiences and insights in this space!

The Power of Social Media: An Expert Responds to a Student Blog

Ms. Lester, I, and one of our students, Nolan, were thrilled that a real world expert took time to respond to one of Nolan’s blog posts.  Nolan, who is researching the latest advances in military prosthetics, received a gracious and helpful comment with suggested research information sources to one of his posts from Troy A. Turner, Research Portfolio Manager for Advanced Prosthetics & Human Performance with the U. S.Army Medical Research & Material Command Telemedicine & Advanced Technology Research Center in Maryland.    Nolan, I, and Ms. Lester are hoping to arrange either a class Skype interview with Mr. Turner or an e-interview in April.   These kinds of meaningful and authentic connections are exactly what Ms. Lester and I envisioned a year ago when we first began thinking about our collaborative learning project and plan for our students.

Here are Nolan’s thoughts on receiving feedback and information from a real-world expert via his blog: