A Look Back at March
To say the past 10 months have been rough might be the understatement of the year; however, it has also been a time of reflection and a time for school librarians to shine. Back in March when schools across the nation were closing due to COVID-19, educators unfamiliar with distance learning were in a bit of a scramble attempting to wrap their minds around what needed to be done. What I noticed right from the start was school librarians hit the challenge head on and began curating resources such as articles, OERs, and technology tips. Not only were school librarians curating resources, but they were sharing them far and wide via social media. School librarians have always been a generous bunch, but what caught my attention was when the going got tough, they became even more supportive. I personally took the opportunity to learn more about Wakelet and began utilizing it for curating resources for myself, my community, and our district. I took the time to re-examine my responsibility as a curator of information.
A Time of Professional Growth
Due to all the closures and stay-at-home orders, many conferences were cancelled or went fully virtual. As conferences moved to online platforms, I found myself able to attend many conferences and professional development opportunities I otherwise would have been unable to attend. In addition to virtual conferences, many librarians and organizations took the opportunity to host their own webinars. I was a huge fan of AASL’s Town Halls, where librarians across the country could share ideas. It was cathartic to know that other librarians had the same questions and concerns that I had.
The months of March through August were a time of professional growth for me as I attended dozens of free webinars on school library practices. I often joke that I learned more in those six months than I did the other 19 years as an educator combined. I also started my own series of webinars, titled Our Two Cents, with my friend and fellow educator Heather White. I finally had the time to look into websites, tools, and other technology that I previously had no time to explore, and then was able to share what I learned with other educators.
A Time for Innovation
Distance learning forced me to start thinking outside of the box and to find creative ways to reach my students online. I forced myself to learn new technologies and platforms like Zoom, Google Slides, Screencastify, etc. in order to stay relevant and continue to be a presence in our community. I hosted digital escapes, streamed live interactive author chats, and hosted live virtual field trips each week for my students called Journey with Jones. The virtual trips started as a way to connect with the community while we were all quarantined, but has blossomed into a monthly collaboration with my school’s social studies and science teachers. We have “traveled” to places like Ancient Egypt, London, and Australia together. I joined forces with school librarian Sarah Sansbury to create joint trips of ecosystems and plant and animal cells for our 5th-grade science classes. If not for distance learning, I do not think I would have created these virtual tours that have now become a fixture in my school’s curriculum.
Professional Learning Networks
Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned this year was the power of my professional learning network (PLN) via Twitter. Whenever I had a question, a school librarian on Twitter answered almost immediately or would tag someone else who could help me. I made connections with librarians all across the world and we would meet and Zoom to share resources and information. I have curated articles, studies, lessons, and more from my PLN, and in return have shared lessons, ideas, and blogs myself. I connected with several school librarians, such as Ashley Sherman from Georgia, and co-hosted webinars on various library programming ideas and topics. I mapped out school library advocacy strategies by reading and learning from K.C. Boyd’s posts, and worked on my social-emotional programs by learning from Martha Bongiorno. Most importantly, I found out I wasn’t alone in feeling discouraged and discovered school librarians are generous in sharing anything and everything they have.
The year 2020 was a challenge for everyone, but I hope you are able to reflect on the small positives such as professional growth and networking as I have done this year. We can choose to focus on what we can control. Stop to take a moment to reflect on your response to this year’s trials and tribulations, and give yourself a pat on the back for meeting the challenges head on.
School librarians are often isolated in our libraries, rarely getting a chance to meet and share with others in our school or district. My hope is that you will build a PLN and reach out to other school librarians to help ease your workload. We are all #BetterTogether and can learn so much from each other. I hope the spirit of learning and sharing continues as we head into a new year. I also hope that you start planning for AASL21 so that I can meet you in person.
Author: Amanda Jones
Amanda is the 2020 Louisiana School Librarian of the Year and a 20 year educator from Watson, LA. She’s a teacher-librarian and reading specialist at a 5-6 grade middle school. She co-hosts the My Two Cents edtech webinar series and is the 2019 AASL Social Media Superstar Program Pioneer. Amanda is an active member of several committees for both AASL and the Louisiana Association of School Librarians. She loves connecting students with “homerun” books and loves networking with librarians from around the world. Visit her library website at lomlibrary.org.