I originally wrote this post in early February prior to the changes many schools and districts are facing due to the spread of the Coronavirus and COVID-19. The final section gives ideas of how to fit professional learning into a daily or weekly schedule under normal circumstances. During the changes many of us are facing for an undetermined amount of time, I would like to gently offer the idea of trying one of these resources, if you feel able, to help connect with our profession and continue personal learning as you also work to support your students, their families, and your school communities. My thoughts are with you as you navigate these uncertain times, and I wish you all health and safety.
For many of us, we are the only school librarian in our buildings or sometimes even in our district. As a result, oftentimes professional learning opportunities are not available that target what school librarians need to keep up to date on and/or to hone their skills. Even in a large district like mine that has a library services department, in-person opportunities to connect and learn are only offered a few times per year.
So, what can we do to continuously learn about our profession? How can we find opportunities to learn with people who face the same opportunities and challenges we do every day in our school libraries? What can we do if we don’t have the budget to attend conferences or subscribe to professional journals? How can we find time in an already packed schedule to fit in just one more thing?
Webinars, podcasts, and professional blogs are great ways to make your learning opportunities into “on demand” opportunities. Each of these platforms allows you to not only curate topics that appeal to you but also to choose when and where your learning happens.
1. Webinars. Free webinars are a great way to connect with fellow professionals on a variety of educational topics. Not only do you get the benefit of the knowledge and experiences of the presenter, but the chat feature allows you to see the ideas and questions from fellow attendees as well. Plus, if you are not able to attend live (as many of these do occur during the school day), that’s not a big deal. If you preregister, many providers will send you a link after the webinar is over. This way you get the benefit of the shared knowledge but can watch at a time that is convenient for you.
I curate a calendar of free webinar opportunities for school librarians for the Nebraska School Librarians Association website each month. I select free webinars from organizations such as AASL, Booklist, School Library Journal, School Library Connection, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), edWeb.net, other library associations, and our local Nebraska Library Commission. Please feel free to check it out.
2. Podcasts. I love listening to podcasts during my commute, when mowing the lawn, walking on the treadmill, puttering around the house, etc. I was really intimidated at first with how to get started, but once I learned how to use a podcast app, I figured out it is actually really easy. Listening to podcasts is my go-to professional learning right now, and there are several that I use to keep fresh on school library topics:
Librarian Influencers Podcast with Dr. Laura Sheneman: Listen to interviews with school library professionals. Designed for new librarians but full of information and ideas that will appeal to veterans as well.
School Librarians United by Amy Hermon: Thoughts and ideas on the everyday nuts and bolts of school libraries featuring thoughts from Amy as well as from interviewees. (This podcast was covered in another blog post on Knowledge Quest.)
Professional Book Nerds Podcast: Librarians at the home office of OverDrive interview authors and chat about books they are reading and love. “We’re not just book nerds, we’re professional book nerds.”–from the Who We Are section of the podcast website.
88 Cups of Tea created by Yin Chang: Interviews with authors and other creatives about how they craft their work. “A home for storytellers.”
First Draft Podcast with Sarah Enni: Interviews with authors and other writers featuring information on both the creative and professional side. “Honest, meaningful conversations…”
3. Blog Posts. Chances are if you are reading this article, you already know that professional organizations, publishers, and school librarians provide blog posts that you can read for free. Blogs are fantastic ways to gain access to articles if you do not have the funds to purchase traditional subscriptions to professional journals. Also, blog posts are generally shorter than full articles, so if time is an issue, you can read a few blog posts fairly quickly. I typically stick with the Knowledge Quest and School Library Journal blogs, but I know there are many more out there to explore.
My final suggestion is to schedule it or it won’t happen. I have a secret confession: I have quite the backlog of webinars, podcasts, and articles to get through. I know how beneficial it is for me to actually read, listen, or watch the items I’ve curated. But, I’ve also learned that if I subscribe or register, that doesn’t mean I will follow through and engage with that professional learning opportunity.
Tips for scheduling:
- Set aside 15 minutes in your calendar once a week to read an article/post or two.
- Pick a day of the week or activity each week to do while listening to a podcast, ex.—on Tuesdays, listen to a school library podcast during your commute.
- If your internal clock doesn’t recognize that you can sleep in on weekends, use that early morning time to watch a webinar from your queue.
I included a few of my favorites, but I am sure there are many more out there that are wonderful. Please add your suggestions to the comments.
Author: Courtney Pentland
Courtney Pentland is the high school librarian at North Star High School in Lincoln, Nebraska. She is adjunct faculty for the University of Nebraska-Omaha School Library program and has served on the Nebraska School Librarians Association board as board member at large, president, and chapter delegate to AASL. She is the 2023-2024 AASL President. Follow her adventures on Twitter @livluvlibrary