#29 How to Be Honest & Vulnerable & Let the Help In
Two years ago I made the switch from being the Library Media Specialist in the middle school to teaching fifth grade in one of the elementary schools in our district. It was hard for many to understand the need I had for the change. Many saw a “cushy” job and they had difficulty wrapping their heads around why I would want to leave such a position when the classroom had taken such a turn with high stakes and countless demands. The truth is, there is nothing cushy about the role of Library Media Specialist despite what some may think.
The self-contained classroom was something I had always dreamed of experiencing. It’s what I faithfully played every day of my childhood and being that teacher of a classroom of the same kids all day was what I dreamed I’d grow to be. To me, teaching elementary school was the epitome of teaching. Balancing a class of 25 all day, with a very short break, and teaching all the subjects areas? Whew! THAT’S a challenge and I wanted it! The years of my teaching career were flying by and knew I had to make a move. My role in the library was no longer meeting my needs. I was underutilized and bored even after I reinvented the position every year for the nine years I spent there. I marketed programs, I team-taught, I ran students clubs and school-wide contests, I ran professional development at lunchtime and after school, held parent institutes and shared tech tools with both teachers and parents to help them move more smoothly through their professional world. I reached out to all those invested in the lives of our children with the intention of educating them on literacy and digital citizenship.
I listened as colleagues growled about all the changes that were happening in the classroom, and rather than being turned off I wanted to be a part of it all. I was envious of all they were experiencing. It was unfortunate the role that once excited me and made me run laps around the school with fresh new ideas and tech tips that would enrich any lesson had suddenly morphed into one that was not allowing me to grow. I don’t doubt I was appreciated in the role, but you know what I’m talking about. You know how it feels when things shift in your world, whether it’s your personal world or professional world. And once there’s a shift, ignoring it just doesn’t seem right. It goes against the natural unfolding of things. We’re meant to not just pay attention to the shift, but embrace it with all of our senses and move with it.
So there I was with extensive knowledge and experience to share, and I found myself on more than one occasion fixing the copy machine and printers and scheduling space for classes to be held in the computer labs, none of which I was teaching or even a part of. I had a solid core group of teachers who sought me out for true collaboration and we rocked their instruction as we designed lessons that were relevant, challenging, and engaging. One of the many roles of the Library Media Specialist is to help teachers implement technology into their lesson designs and to incorporate the 4C’s of 21st Century learning at their core: collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity and innovation.
The beauty of the role is to watch how lessons bloom as they are made to be more flexible and provide access for all learners. All this happens as the reading collection is balanced to the standards and graded levels of study are created while digital citizenship is imparted to the student body. The role provides the drive that keeps the community buzzing with a consistent vibration for all to feel.
Prior to my role in the Library, I taught seventh and eighth grade Language Arts and I missed that natural high I would get from implementing best practices with my classes or at the very least, attempt to implement best practices. We all try to get there right? I understood high-stakes in the classroom and parental demands, but perhaps some colleagues believed I was out of the classroom too long to offer anything that could enhance their practice now that I was behind the circulation desk. I get that.
At times I took it personally, while other times I realized just how tough the demands were that teachers were feeling in the classroom. Teachers barely had time to teach the strict standards they were being held to and were floundering to add in their own personal flair. For many, they couldn’t even begin to think about chatting with me about new ideas or adding flexible media to their lessons, let alone collaborate with me. Finding the time to do that was too great a thought for them. And to that, I held no judgment.
This mindset was hard to break through and I was going nowhere professionally. I ran workshops on the national, state, and local levels, I attended every conference that was offered, yet I was no longer feeling challenged in my role and cried inside with every printer cartridge I changed and every piece of paper I unjammed from the copier. This is what a Masters plus gets me? I ached for growth and for more of a challenge to work in the true collaborative sense with my colleagues. A change was imminent.
With the help of open-minded leadership, I interviewed for a fifth-grade position at one of our elementary schools and never looked back. I now live the high stakes and parental demands on a daily basis, and my experiences have taught me to never feel too overwhelmed to stop and let others in who can offer help. I know the richness that lies within the minds of my colleagues and I have every intention to take the feelings I’ve felt as the Librarian and allow all the help in that comes my way.
My role as the Library Media Special is so very close at heart and I love working collaboratively with the incredibly talented specialist in my new school. She has so much to offer with so many networking tools that only her role and expertise can provide. The fact that we both went back to school for our certifications together helps, as does the strong bond that was created as we supported each other in our roles over the years. I love to pick and rely on the brains of all my outstandingly professional colleagues and administrators for hints, tips, and best practices at this level.
Administrators and teachers need to shift old mindsets to this idea of letting the help in. The only thing that can result from true collaboration with your colleagues is engaging lessons with flexible ideas and media to provide further access to the content, and an abundance of resources to enrich the learning experience. Are you in?