My procrastination made me think about the assignments we give our students and their struggles to complete them. Do they understand what is expected of them? Do they have the background skills and knowledge they need to approach the problem with confidence? Are there social obstacles that we can eliminate or minimize? Do we unknowingly set up hurdles that make assignments more difficult than they need to be?
The first challenge I've encountered has been the parameters I set for myself. I wanted to separate my blog from my web page, so I created a new blogging site on Wordpress. I already visit Weebly several times a week to update this site and the nctlchat site, so creating a separate site presented an unnecessary hurdle. How many hurdles do we set up for students by setting inflexible parameters? By simply eliminating the distinction between sites, I make it so much easier for myself to meet my goals.
This made me think about how we communicate with students. So much at our school is done via email. We try to 'train' our students to check their email, and it is a good habit to get into. My youngest has had that lesson reinforced now that she's in college and checking her email regularly has saved her from several bad grades and from traipsing across campus to attend classes that had been cancelled. But if email is the only option we're providing our students, we're probably setting up hurdles. I have a contact me form on my site, but I need to do more. Michele Luhtala talked in last year's NCSLMA Keynote about having a Google phone number so that students could text her for help. Remind 101 is another option. Teachers Tech Workshop posted 7 Free Group Text Messaging Tools for Teachers with short reviews and links to each one. I will be choosing at least one new communication method this week.
Another hurdle I've encountered has been my own perfectionism. I want the posts I make to be exemplary, with engaging images, clever wording, and evidence of deep thought. I'm a lousy photographer, my vocabulary choices tend to be ostentatious already, and my thought process runs wide rather than deep. Accepting these limitations while striving to improve in those areas makes me feel a little vulnerable, but pushes me to leave that comfort zone and grow. If I want to see that in our students, I need to be willing to experience it myself. I need to take the risk to submit something that I'm not sure about and be willing to get negative feedback.
Still, do our grading practices encourage this type of growth? If a student's efforts improve over the semester, can their grades reflect that, or does poor work at the beginning limit their potential for the rest of the term? My husband does a lot of technical writing, and mistakes made in a report can be a problem, but a quick email can usually rectify any errors that were missed before the 'final' report was sent out. While we don't want students to feel entitled to second chances, offering them on occasion isn't going to make them less prepared for the 'real world'.
Finally, it's been a busy year so far and I've found myself more exhausted than normal when I get home. I just want some down time to read, watch TV, and sleep. Our kids need that, too. We ask a lot of them. I don't think I could get up and catch a bus at 6:30 every morning, then be expected to sit still and quiet for the better part of 7 hours no matter how engaging the content. I need time to process what I'm taking in, time to have some choice about what I'm thinking, and time to prepare myself for challenges that are coming up in my day, not to mention time to deal with the drama that invariably arises when in close proximity to 500 teenagers and their overburdened teachers.
I think that's part of what our new 'Smart Lunch' offers: an hour in the middle of the day to regroup and recharge. I've been trying to offer that to the 150-215 students who've been coming into the library during that hour over the past two weeks. It's difficult to meet the needs of such a diverse group, but I think we're getting there. Some students need to sit alone and read quietly. Others want some time to just chill with their friends. Some need a space to feel comfortable and loved in the middle of the day and seek time with their 'significant other' (those are my biggest challenge!).
I had hoped to use the Canes Lunch time as a time to introduce Making/Tinkering to our kids, but I think for now, this unstructured time in the middle of the day is helping them in ways that can't be measured. They've seemed more relaxed to me this year. Hopefully, that is making their minds more flexible and open to new input, making their defense mechanisms a little less likely to kick in, making them feel more respected as individuals and therefore more willing to reach out of their own comfort zones, take their own risks, and grow.
So there you have it. My first #nctlbog post. I didn't address the suggestions we posted - the introduction of myself and my library or my goals for the year. I suppose this could suffice as a post about the challenges I face in my library. I am my own biggest challenge and my own biggest asset. As I go through this year, my second full year of school librarianship, I want to apply what I know about myself, my profession, my school, and my students to focus my energy where it can do the most good. I want to take time to process what I learn. I want to challenge my own assumptions. Most of all, I want to stop trying so hard to be awesome. I just want to be the school librarian that the students and staff at PCHS need me to be, whatever that happens to be each day.