2015 MSLA Conference Session Ah-Hah’s

Did you miss this year’s conference, or were there sessions you would like to have attended but you couldn’t be in two places at the same time? Well here’s some good news for you: a few generous members of the MSLA Board agreed to write up short blurbs on the real “ah hah!” moments from sessions they attended. This is by no means an exhaustive list — just enough to give you a flavor for a few of the sessions. For more detailed information on each session you can check out the conference program and handouts on the MSLA website.

Education by Design:  Connecting With the Mobile Generation with BiblioBoard
Presented by Carolyn Morris, BiblioBoard, Emily Tordo, Phillips Academy, and Tricia London, Avon Middle/High School
Ah-Hah’s contributed by Laura Gardner

  • You can catalog and include all your school’s yearbooks on BiblioBoard!
  • It’s possible to customize eBook holdings on BiblioBoard to restrict to elementary or elementary/middle school content
  • There are lots of primary sources already on BiblioBoard — even music!
  • The more teachers/librarians add content to BiblioBoard, the richer the content becomes
  • Some schools are using primary source materials from BiblioBoard instead of textbooks

Great Books for Teens
Presented by Terri Grief, McCracken County High School, Paducah, KY and President, AASL
Ah-Hah’s contributed by Anita Cellucci

Staying current with the latest teen books can be a challenge for us all and so anytime I can hear about best new books, I’m there!  Great Books for Teens took the edge off of the fact that I can’t read every book that is published, even if I would like to.   Terri gave recommendations for several genres. Look for her handout of the complete list on the MSLA website.

Fill your Students’ Toolboxes Using Creative Technology Applications and 20% time.
Presented by Christine Steinhauser Coolidge Middle School, Reading, MA
Ah-Hah’s contributed by Ellen Brandt

What if you gave students time during the school day to pursue their own interests, with mentoring and support from the librarian and technology specialist, and access to a variety of technologies and materials?

You end up with students who:

  • Discover new passions
  • Have pride of accomplishment
  • Become mentors for peers
  • Develop leadership skills
  • Practice conflict resolution
  • Learn to take risks

Chris and the ITS at Coolidge Middle School developed a new elective course for 8th graders: 20% time.

The class meets every other day throughout the year. Students work on a project of their choice*. They research, learn, experiment, create, share..and blog about their progress. Not all students reach the goals they set out to meet, but what is important is the skills, passions and confidence they gain along the way.

*Students fill out a proposal at the beginning of the year where they list their goals, resources and milestones. The teachers have project ideas and templates for those who are not yet ready to be completely independent.



President’s Update

Starting with the end in mind gets the best results, according to Stephen Covey; and we all know that backward design produces a great project. So, each year, I ask the MSLA Executive Board to sit down at our September meeting and set priorities for the coming year so that we have a strong focus for our work.

Last year, a strong focus on legislation led to the passage of a bill in the Massachusetts legislature this summer establishing a commission to evaluate school library programs. In addition, focused work by our Executive Board led to DESE accepting a rubric that administrators can use to evaluate school librarians using both teaching and program administration guidelines. We also worked hard to provide our members with a range of professional development offerings, including our annual conference, our first unconference this summer at Westborough High School, and a collaborative workshop with MassCUE in September. Finally, we set up a pilot ELL training course for school librarians that will be offered through EDCO in the Spring of 2015.

As we began the 2014-15 school year, the MSLA Executive Board met again to set priorities to guide our work. At our first meeting, we agreed that we would like to focus on four key areas:

Legislation: Representative Sean Garballey is chairing a commission this year that will evaluate the status of school library programs in Massachusetts. This is an incredible opportunity for school librarians and our students. The commission is charged with collecting key data about library staffing, hours, and collections. We have had lots of anecdotal evidence in the past decade that there is inequity from district to district in school library services. Collecting specific data will finally allow us to make a case for school library equity based on concrete facts. As the commission looks for assistance in collecting data, providing analysis, and lining up testimony, MSLA stands ready to provide assistance.

Membership: We want to make sure that members remain at the center of our work. Our advocacy committee and area directors intend to take a careful look at how to retain the members we have, reach out to those with lapsed memberships, and recruit those new to our field. As part of this work, we will look at how we can enhance the services and experiences we offer to our members.

Outreach: In a survey taken last spring, MSLA saw that members value the opportunities we provide for them to stay connected to one another such as the listserv and Forum newsletter. We are also pleased that members connect often through the MSLA Facebook page and Twitter feed. I am delighted that Jennifer Dimmick and Katherine Steiger have agreed to take on the Forum this year and I look forward to seeing it develop into another vehicle that we can all use to share great information and improve our practice.

Professional Development: MSLA wants to remain the first place school librarians go for professional development, and we want to make sure we get both the topics and delivery right. We are going to take a careful look this year at the options open to us. Our traditional annual conference and area director gatherings remain popular with many members. Yet, we also know that members have responded well to one-day workshops, unconferences, and informal sharing on Twitter. We also know that we have many natural partners for PD, from MassCUE to MLS to MLA. So, we are planning to look at the many ways we can offer professional development, the time and energy we have, and see if we can come up with a plan that makes sense for all of us.

Of course, we do have an annual conference planned on March 1 & 2, 2105. The theme “Fill Up Your Toolbox” speaks to the practical aspects of the event, which will focus on sharing tips and tools that you can implement in your own practice immediately. Holding the conference at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst also means we have access to some pretty wonderful speakers and settings, and you will certainly want to attend. Registration for the conference opens up on November 1.

Now this means that we need to hear from you. If you have any strong ideas or opinions on any of this, do let us know—we’re easy to find (you can even comment on this, or any other Forum post!). It also doesn’t mean we won’t do other wonderful things—we know there are opportunities and events that come up throughout the year and we’re ready to respond to those that will make a difference for school librarians.

Judi Paradis is the President of MSLA and the librarian at the Plympton Elementary School in Waltham

The Inaugural MSLA Unconference

There was a buzz of excitement on the morning of August 21, 2014 as approximately 50 school librarians arrived at Westborough High School during summer break to participate in the very first MSLA Unconference. They came armed with their coffees, devices, and ideas, in preparation to connect, learn, collaborate, and network with fellow school librarians. Volunteers showed up early, too, to help the organizers set up the registration table, schedule board, and hang lots of signs. An unconference is just one of those informal kinds of events where everyone lends a helping hand if needed so if you were there and helped set up or clean up then “Thank you!” (especially Donna Miller, Kim Keith, Linda Kimball, Maria D’Orsi, Heather Lobenstine, Randie Groden, and Sharon Lux.)

Randie Tweet

By definition, unconferences are a day-long workshop that has no keynotes, no vendors, and no pre-approved sessions. They are participant-driven because we are our own best resources. They are full of conversations, not lectures. Unconferences and Edcamps are sweeping the country (and the world!) and redefining what meaningful professional development looks like. Watch the video below about Edcamps to learn more:

As one of the organizers, I started the day with opening remarks and an introduction to the format which helped frame the day. A quick survey showed that there were quite a few participants who were new to the unconference format which, as a die-hard fan of unconferences, is always exciting to see. Then one of my favorite parts of the day happened: the building of the schedule. The suspense was tangible as the schedule slowly began to take shape from the blank board. What did everyone want to learn about today? What were the conversations going to look like? Some are unsure about leaving the building of the schedule to the participants because they worry that there won’t be enough people who want to offer a session or facilitate a conversation. However, in all the unconferences that I have attended, this has never happened. Never. When given the opportunity to share and “talk shop,” librarians and educators will always step up to the plate. The only problem is that there are typically too many great sessions to attend (which is a great problem to have!)

Wendy Tweet

As a way to embrace the culture of sharing (and for those who were not able to attend), participants tweeted throughout the day with the hashtag #mslauncon. Here is the full list of archived tweets from that day. You just may find a new librarian (or two) to start following!

The session topics were as numerous and diverse as the library programs we manage, such as global collaborations, design thinking, assessments, RETELL, library newsletters, 1:1 environments, learning commons, DDM’s, makerspaces, and ditching Dewey. To see what topics were on the schedule and to read the Google Docs notes for each session, click here.

Amy Tweet

One of the most important rules of an unconference is “Vote with Your Feet.” This simple rule gives you the permission to leave a session if it is not working for you. Perhaps the session was different than what the title suggested, or the conversation went in an unexpected direction, or maybe (and this is the worst one!) the facilitator thought they were at a big conference and brought out his or her PowerPoint and started giving a formal presentation. For whatever the reason, if the session is not useful or inspiring or meaningful to you, you may get up to go find a better session or discussion. Part of this rule is that the facilitator does not get offended because he or she, too, knows that your time is valuable. Some of the best conversations I’ve had have happened because I voted with my feet and got involved in what is charmingly known as a “hallway session.” I simply ran into another educator in the hallway and started a great discussion.

Arianna Tweet

As the day progressed, I witnessed many wonderful things happening: I saw librarians helping each other brainstorm solutions to problems. I heard conversations about what good teaching looks like. I saw librarians sharing research strategies, tech tips, new tools, and project ideas. I heard discussions about innovative initiatives for library programs. I saw librarians working on their laptops feeling free to use the time to try something new they just learned about. Who needs expensive keynotes and workshops when we have each other?

Conference Room Photo

At the end of the day, everyone joins back up together for the Smackdown and the prize give-aways. In the Smackdown, participants have two minutes to share a quick tip, such as a new online tool, web site, app, another way of doing something, or a resource. As participants share, an organizer writes down everything and generates a list of great sources. The Smackdown list can be found on the original schedule or in a tweet. This is great way to share lots of tools without taking away from the valuable session time. Think of it as quick reference for resources in a format that is way more fun than an encyclopedia.

Kelly Tweet

During the Smackdown, nametags were pulled for prizes. Thank you to Judi Paradis who came home from ALA with gobs of free stuff to give away to our participants! Free stuff makes everything better.

Before participants left, the organizers provided a survey to gather feedback on the day. Some things will need improvement like the noise level in each of the discussion spaces but, overall, the responses were overwhelmingly positive. Many found the format effective and would participate in another one again.

Patti Tweet

Don’t forget! The MSLA Conference 2015 will host a mini unconference on Sunday, March 1. Here’s your chance to participate again or try it for the first time.

On behalf of the MSLA Unconference organizers, Kathy Lowe, Judi Paradis, Anita Cellucci, Karen Sekiguchi, and myself, we look forward to seeing you at MSLA Conference 2015 or at the next MSLA Unconference!

Laura Beals D’Elia is the librarian at the Oak Hill Middle School in Newton
@ldelia on Twitter