How to be a Teacher Librarian Rock Star
How to be a Teacher Librarian Rock Star - Branding Tips & Tricks
First thing I gotta say, I don’t know that I really love the term Library Rockstars because I think ALL Teachers, Librarians, Teacher-Librarians, Educators....we're all rock stars or each of us has an inner rock star just waiting to come out. I also think it sounds a wee bit elitist. OK, a whole heck of a lot of elitist. But who doesn’t want to rock it at their job?
(BTW, I was asked to write this "Rock Star" article for another publication and using the Rock Star theme was their choice - So, I'm answering their questions - I did the best I could! They highly edited my responses, and I think I ended up sounding like a total prat, but here they are in their entirety.)
To what do you attribute your success?
I try to......
Hard work, a sense of humor, tenacity, and a stubbornly fought for positive mental and professional attitude.
Yes, work hard - but that doesn’t mean being a martyr or staying in the building every night until seven o’clock.
Work smarter not harder. When it comes down to it, I can be pretty lazy, really! But, I do work some nights and weekends - OK, a several nights and weekends - but that’s my choice and it’s usually from home or at the beach wearing fuzzy socks & PJ’s with Bravo TV on in the background. Don’t judge me. I curate, I share, I write a little, blog, Tweet, chat, plan, dream, and strategize. Sometimes to be the best we can be, takes a little extra personal PD time outside of school. It’s worth it.
I’ve worked with a lot of people in my years, in a lot of capacities, and have found the one trait that I really appreciate, value, and admire is.....reliability. That's also one trait that I try to embody.
Some people promise the world, they talk a great game, but then they let you down - I never want to be like that. I won’t say I will do something unless I can do it, and then I try and do it dang well!
When things get tough or daunting, it's really important to take stock of what's really important: the kiddos.
During the summer, I take time & tide reflection - considering the things that went well in the last year. Lessons that inspired, projects that showed promise, and programs that popped! I also think about the things that didn't go so well and how I could improve. Sometimes though, you can't change a situation but you have to learn to graciously accept it - and then work around it cleverly.
“There is real magic in enthusiasm. It spells the difference between mediocrity and accomplishment.” Norman Vincent Peale
Happiness is a choice! Optimism, too! Sometimes it's a difficult choice, but a necessary one! Teachers & Teacher Librarians can sometimes get bombarded by the negative when they go into the lunchroom or talk with other teachers. Sometimes people don't "get" what we do. They think we sit around and read books all day (I wish!) and they might be envious that most of us don't have to do grades (insert classroom teacher woe here) I get it. We & our job can be misunderstood.
It's important to steer clear of the Negative Nelly's, Debbie or David Downers. Strive to avoid that toxic downward spiral and commit to staying positive, professional, and upbeat. If this means you eat with only a few teachers, by yourself, our go out and drive to the closest neighborhood park at lunch, do it! We have the best job in the world and every new school year and every day is a new start and adventure! Bonus, staying positive and upbeat drives the haters and funpires crazy!
Get Mentoring & Pay it Forward.
I would also give credit to a lot of the successes I’ve had with the amazing mentors I’ve had along the way. I’m looking at you Dr. Joyce Valenza, Julie Wray, and Doug Johnson! Mentorship is really important, then later on- paying it forward. Look around you and find a kindred positive spirit, a great natural talent, and support them. I’m lookin at you Danielle DuPuis, Tiffany Whitehead, and Jennifer LaGarde - you’ve done me proud, are amazing librarians, you have surpassed me in many, many ways! You are also a constant inspiration to me, and are now amazing mentors of your own. Why not talent spot a young or first year teacher? (Like a cult, love bomb 'em and bring them in young!) Find one that you take under your wing, help out lots, & encourage them along the way.
Always Be Thankful for Thanks
How have you crafted your brand? What branding advice do you suggest?
Some educators wince and make a face when the subject of branding comes up. Like it’s a dirty word. Consider, another word for branding is reputation or mission statement.
A brand exists only in the mind of the consumer. In our case, our students, parents, teachers, staff, and community. A brand is what they think they know about your organization—driving an emotional reaction.
When your audience believes in what you stand for, a loyal relationship is formed. Then it is in your hands to maintain that relationship. A brand is linked to reputation. The school’s reputation as a place of learning and your reputation as an educator. It’s best not to only rely on the results and messages left on “Rate My Teacher.com” as to what you find when you Google your name. (But if kids do rate you high, celebrate it!)
Branding isn’t really about finding a cute name like, The Mighty Little Librarian, The Nerdy Teacher, Library Girl, The Digital Diva, or The Daring Librarian - though I love those peeps and my name has served me well - it’s more about crafting your message and refining your professional mission.
To start, I would suggest writing a mission statement. Think about what is important, and what matters to you.
Is your library, classroom, and program focused on: lifelong reading and literacy, creativity, constructivist learning, and making? Is it future ready, brain centered, participatory, transparent, positive, and becoming a vibrant and active learning commons? Sure, use all the buzzwords you want, but mean them and be able to back them up.
When crafting a mission statement, really think about what is important to provide, every day, to better serve our most important customers - our kiddos.
You can write it in a paragraph or even make a cartoon, just define your goals. Then, I would distill that mission into a 30 second “elevator speech” that you can give at the drop of hat. People often ask me what makes me daring and I try and say (as if not rehearsed!), “because I’m a daring defender of kids, life-long reading, technology, transliteracy, innovative learning, and goofballs and geeks everywhere!”
Rock Star Advocacy: Proving Your Worth In Tough Times By Jennifer La GardeGet Social.
Next, I would think of ways to promote the awesome that goes on in your library every day. Don’t worry that it looks like you’re showing off - you’re not - it’s sharing with the community!
Don’t humble yourself out of a job and don’t hide your light under a circ desk. But at the same time, make sure the sharing is at least 90% is student or professionally focused! Don't let it be selfie, after selfie, of YOU. Because it’s not all about you - library branding and your mission should be mostly about them.
Social Media Mind Shift
“We have the power to shift the mindset of the public sector if we shout out via social media the great things that kids do in our schools,” says Tony Sinanis and Dr. Joe Sanfelippo from the book The Power of Branding: Telling Your School’s Story
Yes, I dig that! The easiest way to start branding and sharing with the community is with a professional Instagram and or Twitter account account.
I use social media only in a professional sense – to share the cool things that go on every day in my school and my library, to celebrate my amazing students, and to connect with my parents, and our local and our global community. I also share the lessons and activities, reading promotions, makerspace, TV studio, that I do in school - what worked, didn’t work so much, and what flopped. Lessons learned - to hopefully help others! /span>
In other words, I have purposefully and intentionally NOT used Social Media in any kind of personal way. For some, that might seem like a sacrifice – for me, it’s been both a blessing and sort of a relief. Though that doesn’t mean I don’t share a great sunset, a video of my nephew playing with his Virtual Reality goggles, my Mom’s fabulous Thanksgiving turkey, or a selfie reading at the beach. Sharing occasional personal content shows you’re human - and it’s good for kids to see you also have a real life.
If you’re going to only pick one, I’d choose Instagram. Our kiddos really are really not so much on Twitter (Shocking. I know, right?) and they also think Facebook is sorta fuddyduddy (though they might have one, they don't "live" there) but almost every kid I've talked to lately has Instagram!
Creating a professional Instagram account ensures that whenever cool things go on at school, I can handily snap and share them with our kiddos, parents, community, & the world!
Most teachers and librarians have their cell phones with them anyway, why not get together to make it a powerful sharing tool?
Connect it to your Twitter for easy Social Media cross posting! Create a sign that says: “Follow & Tag Us On Instagram!” and post it around the library so that kiddos can see themselves doing cool things! This is a positive example of how social media can be used.
Finally, as I mentioned in an article I wrote for NEA Today Magazine called - 6 Teacher Tips to Avoid Social Media Landmines know your district posting policy. Does your school district have a policy about teacher social media sharing? If they do, read it through carefully and follow it to the letter.
What advice do you have to give to a new librarian starting out?
Honestly, the first two years at the job I would stick to the basics with only one challenge (Instagram, Twitter, Makerspace, etc.) to tackle until you get your bearings. Once you master the foundation of the job, then you can start adding the sizzle. Don’t try and do everything at once - that’s why I recommend to choose 1 Thing, that’s all it takes. Once you conquer that one thing, choose another. Otherwise, you run the risk of burning out, getting discouraged, and feeling overwhelmed.
When you’re new - admit you’re new! Sometimes I think that first year classroom teachers get all kinds of support, slack, and patience while first year Teacher Librarians have to be “on it” from get go. It’s totally OK to remind people it’s your first year and say, “Gee, I don’t know that! This is my first year and I’m learning new stuff every day, but let me research that and get back to you!” Also, in a school situation - an old school clipboard is priceless!
Every new school year I have a clipboard out on our circ desk that has a chart with column headers of: date, teacher name, room#, “How can I help you?” and resolved check.
If I can’t help someone right away, (you get stopped in the hallway with an “I can’t print!”) I smile and say “I can help you with that!” but then ask them to either email you or drop by the library and put their name on the list. “I don’t want to promise to help you here in the hallway but then forget it when I go around the corner, but I’ll be sure to follow up if I have it written down in some way” [add rueful grin] This way, you don’t miss anything that’s important, you can check off as you go along, those you help and you also don’t get constantly sidetracked by the “hallway help flag-down.” Clipboard for the win! Or, as Martha Stewart would say “it’s a good thing.”
Celebrate Your Inner Rock Star
& Step Up to the Mic!
So, how do you become a Rock Star? I think we're ALL Rock Stars!...Or we all have an inner one waiting to come out!
Whatever you do, dare every day trying new things working hard, and doing your best. Allow yourself to bring out your inner rock star, Be reliable, be reflective, strive to stay positive (even if it kills you!), and always always keep the kiddos the main focus of what you do.
Share shamelessly the awesome that goes on every day at your school and the helpful content you create so that other teacher librarians can find it just a little bit easier. Pay it forward. You will never regret being kind. These are all things that I gotta remind myself every day!
And don't guilt yourself or beat yourself up if you don't do everything you wanted to do ....there's always NEXT YEAR! YAY! Because I definitely in the last 25+ years have had great years, super years, and a couple meh years. Years where I just shook my head and went Whew! When June 20th came around. Remember, next year is a new start.
If you have any other questions about my ideas please first search my blog or Google, I probably have mouthed off about the topic at some point - or hit me up on Twitter! @GwynethJones
I really created this graphic for me, to remember. Because, well...I have a snarky sarcastic sense of humor and I can be impatient and am easily irritated over stoopid stuff. So, remembering to take a deep breath, smile, be kind, bless their hearts, and practice patience is a good thing. Am I always successful? Nope. But I keep trying. And trying.
and trying again......Never stop trying! Just do your best, that's all we can really do & remember - it's NOT about US...it's about the kids.
Yeah, I made this one for me, too. But heck, aybe we could all use this!
Hit me up in the comments with your ideas & thoughts! Thank you, as always for visiting and taking the time to read my blog! Hope you found something useful.
Thanks for reading! Have a great week!
are you still here?
OK....still reading? I'm gonna be honest here. Stop reading unless you want to hear some TMI personal stuff. That I rarely share. I've always said never apologize for not blogging. But this is why I've been kinda quiet. This school year has been brutal. We've had some really tragic things happen. A good friend of mine, a truly gifted, sweet, kind, wonderful, Social Studies teacher who started teaching in our school who I mentored a little years ago...she recently went to teach in high school and I missed her terribly, but she was AWESOME there! Her kids loved her. She also came back to MHMS help us with our school plays...anyway, on the second day of school we found out that she was missing. Her name was Laura Wallen. She had come to school the week before the kids, set up her classroom, got it all sorted but just didn't show. It wasn't like Laura to not show up for school or not call in for a sub, especially the effing FIRST DAY of school! Something was wrong. She was also 4 months pregnant. She had the sonogram on her fridge. I Tweeted her picture, I texted & DM'd her on Instagram, frantically, pleadingly. Maybe she needed a break, maybe everything was just too much. But she also left her dog alone. She never would have done that! She later was found murdered. By her @#$%#$%% boyfriend. Who I always hated, he broke up with her and cheated on her time and time again and she always took him back - not worthy! - She was so smart in so many ways but not about guys - she could "save him". This piece of trash went on #@#$@$ TV tearfully with her sweet parents asking for help from the public. But he had taken her out to a field and shot her in the back of the head and then sent texts to her sister as if he was her. He left her in shallow grave and then went on TV with crocodile tears. I screamed at the TV because I knew, somewhere deep inside me that if she was not hiding out that he had something to do with it. He was arrested & is in jail now. May he rot in hell. May the Lord forgive me for my anger. Then, a former student of ours was shot in a drug related drive by, in my kids neighborhood! Maybe even witnessed by some of my kids in the neighborhood. WTH? AND this young man was shot by another former student or ours, AND then....the next week -or the week after it was a jumbled time- another of our former students - unrelated, still in high school, committed suicide. Then one of our former teen girls, a sweet dear thing of only 15, disappeared with her 20 something boyfriend, maybe left the country. That did not make the news. It burns in my heart that it didn't get any media attention. I still don't know what happened with that. So yeah, it's been a tough school year so far. I didn't know how to authentically share this on Social Media. It seemed wrong to me.
Because it's so not about ME it's about HER and her family. I did, back in Sept., when we were looking for Laura, when she was missing because I wanted to get the word out to find her! But after we found out -- what happened - I just ...to say anything about it felt awkward, like attention seeking, and wrong. Her family knew we loved her, I bought a brick in the butterfly garden of our local Library dedicated to her (that made me feel a little better, she would have loved that) Retail therapy. And then I guess I was just quiet.
Of course, depressed, grieving, and just.....frozen.I couldn't even go to the memorial, because I probably could have handled the grief of my colleagues and friends...the grownups & their grief - but not the kids or Laura's sweet parents - I wasn't strong enough. Ever since I was a little girl I've hated funerals & memorials. I like to grieve in private.
But, for day to day and for our students we all tried to be our best. To paste a smile on our faces. (our school bought a brick for Laura, too)
I used to be waitress & worked in PR, I can do this. But at the end of the workday, esp on Friday afternoons I would find myself just EXHAUSTED mentally & emotionally from the effort it took to just be normal. Gah!
Here’s a video showing the memorial stones that we got in memory of our dear friend Laura Wallen, a gifted and talented social studies teacher, who was cruelly taken from us before her time. This is at the Howard County Library, Miller Branch Enchanted Garden in Ellicott City, Maryland. We loved you & will miss you always. @thejewelsnest
I tried to follow my own advice and focus on the positive and being there for our kids. I also have a new principal. She's super smart and nice but I feel so bad for her to have to deal with this right off the bat. Anyway, I probably will delete this tomorrow morning, or in a few days, or weeks because I really feel so awkward being this personal and vulnerable publicly. Sheesh. Wimp city, eh? But it does kinda feels good to just type this out. Cathartic. I'm really not good with awkward human emotions. Seeing the kids distraught was the worst. I wish I was more Vulcan. Working on it. Please add me and our school in your prayers. Our whole community. Thank you. Bless you, my friends.
Well, shocker. It's been more than a few weeks and I still haven't taken this down. I think because I did find it was cathartic to have it here. To read over and add to. I've been trying to process this but it's really hard. Mostly, I just keep focusing on the positive. I also started this Happiness Class from Yale - a FREE online course from Coursera. It's actually called:
You might want to give it a whirl! Please still keep me and our school and Laura's family in your prayers. I also think come this September, when the trial is supposed to start and the year anniversary of the murder, I know it's going to be harder for all of those who loved, Laura.
for the love of Laura. Please, dear God, please let me get past this anger at the monster who took her life, and the life of her baby, Reid. He who does not deserve to be named. Not out of fear of the thing (like Voldemort) but out of disgust.
UPDATE: October 2018
Well, we were all bracing ourselves for the pain of the trial of this piece of trash this month a year to the day that it happened. We knew it was going to hurt, it was going to bring up all kinds of details we already knew and felt terrible about, and maybe some we didn't know (or want to know) but ....then something happened.
Good? Bad? Cowardly? Providential?
The night before the trial was supposed to start he called his lawyer about what he was going to wear the next day. He wasn't under supervised watch. But from the time that he woke up in the morning, to when they came to get him for trial, he hung himself in the cell. He was dead.
I found out when I got to school that morning around 7:15am. First thing out of my mouth? "Thank God" and instantly was remorseful because that's NOT a Christian thing to say. But I just kept thinking of Laura's parents - Mark & Gwen. As a friend texted me later that morning, "what a f#*@g coward" Though it would have been painful, the trial - at least there would be closure & justice. [smh] Still really grieving. Go days not thinking about it and then bam! Something will remind me. Still praying. What a piece of trash, a despicable human being, may he burn in hell. His double life, his selfish lies, his deceit. Narcissist. Evil. Please, Lord - let me not give him the satisfaction of my anger.
Please dear Lord, let me to continue trying to see the positive in this world, count my many blessings, appreciate the profound privilege and passion of being able to teach my wonderful quirky Middle School kids in my School Library. I'm so fortunate to have a close & loving relationship with my family. My Mom & Dad are two of my favorite people to spend time with. I have wonderful friends. I've loved and have been loved. I laugh WAY more than I cry. I have books to read and Bravo to watch. I am grateful for every day that I am gifted with. But this thing, this atrocity, has left a mark on me.