Starting at a New School? Here Are Five Essential Tips

A veteran educator who moved to a new school in a new state imparts wisdom.

Congratulations on your new job as a school librarian. It is hands-down the absolutely best job…ever!

Last fall, entering my 26th year as an educator and 21st as a school librarian, I found myself in the position of being a new librarian in several ways. I retired from my job in Alabama and moved to Texas to take an awesome position, working for an administrator whom I greatly admire. I moved from a high school library where I’d been for 12 years to an elementary school, from a flexible schedule to a fixed one, and from having amazing full-time library aides to no full-time aide. I went from having no district library supervisor to an incredibly supportive one, and from no unified district library structure to a well-structured program. So much was new to me. Below are five tips to help you as you enter this new chapter of your life.

FIND YOUR PEOPLE

School librarianship can be an isolating profession. Often, you’re the only person in your school who understands what it takes to run an active library. You aren’t part of the teacher or administrative peer group. Many school districts, unfortunately, perpetuate this isolation by not allowing time for district librarians to meet and plan collaboratively.Don’t wait for your district to connect you. Reach out to the other librarians in your district, and find out what you have in common. Talk, have fun, swap ideas, and plan. Connecting with librarians outside of your district, state, and country brings a unique perspective o your library program and enriches learning.I owe my much of my success to my Personal Learning Network (PLN). Without their strength, and guidance, I wouldn’t be able to accomplish many of my professional and personal goals. These true friends will cry with you, lift you up when you’re struggling, and laugh, dance, and celebrate when you are successful.These three professional development resources can help you find your people and gain official professional development at the same time: 

Future Ready Librarians Webinars 

Library 2.0 Webinar Series

ISTE Librarians Network Professional Development 

Social media is a great place to connect, too.Twitter is one of the best places to connect, share, learn, and grow with connected educators. It’s how I went from being a burned-out educator to feeling like I never want to do anything else but teach. Teaching before Twitter was lonely, frustrating, and boring. Teaching with Twitter is energizing, fun, and creative. I never want to get off this ride of bringing awesome learning opportunities to my students and teachers. To get the most out of Twitter, use hashtags and look for Twitter chats. By following, commenting, and sharing, you maximize professional learning. I recommend  #TLChat, #FutureReadyLibs, and #ISTELib. Also connect using state education hashtags, maker space hashtags, and ed tech ones.

Twitter chats are scheduled conversations, usually in a Q&A format, led by moderators and taking place weekly or monthly. Participate Learning Chats and Cybraryman’s Educational Hashtags can help teachers and administrators find hashtags and chats.

Facebook groups are also helpful. Some of my favorites include: Future Ready Librarians, ISTE Librarians Network, the School Librarian’s Workshop, and MakerSpaces and the Participatory Library.

BE FEARLESS

Be fearless, even if you are trembling on the inside. Part of being fearless is stepping out and trying new things. Be the one who models that it’s OK not to know something, but be willing to learn, fail, and start again.

While I’m not a fan of fixed schedules, it was awesome to have a captive audience to try out ideas from my incredible PLN. I loved learning about a new app, website, craft, and more, knowing that I could try it out with the kids. Part of the fun was learning right along with them.

We also need to help our teachers expand collaboration—to forge learning opportunities across the country and the world with video conferencing tools like Google Hangouts, YouTube Live, and Skype. Events such as Read Across AmericaWorld Read Aloud DayInternational Dot DayAndy Plemmons Picture Book Smackdown, Elissa Malespina’s virtual debates, Stony Evans’ #StonyStories empowering students to be in-house PD and national presenters, National Poetry Month/Poem in Your Pocket Day, Mystery Skype, and more events can be made exponentially better by connecting with schools celebrating the same things. I love that Shannon Miller put together a Google Doc where we can share monthly Library Celebrations.One new technology I want to use this year is #GridPals via FlipGrid. I introduced my students and school to FlipGrid during my first year. Students, teachers, administrators, and parents could all contribute to our two FlipGrid topics; Book of the Day and Quote of the Day, incorporated into our morning news show. This year I also want to connect my students through the new #Gridpals program.  

REMEMBER, YOU ARE HUMAN

In my new job, I set an impossibly high bar for myself. I worked myself at a frenzied pace to try to meet my own unrealistic goals. I weeded a collection that hadn’t been weeded properly in 12 years. I genrefied the collection, ripped shelving off of the walls, moved and discarded furniture, and took apart and rearranged the circulation desk. I started t morning news show, created makerspace-style centers, and introduced new tech. My third through fifth grade students create digital portfolios.

I found myself working all night and weekend to keep up. Exhausted, frustrated, and angry, I was quickly moving into burnout mode.Then I talked to my library hero and mentor, Jennifer Lagarde. She said, “What advice would you give another librarian if they were saying these same things to you?” Her words really made me stop and think.I’d advise others to choose just one goal for each year. I’d also say, “Give yourself a break. Celebrate the cool things you are doing rather than beating yourself up over what you aren’t.” Being a connected educator is great for ideas and support from people who “get you,” but it can also make you feel that you aren’t doing enough. As long as students are your main focus, you’re moving in the right direction. You are not a superhero. You are a beautiful, wonderful, talented human being with much to offer.

MAKE COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS

The PTA, parents, and grandparents this first year in Texas were my saving grace. The PTA took charge of the first Scholastic Book Fair booked the previous year. I was also blessed with incredible parent and grandparent volunteers. With more than 800 students and a back-to-back schedule, shelving books was overwhelming. My grandparent volunteers shelved twice a week, and others helped out with our library center activities, too.

My new school also hosted a Watch D.O.G.S program for dads. These dads come to school with their kids, help out where needed, and also spend time with their kids in class. One day the Internet went out and my checkout system was down, as were most of my activities. Three WatchDog Dads walked in. We quickly came up with a plan, and the day was saved.

My principal and front office staff also helped by sending substitute teachers to the library when they had a planning period on their schedule. I learned more about the school and community by talking and making friends with them.

HAVE FUN!

The most important things you can do as a new librarian is have fun, don’t take yourself too seriously, and always put serving others with joy—even when you don’t feel joyful—first. Management tasks can wait...people are more important.

Nikki Robertson is a veteran educator, school librarian, Instructional Technology Facilitator and ISTE Librarians Network president. She is passionate about 1:1 Digital Initiatives, collaboration with other education professionals, and assisting students in becoming well informed, critically thinking digital citizens.

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