I find myself re-tracing part of my path to becoming a Teacher-Librarian as I receive the honor of being selected as the DCSD 2014 LMOSTY. I would like to tell the story of the person who I think informed my practice the most...
When I decided to become a T-L I stopped teaching full time in order to have time to visit lots of different school libraries. Like members of any other profession, T-L’s have a variety of styles and ways of carrying out their library programs. Sadly, I was not able to use my imagination to help me consider what my future library program might look like because I had very little interaction with the T-L’s in four of the five schools I taught in and had very limited experience with any school librarians when I was growing up.
Knowing that I would need help creating a vision, I set out to try and find a T-L who had a style and practice that would resonate with me; I was looking for a role model. Somebody, and I wish I could remember who, gave me the name “Stephanie Gwinn” and told me she was “the best T-L in the Atlanta Public School System.” Following that lead, I contacted this amazing woman who worked solo at Parkisde Elementary, in the historic grant park area of Atlanta.
It’s hard to put into words, but after spending just a short time observing Stephanie, I was able to picture myself carrying out a library program using her proactive,caring, and professional practices. I’d like to share some of my observations of Stephanie Gwinn...I hope she will forgive me if I misinterpreted any of her ideas or intentions.
Stephanie understood the power of creating a busy and productive teaching schedule. I learned that if I was to get a job in a school where I was not put on a fixed schedule, I would work to fill my schedule with classes to teach and take the opportunity to provide service to the teachers and students without being asked or told to do it! I decided to not wait for people to “sign up” because they might not, sign up, and an empty schedule book gives the impression that the T-L has “nothing to do” and with that perception, the T-L might be given a myriad of unrelated tasks and duties by the administration.
Being a former teacher, Stephanie understood that teachers can get very busy and involved in their classrooms and forget to come to the library at their previously scheduled time. When this would happen, Stephanie would call them in their rooms to remind them to come. Other T-L’s might have said “Oh it's good they're not coming because I can get my paperwork done” but Stephanie never thought that way even though she had mounds of paperwork on her desk waiting for her attention, and tons of books stacked up in need of repair. I learned how valuable the simple reminder is. I do not have a phone system, but if a class does not arrive within five minutes of the expected time, I go to the room and remind the teacher, who is always very grateful. It’s wonderful to be able to carry out my teaching plan and to provide students with the instruction that they deserve.
Stephanie knew the value and importance of being a Teacher in the library. As a former classroom teacher, she effectively taught curriculum related lessons using print materials and technology. She also knew the value of rituals and procedures so that the students always knew what to expect. I learned that it can be beneficial to develop rituals and procedures, even though I am no longer a classroom teacher. The library is indeed a classroom and classroom management skills are essential. What helps my library move smoothly is sitting down one at a time, singing our ritual song with hand gestures (gets the kids ready for the lesson, they know it’s time to focus), receiving shelf markers in the order they are sitting in when the lesson is over, and lining up to check out in the same direction each time. That’s it, those are the few rituals and procedures I have in place but things move along so nicely because the students always know what to do.
Now I want to tell you a few things I admire about Stephanie:
Stephanie was special T-L because she acquired a lot of games and made sure the students who were in the building early in the morning before school could play chess, checkers, Connect-Four, and other types of games to keep their active minds occupied.
Stephanie was a role model for environmental conservation. Recycling was a priority for her and she and the students created a recycling program in the library. I would sometimes see her on TV for Earth Day projects she was working on with her students outside! She did much more than I can describe or explain with her conservation programs.
Stephanie was Tech Savvy and had all her high quality websites carefully curated by curriculum skill and displayed on the I -keep-BookMarks site as the library home page. Her district was not lucky enough to have Destiny at that time. At the time, when technology was a pretty new concept, I considered Stephanie cutting- edge and forward thinking.
There is so much more that I have written in my draft but this post is already very long so I will try to come to a close:
Stephanie asked me to me take care of her library for a month when she was on a planned absence and she assured me that I could do anything I wanted and she would not worry! I worked hard to develop information literacy skills based lessons and loved helping out! Thank you for this great opportunity to hone my skills and try to learn to fly in a safe place! I loved every minute of my work at Parkside.
Stephanie was lucky to have a principal who was smart and kind. Best of all, he really respected the role of the T-L because of the excellent service she provided to his school over the years. He treated me, the sub, with same high level as respect as he treated her with. Dr. Phillip Luck, thank you for the wonderful experience, you were an awesome person to work with and congratulations on your promotion!!
Stephanie, as I receive this honor from DCSD, please know that I consider it OURS not MINE, and thank you so much for all that you have given me!
As a side-note, I want to mention that I was lucky to spend time with many talented T-L’s and if any of you are reading this post, please know I am thinking of you right now and appreciating all of the time you gave me.