Friday, April 11, 2014

Bear Pond Books Resources for Educators (k-12): Fairy Tales with Yours Truly

(This post originally appears in Bear Pond Books Resources for Educators (K-12) blog, written by Helen Labun Jordan.  I've changed some of it to fit my blog, but otherwise, credit goes to Helen and 
Bear Pond Books for the original post). 

The last installment of Bear Pond Books 2013-2014 Author-Educators talk series is happening Saturday, April 12th at 11:00 am in the Children's Room. I'm delighted to have been invited to talk about fairy tales.

Last summer, my colleague Pam Dow and I received a Global Teacher Fellowship through the Rural School and Community Trust to travel to France and Italy and study the homes of fairy tales like Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, and Sleeping Beauty. You can read an article about the Fellowship here

I returned with many ideas for the elementary school classroom. This February, WCAX-TV in Burlington, VT covered our school's day-long immersion in traveling to Paris, France (just like Pam and I did)  in their exceptionally produced story Welcome to Paris. 

Join me on the 12th in beautiful downtown Montpelier, VT to find out more about France, Italy, fairy tales and using them in schools. This talk is free and open to the public. Bear Pond will have discounts on books and certificates available for teachers who are able to use this workshop for continuing education credits.

Want to learn more before the talk? Here are some resources to check out:

This will be the final event of the school year - but Bear Pond Books will have a few more articles posted before the summer, and events will start up again in the fall. Want to be informed of services, events, and other educator-related stuff at Bear Pond Books? Sign up for our educators' newsletter (be sure to click the educators' option - default is our general newsletter) and be the first to know about upcoming educator events.  

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Moretown School Visits Paris!

Why can't we have fun anymore in school?  That's a lament heard up and down the hallways of schools, not just across Vermont, but across the country.  With so much attention on assessing, testing, budgets, scores, reading, writing, and 'rithmatic, there isn't much room left for a whimsical, let's say, flight of fancy. Or is there?

For a quick taste of our experience, please watch this fabulous news clip from our local WCAX station. Julie Kelley created an extraordinary story for us.  It pays to have friends in high places!  The Montpelier-Barre Times Argus made us the front page picture in the next day news.  More pictures can be found here. It pays to get some PR.  All you have to do is ask: it makes the entire community feel good to see their kids in the newspapers and on the nightly news.  They are our shining stars, after all. 

Our principal, Captain Pierson, checking passports.

My colleague, Pam Dow, and I were awarded a Rural Trust's Global Teacher Fellowship grant last summer to travel to France and Italy on a 15 day cultural extravaganza for the senses.  (You can read more about it on our When You Wish Upon a Star page). As recipients of this generous (and privately funded for all you public school naysayers) teacher travel grant, we came back bursting with ideas of enlivening our teaching with our experience.  Then, it dawned on us.  Why not make a literal connection for our rural, Vermont schoolchildren.  Why not simulate an actual flight, on an actual plane, landing (actually, just play along here) in Paris, France. While some of our students have traveled, and a few quite extensively, many more have never boarded a plane and quite a few have never left Vermont.  We wanted to re-create the sense of excitement and adventure that traveling brings, along with the anticipation and preparation.

Serving mid-flight snacks on our AirFrance plane. 

In order to pull this off in the finely-tuned machine that is an elementary-school schedule, we first got the support from our superbly supportive principal, Duane Pierson.  Then, we talked with our French teacher, Erika Lindberg, who not only has a passion for the French language, but who has traveled to Paris and shared in our love of the City of Lights.  She was thrilled with the idea of a French immersion that involved the entire school. Then, with some weeks notice (but not too much advanced notice), we let teachers and staff know of our idea. They too were generous in their enthusiasm and support.

Mrs.Washburn, in addition to being our school secretary, got to play TSA official.
Here she is tagging a cartful of luggage on it's way to Paris. 

As with any travel to new places, learning about your destination is paramount to the enjoyment of the sights, sounds, and tastes.  For weeks leading up to take-off, students learned about the monuments, the history, and the culture of Paris both in French class, but also in Art, Library, and their own classrooms.  In addition, our entire school prepared for the trip by spending a day traveling in multi-aged groups to different workshops arranged by teachers.  In one class, students built marshmallow & toothpick Eiffel Towers, in another they explored mime a la Marcel Morceau, in yet another they explored French games.

The Cafe with baguettes donated by Red Hen Baking Company
 and "Le Cheddar" donated by Cabot Creamery.

By the Wednesday right before our extended winter break, students were prepared to board their flight to Paris. With passports and individually assigned tickets in hand, they eagerly boarded their AirFrance international flight from the comfort of their school library.  And what an incredible day it was!  The feedback from parents, staff, community members, and most importantly, our students affirmed our hunch: play is fun and fun is learning.  One woman in her 20s told me, "We never did anything fun like this when I went to Moretown".  Without a doubt, this extraordinary learning experience - disguised as fun - will be something I bet our students will remember for the rest of their lives.  And did they learn anything from this?  I bet your bottom Euro that they did. 

A student visiting the Notre Dame

Preschoolers take French too.  Bonjour mes amies! 

Look at this Mona Lisa smile!

Or this one .... c'est magnificent!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Remember that Life's One Big Balancing Act

All I need to know about life, I learned from Dr.Seuss.

Oh, the Places You'll Go seems an apt book to center my professional ponderings.  The school year has been in session for less than a month, and yet - and yet - oh, all the places (the meetings! the deadlines! the committees!) you'll go, indeed.  So, this post is going to be about balance - so that "you'll start happening too".

Balance on a professional level and balance on a personal scale.  As teacher librarians - and more broadly - as educators, there is a tendency to fully throw ourselves into our profession, is there not? 

We are the working professionals who take work home with us, not occasionally, but daily.  We go into our schools on weekends, stay late on weekdays, and cultivate our professional learning networks on Twitter, Pinterest, nings, what have you, at all hours of the day.

But, is this really sustainable?  

I'd like to posit a new way of teaching and working and living: Sustainable Teaching. Sustainable teaching's motto is inspired by Dr.Seuss: life is one big balancing act.  When the school year starts, how many of us get on the see-saw and immediately sink to the ground?  Or fly up to the sky? How better would it be to teeter between our work and our personal lives, in a harmonious back and forth that ebbs and flows in a natural, organic way.

How many of us get back a little of our mojo during the summer months, only to abandon ship come mid-September?  Those after school runs?  Too many meetings.  That after-school yoga class?  Well, can't I do savasana on my couch instead?  That resolve to eat healthy snacks?  When I'm under stress, just give me chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate.

I'm going to try my best this school year to find that balance.  My new motto is: What the world doesn't need is one more stressed out teacher librarian.  For some reason, just saying that aloud makes me laugh.  And laughter, as Dr.Seuss knows, is the best medicine of all.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Global Teacher Fellowship

I have just wrapped up an extraordinary experience traveling to France and Italy for 15 days as a Global Teacher Fellow.  My colleague, Pam Dow, and I applied for and received monies to travel to the lands of fairy tales, to soak up the rich medieval and Renaissance cultures that produced such classic stories such as Charles Perrault's Sleeping Beauty and Puss in Boots, plus Italian treasures such as Carlos Collodi's Pinocchio. 

We documented our travels on our blog, Global Teacher Fellowship.   We will continue to use this space as we explore and bring to life the wonderful adventures we've had as we share them with our students.  We came back from Europe with pages of ideas to integrate what we discovered from our travels.  

Traveling to new and exciting places stretches us as human beings.  Being able to navigate new ways of transportation, new languages, new tastes and new ways of doing things always makes me more confident.  Traveling is like a big puzzle: most of the time, the pieces all fall into place and the reward is an experience that elevate our spirits and opens us to new worlds.  And when a piece doesn't fit in the puzzle where it is supposed to go, we learned that there is always a plan B.  And sometimes, that plan B leds to a richer experience.  Flexibility mixed with purpose, plus a dose of patience, lots of laughter, and a gift from home for the people we meet along the way (for us, a little glass bottle of maple syrup was our gift for our new friends) is the right attitude.  The best part of this is that we had the opportunity to model this for our own daughters, Josie (my soon to be 10th grader) and Emily (Pam's soon to be 9th grader).  We squeezed them into our suitcases for this adventure of a lifetime.

I will be forever grateful for the Rural School and Community Trust for selecting Pam and I as 2013 Global Teacher Fellows from a national pool of applicants.  This experience will forever change me and ensures that my students will know that: the world is their oyster;  being a global citizen is their birthright; sometimes you just have to toss your hat into the ring and see what happens; and to never stop dreaming.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Dynamic Landscapes or Bust!

Day one at Dynamic Landscapes has been a thrill.  Without the pressure to present, I've been able to enjoy connecting with my peers and all-valuable Professional Learning Network, take lots of notes, do copious amounts of tweeting (you rock #vted), and enjoy lingering in conversation and camaraderie.

Tomorrow, with a closing keynote to deliver, is another can of worms all-together.  My colleagues across Vermont are doing amazing, innovative, and outrageously creative learning with their students.  As a whole, they sure have set the bar high.  I console myself by thinking, okay Meg, you are not being asked to jump over the bar, but simply to tell your truth, your story.  

My truth and my story in inexplicably intertwined with that of my students. I am delighted to share the stage with eight of my students, who have proven to me by signing on for this that indeed, you can't have brave without scared (thank you Linda Urban for that quote, via Kate Messner). These kids are my heroes.  They didn't need a twitter intervention, a la The Daring Librarian (like yours truly did) or convincing.  They know themselves in a confident way that I find refreshing and enlightening.

My take-aways from today at Dynamic Landscapes (thank you Shannon Walter's for always posing that question) are the feeling of support from a network of dedicated teacher-librarians, educators, technology specialists, and more.  I especially loved Judy Kaplan's presentation of embedded librarianship, a model that I find empowering and full of promise. This kind of school librarianship is highly customizable, attuned to local needs, fueled by passion and curiosity.  Her message to not just be the change, but be the pearl, is unique and filled with Judy's signature style of humor and spot-on metaphor.  Whereas she considers teacher librarians as the crown jewels in a school, rather than be the diamonds, emeralds, or the showy rubies, that we are the pearls, created by grit and irritation  added onto layer by layer, adding value and worth every step of the way.  

Just might have to wear my pearls tomorrow for good luck.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Caught in the Act: Shelf Challenge 2013

Every now and then, us school librarians decide to get wild and crazy.  Well, in actuality, it happens more than you might think, but never more so than in the heady spring days of April.  When April rolls around, it is a jammed pack month, library wise.  It's poetry month, Red Clover and Dorothy Canfield Fisher voting (at least in Vermont), and (drum roll, please) School Library Month.  And the birthdays!  Hans Christian Anderson, Shakespeare, Beverly Cleary... there is never a dull day in the library, you see.

So, as if I don't already have a million and one things on the back (and front) burners, I threw caution to the wind and accepted The Busy Librarian's Shelf Challenge.  My mission, which I choose to accept, is to read the "C" section of library's picture books.  Phew.  Not so tough after all.  I have about four cubicles of "C" books, just enough to give me a challenge, but not so much to overwhelm me.

This assignment has me doing something I haven't done for years.  Reading.  Yes, actually reading a book, to myself, not aloud, and not on the sly. Really reading, from cover to cover.  On the clock. There's a myth that us librarians get to read all the time.  And we do.  Many of us in fact read lots and lots and lots of books.  But, never on the job.  Always after hours, on our own couches, in our tubs, and while swinging on our hammocks during summer vacation.  Never, ever, ever while getting paid to do so.

I think I actually nearly gave someone a heart attack - they were so shocked to see me sitting on a chair near the bookshelves, just reading.  When they didn't see me at my usual perch at the computer, they thought I wasn't in the library.  I feel like such a rebel.  To read.  To be a reader.  To be caught in the act of reading.  At work.  In a library.  Oh, the irony!

I've read about a quarter of my assigned books so far and weeded out three. (I'm keeping track on a Google Doc.) But the gems!  Here are four that go beautifully together, tied together for a farm-related theme perfect for preschool through third grade. All four are absolute keepers on their own but woven together, their symbiosis becomes sublime.  A discovery I never would have made hadn't I been caught ... reading.