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.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Beyond Dewey: Behind the Scenes in a School Library

Out of all the classes I teach at Moretown School, the time spent with my fifth and sixth graders is truly a model of 21st century teaching and learning. While there are elements of a “traditional” library class firmly in place that you might recognize from your own schooling, such as fostering a literate community through rich book discussions, nurturing a love of reading with book groups, and a mention here or there of Melvin Dewey, there is much that we do that is collaborative, that ignites creativity, and develops the critical thinking skills essential for today’s information packed world.  The integration of technology into learning is a passion of mine, brought to the forefront through our vibrant 1:1 netbook program.  

Students come to the library with their Dell Latitude 2120 netbooks in hand, every week, for lessons and units structured to take advantage of these incredible tools.  A recent in-depth research unit had students evaluate sources from print encyclopedias, Wikipedia and WorldBook online.  Sounds like a boring unit, that is, until students watched Michael Jackson’s The Man in the Mirror video, a montage of powerful clips and footage of historic events from the 20th century.  Suddenly hooked, students choose a person or event from this video to research, evaluate information from all three sources, synthesize the facts to answer a higher-level  question and share what they discovered to their classmates.  Teachable opportunities abound in a unit such as this and ones that are essential as students navigate the Internet.  My aim is to present learning opportunities that allow for investigation, questioning, communicating, and creating.  We know that technology isn’t the panacea for our students’ successes, present and future, but it is essential that they know how to use tools that empower them and their learning.  It is essential that they own their own learning.

To further deepen their engagement in learning with technology, in collaboration with their classroom teachers, I have introduced the Google Apps in Education suite of educational tools.  These include a school domain email address (which can be used to send emails to other Moretown students and teachers) and access to Google Drive (document, spreadsheet, presentation, drawing).  I continue to be amazed by how responsive our students are to these new tools, which  allow for even greater independence and collaboration than ever before.  

Hand in hand with greater access to technology comes a greater need for responsible, safe, and respectful behavior online.  In this aim, our school counselor Jason Stevenson and I are  co-teaching a cyberbullying unit, with the end product being a series of cyberbullying public service announcements animoto videos aimed to inform parents, teachers, and administrators.  Be on the lookout for these very soon.  

Monday, March 4, 2013

Powerful Moments...

As a child, I was entranced with the Cape of Good Hope, the point where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans collide. I would pore over maps, enticed by cartographic images of wind-blowing heads, sea monsters, and sailing ships. When this dream came true, I had turned 21 a day before, and was living and studying abroad in South Africa.  What a powerful feeling it was to outstretch my arms and feel the Atlantic and Indian Ocean winds.  And I too, at once wholly alive and present, felt bisected by both my past and my unfolding future.

Photo by Yotofuji Tanaki. Creative Commons


Monday, February 18, 2013


Over the summer of 2012, Vermont become the first state in the union to hand over it's official tourism feed to the masses, or in this case, to selected Vermonters who agree to tweet on behalf of the state.  There is a form that any intrepid Vermonter can fill out for themselves or to nominate another and the fun part about following this feed is to see and feel Vermont through a different perspective for a week.

My tap on the shoulder arrived disguised as an email from Steve Cook, Deputy Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Tourism  with an offer I couldn't refuse: "Congrats you have been selected for @THISISVT‏. We have accepted your nomination; we see your personality, insight and good humor absolutely representative of Vermont."  I was given one week's notice, which was just enough time to start having #hashtag dreams as well as for my other responsibilities and obligations to start piling up.  When my time came on Monday morning,  February 11, I was ready.  Or so I thought.  Talk about a wild ride.  Well, perhaps a more bucolic and sedate ride (this is Vermont, after all), but to suddenly have thousands of followers and a mission to represent not only Vermont, but my little corner of it, was a thrill.  As only the second public educator to have the wheel, I was also the first elementary school teacher, the first librarian, and the first resident from The Mad River Valley.  Phew.  Talk about representing!

I appreciated the early shout-outs, especially from fellow teacher Amanda Paquette at Hartford School, who shared ways that this feed could generate excitement with students. The boost to my own humble @meg_allison feed was noticeable, but that's not why I did this.  To be a part of a grand experiment, why, is there any better thing?  Twitter has been transformational for me as an educator, why not so as a Vermonter?  Cognizant of  the mega-phone that is this feed, I made sure to highlight my favorite local businesses and venues, gave shout-outs to Vermont public school teachers and librarians, and made sure to follow movers and shakers in the educational and library fields.One of the highlights of the gig was having the opportunity to live tweet a jazz fusion show at the Flynn Theater in Burlington.  Only the second time the vaulted venue has opened up their balcony, select tweeters gave their two cents, or rather, our #FlynnTweets of the amazing show from The Bad Plus.  Dinner beforehand in Burlington with the other tweeters was even better, perhaps.  It was so enjoyable to talk Twitter with others who clearly embrace this form of communication.  For once, folks weren't rolling their eyes at me.   I was with my people.

Reflecting on the past week, I can honestly say that I embraced the @ThisIsVT gig, I engaged, and I had  fun pretending to be a tourist in my own life.  Life was indeed lived a little larger.  I played a little harder, got out a little more, and ate a little better.

Time to go back to reality, little me, myself, and @meg_allison.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Hobnobbing at the State Capitol

Today I was invited by Paul Costello, executive director of the Vermont Council of Rural Development to speak at a conference at the Vermont State House with Senator Patrick Leahy in regards to the announcement that Senator Leahy has secured 1.8 million dollars to expand internet capacity for Vermont businesses, farms, non-profits, and communities in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene.
This is an incredible opportunity for all towns in Vermont to have access to a robust digital infrastructure, like Front Porch Forum, an electronic bulletin board available for communities, so that they will be prepared for emergencies, just like Moretown was in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene. As a librarian, I am heartened to see funds devoted to training internet interns to work in our robust public libraries to help our citizens access technologies vital to thriving in today's world.

What follows is a transcript of my statement. It was an incredible honor to speak with Senator Leahy and representatives from Governor Shumlin and Senator Sanders offices in our gorgeous State Capitol. As some of you may know, a fun fact about Senator Leahy (Senate President Pro-Tempore and third in the Presidential line of succession) is that he is a huge Batman fan and has cameos in three Batman movies. What you may not have known is that Batgirl was a librarian, for Gotham City Public Libraries. I should have worn a cape.

"Moretown is a typical rural Vermont town, defined by her extraordinary landscape of hills and valleys, and peopled with caring, resilient, and proud people. When the rains of TS Irene caused our rivers, The Mad River and the Winooski River to rise and inundate our neighborhoods, when our village had to be evacuated, when our post office, town office, and elementary school filled with flood waters, when our bridges were compromised and roads washed away, we had one thing going for us that some other towns did not – a digital infrastructure and a citizenry who knew how to use digital tools to communicate, to organize, and ultimately, to continue our long-term recovery.

Moretown was the recipient of round two e-Vermont funding that established, among other things, Front Porch Forum, a robust digital network for our residents, digital workshops and training for our residents, computers and wifi access for our town library, and an invaluable partnership with Digital Wish, providing each of our 4th, 5th, and 6th graders and their teachers with netbooks and training for how to learn and teach with them.

Without our own local news station, newspaper, or radio station, typical of so many rural Vermont towns, a platform such as Front Porch Forum proved to be vital when we needed it the most. Moretown only had Front Porch Forum for a few months and it was slowly growing. Town officials were embracing it and posting agendas for upcoming select board meetings, some neighbors told of yard sales and extra eggs from their hens to give away, but many weren't sure of why we had it, or what its purpose was.

That changed in the days and weeks immediately following Tropical Storm Irene.

Within days, interest in Front Porch Forum exploded. Dozens and dozens of residents signed onto FPF as it became the number one way that town officials and neighbors communicated with one another. It became so important that minutes of our daily emergency response meetings posted onto FPF were printed and tacked to the Town Hall and other outlying areas of our town. Moreover, social media was taking off and assisting in helping Moretown’s recovery. Social media use of Twitter and Facebook, and especially the Vermont Response hashtag and the Mad River Valley Hurricane Recovery page were vital in spreading the word - our story - so that we got the support we needed to meet immediate needs, such as mucking out basements, saving family photographs, and coordinating places for families to live but to also coordinate communication with everyone from FEMA officials to neighbors cut off by washed out roads, as the days turned into weeks and into months.

Governor Shumlin asked of us yesterday, in his second Inaugural speech, think about how technology has changed our daily lives. I can’t imagine to think about how Moretown would have recovered from TS Irene without technology.

What we experienced in Moretown after Tropical Storm Irene was the grassroots organization and communication that have always made Vermont strong, enabled and enhanced by strong digital access and connection to high-speed Internet. A FEMA official said, in his 25 years of service with across the country, had never seen a community that had done so much by the time he showed up. We organized volunteers, supplies, and services for our students who started their first weeks of school under tents and on field trips, through our strong digital networks. We fed our volunteers and neighbors, distributed forms and endless paperwork, and gave our thanks and small reasons to celebrate not only face to face, but through our digital networks.

Access to digital tools and the training to know how to use them are no longer additional, or add-ons, to one’s education. They are essential. Our public libraries are in perfect positions to give support and training to our citizens as are our strong public schools are where we can educate students to be critical, collaborative, and communicative consumers of social and digital media, preparing them for an economy that desperately needs these skills.

At Moretown School, our students are learning how to become citizen journalists. They are learning how to post news updates with our school’s Twitter handle. We have 5th and 6th graders creating their own websites. We have students who already have the skills that companies such as Burton Snowboards are looking for as they hire technology savvy, You-tube friendly, social media using employees. I have students that swept a state-widevideo game contest last spring, winning Xboxes and games. All three winning teams from Moretown School were made up of girls.

We are closing the digital divide, not just across income levels, not just across rural and urban communities, but also between boys and girls. Our students are reaping the benefits of being connected in this digital age we inhabit. Whether they Skype with local business owners, such as the Red Hen Bakery or Grow Compost, to ask them about business plans, or receive a tweet back from an author on Twitter, or Skype with Senator Leahy in his office on Capitol Hill, my students – our students - hear something very powerful. You matter. And when they know that they matter, what they think, what they say, and what they do starts to matter to them, too.

Communication. Community. Resiliency. Vermont has those attributes in spades. Strong digital networks will only enhance, engage, and build upon these values, ensuring that we are prepared to weather storms, support each other in times of need, equip our students and citizens with access to digital technologies that will shape their lives for the better, and bounce back even stronger than ever."