As a part of our School Library Month Blog Series, the ultimate multi-tasking teacher-librarian, Heather Lister spoke to us about her biggest challenges, proudest moments, and most inspiring experiences. Learn more about Heather in her bio at the end of this post.
How has technology impacted your library?
I say that our library is the technology hub. It’s the place where kids go to take some of the technologies they’ve been exposed to, and bring their knowledge to a deeper level. We’re trying to shift gears a bit now, because we do a lot of consumption of technology, but we’d like to transition to becoming the creators and the producers.
As a librarian in a 1:1 school, I sometimes serve as a technology expert. When teachers are looking for a fun, but simple presentation tool, Buncee is my go-to recommendation. Unlike Google Slides or Powerpoint, where kids have to go outside of the tool to find fun and creative items, Buncee has so many built-in creative features. Because of this, kids can focus more on the content and spend less time looking for things to make their presentation “pretty”. I also love when Buncee leads projects that connect my students to others around the world. My middle schoolers loved the Buncee Buddies project because it gave them an authentic audience, and they took great pride in their work. On a professional level, I use Buncee to do a lot of our library marketing material. It makes me look like a graphic designer and teachers are often asking how I made some of my graphics.
How do you envision the role of the school library?
I try and make our library into the library I wish I had when I was growing up. The great thing about a library is that it is flexible and can look different to different people. Some students still view it as their main reading spot, and that’s totally awesome, but others see it as a creation space. Overall, it’s the place that kids can go to either get first exposure to something, or to go a little bit deeper into things that they’ve learned in class.
The library is the place to learn. I always tell the kids, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” How does a kid know if they’re good at computer programming or movie making if they’ve never been exposed to it? I compare it to the same way that you read To Kill A Mockingbird as an assignment in school, but you don’t love it until you read it on your own.
The library is also a place for teachers, and for kids to start teaching other kids. I know too many schools that look at the library as just this ‘book place’, and they might do animated activities with reading, but it’s still all about literacy. Just because we’ve transitioned to a more creative focus, doesn’t mean that literacy is any less important; now it just provides the context. Kids can demonstrate mastery on a paper test, but it goes a lot farther when they apply it. The library is that dot-connector.
How has a student inspired you?
That happens a lot. What I do is really fun! The kids inspire me to see that you’re never too old to learn something. I get inspired when they teach me something that I’ve never been exposed to. I’m usually the teacher to them- I’m usually showing them things that they should know. What’s the most inspiring is when I see a kid get really excited about something. It shows me that you’re never really done, there’s always something more that you can do, there’s always something out there to explore.
What has been your most proud moment?
Recently, we took a group of kids to this event called the Young Innovators Fair. We found this augmented reality sandbox while we were there, and now, we’ve built one ourselves! A lot of teachers were looking at it in awe, and my kids built one! I’m very proud of it, because these things are usually a few thousand dollars. Teachers asked me how we did it, and I really don’t know all the answers- it was just a bunch of kids that came and worked together. Some kids were really good at building the sandbox and woodworking, and some kids worked on the programming side of it. We had kids from all different grades, boys and girls involved! We showcased the sandbox at a town fundraiser event, and now we’re getting calls from a bunch of people asking if we will display it at different events. I’m really proud of the kids. It’s not something that I did, but it really goes to the heart of giving kids opportunities. I don’t know what they’ll do next.
What has been the biggest challenge of your career?
It has been challenging to get teachers to understand that we’re doing our kids a huge disservice if we make our libraries the same way they were when we were kids. There are so many more opportunities now than there were 20 years ago, and our library has to reflect that.
There are also a lot of different needs. Some kids want to use the library as a quiet space, some want to use it as a makerspace, some want to use it to chill and play card games, and all of those things are awesome, but they tend to compete with each other schedule-wise and I have not been able to solve that issue yet. But I guess it’s a good problem to have, because they want to use the space. But it’s hard to prioritize and tell the students what’s important because it’s all important. But it all goes back to what people perceive the library to be; it’s sort of just trying to dismiss this notion of what “library things” are. Traditionally, it’s only been books and literacy. So, it’s really hard to make sure that I’m respecting what teachers think the library should be, while also working to change it.
Why do you think creativity is an integral piece of the quality of a student’s education?
I have a great example of this demonstrated: our teachers do writing workshops with 8th graders, and we’re doing this segment within the writing workshop called “Make Writing”. It’s a room of everything creative that all the teachers could think of; we have everything from paint and clay, to the green screen setup, as well as a station dedicated to coding. We have apps and presentation tools, and there are no rules! You see this hugely diminished quality in what the kids can create if they don’t know how to be creative.
Teachers are finding that the kids are always asking “When is it due?” or “Where’s the rubric?” We’ve trained them to think that the only time you’d ever create a movie is for a project, and the only time you’d create a brochure is for an assignment. So, because of that, the kids always want the ‘requirements’. The traditional education model really stifles creativity because of time, standards, and testing. So, to demonstrate the importance of creativity, we’re doing things that get the creative juices flowing.
What are some resources you’d recommend to other librarians?
Your best resource- out of anything- is your students. You have to ask them. When we were making our makerspace, there are a ton of blogs out there, and I could totally go through some of those. While inspiration from a blog is sometimes a good starting point, a project is not going to work unless your kids are invested. Genuinely involve the students in any change that you make! We did a collaborative amazon wishlist, and they really surprised me. There are many ways to give your students a voice, and you’ll be amazed at what comes of it if you do.
We can’t say “we’re preparing kids for the real world” because, we’re in the real world now! They’re outside creating, they’re outside producing. They may not see it that way, but they are!
Do you have any advice for other educators?
My best piece of advice is that you are never done. For instance, my makerspace was really successful last year, but the kids wanted different things last year than they do this year- so it’s changing again. It’s going to continually change; it’s never going to be perfect. When I was just starting my makerspace, I went to ISTE, and attended the poster sessions, and that was a life-changer for me. I learned all about other peoples’ failures! It’s amazing how many times people tried to do these things and hit a brick wall, for whatever reason, and there’s this whole network of people out there who have gone through the same thing that you’re going through.
Heather Lister is a maker-teacher-librarian at Hershey Middle School in Hershey, Pennsylvania. She holds certifications in library science, instructional technology, mathematics and a principal’s certificate. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association and is on the Advisory Board for the Transform Your School Library initiative.Heather has presented at ISTE, FETC, TCEA and many state and regional conferences on the topics of learning commons, virtual libraries, and makerspaces. Heather is the mom of two wonderful children and a lover of all things Harry Potter. Follow her on Twitter @LibrarianLister or check out her blog at www.technicallyalibrarian.com