Sunday, February 28, 2016

PLN Journal Week 5: East County Tech Fest and the Evolution of Technology in Education

Last Saturday, I attended the 3rd Annual (my 2nd) East County Tech Fest, which gathers educators throughout San Diego's East County. The Grossmont Union High School District (GUHSD) that I work for is a 9-12 school district, and so it was special to have time with colleagues from our feeder K-8 districts.

Powering Up with the Keynote

The keynote speaker Jen Roberts, author of Power Up: Making the Shift to 1:1 Teaching and Learning, addressed the topic of "How 1:1 Changes Teaching and Learning." Her talk was structured around ten lessons that she has learned over the years since she first became involved with a 1:1 implementation at her school. The advice that she shared included the following:

Information students find themselves is always more engaging.

Make the most of face to face time.

Just from these two snippets, you can get a glimpse that the lessons were not specific, technical tips. Roberts did share details from her journey, such as emails she exchanged when originally unsure about agreeing to pilot 1:1, how students started off using machines running Linux since they were more affordable, and how websites in those early years were text heavy and unengaging when compared with today's offerings. 

But really, the heart of her stories and message were more universal in nature, relating to her educational philosophy about the importance of relationships and how teachers need to be able to model failure and resilience. Along these lines, the two sessions that I attended after the keynote speaker also turned out to be rich discussion starters regarding our larger goals and roles as educators.

Session #1: Break the Box

Valhalla High School teacher Mike Skocko led this session, challenging us to rethink the current mainstream educational system. He shared research that prompts us to question traditional testing and grading systems, and he introduced new ways to imagine the student learning experience. As a specific example, I loved learning about the Zone of Intrinsic Motivation (ZIM) model, which Skocko generously makes available for sharing along with all of his other resources.

ZIM! The Zone of Intrinsic Motivation.
Click here to read more about Skocko's journey that led to ZIM.
Skocko has great technical expertise and remarkable success when it comes to his students demonstrating skill mastery. Still, while he is a technology teacher and while he was presenting at a technology conference, Skocko is clearly rooted in focusing on the foundations and conditions of good teaching and learning in general.

Session #2: Using a 4 Point Grade Scale in Infinite Campus

Fellow Teacher Librarian Stephanie Macceca and I were excited to attend this session, as it was led by recently hired Teacher Librarian teammate Anthony Devine.

District Teacher Librarian Colleagues (from left to right)
Suzanne Sannwald (me), Anthony Devine, and Stephanie Macceca
The title of the session was more technical sounding, and yet, it turned out to be a perfect follow-up to the "Break the Box" session. Devine shared some tips regarding how to finagle the student information system to enter grades in a non-traditional manner; but more importantly, he opened up discussion about questioning the effectiveness and impact of standard grading systems.

Referencing resources such as a thoughtful student blog post "Stop Telling Us It's Not About the Points" and links regarding standards-based grading, Devine's session organically prompted participants to voice concerns and frustrations regarding grades, as well as their own philosophies and alternative solutions. In fact, the discussion was so engaging that it kept on going in the hallway after the session!

This New Era

Thinking about the presentations and conversations from the conference, I find myself inspired to be working amid so many passionate and forward-thinking educators. As I first entered teaching over fifteen years ago, I have observed a progression occur when it comes to technology that I heard echoed in the keynote. I remember times dominated by hesitation and fear when technology was rapidly exploding (e.g., just think about the whole Y2K debacle). Then there was a period of intense learning when every professional session was centered on learning how to use the tools (e.g., "How to Build a Teacher Website" and "Google Drive 101").

Hesitation and fear never go away completely, and there are always new tools to learn about. At the same time, I am excited that we have evolved to a point where technology is neither the enemy nor the answer for everything. It is an integral part of our new normal, but the focus is not squarely on technology as an ends. With these recent conversations fresh in my mind, I am pleased that we have arrived in a more nuanced era with enough trials behind us to afford for substantive reflection. And, I am grateful to work in a professional community that is so thoughtful and brave to experiment and explore in the very ways that we hope our students will, too.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

PLN Journal Week 4: Research 101 on TL Virtual Cafe and Discovering Question Lenses

Throughout the past school year, my district's Library Council has been focusing on developing resources to support research, and so this week, I took the opportunity to watch a recording of the February 2016 TL Virtual Cafe session Research 101. The webinar presenters were school librarians Neha Thakkar and Tiffany Whitehead (AKA Mighty Little Librarian). My favorite takeaways from the session include the following:
I feel grateful to be living and working in a time when we have access to these shared resources. Thank you to all of the educators who share their best practices and experiences!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

PLN Journal Week 3: Google Ninja Day and The Innovator's Mindset

Last year, my district's Instructional Technology department started a Google Ninja program to gather teachers to share and discover best practices related to integrating technology with instruction. I was fortunate to be included in the first cohort, and I greatly benefited not only from the professional learning, but also from building relationships with other educators across the district.

This past Wednesday, I participated in a reunion of sorts that brought together "ninjas" from my 2014-15 cohort and the current 2015-16 group. As we went through the day, the topics fit in quite synchronously with the material that we have been exploring in SJSU's INFO 233 "School Library Media Centers" curriculum. In fact, there was even a segment in the agenda that was dedicated to Professional/Personal Learning Networks! Just as we have been discussing in our class, the hope is that we continue to learn on an ongoing basis through means including following blogs through RSS feeds, using Twitter, joining Google+ Communities, and more.

At the session, I was also fortunate to win a prize: The Innovator's Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity, written by George Couros and published through Dave Burgess, the "Pirate Teacher" who happens to be a well-loved former teacher from my school site. While I am currently reading the book, I was glad to have won it as a librarian since I will be adding it to a professional development collection to share with other teachers.

When opening up The Innovator's Mindset, the quote shared on the first page of the introduction is from Albert Einstein: "Once you stop learning, you start dying." This fits in perfectly with the concept of PLNs. In addition, it lends itself to the idea that we should not only be practicing perpetual learning and exploration as educators, but we should be promoting this inquisitive way of life with our students.

Kouros writes:
If students leave school less curious than when they started, we have failed them.
While it may feel discouraging that the institutional school complex changes at a slow pace much of the time, I find hope in the fact that that there has been recent convergence regarding the topics of innovation and discovery. I am grateful to be working during this period of transformation, and in this spirit, I seek out ways to grow a library learning commons program that increasingly nurtures curiosity.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

PLN Journal Week 2: My First CSLA Annual Conference

CSLA Conference name badge with First Time Attendee and Volunteer ribbonsThis week, my Professional Learning Network (PLN) journal topic was handed to me on a silver platter. From Friday through Sunday, I participated in my first ever California School Library Association (CSLA) Annual Conference - notice my first-time attendee badge ribbon! I have never been surrounded by so many other school library professionals, and the experience was inspiring and motivating. My biggest takeaway is the importance of being involved in the larger professional community, and below are five related recommendations that emerged from my experience this weekend.

(1) Join Professional Organizations

Joining professional organizations may seem like a financial burden due to the cost, particularly since most people end up paying for memberships out of their personal wallets. However, after hearing updates about the powerful state-level advocacy efforts organized and supported by CSLA, I think it is important to recognize how joining professional organizations is an investment and small token in offsetting efforts that others are selflessly promoting on our collective behalf.

For instance, without the California Model School Library Standards, what legitimacy would our programs receive in terms of our recognized curricular role? How much more success may school libraries have with getting written into Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAPs) now that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) includes references to school libraries?

One thing I've been thinking about is the fact that there are more professional organizations out there than I have money and time to support. Still, while I am n the beginning phases of exploring the various organizations that exist, I intend to pick a few to invest deeply in over the long term and I hope to contribute in at least some small way to these organizations that benefit our profession so profoundly.

(2) Attend Conferences and Workshops

In "From Professional Development to Personalized Learning," Foote (2013) challenges librarians to reframe professional learning as constant, inquiry-based exploration that now - thanks to technology - can occur at any time or place. I agree with embedding learning into our everyday way of life. At the same time, this weekend reminded me how participating in rarer, dedicated professional development events such as in-person conferences provides for a rich and different type of learning experience that cannot be replicated online.

Attending conferences, much like joining professional organizations, may be difficult to afford for many individuals. It may also be a challenge to get time off campus approved. Still, the benefits include having time and space for deeper, sustained professional learning, as well as expanding the breadth of learning through organic, synchronous interactions with different people. By stepping outside of our physical spaces and daily routines, we may gain new perspectives and also become re-energized for returning to our schools and students with new ideas.

(3) Meet New People

I am by nature a pretty hardcore introvert, but this weekend I enjoyed re-connecting with some people I've met before, as well as meeting many others. My mom gave me advice when I was younger that I shouldn't stop by myself from going to gatherings simply because I do not know people. She explained that the only way I will ever get to know people is by showing up. By simply being there, each encounter becomes a shared experience that builds the basis for eventually knowing people.

My mom's advice rang true when I attended the conference this weekend. I had previously met several people when attending the CSLA Southern Region Meeting last fall, and so this time, it was more of a reunion with these individuals. Along these lines, I look forward to future reunions with the new people I've met this time. I also think it's important to note that just as Foote encourages constant and ongoing learning, my conversations with people I meet do not have to wait for our next in-person encounters. We can continue to connect via email, Twitter, and other virtual means; the difference will be that these connections will be enriched by the context of having met in person.

(4) Volunteer, Including Presenting

Building off meeting new people, I highly suggest volunteering! CSLA and other professional organizations depend upon the work of volunteers, and so I think it is important to contribute in a way and to a degree that is feasible for you. At this conference, my San Jose State University School of Information graduate professor Dr. David Loertscher invited a classmate and me to help with his presentation on Discovery Learning in the Library Learning Commons. This turned out to be a great way to meet many people since it served as an instant conversation starter with attendees throughout the rest of the conference.

Even if you do not present, there are smaller ways to volunteer. For instance, I signed up for two different registration desk shifts. During those times, I not only got to help, but also hang out with and talk with many active and influential CSLA members. I know that even in my regular school library work, the only reason others do not immediately perceive that I am an introvert is because I have a job to do that propels me outside of my comfort zone. If you also feel shy in these types of settings, give yourself a job and excuse to meet other people - volunteer!

(5) Share Your Experience

Throughout the conference, people were encouraged to Tweet out their experiences, and I did this in addition to posting to a district all library staff Facebook group and also sending emails with links and information to our district Library Council. Even though I was the only librarian out of the nine from my district to attend, I want to share the good resources with all of them. In return, I appreciate when they share their other experiences back with me. This is the best way to handle the conundrum of there being more options than time and money to pursue them all.

Since Tweeting allows for a reach beyond my immediate teacher librarian circle, though, it is also a great chance for advocacy. Tweets provide other classroom teachers and administrators a glimpse of some professional best practices so that they may expand their conceptions about what school library programs can offer. Even though I, as a new teacher librarian, have not yet developed as rich of programming as those with more experience, I want others at my school and in my district to realize what is possible as I grow and given adequate support.


Foote, C. (2013). From professional development to personalized learning. LMC, 31(4), 34-35,