Telling Your Story So Other People Can Hear You

By Karyn Lewis, Teacher – Librarian at Memorial Parkway Junior High (MPJH), Katy ISD
Follow her on Twitter at @ktlewis14 and @TheEagleHideout

I have heard many speakers talk about “telling your story” through social media so that others you connect with can see the wonderful things you are doing in your library. I believe this is so important, and I have learned so much from the librarians and educators I connect with through social media! So I started Tweeting, creating Vines, and posting on my Library Facebook page all the fabulous things that were happening in my library. I felt so connected and loved the PLN I was building! However, when I stopped to look at who was seeing what I was sharing specifically from my library accounts, I only saw 110 followers on my Library Twitter account and 166 followers of my Library Facebook page, no matter how many times I shared my social media information with parents at my school. I started to wonder if I needed another path to share what I was doing with more people, and for a brief moment I even considered reviving my blog. Before I did that, I took some time and thought about who I wanted to know more about what is happening in libraries and how they are changing and evolving.
As important as it is for the parents of my students to know what is happening in the library, I felt like it was even more important for teachers and administrators to see examples of a vibrant library in action. So I worked on building my relationships with principals and companies who believed in the changing dynamic of libraries, and saw that more of them were sharing what I put on my personal Twitter account about my library with their followers. I created a Facebook group of librarians called “Leading from the Library” to share what we find and what we are doing with each other, and I also joined the “Future Ready Librarians” Facebook Group to learn from this innovative group as well. Now when I attend conferences I make a point of visiting those companies’ booths to let them know the impact their products are making in the lives of my students and in my library. I go to sessions by those I have connected with online and introduce myself to them before or after they speak so that we can put a face with a name and continue to build our relationship and share even more ideas.

It was one such connection that led me to the opportunity to have my voice heard on a much larger scale this year. I have always loved the Capstone books for my elementary students because they have wonderfully creative series with kid-friendly topics and illustrations. I have worked with my Capstone representative on several projects in my library, and it was through her that I was introduced to Kat Coughlan, the general manager of Cantata Learning. Kat and I connected at a Capstone sponsored dinner where she and I talked about the importance of play and music in children’s learning and life. Following the dinner she reached out and asked if I would be willing to be a Cantata Learning ambassador to share how I use music, and the Cantata books, in my library and with my students. I was just happy to be invited to be a part of something I believed so much in and felt like it would be a great way to highlight all of the noisy things I get to do with my students in my library!

The first thing Kat asked me to do was use some of the Cantata books in my library lessons and share some feedback and stories with her. So she sent me a box of the newest sets of books and we started singing and making noise in the library. I participated in one of their global projects, and observed how the students reacted when I used the songs in the library. Over the summer Kat shared my stories with the staff at PR with Panache, who Cantata Learning is working with to spread the word about using music to teach. I have worked with PR with Panache to write a few pieces that highlight the benefits I found in using music to teach vocabulary, self-regulation, and reach ELL students. The process for writing each article was rather simple, and they helped me every step of the way! A staff member would send me a list of questions and ask for my responses, which required me to share stories about my library and the use of music and Cantata books. Then they would write up the stories and ask for any revisions to make it match what I wanted it to say. I have been so excited to have a platform to share with more administrators and educators about the innovative things happening in libraries today!

My articles are listed below.

I have been very fortunate to have made some wonderful connections along my path. In whatever way you are comfortable making professional connections, I highly encourage you to take a chance and reach out to others along the way. So many librarians that are doing amazing things are blogging, tweeting, and posting to add to the conversation. Add your voice and be a part of growing our profession, while showing the public and those in administration the amazing things that are happening in our Texas libraries! If you don’t tell your story, who will?

Karyn was an elementary librarian in Spring Branch ISD (Houston, TX) when she started making noise in her library, and is now a middle school librarian in Katy, TX. 

Music sets the tone for young learners” (The Edvocate, Feb. 2, 2017)
Three visions for truly inclusive education” (, Feb. 1, 2017)
Educators: the lessons we learned in 2016 (eSchool News, Jan. 5, 2017)
Use music to teach reading to ELLs” (, Jan. 3, 2017)

Small Changes have a Big Impact at Kilgore High School

By Stacey Cole, District Instructional Media Specialist Kilgore ISD (

Last year our school district screened the movie Most Likely to Succeed .  Not only were our students, parents, and faculty invited to attend but our community was also notified and encouraged to come.   Most Likely to Succeed  is a documentary about education that showcases San Diego’s High Tech High (a local charter system). High Tech High offers a revolutionary approach to education that differs greatly from traditional high schools.  At High Tech High, student centered learning is key and the soft skills needed to work as part of a team are greatly emphasized.

This documentary lit a fire in the hearts of all who saw it. As a result our community, students, and faculty began to have town hall meetings to make a plan for our district. As soon as possible, we combined English and Social Studies classes for our freshmen students that opted to be a part of this program.  Now they are sophomores and the program continues and our newest freshmen had the choice to be a part of the program as well.  The curriculum for these students focuses on project based learning and the students have a lot of input and choice into which topics they want to explore and how they present what they have learned.  There has never been a more exciting time at our campus and our teachers are re-invigorated and excited to teach in ways that they have never experienced before. I am happy to say that these changes have inspired our students to look outside of Kilgore and develop more cultural and social awareness.  With such stimulating changes taking place, the library is changing as well.  

When I started my job as the librarian at Kilgore ISD four plus years ago, the library had been without a certified librarian for a couple of years and had become somewhat stagnant.  I was eager to breathe new life into the library and implementing various programs and activities including trivia nights, book clubs, reading incentives and more but I was somewhat disappointed when attendance and participation in these activities was very low.  

Kilgore is a small town but we have over 1,000 students in our high school.  For 3 years I tried to change things up with little success.  After viewing Most Likely to Succeed, it hit me like a ton of bricks that I had been trying things that I THOUGHT my students would like without ever really asking them what they actually wanted to see in our library.  I conducted a survey with freshmen Humanities (World Geography & ELA combo) students and got great feedback.  I found that a lot of students made assumptions about programs/policies/books in our library that were not necessarily true.  In honor of the survey results, I made the time to go in and talk to the kids about their feedback and clear up any misunderstandings.   I was also able to clarify some things with them about what they wanted to see in the library.  

They expressed interest in coding, robotics, 3D printing and they voted overwhelmingly to reopen the cafe in the library.  Having our cafe in the library gives students a chance to buy coffee at school and the library a chance to raise funds.  Proceeds from the cafe are used to create the type of library our students want.  After hearing what the students wanted to see in our library, we have made several changes. We updated our decor, putting the students in charge of the decisions and the actual painting! We also made our Wii & PS3 easier to access, and we have plans in the works to buy a write-able flip table and to finally integrate the MakerSpace that we have been dreaming of. Most importantly, getting feedback from the students has helped to get administrators to take notice of the important role the school library can and should play.  The input your students can give you is invaluable and I urge you to seek it.  To see condensed survey results, click here.
Geography homework goes better with coffee.

Homework is done - time to play!
It was only a movie, but it changed this library. By taking to heart ideas in the movie about student centered learning, we were able to put the library back in the center of what they need and want as they grow more successful in their classes and beyond. Go ahead. Ask YOUR students what would make the library more useful to them - and give them what you can. A sense of ownership is powerful, and supports student involvement in other areas of school and community life.

Self-checkout: So Easy a 1st Grader Could Do It

By Jennifer Eckert, Librarian, Leon springs Elementary, Northside ISD, San Antonio TX

Hi, I’m Jennifer, and I let first graders check out books by themselves.

It’s true. Every grade level except kindergarten in my school knows how to check their own books in and out. And that knowledge has freed me.

A few years ago, elementary and middle school librarians in my district lost their assistants. It was a budgetary concern that was echoed across the state. We were lucky that every school got to keep their librarian. However, it’s a decision whose ramifications are still being felt. Without that constant extra support in the library, elementary and middle school librarians are not able to do all the things we used to do. We can’t step out of the library any time of day to attend a team planning meeting with a grade level. We can’t go teach a collaborative research lesson in the computer lab. We can’t visit classrooms giving booktalks or being a “secret reader.” Well, we can’t unless we close the library, and many of us are just not willing to deny that free access so randomly throughout the day; the scheduling would drive us and the teachers crazy.

Being the sole professional in a school library all day isn’t easy. But there are things one can do to make it easier. And self-checkout is one of them.

It’s not hard to start, but it is a process.  First, you have to have a set-up that makes the circulation computer accessible to students. I solved that problem by purchasing a second display for my circulation computer that sits facing out. I also purchased a number pad so that students can type in their ID to pull up their account.  I rummaged around the computer lab for a stray mouse to sit next to the number pad, stuck my scanner on top of the counter, and I was pretty much set. In my district, the students’ ID number is used for myriad things: lunch, various computer programs, and checking out books in the library. So, most kids know their number, especially those who purchase lunch on a regular basis. If they don’t know their number, they soon learn it since it’s required for almost every computer login they have.
Student in action, being self sufficient!

I start teaching self-checkout in kindergarten, although it can’t really be called “self-checkout” at that point. By the end of the year, my kindergarteners know how to type in their number, check and make sure it’s their own name on the account and not someone else’s, scan their book, and click “Reset” so the computer is ready for the next person. It’s still very much a guided check out for kindergarteners, but the groundwork is there for first grade.
In first grade, we start the year just checking OUT independently. They need some review from the year before, many have forgotten their number, and many are new students. So we spend the first couple of months of school just checking OUT. Around October, I teach them how to check IN their own books (until then, I have them hand their check-ins to me and I do it). A week or so practicing that, and they’re usually good to go.
 The scanner and student facing screen/mouse.

The student screen and reminder instruction sign.

By second grade and beyond, they have totally got it. I give a quick review at orientation the first week of school and they start checking out independently that very same day. When new students come throughout the year, teachers send them to the library with a buddy to teach them the ropes.  They usually catch on quick.

Of course, there are snags. Students forget their number, accounts are blocked because of overdues, the scanner doesn’t always scan correctly, sometimes books walk out of the library without being checked out correctly (they almost always wander back). But, oh, the freedom of not having to be chained to that circulation computer all day long. I can teach lessons without having to worry about the kids who have come with a pass from their teacher not knowing how to checkout. I can help students find good books when their class checks out instead of sitting by the computer scanning everyone’s books. Not to mention, the sense of ownership and independence self-checkout gives to students. They know how the library works and they are not dependent on me to get them the books they need. And, in the end, isn’t this what we all want: independent members of society that can take care of their own business?

Self-checkout is a process in elementary school, but the payoffs are more than worth the effort.