An Open Letter to MY Students

To the my students:

I know it’s summer and it’s cruel for me to make you read.

But I don’t care. Suck it up. Read it.

I’ve actually been writing this letter since the day I accepted a position at Hershey.

Why?

Because I knew I was going to leave sooner or later. I always do. I want to be everything and do everything. Therefore, I never plant myself in one place for too long. Perhaps it’s bravery, perhaps it’s cowardice. But it’s me. And after the 3rd job change before my 25th birthday, I knew it was how it was always going to be.

I was having a lot of fun and we were doing some incredible things in the library. My professional career was growing and expanding and I was speaking all over the country about our awesome library. I had a ton of other projects I was going to do this year. We were going to do some serious rearranging and expand the makerspace. I was going to teach makerspace classes during flex and we were going to have our own MakerFaire. The school administrators were awesome at supporting us and so were the parents. Best of all, the students (you guys) were great.

(Don’t let that go to your head. Only MOST of you were great. The rest of you were just okay.)

Note:  A part of me considered writing this letter as if I was absolutely positive I made the right choice. I considered emphasizing all of the benefits and perks of this new job. I considered repeatedly telling you how “excited I am for this marvelous, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”. If I make this new job seem “irresistable”, no one will question why I left, right? No one will think my decision was stupid, right?

But I decided to just be honest. I’m scared to death and I’m not sure I made the right choice.

So why did I leave?

Well…it’s hard to explain (even to myself)

Have you ever seen the show “Let’s Make a Deal”?

At the end of the show, anyone that has won a prize is given the opportunity to go for the “BIG DEAL”. These people have already won hundreds of dollars, electronics, or vacations. Why would they risk losing that – especially since they literally won it just minutes ago? (And if you’ve ever seen Let’s Make a Deal, these people could seriously be trading their car for a box of cereal).

But there is a chance that something bigger and better is hiding behind that curtain. There is a chance that it is a life-changing amount of money.

And yes – there is still the chance that it could be a box of cereal. And there is a chance that this new job is a box of cereal.

But if I didn’t see what was behind the curtain, I would forever ask myself “what if”?

By far this was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make. And unlike the contestants on “Let’s Make a Deal”, I had more than 30 seconds to think it over (thank heaven). So I thought, talked with family, and talked with friends. One of my friends absolutely refused to give me her advice. No matter how many times or how many different ways I asked, she simply refused. And I hated that. But I get it now. I needed to make the decision on my own. I couldn’t do what most people thought I should do. I would always place the blame on them if things didn’t turn out the way I expected. Another friend asked me “what do you think will you regret more? Leaving or staying?”

Obviously you know my decision.

Unfortunately, I still don’t know what’s behind the “curtain” as I’m just officially starting my new position this week.

And I’m scared.

Terrified actually.

And it’s okay. Everything will be okay.


Somehow.

Someday.

I may not be resolved in my decision for a long time (or ever), but eventually it will be okay.

So why the heck am I telling you this? Shouldn’t I just say, “Hey guys – you were great – read some books – peace” and be on my way? In my last piece of advice to you, I want you to know that it’s going to be okay.

I know two years isn’t a long time, but I hope it was long enough for you to learn how much I genuinely care about you. Teachers aren’t supposed to be “friends” with their students. But I did. I definitely considered some of you friends. I confided in some of you. I cried with some of you. And leaving Hershey means so much more than leaving a library job – it’s leaving a family of teachers and students that I loved (and still do).

So here I am – on this emotional rollercoaster.

P.S. IT’S THE WORST RIDE EVER. Perhaps you’ve ridden it before? Unfortunately, you’ll most definitely have to endure it again. And it will suck. Hard. (I promise)

But I want you to know that it’s going to be okay.

Middle school was one of the worst times in my life. Every memory I have of middle school is like a scene from a horror movie (with Lisa Frank everything, Trapper Keepers, and Hanson posters). You will question your identity. You will be miserable. You will have your heart broken. You will break someone elses heart. You will lose friends. You will make mistakes. You will fail. You will work really hard, and fail again. It will hurt.

They say people never change – that’s crap. People change. Including you.

I can promise you these things:

  1. You are not alone.
  2. You will feel alone.
  3. It will be okay.
  4. It will feel like it will never be okay.

I wish I could be there to support you on your rollercoaster rides. They will be scary. Terrifying. There will be tears.

But you don’t need to swallow your tears and put on a smile (see #1). It’s actually very therapeutic to explain how you’re feeling (hence this four page letter).

And despite the misery that is associated with middle school (and unfortunately, high school too), there is an abundance of joy that can be had if you just let it happen. So, in addition to all of those awful things I listed earlier, there will be instances of beauty. You will find your identity. You will fall in love. You will save someone. You will be the reason for someone’s smile. You will make friends. You will succeed. You will try again, and you will win. You will feel beautiful.

And when those things happen, savor it. Celebrate it. Celebrate the moments of others.

We live in a world flooded with ugly and mean. Please do not add to it. We certainly have enough. Surround yourself with people that make you happy.

Do me a favor and watch this video. It’s called “Wear Sunscreen”. Watch ALL of it. Look up the lyrics.

Be you.
Be amazing.
Be happy.
And when you’re not, just remember – it will be okay.

I love you,

Mrs. Heather M. Lister

MIA

It has been a mighty long time since I’ve published a blog post. Although I have many in draft, I haven’t posted anything in months. I’m flattered to say that someone actually noticed (thanks!) After attending ISTE and a few EdCamps this summer, I really want to focus on blogging regularly. Some of the educators I look up to blog religiously and they are always testifying to how their blog helps them reflect, share, and organize the things they’ve learned. So I decided to revamp my blog and give it a bit of a makeover (like it?)

And then…I lost it. My energy was all gone. I had nothing. I couldn’t even make it through Jeopardy without falling asleep. I slept through many alarms reminding me of my favorite Twitter chats. I registered for numerous webinars that I napped through. I just couldn’t do it.

But now my energy is returning and so I’m excited to announce the arrival of Betty Louise Lister!

Betty turns 3 weeks old tomorrow and although my energy is still wavering (I also have a 2 1/2 year old), I am determined to finish my blog posts that have been collecting dust on the ‘draft’ shelf. Although maternity leave isn’t leaving me with as much down time as I’d hoped (again…the 2 1/2 year old), I really hope to take advantage of some learning opportunities that I just haven’t had time for. I really hope to finish my Google Certified Educator courses, read all those articles I marked as “Read Later”, and perhaps even do one of those DIY’s I have pinned on Pinterest. 
Things to come:
  • Part of my leave is going to be spent curating more ideas for our Makerspace. Stay tuned for our adventures 🙂
  • I am so excited to attend AASL for the first time. Thanks to Bound to Stay Bound Books for awarding me with the travel grant. If you’re attending, be sure to attend Hack the Association on Thursday from 10pm-12. We’re going to reinvent AASL and we want your input! Follow the conversation at #HACKAASL15 and #AASL15

Why eBooks? Top 5 Reasons

My library recently made the leap to including eBooks in our collection. The biggest question I’ve received isn’t about the platform or the prices, but WHY. After answering this question to many fellow librarians, I decided I better just write a blog about it.

So – why eBooks?


Well…why not?

This is my first year in my new school and I inherited an immaculate collection. Both fiction and non-fiction are very up to date, with all of the hottest books and a well rounded mixture of the timeless classics. The collection was recently weeded too (yippee) so we don’t have a lot of older materials cluttering the shelves.

Our school embraces BYOD (bring your own devices) and our 7th and 8th grade students are given an iPad mini (with plans to push to 6th grade in the 15-16 school year). When talking with my students about their favorite apps, students repeatedly listed the following apps (among others):

What do these apps have in common? They’re all eReading apps! Some of the students I spoke with are actually my best customers in the library, so I asked them “Well why don’t you just check out a book from the library?” Their responses have led me to the following reasons WHY I have embraced eBooks and why you should too.

1. Anywhere – anytime!

I’m sure this doesn’t hold true in every school, but our students are no longer permitted to carry backpacks for safety concerns. Therefore, the students store everything in their lockers aside for items necessary for class. Many students expressed that their iPad allowed them to carry around thousands of books, while only carrying their iPad. While our school library permits 4 books at a time, some students whip through them in a night. We are just finishing our Thanksgiving break and I logged in to see the circulation statistics of our eBooks and WOW! I was so amazed at how many students were checking out books from our MackinVIA page over the holiday vacation. Unless their parents would have taken them to the library, they wouldn’t have been able to exchange their books.

2. Privacy

Not everyone is ready for “The Fault in Our Stars” or “The Book Thief”. Some students are ready, but choose to read titles that aren’t as challenging or as serious as some of the NY Times Bestsellers. While that’s always been okay, the fact is this is middle school. Kids can be cruel sometimes and judge people for the simplest of things – including the book you’re reading. eBooks allow a student to read whatever they want without anyone knowing. 

3. Text Size  

My school has amazing kids. Three of those kids happen to be almost completely blind. If one of these students wanted a book from the library, he/she would tell the teacher and his/her parent and the book would be ordered in large print. By the time the book would have arrived, the kid has moved on to something else (again – they’re kids). I’m in my twenties and can see perfectly fine but I’ll admit to loving the ability to increase the text size on my eBooks. 

4. Cost

Books are expensive. Particularly ones with library binding. We’ve tried our luck with paperbacks but even with covers, they just don’t hold up. Our ‘well-loved’ hardbacks look pretty nasty after a year. And then there’s the issue of student’s moving away without returning items. This happens pretty frequently and while I know it’s not always the student’s fault, it is so frustrating.

Did you know that some eBooks have UNLIMITED, SIMULTANEOUS USE?

Amazon: $9.16 for 1 book for 1 user
MackinVIA eBook: $36.99 for 1 interactive eBook for UNLIMITED users (for life)

$36.99 gets you the same title with many more features (see a demo here) and all of your students could access it at the same time. Think of how that would benefit teachers doing class book studies? *Note: not all books are available as unlimited, simultaneous use (up to publisher)

5. It’s where the kids are

A part of me agrees that kids spend far too much time using technology. I’m guilty of it myself. But I’m not spending hours playing Flappy Bird or Farmville – I’m using it to be productive and usually I’m using it to learn. As teachers and librarians, our job is to show students how to find and use information. Ignoring the fact that students can read using technology is like ignoring the existence of Google. We have to show them how to use it. I did a quick poll and 50% of my students say they still prefer a print book over an eBook. Some of my fellow teachers made comments like “Yep – I thought so – we just aren’t ready for eBooks” HELLO!? There is still 50% of our students that PREFER an eBook! We can’t forget about them.

Right or wrong, I have decided to only purchase eBook titles that we can also purchase in print. I don’t want to force a student to use an eBook if they don’t want to, so I don’t want to purchase titles that are exclusively available as an eBook.

So there you have it. My Top 5 Reasons. Of course there are more, but I these reasons may apply to many of you. If you’re interested in starting an eBook collection, I urge you to look into it. There are many options out there and one of them is bound to fit the needs of you and your students.

Educator Newsletters

It is so exciting to see all of the new tools and resources that emerge each day to help teachers and students. Although it’s exciting, it’s also very overwhelming. Staying on top of the latest tools and trends in education can be time consuming, particularly if you’re doing the research on your own.

Fortunately, that isn’t necessary. There are many great educational websites that share information on these topics. Even better is that many of them offer email newsletters which will send this information in a digestible format. Short, sweet, and to the point. Perfect for busy teachers and librarians. 🙂

Here are a few of my favorite educational newsletters:


Edutopia is one of my favorite newsletters for a few reasons – it covers pretty much every aspect of education (technology, social skills, grants, and upcoming educator events). It also features a weekly giveaway! This week’s prize is a Sphero. Newsletters are published on a weekly basis. Click below see a preview of the Edutopia newsletter.

In addition to being an amazing website and an awesome Twitter account to follow, MindShift has a wonderful newsletter. It is a daily newsletter, which can be a lot, but it covers some incredibly interesting topics. Articles like “What’s Going on Inside the Brain of a Curious Child?” and “Pediatricians Say School Should Start Later for Teens’ Health” are incredibly interesting!

If you love edtech like I do, EdSurge is a MUST! There are two newsletters to choose from, but I suggest signing up for both. EdSurge “Innovate” is geared for anyone with particular interest in educational technology, while EdSurge “Instruct” is all things education. Both newsletters are published on a weekly basis. They tend to be lengthly but I always take the time to read it from beginning to end. Newsletters feature articles on a variety of topics, but there is also a section for opportunities (awards for educators), events, edtech jobs, and grants.

There are many more out there with tons of information. Have a favorite you’d like to share? Add it in the comments below!

Blended Learning is Crap

Only kidding…I just wanted you to read this post (which by the way, is extremely behind schedule).

But I have a good excuse! (continue reading to find out)

In my opinion, blended learning is really a balanced approach to giving students a global perspective, while also supporting the community benefits of learning that are provided through a face-to-face teaching approach.

Many parents that have students enrolled in online schooling express the concern of limited socialization. While online schooling has recognized this concern and have made attempts to offer more social events (even sports and clubs), I feel that there is a lot of ‘lessons’ that are learned though the interactions that simply can’t be replicated in online learning.

Think of the learning that occurs at lunch?! Rushing to get there, fighting for your spot in line (all the while ensuring no one is cutting), finding a seat with your friends, and getting over mystery meat. In 30 minutes! While it sounds silly, I’m not joking. Learning is occurring and I don’t feel that online learning addresses that learning.

On the flip side, I recognize that traditional schooling is missing a lot, particularly in the area of personalized learning. Teachers can try very hard to personalize the delivery of the content, but we have little control over personalizing the actual content. When I was in high school I wanted to take German, but we didn’t have that as an option. So I took Spanish. I did fine, but I wasn’t anywhere near as motivated or as engaged as I may have been had I been able to take the course that actually interested me. This is where blended learning comes into play. With the increase in online course options, there is no reason why students should have to take an “all or nothing” approach to the type of schooling. Blended learning is a combination of the two. Blended learning allows the students to guide their own learning based on their strengths and interests, while still benefitting from the human interaction and support from teachers and peers. The teacher truly is the facilitator rather than the instructor.

Unfortunately I have observed some schools that are “implementing blended learning” when in actuality, it is merely a teachers aide monitoring a computer lab.

If you are interested in blended learning, Education Elements just released a Blended Learning Teacher Rubric

Want more? EdSurge has an entire topic dedicated to Blended Learning

So my reason for being late – I have none. But at least you read my post 🙂

Essential Education

I’ve agreed to take on CTQ’s Teacherpreneur Brianna Crowley‘s PA Blogging Challenge for a few reasons.

1 – I want to blog regularly. Believe me, I do. Despite my lack of regularly posts, I really do. I think there is a lot of benefit in reflection and sharing is caring.
2 –  I learn some of my best stuff through reading educator blogs (latest favorite blog – http://renovatedlearning.com/). I’m so excited to be a part of something like this and have meaningful discussion over some great topics.

This week’s topic is “essential education”. The way I decided to approach this was taking a step back and asking myself, As a parent and a member of society, what do I absolutely NEED today’s students to know in order to survive (and possibly succeed) in today’s society?

In my opinion, it’s the “life” skills that are essential. They are things that aren’t necessarily taught, but are experienced. Some things that come to mind:

  • Communication and social skills
  • Problem solving
  • Decision making
  • Time management
  • Ability to work with others and independently
  • Emotional intelligence
After identifying what I thought to be the “essential” education, I thought about the curriculum at my middle school. While the things I listed above aren’t explicitly stated in the curriculum, I think that they are skills that should be embedded in every content area, at every grade level, in every assignment or project. I feel like many teachers do this already without explicitly trying, but maybe that should change. Maybe we should be trying? I am a member of our school’s Academic Support Team. This team meets with teams on a weekly basis to identify common academic needs occurring within the team and then identify resources and tools to support those identified needs. In the first few weeks of attending these meetings, its overwhelmingly clear that our students are lacking some basic student skills. Particularly time management and problem solving. As we are looking at ways to address this, I’m finding it challenging to “teach” time management or “teach” decision making skills. 
So here is my question to the group – how do you teach those skills if students are lacking in those areas? While I stated that I felt they were skills that needed to be embedded rather than a standalone lesson (which I feel wouldn’t be too beneficial), what do you do with the students that haven’t grasped those skills yet? It’s not like math where you can simply recover adding fractions if the student didn’t get it the first time. 

More Copyright Craziness

In many of my previous posts I’ve discussed the climate of fear that exists in education surrounding copyright laws. 


I had the great fortune of being able to discuss this topic on a larger scale at the E-Learning Revolution Conference this week. While there was only about 200 people at the conference, those that were in attendance were district Technology Directors, Instructional Tech Specialists, and other administrators. But I’ve got to give a shout out to the 9-month employed teachers (like myself) that took time out of their summer vacation to attend this conference. 

In short, I discussed the history of copyright law, the doctrine of fair use, and other acts such as the TEACH Act and DCMA. Most importantly, I emphasized the power of Fair Use and that various checklists referencing the awful “Fair Use Guidelines for Classroom Use” are misleading teachers and just add to the climate do fear. (Not to mention that they don’t accurately reflect the law!).

I referenced a lot of the fine print (literally, the fine print) that exists on many of here documents. I could tell from participants initial reaction that this was their first time seeing these. 

When the session was over, I felt good. I felt that people really learned something. 

Here is the link to the Smore I made:

And my slides:


And then….


During day 2 of the conference I attended a session discussing the design elements that are available in PowerPoint and how one can make their presentations more engaging by adding some of these elements. Overall, it was a great session. My only riff was when the presenter told the audience that they can’t use copyrighted materials because “they could get sued.” He then proceeded to tell a story about how his friend received a letter making him pay $2,000 for using an image on his website. Looking around the room, I knew that the fear had returned. I was devastated. After inquiring a little more about this letter, I learned that his friend wasn’t a teacher. In fact, the picture he used was for a website for a large bed and breakfast! Commercial use, non-transformative…this clearly was not an apples to apples comparison. Not by a long-shot. But it didn’t matter, it was too late. I was completely deflated and the power that I feel I invoked in my participants was also deflated. 


One step forward and two steps back. 

The Results!

The school year is sadly coming to an end. This is only my second year in this district, but I can’t believe how much has changed in just one year! Things are so much easier now that I know the kids. I know their interests, their quirks, and their dislikes. Being a good teacher is so much than curriculum.

One thing that I will keep in my heart fondly is a project I did with my first graders. Each student wrote a non-fiction book on a mammal they researched. We were able to get these books published by Studentreasures for FREE. (See this blog post for more info on the program).

When the books arrived, we had a small celebration in the library where I presented each student with their book. It was amazing to see the kids blush! 
Student 1:”I’m famous!”
Student 2: “I don’t want to be famous because then I’ll have to ride in a limo. Once, my dad rode in a limo, and he got all sweaty.”

My Students are going to be Published Authors!

I can’t believe it has been 22 days since my last blog post. I am an awful blogger. But I have a really good excuse…



Nearly 75 first graders are getting their non-fiction books published!! Each student did a research project on a mammal and wrote a 14 page book – complete with nonfiction text features such as a Table of Contents, Glossary, Index, and a diagram. I had no choice but to type them because their handwriting wasn’t quite as good as I had expected. Needless to say, I have been a little busy.

So are you interested in doing a project like this? Here’s how I did it (with a few tips of how I’ll do it next time).

DID I MENTION IT WAS FREE?
Interested? Check out Student Treasures. While we haven’t seen the final product yet, their customer service thus far has surpassed my expectations. They provided me EVERYTHING I needed. Storyboards, ideas, the paper, the kits, the letters to parents, they paid for shipping BOTH WAYS, they even sent me reminders and sample e-mails. 


Not only did all of my 1st graders get a book published, but many of our other classed did a “classbook”. This is where the entire class works together to make 1 big book (each student has 1 page of text and 1 illustration). We had 9 classes do this. They were equally as awesome.

I began this project with my first graders long before I discovered the opportunity to have our books published. This actually hurt me in the end. The company did have some guidelines, and had I known this ahead of time, I would have done things a lot differently.

In a nutshell, here is the process we did. I have a 30 minute class, once a cycle (6 days). About 7 minutes is reserved for book checkout. The teachers worked with me and if I needed extra time, they were incredibly flexible.

Lesson #1: Introduce non-fiction text features (Scholastic has this really great oversized book)

Lesson #2: Students were assigned animals and students did a modified KWL chart (we just did the K and L since I was picking what they needed to find). This was very funny – I had a lot of kids put “shark” as the enemy.

Lesson #3: Students used Pebble Go to identify the habitat. The students could just take notes on this sheet, but they were required to give credit (we’ve discussed this previously).

Lesson #4: Students used the Animal Kindom series by Julie Murray to find some interesting facts. We also made sure to give credit

Lesson #5: Students used Pebble Go to determine the diet of their animal. 

Lesson #6: I modified the “Print and Label” worksheets from Pebble Go and the students labeled a diagram of their animal.

Lesson #7: As a class, we created an index and a table of contents (since I typed the kids work, I made sure that all of their information was organized in the same way). This allowed us all to have the same Table of Contents and the same Index.

Lesson #8: The pictures. This was sort of a disaster. The company suggests using washable, water-based markers (aka. the crayola ones). Well, boy did the lefties have some trouble. Since the illustrations go directly on the pages of the book, we had a lot of smears and streaks. They’ll love it just the same. Hopefully it doesn’t show up on the reprints.

The students did their covers in art class and OMG they are AMAZING!! They actually did these for the art show and then the art teacher did me a huge favor and scanned them and emailed them to me so I could print them.

(p.s. red on top of elephants is sunburn, not blood…I asked)

Lesson #9: The final thing we did was go back to our K-L chart and fill in the right hand column. Since this project was a Super 3 research project, we also did the “Review” step using this worksheet.


I can’t wait to post again in a few weeks with pictures of the final product. I absolutely can’t wait to see the reaction on the kids faces. They are so pumped. 

Taking a Dive

The greatest inventions solutions to common problems.


I had a problem (and many of my colleagues did as well). I wanted to create a solution. I started looking into starting my own software. I was overwhelmed. 

Then I stumbled upon Startup Weekend

And I saw one was coming to a town near me. I really didn’t know what to expect, so I expected nothing. If anything, I thought it would be an opportunity to meet people that actually know something about running a business.

So I arrived Friday night, poured my heart into a 60-second pitch.


Fast forward 54 hours…

And you have TrackMyLessons. A company. A legit product. Operational, albeit barely, but enough to be considered an MVP. 

And now a new journey begins. I can call myself a teacherpreneur. I’m so excited to see where this will go.

If you have an idea, but don’t know what to do with it – tell someone. Go to a Startup Weekend. Following founders on Twitter – they’re an amazing resource.