Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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  • October 2015
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Seeing beyond the blur

Posted by lpearle on 7 October 2015

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of meeting new people, finding my way around a new campus and generally figuring out what’s what in this new phase of my life.  In real life, those that know me are often surprised that I wear glasses (I’m nearsighted, but mildly so and since I can’t read with glasses on, I rarely wear them… except to drive, or when I’m meeting new colleagues for the first time).  Maybe they think I have contacts?  Anyway, this is important because I usually rely on the “blur” of the person to tell me who is walking towards me.  When people with a distinctive look, for example, really long hair or a comb over, change that look I can be confused and not recognize them from a distance.

When you’re new to a place, it takes time to learn the new names and faces.   On one of my first days here I had a lovely conversation with a woman who had a greying, shortish hair.  The only problem was that I’d met several others with similar hair coloring and styling, and she was a real blur (even with my glasses on!).  A month later, I know who she is and who most of the others are.  Every day it gets a little easier to say “hello [name]” with confidence.

And then there are the students: so many girls with straight long hair… boys with the “in” haircut… athletes in the same uniform… that clump of sixth grade girls who always come in at the same time to borrow books… I could go on.  And slowly they, too, are becoming less of a blur.

Each year there’s a new crop of students to get to know.  This year, being new myself, I can understand how intimidating it is for them to learn new faculty names, and figure out what the difference between gyms or auditoriums is, and what the unspoken rules of the community are, all in addition to learning new curriculum.  What role does the library play in helping them “see beyond the blur”?

Is it familiar books, old favorite reads that let them know that here are librarians who understand them?  Is it being able to help them troubleshoot printing and other technology problems?  Is it learning their name quickly, so there’s another adult around who asks how their day is going?  Is it creating programs that build on, but don’t feel like, classwork (like poetry slams or guessing first lines of books)?  Is it having a personal librarian program, so that first Big Research Paper isn’t as frightening?

This year is the perfect time to think, ponder and explore all of the above, so that next year, when things are no longer blurry for me, I can help others find clarity more quickly.

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Where to draw the line

Posted by lpearle on 17 September 2015

If you work in a school you are a mandated reporter: you must report suspected child abuse or neglect.  Many schools include students drinking in that definition, even if the parents are aware and supporting.  Now, many time the parents are trying to be the “cool” parent and allowing a kegger in their home.  But many Jewish families allow their children to drink wine on Shabbat or Pesach.  Many French and Italian families allow their children to drink wine as part of dinner.  So, the question is how do you draw the line as a mandated reporter?

Here’s the scenario some of us face: we’re at an event – say, a family wedding or a gathering of old friends – and see underage drinking.  It’s not our house, it’s not our event, but is it our responsibility?  Some schools would say yes, others take a more nuanced view.

It comes into play when we’re on social media, too.  MPOW’s rule is that we cannot connect with students until they’ve been out of school for five years.  MFPOW had no rule beyond “use your common sense” (assuming, of course, we have some).  But what if you have a teenager and their friends want to connect with you?  Or you’re friends with your nieces and nephews, or the children of friends?  Or you’re abiding by that five-year rule and those new former student/friends have younger siblings… And there, in a post or tweet or pin or something else, you see something you would, in the normal course of your work, have to report.

It’s a tricky line.  Do you decline invitations to events where you know (or strongly suspect) that underage drinking will take place? Do you just bite your tongue, knowing that it’s not your event or responsibility?

Just a little something to think about as the Jewish holidays pass, as families and friends start to talk about winter gatherings, and possibly even plan for the spring and summer.

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Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 11 September 2015

Still digitally decluttering…

Books, Reading, etc.

  • One challenge at MPOW is getting the middle school students into the library (time, distance, lack of discrete space are issues).  So we’re thinking about the pop-up library.

School Life

Tech Stuff

  • This was done with sixth graders, but could easily scale to any middle or upper school class.
  • This is of Allentown, but imagine creating a history or English class project (I know I’ve suggested this before… hoping this year a teacher takes me up on it!).  And how cool it would be to integrate the Newseum into your resources? or a Digital Timeline?
  • MPOW is a GAFE/Schoology school, and looks like it would be a great tool to use!
  • Right now, we’re BYOD (so have computer labs) – Doug has great ideas about 1:1.
  • This list of tools is a great starter toolkit!
  • It’s the start of a new school year.  Why not declutter your laptop before things get crazy?


And, as always, Will Richardson has some great ideas about trends we should be watching.  Something to ponder as the school year starts.

Posted in Books, Collection Development, Conferences, Privacy, School Libraries, Student stuff, Techno Geekiness | Leave a Comment »

Creating Communities

Posted by lpearle on 7 September 2015

The past couple of weeks (ish) I’ve been immersed in New Faculty Orientation and Opening Faculty Meetings, getting to know my new colleagues and new environment.  Each school is different, obviously, and getting to know and appreciate the culture and the traditions can take time.  In part that’s because there are unwritten rules, and in part it’s because every time people leave and new people arrive things change.  At MPOW there’s a special position (an endowed chair, actually) with the responsibility for helping new faculty socialize and get to know colleagues and each other outside the confines of the classroom and dining hall – that’s never happened at my previous schools, although some have had similar unofficial “ambassadors”.

I’ve been thinking a lot about corporate culture at schools and how that can shift over time.  Whenever there’s a large change in faculty, that culture shifts.  There’s also a shift when a division head or head of school changes: I’ve worked with heads who have a very open door policy and those who are virtually never available without an appointment.  I’ve worked with touchy-feely heads, and those who are more reserved.  One had a great in person manner but on paper was far sterner.  Of course that head’s style then trickles down, and a head who hides and is less than transparent in how things are decided and done usually hires or promotes people who follow that methodology; when that head leaves and a new, more transparent outgoing head arrives is usually the start of others finding a good reason to perhaps explore other career paths.

We spend a lot of time as faculty talking about blended classrooms and individual learning styles and diversity.  So many schools have alliance or affinity groups (or whatever the terminology is) and carefully create “safe spaces” for all.  And many have ceremonies or convocations that start the year as a united community. At my last school, we celebrated those still at school for their accomplishments, giving both new faculty and new students a sense of the community they’re joining. But when all that is over, what happens? At least one quarter of every high school is new every year – and yes, some may know each other from previous schools or groups, but as a unified class they’re new.  How do we get them to see each other as a group when we’re also teaching them to celebrate their differences?

Just something to ponder as the school year commences.

(apologies for the rambling – this was so much clearer and coherent when I thought it out late last night…)

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Who’s your lollipop?

Posted by lpearle on 4 September 2015

Yesterday, our Dean of Students met with the new faculty and started by showing this TEDx talk:

I’ve seen it before, but now, as then, I thought about my lollipops and whether I’ve actually thanked them.  There are a few I plan to reach out to and thank in the near future… there are others who, sadly, cannot be thanked.

Go thou and do likewise.  And be aware how you, too, might be someone’s lollipop.

Posted in Life Related | Leave a Comment »

Setting Limits

Posted by lpearle on 1 September 2015

As the school year starts, many of us will be having conversations with our students about setting limits and making choices: no, you can’t take 6 AP level classes… if you’re going to be a 3-season athlete, maybe playing the lead in the school play isn’t going to happen… practicing piano 8 hours a night might cut into your homework time… etc. (all conversations I’ve had with students over the years).  We do a great job at working with them on self-care, on learning how to identify relationships that aren’t healthy, how to start to manage their time and commitments well.

But what about us? I’m something of a believer in “when many people are mentioning something, pay attention” and over the past few months I’ve read more about the book Essentialism, so I placed a hold on it from my library.  One of the criticisms I read was that it is a bit heavy-handed in terms of its examples and solutions, but that beneath that it has some pearls of wisdom.  We’ll see.  I’ve read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which provided a lot of inspiration for cleaning out my home, and I’m hoping that this can give me ideas for how to deal with what’s essential in my life (ok, I know what is, but sometimes we all need ideas for how to explain why this is, and that isn’t).

Starting at a new school, with new staff, faculty and students to meet and get to know, with new curriculum to deal with, with new committees on which to serve, plus a new town and area to explore (and in which to find a new butcher, baker, candlestick maker, among others) means that there will be a lot of pulls on my time.  At my last school, there were also demands on my time and I’m not sure I handled them well – the goal is to do better now.

Saying “no” gracefully but firmly is a skill that we need to teach ourselves and model for students. After all, can they really take us seriously if we keep saying, “you have to set limits” but never seem to do that for ourselves?

Posted in Musings, Student stuff | Leave a Comment »

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 27 August 2015

Books, Reading, Etc..

  • I’ve done something similar with Google Maps, but this?  The Obsessively Detailed Map is truly obsessively detailed.  Ideas for additional “value added content”? TSU has some great Immersive Experience ideas.
  • This might just be my new favorite book blog: Oh, the Books! (via)
  • The Book Riot Quarterly box might be a good way to get students excited about reading.  BookOpolis looks to be a good way to introduce younger students to online reviewing/reading communities.

School Life

Tech Stuff


Most important: 120 days until Christmas.  Shop now. Avoid the rush.

Posted in Books, Links, School Libraries, Student stuff, Techno Geekiness, Work Stuff | Leave a Comment »

Je ne regrette rien… mostly

Posted by lpearle on 20 August 2015

This is the time of year when students start school, comparing schedules and teacher assignments.  Most don’t have any control over which teacher they have for various subjects – if you’re taking Freshman English or US History, you just get placed in a section and good luck to you.  Sometimes, though, you do have control and can either steer towards or away from a particular teacher (a few years ago, I had a rising senior who said that for English, he wanted “anyone but [teacher name]” and, luckily, his schedule worked out so that he did avoid that teacher).

When I was in high school, back in the day when the Emma Willard curriculum truly was more college prep than it is now: no AP classes, and a trimester schedule that allowed teachers and students to explore a niche topic for the 11(?) weeks.  For example, I took British Poetry and European Fiction and Modern Asian History while others took Government and Russian Literature and the Civil War Era.  With the exception of math and languages, we were in mixed grade classes based on interest rather than ability or grade.  Teacher chose whether they would assign grades or if the class would be Credit/No Credit, creating an egalitarian system that didn’t allow for a GPA or class ranking, because really, how do you assign a ranking to someone who took Economics and got “credit” vs. someone who took Spanish Dancing and got a B+?  It was perfect prep for the college experience, where you can take classes that are of interest and really explore your passion rather than taking AP classes to impress an admissions officer.

That was one aspect of the experience, and for me a great one.  The other aspect, one that shocks my current students, was that I could avoid classes I really didn’t want to take and so, I adhered to their graduation requirements and stopped taking science after 9th grade and only got to Algebra 2 and Trig in math.  Another friend, raised and educated in England, stopped both at age 13 and concentrated on languages and history.  Given our current lives, I’m not sure we missed out… most of the time.  I would like a greater basic knowledge of, say, chemistry or botany, but I am managing without it.  It wouldn’t hurt students today if they were allowed to have the type of educational experience I had, and it might create better students as they focus on what they really enjoy rather than adhering to an imposed curriculum.

At every school in which I’ve studied or worked there are iconic teachers.  Some achieve that status by pure longevity – a 4o+-year-career, for example.  Some achieve that by their demeanor in the classroom, connecting with students in incredible ways.  When I’ve gone back to Emma for reunions and talk with my friends, and meet people from other classes, we often talk about classes we took, teachers (and housemothers) we loved and those we avoided.  And that’s where the regrets come in: some times, because I was so busy pursuing my passions, I missed taking classes or having teachers who had conflicting classes.  It’s those times I think, “oh, if only I’d taking [class name/teacher name]” because the love my classmates have for that teacher or class is so intense.  I wish I could actually sing because the choir teacher was one of those icons… I regret never taking Chemistry or Latin because those teachers were icons.

My hope for my students is that they don’t have those regrets, but the reality is that the nature of education now is that they will simply because they aren’t allowed to go outside the norm, they must take an AP math and science course in their senior year (but can drop history to get even more STEM education).

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Watching the Watchman

Posted by lpearle on 6 August 2015

Many years ago, Harper Lee wrote a book she called Go Set A Watchman, submitted it to her publisher and hoped for the best.  The best was that the publisher liked parts of the book and recommended she go back and write another book about those parts, the parts when Jean Louise looked back on her childhood.  And thus was born To Kill A Mockingbird.

Years ago I heard Naomi Shihab Nye talk about her first publishing experience, when a poetry publisher told her that only seven lines of a much longer poem were “worthy”, thus forcing her to revise her poem. She talks the process of revision here in much the same way she did then:


See where this is going?

When the news came out that Ms. Lee had not destroyed the book but had kept it, and HarperCollins had the unedited, unpublishable first draft and was, in fact, publishing it, there were two reactions: one, why now? and two, what did Ms. Lee think?  After all, that’s the hope of all readers when a favorite author dies, that there will be more coming because there were manuscripts hidden.  Salinger must have written something amazing all those years he was in Vermont, right?  It’s like Tupac recording from the grave.  So the “why now” gets answered by “because now is when we found it” but the second question goes unanswered because no one can talk with the author unless they go through her lawyer, who swears that she’s happy about it all.

Maybe I was alone in this, but I never expected this to be a Great Read.  If anything, it was a first, very rough look at the story and out of all the dross, the gold of Mockingbird arose.  Many early readers and reviewers were shocked and dismayed to find that Atticus was a racist – it’s like finding out that Superman’s ability to leap tall buildings didn’t include the Empire State Buildings.  This despite some scholars bringing out this aspect of Atticus for years already.  Some refused to read it (my friend Chuck included).  And now a bookstore is offering refunds for those who didn’t quite understand what they were getting when they purchased the book. It could be worse: it could have looked like Finnegan’s Wake!

Mockingbird was not a required read for me (I read it on my own, not for a class), so I don’t hold it in the same reverential light as (perhaps) those who studied the book do.  My personal reading plans do not include reading Watchman. My professional collection development plans might include it, if (after conferring with the other librarians and our English teachers) they think it would add to our student’s understanding of the rewriting process and/or the themes in Mockingbird.  That seems to be the reasonable thing to do.

Posted in Books | Leave a Comment »

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 4 August 2015

It’s summer – a major move (personal and professional) is in process, so why not declutter a bit and share links and ideas I’ve been hoarding all school year?  Regular posts to resume by the end of August, I hope!

Books, Reading, etc.

School Life

Tech Stuff


Posted in Books, Links, School Libraries, Student stuff, Techno Geekiness | Leave a Comment »


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