Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

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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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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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?

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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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What are you doing with your summer?

Posted by lpearle on 24 July 2015

I’ve already posted my early-summer PD schedule and a few “if only…” options.  Then I read this on Twitter:

and Wendy posted about her Walden experience.

Both put me in mind of a friend (a librarian friend) who worked in a school that gave out summer sabbatical travel/learning grants.  No librarian had ever gotten one, because why do we need to travel/learn?  She applied and got a grant to learn to paint in Tuscany.  The rationale?  She was a very linear learner and thinker, not at all artistic.  Learning to paint would be out of her comfort zone.  Even more out of that comfort zone would be living and learning in a language she didn’t know.  Why was this important?  Because she was very comfortable (as I suspect most librarians are) doing research and speaking the language of information fluency/skills, etc..  Putting herself in those uncomfortable shoes would mean she could, for a few weeks, walk in her students’ steps as they began to learn the process of finding, evaluating and interpreting information while they did research.  She argued, convincingly, that her experience would make her more empathetic to them and help her be a better librarian.

I’ve never worked in a school that’s had that kind of program (or, if they did, I wasn’t eligible) but it’s something to consider for next year, even if it’s out of my own pocket (as Doug says, it’s good to have skin in the game).  Imagine how your program could change and improve if you did the same.

Posted in Conferences, Musings, Pedagogy | Leave a Comment »

Not leaning: standing tall

Posted by lpearle on 14 July 2015

When I interviewed at Porter’s I was asked if I’d read That Book, the one where we were told to “lean in to [discomfort, opportunity, the struggle, whatever]” and I responded that I’d read excerpts, but not the whole thing.  My overall sense was one of dismay, that a book like that was so popular because when I was at an all-girl’s high school, that message was simply there – we knew we were strong, powerful, ambitious and capable and that we could do anything with our futures.  Anything.  Where did that message fail?  Or maybe… just maybe… it took being in a place where we were encouraged to be what I guess we can call  “leaners” that it never occurred to us to be anything else, but for those in less supportive places, well… perhaps they need to hear the message?

Last week I was back at Emma Willard for a Wonder Woman workshop led by Leadership + Design.  Imagine my sorrow at hearing That Book referenced several times.

My biggest problem is that “leaning” implies that either you’ll fall over or you have something supporting you.  What’s wrong with standing tall?  Why is “leaning” the action of choice?   Add to that the questions about exactly to whom the book is addressed, versus the numbers who are being told to embrace the message.  NPR does a good job on this, The Week has a good round-up of responses, and The Feminist Wire says what I want to say, only better.

“Leaning in” seems to be one of those catch phrases that won’t go away, but as much as we embrace the message do we really understand what was written?  Do we understand the limitations of the author’s message?  And how do we move forward to a place where we’re standing, not leaning?  That is the message I want my students to hear.


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Bad trends

Posted by lpearle on 1 June 2015

One of the hats I wear is that of Online Bookstore Manager, which means I corral the textbooks our teachers are requiring, uploading the information into our online bookstore, and monitoring for problems (for example, out-of-print materials). The adjunct part of that is that parents contact me about what their child will be required to read/use next year so that they can get tutoring over the summer – I know, from speaking with colleagues at other schools, it’s the same where they are.

My problem is two-fold: one, what happened to letting the teacher teach the subject?  and two, what happened to working or enjoying your summer, free from school?  I know that many parents (particularly those in competitive schools) worry that their child won’t get into the Best Possible School if they don’t have extra help and coaching, so summers are spent learning next year’s materials so that tests and quizzes are easier and grades higher.  But does that really help the student?  What happens in college, when they might have to take an internship in their field rather than getting a jump on their classes?  Maybe they find lectures boring, because they’ve just spent two months cramming the information in, so it’s not new and thus attention wanes.   Why not wait to see if they really do need the extra boost and get tutoring during the school year, possibly even asking the teacher to go over the example or topic one more time?

I also know that many are concerned about Building the Resume, so jobs that teens took when I was in school are not open for consideration (jobs like working at a fast food restaurant, or painting houses, or landscaping, or being a chambermaid).

Some of the change comes from parents wanting better for their children than they had (so no child of mine is going to repair roofs because I did), but some comes from the race to keep their child college ready.  As a country we’ve lost manufacturing jobs, and many that remain are computer-based and require different skills than before, but not everyone needs college.  Not every job requires a BA – I prefer my electrician to have proper job training than to be able to read Proust in the original, for example.  There’s honor in those jobs, and honor in hard work.

There’s also nothing wrong with enjoying a summer, or working and learning the life skills of being on time, doing a good day’s work, learning to work with people who might be different from you.  As summer approaches, why not give kids a break?  All too soon they’ll have a mere two weeks off (if they even take it, given current pressures to never take a break).

Posted in Life Related, Musings | Leave a Comment »

What if there were more like him?

Posted by lpearle on 28 May 2015

Nearly 10 years ago I started working at Hackley School.  As is customary when at a new place, it took a while before I settled in and found my place, my “peeps”.  For me, it was all about the Breakfast Club, a group of some of the smartest people I have ever met, let alone worked with. The Club was from virtually every department in the school, and our conversations ranged from the latest episodes of House and Downton Abbey to politics to religion to students (current and former) and on to academic topics, jokes: you name it, we talked about it (and yes, I’m sure we offended some – there were no sacred cows in the Club).  People were a little in awe of us, but one student reported that he always got a chuckle out of the collective brain power at the table discussing something as mundane as the weather, and that the two women were the biggest sports fans.

One of the Club was a math teacher named Stephen Frauenthal.  He had retired from the Chappaqua public schools and come to Hackley, bringing with him an amazing skill for drawing geometric figures on the board and an enthusiasm for teaching (and math) and his students that was contagious.  He’d seen many educational fads come, and many educational fads go, and was less and less impressed with newer iterations of older fads.  He bemoaned the loss of his blackboard, because chalk came in far more colors than dry erase markers.  He refused a SMART board not because it was New Technology but because he’d tried it, and knew that it couldn’t do what he needed it to, thus not benefitting his students.  It was always about the students for Frau.  He’d give extra help, but not become a crutch.  He’d use technology when it enhanced, but not when it detracted.

Far too many teachers (and administrators) fail to think of that when they’re forging ahead with the Next! New! Thing! and rush to adopt without really considering the impact on pedagogy, whether it is in fact better than what is being used now, and whether the teachers can embrace and integrate it into the curriculum. Doug Johnson writes about the $3400 Piece of Chalk, and I’m sure Frau would have agreed.

But he was more than “just” a math teacher.  He’d worked for, and led, a summer camp in the Adirondacks for decades and was just as inspiring to his campers as he was to his students.

As I left Hackley, it became clear that Frau was ill.  Soon, he retired (again) and Hackley declared a Stephen Frauenthal Day.  This week he went into hospice, then yesterday he died.  The outpouring of emotion on Facebook has been inspiring, with students and campers from years ago remembering the man who shaped their lives.

What if we had more Fraus in our schools?  What if instead of rushing towards something bright and shiny we looked at what we do exceptionally well and evaluate the new thing against that?  What if we took the time to get to know our students and figure out what was best for them, what would inspire them, and what would stick with them years later?  A school full of Fraus would be an amazing place to teach and learn.

Posted in Life Related, Musings, Pedagogy | Leave a Comment »

Obituary vs. Eulogy

Posted by lpearle on 12 May 2015

Last week a F/friend recommended the book The Road to Character by David Brooks, and mentioned that there was going to be a discussion on Book-TV (aka “C-SPAN 2” on weekdays).  I taped it but didn’t have time to watch until this weekend.

Book TV

One of the things that stuck with me was the difference he draws between building your obituary (or resume – they’re virtually the same) and building your eulogy.  It made me wonder which we’re stressing for our students.

We do a lot of talking about building a resume or portfolio for college, stressing that students need to think about community service and volunteering, doing that service trip to some poverty-stricken area, considering some foreign travel so they have cross-cultural experiences, perhaps getting a summer internship, or taking a leadership position within the school,  in addition to doing well on APs and other tests.  The more “unique” your profile, the better it is for college.   And once in college, there are internships and more, all to make you desirable to an employer.  Since few of them will stay with one company, in one position, for their entire work career, continuing that resume building is critical.  And then there’s civic engagement, joining the PTA or Lions, becoming a volunteer EMT or running for local office.  It’s all about a list of accomplishments that can lift them to the next level until, finally, it’s a list of what they did that can be printed in a newspaper (assuming that newspapers are around at that point).

But what about teaching them to build their eulogy?  Were they kind to strangers? Do they seek out new students to show them how to fit into their new environment?  Do they radiate love for others? Are they honorable? Trustworthy?  What will people say about them at their funeral/memorial service? Or, even closer to their lives, what do their teachers and friends say about them when creating a recommendation or speaking about them at an awards ceremony or other event where they are being honored?  Are they living lives that inspire others to be like them? (Forgiving, of course, those moments when they have a bad day, or makes mistakes – as we all do.)

Mr. Brooks makes the point that we rarely have conversations or use language about morality and creating that moral compass.  Our lives, and those of our students, should be less about Facebook “likes” and more about real life appreciation and admiration.

In our conversations and teachings, especially when the topic is digital citizenship, we often stress the importance of not bullying, or trolling, or building our self-esteem on what people say or post about it.  How often do we turn that to non-digital citizenship?  How can we start having those discussions without sounding overly moralistic, preachy or like an old-fogey?  And what books can we put in our collections that inspire these qualities without being overly moralistic, preachy, etc.?

Posted in Musings, School Libraries | 1 Comment »


Posted by lpearle on 25 March 2015

Recently, there have been discussions (both at school and in popular culture) about who gets to use “the n-word” – the Oklahoma SAE “chant”, LiLo’s tweet are among the conversation starters.  I recently watched Pride, and there is a scene where some bystanders call the activists “queer” and the response is that there is a history in the LGBTQ community to “own” the word by using and thereby decreasing its power to hurt (remember the We’re Here, We’re Queer chants during the early days of AIDS?).  Last week a F/friend gave a presentation about the “Disorderly [Quaker] Women” who led the abolition and suffrage movement and asked the question, “where did ‘Quaker’ come from?” (it was deragotory; the founders, and the followers, called themselves Friends but now both are acceptable).

There is – obviously – a long history of groups taking an insulting word or phrase and using it themselves.  So why is this word different? Why haven’t other words been reclaimed (for a list of some of those words, see the Scrabble banned words list)? My theory is that it’s about the leadership of the group taking ownership, or not, of the word/phrase.  Yes, some of these words are out in popular culture, leading to some confusion among non-members of the group (the “if [singer/actor/comedian name] uses it, why can’t I?” complaint).  But are the leaders using it?

Aside: leaders is the wrong word, admittedly, but it’s standing in for “elders, respected members of the group, activists, etc.”

In the case of the word first mentioned, do we hear people like President Obama using it? Congressman John Lewis? Henry Louis Gates? Even Richard Pryor stopped following his trip to Kenya. Rabbis and Jewish leaders don’t use the words and phrases that denigrate them.  Ditto Italians, Chinese, etc. leaders.

So, how do we have those uncomfortable conversations about words that are unacceptable, when for some, using that word is empowering, or reclaiming, the word?  What is the role of the library, beyond ensuring that if the resources we have contain those words, they do so for defensible reasons?

Posted in Collection Development, Musings, School Libraries | Leave a Comment »


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