Cassy Lee

Middle School Learning Commons Coordinator
Chinese American International School
San Francisco

I am in the fortunate position this year of starting a brand-new middle-school Learning Commons. My focus will be on building relationships with students and staff, establishing the culture of the space, and building both the print and digital collection. My #1 essential tool is to acknowledge every person who walks in the door with a smile and a warm greeting. It may seem obvious and not a fancy, high-tech trick, but the best way to ensure that the new space and my services are used is for me to make students, staff, parents, and administrators alike feel welcome, safe, and like they belong. This opens the door for the multitude of things we can accomplish there together.

I am looking forward to so many things, but I am particularly excited about ditching Dewey in the fiction section and organizing the collection by genre. I have been wanting to try it for a while, and since I will be moving books into a new space, it seems like the perfect time to do so.

Another thing I am excited about is my new school’s one-to-one iPad program and the chance to get middle schoolers excited about reading e-books and introducing them to new apps.

I am also looking forward to collaborating with teachers, the curriculum coordinator, and the education technology specialist to develop a capstone project for eighth graders in which I can integrate many information literacy lessons. Eventually, this could be a project that students build up to throughout their middle school experience and will open up many opportunities for me to collaborate in the classroom.

Jane Lofton

Teacher Librarian
Mira Costa High School
Manhattan Beach, Calif.

Here is my first tip for back-to-school: be sure to have at least a couple of goals of something new to accomplish this year that’s different from what you have done before. That keeps me feeling energized and enthusiastic that this year will be fresh and notable. For example, this year I plan to establish a small makerspace that will offer hands-on opportunities for all students at the school. For teachers, I want to move the teacher video resources to an online streaming platform to replace our aging collection of VHS tapes.

What I am most looking forward to is related to those goals. I’m looking forward to sharing our new 3-D printer and other makerspace options with students and to sharing with teachers some streaming video options that I learned about this summer.

Rae Anne Locke

Elementary Media Specialist
Saugatuck Elementary
Westport, Conn.

My plans include the following:

◆ A collaborative summer reading celebration involving various staff members and administrators at our first town meeting with students.

◆ Highlighting submitted photos of students and staff with a book they read over the summer.

◆ Library rules and expectations will be discussed after showing a short and fun video featuring two of our fourth graders discussing why [the rules] are important.

◆ Adding more appealing signage to lead students to discover the many sections of the library and... more charts! A chart for voice levels, a genre chart, our library rules, usefulness and truthfulness when researching, why it’s important to cite sources.

◆ A design-your-own bookmark contest: the top three will be turned into bookmarks for all classes.

◆ Fun scavenger hunts made for each grade to get students exploring the library.

◆ Planning ways to make the library more interactive. I want to have a Question of the Week discussion board on an easel for students and staff with questions such as What is a topic you would like to learn about? What book did you check out today? What is the funniest book you’ve ever read?

◆ An exciting new addition this year obtained through a PTA grant will be a silent mounted digital message monitor highlighting various photos of grade-levels involved in collaborative units, students and staff pictured with books to recommend, new books, research questions, and announcements of library events like Rise ’n’ Read, Author Visits, or the Book Fair. It will be updated weekly.

◆ Highlighting audio books and building the collection (particularly adding more Playaways) as well as booktalking them with snippets for students to hear.

The following are things I’m going to try out this year:

◆ Videotaping one of the public librarians booktalking new books once a month to be shown on our morning TV program to strengthen our community connection.

◆ Library centers! I’m planning the Book Review Center, the Kids’ Almanac Center, the Bookmark Center, Scholastic Storyworks Center, and the Research Center.

◆ I will be testing the “ditching Dewey” waters with a more genre-based fiction section this year.

◆ I can’t wait to share Kate Messner’s new picture book, How to Read a Story, with all second graders and have them try out the 10 steps with their selected picture book and a buddy.

Reese Fuller

Teacher (English, Grade Eight)
Episcopal School of Acadiana
Lafayette, La.

Step away from the syllabus! As a younger teacher, I found the best and fastest way to kill the spirit of the class was to jump right into the procedures and protocols of the classroom. Now I try to let my students know I’m a real, live human being who loves what he does. I tell them about myself and have them write about themselves for me. It’s imperative that I get them to realize right off the bat that we’re engaged in the same struggle of learning. It’s about building trust and then mutual respect.

There are a few things I’m really excited about this year. Our school has instituted a BYOD [bring your own device] policy, and I’m looking forward to going paperless and having students do even more writing. I’m also working closely with our school librarian to make sure students are reading more high-interest books of their choice. I think all of this is going to make for more opportunities for them to read and write, which is what I try to push for more and more every year.

Jennifer Hubert Swan

Middle School Librarian, Director of Library Services
Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School
New York City

I could not get through the school year without the use of Noodletools, which is online citation software that allows students to easily and quickly build bibliographies and cite sources for their research projects, and Libguides, which is online research pathfinder software that can be customized for each research project and contains links to databases, websites, and books in our library’s online catalogue. Both of these are essential when teaching 21st-century research skills to curious middle schoolers who create and share almost all their work in a digital space.

But when it comes to what I am most looking forward to sharing with both my students and colleagues, the answer lies in good old-fashioned paper and ink. I can’t wait to booktalk for all the wonderful YA and adult titles I read this summer to both students and faculty. We have a robust booktalking program in our middle school where titles are booktalked every week before independent reading period, and this often causes a traffic jam on the stairs as students rush to the library to claim their favorite. I’m fairly certain there will be fights over Libba Bray’s Lair of Dreams, which will definitely be in my first round of talks. We also host a well-attended monthly faculty book club, and I’m really excited to hear what they think of our first selection of the year, The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacobs.

Lorena German

Teacher (English, Grades Six–12)
The Khabele School
Austin, Tex.

One of the things I want to emphasize is making the content come alive, in the sense that it connects to the student. We are in the heart of Austin, and I want the community and the members of the community to be part of our classroom, something that students can analyze critically. When we read something in class, I can say, “See the aspect of this that we’re focusing on? Let’s go see what that looks like today, in the real world, right down the street.”

I will allow anything to be read in my classes. We will read music, tattoos, Facebook posts, magazines. I want to make a shift from reading the word to reading the world.

As for tips and tricks, one thing I like to do is to focus a lot on the first day and the first week of school. I know that all teachers do that to some extent, but I want to be really intentional and make a big, big impression that sets the tone for the year. It’s about them getting to know me, and building a community. I emphasize to them that this will be our space and this is your classroom. I prepare a presentation letting them know who I am, how I came to teaching, and why I’m still teaching. Then we do the traditional go-around-the-room and share names. But I also have the kids participate in activities. I have them “turn and talk” to the person next to them and share what they are looking forward to for the year, and what they are afraid of for the year ahead. They then become “accountability partners,” and I have them check in midway through the year and again at the end to see how things are going. Lastly, I have my students set goals for the year in the class. I want them to think about “what am I good at?” and “what will I need help with from my teacher?”

Patrick Martin

Teacher (English, Grade Nine)
Wando High School
Mount Pleasant, S.C.

I prepare for the first day by lining my walls with brightly colored, blank sheets of poster paper. In the first week of school, student will design these with symbols from their lives outside school (photos of trophies, a favorite meal, sports logos, music notes, etc.). The sheets become their class flag and hang in the room all year. This color also becomes each class’s team for a competition for a class party among the other classes I teach. Each class team can earn points for participation, organization, and preparation. The kids love the game, and it works better than anything else I’ve tried to bond the class toward a common goal.

The first bulletin board I set up is always the “Writing Wall of Fame.” Our students are hyper-literate when it comes to social media, but it always amazes me that the physical wall in class is still more visceral. I have the students write a short essay on the first day of class, and by the second time we meet, I have 10–12 celebrated student authors posted on the class wall. They beam!

I just learned about Kahoot [a game-based platform for connected learning] this summer, and I’m excited to see how many ways we can work it into class. It seems like a powerful tool for informal assessment and class interaction. I am also attempting a switch from Edmodo to Google Classroom. We will see how user-friendly it is.

One back-to-school essential for me is to buy a stack of dry erase boards from the dollar store. These can serve as name placards so I can memorize every student’s name by the end of the first week. Afterward, they can serve several purposes: small-group hangman or Pictionary, individual responses to group questions, or even places to record informal bell-ringer work that is not assessed.

I think the most valuable back-to-school essential is a warm smile. After teaching for several decades, sometimes I forget that some of these kids are nervous, scared, and even hungry. A reassuring handshake and smile could be the most important lesson I share that day: acceptance.

Ernie Cox

Teacher Librarian
Prairie Creek Intermediate School
Cedar Rapids, Iowa

We are preparing to greet 825-plus fifth and sixth graders in a few days. I’m looking forward to meeting the wide variety of kids with their unique interests, abilities, and experiences. Our library is gearing up to welcome all readers, from the avid to the reluctant. My goal this year is to promote books in as many ways as possible. From displays to the author readings on, we will work to show every kid there is a book for them. Honoring all reading is central to our library service. Our back-to-school display welcomes kids with books they can tackle. We have magazines and comics.

We are also gearing up library manufacturing with our 3-D printer. One of our first projects will be to create action figures. Students will design their own action figures using Google Sketchup and then print them out.

Cindy Dobrez

Middle School Librarian
Harbor Lights and Macatawa Bay Middle Schools
Holland, Mich.

Every year at my sixth-grade library orientation I challenge the students to play “Stump the Librarian.” Don’t like to read? Fine. Challenge me. Tell me that you dare me to find you a book you will like. The only caveat is that they have to give me more than one chance if I don’t find a good fit with the first suggestion. Announcing right away that I understand that some of them don’t like to read removes a barrier and makes me more approachable for suggestions.

I’m busy brainstorming fun activities to appeal to the reluctant reader. This year I’ve decided to try a lunchtime ‘”I Hate to Read Book Club.” I already run an after-school book club for avid readers, but I want to target this other population with short, fun activities during the school day. Book-related movie clips, snacks thematically tied to short readalouds, makerspace activities related to books in our collection, computer coding, and perhaps a Skype author visit or local speakers with interesting talents/hobbies are some of my thoughts. And while I’m scheming about this new idea, I’m trolling Pinterest for ideas for the multiple huge bulletin boards and glass display cases that I have waiting for me at both of my middle schools.

Click here to return to the main feature.