The Mentor

“What’s in it for the mentor?” George Costanza asks in a classic Seinfeld episode. “Is there money involved?” When Jerry lists the benefits of mentorship (“Respect, admiration, prestige”), George scoffs and asks if the protégé would “pick up stuff for the mentor… laundry, dry cleaning?”

I’ve never picked up anyone’s dry cleaning, but I have been lucky in my career to have had a number of mentors in both official and unofficial capacities. I can trace the lasting effect they’ve had on my career and how they shaped my understanding of what it means to be a professional. Additionally, because of their very different personal and professional styles, I learned something unique from each of them.

What follows is a list of people who both believed in and challenged me, and who consistently demonstrated the highest levels of professional ethics. I want them to know what their time and attention meant to me.

First there was was BF, my wonderful headmaster at a small international school in Indonesia. I was a newly-minted school librarian and eager to learn and grow in my position. BF was widely admired by the school community for his empathetic and supportive personal style and his unwavering commitment to doing whatever was best for kids. He also responded to every email in a timely fashion– regardless of how insignificant the question or request. Responding promptly to email is something that I have also tried to incorporate into my professional practice, because I remember how much I appreciated his quick responses. I thank BF for teaching me the importance of empathy and timely communication.

Next was DF, who was perhaps the most directly influential mentor that I had, as she and I worked together on a daily basis as we led a high school library. She and I are still close, which reflects the strong, positive nature of the relationship we built. DF has the most impressive work ethic of anyone I’ve ever met. She has boundless energy and the willingness to pitch in and do what needs to be done in order to accomplish a task, no matter how large or small, whether physical or mental in nature. Even though she was the head of our library, DF was willing to let me create programs and try new things– and would then jump in to support me every step of the way. She had no discernible ego about her position of leadership, and was also truly committed to supporting the goals of the school district through her work in the library. I thank DF for teaching me the value of encouraging others as well as the value of hard work and pitching to help until the job is done.

At the same school, I met TS, PB and KS, all of whom mentored me in important ways. TS was hands-down the most intensely passionate educator I have ever met. He was an administrator who was so supportive of teachers and students that he was willing to allow both to take risks and try new things if the purpose was to grow. When I came up with an idea for a new staff PD program, I pitched it to TS and received so much support and encouragement that there was no way I was going to fail. I thank TS for showing me that there is a place for intense passion and even argument in education as long as the goal is to help students succeed.

PB was also an administrator at the school and spent many hours of her time with me as I worked through my Master’s degree in educational leadership, for which she was my official mentor. PB and I had many long conversations, and I felt that she did take a special interest in supporting me and my career. Several years later, when I was contemplating a move back to the U.S. and looking for another job in education, she actually offered to talk to me on the phone about interviewing and job searching while I was still overseas. I of course took her up on it and received valuable insight. She was also one of the people who, when I expressed fear for my career when my family and I decided to leave our jobs and move overseas, consistently told me that “Good people land on their feet.” She never doubted me, and for that I thank PB.

KS was also an administrator at the school, and was a mentor who always challenged me to get better and do more. When he came to the school I was in a great position, but after we started working together he really leveled-up the content and quality of my work. I always enjoyed our conversations because he challenged me to deepen my understanding of school leadership and of my own capabilities. He believed in me to a degree that my own vision of what I could do in my career expanded exponentially, and for that I thank KS.

Finally, there was DH. DH was an official mentor, assigned to me in my new role as a district administrator. DH himself was a former longtime administrator, who possesses a wealth of experience in education and in educational coaching. Being a new district administrator comes with a learning curve, as it’s inherently different than working in a school building, and the ways in which communication needs to occur at this level are uniquely important. As an outsider to the organization, DH was able to help me understand how to work within the district office system and to become more effective in my approach. I experienced some significant challenges during the year we worked together, but was able to maintain both perspective (most days) and a commitment to my professional path largely due to his wise observations, recommendations, and unwavering professional support. I thank DH for teaching me how to design and maintain a successful career in educational administration, and for embodying the essence of a great mentor– even without the dry cleaning pickup.

My advice for prospective mentees: Don’t wait for an official mentor– look around you now and ask, “Who do I admire? Who is doing this right? Who has mastered skills that I’d like to have?” You can observe them in action, see how they handle various scenarios. You can also ask to meet with them occasionally. Come prepared with questions you’d like answered: “How do you manage x, y, z? What would you do if x, y, z happened?” Have no ego. You can learn from anyone, even someone in a lateral or lower position than you on the organizational chart.

My advice for prospective mentors: Be generous with your time, know that others may be watching and learning from you without your being aware, and have a firm understanding that a small gesture, word, or note from you may have unknown positive affects on someone still making their way. The benefits of being a mentor may not impress George Costanza, but mentoring’s value can yield truly immeasurable rewards for the rest of us.


What Do They Say?

I haven’t written in this blog for almost three years, even though there has been plenty to write about (and then some)! I struggled to find a way to move it forward, but have recently been inspired by some great blogs and podcasts, by awesome people on Twitter, and by a respected colleague who is moving forward in her own blog journey.

I also recently made a public commitment to write two blog posts per month, so hopefully that will help. If you’re reading this blog and you notice that it’s been more than two weeks between posts, please feel free to leave me a comment and hold me to it!

Something I’ve been thinking about lately is how people talk about one another and what it says about organizational culture. First, I count my lucky stars that I’m in an organization that immediately stood out as a place where respectful language is the norm. Regardless of to whom I’m talking, there is an underlying current of professional respect and regard, which influences all conversations.

sketch-3042584_1920But how do you know? If you are in a meeting with others, and the following people are mentioned, what is the tone? Positive, negative, or neutral? What if there is frustration about an action or direction that’s been taken by the person? Do staff engage in shared, public complaining or can they discuss the issue but maintain respectful language when discussing a situation– even though the person is not in the room?

  • Organization leaders
  • Lateral colleagues
  • Others in the organization

The healthiest organizations are those in which people speak respectfully of others even when it’s unlikely that the person would ever know what was said. This type of organizational culture fosters an atmosphere of trust because, as our mothers always said, “Anyone who talks behind someone’s back would do the same to you.”

Supposedly, negative gossip can serve as a form of social glue. We’ve all experienced that phenomenon, but I would argue that respectful language is even more bonding because you can feel confident that just as people are speaking respectfully about others, so they will likely speak about you. 

What can you do to foster this level of professional respect in your own organization? Choose to always speak about others in a respectful manner. You may be just one person, but you can help turn the tide and steer the ship towards the light.



12 Ways to Rock Being the Boss of a School Librarian

So you’re the boss of a school librarian? Congratulations! School librarianship can be one of the most rewarding positions in a school, as long as it’s a respected and well-utilized role. The good news is that school administration can positively impact the mutual satisfaction of both the school and the school librarian.


  1. Encourage your school librarian to be proactive. They need to get out there and work on relationships, attend curricular meetings, and be part of the life of the school. One of the best things about being a school librarian is that your role is somewhat amorphous– no one knows exactly what you’re supposed to do, so it’s an opportunity to surprise and delight your staff by exceeding their expectations. In my experience, expectations of a school librarian are that they check books out to students. It’s not difficult to raise the bar here!
  2. Demonstrate to the staff your respect for your school librarian. They are watching you and will follow your lead. Listen to your school librarian, ask for his opinion, and encourage others to do the same.
  3. Include your school librarian to participate in a wide variety of meetings and committees. The school librarian’s schedule is often flexible (I know this isn’t always the case), so it makes sense to include her in meetings on a wide variety of topics– no sub coverage needed (again, depending on the case), and you get additional input from a unique perspective.
  4. Encourage your school librarian to be a technology leader, and include her in technology planning meetings. Most school librarians I know are tech-savvy. They also have direct and specific knowledge about copyright and other issues of digital citizenship, so adding this additional element to your technology meetings makes good sense.
  5. Visit the library often. Talk to the librarian, talk to the staff, and talk to the students. The school library is usually one of the main areas of the school in which students hang out before, during, and after school hours. You can learn a lot about your school community by spending time in the library.
  6. Leave your office and work in the library for an hour a week, at different times of the day. Observe how it functions, how students and staff use the library, and note any areas of need. Provide support and feedback, much as you would after a classroom walkthrough. Plus, you might even get some work done (the library’s good for that)!
  7. Hold meetings, events, and celebrations in the library. Show it off. People who don’t usually come to the library are often surprised at what a great space is is, and are then more likely to come back.
  8. Talk about your own reading— professional, personal, what you liked to read when you were in school, anything to demonstrate that you value reading.
  9. Ask your school librarian to provide professional development (information literacy, technology, etc.) for teachers. Institute Days are a good time for this, as are faculty meetings, after school workshops, lunch-n-learns, etc. Maybe she could even create a series of short video modules on a variety of topics (this is where the tech savvy-ness comes in).
  10. Provide adequate support staff. This is perhaps the most important support you can provide to your school librarian. All of the other suggestions on this list are almost impossible if the school librarian is tied to the library’s physical space and is solely responsible for the clerk/supervisory activities of the school library.
  11. Meet with your school librarian on a monthly basis. Keep in touch with what’s going on in the school library. Share with him issues that you are working on as well, because he might be able to help you by providing support, ideas, volunteering for committees, etc.
  12. Understand the importance of the physical library space. If it’s not inviting or comfortable, encourage (and financially support) your school librarian to make improvements.

For more information on hiring school librarians, read the fabulous Jennifer LaGarde’s recent post An Open Letter to Principals (Before You Hire a New School Librarian)!

Loving Twitter Part 3: Twitter in the Elementary Classroom


My Grade 4 and Grade 2 tweeters!

I work in a school where, partially thanks to our awesome and proactive ES Technology Integrator, Elementary School Twitter usage is a regular part of the curricular program. A quick glance at the ES Twitter List for our school shows that, during every hour of the school day, an ES classoom somewhere in the school has tweeted. I come from a primarily high school teaching background, but have worked in close proximity to the ES over the past two years here at my international school. I also have two elementary-aged daughters and have followed their classroom Twitter experiences quite closely over the past two years, and also have a few good friends in the ES who were willing to share with me more about their Twitter journey.

One obvious question is: How can you use Twitter in the Elementary School when Twitter’s minimum age requirement is 13? The way that our school has addressed this issue is by having classroom accounts. The account names might either be something like “Ms. Dewey’s PreK Class”, or, at our school, each class chooses a name for itself at the beginning of the year, so my daughter’s classroom Twitter account name is “Puffer Fish”. The teacher is the account owner and holds the password.

When students first discuss their classroom Twitter account in the beginning of the year, teachers usually engage with them about appropriate information to post, what not to post, who their audience might be, how to compose a tweet, etc.. This early exploration into appropriate use of social media is crucial to forming a strong foundation in digital literacy/citizenship. 

***The following comments and videos provide more insight into the teacher motivation behind Twitter and the student experience and perceptions of using Twitter.***

I asked six PreK, Grade 1, Grade 2 and Grade 3 teachers a few questions about how they use Twitter in their ES classrooms:

  1. How often does your class tweet? Most reported that they tweet between 1-5 times every day.
  2. How do you (or they) decide what or when to tweet? Most reported that they tweet when they’re engaging in an especially interesting or enjoyable activity. A Grade 1 teacher also stated that “We also tweet based on need. We’ve used it to tweet solutions in Math, with our twitter feed projected on the screen. We also use twitter to share reflections.​ I usually have it out for them to access if there is anything they feel is worth sharing about their learning.Yesterday at  Terrarium Workshop, I laid out the iPads alongside the other tools.” A Grade 3 teacher responded that “Sometimes for a lesson we all take an iPad and tweet different pictures at the same time.  We then keep the Twitter page projected on the board so that there is an ongoing collection of pictures.” 
  3. Do you compose tweets together as a class, or do individual students take turns? Responses included “Tweets are composed mostly by individual students.  Tweets are usually with a picture of what we are working on.”; “I have jobs of the week and each week a different child is chosen so everybody gets to have a go at least twice. They are good at deciding or asking when to tweet.”; “We compose with individuals, small groups, and whole class.; “I use their words and quote them.”
  4. Do you have any specific examples of when something really cool happened because of a tweet? The most exciting example was when a PreK class tweeted questions to several airlines, and ended up engaging in a Twitter conversation with @KLM! Another reported that“We’ve tweeted at airlines, astronauts, authors, and other interests. We tweet with our UK buddies and we have followed a nursery rhyme group to get new rhymes for our rooms.” A Grade 1 teacher’s experiences included “When an author retweeted our read aloud of her book; when a tweet on shapes was retweeted; when they had to search for me around the school and we exchanged messages and photos on twitter; when a student said, ‘Let’s tweet Jamie Oliver’ when I asked how we might find an expert to ask our question about restaurants​.” 
  5. What do you think students gain from being engaged with Twitter? Responses included: “Their parents have a better understanding of what we did that day and can engage in conversation about what happened. It really reinforces the home-school connection – and connection to families far away.”; “Immediate sharing to the world!”; “They love it as it keeps then connected to their families, they take pride in their work, they want to do it, they ask, great for general literacy skills & confidence.”; “An online collection of different things that we’ve been doing.”; “Our skills are embedded in the use of Twitter, but one particular use is the chance for instruction about technological behavior  and interchange, because they use Twitter, we are also learning about how to interact online.​”
  6. Any additional comments or observations? Responses included: “I’m not quite sure if they understand the reach of Twitter and how other people connect and can respond to each other via Tweets. They don’t realize who their audience is going to be.”; “I would like it more if we had more interaction from parents on the tweets.”; “I wonder how to search for tweets without needing to hashtag every tweet.​”

I also interviewed three Grade 2 students about why they use Twitter:

My final thoughts about how our ES program is using Twitter: We are proficient in teaching students how to use Twitter by composing tweets, adding pictures, etc. We also do well with the habit of regularly tweeting (not every class tweets every day, but we have enough of a critical mass that Twitter can legitimately be described as being an important element of our program). Students also seem to understand the importance of sharing their work and their learning with others.

I think the area in which we can most improve is in Connecting. We have mastered the art of tweeting for one-way communication: to promote, inform, remind, share, etc., but haven’t yet truly explored what makes Twitter so unique and impactful, which is forming connections with others. A few classes have made connections and have found the experience to be powerful for students, but most classes are still using Twitter as a one-way communication tool. Possibilities to consider include: creating a Twitter slow chat that happens once a week between ES classes (classes could answer one or two questions during the course of a day); having Twitter “classroom buddies” where two classes are responsible for tweeting to and communicating with each other via Twitter during the semester/year; encouraging administrators to tweet at classrooms on a regular basis; partnering with classrooms around the world to converse and learn about one another’s cultures; conducting parent information sessions or speaking directly about Twitter during Open House nights in order to encourage parents to join and participate; exploring lists of education-related Twitter chats to see if there are Twitter events in which ES classrooms could participate; continuing to tweet to experts, authors, other classes, teachers and administrators, etc.. The possibilities are endless if you creatively explore the ways in which Twitter can facilitate safe, meaningful connections for students in the elementary school.

Lean In Circles: Women Supporting Each Other at Work


This photograph is the product of nine intelligent, professional women trying to figure out how to operate a camera’s self-timer. This may have been the fourth try on the second (!) camera we attempted to use, so if we look a little wild-eyed, that’s why. Anyway…

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead explores issues of women in the workplace that she initially examined in her 2010 TED Talk “Why we have too few women leaders”. While reading this book I was challenged and disturbed by Sandberg’s analysis of what keeps women from rising to the tops of organizations, and invigorated by her thoughts about what women can do to break through the very real glass ceilings (of both our own and others’ creations) in order to attain career success and recognition.

When I was in college, I was fortunate enough to take several amazing, formative courses on women’s history and women’s roles in society from some very strong female professors. After beginning my actual career, however, and then gliding through my 20s and 30s without much professional angst, I stopped thinking so much about gender and career, as I didn’t see anything that I found particularly disturbing. I’ve started to sit up and pay more attention over the past two years, however, both in my own life and in the world in general. It’s clear that gender biases exist. I’ve been reading more on social media as well as in the traditional media and have been feeling increasingly that there is something I could do to help myself and to connect with other like-minded women.

After I read Lean In, I was hungry for more connection and ended up discovering that an entire foundation has been established to support the Lean In cause! On its website, LeanIn.Org states:

We are committed to offering women the ongoing inspiration and support to help them achieve their goals. If we talk openly about the challenges women face and work together, we can change the trajectory of women and create a better world for everyone.

One important element of LeanIn.Org is Lean In Circles, which are small groups of women committed to career growth, leadership, and maximizing their own potential. Another like-minded colleague and I decided, after a night of cocktails at a departmental party (always a good start to new collaborative efforts!), to create a Lean In Circle at our school. We debated about how best to go about creating a solid group– should we just ask people we already knew and with whom we felt comfortable, or should we open it up to the whole school and see how it shakes out? We ultimately decided on the latter, which ended up being a great decision. We were concerned at first because the Lean In organization advises circles not to have more than twelve people, mainly in order to ensure everyone’s personal investment and commitment to one another, but we trusted that it would ultimately work out. I think we started with almost twenty interested women, but after the first few meetings we ended up with a core group of eleven– the perfect size. We meet once a month for about 2 hours, rotating between members’ homes. We found that Sunday afternoons are best for most people, with a few weekday evenings thrown in every few months. Whoever hosts the meeting provides the food, often with help from one or two others, and then everyone is asked to bring wine. Yes, we do have wine (or sangria, thanks to a few talented mixologist members!). Obviously wine is not necessary, but it does help create a relaxed and social atmosphere, and it also helps differentiate these meetings from typical “work” meetings.

The Lean In website is amazing, because it provides downloadable guides for about twelve ready-made meetings, which have taken us a year to work through. It will also soon have a receptacle of “Create Your Own” meeting resources, which should be helpful as well. Additionally, there is a large library of videos that can be used to spark discussion on a variety of topics. A colleague and I meet a few days before each meeting to read through that week’s guide (meeting themes have included “Connecting”, “Energizing”, “Framing”, etc.) and decide who is going to lead which section. After trying a few different things, we found that printing packets for each group member worked best. That way members could read along with the instructions, write down their thoughts, and complete activities easier than if they did not have the text in front of them.

So those are the logistics of how we hold and plan our meetings, but what about the good stuff? What do we get out of it? SO MUCH. We have women from Elementary, Middle and High School, ranging in age from mid-20s to mid-40s. We have women who currently hold leadership positions (though no upper administrators) and women who have not yet held official leadership positions. We have women from North America, South America, Australia, the UK, and even one truly “TCK” (Third Culture Kid). We did not all know each other. We all have different career goals. We have different personalities. AND we all support one another 150%. Our meetings are completely safe spaces, with the explicit understanding that what is said in the meetings stays within the meetings. We share our frustrations at work as well as our successes. But even more than that, we help each other THINK and REFLECT on what these frustrations and successes mean. And while we all acknowledge that getting complaints and frustrations off our chest is important, we also all acknowledge that we don’t wish to rest in our dissatisfaction or frustration. Rather, we help each other to figure out how to navigate our situations, and how to understand that gender issues in the workplace are real and how to work with each other and with our colleagues to make our jobs and our organization a better, stronger, fairer place to work. The tone of all of our meetings is positive, with the ultimate goal being to strengthen our own capacities and to understand not only what we want out of our careers, but also how to form a roadmap to get there.

Also, as I’ve documented in this blog, I’ve just gone through a major, months-long job search. A HUGE, impossible to overestimate, boon to me during this time was the unwavering support I received from my Lean In group. These women regularly checked in, sent me emails of support, took time to listen to my hopes and fears during meetings, and just generally had my back. They’ll never know how much their care meant to me, and I can’t wait to do the same for them someday.

If you’ve got the drive, and are considering starting a Lean In Circle of your own, go for it! Find some women who are interested in leadership and career– even those with whom you have loose connections– and see what you can create. It’s been a transformative and inspiring journey for us. If you need something to get you started, read Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, or How Remarkable Women Lead: The Breakthrough Model for Work and Life by McKinsey consultants Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston.

Good luck, and Lean In!

Can You Make (Professional) Dreams Come True?

moon-478982_1920Two years ago I left a great job, a job that I enjoyed and that had the potential to progress my career in a new direction (educational technology). I left the job because my family had an opportunity to move overseas for a few years, where my husband and I would teach at an international school again and have the wonderful experience of traveling with our daughters, who would be attending the same school in which we would be teaching. I had to resign from this great job without knowing if I would ever have the chance to step back into the forward momentum I had been building toward a career in educational technology (I have been a school librarian for the past twelve years– I realize that there are overlaps between the two, but I have been looking forward to jumping with both feet into ed tech, with the hope of maybe someday being able to merge and lead in both areas).

During my two years at the international school I feared for the impact that my family’s move would have on my career. This in itself was guilt-inducing, as wasn’t it selfish of me to be so concerned about my own career, when my family was having an incredibly meaningful and enriching experience?  This was a struggle that I never really overcame, but did find peace with eventually. I had to accept that our decision could be both positive (overseas travel, family time, working in and having our children attend a great school, wonderful new friends) and negative (the potential impact on my career) at the same time. A little cognitive dissonance never hurt anyone, after all.

This past December, we had to officially declare whether or not we would be returning to the school next year. Partly due to my career goals, we decided to return to the U.S. This meant that my job search was on, and the pressure (much of it self-designed) began to mount. The five months between my first application and today have been a study in patience and in equanimity. During those five months and, really, in the two years since I decided to leave my previous job, I dedicated myself to intentional, continual, self-improvement in ways that would bring me closer to my goal of working in educational technology leadership. Even though it may have seemed strange considering my role as school librarian, I gained Google certifications, volunteered to create and manage the high school’s Twitter account, presented on technology at various conferences and workshops, designed and facilitated an online staff technology professional development program, and continued to read widely and participate frequently in the area of educational technology, particularly online via social media and blogs.

Fast-forward to today, and I’m thrilled to say that I recently got the Job of My Dreams. The one that seemed like an impossibility, especially due to those life and career decisions I made two years ago, which, while positive in may ways, seemed to derail the potential to achieve this dream. I am a testimonial to the fact that Dreams Come True and that it’s worth believing in this– and believing in yourself– even when it seems like you’ve taken a road the path for which is irreversible. I’m currently reading How Remarkable Women Lead by Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston, where I came across the following rather serendipitous passage*:

Many women set out, traveling down academic and career paths, only to discover meaningful work after more than a few turns in the road. The zigs and zags of their career may seem inefficient (surely a straight shot to your goal would seem a better choice). Things are not always what they seem. In most cases, women leaders recall that these zigs taught self-awareness and those zags led them down the path to skills and experiences that opened a door. It was not time wasted. It was their time for discovering what they loved and learning new capabilities (p.23).

I identify with this so strongly because I don’t for one second believe that these past two years, spent in a situation that I thought was actively moving me away from the career direction in which I wanted to go, were wasted time. They obviously were NOT wasted time when it came to family, travel, friends, and new experiences, but neither were they wasted time when it came to my career. This was a lightbulb moment for me. These past two years have confirmed for me the following: that I am ready for a change in career direction; that I do have leadership skills; and that educational technology leadership TRULY is my passion.

I felt a burning need to write this post because for so long people tried to reassure me by saying that it would all turn out alright, and that I could jump back into my career trajectory after this detour, but I DIDN’T BELIEVE THEM. Now I believe. I also wanted to write about this because I have several friends who have similar fears about their own careers, wondering if kids + family have set them back, or if they will ever have the opportunity to break through the ceilings of their own (or others’) creation.

If you’re feeling defeated and directionless, or just wondering how to increase your chances of finding your own Best Job, here’s what I’ve come up with– it’s not rocket science, but it is what ultimately worked for me:

CONTINUAL HARD WORK & GROWTH (Seek additional education and training; present workshops in your area of expertise; find small or large opportunities to get involved; create something new. Seek out anything that will grow your skills and experiences, and try to always have something going on the back burner.)  

MAINTAINING & FORMING NETWORKS (Maintain relationships with people whose careers you admire; who inspire you and from whom you can learn; who support you and your career aspirations; and who could help you with a reference, a phone call, a job posting heads-up, giving career advice, etc. Also seek to form new relationships with people who inspire you; who are leaders in your organization; and who might be able to strengthen and add to your professional networks.)

THE RIGHT FIT (Vital to remember. It’s not always about you. You could be working hard and growing, maintaining relationships and forming new ones, but if the job isn’t the right fit, it will never work. If an opportunity doesn’t work out for you, but you feel that you’ve done everything that you could, examine the reasons why it wasn’t the right fit. The jobs that didn’t work out for me during this time of interviewing and job hunting were for positions that didn’t fit my experiences and skill set, or for which there were already strong internal candidates in mind– aside: never underestimate the power of the internal candidate!! The job that ultimately worked out and was the Dream Job of the bunch? The job where the district’s needs aligned with my strengths and experiences. The same position in a different district may have had completely different needs and therefore would have led to the selection of a completely different candidate. It HAS to be the right fit for you and for them.)

Don’t Give Up. Believe in yourself. It’s out there.

* More serendipitous quotes:

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path. – Steve Jobs

The thing that I learned early on is you really need to set goals in your life, both short-term and long-term, just like you do in business. Having that long-term goal will enable you to have a plan on how to achieve it. We apply these skills in business, and yet when it comes to ourselves we rarely apply them. – Denise Morrison, CEO Campbell Soup Co.

Genrefying the High School Fiction Collection

Over the past two years, the high school library has undergone massive transformations: organizationally, physically, technologically, and instructionally. This post will examine the ways that it has changed from an organizational perspective.

books-164530_1280First, one of the most striking characteristics of this library when I first arrived was how HUGE, bloated, and packed-to-the-gills the collection was. All of our shelving for both Fiction and Non-Fiction is six shelves tall, and every single shelf was packed to the edge with books: approximately 28,000 of them, to be precise. It also felt like a very old collection. If you walked through the stacks to browse, it seemed like a too-large percentage was dated, unattractive, falling apart, etc. Although I would normally advise waiting for a year or so before undertaking a weeding project, the situation was dire. We began with the Non-fiction section and then, when that was completed in about February of my first year, we moved on to the Fiction section. Each time we finished weeding a few hundred books, we advertised them to staff using Smore flyers such as this one and this one.

By the time my second year rolled around, it was time to get creative! Now that the collection was much more manageable (and after one more round of comprehensive weeding– all told, we weeded approximately 7,600 books between the two years), we decided to turn our attention to the Fiction collection, because that’s where you can really have some fun. After observing that high school students here were not perusing the Fiction section looking for books, or asking for recommendations, or being required to have books to read for pleasure, and just generally were not engaging with much Fiction, we decided to make it really easy and attractive for them to quickly find books that were right for them. Yes, we decided to GENREFY! Genrefying as a concept has been around for a while, but I had not felt compelled to explore it at my previous school, as our collection was not very large, and because students were regularly and successfully asking and browsing for books. At my current school, however, the question of how to get books into students’ hands has been much more of a challenge. After doing a little online research, I found inspiration and great ideas from The Mighty Little Librarian (@librarian_tiff) and Mrs. ReaderPants (@mrsreaderpants), and decided to embark on a genrefication journey of our own.

The rest of this post details the steps we took to complete this project.

Step 1. We came up with 10 initial categories for genrefication: Action Adventure; Classics; Fantasy; Historical Fiction; Inspirational; Literary Fiction; Mystery Suspense; Realistic Fiction; Romance & Relationships; Science Fiction Dystopia. We knew that these might change as we went through the collection.

Step 2. We created 2-letter abbreviations for each genre, which is how they would be initially labeled and then how they would be identified in the catalog. We walked through the entire Fiction collection and made a light pencil mark indicating genre on the Date Due slip of each book.

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Step 3. We adjusted the categories according to the needs of the collection. It immediately became too difficult to differentiate between “Classics” and “Literary Fiction”, so we scrapped Classics and kept Literary Fiction. Also, near the end of the initial identification process, we still had only about 15 books in the “Inspirational” category, so we discarded that category and added most of them to Literary Fiction. We finished the identification process with a total of 8 genre categories.

Step 4. We color-coded each genre and created labels to affix above the call number sticker on each book’s spine. We did this so that we did not have to generate unique new call number labels for every book in the entire Fiction collection. This was suggested by the library assistants and was a BRILLIANT idea that avoided hours of the painstaking work it would have required to generate new unique call number labels, peel off old labels, and affix new labels.


Step 5. We began to take books off of the shelves and put them onto carts. We then affixed the genre labels to each book, according to the genre indicated on its cover page, and then adjusted the catalog record accordingly.

1. Search Catalog by Barcode

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2. Edit Copies

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3. Add Genre Abbreviation

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4. Edit Title Details

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5. Add Series/Notes

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6. Add Genre Note

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Step 6. Once books had been labeled and their records had been altered, we began to put them together in various places throughout the library. This proved to be a challenge, especially for very large genres like Science Fiction Dystopia and Mystery Suspense, but we felt that it was important to have everything off of the shelves before we began to put them back together with their genres. We utilized space in the library workroom, on long tables at the sides of the library, on shelving behind the circulation desk, and on as many carts as we could find.

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Step 7. While we were working on this project, the library looked markedly different, so we posted signage on our temporary genre storage locations throughout the library as well as on all of the empty shelving. We wanted people to be able to find what they were looking for!

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Step 8. Once the entire Fiction collection had been labeled, re-cataloged, and placed together with their new genre-mates, it was time to re-shelve everything in the new locations. We decided to organize the genre sections alphabetically throughout the library, with the exception of “Literary Fiction”, which we placed at the very end.

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Step 9. Once the entire Fiction was back on the shelves, organized by genre, it was time to add signage.

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Step 10. Finally, it was time to advertise! This digital advertisement was posted on the front page of the library website, and was also included on this digital invitation to a faculty wine and cheese gathering hosted by the library.



Walking through the library stacks now is a breath of fresh air. Having weeded so aggressively really allowed us to give the collection the breathing room it needed. There are now no books on bottom shelves, and the books on each shelf extend only 3/4 of the way, maximum. The colorful labels very clearly delineate between sections of books, and the signage is plentiful. I’m presuming that librarians are the only people who are interested enough in library genrefication to have read this far, so I will tell you guys, if you are thinking about re-genrefying your own library, not to be discouraged if no one is as excited as you are! i mean no disrespect to my awesome and amazing colleagues, but when a well-meaning fellow teacher politely says, “That’s nice” after you enthusiastically describe your big exciting project, it’s a little bit of a bummer. So take ♥! It’s a great change, can be a needed change, and is all about the STUDENTS and ACCESS, which should lie at the heart of any major educational decision. So with that, Go Forth and Genrefy!