Professional Development Series II: Reflection

The components of my activity (the webinars and the program observation) about incorporating literacy and numeracy programming into my library relate to my professional development because programming is a large part of a public library’s day to day activity. As a small branch supervisor, I do it all – programming, circulation, and administration. I’m even responsible for cleaning my library branch! But programming carries a heavy responsibility, as program statistics are collected every month, and program attendance has a strong weight in the success of a library branch. Since I have never been solely responsible for a library’s programming calendar before, I felt that I needed to learn about new initiatives, focuses, and endeavors in the world of library programming. The webinars I listened to were both presented by SOLS and available through the LearnHQ portal, which is the main avenue for professional development training in Oxford County Library. The webinars supplement with my current on-the job, trial and error learning because they have provided me with new strategies to try as I begin my Fall programming calendar. I plan to advertise the Lego sets and board games I have for use in the library to promote the library as a playful space. I might browse Pinterest for math and logic puzzles that I can create to have available at a station in the library on a weekly basis. Oxford County Library has also begun to purchase various game sets that patrons can borrow. Right now, Otterville Library has a deck of BrainQuest for Kindergarten, and a trivia game called SmartiePants. I think I will inquire about having dice and/or numeracy games available for loan as well.

I plan to always continue exploring and developing professionally in the area of literacy and numeracy library programming because it is a core component of my current position. Programming trends can change quickly, so I feel it is important to keep tabs on what is developing and emerging, or disappearing. Right now, I do not feel that I have a complete understanding of literacy and numeracy based programming for children, youth, & families. There is always more to learn, observe, and experience when it comes to library programming. The topic is massive, and it is continuously evolving. To increase my knowledge in this area, I plan to attend webinars through SOLS, OLA, and other professional development or training organizations in the areas of literacy and numeracy based programs. I’d also like to attend workshops or other professional development events where I can network with other children’s librarians, branch supervisors, and library programmers. The Child and Youth Expo is happening on Thursday November 3 at the Central Branch of London Public Library, which is a conference that I would be interested in attending to learn about the newest research, resources, technology, and trends surrounding children and youth programming. I also plan to communicate regularly with my colleagues who do children, youth, and family programming in the other library branches of Oxford County Library. We have created a positive and helpful network between us that allows us to all share resources for programs, as well as our challenges and successes from programming. We are all experiencing a ‘slump’ with program attendance and it can be stressful at times to plan and facilitate programs. What I have learned from these activities it that there are ways to incorporate educational components in library programs that will still let the program be fun, but will also attract patrons. As I continue to develop my skills as a small branch supervisor and have numerous learning experiences, I believe that my confidence and comfort level in children, youth, and family programming will do nothing but increase.

Professional Development Series II: Program Observation

On a beautiful Tuesday afternoon, I was able to observe a summer program called STEAM Kids at the Ingersoll Branch of Oxford County Library. This is a six-week program for children ages 7 to 12 that focuses on one aspect of STEAM per week, and includes an overall introduction program as well. Today’s program focus was Technology. Program Services Coordinator Olivia* had twenty-two children in today’s program, and three teenage assistants (two volunteers and one staff). Olivia’s focus for the program was a bit of observation of her own accord, as she tried to get to know all of the children in her program and decide how to organize the children into groups of 3 or 4 for projects that will be happening in the next three weeks of the program. The children spent the program rotating between various stations. The first station was a Lego Mindstorm station, that occupied three children (and 2 youth volunteers) who were building the Mindstorm kit. There was another station with Lego Duplo blocks on the floor, with Duplo mats to play on, that occupied four children at one time. There was a station with traditional Lego set up on a table, that occupied six children at one time. Lastly, there was a ‘draw/create’ your own robot station that occupied six children at one time. While I was interested in observing a STEAM program in action, especially one run by a mentoring co-worker, I focused on how any library program for children can incorporate literacy and numeracy education, even if that was not the main focus of the library program.

When Olivia was completing attendance for the program, she wanted to count the total number of children in the program room. Rather than counting quietly, she had the children assist her by asking everyone to raise their hand. Everyone counted together, speaking “One….two….three” outload, as they counted all the children who would each lower their hand once they were included. For organizing the various technology stations in the program room, Olivia mostly moved children from station to station herself, after gathering their attention. But, the maximum children limit was also a way for children to decide themselves whether there was room for them at the station as they could count how many other children were already there. These were both ways that numeracy skills were included in a library program that was primarily technology (and engineering) based.

There were a lot of conversations happening around the program room, and the noise level was raised! Children were conversing and communicating with each other, asking questions and working together to build various Lego creations and the Mindstorm. I overheard a conversation between two children who were discussing whether to add wheels to their vehicle. They did decide to add wheels, but then there was debate over the placement, and the vehicle also ended up being made taller, with the wheels more spread out. The volunteers and staff in the program room were also asking questions and communicating with children as they built and created with the materials at each station. Olivia was asking children to describe the robots they were designing and creating, asking questions such as “Why did you choose to give the robot green legs?” and “What is that round object on your robot’s head?”. So, while there was not any reading or writing occurring in today’s program, verbal communication and oral literacy was occurring constantly in the program. There was not one moment in the hour and a half program that wasn’t filled with chatter and conversations between the children, or explanation and instructions from Olivia.

It goes without saying that the STEAM program was action-packed for the children. There was not one moment where a child was not occupied at a technology or engineering station. Children were engaged in learning that was play-based, interactive, and educational. I believe that learning occured without the children even realizing! It was also a busy program for Olivia, as she managed the twenty-two children, making sure that transitions between workstations happen smoothly, the children were always occupied and engaged, and each child created or designed a robot to be used in two weeks during the Art program. It will be interesting to hear from Olivia her thoughts on the six-week program at the end. What were her greatest successes? What were the program’s challenges? What would she change or do differently if she ran the program again? I’ll have to ask Olivia and find out at the end of the summer. For now, I’ll take my valuable observations about how to incorporate literacy and numeracy education into library programs with me back to Otterville branch.

Professional Development Series II: Learning Through Webinars

The first recorded webinar that I listened to was “Play is the Way: Why is Play in Library Programs Important and What Can It Look Like?” presented by SOLS. In this one hour webinar, Early Literacy specialist Kim Krueger-Kischakwill discussed what play can look like in programming, and how to communicate play as a library activity to families. Play is not a traditional component of public libraries, because play can be noisy and disruptive. But there is a strong movement towards involving play in learning, especially in the early stages of childhood development. This means that libraries are creating spaces and offering programs that encourage play, while also providing opportunities for literacy and numeracy skill development.  During the webinar recording, there was an interactive activity for participants to brainstorm what play could look like in the library.

My Suggestions

–       Lego wall

–       Crafts, puzzles, computer games

–       Puppets, stuffed animals,

–       Activities, makerspaces,

–       Children laughing

–       Parents and children engaging and communicating together

Suggestions of Other Participants

–       Lego, board games, chess clubs

–       Sensory bins, craft corners

–       Circle and story times

–       Instruments

–       Play is noisy!

 

 

Once we had ideas of what play could look like in a public library space, Kim presented Five Easy Practices for providing opportunities for play in the library. Her practices are based on the Every Child Ready to Read initiative developed by the American Library Association, and first implemented in 2011. The five components of the program are Reading, Singing, Talking, Writing, and Playing. Her suggestions for practicing each component of the program in a library space are:

  • Engage and converse with children as they play or complete an activity. Ask prompting questions that begin with What and Why.
  • Sing songs, especially action songs about an activity or what is going to be done next (ex. The Clean Up song, or the Hello song)
  • Go for story walks, play reading games, and do other book extension activities and crafts during story time programs
  • Offer spaces for building with blocks and dramatic, imagination / pretend, play
  • Writing use technology, apps, and encourage printing of children’s names or describing words of their work.

There were other interesting ideas presented by Kim that I made a note of, as they offered helpful advice for promoting, encouraging, and fostering play in my children’s area. As the branch supervisor, I am encouraged to look at my children’s space from the point of view of a child. Does it invite play? What can or can’t children reach from this height? What is eye-couching? What encourages or discourages touch? This way, you see the area from the perspective of the child, and not from my perspective as the librarian. It’s okay to promote the library as a place to play both inside the library and around the community. I am encouraged to create posters to advertise the Lego sets and board games I have available for use at the library in the library and from this learning activity, I feel increasingly ready to promote learning through play in my library branch.

The second recorded webinar that I listened to was “Math Minds – Expanding the reach of libraries with innovative, enjoyable and effective numeracy programs” presented by SOLS. In this one hour webinar, Trevor Myers of Calgary Public Library introduced participants to the Canadian Oil Sands Math Minds Program run at Calgary Public Library, and discussed his role as a Community Learning Advocate for the library. The Math Minds Program began in 2013 as a reaction to declining math scores across the nation. It is for students in grades one to six and it uses games and JUMP math materials for instruction. The program’s goals are to increase numeracy levels of children, reduce the anxiety surrounding mathematics, and foster a lifelong love of learning, and maybe also of mathematics. JUMP math stands for Junior Undiscovered Math Prodigy and is a program in itself that wants to enhance mathematical understanding and encourage a joy and love for learning. The Math Minds program does not guarantee to boost a child’s grade level, and it is not a homework help or tutoring program. It rather works as an additional opportunity for children to engage in numeracy learning, and because numeracy is a form of literacy, that is why Calgary Public Library feels they are the perfect community host for a program of this nature.

While the entire Math Minds Program could be difficult for another public library system to implement depending on budgetary constraints, there are aspects that any public library can include in their own library programming to promote numeracy education. Having math and logic puzzles available for children in the children’s area of a library is one example of how other libraries can promote numeracy. There are also math games, card games, and dice games that children and families could play with, or borrow from the library, if the library were to choose to catalogue games and add them to their collection. While this is a great suggestion by Myers, he did not include any examples of what games these might be. Ultimately, encouraging guided education through play and learning centers with materials that are available on a library’s budget is the mission behind the Math Minds program. Some libraries will be able to offer more, and some will be able to offer less, but each library can make an effort. At least, that’s the impression that Myers left me with after his webinar presentation.

Professional Development Series II: The Literature on Literacy & Numeracy Based Programming & Initiatives for Children, Youth, & Families

 

As the branch librarian of a small and rural community library, I see children, youth, and families visit the library on a regular basis. They visit to attend programs, borrow books and other items, play in the library space, and use the library’s technology (including Internet and WIFI). In this position I have a responsibility to provide opportunities for learning in the areas of literacy, numeracy, and creativity for individuals of all ages.

The Government of Ontario published a document in October 2011 entitled “What Works? Research into Practice: Supporting Early Language and Literacy”. The key findings from the research tell parents, educators, and librarians that early language and literacy development can be supported by:

  • Engaging children in conversations
    • Suggestion: Ask questions and give children opportunities to tell stories.
  • Providing opportunities for play-based learning
    • Suggestion: Engage actively with games, and makerspaces.
  • Encouraging interaction with environmental print (ie. the print that is found on signs,

logos, and embedded in the environment)

  • Suggestion: Read books during a story time program about environmental print (ie. Signs Around Us, City Signs)
  • Intentionally building phonological awareness
    • Suggestion: Play word games that emphasize the structure of language, teach children to blend or delete individual sounds to form words and match words based on initial sounds.
  • Focusing on letter names and letter-sounds correspondence
    • Suggestion: Encourage creative writing, journal stories, labelling pictures;
  • Providing lots of experiences with print
    • Suggestion: Raise curiosity by discussing illustrations or other interesting features on book covers.
  • Engaging in shared reading
    • Suggestion: Use different voices to give storybook characters a unique personality and to emphasize the meaning of punctuation marks or text features such as enlarged or bold text.
  • Building vocabulary knowledge
    • Suggestion: Enhance storybook comprehension by reading stories out loud, and explaining word meanings.

(Pelletier, 2011, p. 1)

Adding play to story time programs has been shown to help develop and reinforce early literacy skills. By encouraging children to build and play during story time, a librarian or programmer can increase the child’s level of engagement with the story while encouraging them to be creative and imaginative. With these opportunities, children will be more likely to start developing and telling their own stories, heightening their own verbal and written communication skills (The Lego Group, 2012).

Here are four facts about play-based learning:

  1. When combined with learning, play provides children and adults with opportunities to experiment with their surroundings as a form of problem solving.
  2. Through play, children explore and develop their multiple senses, which creates more brain synapses. This in turn contributes to a child’s overall intelligence.
  3. While playing, children can stretch and bend reality. All rules can be broken and all kinds of new rules can be invented.
  4. When children play with adult family members, it creates a stronger bond between them.

(The Lego Group, 2012, p. 2)

Public libraries are very well suited to address the early literacy needs of young children. As a librarian, you are also very much a teacher. Another document from the Government of Ontario presents research and information on how learning happens in the early years of a child’s life, but its ideas are applicable for learning at all ages of life. How Does Learning Happen? Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years (2014) implies that the most important factor for learning, play, and program success in public libraries is engagement, which refers to participants being genuinely involved and interest in what they are doing as this is when optimal conditions for learning occur. Active and hands on programming for children encourages children to explore, stimulates them to test theories, challenges them to think critically, engages them in creativity, and helps them to make sense of the world around them. This is part of the reason why makerspaces have become so popular in libraries, as this type of programming requires children and youth to be active in the program, finding value, and ultimately learning from the program. The role that librarians and programmers should play in programming is similar to that of an educator. Rather than acting as keepers of knowledge, librarians should engage with children – planning, participating, and learning with the child about his or her questions, theories, and curiosities. This can support new learning by collaborating with children in discovery and thinking (Ministry of Education, 2014).

A major literacy and numeracy based programming initiative that is finding its way into library programming is STEAM education. STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. STEAM programming is based on open-ended activities that promote creativity as well as problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Tips for incorporating math and numeracy into programming include working math into everything and making it very visual. Read math stories (like Anthony Browne’s One Gorilla), play counting or number games, or do crafts that involve measuring, patterning, and other numeracy learning strands (Koester, 2014). From setting up maker stations in the library to offering take home kits for children and families to borrow, to having recurring programs like Lego Clubs, Coding Clubs, or Maker Groups, there really are ample opportunities to incorporate traditionally school-based subjects like literacy, numeracy, science, and technology into library programming. With so many programming options that can work on a library budget of any size, there truly is a STEAM fit for every library (Koester, 2014).

There is also a push for public libraries to offer literacy and numeracy programming in the summertime to help children avoid the “summertime slide”. This is the documented decrease in children’s literacy and numeracy skills over the summer months of July and August. The summer slide also accounts for about 80 percent of the reading gap between kids from low- and middle-income families, because their access to books is limited since parents cannot afford to buy books from bookstores and the children don’t have access to the school library or classroom materials (Springen, 2014). This is why public libraries offer programs that incentivize children and youth to read, such as the TD Summer Reading Program. Planning programs that reward children for reading will help to motivate them to visit the library and borrow books when there really are numerous other activities that children could be doing over the summer. Attracting parents with programming is crucial too, as often children and youth are reliant on parents to get them to the library. Children and youth who have easy access to books over the summer, and also that engage in literacy, numeracy, and other educational and creative programming, end up reading more and avoiding the skill decrease that the summer months can bring (Paul, 2013).

References:

Koester, A. (2014). Get STEAM rolling! Children & Libraries 12, (3)  (Fall): 22-25.

Koester, A. (2014). STEAM power your library! [PDF document]. Retrieved July 23, 2016 from http://www.ala.org/alsc/sites/ala.org.alsc/files/content/NI14Handouts/STEAM%20Power%20Your%20Library%20ALSC14.pdf

The Lego Group. (2012). ALSC and LEGO® DUPLO® present Read! Build! Play! Librarian toolkit: For developing early literacy in young children. Retrieved July 23, 2016 from http://www.ala.org/alsc/importance_of_play

Ministry of Education. (2014). How does learning happen? Ontario’s pedagogy for the early years. Retrieved July 19, 2016 from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/childcare/pedagogy.html

Paul, A.N. (2013 July 1). Do kids really have summer learning loss? Brilliant: The Science of Smart. Retrieved July 23, 2016 from http://ideas.time.com/2013/07/01/do-kids-really-have-summer-learning-loss/

Pelletier, J. (2011 October). Supporting early language and literacy. What Works? Research Into Practice. (37). Retrieved July 19, 2016 from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/inspire/research/whatWorks.html

Professional Development Series I: Reflections

Completing the training course and listening to the webinar recording relate to my professional development in the area of managerial/leadership skills. I became a branch supervisor of Otterville Library – a small rural branch that serves a community of about 1000 people in March 2016. Prior to this, I had some supervisory experience but never was I the direct manager of a branch or of other staff. While I had some previous knowledge on how to be an effective leader, and how to handle difficult situations, I felt that my knowledge was lacking in how best to have difficult conversations – either those offering positive feedback, constructive criticism, or disciplinary actions, with the staff I supervise.

By completing these activities, I feel that I have slightly increased my comfort level in a managerial role. My current learning in the area of managerial/leadership skills takes place from experiences at work. As situations arise with staff, I have to use my best judgement at the time to deal with them. Sometimes I have an opportunity to consult with my mentor in my field, but not always. When my professional learning takes place in such a manner, I know that I am going to make mistakes. There will be situations that I do not handle correctly the first time. But when I can develop my skills by listening to a webinar, reading a book or article on the topic, or completing a course, I am bettering my chances of correctly handling situations when they arise.

Right now, I believe that I have only just begun to develop my managerial/leadership skills. It will take many years of practical on-the-job experiences to master being a manager or a leader – if it is even a position that can be mastered (which I do not believe that it is).  I believe that there will always be new challenges to face as a manager in a public library. Given the changing dynamic of public libraries as we progress further into the technology-focused twenty-first century, there will always be fresh ideas, new technologies, and the need for changes that match the evolving interests of library communities. The work of a public library manager will never be completed, or mastered, because one will always need to adapt to the changes in their library, and adapt to the interests, personalities, and temperaments of their staff. There are generational changes between adults currently in the library workforce, and the ways that certain aged-staff approach technology, public library service, programming, and even technology will always vary. Gaining insight into how to lead and manage different staff members will always be an area of learning for a manager.

I would like to explore this area of professional development further by attending workshops and webinars, as well as reading various books or articles. There is a program run yearly by Oxford County in partnership with Mohawk College called the Future Ready Leadership Program, that is geared to County Employees who would like to progress further in leadership roles. Right now, the program is only open to full-time employees, as it has just finished its first year, and I am a permanent part-time employee. But since it was announced I have felt that it would be a valuable program to attend, especially since I currently aspire to manage a larger-branch in the County System, and/or work as the Branch Services Librarian in Oxford County Library’s headquarters location. But I also aspire to work for a different library system, perhaps in a more urban setting. Any supervisory/managerial/leadership experience that I can add to my professional resume will be valuable when applying for a job promotion in Oxford County Library, or when looking for a new position in another public library. I do plan to continue developing my skills in any way possible through work experiences and opportunities. I think for me I would like to always be increasing my comfort level in managing and leading staff, especially in the areas of offering constructive feedback and having difficult conversations. This learning, for me, has simply only just begun.

Professional Development Series I: Advice from Managerial/Leadership Professionals

I consulted with three library colleagues in managerial/leadership roles for advice, personal experiences, and tips. To keep the quotes anonymous, I have omitted names and library positions from the quotes. *Pseudonyms have also been used.

“So, what has strengthened my skills as a leader? Above anything else, I would say that experience has strengthened my abilities. Experience with the harder parts of my role as a library leader. Recognizing that different people learn differently and realizing that you grow quicker and stronger when you are challenged is a lesson worth learning. Handling interpersonal conflicts, managing through various crises (staffing, scheduling, programming, facilities), and learning to accept and adapt to changes are key ways in which I have grown as a leader. No matter what role you play within the Library, or within an organization, you need to find opportunities to grow and learn. Sometimes that comes from a training session, or a relationship with a mentor, or by experiencing something first hand.”

“Olivia* called this morning to discuss a couple of new library initiatives I recently proposed to her aimed at circulating more books. I always try to run these things by her because I value her opinion and experience. However, I admit that I am sometimes too blunt and obdurate in my initial conversations – plus I interrupt too much.  Olivia starts to tell me something, that makes me think of something else, which I can’t wait to inject into the conversation (partly because I’m afraid I will forget what it is…) Luckily she knows me, and knows that I will eventually listen – but she makes a point of stopping me and telling me what I’m doing. At which point I (usually) slow down and listen.  On the other side things, Olivia sometimes rains on my parade with the negative aspects of whatever the proposal is, and I have done the same to her. The upshot is that we are honest with other, do not take things personally, and always come to a sensible compromise through our discussions – but it takes time, and sometimes more than one discussion. I think because we both have the best interests of the library at heart, we are able to overcome any reservations we have and the result is always better than the original idea. Summed up by the fact that we have a competition between us to reach that satisfactory conclusion and be the first one to say, “Good talk!””

“Three things that have really helped me in my position are as follows: (random order…not in order of usefulness)

  • Be consistent
  • Be specific with instructions
  • Be sure to ask the staff if they are clear as to what I have just asked… Have them tell it back to me…”

Professional Development Series I: Completing the Training Activities

 

On WebJunction, I completed a 1.5 hour self-instructed training course entitled “Providing Constructive Employee Feedback”. The course was set up as a simulator, where there were four employees that each had a specific workplace scenario attached to them. As I worked my way through the course, I chose an employee at random and walked through the simulator, choosing the best answers/responses – the ones that were most constructive, positive, or correct in terms of addressing the employee’s situation. If the best choice wasn’t made, I was sometimes given a chance to try another response, or the situation was left unresolved and the best possible outcome was not met for that employee. I did enjoy this activity as it was an engaging way to practice providing constructive employee feedback.

With four employees who had distinct personalities and job descriptions in a library, I was able to put into practice some of the initial knowledge that I had gained from reading the literature on people management. There was a contradiction to the literature that was expressed throughout this activity, and it related to the “sandwich technique”. The statement in the activity was “It’s tempting to use the ‘feedback sandwich’ starting with a positive comment, but this is risky! Research shows that most employees will only focus on the good stuff and overlook the critical feedback you really need them to hear.” I do not know which philosophy on providing constructive feedback is correct yet. But I am not as convinced that the “sandwich technique” is the way to go.

To summarize, here are the other key takeaways from this activity:

  • Constructive feedback is timely, measurable, and specific.
  • Meaningful feedback is key to improving staff performance which in turn improves organizational effectiveness.
  • Well written job descriptions and past performance reviews can help you provide accurate details to your staff.
  • Base feedback on specific, observable behaviour.
  • Engage the staff member in developing a solution.

A few days after completing the self-led course, I listened to a webinar from Webjunction entitled “Skills for the Everyday Leader”. This webinar was presented by Edra Waterman, the Library Director of Hamilton East Public Library in Noblesville, Indiana. Waterman has had many years of experience in a leadership / managerial position of a library, and I felt that her approach to providing constructive feedback and being an effective manager features the approaches and philosophies that personally resonate with me the most. The webinar began with a discussion of the mistakes to avoid as a manager, whether you are a new manager in a new library, or a seasoned manager in a new role and working with new staff. The previous literature that I read only focused on what an effective leader should do, or how a manager should act. It was intriguing to look at leadership from a different angle, and discuss what one should not do.

The 10 Mistakes to Avoid are:

  • Thinking nothing has to change.
  • Wanting everyone to like you.
  • Buying into the hype.
  • Ignoring problems or behaviours.
  • Being a doormat.
  • Being reluctant to make decisions
  • Thinking you are always right.
  • Hiding in your office.
  • Being a jerk.
  • Taking things personally.

As opposed to the “sandwich technique”, Waterman presented a different model for providing constructive and effective employee feedback. She discussed the FIRR approach, which stands for Fact, Impact, Respect, and Request.

  • Fact – what is the reason for the conversation? What has the employee been doing and not doing?
  • Impact – how is this affecting the workplace?
  • Respect – understand/empathize with the employee.
  • Request – what would you like the employee to do going forward? What is the action plan?

This approach is direct, and it would avoid the possibility that the employee only hears the positive praise in the “feedback sandwich”. It still features an aspect that acknowledges the employee’s feelings or emotions, and it doesn’t appear to solely focus on the issue at hand. Depending on a manager’s personality, the FIRR approach may be a more challenging method to use when giving feedback to an employee, or it may be easier because it does address a specific issue more clearly.

Throughout the webinar, I appreciated Waterman’s bluntness during her explanation of each mistake, and why it should be avoided. She was recognizant that it was her opinion, and even stated that after the webinar, participants would “either want to come and work with her, or would be scared and want nothing to do with her”. I would want to go to Indiana and work with her!