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May 15, 2015

Oregon Library Supporters of the Year

Dawn Prochovnic, Mitzi Sandman, Debbie Plawner
Last month I received some 'atta girls for my advocacy work in support of Strong School Libraries.  I was named a School Library  Ambassador by the American Association of School Librarians, and I was honored as one of the Oregon Library Association's Library Supporters of the Year.

As promised in my last post, here are the words I shared when I accepted the Library Supporter of the Year award from the Oregon Library Association:

On behalf of my colleagues in Beaverton, Oregon, thank you so much for this honor. But more importantly, thank you so much for the valuable work that you do in schools and libraries each and every day. And, special thanks to the many librarians across Oregon and across the country who answered our myriad of questions and supplied us with top-notch resources to support our advocacy work.

I have two children in the Beaverton School District. Three years ago our schools faced a budget crisis so catastrophic and so deep that few programs were spared. We went from being a school district with library programs that were the envy of others, to being a school district with a single district-level librarian serving 39,000 children in 51 schools.   

As a children’s author and early literacy consultant, I have the privilege of visiting schools, libraries and professional development conferences around the region. I get to see and hear the many amazing things teacher librarians do to promote lifelong learning each and every day. Our advocacy effort resulted in funding for up to ten schools to add a teacher librarian next year. But we are not done. I want every child to have the opportunity to build a lasting relationship with a teacher librarian and a lifelong relationship with reading and learning.

I’ve learned so many things during this advocacy process. I would like to share one of those learnings with you today:

Advocacy, like authorship, begins with a story. First you must write a remarkable story. Your library program is your story. Build the best library program you have in you. Revise it regularly. Make your library story the best of its kind. 

But that’s not enough. If you do not share your story with others, no one will know it’s there. I get that this part is hard. Writing the story takes nearly everything you’ve got. It’s all consuming. It’s brain draining. It’s exhausting. I have several stories I’ve written and love, but haven’t had the bandwidth to submit out to agents and editors. Guess what? Those stories haven’t been published yet. It’s as if they don’t exist.

Authors are told again and again that it is not enough to be good writers. We also need to be effective marketers. When you, my librarian friends, do book talks and deliver “just right books” into the hands of just the right readers, you are using your storytelling and marketing skills. I urge you to use those same skills to develop relationships with parents, volunteers, past students, classroom teachers, school board members, administrators, community leaders and lawmakers, even family members and friends. These are your agents and editors. Give them a book talk about your library. Put just the right library story into just the right stakeholders' hands. If they don’t know your stories, it’s as if they don’t exist. Don’t wait for the next budget crisis. Don’t wait until you have more time or more or more energy or more bandwidth. Make storytelling an integral part of your job. Make it a part of each and every day. 

Thank you again for honoring the work of our advocacy team. I look forward to trading stories with you in the months and years to come. 

If you'd like to continue to follow our story, please join the School Library Advocacy Council and "like" our School Libraries Matter: Beaverton Facebook page. #SchoolLibrariesMatter.

April 23, 2015

I Am a Library Evangelist and You Are the Choir

This past year I discovered one of the best ways to procrastinate on my in-progress writing projects: Library Evangelism!
Photo Source: G. Douglas Bundy RHS K-8 

My local school district has not had certified teacher librarians in any of our schools for the past three years. We currently have three district-level librarians serving 39,000 children in 51 schools. Although these three librarians are fabulous, our kids are missing out on the benefits associated with full-time teacher librarians in their schools.

Last spring I started asking questions and realized that no one was talking about the issue. No one was making plans to change the situation. No one was fired up. School libraries without certified teacher librarians was fast becoming "business as usual."

The issue has been complicated by many factors, not the least of which is the dedication of the library media assistants/clerks who currently staff many of our libraries. In many cases they have gone well above and beyond the requirements of their job descriptions to keep our school libraries operating for the past three years. But the situation is not sustainable. Young readers need to be nurtured. Digital citizenship and research skills need to be taught. Rich library collections need to be curated. And classroom teachers need professional development and support. These are just some of the unique contributions that a 21st-Century Teacher Librarian can bring to a school.

Photo Source:
Last spring I partnered with a former teacher librarian (the wonderful Andrea Burke) to bring some attention to this issue. We founded the School Library Advocacy Council and hosted some community gatherings. The community gatherings were well attended by public librarians, but poorly attended by parents and other community members. My original hope in hosting the spring meetings was to find "someone" to take on the issue and bring change. I quickly realized that if it is to be, it's up to me.

So I started making noise. Lots of noise. I talked about the importance of school libraries and teacher librarians to anyone who would listen. I blogged about the issue (and tried starting a "school library advocacy blog tour" that never really took off). I wrote emails, spoke at School Board meetings, and pummeled my social media contacts with library advocacy messages. Eventually, (thankfully!) the amazing Mitzi Sandman stepped up to join the advocacy effort, and she soon introduced me to the equally amazing Debbie Plawner. They brought their marketing and communication prowess to the table and together we became an advocacy team.

We reached out to dozens of school and public librarians who helped us better understand the issue. They invited us to their schools. They attended our planning meetings. They showered us with resources and support. They became our librarians, and supported us as only librarians can do. Many of them offered this help and support on their own personal time. Debbie, Mitzi and I dove into the plethora of research studies that have shown that strong school libraries, led by certified teacher librarians are linked to higher academic achievement, and soon we developed an advocacy plan.

We piggy-backed off of the national #SchoolLibrariesMatter campaign and created our own #SchoolLibrariesMatter: Beaverton social media campaign. We met with principals and classroom teachers. We wrote to lawmakers and regulators. We spoke at PTO meetings, School Board meetings and School District Budget Committee meetings and encouraged other parents, community members, and students to do the same.

Photo Source: School Libraries Matter: Beaverton
During this process, we were invited to collaborate with our School District Superintendent and his appointees to create a compelling vision for a re-imagined 21st Century School Library.

We recently learned that our school district has plans to staff up to ten of our school libraries with certified teachers in the coming school year. Ten is less than 51, so it is not enough. But it is progress. We have let our school district officials know that we will not stop advocating until every student in every one of our schools has the opportunity to develop a lasting relationship with a library teacher and a lifelong relationship with reading and learning.

Debbie, Mitzi and I were recently honored as "Library Supporters of the Year" by the Oregon Library Association. We are grateful for the recognition, but remain focused on the goal of every student in our school district having a teacher librarian in their school.

In my next post, I will share the acceptance speech I delivered when the Library Supporter of the Year award was presented at the Oregon Library Association's Awards Luncheon. In future posts, I will share some powerful examples of students advocating for strong school libraries.

Here is a photo glimpse of one such student:

March 4, 2015

Sign Language Story Time Video Play List and Sign Language for Your Día Program!

A frequent question I get from teachers and librarians is, "How do you physically hold a book and sign along with it?"

I've modeled how to do this in several different videos over the years, and I recently organized these videos in a Sign Language Story Time Playlist. You can access that playlist here:

If Sign Language Story Time is something you'd like to do more of, you might also be interested in my Start to Finish Story Time series of posts where I provide lesson plans to make it easier for you to do your own Sign Language Story Time.

And, for those of you interested in incorporating Sign Language into your upcoming Día or other intercultural /literacy-focused programming, here is a link to some great free resources to help you plan your own sign language-themed event at your own school or library.

Speaking of which, I'd love to compile a list of libraries that are featuring American Sign Language and/or Deaf Culture in their Día Events. (If you're not familiar with Día, according to the American Library Association, "Día is a nationally recognized initiative that emphasizes the importance of literacy for all children from all backgrounds." You can find out more at the Día website).

If you are incorporating ASL and/or Deaf Culture into your Día programming, please share your plans in the comment section below or in the contact form to the left.

Happy Signing!

February 26, 2015

Top Tips and Tricks for Signing with Your Baby: Summary Post

In past posts, I've shared some of my Top Tips and Tricks for Signing with your baby or young child. I thought it might be helpful to compile a summary of those posts and some instructional videos to go along with it. Here are the links to my Top Tips:

Tip #1: Use Signs Liberally, But Select One or Two Key Signs to Focus On at a Time 

Tip #2: Resist the Temptation to Focus Only on Signs that Gratify You

Tip #3: Follow Your Child's Lead

And here are the links to my video playlist,"Tips and Tricks for Signing with Your Baby or Young Child":

Keep checking back, and/or bookmark this summary post, as more tips (and maybe even more videos) will be added over time!

And . . . if these tips are helpful to you, I suggest you also give my series, Quick Ideas for Getting Started with Signing a look as well. 

Happy Signing! 

January 7, 2015

New Sign Language Videos Featuring Yours Truly

A couple of months ago, one of the libraries I work with invited me to visit their studio and film some videos that incorporate sign language. They've now started uploading these videos to their YouTube channel.  The librarian who coordinated the project observed the filming process and assured me that it all went well, but I've been nervous waiting to see how the videos would turn out. I've now watched the first three, and I'm pleasantly surprised.

Don't get me wrong. I'm an expert at self-critique. There are all kinds of nitty-picky things I can find to distress about in each video, but when I look at the videos as a whole, I'm happy with the end result. I'm pleased that I have something like this to share with my readers, clients, and other folks who might have an interest in sign language. I'm excited that I have one more tool in my toolbox that might inspire someone to learn and use sign language to help their pre-verbal baby communicate, or to enrich their story time or to incorporate sign language into other learning opportunities at home or in the classroom.

I have a longstanding teaching and consulting business, and I present regularly at schools and libraries. As a result, I've had several of my school visits and other presentations filmed over the years. For some reason, I was more nervous than usual leading up to this particular project. Truth be told, I rarely get nervous before presentations. I thrive on the opportunity to teach and present, but I tossed and turned restlessly the night before we were scheduled to film for this project. The only reason for this that I can come up with is that I love this library (and the librarians who work there) so much. I did not want to disappoint them in any way. They tell me they're pleased. I hope you will be, too.

Please join me in thanking the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District for inviting me to participate in this project as well as ABDO Publishing Group for publishing the books in the Story Time with Signs and Rhymes series featured in the videos. Here are the first three videos:

Sing and Sign with Your Baby:

Play and Sign with Your Baby:

"The Nest Where I Like to Rest:"

As new videos are added, you will be able to find them on the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District's YouTube channel as well as my own YouTube channel.

Happy Signing!

December 26, 2014

2014 Year-End Post

It's no secret that I like words. Cards and letters from friends near and far are one of my favorite parts of the holiday season. I also enjoy the process of reflecting on my past year and preparing my own annual update. I do resist writing a typical letter. I greatly enjoy providing a relevant update embedded in some creative format (here are examples from 2012 and 2013). 

For this year's update I made a word cloud using Taxedo (you may be more familiar with Wordle).

As you'll see if you scan the word cloud, a major personal highlight of the past year was our family's experience traveling to Spain and having Pablo, our "Spanish son," return to the U.S. with us for three weeks this summer. (Our decision to host an exchange student in 2013 has enriched our life in so many ways, not the least of which is the wonderful friendship we have developed with our new extended family in Spain).

I've had many professional highlights in the past year as well, but the most rewarding work has been the volunteer advocacy effort I've been involved with to strengthen the school libraries in our local area. I also treasure every opportunity I've had to engage with young readers during author visits at local schools and libraries and via Email and Skype (as well as good old fashioned snail mail)! Thank you friends and colleagues, for supporting and encouraging my work, and for sharing my books with the children you love. You've helped me make a small difference in this world. 

In addition to preparing our annual holiday card, I also enjoy working on an annual craft-y project with my kids. In recent years we've made holiday decorations, scarves, hand & foot scrubs and scented fire starters. This year we made Love Rocks as a way to honor a family in our area who has endured an unimaginable loss. I don't know the family personally, but the process of making hundreds of Love Rocks and sharing them with others helped me stay grounded and focused on the treasure of time spent with friends and family. 

Thanks to each of you who have contributed to my blessed "world of words" in 2014. You are a gift to me. Here's to the adventures that await us in the coming year!

December 8, 2014

Top Tips and Tricks for Signing with Your Baby or Young Child: Tip #3

Today's tip for signing with your baby or young child is, "Follow Your Child's Lead."

Take a moment to consider what your child is most interested in communicating about right now. Is your child fascinated with the candles on your table or the train you've set up in your house? Maybe you have a tree inside or there is snow or rain outside that has captured you baby's attention? What are your child's favorite activities or objects. Does your baby love eating bananas? Is your toddler preoccupied with balls or books? These are the signs to focus on in the beginning.
Image Source Here

Interact with your baby around these interests just as you ordinarily would. By this I mean, continue having conversations throughout the day that sound something like this:

"Look at the train. Here it comes again. Whoo! Whoo! You like that train, don't you?"

"Where is the ball? There is the ball! Yay! You found the ball!"

"Who wants some bananas? Yum, yum. Do you want more bananas?"

Express yourself verbally just as you normally would. The only change to your communication is to casually add a sign for key words, such as trainball, or banana. Also, as you identify particular interest-based words you want to place additional emphasis on, make a point to incorporate these words into the songs you sing and your playtime activities with your baby.

Before long, your baby or young child will actively point to objects of interest and use eye contact and grunts to let you know that they want labels for more and more of the things around them! Offering word labels will be fairly easy for you because it is something that comes naturally. ("That's a kitty. Do you want to pet the kitty?"). As you notice yourself offering word labels, make a point to look up the sign for key words, so you can easily add a sign label to that conversation the next time (and the next time) it occurs. Here are a couple of helpful online dictionaries to turn to:

Signing Savvy


Signing Time

As your baby sees you signing more often, he or she will gradually develop a signing vocabulary as well. Watch out for the FUN to come!

Feel free to reach out via the comments section below or the contact form to the left with specific questions or good news stories as your child develops a growing signing vocabulary. Also, get in touch if you would like YOUR BABY'S PICTURE to be featured in an upcoming blog post.

Happy Signing!