Sunday, October 21, 2012

Always Reading, Always Growing

I realize I have not written since July. Please don't think I have not been reading. That could not be further from the truth. I am always reading and always growing through what I read. Since July I have been reading Breath of Snow and Ashes. It is the sixth book (only 1157 pages) in The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. I have to say, as I have said many times, I love this series. I am having a hard time reading through this book because I simply do not want the series to end. I know this is the sixth book and seven has already been released, with eight being published in the spring, but this is how I feel. I love Jaime and Claire, and yes I realize they are fictional characters!

On top of starting the sixth book, the start of school also occurred. This year I actually felt like I had everything together and would be ready for the start of school. Well, just like every other year I was wrong. I guess I was only wrong because I had very high expectations for myself. I think I have actually pulled off a great start to the school year though. At least I feel success, and that is what matters, right?

I didn't make huge changes in the way I handle my work, but I made significant changes in order to better how I handle situations and how I interact with others. The most important and significant change I made was by creating a family night atmosphere in my library on Thursday evenings. For the past two years I have had the library open for check out on Thursday evenings from 3:00 until 7:00. This all started a few years ago when I wanted to have the library open during a PTA meeting. It just kind of went from there. Now there was no real reason, other than to come check out books, for parents to bring their children back up to school in the evening. For some families that was enough. It was a time the parents who worked during the day could come to the school library and check out books with their child. The children loved being able to show their parents how to use a shelf marker and to show their parents around their library. The children took a great deal of ownership during this time.

Well this year, and I'm not really sure how I decided this, I called our Thursday nights Family Night @ the Library. Actually it seemed to fit better on the sign I put out in front of the school every Thursday morning. I don't know if that is a good reason or not, but it grew from there. The first two weeks (we opened our doors the very first week of the school year on Thursday evening) parents were involved in Meet the Teacher nights. They would go to the classrooms and listen to the classroom teacher go over policies, rules, guidelines, etc. Then they could come to the library. It was during the afternoon of the first Thursday I created a one page sheet that said "I am a Star Family @ the Kinkeade Library." I had the page translated so I would have one for the Spanish speaking families and the Star Family Program just exploded from there. We currently have over 40 families involved in our program and I know there will be more coming to join us before the school year is out. 

A few weeks after starting the Star Family Program I was trying to decide how to keep families coming to the library. I knew some families would come each Thursday in order to do the activities and games going on each week, but I also knew that it might not always be a pull. I contacted some local businesses and asked if they would be willing to be sponsors for our Family Night @ the Library and provide door prizes for each week. I was so surprised how quickly the donations started rolling in from local and national businesses. These are just a few of our current donors : Half Price Books, El Chico, IHOP, Rainforest Cafe, Kohls, Capstone Publishing, and Scholastic.

I found the activities are a pull for the parents. even though I was afraid they might not be. This past week our theme was "Birthday Party Fun". Okay, I am going to be honest. It was the day before my birthday and I wanted to have some fun. I think it was a great theme and the children had a blast. We focused on Clifford's 50th birthday (which was actually September 24th) instead of telling everyone we were going to be celebrating my birthday. I was NOT going to tell the children my true age. I simply told them I was going to be 6 (if you add my digits together they equal 6, so I seemed okay). There were more families at this event than had attended any of the other events combined. It was a HUGE success. Now I know a great deal of time and effort went into creating this one four-hour event, but I have to say it was well worth it.

Now, the whole reason I have been writing about all of this is because of a book study that I am involved in, kind of, through work. I say kind of because I will not actually be involved in any of the book discussion, but I am reading the book. The book is titled, Soup: A Recipe to Nourish Your Team and Culture written by Jon Gordon. I have only read the first nine chapters at this time, but I can completely see how this book relates to my Family Night @ the Library Program. The soup you create (in this case, my program) is a direct reflection of the soup maker (in this case, me). It matters "who stirs the pot, as well as the values, principles, and ingredients the stirrer mixed into it" (p. 27).

I have tried to create a fun and inviting environment for the children and their parents to spend time together. Education is extremely important to me. Parents have always been a child's first teacher. By providing curriculum related activities for the families, I am helping the parents take an active role in their child's education. I realized I was in fact doing a great thing when I read "A Culture of Greatness" (Chapter 9) in Gordon's book (p. 31).

  1. You create a culture of greatness by expecting great things to happen- even during challenging times.
  2. You create a culture of greatness by expecting your people to be their best. You don't settle for anything less than excellence.
  3. You create a culture of greatness by coaching, training, and developing your team, to be their best.
I guess you could say I expected great things from the very beginning when we celebrated International Dot Day on September 13th. I had a number of activities for the children to do with their parents. So many that my parents (who graciously volunteer - with some coaxing - to help me each week) thought I was crazy. There have been some challenging times, but only for my personal lack of planning or trying to do too much in a short period of time. One of my dear friend who brings her own children to each Family Night @ the Library told me over and over the parents would bring their children. She was right. They did come. They had a great time, and they have returned each week.

For Family Night @ the Library, my people would be my parents. They are wonderful for coming to help me each Thursday night. They do anything and everything that I ask of them in a very gracious manner. The parents who come to enjoy the time with their own children know my family is involved and it makes it even more special that we can all spend this time together. My students love meeting my parents. It makes me more human to them seeing that I have a family just like they do.

My team has to be the parents who bring their children to Family Night @ the Library each week. Through my coaching and training (the activities and conversations we have each week) the parents are more engaged in their child's education. They are starting to see how they can ask higher order thinking questions. How they can help to build their child's vocabulary through conversations, discussions, and simply interacting with one another.

I love when I can make a personal connection with a book. I truly believe this is the right book for me at this time. It will not only help me to be a better creator of the Family Night @ the Library Program, but also a better leader in my school.