Although I have worked as the librarian for Newfields Elementary School for 5 years, I had not attended a NHSLMA event prior to the 2019 Agents of Change conference. For someone who works alone at her school and rarely gets to see her colleague librarians in SAU16, being with 200+ school media specialists from around New Hampshire was wonderful. I didn't feel so isolated! I was thrilled to meet new people who have similar questions, challenges, and joys from our jobs working with children.
The two librarian keynote speakers spoke as our colleagues. Shannon Miller offered inspirational stories of making digital connections for her students with people in her community and around the world, including famous authors like Mercer Mayer. She stressed the importance of listening to each child and encouraging them to express their passions, especially students who may have trouble socializing with peers. Simple acts like making Facebook pages to publicize a child's art work or allowing a high schooler to instruct others in 3D printing made a major impact on these students' lives. She emphasized how big things (international charitable projects!) can come from small gestures, ideas, and plans. Diana Rendina gave many practical ways to enrich student experiences using STEM resources and makerspaces. These opportunities can begin in small spaces with small budgets. Students gain from being part of a community, working with partners, and being encouraged to explore, and allowing themselves to fail.
The two author keynote speakers offered personal insight into the works that many of us have read. Rob Buyea described himself as an active child who pursued wrestling but left it to begin a teaching career. He incorporated many of his lessons as a male teacher into his first novel, Because of Mr. Terupt. He was a child who did not really read, but he blossomed into an adult who appreciates the richness of learning. His work shows his empathy with children who are more than two-dimensional bullies or jokesters or "mean girls". Everyone has a story, and knowing their story helps others understand difficult behavior. He emphasized how unknown readers' lives may be changed and improved by reading an author's work, showing his audience how parallels to Mr. Terupt's story inspired a critically ill male teacher to fight a cancer diagnosis. Books can make a difference and change peoples' lives.
Jarrett Krosoczka, author of the Lunch Lady series and Hey Kiddo, his autobiographical graphic novel, spoke about his childhood. His favorite reading matter were comic books about super heroes. He, too, was less interested in reading "real books". His love of drawing lead him into creating picture books before publishers took a chance on Lunch Lady, inspired by his visit to his former elementary school in Worcester, MA, where he visited a "lunch lady" he remembered as a child. Marrying text boxes and illustrations into a long-form story was a novel way to make a book for children in the early 2000s. Lunch Lady was printed in black and white tones with yellow (representing iconic cleaning gloves) to save the publisher money in this gamble. His series was one of the first to start the graphic novel craze for children. He only lately has discussed his childhood as the son of a heroin-addicted mother and absent father; his reluctance to share this story has evolved. He now shares his experiences so that others may feel connections and know they are not alone; everywhere he goes he meets people who may never read Lunch Lady or Punk Farm but who feel deeply the humanity and suffering and ultimate hope of his family's story.
I attended break-out sessions on "Unpacking the Standards" of AASL that are guidelines for 21st century librarianship. Though daunting in their breadth and scope, we can all use them as guidelines to improve our practice and make changes that benefit our students. "Innovation on a Tight Budget with Limited Time" showed us some easy and cheap ways to engage students with hands-on learning in ways that go beyond regular library activity. Chris Rose introduced his audience to some new spring titles in middle grade reader and picture book format. Pam Harland encouraged librarians to be leaders in their schools by working on enhancing our relationships with teachers, making ourselves more prominent in school communities, and taking pride in what we do. Sam Dixon gave a compelling and well-illustrated history of graphic novels, from "comics" to today's range of titles and how they can be used with students who are reluctant or resistant readers in place of more traditional novels or non-fiction.
Each session I attended offered opportunities to learn from colleagues and hear others' approaches to problems. This was invaluable. I appreciated the thoughtful planning that went into the conference, the availability of vendors, the excellent meals, the perfectly suited venue, and the collegiality of fellow librarians. Thank you so much for the opportunity to attend, for the scholarship, and for the planning committee's dedication.
Beth B. Lieberman
Newfields Elementary School Librarian, March 2019