Monday, November 28, 2016

Effective Facilitating and Blogging

This past week, I had four separate meetings to attend, half of those as the person partly responsible for running them. I've been thinking a lot about facilitating because of the Teach Ontario course I'm running online about graphic novels, and because, for two days (today and tomorrow, November 28-29, 2016) I will participate in ETFO's "Presenter's Palette" course. The aim of the course suits my needs to a T:
This program is designed to promote the ongoing continued development of members’ presentation and facilitation skills. It has been developed to meet the needs of experienced presenters who are looking for ways to re-energize and improve their presentations.
There are three modules in this course, focused on:
  1. Strategies to grow as a curriculum workshop leader
  2. Ways to develop effective voice and facilitation styles
  3. Strategies to develop a high level of audience engagement and understanding
I thought it might be useful to reflect on my most recent meetings as a way to prepare for the Presenter's Palette class. I'll use the Stars and a Wish format to examine the strengths and areas for improvement for the recent area teacher-librarian meetings.

⭐👍 Stars / Strengths

  • Being flexible with the agenda and pace
  • Moving on when the technology wasn't working
  • Ensuring all attendees had a chance to speak and ensuring their needs were met
  • Reflecting feelings of the participants
I checked in with teacher-librarians after the Tuesday and Thursday sessions and everyone I spoke to indicated that they got something out of the meeting.

🌈👎 Wishes / Areas for Improvement

  • Arriving late and not starting on time
  • Missing the timing on shared speaking with co-facilitators 
  • Pointing out the time mid-way through
  • Having a "wishy-washy" ending as people filtered out in on their own
My co-presenter spent a ton of time preparing this beautiful Google Slides presentation but the Google Form messed up. We felt the time pressure (as the meeting was only 90 minutes long, after school) and unfortunately that leaked into the presentation.

Doug Peterson got this reflection thing rolling earlier with his post on blogging reflections. Blogging and facilitating have things in common. Instead of stars and wishes, Doug used five tips as his springboard for analysis and added five more. I'll follow suit and see how this blog measures up.

1) Having a plan is essential for making your blog a success.

My plan has evolved since I first began blogging in 2009. Now, my plan involves personal reflection on the past week's events and tying them in with my professional practice. Often, it's personal reflection ON my professional practice. I didn't research competitors. I started on the Library Network Group because they wanted people to blog, so there weren't many examples at all there. I migrated to Blogger and do it once a week, like clockwork. I didn't really consider about evaluating its success. 

2) Your blog is more likely to succeed if it's social.

That's true. Nowadays, I always post a link to my blog post for that week on Twitter, and I'll mention the people who are included in the reflection. What I could be doing but haven't yet is cross-posting my blog link on Facebook or other sites. I did that when I wrote about the death of my friend Jeff, because I knew his mother was on Facebook but not Twitter and would like to read what I wrote. I discovered that Facebook, despite reports to the contrary, is still a popular place to post - I received many more hits for that particular week than I did when just sharing via the blog and Twitter.

3) Content is king.

The funny thing about this point is that content that I think is huge isn't what draws in readers. Sometimes a "fluff piece" hits a chord with some people in ways I didn't imagine. 

4) You may have to learn basic Search Engine Optimization

I'm worse than Doug at this. At least he knew what it was. I don't tag my posts. I don't name my posts in ways that grab search engine bots. I skipped reading the multi-chapter guide that was linked to the original LifeHack article. 

5) Relationships matter

This is important to me in my blogging, my facilitation, my teaching ... probably my life! I started my blog with the intent of writing for myself. I was shocked to learn that people read it or cared what I wrote. Blogging helps develop other relationships too, not just online. I just shared my blog post about learning how to sew with a Grade 7-8 class as a way to promote the Library MakerSpace with them and connect on a personal level on learning new skills (and mothers who sometimes foil plans). 

6) Commit to posting regularly

I'm really proud of this, and it was key advice that my husband gave me when I first started out. I post every Monday (ergo the title of the blog, Monday Molly Musings), even when I think the stuff that I've written isn't so stellar. This is part of the "planning" portion that was the first tip.

7) It doesn't have to be in print

I'm still a traditionalist - I write. Sometimes a blog post is a series of photos, yet I don't have Snapchat and rarely use Instagram or Pinterest.

8) Take risks

I'm doing it here. I admit when a lesson tanks, or when I did less than a bang-up job with running a meeting. It's scary for me to talk about equity issues because I worry I'll do it wrong, or offend people, but if we don't talk about these things, how can we learn?

9) Reciprocate

I won't post replies to blog posts unless I feel like I have something valuable to contribute. I should change that policy, because even just a "good post" comment shows that I found it worth the effort to answer. I know I like seeing when readers post even a single sentence comment to one of my blog posts.

10) Look for a niche not already done

I can't say that I do this. I started writing for me, as a way to preserve what was happening in my school life. Others write about what it's like to be a teacher-librarian. The only unique part is that they aren't living my life, so my experiences might be common, but they're mine. 

Doug, you analyzed your blogging habits and evaluated them accurately. I'll share what I learn at my ETFO course - I've even booked time with my pal Denise Colby to report on the course at her house Tuesday evening!

Monday, November 21, 2016

The CCBC Awards - Be Both

On Thursday, November 17, 2016, I was at the 2016 TD Canadian Children's Literature Awards ceremony at the Carlu in downtown Toronto. This was my second time at this gala event. I enjoyed myself immensely. My fellow teacher-librarian, Joel Krentz, and I were the last to leave and I didn't return home until midnight. As I looked through the photographs I took and read the tweets that were shared with the #CCBCAwards hashtag, I was struck by a couple of contrasts.

Exclusive and Inclusive

The Canadian Children's Literature Awards is a very exclusive event. Invitations are non-transferable and not particularly easy to obtain. (I received mine because I was on one of the Best Books for Kids and Teens review committees. It's one of the perks of the volunteer job.) Attendees are a whos-who of the Canadian children's literature scene - authors, publishers, and significant movers-and-shakers. - YET - The group of people I spent the evening with were the most welcoming and inclusive bunch I could have the pleasure of socializing with. I'd occasionally hesitate before speaking with a particular famous face, shy and uncertain about the reception I'd receive, and every time I was addressed warmly and enthusiastically. It didn't matter that I was "just" a teacher-librarian; I was worth affection and attention, and the same was true for other educators who attended.

Lisa Dalrymple (author) and me

Jess Longthorne, Teresa Totten (author), Melissa Jensen, Pam Jeffrey

Willow Dawson (author/illustrator) and Joel Krentz
Diverse and Uniform/Homogeneous

The awards ceremony was a treat to see and hear. Unlike the Oscars, where it is unlikely for me to have experienced the nominated works, I was pleased to discover how many of the titles I own in my school library and have read myself. The acceptance speeches were heartfelt and grateful. The bravest speech, in my opinion, was by Cory Silverberg (@aboutsexuality on Twitter), who wrote Sex is a Funny Word: a Book about Bodies, Feelings, and You, the winning book for the 2016 Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children's Non-Fiction. He expressed a desire to see greater diversity in the Canadian's children's literature industry and in those we recognize - different faces, reflecting different experiences. I thought it was courageous of him to use his time on stage to draw attention to concerns about homogeneity, and it's true that the podium and audience held many similar looking faces.   - YET - there seem to be steps made towards greater diversity. The winner of the top prize, the TD Canadian Children's Literature Award, was Missing Nimama by Melanie Florence and illustrated by Francois Thisdale - Melanie is of Cree and Scottish heritage (see

Also, this tweet:

Independent and Dependent

Corporate involvement in non-economic affairs can be a dicey business and a delicate balancing act. Many of the activities and awards of the Canadian Children's Book Centre would not be possible without companies like the Toronto Dominion Bank, Sylvan Learning Centre, Friesens and other sponsors. I know that the York Region District School Board used to refuse to distribute the Grade One Book Giveaway title because it was funded by TD and the book had the TD logo on it. (They didn't like what they considered advertisements.)  The CCBC is dependent on these patrons. - YET - Good things happen because of these generous donations. Half a million children receive a book of their very own, to keep forever. I myself have seen the thrill on the faces of the young students as they are given these quality books. Selection of the winners has nothing to do with the businesses funding the awards. Alec Morley, the Senior Vice President of TD Bank Group joked several times throughout the night about a sad lack of children's books about banking but I doubt it will actually have any impact on the stories told or honoured.

Don't misinterpret my list of contrasts as a slight against the Canadian Children's Book Centre of the Canadian Children's Literature Awards. I think it's pretty amazing that they can be simultaneously inclusive and exclusive, diverse and homogeneous, dependent and independent.

I was delighted to be a part of this incredible event, especially because it gave me an opportunity to thank someone in person. Gail de Vos presented the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People. She was my professor for my "Comics and Graphic Novels in School and Public Libraries" course at the University of Alberta in 2004. My Masters of Educations studies was conducted completely online, from 2004-2010. It was that course and her guidance that led me to learn so much about the medium - and I was finally able to tell her the impact of her teaching on my learning path face to face.

Thanks Gail. Thanks CCBC.

Me with Gail deVos

Monday, November 14, 2016

Book Helpers Everywhere

I notice there are some recurring themes to my latest reflections - they are all intertwined.

Last week was a busy one. My car (see October 24) died again on Monday night after my boot camp session (see September 19) so there was the hassle of renting a substitute. On Wednesday, I drove to Niagara Falls to run two sessions about Minecraft at a conference (this time with Andy Forgrave and Jen Apgar at #BIT16, instead of Denise Colby at #ETFOT4T - see October 31). On Thursday, I had hoped to talk with the fabulous Andrew Woodrow-Butcher about titles for my upcoming Teach Ontario course while at the GTA Resource Fair but it was too busy a time to conduct that sort of business at the fair, so on Sunday (yesterday) I drove to Little Island Comics to spend some quality time planning and reviewing (see November 7).  While at the GTA Resource Fair to purchase books for the school library, my students and I met someone with whom we just clicked (see October 17).

My students and I go book shopping regularly, and I really don't know what I'd do without them. They know the collection much more intimately than I do. They carry all the heavy boxes. They get excited when they see new books and they take purchasing seriously.

Another type of "book helper" is the individual who volunteers to help their vendor comrades with customers and questions. This group is varied, from retired teacher-librarians like Cathy Baker, to publishers like Richard Jones, to authors like Tory Woollcott, but all united in their love for literature and willingness to help.

Tory charmed my students (and me) with her enthusiasm, knowledge about graphic novels, and her sense of humour. My students had no idea they were speaking to a real, honest-to-goodness author and illustrator until I told them. Books were autographed and photos were taken. I don't have permission to post my students' faces, so apologies if this looks like a police lineup!

I'm going to rely on another set of book helpers in the next few weeks - my fellow staff members. In preparation for our Forest of Reading program launch in January 2017, the teachers read the nominated titles in advance so that they can chat with the students about the books. I'm grateful and relieved that the people who work at my school love to read and volunteer happily to read these books and give up their recess times to have conversations about books.

I will end with a shout-out to another book helper - my adult volunteer, Mrs. Pat McNaughton, mother of talented teacher-librarian Kim Davidson. She helps to train my library helpers and comes to my schools two half-days a week to shelve books and keep the library tidy, despite my crazy projects strewn around the space. (I'm not joking - we're filming six different media videos using everything from Lego to Fisher Price toys to claymation to puppets to acting in front of green screens and in Minecraft. It looks like a tornado passed through, but Pat is the calm in the storm, ensuring that books are put back properly.) Last Friday, she and I were able to Quick-Cat process all of the books I bought the previous day from the Resource Fair. Thank you to all the book helpers everywhere!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Restricting Revision

In November, the TDSB character trait of the month is empathy. I'm feeling very empathetic towards George Lucas lately. Why?

George Lucas, creator of the insanely popular Star Wars movie franchise, is known for returning to his films to revise them. Some of the changes seem minor. Some seem monumental. George responded to his penchant for revision in this interview.

Why does he constantly go back? Early in that interview, he says that he's trying to make the best possible movie he can. It's about improvement.

Right now, I'm working on the content for a course for Teach Ontario, called "Panels, Gutters and Bubbles: An Introduction to Comics for Educators". I've fretted about this course because, like George Lucas and his projects, I want it to be the best it can be. I'm already hyper-conscious about the end product because I was less than satisfied with a a webinar I did for Teach Ontario in the past, and many people will be able to see this course. I want this course to be successful and a great opportunity for many people to learn. (Let me clarify - I want that when I teach in the classroom too, but this is a wider arena with a bigger audience and a longer lasting digital footprint.)

I'm fortunate to have a team at TVO helping me create this course - Matthew, Karen, Elina, Albert, and Katina - and they have been incredibly supportive. Other courses and work zones on Teach Ontario have been exceptional in terms of the quality of their content, the design, and the level of engagement has reflected this. Check out Makerspaces on the Spot and on a Dime by Melanie Mulcaster, Mentoring for All, facilitated by Jim Strachan, the book clubs run by Alanna King / Melissa Jensen or Mindful Facilitation, run by Peter Skillen and Brenda Sherry.

I know I'm not the only one keen to make this a fabulous learning experience. Matthew, who took video footage of me for mini-videos to be shown as part of the course has tinkered with how images appear. Even though the "final" version looked fine, Matthew returned to alter it to make it a bit clearer.

Here's Matthew during filming - he's amazing!

In the attempt to make this course the best it can, there's a danger that I spend too much time fixing things. There has to be a cut-off to my revisions. As I explained to Karen, I'll be tweaking ad nauseum if I'm not stopped! I've got to trust the team and my own efforts and let go.

Often, our students are less than thrilled with the revising and editing stages of the writing process. They may not see that it is in these moments that the learning happens, where we realize what could be improved or changed and make it happen. It may be arduous. It may be challenging. However, if I can look back on the final product afterwards and admire it (like I do with my Masters of Education capping paper, which took many curses, tears and prayers to complete), all the headaches will be worth it.

The course Panels, Gutters and Bubbles: An Introduction to Comics for Educators, begins November 21, 2016 on Teach Ontario and runs for two weeks. It will be followed in January 2017 with a book club discussion of Secret Path by Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire. Register at

Monday, October 31, 2016

Hug Monster (Even at #ETFOt4t)

For those who celebrate, Happy Halloween! The monster in the title isn't your typical Halloween fright ... read on.

Is it possible for your students to influence what you do and what you say?
I'm starting to suspect this happens more than I realize.

Some of the students in my school love to hug. I'm not sure if it's because they can detect that I'm okay with hugging (which I've written about in the past here) but they make a point of collecting a "morning hug" and "afternoon hug" each day from me, and will verbally scold me if I've forgotten or neglected to give them their twice-daily allocation. They are the ones to initiate the contact, as I must be cautious about this sort of contact. We've also worked with particular students around issues of consent, and I've tried to transfer this useful practice in general to other students - ask before touching. Coaching students to ask "May I have a hug?" instead of grabbing an adult in an unexpected embrace is a good idea.

I had to remind myself to use this technique while at the ETFO ICT conference on October 28-29, 2016. I'm glad I asked for permission most of the time. Who received these physical greetings?

Bixi Lobo-Molnar, one of the ETFO organizers. I've been fortunate to work with Bixi on the 2016  ETFO Summer Academies. She and Jill and Emma and all the team members do a fabulous job ensuring all the needs of participants and presenters are met.

Using Plickers on Friday

Denise Colby, my co-presenter. Denise was a saint and saviour at this conference, because not only did she co-run our Friday and Saturday sessions on Minecraft, she volunteered to lead two more Friday workshops because the original presenter could not attend.

Showing Minecraft tips Saturday

Great comics website I can use! Thanks Melissa!
Melissa Jensen. I sat with Melissa and several other teachers from Simcoe County DSB during the opening keynote and I also picked Melissa's brain about my upcoming Teach Ontario course on graphic novels and comics when both of us had a break from presenting in our schedules on Friday. Melissa has a wealth of information at her fingertips (and on her phone) and I really appreciated the feedback she provided for me.

 Andrea Payne. Andrea said it wasn't necessary for us to attend her session on search techniques, but her absolutely stellar slides - perfect for use with students and a designer's dream - were the perfect PD piece for me on Saturday. We ate lunch together as she polished her presentation and it felt like I experienced her session first-hand. Although Andrea and I are in the same board, she is in the west-end of the city and we don't get to see each other often. That's a shame.

 It was an excellent conference as usual - most of the sessions were similar to the ones offered in June but thanks to some additional funding, ETFO was able to provide it again for those who were not chosen to attend this past spring. Dr. Camille Rutherford was an excellent keynote (don't worry - I didn't run up and hug her - we don't know each other) and it was very affirming to hear her mention female ed-tech leaders of Ontario by name, like Zelia Tavares, Aviva Dunsiger, and Alanna King, with whom I was also familiar. These were some key tweets from the keynote and some important things to remember as we continue:

Monday, October 24, 2016

No Car

I had plenty of fodder for this week's blog post ... filming at TVO, getting sick mid-week, bringing the baby skinny pigs to school, lamenting the lost of Bitstrips and getting frustrated with the lesser replacement ... but I thought I'd write about my car.

While I was home recovering from a epic migraine that hit the day before, I decided to "use my time wisely" by taking my car in for an oil change. (I'll refrain from commenting on why I felt the need to use my sick day for more than just time to recuperate.) The engine light was on but it often lights up due to a flaw in the car's design that makes it activate when the gas cap isn't turned tightly, but I didn't think much of it. The reality was that there was indeed something wrong with my car's engine and I just didn't realize it. The car has been at the mechanic's garage since last Wednesday as they order a replacement part and fix the problem.

I could stop my blog post there and reflect on how what I thought was wrong wasn't the issue at all and that we risk ignoring signs and symptoms (in cars and children) at our peril. I could invoke the "assume" warning: when you assume, you make an a** out of "u" and "me".

I learned more, however, in the subsequent days of managing life as usual without my wheels. The experience certainly increased my empathy. On Thursday morning, I took the bus with my son and daughter part of the way - they had much further to travel. Despite having used public transit all during my university years to get to York University from south Scarborough, I found I lacked the stamina and tolerance of my youth. It was so dark! It was so crowded! It was so long and dreary!

I appreciated the kindness of my fellow staff members, who upon discovering that I temporarily had no car, offered to drive me home. Thank you Renee, and thank you Lisa - especially for carrying the skinny pig cage to my house in the back of your car!

I learned that I had to think and plan much more thoroughly before going anywhere.
Math became quite important as I turned often to my computer to investigate how much longer it would take for me to arrive at destinations I never gave much consideration to going before. Our family walked to the local library on the weekend - a 5 minute drive was a 20 minute walk one-way. Getting to my Bootcamp Fitness Centre takes 11 minutes by car and 28 minutes by bus. Going to work takes 16 minutes by car and 41 minutes by bus. Because times usually doubled, I had to leave earlier, factor in the return travel time, and earmark a longer period of time to accomplish tasks. How do people manage when they have to go grocery shopping and haul their purchases in buggies or on the bus?

Then I realized how thankless I was being. I'm fortunate to live in Toronto, where we have the TTC and most locations are accessible for just $3.25 per trip. What about other areas of Ontario without adequate public transportation? What about other areas of the world, where children have to walk for hours just to collect water or get to school?

Knowing others have it worse can be small comfort. I asked myself how this experience would change my behaviour or attitude in the future. I think I will be more grateful when my husband (who doesn't have a licence and walks or takes the bus everywhere) does errands without me. It's a bigger effort on his part and I should recognize the amount of time it takes him. I'll also offer my chauffeur services more often to him and others. I will also be less quick to judge people when they talk about the hardships of getting to places when they can only rely on others to get them there.

Monday, October 17, 2016

We Just Clicked

Have you ever met someone and it felt like you've known each other for ages, as kindred spirits?

I was corresponding pretty frequently last week with two of my favourite people, Melanie Mulcaster @the_mulc and Jennifer Brown @JennMacBrown, about some big projects and ideas when this realization hit me like a ton of bricks - I've only known them this calendar year (2016). In fact, I've only met Melanie face to face twice - at Treasure Mountain Canada and at Maker Ed Toronto. I've only met Jennifer once in person, at that same Maker Ed Toronto event in July.

Despite this brief period of time together, I have to admire and thank Melanie and Jennifer for pushing my thinking, supporting my experiments, and providing feedback in thoughtful, caring, engaged ways.

You can tell by my Twitter feed how important these two have become. This is a copy-and-paste of my notifications.

  1. After a day in bed with a wicked flu what could be better than an impromptu with & ? A win maybe?
  2. Not sure - wondered too - perhaps the Google tech held some teachers back from promoting it - learning curve maybe?
  3. I also laugh at myself say "we are doing..." - should say we are trying for the first time! LOL
  4. Oct 14
     liked some Tweets you were mentioned in
    Oct 14
    our approach as well, am also collaborating w Ts in their classes
  5. I don't have any scheduled book exchange so it offers me more flexibility with small group & whole class visits
  6. our approach as well, am also collaborating w Ts in their classes
  7. Oct 14
     liked your Tweets
    Oct 14
    . Great idea! My Jr Div kids have lobbied 4 & got MakerSpace time during Lib periods after book exchange if time

  1. we are doing the intro workshops during instructional day then "open" maker times after school
  2. I had grades 1,4,5,7,8 sign up. So 3 sessions grade 4 with another teacher, grade 1 on their own, grade 5,7,8 together
  3. same most activities will be grade 4 and up
  4. I am very new to being a Google believer but wow - I am totally hooked now! Still lots to learn!
  5. Oct 14
     liked some Tweets you were mentioned in
    Oct 14
    to not tu lol
  6. to not tu lol
  7. I sent the link to staff & they facilitated it. I want to get tu the point I just send it the kids' Google accounts.
  8. How did you do the Google forms? Kids did it in class? or when they came to the LLC?
  9. Oct 14
     liked a Tweet you were mentioned in
    Oct 14
    I used google forms for sign up & the google spreadsheet tool has saved my brain tonight for the scheduling!
  10. I used google forms for sign up & the google spreadsheet tool has saved my brain tonight for the scheduling!
  11. I don't know what I would do without you 2 when I need advice about all of this!!!! ❤️
  12. Oct 14
     liked some Tweets you were mentioned in
    Oct 14
    I plan on doing the Safety Skeletons first as per my last tweet. We can compare successes/next steps :)
  13. Have I told you that I love that you're my friends? <3
  14. I plan on doing the Safety Skeletons first as per my last tweet. We can compare successes/next steps :)
  1. Organize into groups prim/ jnr/int/. Int 1st - use as mentors and instructors 4 prim/jnr. Do over several days
  2. thoughts about the ideal way to schedule everyone?
And all of this transpired over the course of just a single day!

Jennifer has saved my bacon more than she's realized. I am the school library editorial board representative on Open Shelf, the official online publication of the Ontario Library Association. I've had trouble trying to solicit articles from school library professionals because these are typically very busy people with not a lot of time to spare to write, and we have another publication (The Teaching Librarian, OSLA's magazine) to fill with content as well. Not only has Jennifer written an article for Open Shelf, she's agreed to be a regular columnist! Look for her "It's Elementary: Adventures in School Libraries" articles to appear in late 2016. (I should also mention that her writing is impressive - it's the right mix of emotion and information, personal and professional. Open Shelf's readers are going to love it.)

Melanie is an inspiration. She created and ran a course on the TVO site Teach Ontario called "MakerSpaces on the Spot and on a Dime". I've been asked to do something similar about graphic novels. I didn't think I could do it. Melanie set the bar too high! Melanie's course is absolutely incredible, a pedagogical gold mine. She (and the fabulous Alanna King, who runs the very-popular book clubs on Teach Ontario) answered my numerous email questions patiently and reassuringly.

Both these teacher-librarians have also been incredibly helpful and supportive with my finger knitting endeavours. Melanie told me about a fabulous place to buy yarn inexpensively. Jennifer has offered to host finger knitting socials at her house. When I post photos of my work in progress, they often like, retweet or reply to them.

I feel blessed and fortunate to have met this pair of human dynamos. I'm sad that, since we are in different school boards (Peel vs Toronto), we don't have the opportunity to meet as often as I'd like. However, thanks to social media and the immediacy of texts and emails, their advice and words of encouragement are close by. I can hardly wait until the OLA Superconference when we'll be there simultaneously (with thousands of other library folks, but we'll find each other among the crowds).