Elizabeth Lyons is a teacher-librarian with Peel Schools and also a mom, wife, reader, maker, and inquiry thinker according to her Twitter Bio. Our paths have crossed in a few different contexts and her blog is always interesting to read.
Do you remember when we first met?
Beth: I believe that we met at EdCamp London for the first time. It was actually right at the end of the day, which was unlucky timing! Since then we have “met” a few times virtually through VoicEd Radio and on Twitter.
Doug: That’s my memory too. Thanks to our friend Stephen for introducing us. How about when our paths first crossed online? That might be a little more difficult.
Beth: That’s a tricky question… I would say that it was definitely on Twitter, perhaps one of your Friday Follow posts. Or from an interview you did with Carol Koechlin.
Doug: In fact, you were mentioned in my interview with Carol Koechin (https://dougpete.wordpress.com/2019/03/04/an-interview-with-carol-koechlin/) as a teacher-librarian in the province to keep an eye on. What do you think makes you stand out in Carol’s eyes?
Beth: First of all, I would like to say that to be mentioned in Carol’s interview was a huge honour. I like to think that Carol mentioned me because I share often about my journey as a teacher-librarian and the transition of our library space to a library learning commons. I’m very open with my learning and progress as I had many people who helped me as I started out on my journey. As part of the transition we adopted a completely open and flexible collaboration schedule and, because I am a 1.0 teacher-librarian, I am able to co-plan and co-teach with the educators in our school on a wide variety of content areas. We have been able to try out new ways of using the makerspace and maker inquiry to connect to our literacy, social studies and science curriculum.
Doug: I could see how that would raise Carol’s interest.
It was a delight to have you online with Stephen and me as a guest on the voicEd Radio show This Week in Ontario Edublogs this past summer. We featured one of your blog posts on the show. How was it talking about your own blog instead of just writing a post?
Beth: It was an interesting experience, to be sure. I think it worked nicely because I had written about listening to podcasts as professional development and how it feels as though it has helped me to improve my verbal communication skills. I think, that by listening to podcasts, I am better able to listen to the ideas of others in order to take in their ideas and opinions. Time to reflect is always a good thing in my opinion so it was interesting to go back and talk about my blog post that I had written a number of weeks previously. I really enjoyed the opportunity to connect my thoughts to the blogs of other educators who had written along a similar vein. It’s probably something I am doing each time I read a blog post or a new article but I don’t often get the chance to discuss my ideas with others.
Doug: In terms of voicEd Radio, you’re a regular contributor for music selections to Stephen’s Saturday night music show. He claims you’re his country music expert! Tell me what that means?
Beth: That makes me smile! There was a time when I was younger that I wasn’t always so forthcoming with my love for country music as it didn’t seem “cool”. I suppose as I’ve grown older I am more comfortable with my own taste in music and care less what people think of it. It’s also funny because music isn’t actually one of my biggest hobbies. There are artists and songs that I like and that I will listen to over and over
Sometimes I will go days without listening to any music at all.
Doug: We definitely differ there. I always have to have music on in the background when I’m working, it seems.
In one of your blog posts, you showed us a picture of your library which you indicated can be easily transformed from one layout to another. Can you describe for us what that means and how it works?
Beth: So many of the definitions of a “library learning commons” includes the idea that is a flexible space. In our library, most of the shelving and furniture is on wheels which means I can open the space up for an audience of 125 or so students to participate in an author visit, a musical performance, large scale inquiries and more. It also means that I can easily change the layout of our space to highlight different provocations by moving the tables or tinkering stations. We are lucky in that our library learning commons is very large – one side is where the books are mainly stored and the other is a table space that can be used for classes to participate in maker activities and other learning endeavors. This allows for consistent free flow book exchange and collaborative inquiry to happen simultaneously.
Doug: That is so interesting. Your comment about “our library” as opposed to “my library” is not lost on me. I’m always interested when someone shares their philosophy behind their classroom design.
Beth: When I first transitioned into the role and was speaking with Jenn Brown she used a great phrase that has stuck with me and helped me to frame my philosophy about being the teacher-librarian. She said (and I’ll be paraphrasing at this point) that “the teacher-librarian curates the library on behalf of the community.” First, I just love how that all sounds together and secondly, it’s very true. The library belongs to the users and in a school that is the students, the educators and our broaded family community.
Doug: If someone dropped into your library without notice on any given day, what would their first impression be?
Beth: Well, I hope it would be that the students are central in the space. Since moving into the teacher-librarian role, I have worked to help the students and educators see that the library learning commons is a shared space that we are responsible for the care of the books and the space. Students come into the space independently in small groups to exchange their books or interact with one of many stations. We have a variety of building areas, Lego, a light table, loose parts and other provocations set up based on different themes and inquiry questions. Secondly, most people comment on how big and open the space is. The main book area is a large circular room with a beautiful mural painted on it depicting the four seasons. The books shelves protrude off the walls like spokes which creates small nooks for students to read, tinker and explore. We also have a large classroom area set up with tables and a carpet for classes to use during collaborative inquiry or other lessons. This is also where the Genius Cart, which is an open making program we launched last year, is run from. Our collection of maker space materials are housed on the classroom side and available for classes to use as needed.
Doug: What’s missing from your library?
Beth: Tech integration or free tech use. We have 5 iPads and 4 Chromebooks in the library designated for library use. One of my goals this year is to have the tech more freely available for students when they visit the library for projects or other tech exploration.
Doug: You mentioned above that your teaching load is 100% in the library. What does this mean for a typical school day?
Beth: Yes, this is one of the greatest privileges I have as a teacher-librarian. I am not directly responsible for any curriculum as I do not cover any classes and am not required to cover planning times. The biggest benefit of this is that I am in the library learning commons for the full day, every day and, as long as it’s not my planning time, the library is open for free flow book exchange and collaboration.
Doug: Just today, you announced that your proposal to speak at the OLA Superconference was accepted. Congratulations. I’ve presented there twice. It’s an amazing experience. Can you give us a sneak peek about what to expect from your session?
Beth: Our presentation is called Snap, Spark, Provoke: Exploring Identity and Text with Provocations and Photography. A number of us in Peel have been working with students to explore their own identity and the identities of others in our communities through photography. We have been using picture books to present a diverse array of cultures and connections to those around us. We will be exploring how, by using hands-on materials (e.g. loose parts) and digital provocations (e.g. photography, photo editing, videos), we can spark inquiry and prompt deeper questions about who we are as humans and how we interact with each other.
Doug: Wow, that’s really a unique sounding session. You’re not presenting alone. How did you connect with your co-presenters?
Beth: I’m presenting with Tina Zita (@tina_zita) and Jane Dennis-Moore (@MsDennisMoore). Tina and I met a number of years ago when she was the Technology Resource Teacher for my school. Since then we have kept in touch through Twitter and at various PD sessions. Last year, Tina was working with another Peel educator looking at selfies, and specifically “unselfies”- that is pictures without a person in it. She messaged a few of us about exploring this idea with students in our buildings. Jane and I had “met” on Twitter previously but this created a space for more lengthy collaboration (and lots of DMs back and forth). We actually created our proposal and submitted for OLASC20 before Jane and I ever met face-to-face!
Doug: That’s amazing. I wish the three of you a great session and an opportunity to inspire others to follow in your footsteps.
I know you’re passionate about school libraries. Can you share some of this with us?
Beth: Such a big question! I’ve wanted to be a teacher-librarian for just about as long as I can remember. My aunt, who lived next door to me growing up, was a teacher-librarian and I remember that she always had books around her, she always had something cool to teach us, and that she was always talking about kids. My mom was also a huge believer in the public library and we went all the time. I remember reading my way through the entire kids’ section and then asking the librarian what I could read next. My favourite thing about being in the school library is seeing the kid’s excitement. When they come in and find the book they’ve been wanting is in and on the shelf, it’s a beautiful thing to see. It’s a similar feeling when they discover a new passion and are blown away to learn that yes, we do have entire section on rocks and minerals and that they can read as many of the books as they like. Watching the students advocate for their own learning and passions is the greatest privilege of being in the school library.
I also love that the library learning commons is a space from which educators can be co-learners and that, as the teacher-librarian, I am in the place to coach, guide and support my fellow educators. I’ve written about this on my blog before but when you are in the classroom it’s like juggling just about a million balls at one time. You are responsible for multiple curriculums, most likely at multiple grade levels. You have the well-being and mental health of your students to be aware of as well as helping to guide them socially. How do we behave towards each other? How do we create a welcoming and inclusive community. Teachers are constantly assessing, documenting, reflecting, questioning and wondering all about their students and their progress and it doesn’t always leave a lot of time to try out a new and innovative idea. Sometimes it does and many educators are adept at adding a new ball to the juggling act by exploring how they can integrate maker opportunities into their literacy program, how they can teach math from an inquiry stance while integrating social justice issues, etc. But teachers are human and their mental health is important, too. We can’t always be adding and adding to their plate and expect that all the balls will continue to spin perfectly. As the teacher-librarian, I l am able to read up on the newest ideas, to read PD books during the school year and play around with the ideas I get excited about. Being in the Library Learning Commons is a lot about building relationships with both the students and educators in the school. In doing so, I am able to reach out to colleagues that I know are ready to try something new, perhaps are ready to be “pushed” a little beyond what they are already trying but they just haven’t found the time to squeeze it in to the other millions of things they have on the go. This is where the teacher-librarian and the school library can become a place of co-learning. I can be the one to attempt something new with the class and if it flops, it’s on me and I’ll own that in front of the students. I tell kids all the time that we are trying something new and I have no idea what end we might get to. The school library is a place where we can take risks and push ourselves to grow and I take that responsibility seriously.
Doug: I’ll ask you the same question I asked of Carol. If you were shortlisting Ontario Twitter Teacher-Librarian accounts to follow, who would make that list?
@JennMacBrown– I had the great luck to work with Jenn at a previous school where she was the teacher-librarian and she has been an invaluable resource and support since I moved into the teacher-librarian role. Jenn consistently pushes me to stretch my thinking and look at ways that I can use my privilege to elevate the voices of others. I always feel that I am learning when I am with Jenn and am proud to also call her a friend.
Christopher Hunt (not Ontario, but still Canadian!)
@ExLibrisMrHunt– I really enjoy following Christopher’s Twitter feed and seeing the new ideas he is trying out. I always come away with new thinking and a new idea I can mull over and see how it might fit in our library space.
@Klblib– Karen is a fellow Peel TL and I have enjoyed getting to know her via Twitter. We are both interested in integrating the SDGs into our library programming and I like seeing what she’s trying out.
@rabia_khokhar1– I love seeing what Rabia is up to in the library space and how she is working to bring in diverse voices through picture books and inquiries with her students. She is an excellent example in how school libraries can be at the forefront of social justice and equity issues.
@MrRuggero– I really enjoy the maker based provocations and learning that Geoff often tweets about and his wide variety of reading. Lately, he’s been tweeting each of the books he’s read as part of a 50 Book Challenge and although I don’t often share my thoughts on books (beyond just saying I love it), I do really enjoy learning about new books through other educators.
Doug: Thank you for that! I just found some new people to follow on Twitter.
Your blog is called “The Librarian’s Journey”. That’s an interesting title. Where did your “journey” start and where is it headed? How will you know when you get there?
Beth: I think my journey started as a child when I first started visiting libraries. In terms of actually being a teacher-librarian, I have had the honour of working in a number of schools with great teacher-librarians over the course of my time teaching. I always looked for opportunities to co-plan and co-teach and learn from the time spent with those teacher-librarians. To be honest I’m not really sure where my journey is headed. I am exploring opportunities to work more closely with the Ontario School Library Council and am planning to submit an action research paper for Treasure Mountain 2020. Beyond that, I am still very much invested in the transition of the library learning commons at my school and meeting the goals we have set for ourselves. Do we ever “get there” with our learning? I hope not. I hope that I never stop learning and growing. Each time we reach a goal that has been set or reflect on a goal that needs to be reworked, it’s an opportunity to continue and stretch as an educator and as a human.
Doug: On the voicEd show, I mentioned how I find it difficult to read your blog posts because of your formatting. It seems to me that’s a pretty intentional move. Can you explain?
Beth: It’s definitely intentional as I centre my writing on purpose. I find that as I am writing there are certain phrases and ideas that I want to highlight or linger on for my own thinking and reflection. I like how I can create blocks of text that connect together or separate an idea off to the side. I’m sorry that you find it hard to read. I could always send you a doc with everything formatted with a left alignment! LOL
Doug: No, you don’t have to do that. I just find that your style forces me to slow down as I’m reading. Not all blogs do that to me. Regardless, your blog always has interesting posts and well worth a regular visit to see what you’re talking about next. Thanks for doing that. Are you inspired by other blogs?
Beth: I think lately we all need something to slow us down… I do really enjoy reading blogs and learning from other people’s points of view but I have found that I’m at a point right now that it’s not something I make a priority, to be honest. I do try to read Aviva Dunsiger’s blog (and really all her posts on both Twitter and Instagram!) as well as Diana Maliszewski’s. I love Aviva’s approach to documenting her students’ learning and her wonderings/reflections. She is definitely an educator that I hope to meet one day. I admire Diana’s dedication to always blogging on Mondays about her thoughts and learning from the previous week. I wish that I was able to formulate my thoughts each week into a blog post and have that kind of commitment to my writing.
Doug: Most definitely, those two blogs are great exemplars. Thanks for sharing them. No pressure at all has been placed on Aviva or Diana!
Thank you so much for interview, Beth. It was fun to find out a little more about you and your educational passions.
You can get or stay connected with Beth through:
This post is part of a series of blog posts that I conduct regularly with interesting people like Beth. You can check out previous interviews here: https://dougpete.wordpress.com/interviews/