Alanna King is one of those Ontario Educators that you see everywhere, it seems! On social media actively learning or at a face-to-face professional development event, you’ll find her smiling face and eagerness to help push your learning. I don’t think that I’ve ever seen her less than full speed ahead with a delightful, bubbly and friendly personality. I’m happy to say that I’ve known Alanna for a number of years and look forward to every opportunity for our paths to cross. Recently, this wonderful person agreed to share even more information about this inspirational educator.
Doug: My first question in these interviews is always the same. Do you recall when our paths first crossed? (online or not or both)
Alanna: I don’t have a flashbulb memory but I would bet that it had something to do with either of these 2 events in 2009 when I was seeking how to further my new interest in teaching online and moving from the drama classroom to the school library for the first time. I attended OTF’s 21C summer institute and then in the fall I attended my first ECOO conference.
Doug: The King family has been like a second family to me and it’s always a personal highlight to see the three of you at Bring IT Together Conferences. As we know, the traditional meetup at Niagara Falls hasn’t been happening. Fortunately, we have social media to stay in touch. I understand you have a new driver in the family! Congratulations – question though – I’ve driven in your “hood” many times. There are lots of steep hills. How’s the learning going? Car or motorcycle?
Alanna: Our new driver has grown up on ATVs and we go as a family to SMART adventures each year….that is the fellas go driving and I go to the spa. Although this year I’m thinking of learning off-road driving so I can go to lesser places known with more confidence. The trickiest bit seems to be the anxiety of everyone during the pandemic….have you noticed how much drivers are forgetting the basics?
Doug: I’m laughing here thinking of that question, Alanna. Yes, turn signals and stop signs seem optional these days. I thought it was just around here.
Somewhat recently, you’ve made a huge career change, leaving your Library behind for a change in teaching assignment. Can you tell us about the decision to do this and let us know how it’s going?
Alanna: I’m really wrestling with how to answer this because there a lot of emotion and identity on it. I thing I earned my online presence as a teacher-librarian and so this is how people define me. Being a teacher-librarian is a great gig, if you can get it. My job as a t-l meant a 90 minute commute each day, which was great for reading audiobooks but not much else. I had applied for a job transfer to a school closer to home in Elora for a decade. Most of our services for our son and health are in Guelph and Kitchener-Waterloo so Elora has been great for access, and the thriving arts community here has always made us feel at home here. When I got sick in 2019, my principal administratively transferred me to our school which is just 7 minutes from home for full English. At the minute I have 2 library sections in my timetable for next year so that’s motivating me to try face-to-face again! Since returning to work gradually after surviving cancer, and then the pandemic shutdown, I’ve actually only spent 3 months in the building….80% of 2020 I worked remotely from home. I’m immune-compromised so I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Doug: Wow, I hadn’t thought about the commute in terms of time. I know the roads can be treacherous at times there in the winter.
Any regrets about the move?
Alanna: Of course! It was a great gig but more than anything I miss my friends. But there are benefits too– I don’t run the literacy test for the school, I don’t have a headship, and my teeny tiny corner of teaching English full-time means I can set my own agenda and have a direct influence on student learning again. As a t-l, I was peripheral.
Doug: How does your experience and skill set as a Teacher-Librarian serve you in your new role?
Alanna: I’ll never stop innovating! I see so much more clearly how English is a fundamental component of every classroom so I think more about skills and levelling students up in their reading, writing and research. I embed diverse voices into everything and almost every assignment we do offers choice. I started 2 virtual extracurriculars this year: a book club using the OLA’s White Pine program and a creative writing club….we have students from every secondary school in the board. I’m still marveling how we never would have tried it if it hadn’t been for CoVid. We had 130 participants between the 2 clubs! Also I have a new appreciation for motivation and mental health and creating that safe space in the library has translated back into my teaching.
Doug: You’ve made connections with Teacher-Librarians that I used to work with at the Greater Essex County District School Board. Can you name names? How did you connect with them?
Alanna: I’m sorry Doug but everyone who is west of K-W is sort of “over there near Doug” so I’m going to get this wrong I know. I have a great friend Johanna Lawler that you and I have in common. Johanna and I spent 3 glorious years together serving on the OSLA council together. Then it gets fuzzy….do you know Martha Martin? Dawn Telfer? James Henderson?
Doug: Martha was the Computers in Education School Contact at my kids’ school as well as a teacher-librarian. She provided the whole literacy/digital literacy for them. I’ve met Dawn from Thames Valley but I don’t think I’ve met James. Johanna, in addition to being the CIESC at another school, always had an open door for me and offered to be a guinea pig for many district initiatives and I learned so much from her.
I know that you’re a regular attendee at the OLA Superconference and the ECOO Bring IT, Together Conference. What idea(s) from each conference could be shared with the other to make both conferences even better?
Alanna: 1 thing that Diana and I brought to OLA when we were planners was the idea of an onsite school library makerspace which we adapted from Brenda Sherry’s idea of Minds On Media at ECOO. People who attend the conference, who don’t get to play all day long like teacher-librarians, loved our OSLA playground. James Steeves is a hit both at ECOO and at OLA for bringing weird stuff to try! OLA feels more like a conference than BIT. ….I mean people are there for the whole event and are excited about the AGMs. There is food and drink everywhere, and the social events are widely varied and massively popular. The keynotes at OLA are a real hit because they are often authors, journalists or people in the arts who have either: used libraries to get started on a pathway or someone who knows how much their voice now resonates with the fundamental reasons that libraries are essential – democracy, expression, community, and social justice. Until BIT has drag queens and dancing with an oxygen bar, it just doesn’t compare.
Doug: I’ve got to agree with you there. I’ve been to a few OLA conferences and presented twice, once with a teacher from my old board and the second time The Great OSLA Faceoff with the amazing Zoe Branigan-Pipe and two teams of amazing educators. There is something marvelous about the OLA Superconference – maybe it’s because they’re not all teachers! <grin>
You’re also an award winner – tell us about the significance of the Angela Thacker Award to you –
Alanna: On my bad days this feels like a post-humous award and if you read my blog post of my acceptance speech, you’ll know why. What really matters to me though ….is that it’s like winning a Screen Actors Guild award rather than an Oscar. This award is for my leadership in the development of the profession of school library staff….so my nomination was put forward and supported by my colleagues and people who work on the field. I sat with a team of geniuses this year to reenvision the library AQs, then donated my earnings to Canadian School Libraries. I write a lot for our CSL journal, I have run summer institutes for school library staff, I attend Faculty of Ed days where they’re talking about school libraries and I keep pushing people to do more. I really think that the best school librarians work to make systems that are sustainable and users independent and that there is a whole community/system/national/global focus on everything they do.
Doug: Your reach also extends to Argentina – tell us about that – https://www.ugdsb.ca/blog/ugdsb-libraries-provide-inspiration-to-buenos-aires/
Alanna: Well again on OSLA council I made a Francophone contact Joanne Plante who serves as Canada’s representative for IFLA (International Federation of Libraries Association) who were planning an event in Buenos Aires with UNESCO to make groundbreaking moves towards the Sustainable Development Goals. Joanne couldn’t go because she also had to present her work at the IFLA conference in Prague (maybe?). I was having fries at a chip truck when she emailed to ask if I would be up for it. 5 weeks later I had flown 14 hours to spend less than 4 days on the ground in Argentina to keynote, be part of a panel and to work directly with key stakeholders about envisioning how to take Buenos Aires ahead in digital literacy. It rocked my world to bridge all of those lingual and cultural differences and to see firsthand how a developing country makes literacy choices. When I came back I thought of nothing else! Eventually the head librarian for teachers, Walquiria Salinas, in Buenos Aires came and lived with me for 3 weeks in time for the winter OLA conference, and our biennial research symposium called Treasure Mountain Canada. It was during this conference that Beth Lyons, Lisa Noble and I started our podcast called Read Into This.
Doug: One of the things I appreciate and admire about you is your dedication to blogging. Recently, I mentioned that blogging seems to be dropping off and I guessed it might be because of the stresses associated with the pandemic. What keeps you going? Where do you find ideas and inspiration for blogging topics?
Alanna: Don’t compare me to my prolific husband Tim on this one who writes daily in his blogs! My blogs are usually either: quick reviews of something I’ve experienced or read OR they are big thoughts that have percolated for a long time….I’m a slow brew. I’m always learning, reading, consuming and creating and I like the blog as an archive of these ideas but mostly I like to blog to unpack deep thoughts and to start new conversations with its readers.
Doug: When I was at the Faculty of Education, one of my placements took me to Orangeville. I would have loved to have taught there, at least at the time. Would that have been a good choice for a Computer Science teacher?
Alanna: Why not? Isn’t computer science viable everywhere? It should be! Orangeville is a bedroom community for the GTA so your students would have all of the computer-embedded opportunities in the geographical reach for its SHSM and coop applications. But truthfully computer science wasn’t a well developed program where I taught. Instead students mostly got soft skills in business class, media skills in comm tech and modelling and manufacturing skills in design tech. If we had computer science running that year it was primarily focused on coding and app building.
Doug: Recently, we have a standing date to visit the new River Bookshop in Amherstburg. https://riverbookshop.com/ Now, I should know all about it since the Rivertown Times used to be in that location and we witnessed the renovations. How on earth would that have crossed your radar, over three hours away?
Alanna: I am really interested in independent bookstores. In another life, I’d run one next to a cafe and with a community space in it for larger groups….or maybe that’s a library or a museum, but you see where I’m going with this. What I love about what I’ve seen online about the River Bookshop is that it knows the community and it is intent on being a pillar of your town. I loved the Halloween decorations they put up that you sent me pictures of.
Doug: You’ll be please to know that they’ve purchased the store beside them and are renovating it to be a bake shop. They must have read your mind.
All educators are experiencing a new reality teaching in this environment. How have you been handling things?
Alanna: Like I said I’ve been teaching completely online this year but you may not know that I’ve been an elearning teacher since 2009. So in terms of the tech, I was quite prepared. What I wasn’t prepared for are the demands of synchronous learning! But it’s been a real intellectual and physical challenge to maintain the integrity of my curriculum in compressed time limits, and with very limited tech. I feel like I’ve fulfilled all the roles of the support staff missing in a face-to-face situation. I really miss our custodians!
Doug: Do you have any wisdom for what might happen to/for:
- Face to face instruction in schools?
- Bring IT, Together Conference?
- OLA Super Conference?
- I think we’ve learned a lot this year about the disparities that families face and how much that age-old Maslow’s hierarchy of needs affects learning. We need to work a lot harder in our public education system to be inclusive and to make space for marginalized voices. There’s a lot of talk about being explicitly anti-racist, and acknowledging Indigenous experiences, but we are also facing local hate crimes on a heightened level. We have to put relationships and community before curriculum….especially if that curriculum continues to be based on colonial values. There’s a growing movement in the school library to do away with overdue fines and to dismantle Dewey.
- I have absolutely loved the ECOO learning series through live webinars, and also the ECOO camps. For me, the ideal of getting face to face for 3 days in Niagara has felt less possible each year…the time and cost are increasingly prohibitive. I think at the very least there needs to be a consistent virtual presence. I’m surprised that ECOO hasn’t started it’s own podcast!
- Likewise I had an exhilarating experience hosting my first live podcast for Superconference this year. Stephen Hurley ran all the tech for me and I loved generating hype for our online social celebration of the successes of school libraries during the pandemic, and the community we’ve developed with our Read Into This podcast. Generally the timing of this conference has always fallen during exams so I live in hope that it can continue. Again though, I can’t see why it needs to be fully face-to-face. We had people tune in from all over Canada, as it is the biggest library conference in the nation. It would be a shame to dismantle that new level of connectivity.
Doug: I think I know you well enough to know that you’ve always been a continuous learner. What are you currently learning?
Alanna: I am just finishing my Graduate Certificate in Instructional Design through Royal Roads University. I’ve taken 3 course in Graphic Design, Project Management and Learning Design with Educational Technologies. Looking at job ads for Instructional Designers in the areas that I’d like to work in, my next level might be a certificate in adult learning, and also improving my French and Spanish so that I can work with human rights organizations. I think you know that I taught in Japan for 3 years. Now that our son will be heading off to college soon, I’d like to head off to new horizons in global education especially in developing sustainable education for all. I almost started a diploma in curatorial work because museums, galleries and libraries are my favourite places. I would love to develop cross-curricular educational programming. Did I ever tell you about my student grant job at the Joseph Schneider Haus museum in Kitchener? Best job ever.
Doug: I don’t believe that you mentioned that Schneider Haus museum but I certainly remember it from my university days.
If a person was new to social media and turned to you for recommendations, who would you recommend following/friending? Maybe a quick Top 10 List?
Alanna: Well obviously you need to connect to Stephen Hurley @Stephen_Hurley and you @dougpete. I love to follow @TheFOLD_ and @AmnestyReads book selections to diversify my reading. I think Colinda Clyne @clclyne and Jael Richardson @JaelRichardson have made huge gains with their reading recommendations and book clubs to highlight diverse Canadian voices. If you haven’t already, please follow our podcast Read Into This @into_read and my two co-hosts Beth Lyons @mrslyonslibrary and Lisa Noble @nobleknits2. Finally I would recommend following your subject associations and mine are: @ecooorg @oslacouncil @ELANontario
Doug: Alanna, thank you so much for the interview. I truly am looking forward to showing you the River Bookshop one of these days. May it be sooner than later. Stay safe.
You can connect with Alanna here: