Sunday, June 28, 2015

If You Build It, They Will Come?

We built a giant chess set for the last week of school. It seems like a perfect symbol for the first leg of my teacher librarian journey. It is also a fine example of how collaboration and community can come together and lead to great things.

In May, I eliminated the center tables in our library because the chattiest/ most extroverted kids seemed to sit there and their noise seemed to spread throughout the room. I felt that eliminating those tables would  encourage more pleasant chatter. (I was right.) But, then I had the "problem" of what to do with all this space. My principal passed through the library one day and, according to one of my assistants in earshot, apparently said something to the effect of, "What's she doing now? Making a dance floor?!" He was kidding (I think), but you can see that it was important for me to come up with something clever and worthwhile!

I had talked about building a life sized version of my students' favorite game many months ago. There was buzz around it among some of our more enthusiastic students. It seemed like a perfect fit for this perfect square. The board was created by a social studies teacher who offered his assistance when I  blathered about our plan to anyone who would listen. He had been in the carpeting business and had bits of carpeting lying around.

If there is one thing that working in this community setting has taught to me, it's that communication is the key to pretty much getting anything done. Word of mouth generates interest. Taking interest in the health and happiness of the group as a whole builds our sense of community, encourages positive spontaneous interaction, and builds trust in the library's work. My direct contact with people every single day is the key to encouraging participation. 
  • Grab a good idea and don't let anyone look at you askance. Run with it!
  • Tell everyone about your idea. (Do not do this if you are not actually going to follow through. Demand follow through from yourself no matter what!)
  • While talking about your idea, keep you ears open for partners. If someone seems interested, make them fit into your scheme somehow.
  • Be flexible! Your original idea may not be what works best in the end. Be open to others' thoughts.
  • Be prepared to change things up mid-stream. If something isn't working, try it another way.
  • Be patient
  • Share your idea and don't treat it like your sole property. Let others do what they want with it.
The chess board I  conceived many moons ago was to be made of floor tiles and stryofoam pieces, but the teacher's idea of carpeting was perfect. The colors he chose even  matched our room decor. (I don't know if this was serendipitous or his choice because he sees the careful attention we've been giving to making our space comfortable and coordinated.) The building of the board was slower than I had hoped, but when the tiles were finally brought in, it turned out that the timing was perfect. It was the last full week of school, the students were ready for summer and something a little different. The board was a perfect way to hold their attention for just a bit longer.

When we put the tiles out, we had photocopied flat pieces. Students turned these down for their play and decided to use little regular sized board pieces instead. And though they had a great time, I wanted bigger pieces. Our flat pieces became three dimensional with some velcro and cardboard developed by one of my assistant. We then put string on them with the hope that some students might be interested in using them around their necks and becoming human pieces. I told everyone in earshot that would be so amazing to see. (We also made checker pieces on the request of some students and they added yellow dots to one side to denote kings. Not part of the original plan, but a lovely addition to the concept.)

On day four, a bunch of kids (mostly my extroverts) were sitting on the floor around the library. "Guys, I know we are getting near the end of the school year, but we are still functioning as we normally do. Would you please find a seat in a chair somewhere?"

"Ms. Mannon, we are waiting for our turn at the board. Is that okay?" I was pleased as punch.

"Of course. Sure thing," I replied.

When two students finished their game with the pieces on the floor board, a flock of kids got up and began hanging queens and kings and rooks around their necks. Someone had helped us spread the word that the game was there and new users were joining in library activities. My assistants and I immediately got to work recruiting more board pieces to help out. One reticent girls got very excited. "I've been waiting all week for this! I don't know how to play chess, but I want to be a piece!" She was welcomed into the fold. (Maybe the experience will even encourage her to learn how to play.) The kids worked it all out themselves - picked team captains, decided who would be what piece, and let everyone play from all different grades and all different cliques.

When I first fell into this position as library media specialist, the library was a place to hang out with your friends. During my third year, it has become a place for interaction and communication for our larger school community.

Getting  to know your audience as a cultural heritage / information professional is key to what you do. I do not play chess. I know how to play, but I would not call myself a chess player. Watching my students enthusiasm grow for this game over the past few years has been exciting. At times, every table in our library has a chess board on it with students playing. I always tell my students that their time in the library is productive time, not time for gossip. When they play chess, I know that they are working their brains and growing appreciation for something that could play a relaxing and joyful long-term role in their lives.

My role as an information specialist gave me a platform for a. introducing something they might like, b. helping them grow their interest, c. building something big and memorable that they latched onto because of a and b. The moral? If you build it, they will come IF you have laid a foundation of trust, collaboration, and community.

*For those of you who have followed my journey in this career shift, I am pleased to report that I am now an official teacher, awaiting my approved and paid for teaching license in the mail! I have also enrolled to pursue a post-graduate teaching degree (CAGS.)