Daily Archives: September 8, 2010

Ready, Set, Teach: You in the Classroom

We’re introducing a new feature here at ACRLog for the new academic year. We know there are lots of great academic librarian bloggers out there who don’t often get as much attention as they should. They’re the bloggers who don’t show up on those publisher “best librarian blog” lists — and hey, why should we let a publisher or scam site dictate who’s a blogger that you should be giving your attention?

Our first guest academic librarian blogger is Sarah Faye Cohen, Assistant Director of the Miller Information Commons at Champlain College in Burlington, VT. She blogs regularly at The Sheck Spot, and we’re pleased to share her post about preparing for library instruction.

As Maura pointed out in her last post, back to school means back to instruction. There are many ways that each of us prepares to walk into the classroom: speaking with a professor about the students or about the assignment, making sure the technology in the room is working, making copies of handouts, etc. But those are logistical considerations. Getting ready for instruction is not just about putting things together. It’s about putting yourself together to go out and introduce students to new ways of thinking and new tools. Sometimes that feels easy. But sometimes, it doesn’t. Sometimes, it’s the hardest work we are faced with as librarians. So, let’s look at it on a more personal side for a moment:

– What do you do to get ready to teach?
– What are the ways that you prepare yourself for the hard work of teaching?
– What are the ways you fortify yourself and nurture yourself through a teaching load?

Here are some ways I prepare myself for instruction:

Take it as it comes:
There is a part of teaching where the truth of a phrase like “Don’t take it personally” comes into play. That being said, one of the challenges of being a teaching librarian, especially if your interactions are based on one-shots, is that you never know when the “lightbulb” moment happens for the students. A session that you thought was mediocre at best, might have been pivotal for a student. Perhaps this will be one of those sessions! Conversely, this might be one of those “dead” sessions: no one talks, they look bored out of their minds, and you could stand on your head and it wouldn’t matter. In both instances, there is probably something you could have done differently. Especially when sessions don’t go well, remember that there is a big difference between learning from your mistakes in order to make future sessions better and beating yourself up. No matter how it turns out, take the session as it comes.

What Makes You Feel Effective in the Classroom?
Part of what makes instruction so much fun is that we each get to make it our own, even when you are part of a coordinated instruction program like we have at Champlain. That is why it is so important to look in the mirror and ask yourself: what makes me feel effective in the classroom? In my own cohort of teaching librarians, some of us feel effective by walking around during small group work while others stand at the front of the room. Some of us feel effective by tweaking the lesson each time while others like to keep the rhythm of what works for them. It helps to hear about what works for your colleagues so that you can find ways to make yourself more effective. Remember, there is not one, sure fire answer about what makes each of us effective in a classroom. We are individuals with individual styles. But it’s important to give thought to what makes you feel effective.

Know your CI:
Over the summer, the teaching librarians at Champlain read Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Made to Stick. There’s a lot in this book that pertains to teaching and I would recommend it to anyone. The very first chapter of the book presented an idea that really “stuck” to me—knowing your CI. As the chapter explains, this is known in military circles as the “Commander’s Intent”:

“CI is a crisp, plain-talk statement that appears at the top of every order, specifying the plan’s goal, the desired end-state of an operation…the CI never specifies so much detail that it risks being rendered obsolete by unpredictable events” (p. 26).

Another way to think of the CI is your Core Intent. What is it that your students must walk out of your session knowing? Is it a skill? Is it a specific resource? Or, what must your students walk out of your session thinking about? Is it a concept? Or is it a mindset? Is it to be curious? Or to never give up? Whatever “it” is, you need to know it so that no matter what happens in that class, you have a CI as your map. You know where that class is going. And you can express it to the professor, the students, your colleagues, but most importantly, to yourself.

The Back-Pocket Plan:
No matter how well prepared you are, no matter how much you’ve put into your lesson plan or activity design, sometimes it falls flat. This is when you need to pull out Plan B: the “Back-Pocket” Plan. This is absolutely vital when working with technology in the classroom. What is something else, something different you can do with the class to get your same message across but in a new way? Having a strong second option in your back pocket means that you are adaptable in the classroom and that you have a strong grasp on your CI.

Take Good Care:
This last one is one that we don’t talk very much about as a profession but I think is vital to instruction. Instruction is hard work. It demands a great deal of bravery and vulnerability, as Parker Palmer tells us in his transformative book, The Courage to Teach. To walk into session after session, we need to take good care of ourselves. For some of us, that might mean some quiet time before or after a session. Or, sharing (or venting) how the session went. Or, going for a walk. These are a few examples of what works for me. Whatever it is that you need, I hope you take the time to figure out what it is and that you make the time to take it.

Best of luck in the new semester!