Today is the start of a new adventure for me! For the next few months I am going to be one of five bloggers on Edmodo’s Featured Blogger Team. I am very honored to be part of this amazing group of educators and excited to share and learn with all of you!
I will be writing as the “VOICE of the Library”, sharing stories, hints and advice on how to integrate social media into your school and within the lives of the students, teachers and community. As the district teacher librarian at Van Meter Community School, I create opportunities every day to use social media in order to give our students a voice by connecting them to amazing experiences, resources and people around the world.
Since this is my first post, I would like to tell you a little bit about the journey that I have taken in the last few years. Van Meter is a small, rural town in Iowa about 15 miles southwest of Des Moines. When I became the teacher librarian in the fall of 2007, I did several things within our libraries and school to create a change. Many of these changes were physical such as creating spaces that nurtured learning, creativity and relationships. I developed the first Van Meter Library website and implemented Follett’s Destiny Library Manager within the first year.
In the fall of 2009, we rolled out over 300 MacBooks to our secondary students and continued to integrate technology and innovation throughout our K-12 building. Within weeks I realized the need to give the libraries and our students a voice and a way to connect outside of the walls of our school.
I needed an unique brand for the libraries. One day while I was looking over my brainstorming scribbles on a piece of paper, one of the goals for the library jumped out at me. “To give the students a voice.” That was it! That was exactly what I wanted to accomplish and create for Van Meter. It was now time to start connecting through various social networks and bring the Van Meter Library Voice to life.
I started with the Van Meter Library Voice Google Site , Van Meter Library Voice blog, Van Meter Elementary Library Voice blog, Van Meter Voice Twitter (@vmlibraryvoice), Van Meter Voice on Facebook, Van Meter Librarian YouTube channel, and Van Meter Diigo Group. Also, I became active in Twitter (@shannonmmiller) and we created the #vanmeter hashtag to use at Van Meter. I sent out emails to the teachers, students and community to promote the Van Meter Voice. I created displays throughout the building and sent home a newsletter. I blogged about it. I tweeted about it. I put it on Facebook. I even had the students create a iMovie with their new MacBooks and put it on YouTube.
As I got involved in these social networks and developed my PLN (Personal Learning Network), I began to connect with others and valuable resources to bring to the students and teachers. I found opportunities to connect with other classrooms, authors, and Web 2.0 developers. I brought these experiences and resources into Van Meter using Skype and shared about them through blogging, Twitter, and Facebook. I taught our students how to safely and effectively use social media and they began to have a local and global voice as well.
Last summer, I developed a PLN/Web 2.0 class with my friend Bill Brannick, principal of Monsignor Bonner &Archbishop Prendergast Catholic High School in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania. Bill and I met on Twitter the year before and began talking about this class after he visited Van Meter in the spring of 2010. I have a group of students in Van Meter and Bill has a group of students in Drexel Hill that make up our class (#vanmeterbpchs). Last fall, I even had the pleasure of meeting my other amazing students when a group from Van Meter delivered professional development at Bill’s school. It was an incredible experience and one that I will never forget. We had formed a meaningful relationship through social media and other forms of collaboration. When we met at the school the first morning, the students were excited about me being with them and very thankful for the opportunities they had been given through these connections.
In the fall, we connected several of our K-8 classrooms with Merton Community School in Wisconsin after connecting with Chris Reuter and Mark Flynn on Twitter. We developed the Van Meter Merton Connect blog and wiki to share our journey. Over spring break last month I traveled to Merton to visit the teachers, administrators and students that I had become connected to throughout this year. This is another visit that will always be special to me.
In October I met John Schu, who is the teacher librarian at Brook Forest in Oak Brook, Illinois, at the School Library Journal Summit in Chicago. Before that week, we followed each other on Twitter. After the Summit, John and I started discussing ways to connect our students and schools. Over the past six months John has become not only a close friend but also my teaching partner even though we live hundreds of miles apart. We collaborate daily through Google Docs, Twitter, and email. We use various Web 2.0 tools to create projects that tie into our library and technology curriculum. John and I even write the posts together for our blog Two Libraries One Voice.
One of our first connections between Brook Forest and Van Meter was when we connected our 4th graders through Edmodo. We both have two sections of 4th grade in our school so it worked out perfect having two groups….Fourth Grade Reads 1 and Fourth Grade Reads 2. The students started out by introducing themselves and posting something of their choice about school, their town, what they liked to read, favorite authors, and more.The next time they came to library it was fun to see them read about their new friends and reply to comments. They were excited when they read about similar interests and hobbies. I loved watching them also respond to their classmates at Van Meter. The conversations kept growing in our two groups and it was becoming exciting and challenging to the students to think about what they are writing. The connections they are making mean something to them and give them a voice in their learning.
Since then, we have developed Caldecott podcasts, celebrated Ivy + Bean Day, and created spine, acoustic, and global poems. We celebrated Read Across America Day with a Dr. Seuss birthday party. For World Read Aloud Day, John and I created the Celebrating The Power of Words and Stories Through Connections wiki. We sent the wiki out on Twitter and soon had 15 classrooms around the world and 9 authors connecting throughout this very special day. Last week we celebrated Poem In Your Pocket Day with others in Georgia, Illinois, New Hampshire, New York, and Wisconsin. My students see John as their other teacher librarian and his students as their friends. These connections and experiences have enriched the lives of all of our students and also ourselves. I love each day I get to connect with John and his students…it is just the best.
When people ask me what is different about our little school in Van Meter, Iowa, I always have the same answer. It is not the technology alone that has brought this change. The thinking has changed. Also, the relationships within and outside of our school community are making a difference. As I wrote in the guest post When Students Also Teach on Doug Johnson’s Blue Skunk Blog last year, “ We are part of an environment filled with respect, creativity, collaboration, connecting, thinking, learning, and one of CHANGE. At Van Meter, we want our students to find their passion. Through this transformation we encourage them to think, lead, and serve. To be part of something bigger…outside the walls of their school and into the world. This is where every one of our students are going to make a difference and mark on the world in their very own way”
Social media has given our students, teachers and myself endless opportunities to connect, collaborate and create with others around the world.
It gives students a place to connect to their passions and to be a voice in their own education.
Throughout the next few months, I will continue to share wonderful stories of connections, creation, collaboration and the voice of my students.
Afterall, they are the ones that need to be heard.
Reference: “When Students Also Teach: Guest Post by Shannon Miller.” Home – Doug Johnson’s Blue Skunk Blog. Web. 19 Apr. 2011.
Shannon Miller is a Teacher Librarian in Van Meter School District in Iowa. The opinions share in this blog entry are her own.