Sunday, October 29, 2006

Blog Interaction with Robert Cox - Mon. Oct. 30 to Wed. Nov. 1, 2006


Rob Cox is a media specialist who works at two schools in Fortville, IN. Both are elementary schools, one serving grades K-4 and the other grades 5 and 6.

Learn more about Rob at http://eduscapes.com/sms/robcox.html

You can ask Rob for his candid views about his first few years on-the-job, about his experience working at two schools, or anything related to the school library media profession.

13 comments:

  1. Anonymous5:56 AM

    Hi everone, this is Rob posting this. I am looking forward to your questions; this was a lot of fun for me last year. Let me start by saying that when I look at the list of other people who are doing this, I think: "how on earth did I get included in this?" That's a very impressive list of people that you can ask questions of, and I am a relative nobody. Perhaps that's the best way for all of you to look at it; I am a relative nobody that is only in my second year as a media specialist so feel free to ask me anything, there is absolutely no reason to be intimidated by me! :-)

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  2. I have a couple of things I think I can learn from you. I am curious about the start of your career and your experience working at two different schools.

    As a soon-to-be librarian I am a bit nervous about attaining that first job and starting out on the right foot. How did you prepare yourself for your job search? What resources and places did you use to find openings? Do you have any interview tips for a newbie?

    Did you find it overwhelming your first year? I can imagine your second year must have been quite a relief and hope it gets easier. Did it for you or did you get more work because of familiarity and preestablished ties to teachers?

    Thanks!
    Lindsay Haddix

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  3. Hi Rob, my question is about collaboration within the first year. What is your approach to stepping in to the position of the previous media specialist. How do you establish new relationships with teachers who may have loyalty to the previous person.

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  4. Anonymous1:04 PM

    This is for Lindsay’s questions from Rob,

    The single best source for job information that I have found has been Dr. Callison’s email list. (I assume Dr. Irwin will continue that.) It seemed that every job posting I found elsewhere had already shown up there, and there were some jobs that showed up there that I never saw anywhere else. If you know anybody that currently works in a district where there is an opening don’t be bashful about using them, school administrators like to hire people they already know. I ended up getting a job in a district where I didn’t know anybody, so don’t give up hope if you don’t know somebody, but it sure makes it easier to get an interview. My best interview tip would be to take things with you that demonstrate your abilities. I was a library aide at an elementary school when I had to quit my job to begin my student teaching. The staff threw a “going away” party for me and gave me a book in which they had all recorded their favorite memories of working with me. I took that with me to the interview and pulled it out when I was asked how well I get along with others. Anyone can “talk” about how he/she is the most qualified person for the job, but if you can “demonstrate” that you are the most qualified it will set you apart. I probably got the job because the ability to get along with everybody else was at the top of the list of what they were looking for. I think that will be at the top of every Principal’s list in any building that is hiring, the media specialist works with virtually everybody in the building so we have to be able to get along with others. You also should be able to demonstrate your flexibility and your ability to learn new things. You don’t have to know everything, but you need to be able to learn fast! You should also try to find out the latest trends in education and learn enough to be able to talk about them intelligently. It really helped me in my job search that I knew what a "Lexile" was, but it was purely a coincidence that I had learned about it, so I got lucky.

    I don’t think my first year was overwhelming so much as it was just a blur! I find that I have a lot more time this year just because I know the names and faces, the procedures, etc. I don’t spend so much time figuring out who to ask for what, finding out things at the last minute that everyone assumed I already knew, and all the little things that you need to know to be productive but that aren’t really germane to what you are doing. Ironically, having said this, I don’t think this year has been any easier, it has just been more productive. I find myself redoing most of my lessons from last year and expecting more from myself as a teacher, so in some ways it’s harder. I’m ok with that though, I hope I am working hard at getting better at what I am doing rather than just working hard trying to stay above water like last year. I would say I have gotten some more work because of already knowing the teachers, but not so much to make it difficult. The most work I get seems to come from the newest teachers, so I’m not sure how much the established relationships are playing into it at this point. My guess is that I’m still new enough to need to earn the trust and respect of the older teachers, while the younger teachers are desperately looking for any help they can get. I also think a lot depends on the teachers. I have one older established teacher at my elementary that I work with a fair amount because she is willing to try new things, but there are others that I doubt will ever work with me.

    My experience working at two schools has been interesting. I find some positives, and many negatives to the arrangement. The biggest negative is just never feeling like I am completely a member of either staff. I miss out on 50% of what happens in both buildings. It is not unusual for me to walk in and discover everyone is wearing jeans and red shirts for some special going on that was announced at the end of the previous day while I was at the other building. That’s no big deal, but things like that kind of emphasizes to you how much you miss. I miss half the staff meetings, professional development days, etc. There are many things that are simply two sides of the same coin: working with so many kids in 7 different grades is very challenging, but on the other hand I really enjoy seeing so many kids in such a variety of grades. Another problem with being in two buildings is just how much more difficult it makes scheduling. Collaboration is difficult enough without having to deal with issues relating to being at the other building half the time. It really limits what I can do; most teachers start a project and work on it a little each day, so I always have scheduling conflicts even if I don’t have any other projects going on. Another difficulty with being at two buildings is just that everything is doubled: two budgets to spend, two collections to maintain, twice the paperwork, it doesn’t leave much time for planning and the other things that I think are more important. I have found that there are many things beyond my control that greatly impact what I can do as a teacher. When I worked as an aide in Noblesville the staffing level was such that the media specialist could devote all of her time to teaching. I only have one full time aide in each building and their time is spent getting the books in and out, running the media retrieval system and other things, so I spend a lot more time on clerical work like processing the books than what I would like. Another problem concerns having a full-time aide in buildings where I am only part-time. The result is that they have a great deal more independence than would be typical of a building with a full-time media specialist. This is not a problem at one of my buildings where my aide shares my views on how things should be, but my other aide has her own ideas about how things should be. I have more than once discovered second-hand about “new” library policies that go against what I want. It leads to confrontations I would prefer not to have. This all sounds very negative, much more so than I mean for it to, I’m just trying to be honest about the problems that being split between buildings causes. I actually love my job, enjoy every day, and look forward to every day. It’s just a lot easier to find negatives to the two buildings arrangement, not too many positives. However, it is what it is and I just try to do my best with the situation that I have been given and I honestly don’t worry too much about the problems. It is just simply a reality of my job that it limits what I can do and I accept that. The key to it all is to try to limit the negative impact on the things that I think are most important and drop the things that I think are least important. Consequently, things like collection development take a backseat. It makes prioritizing that much more significant.

    You may have noticed, I tend to ramble when I write…

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  5. Anonymous1:56 PM

    This is for empressofanime from Rob,

    I was really lucky as far as stepping into the shoes of the previous media specialists.

    In one of the buildings the media specialist I replaced was still there for the first 5 months of school because she was moving to a new building that was being opened and the construction was behind schedule, so we shared the media center. It obviously helped me to have someone around that I could learn from, but it also allowed me to watch her so I knew exactly what was expected of me. It also helped that we share the same ideas as to what we should be doing, so the transition has been pretty easy. I don’t do everything exactly the way she did because I need to play to my strengths, not hers, but we are similar enough in outlook that it has not been a great shock to anybody either. I don’t think loyalty to a previous media specialist would ever be much of a problem unless the person was fired, the bigger issue is loyalty to the previous way of doing things. Teachers like to know what the routine is, so if you make any changes to any routines you just need to do your best to make sure everyone knows what they are. Fortunately for me, I haven’t found it necessary to change too many things at this building.

    The media specialist that I replaced in my other building was a non-teaching traditional librarian. Consequently, I haven’t had any problems replacing her as far as the teacher’s loyalties are concerned. The problem is more that they are used to the non-teaching librarian! It is a building where I have found it much easier to work with the younger, newer teachers. It is also a building where some of the teachers don’t even collaborate within their own team, so I don’t have much of a shot with them. I work with the teachers that are willing to work with me, and don’t worry too much about the others.

    I would say on the collaboration within the first year that I wouldn’t get your expectations too high. It takes time to build relationships! I think the library school emphasizes collaboration so much that you get a false impression that you will be working closely with various teachers all the time on different projects, it's just not that way most of the time. I get to work closely with some teachers, some of the time; most of the time I am working on short lessons that are pretty much a stand-alone thing that hopefully I can coordinate with a teacher to work in at an appropriate time. I think my approach to stepping into the position would best be summed up in just being myself, don’t worry too much about comparisons with the previous person. The previous media specialist was no more a perfect human being than what you are. There will be some things that you are better at, and some things that you are worse at. I also think that it is important to remember that most, if not all, teachers can probably get along just fine without you. You need to add value to what they do before they are going to use you. Some teachers may already be good enough that you don’t add much value, so why kill yourself trying to get them to collaborate? Try to find the things that you can do where you will improve the educational experience of the students, whatever that may be and working with whoever that may be.

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  6. Heidi3:25 PM

    Hi Rob,

    I am wondering if you could tell me some good and bad things about working at two schools. I recently interviewed a librarian who is split between three schools and she did not have many positive things to say about it! What are the pros and cons?

    -Heidi

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  7. Heidi3:30 PM

    Rob-

    I apologize, I just asked you a redundant question. I should have read through your other replies beforehand....disregard my last message!

    A different question: is there a large technology component to your job, i.e. are you responsible for maintaining equipment, helping,training teachers, etc., or does someone else have this job? How do teachers at your school use technology in their classrooms, and do you play any part in this?

    -Heidi

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  8. Anonymous7:53 AM

    This if for Heidi from Rob,

    Yes, technology is a big part of my job. That is my choice to a certain extent; it could probably be less a part of my job if I wanted it to but I really enjoy that side of my job so I try to maximize it. We have technology aides in each of my buildings that take care of the maintenance of the equipment, so I never get involved in that. I do, however, purchase new equipment or replacement equipment so I do need to understand the hardware side of it. The biggest part of technology in my job is in using it. I have created my own web page for each building and use web pages for lessons, and I use PowerPoint, Word, etc. for lessons. I also help teachers to use technology; I recently taught a teacher how to use FrontPage to create a web page. I have helped teachers in the computer labs with some of the software programs we have like Timeliner. I have created web pages for teachers to use, particularly web pages with links that they wanted them to use for certain lessons. I’m trying to get them to let me add links to my library page for them to use so that they don’t have to bookmark sites in the computer labs, but I don’t think they get the concept yet so I will probably demonstrate what I mean at a future staff meeting. I am currently working on getting a wireless network established in my elementary to make it easier to use the Internet for lessons. I have a background in engineering so technology is one of my strong points, so I try to use it as much as possible. The teachers are all over the place as far as what they do, some create their own web pages to use with their classes, or they may use streaming video as an intro to a lesson, and others are just not using technology at all beyond the overhead projector. We have one teacher in the elementary that actually still uses filmstrips!

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  9. Rob,
    Thanks for your commentary on my questions. It helps me realize what I have ahead of me.
    Lindsay

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  10. Hi Rob,
    I know when I started teaching the day to day reality was a little different from what I expected from course work. How was your first year on the job as a LMS? Did you have any unexpected surprises?

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  11. Anonymous1:50 PM

    This is for maryg slis's question from Rob,

    Yes, there were many surprises and they continue this year! I am surprised how much of my time gets ate up by spending my budget. There are a lot of mundane things like purchasing film for the laminator that add up. It's not horrible by any means, but it was a surprise. The number of phone calls from vendors always amazes me! The difficulties that can be caused by people in the administration building that either don't know what they are doing or simply don't do their job! We have study hall in the media center at the intermediate school; I had never heard of such a situation before and there isn't anything I can do about it, but it causes me never ending headaches! I am often surprised at what some people find offensive in books. (I once had it pointed out to me that "Kind Bidgood's in the Bathtub" by Audrey Wood is pornographic!) I was surprised to discover that another media specialist who wanted my job but didn't get it was complaining to the PTO about me.

    I hope none of this scares you!

    because...

    I was also surprised at how good you can feel when your principal supports you and what you are trying to accomplish! I was surprised at how quickly and completely the teachers accepted me, even if we aren't working together at the level that I would like to see. (The problems I have with collaborating are as much my fault as theirs, or simply the situation of being split between buildings) I am surprised at the eager faces that greet me each time I work with students, and the trust and love that they give so easily. I am surprised at how much I enjoy hearing a teacher tell me that they liked the lesson I did! I am surprised at how easy it is to stay late and do something extra just because you think it might make a difference in somebody's life. I am surprised at what it is like to have a job where I look forward to going in each morning instead of dreading it like I used to!

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  12. Hi Rob,

    I am also in my second year as a media specialist and have discovered how much more involved with adminstration I am than I expected. I battled the study hall predicament last year, so it is definitely not a unique problem.

    You mentioned you trained a teacher how to use Front Page to develop a webpage. Do you train staff on the use of software or programs on a regular basis? If so, how and when?

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  13. Anonymous8:10 AM

    This is for Kpiz's question from Rob,

    Yes, I sometimes feel more like I am part of the administration rather than a teacher, I guess we are something of a bridge between the two.

    No, I wouldn’t say I have trained staff on a regular basis. I have shown some software to the entire staff at a staff meeting, and I can remember training two teachers on specific pieces of software one-on-one after school. I have also had a number of times where I just taught staff members how to do different things, like download a photo or transfer files on the network; things that aren’t really software related but simply how to use a computer. It quickly became common knowledge that I was pretty good with technology, so teachers come to me with questions. It is somewhat surprising how little most teachers truly understand technology even if they are using it a lot. I don’t mean it is surprising they aren’t technology gurus, I mean it is surprising what they can accomplish without really understanding how it works!

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