Sunday, September 29, 2013

Susan Eley - Mon. Sept. 30 to Wed. Oct. 2, 2013

Rejoining this year's class as a blog-guest is Susan Eley, the library media specialist at Hillside Elementary School (PreK to Grade 4) in Mt. Laurel, NJ. Susan is a graduate of Indiana University's MLS program and has a few year's of on-the-job experience.

She was been involved with her school district's Library Media Curriculum Writing Committee as they worked to incorporate the Common Core Standards for language arts. She would be pleased to share with you ideas and insights gained in that process as well as any other issues and activities related to her school library and the work of school librarians in general.

Learn more about Susan at

This year's startup question is "Can you provide a few examples or ideas of what makes your library program successful?"


  1. Susan Eley5:18 PM

    Hello everyone,

    I am grateful and excited for the opportunity to answer any questions you may have about life as an elementary librarian, tech leader, and now "working mama!" ( My 2 boys are 11 months and 26 months so my time is stretched thinner than ever!)

    This is my eighth year at Hillside School, and this year, more than ever, there is a real "sea change" sweeping education in the form of Common Core, PARCC testing (creating some real anxiety over requiring 3rd and 4th graders to type their essays), SGOs (student growth objectives) and teacher evaluation (McRel is the model in our district).

    Now onto answer the startup question!

    Examples of what makes my library program successful:

    1) FIXED SCHEDULING - I've said it before, and I'll say it again, but after coming out of library school I thought a "fixed" schedule was the devil, and "flexible" scheduling best practice. Now that I am in a fixed schedule, I see ALL students once a week. This gives me a chance to make sure *all* students are learning the information literacy and technology skills they need. I will say, however, I could use a few more "flexible" periods, since I only see the students 50 min. at a time (25 min. for K and PreK), which amounts to about 24 hours of instructional time over the course of the year.

    2) A SERVICE-ORIENTED ATTITUDE, ESPECIALLY TOWARD STAFF - I go out of my way to make sure teachers have what they need. I put goody bags in their boxes during Back to School week with a brochure containing library passwords and information. I host a Teacher Preview for the Book Fair with door prizes, I offer lunchtime workshops (with door prizes) on technology or new paid online resources (and I buy the lunch sometimes!), I email with the best online resources for XYZ theme coming up (for example, Fire Safety Week this week and next), and yes, I pull books as quickly as they need them. I am friendly, I try to stay away from "cliques" and I sit with them during lunch to hear what is going on in their rooms!

    3) TECH LEADERSHIP - Teachers know they can come to me for help with technology and to do technology integration. Although we do have a wonderful computer teacher as well, he sees each grade level only once a week for 1-3 marking periods of the year.

    4) PRINCIPAL SUPPORT - My principal hired me in 2006 and I have always been grateful to have her support. She is generous with my library budget because she knows I steward it well, purchasing the online resources and books the students and staff need. She also knows that I will run with any new initiative and make life easier for her and teachers who need support!

    5) STUDENT-CENTERED LEARNING and awareness of developmental needs - I grow each year in this area. This year, I have already been making extensive use of the ActivVotes (voting devices that are supported by the Promethean ActivBoard) to ENSURE students are learning the material before I move on. You would be surprised how much the physical act of pressing a button centers a wiggly 2nd grader and forces them to ENGAGE their brain, even at 2:45 on a Friday afternoon!

    Looking forward to more discussion!
    Susan Eley

    1. Hi Susan! I am wondering if you could give some advice on how to deal with non library related requests from your school administrators. The library in my school is certainly the hub of the school and I've noticed that many tasks (taking t-shirt orders, collecting permission slips, planning for events, etc) can bog down the librarian's time. We always want to be as helpful as possible but do you ever feel a need to draw a line (like you said- our time is stretched thin!)? Thanks! Emily

  2. Hello! Can you tell me more about the ActivVotes? Are they sort of like the handheld devices they have on gameshows where they ask the audience?

  3. Susan Eley8:56 AM


    Yes, Promethean ActivVotes are very similar to what you described. Here is a picture:

    As a teacher, you set up your lesson "Flipchart" (similar to a powerpoint file but with many more options in the software called ActivInspire). Then, in the flipchart you set up voting pages, and you can decide if you want the question to be multiple choice, etc. You can place a time limit on the voting. Once I reach 10 seconds, I state the correct answer and then allow the "bar graph" to appear on the screen (that is automatically created) that shows HOW MANY students got the answer correct. You can also display results as a pie chart or graph showing each student's individual answer. The software allows you to export the results so you can print them out and you have your "test" results without ever asking students to print on paper.

    Also pictured is also the newer, more full-featured version of the device called "ActivExpressions." ActivExpressions allow students to "text" in answers, very useful during a brainstorming session or open-ended response questions. The answers are gathered by the software and then projected on the board. ( As long as you have assigned each student a numbered device, you can crack down on "smart guy" answers because you know which student texted in what.)

    1. Until I read your explanation, it sounded sort of gimmicky, but I can definitely see the applications that could have in the classroom in evaluating the effectiveness of teaching. Another question I have is about your scheduling. I know that you have fixed scheduling, but is there free time outside of library lessons for students to choose books for pleasure reading? Is it built into each session or does the teacher allow individual students to visit the library?

    2. Susan Eley10:02 AM

      The last 10-20 minutes of the 50 minute period is reserved for book checkout (sometimes only 5 minutes if we are working on a research project)! I also have time from 1-1:20 every day when students can come to the library if they wish (if they forgot their books on library day, for example).

      We are a PK-4 school so we are "teacher prep coverage."

      At the middle schools (grades 5-6 and grades 7-8), library is not "fixed." Students come to the library only as their Language Arts teacher brings them or if they obtain a library pass.

  4. Hi Susan,
    thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to participate in this blog!

    I've talked with a few middle school librarians in central Indiana whose districts do not have a certified librarian in their elementary schools, but instead have aides, (who are essentially doing the work of a librarian, but not getting paid!) It's great that you have the support of your principal, and it sounds like you are very important to the success of your school. Have you ever been worried your administration might do away with your position, or have you ever had to defend your position?


    1. Susan Eley10:17 AM


      This a very timely issue and a very real concern for library media specialists. This is why you need to ask yourself, "What am I doing that an aide / library clerk CANNOT do?" Library clerks can read stories, they can check out books, they can catalog books. What are the OTHER skills you are imparting to your students and leadership roles you are playing for the staff?

      But sadly, even when you are a "rock star" librarian, you are in danger of being cut because often "library" is a budget line item (easy to slash) and the skills we impart are not immediately testable on the standardized math/reading tests.

      As an example, I was absolutely INFURIATED to learn that several (2?) years ago in Bloomington, MCCSC decided to cut its school librarians. Mary D'Eliso, University Elementary School Librarian, is an absolute ROCK STAR librarian who goes above and beyond for her K-6 students and staff. But she and the others had to fight for their jobs and were only re-hired when funds were raised from a community grant. (I believe that the positions may still be in danger when the grant funding runs out.)

      For a look at what she does, see her library blog:

      Since Mary was my "cooperating teacher" during my field experience, I have strived to live up to her standards and "go beyond" as well with everything I do. I have mentioned above some of the roles that I play as tech leader, staff professional developer, pusher of 21st century skills, curriculum writer, etc.

      Doug Johnson recently wrote a blog post on this very issue which I recommend you read:
      (Doug is a former school librarian - now tech administrator in Mankato, MN and blogger)

    2. Hi Susan,
      Thanks so much for your insight and advice to not only teach important literacy skills to students, but also to be a leader in my school. That is a scary thing to do so much for your school, but still lose your job; in Bloomington, of all places. (I checked out Mary D'Eliso's blog and loved the book spine poetry idea!) That would be great if there were state standards in Indiana for information literacy that we could teach and assess, like Doug Johnson is advocating. I believe Info. lit. is only going to become more important in the future.