What does a Media Specialist Do When Everyone Is Online?

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August 29, 2020 by Dr. Robbie Barber

(Hint: Everything.)

Tuesday was the 7th day of school and the first where I joined a teacher’s classroom to teach students synchronously.  Let’s be clear what kind of work it took to be there for a teacher. 

First, I know the work and goal of this classroom.  I have taught her class the basics of research, how to search the database, what to look for in a journal article, and the detailed information this high level senior science class requires for two years.  Fundamentally, I have a relationship with this teacher.

Second, an essay on how I spent my summer vacation for 2020 is filled with online courses (asynchronous and synchronous), webinars, online conferences, and online workshops. I tried building a space online for my Media Center.  I ran into issues and tried a different tack.  I had more issues.  Finally, I spoke to other teachers got their input and made some significant changes.  I did not do this during our frantic five days of pre-planning.  I spent 10 weeks this summer working, preparing, and discussing the best approaches on my own time and my own dime.  (We can’t say this enough – I am paid to work 190 days during the school year and I am not paid during the summer.  I simply agree to have my paycheck split up over 12 months.)

Third, I spent the preplanning week doing two main things.  One was teaching teachers how to set up their online classrooms.  The other was providing resources.  But in this case, resources does not necessarily mean handing them a book.  Instead, the resources are often people.  I gathered information about which faculty members knew which systems best.  Then, when I received a question about a software that I didn’t know well (or couldn’t use as a Media Specialist), I replied and cc’ed another teacher saying, “I don’t know the software but Ms. X does.  If she doesn’t have time, please let me know and I’d find someone else to help.”  The result was building a database of resources and trying to teach teachers to simply ask.

During preplanning, I was also given two days, two hours each day to teach teachers about technology.  Don’t worry – I didn’t lecture at teachers online for two hours (shudder). Instead, we got a team together and taught with strict timing and extra support.  Interesting side effect was that our IT support person for our school region mentioned that she had had no calls from our school.  I believe it is because we (all of the teachers) built a sustainable model to support each other.  As the only librarian in the building, I understand the importance of working with an online group for support and encouragement.  Teachers may not be as used to it as those of us isolated by our position.  No problem – we can all grow and learn how to navigate this situation.

The first week of school passed in a blur of emails, meetings, calls, texts with administrators, teachers, students, parents, and other librarians.  We maneuvered through the minefield of online material and issues that may not be in our regular purview.  One memorable afternoon was spent working with a teacher for what turned out to be a bad router at her house.  I was online from 7:30 a.m. until often after 8:00 p.m.  Then I checked and replied to messages at 10:00 p.m. before starting over again.  I spent almost 5 hours one afternoon / evening helping the administration set up a class presentation movie to show online.  I physically went to the building to help teachers and parapros with broken or missing equipment multiple times.  I added items to the school website constantly.  I was a teacher, media specialist, A/V specialist, webmaster, resource organizer, IT support, author (newsletter), copyright expert (no, you can’t copy the book and put it online), and a shoulder to cry on, among other things.

And the hard work paid off.  Students came to class. Teachers grew in confidence.  And slowly, oh so slowly, classes started teaching.

Received from a Teacher at the school at the end of the first day of classes

Which brings me to day 7 of school.  The teacher provided documentation with students initial research choices.  Anyone who has ever done research knows that the initial choice and the ending paper may have little correlation.  But it is a starting point to show students how to look up meaningful information.  Plus, when you are teaching students how to narrow down their key words, it is great to start with their statements and show them how to pull out the three or so words they need to search on.  I don’t think I can adequately describe the joy I felt when I saw the students – videos on! – for the first time since March.  Did the lesson go well?  Time will tell. My seniors have been with me for three years already.  Hopefully, they know they can contact me. I’ll help. 

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