We Survived: School Year 2020-2021

The only true, honest reflection I can offer is one of gratitude for making it through.

This school year has been long, challenging, and left me in a fog.

Apparently I had a BOY professional growth meeting but remember none of it. Most of the time I feel like a duck – attempting to appear in control on the surface whilst paddling like a mad person underneath.

I don’t think I’m alone in this, this year.

Looking back at my blog, I realise that I only set myself online learning related goals.

They were based on captivating, clarifying and communicating library skills in manageable chunks for the online environment.
Whilst I had some great ideas of all the innovative and interesting things I could do, the reality of this year’s incarnation of online learning (either me online and the kids in the library – August to November – or the period everyone was online in Jan/Feb) meant that the kids had SO MUCH screen time in a day, I needed to reevaluate what my priorities were. I didn’t want them spending longer than 20 minutes on a screen – just like my in-person lessons aren’t longer than 20 minutes before releasing them to browse and borrow.

So I kept the structure simple and predictable for all my classes, with the 3Cs in mind: check in, read aloud a Panda Book Award book, very short activity, and then sent the kids to do an optional library themed choice board.

The reading fort was the most captivating, for sure!

I’m happy with the level of service the library offered during our periods of online learning as I believe I created predictable and enjoyable routines that helped students continue to grow as readers.

The fact that the library sent over 4300 books to ISB homes in a two month period thanks to courier deliveries and curbside pick up, meant that our learners continued to see reading as a joyful, purposeful activity. I know this is something many kids clung to in a time of intense uncertainty and cannot be underestimated.

Online learning aside, there were a ton of goals I had that I never documented and that just continue to percolate and give me a vague sense of anxiety over not doing enough. I’ve made some decent progress in some areas and ruminate on them here.

SY 2020-21 Reflection Part 2: (Trying To Do) All The Things

Remember those pop out of the tin snake things?

Image credit: https://www.airyclub.com/en/Novelty-Potato-Chip-Can-Funny-Pranks-Joke-Jump-Pop-Out-Spring-Snake-SN1546433285936303319435990-g4944720-m5985739

That’s my mind at any given moment.

To counteract this natural tendency, I have a strict regime of planning documents and processes.

I write things on my to-do list that I’ve already done, just for sheer pleasure of striking them through.

This has helped me get some of the many goals, ideas, and wishlist completed this year.

Here are some of them, with the matching C next to it…

  • More explicit integration between the three library pillars and classroom curriculum, especially with non-fiction, R/W and SS/Sci units (consolidate, challenge)
  • Continued introduction, consolidation, and extension of MISO across K-2 (captivate, challenge)
  • Mystery bags and puppet bags (captivate)
  • Facilitated, or at least suggested, more cross grade learning opportunities than ever before (captivate)

Other achievements that made me proud but that aren’t directly related to my F2F teaching…

  • Presenting at two virtual conferences – 21st Century Learning (“Everyone Can Research: Using MISO) and Toddle Ties (“Library as the Heart of the School”)
  • Facilitating multiple successful grade level unit previews and reviews where the team felt empowered to try new things to help their students grow in different ways
  • Swallowing my disappointment and pride about having to leave my library program in order to help in DAA. Turns out to have been a wonderful experience with the most professional, flexible, hard working, resilient group of students and teachers imaginable.
  • Working with Nahee to advocate for, and achieving, mother tongue support for DAA Korean students, and some on campus Korean students. The success of this support has been resounding for the learners and the teachers involved. It felt like we were walking the talk.
  • Chairing the Panda Book Awards Steering Committee through some choppy waters and bringing a stale(ish) reading promotion onto fresh ground. My fellow ISB librarians were integral in making this happen, so without their support, the award would have disappeared this year. That would have been a shame after 11 years of success.

There are so many left still to go and for each one I haven’t completed I try to let grace win out over guilt.
I arrived back in the Library for F2F learning mid way through November, then left again in mid December for holidays, not returning until after CNY due to DAA commitments. So I’ve only been in the library with kids, running my “normal” program,  for a little over 4 and half months in total this school year. Perhaps I could cut myself a little slack for not doing ALL THE THINGS.

I have to keep remembering that kids love the library. They know what they want to read, they know where to find it, and they know who loves them in there. THAT is the goal.


100 Best Books*

*OK, so this is like asking me which is my favourite child and since I could never commit to that either, therefore this is a nebulous number.

A friend recently asked me for some suggestions of books I thought would be essential to have in a home with young children as they grow.

Here is my every growing, ever changing list. I work in a library with 27,000 books so this list is not exhaustive and does not count every book I love! Every day I find a new favourite in our collection!

Instead, these are the books I can almost recite by heart I have read them so much, or they hold a powerful memory or lesson for me. These are the books that I would drop what I was doing in order to read to my child.

I have mostly chosen my favourite title from the entire catalogue of my most beloved creators so I would also recommend anything else they have made.

I have added an asterisk if the book is available in Chinese translation.

(The country of origin is listed beside the title as I have a fervent belief that the World English the book is written in is the English it should stay in. For an Australian child to read the word ‘sidewalk’ and wonder what it means is just as important as an American child understanding what a ‘footpath’ is.)

Birth to 2

Literally anything written by Sandra Boynton (US) but especially Barn Yard Dance

Spot Goes to the Farm – Eric Hill (US)*

Dogs – Emily Gravett (UK)

Wibbly Pig Likes Bananas – Mick Inkpen (UK)

The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle (US)*

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? – Bill M. Martin (US)*



Don’t Push the Button – Bill Cotter (US)*

Mud Puddle – Robert Munsch (Canada)

Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak (US)*

Guess How Much I Love You – Sam McBratney (UK)*

Owl Babies – Martin Waddell (UK)*

Reading Makes You Feel Good – Todd Parr (US)*

Hairy McClary From Donaldson’s Dairy – Lynley Dodd (NZ)

Missing – Jonathon Langley (UK)

Is Everyone Ready for Fun? – Jan Thomas (US)

Duck on a Bike – David Shannon (US)*

Olivia – Ian Falconer (UK)*

We Are In A Book – Mo Willems (US)*

The Gruffalo  – Julia Donaldson (UK)*

Going On A Bear Hunt – Michael Rosen (UK)



Pig the Pug series – Aaron Blabey (Aus)

Lottie and Walter – Anna Walker (Aus)

Rosie Revere, Engineer – Andrea Beatty (US)

The Book with No Pictures – BJ Novak (US)

Dairy of a Wombat – Jackie French (Aus)

The Lorax – Dr. Seuss (US)*

My Two Blankets – Freya Blackwood (Aus)

Heart in a Bottle – Oliver Jeffers (Ireland)

Princess Smartypants – Babette Cole (UK)*

Mutt Dog – Stephen Michael King (Aus)

Possum Magic – Mem Fox (Aus)

Do Not Open This Book – Andy Lee (Aus)


Sophisticated Picture Books

The Rabbits – John Marsden (Aus)

The Red Tree – Shaun Tan (Aus)**

Animalia – Graeme Base (Aus)


**There are not enough superlatives for me to describe my worship of Shaun Tan. Having to choose one is pure torture. Just go buy them all. Immediately.

Starting the year COVID style

Online Learning Weekly Planner_Library

What a VUCA time this is.

Not gonna lie – this start of the school year isn’t fun for anyone. Well, no one that lives in my house, anyway.

I’m deeply missing the rituals and (good) stress that heralds the start of each year: welcoming the newbies, embracing colleagues we’ve missed over the summer break, staring at the literal and figurative blank planner waiting to be filled with our ideas and dreams, wandering around our library touching all the books and silently thanking the Universe for the blessing of calling them all ours.

But such is COVID life.

We look ahead and focus on what we can control.

We look deep into ourselves and fashion routines and rituals that bring us calm, stability and power.

We lean in to the structures and protocols our school has prepared for us.

We keep our eyes on the prize: authentic connection with our students and our colleagues, no matter the modality.


  • What action(s) might you take in order to prepare for online and blended learning? 
    • Work with our team on the ground to ensure the new library is as well set up and welcoming as possible
    • Work closely with the admin team and Paul to more clearly understand our role in teaching and learning as we all slowly filter back home. There is still uncertainty as to where our energy will be used – as sub teachers for HR or as specialists with regularly scheduled classes in and out of the library itself.
    • Whatever the outcome of the above meetings, lay out possible lesson series and focus.
  • Considering your previous experience with online learning, what are your instructional strengths & areas for growth?
    • My literature and research integration was good to very good with various grade levels
    • My read aloud sessions were well attended and my “story bank” was well utilized by HR teachers
    • My goal is to focus on more ways to draw out the kids who aren’t participating as openly as others
  • Using the 5Cs of online learning, what goals might you set for yourself in anticipation of future online instruction? 
    • Clarify – as mentioned above, especially if we end up diving into research down the track, I want to focus on the ways I can check for understanding. 
    • Captivate/communicate – I will work on ways to break my lesson content into smaller chunks, especially with new content like the research lessons. 
    • Captivate/communicate – for the Early Years, I want to find more authentic ways to build play into my on and offline lessons
  • How might you achieve these goals? Who might you reach out to for support? 
    • Erin created so many outstanding lessons, some of which she used my initial teaching or activity and broke it down further for her kids. This was such great learning for me. I will trawl through her lessons and do some internal PD!
    • https://wideopenschool.org/families-and-teachers/ – this is such a great resource curated by Common Sense Media
    • https://education.abc.net.au/home#!/resources – there isn’t much better than what our beloved Aussie broadcaster supplies! I’ve been so excited to spend this time in my home country, surrounded by a very different narrative. I feel like our school is very north American-centric and it’s been eye opening for me realising how little I have kept in touch with Australian issues. They are very similar to those found around the world but with a distinct slant. I’ve found many outstanding resources that I hope to integrate into our curriculum this year.
    • We have so many amazing resources in our digital collection. My aim is to focus on how TeachingBooks.com can use utilised with the younger students this year.
    • I paid for full access to an outstanding play based EY online conference over the summer and haven’t had a chance to fully explore the content. So that will be something I can lean on over the coming months.
    • Likewise, in March, I purchased access to the Confident Child Summit – an online conference with a focus on SEL. I’ve only watched two sessions out of who knows how many so far, so that will also be added to my list!

Goal Setting: Let’s MISO it up!

My goal over the course of this year is to experiment with how to authentically embed MISO into our existing LES Social Studies and Science units.

MISO – not that delicious Japanese soup, though MISO should warm your soul!

Inspired by Cathy Berger-Kaye, MISO, in our learning context at ISB, is a way of structuring and thinking about the sources we use for researching with students.

M – media

I – interview

S – survey

O – observation

For the LES students, MISO is nestled inside the research process model we call Super 3, based on the work of Mike Eisenberg and Bob Berkowitz.

The back story to choosing my goal

Of course, I have seventy million professional goals and choosing just one was always going to be a problem. Prioritise, me? What? Surely not.

I want, and need, to be better at everything I do.

Talking with my critical thinking partner, I realised that I needed to narrow it down to something more scaleable and measurable. Start small and get bigger if the initial goal is met.

Extremely challenging for me. This required some soul searching – what work would make the most long term impact on teaching and learning that stems from the library?

Eventually I narrowed my thinking down to these three main points:

  1. I want the research process to have a higher visibility and priority for our youngest learners
  2. I believe research needs to be made more explicit and scaffolded for all learners, but especially our youngest
  3. Librarians have many talents with book pushing being high on the list. However, teaching research is what takes our job to the level of a profession – it’s what makes us a specialist and what we hang our proverbial hat on. If we want to be valued for more than ‘just’ the sharer of books (even if that is a big, juicy, important, essential, fabulous JUST), we have to work research into everyday teaching and learning – it can’t be an extra.

Wish me luck!

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