Lessons from My Father

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When did you learn to value data?

In this editorial from our April online issue, Leslie Preddy shares her story. She blames her dad.

For more about using data, the importance of data, and what it can do for your practice, be sure to read our April online issue. Subscribers can access it hereNot yet a subscriber? Click here  for more information.


Ronald Carl “Pops” Burton

It’s all my father’s fault. His PhD is in analytical chemistry. He’s brilliant. I can remember when I was little and being awed when allowed to visit him at work, looking at all the scientific tools, equipment, and supplies he could use every day. I vividly recall sitting on his lap while he let me look through one of his scientific journals while he explained to me, as best he could to a small child, how important it was to keep comprehensive notes, charts, drawings, research for his projects. He showed me his bookshelf full of these journals and shared the value of retaining his old journals so he could refer to them and use past experiences to build upon when solving a new technical problem in order to improve efficiency, address environmental concerns, avoid contamination, or any problems in the factories that involved chemical analysis issues. Pops, as I affectionately call my father, was very patient with a very curious child. Who knew that would be a foundation for processing information that would serve me well as an adult?

Through the sage guidance of my Pops, I grew up understanding that compiling research is important and collecting data to back up a research-based supposition is mandatory to professionalism. Through my pre-service training at the university, I have a well-rounded understanding of the field of education, school libraries, and students. Through my years in the field of school librarianship, I have developed valuable experiences which build upon that foundation. Combined, the training and experience give me a solid “gut” for what, when, why, and how I should or shouldn’t do something instructionally. Pops taught me, though, that my training and experience are not always enough. At times there is also a need to collect my own data, to verify that my own way of doing and teaching achieves the same results as the national research, theories, and best practices support. We can’t just do, or follow our professional “gut.” We must follow that up with verified research, action research, and analysis of our own grass-roots research.

The first time I led my own action research to confirm best practices and value at the local level, I was scared, felt overwhelmed and underqualified, but I didn’t let that stop me. I took a stabilizing breath and thought about what my Pops did every day, what he had taught me, and then I dove in to do what I knew was important. My new school had no experience with the idea of school librarian as teacher and librarian/classroom teacher collaboration. Although some staff bought into the idea, others needed more concrete, local evidence as to whether it would have a positive impact for our students. So the work began. I conducted the background research, established our process and data collection, and had an outsider verify that our research plan was sound. We did our research, put our plan into action, collected our pre/during/post data, then analyzed the data collected. It was exciting to learn that both collaboratively planning and the school librarian leading the teaching increased students’ engagement and competencies. Combining the national best practice and research with our action research results expedited the speed with which my school moved forward with school librarian/classroom teacher collaboration.

What I learned from my Pops that I have adapted to help me professionally:

1.    Archive
This is a digital world which makes archiving and maintaining years’ worth of materials easy. Don’t toss out past work, notes, research, lessons. Archiving digitally helps save time in the future. It is much easier to search for the foundation of past information than to start over from scratch. I archive by topic or person, then chronologically, because that’s the way I mentally file information, which helps me when the need to revisit arises.

2.    Adapt
Often it is possible to take something old and utilize components for other purposes, or make it new again with some updates and modifications to align with new teaching practices or changes in school culture or population. But, don’t replace the old file with the new file. Keep the old file as well as the newly adapted, revised file. If there is ever a need to refer to any aspect of the old material, it’s still there for you and you’re only taking up virtual space, so there’s no longer a worry about where to keep all the papers or materials.

3.    Organize
Use a modern digital tool to organize and maintain resources on significant, professional topics. Just as people in the past archived in file cabinets, utilize an online tool, like Symbaloo, Pinterest, LiveBinders, Google Drive, or other preferred curation tool for efficient access to articles, reference texts, research, webpages, technical documents, digital multimedia (video, audio, images), notes, etc. Add and remove resources at point of exposure so they are organized and readily available when needed.

Leslie B. Preddy, MS, has been the school librarian at Perry Meridian Middle School in Indianapolis, IN, since 1992 and has served as an adjunct professor for Indiana University, Indiana State University, and IUPUI. She has presented webinars and is a frequent speaker and consultant at local, state, national, and international education conferences and events. She has published many articles in professional journals, co-created online resources for educators, and is the author of SSR with Intervention: A School Library Action Research Project, Social Readers: Promoting Reading in the 21st Century, and School Library Makerspaces. Preddy is a recipient of many awards including  AASL’s Collaborative School Library Media Award and Perry Township Schools Teacher of the Year. She is Past President of the American Association of School Librarians and the Association of Indiana School Library Educators (AISLE). Preddy is a recent recipient of two grants for her school library makerspace from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services, administered by the Indiana State Library.

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