Conference time=reinvigorated!

One of the best and fastest ways to re-energize yourself professionally is to go to a conference centered on your field. I am fortunate enough to go to an annual conference in Florida for school librarians every year, and I get so much out of it that I can’t imagine not going. It’s held in Orlando, which is a little under two hours away from me, so it’s a really easy trip, and some years I’ve even driven down just for the day and returned so I can at least get eight hours worth of knowledge.

This year was especially great because we had a wonderful group of major authors come. They each had their own hour-long sessions, but they also donated their time to hang out in the main exhibit hall to sign books and take pictures with us adoring librarians. I was thrilled to meet some of my favorites and get to talk to them one-on-one.

My sweet co-worker and friend, Paul Griffin, and myself.

My sweet co-worker and friend, Paul Griffin, and myself.

Marie Lu!

Marie Lu!

Rick Yancey, who lives in my hometown. Hometown hero!

Rick Yancey, who lives in my hometown. Hometown hero!

Matt de la Pena. So nice and funny, and an amazing speaker.

Matt de la Pena. So nice and funny, and an amazing speaker.

Jody Casella. Can't believe Thin Space is her first book. What a debut!

Jody Casella. Can’t believe Thin Space is her first book. What a debut!

While getting to meet authors is incredible, I did also learn a lot from our sessions. These are lead by fellow teacher librarians, which I like because you know the information is practical and coming directly from the source. Although there was no one “theme,” I do notice that every year we focus more and more on technology, which only makes sense. I’m a little divided personally, because I see the importance and fun of technology, but I also like the idea of doing it “old school” with real books and pen and paper. One way to marry old and new school is the growing popularity of makerspaces in the library. I went to one session focused on just that, and I liked that you can start small or go all out. It was lead by teacher librarian Diana Rendina, and you can check out her library’s blog here. Although I’m in a high school and she is in a middle school, I like to think that my students could handle having a Lego Wall or a K’Nex set out for their enjoyment. I’m just starting the process now, but I’m hopeful we can get started soon, even if only on a small scale.

Tiffany Whitehead was our keynote speaker, and she did a few sessions of her own, and she was a total inspiration. She is a teacher librarian at a middle school in Louisiana and she does it all. I don’t know how she does it, but she does. She had a lot of good ideas and she brings a fresh energy to librarianship. I had never seen any library with a hot pink and zebra print theme, but she makes it work. The biggest thing I took away from her talk is to pick a focus each year, because you really can’t do everything well. For example, this year focus on digital citizenship. Next year, focus on reading for pleasure. I like that a lot, because I realize I spread myself too thin every year and then end up feeling like I didn’t get anything accomplished. Pick one, or pick a few, but prioritize them. That’s going to be my new strategy.

I came back to school feeling ready to hit the ground running, only to be surrounded by crazy teens running around, and thinking to myself, “Hmmm.. am I sure I can do this?” But I can, and I will, and you can, too. If you’re fortunate enough to have any kind of professional conferences nearby, try and go to them. I know our budgets are shrinking every year, but do ask and try. If you can’t do that, maybe try some webinars (look on ALA’s website). If nothing else, expand your own professional network through blogs like this or on Twitter by connecting to other librarians and even authors. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you can learn!

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