Teacher Librarian Melissa Thom Roars
Welcome to Library Lions Roar, celebrating libraries and the outstanding librarians serving youth in schools and public libraries across the U.S. since 2010. Today we welcome Teacher Librarian Melissa Thom for part one of her two-part interview with us. Welcome, Melissa!
I am extremely grateful to be the Joyful Teacher Librarian at Bristow Middle School in West Hartford, Connecticut.
Over the previous three years, I have worked hard to build positive relationships with the staff and students to create an open and welcoming environment where all learners can find just what they need when they need it. As one student put it, “there’s something for everyone!” Some areas of our Library and Makerspace include a take apart station, building and creating area, an area that changes based on the current theme of makerspace, a stationary bike where one can ‘Read and Ride’ (http://www.readandride.org/), and a self checkout station where students can search and check out books they want to read.
Photos: Take Apart Station. Building and Creating Area
Photo: Read and Ride and Makerspace theme area
One aspect of my job that I love the most is the connections with students and teachers I make on a daily basis. One the first day of school, my principal, Steve Cook, couldn’t wait to tell me he read 7 books over the summer. Then he thanked me for pushing him to become a more active reader. I am so fortunate to have a supportive principal who believes that the library should be “heartbeat of the school.” He has made sure that my building-based budget has remained constant through all of the financial turmoil our district and state has experienced over the past couple of years and is one of those principals who not only supports my efforts in creating both a schoolwide culture of reading and a vibrant Makerspace, he is also an active participant and promoter of it!
Photos: Melissa and principal Steve Cook. And Principal Cook with Solo book
I love sharing my deep (and at times obsessive) passion for books, authors, and knowledge. This year I am creating and promoting #BristowReads with both staff and students on Twitter and Instagram. I am hoping that it will go viral–both in our school and throughout the greater book community! To get started, I created a #BristowReads bulletin board in the school’s main lobby and have invited all members of the staff to participate. This includes the adults who work in the cafeteria and the office, the custodians, the psychologist, and the interpreter who is there only one period of the day. EVERY adult in the building should be given the opportunity to participate. I have only been working on it for three days and everyone is buzzing about it! In a couple of weeks, I plan to invite students to participate in a similar bulletin board that will be in the library.
Teachers Favorite Books Bulletin Board
I love that every day is different in my space and that I have access to all teachers, students, and content areas. I love finding curriculum connections between different topics and grade levels, often acting as a bridge by helping them make connections with the information since classroom teachers can be somewhat isolated in their day-to-day teaching and not have much common planning time. I love sharing lesson ideas, project resources, and both book titles and tech tools. For example, last year, I collaborated with 8th grade Social Studies on National History Day, 7th grade Science on Genius Hour, 6th grade Language Arts on book tastings at the beginning of each genre study, and 6th grade Social Studies on Oral Histories. Visit here for some photos of the suitcases that students created in the Makerspace as a culminating project for their oral history interviews.
When I created the Take Apart station in my Makerspace, I thought it would be a good idea to add a small hammer to the basket of tools. Turns out, that wasn’t such a wise decision. One afternoon about a week into having it, I looked up and saw a student with the hammer held over his head ready to bring it crashing down on the glass top of an old projector. As I sprinted across the library to try to stop him, it felt like everything was happening in slow motion. Thankfully, I stopped him and we avoided a major catastrophe! In the calmest voice I could muster at the time, I reminded the students standing around the table that the goal was to TAKE APART the electronics–not DESTROY them!
The moral of the story–I suggest leaving the hammer in the toolbox in your desk! 😉
A Lion’s Pride of Programs
One of my favorite themes in the Makerspace last year was the “Make a Difference” theme in February and March. The main activity that took place was the creation of fleece blankets that were donated to Project Linus. I want to give a shout out to a couple of my favorite teacher librarians, Kristina Holzweiss (https://twitter.com/lieberrian) and Gina Seymour for the inspiration to turn the Bristow Makerspace into a place where students and adults could come to help make positive changes and contributions to the local and global community. This coming year I have received a West Hartford Foundation grant for $740.00 to make and donate more blankets!
At the end of last school year, I organized a Bristow Book Swap.
A Mighty Roar!
Libraries and certified teacher librarians should be considered a vital ingredient in any recipe that hopes to ‘make’ and develop future ready, media literate, civic-minded, and action-oriented citizens. Our profession has always been so much more than book pushers, and in today’s information saturated world, it is increasingly important that we are called upon by local, state, and national leaders and administrators for help in guiding learners of all ages to make sense of the information overloaded world around them. It is terribly short sighted of school districts to cut librarian positions based on the idea that they will be saving money. Instead, they should be asking themselves what are the longterm negative effects of schools without librarians.
Advocacy for our programs and the importance of the wide range of skills and behaviors certified teacher librarians provide should be part of our daily professional lives. It is up to US to make sure those individuals making decisions truly understand what we ‘do’ and how we do it! Share the great things that are happening in your library with the principal and other leaders in the district on a regular basis.
One way to stay up to date with current and relevant advocacy efforts is to join local, state, and national organizations. Currently, I am the Vice President of the Connecticut Association of School Librarians and a member of both AASL and ALA . I make an effort to attend conferences (both in person and virtual) in order to stay connected with the experts and leaders in our field because I believe there is power in collaboration, connection, and networking. Being with other professionals who share my passion keeps me motivated and inspired during times I am feeling overwhelmed and bogged down by the negativity surrounding me. Check out some of my favorite library related PD opportunities here.
Also, get connected to the professional organizations of other content areas! This is another opportunity to be the bridge between those groups and our libraries. I have been actively involved with the Greater Hartford Area Council for Reading, the Connecticut Reading Association, the Connecticut Geographic Alliance, and the Connecticut Council of Social Studies.
Thank you for the Roar, Melissa. LLR readers. We will post part two of Melissa’s interview covering Student Reviews, Readers Roar, Author Visits, and more! See you then.