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On orientation attitude: Two stories, a playlist and a top eleven list

A couple of years back, I posted a little round-up of Orientation inspiration, gathering ideas from a few friends in the field. This year I find myself collecting creative ideas for my School Library Management class from blogs and tweets coming across my network in the form of an Orientation And Getting Ready For Action playlist.

I decided to reach out a bit more and solicit ideas from LM_NET and the #tlchat community in the hope that we might grow an orientation ideas playlist for the greater good.  (Feel free to contribute!)

Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 6.50.00 PMThis year, folks are starting early, riffing on current memes, popular music, Pokémon Go, and BreakoutEDU.

A collateral benefit of engaging in this kind of poking around is that I discover new friends. I recently met Jill Sonnenberg and Suzanne Sannwald. What shines out for me in their stories is not what they do in orientation, but how they approach orientation as an opportunity.

I discovered Jill Sonnenberg’s orientation strategies when she responded to my request on LM_NET.  Jill is the teacher librarian at Nevada Union High School in California.

Jill shared some of her resources for freshman orientation that include videos, a theme song, and that the kids leave with a book and all they need to know (for now) about the library.  (You can see her 2015/2016 Prezi here. Pay particular attention to the videos shot at graduation in which the seniors offer testimonials for the incoming freshman class.)

Jill and Annie, her co-conspirator and valued library technician, presented their collaborative approach to orientation at a 2014 CSLA Conference with this description:

Buckle in for one of the fastest-paced sessions at conference! Jill and Annie will discuss the most crucial hour in any high school library environment: the Freshmen Orientation. Forget about Powerpoints, learn how a succession of YouTube videos can get the same messages across, and more effectively! We’ll convince you that graduation is the best possible place to glean testimonials from seniors, and that laughing babies, dogs (and especially the combination) have a place in every high school library. We take our first chance to convince freshmen that the library is a seriously friendly place to be.

Jill describes her district as rural and isolated and somewhat polarized. Students at her comprehensive high school have a vast array of cultural differences.  She’s recently engaged in virtual teaching and learning, text reference, Skyping experts and having her seniors mentor juniors through the college application process.

She discussed some of her challenges and her passion for the importance of setting just the right tone with freshmen.  It doesn’t have to be about research skills or rules during kids’ first experience with their library.

We do not have credentialed librarians in Grades K through 8.  For some students, this is their first formal library experience and they may not have had a good experience with school libraries in the past.  What’s most important is that we want the kids to walk away feeling good. The way that kids treat us is really important.

So we let it all rip on day one. We are literally trying to disarm and entertain. We look at YouTube as a treasure trove from which we can make all sorts of connections. We share that there are no fines and no limits in our library. I use basketball analogies. We pause in between clips and talk about challenges and behavior.  We talk about their responsibilities and what kind of community we are building. 

We joke around. We show pictures of dogs and babies.  To get a baseline of where they’ve been and where we want to go, we also survey them about their experiences in junior high. It’s great to understand what kids want.  We have an awesome collection. But I tell them, even if you don’t see yourself as readers, we don’t mind. 

We are consciously creating a communal experience with the message that we’re going to tend to like you, rather than not. We want them to leave saying, “Hey, that was not such a bad hour.”  We know, for our students, library is an optional place.  I know I may not see these kids for four years, unless I make an impression. The first week of school is painful for a 14-year-old.  We made a home for them here.

The message in Suzanne Sannwald’s West Hills (CA) High School orientation video is clear: “You belong here.  You count.  Introduce yourself. Come talk to me. You are welcome here.”

Suzanne shared a story about the evolution in her approach to orientation over the course of three years:

This is my third year working as a Teacher Librarian and so my third year of 9th grade orientations. I’m still very new to it all, but I have tried to improve the experience each year.

My first year, I had a slide presentation and talk that lasted nearly the whole class period. I started to lose my voice, and I could tell I was also losing the students. The most interactive piece was I had an online survey to gauge student interests and may do that again in the future, but I honestly never caught up time-wise to make meaningful use of the hundreds of responses. I learned that in making the most of this opportunity, my goal was not to have them learn all the details about the library nor for me to learn everything about them. It was simply my chance to get them to come back again so that we could develop those more in-depth bonds throughout the year and their school career.
Year two, I honed in on my goals of wanting students to feel welcome in the library and to understand basics of how and why they might use the library. I created a short welcome video to set the tone when they first arrive as a class full of energy, I did a shorter slide presentation and talk, and then I had them do an online scavenger hunt since we had just gone 1:1 for the first time. The students were more engaged than the first year, but the energy still seemed a bit dull to me, with students just working independently and in silence. Something that also happened was a teacher asked if the students would actually get a tour of the library. This made so much sense, and so I immediately added a tour of the library, but as big group tours go, I’m not sure how much students actually listened or retained.

This year, I can say that my 9th grade orientation has been the best so far. I kept the welcome video, but updated it to match my newer policies (namely, now I allow food). I kept the short slide presentation and talk about the program. I had students do a little bit of essential tech setup such as learning how to get to the library website, how to do cloud printing in the library, and how to log in to Destiny.

For the last 15 minutes, I introduced the Poke-Brary Scavenger Hunt. Students were so excited. My goal for this portion was for students to focus on the most common reminders I have to give (e.g., sign-in); questions I get (e.g., printing, tech troubleshooting hints); pet peeves of mine (e.g., not recycling); and planting seeds (e.g., checking the announcement board, realizing there are fiction genres, etc.). 

Here are some pics I tweeted from our first hunt. It was a joy (for real!) seeing them going around, noticing things, and having such vibrant energy in the space.  And here is a pic of the proud first winners. I think the excitement comes across well. I had prizes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, but then people

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So I’ve been thinking about what’s really important when we meet kiddos for the very first time. It’s not really about rules or norms or expectations or good research strategies. There will be time for all that.


If I were meeting students this September, I would want them to know:

1. This is OUR library.

2. You have a voice and a place here.11thingstoknow

3. We want you to feel safe and comfortable in our library.

4. We want you to return (often).

5. We look forward to building a long relationship with you across your classes and grade levels.

6. This is a place for learning, both formal (to support your classes) and informal (to support your curiosity.)

7. There are many different ways to “read” and learn. Story comes in many containers and we want you to enjoy them all.

8. It’s okay to take a risk and be playful in your learning.

9. Talk to us. (You can communicate with your library in multiple ways.) Let us know, let us connect your with what you need.

10. This is a place to think, create, share and grow.

11. You are the reason we are here.

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza

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