“The best part is that any teacher can bring tech tools into their lessons. You don’t have to be a digital native. It works for digital converts, too!” – Julie Hembree, USA

We hear frequently that teaching can be a lonely profession. But for teacher-turned-librarian Julie Hembree, the school library felt especially isolating. “When I left the classroom and became a librarian, the transition was difficult,” says Hembree, a 2012 Partners in Learning US Forum runner-up (for Collaboration) and recent Global Forum participant. “I was used to team-teaching where we collaborated and developed lessons as a group. Suddenly I was a librarian and the definition of team was completely different. A team member might be another staff member, but it might also be a librarian at another school or district.”

So Hembree turned to technology and began blogging as a tool to communicate and collaborate. “With the addition of educational blogging and social media, my team suddenly grew dramatically,” she adds. “So did my learning. In an instant I jumped on a roller coaster ride that has transformed how I teach. My world was flattened and as a result, so too were the walls in my library classroom.” Her blog, The Bulldog Reader, struck a chord with others, and was named “Top 5 Best Library or Librarian blogs.”

But Hembree didn’t stop at blogging.  Whether it’s the school YouTube channel or an idea she learns from her blog network, “Now whenever possible, I use innovation and technology using project-based learning,” she says. “Our latest project is to raise money so we can send books to some underserved children in Ghana, and possibly two other countries. Students are doing all the work and designing the project from the bottom up. It’s exciting to see kids give up recesses and work on ideas at home because they are so engaged in learning.”

Hembree attended the Global Forum in Prague as part of team USA, where she shared her project, Kid Lit Movies. “How do you connect kids with great books?” Hembree asks. “In our library, it’s with movies, thanks to our student-created book trailers! These videos are exciting visual previews of books. In three 4th grade library classes, teams selected a favorite book, storyboarded the content using OneNote, and then created book trailers with Windows Live Movie Maker.”

Enjoy today’s Daily Edventure with Julie Hembree.

What has changed as a result of your efforts?

I am learning how to take steps back. I’m letting go of the control and letting the students direct their projects. We collaborate, discuss and work together to find solutions to problems. I’m more confident in knowing that while I may not be a tech genius, I can show kids technology tools that they can learn how to master independently. I’ve worked to create an environment in the library where students can excel using their creative strengths. We read books, but we also create book trailers and educational videos. Recently, two third graders came in at recess and said they wanted to design computer games that kids would play. They wanted to know how I could help them. This winter we are going to try our hand at using green-screen technology to make some movies and trailers. Am I an expert in this? No, but I know we will learn together and that is the fun part. The kids will figure it out and bring me along for the ride! My role as a librarian is now a reading and technology resource cheerleader.

How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?

I am a technology convert. My family could tell you lots of stories about my aversion to technology. Computers terrified me because I couldn’t understand how they worked.  I also didn’t see how they were going to help me become a better teacher. Luckily I had one teacher who took me under her wing and coached me with patience and understanding even when I asked the most basic question. Through her guidance I realized that technology is a game changer in the teaching world. Technology is a creative tool that enhances learning and brings the best out of students. When we use it creatively and align it with academics the results are magical and memorable.  The best part is that any teacher can bring tech tools into their lessons. You don’t have to be a digital native. It works for digital converts, too!

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

As a librarian, I use technology in two key ways: to showcase literature and to make learning authentic. My main driving question is always “how can I get kids to read more?” Making book trailers is one way that reaches students naturally. They will talk non-stop about a favorite movie they saw. Why not tap into the energy and bring it into the literature world? Publishers are spending thousands on book trailers to advertise their books. With a little technology, creativity and research we can do the same thing! What is amazing to my students is that their book trailers are being viewed by students beyond our school walls. They thought the trailers would be something only our students would view. However, through our library blog, SchoolTube and social media promotion, we are getting viewers from around the world. They are so used to handing in an assignment to a teacher and never thinking about it again. Having a product that is ongoing has opened their eyes to a different style of learning. They are convincing children all over the globe to pick up books and read them.

Gaming is another avenue that brings innovation and technology together. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a game whiz. A four-year-old can beat me on any game out there. However, I can use the concept of gaming in the library. Recently, I wanted the students to learn some basic facts about the country and students in Ghana. Instead of assigning a worksheet and a book or encyclopedia to use, we played a game with our netbooks. Everyone began with one phrase. Teams then had to figure out what the next question needed to be in order to advance further to the final destination. Team runners had to come up and ask me a question. If they had the correct question, I gave them the next piece of information. If it was wrong, they had to go back to their table and work together to figure it out.  It was wild and crazy in the room because kids were engaged and competing to win. Learning was immediate, just like in an online game. Anyone who walked in would have wondered what on earth was happening. The gaming concept of using failure and success motivated the kids to keep researching and using technology tools to get to the final answer.

What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?

I think the biggest obstacle in education is circumstances in life. We can provide the best building, technology, teachers, lessons, etc., but none of it matters if some of our children are dealing with the harsh realities of life. When our students are thinking about where they may sleep that night, or what they will have for dinner, it’s hard for them to learn.  We have to remember that as teachers.

I often wonder how my life would have been different if I had been born in a different country. Would I have the advantages of education or would I be carrying water and worrying about how to feed my children? Would I be a teacher faced with children whose families have had to choose between putting extra food on the table or paying for books and uniforms so their children can attend school? I wish there was a level playing field for all of the world’s children to have all of the advantages of a 21st century education.

What is your country doing well currently to support education?

Leaders in the US are becoming more engaged in the conversation of what do our students need to become productive 21st century citizens. What do they need to learn? How do they need to learn it? What resources do we need to provide this learning for our students? I think by asking these questions we will open up discourse on what is working in education and what needs to be changed. I am hopeful that these conversations will involve educators in other nations. We ask our students to work together and learn from each other, but we need to follow the same model. We don’t have to operate in a bubble. There is a wealth of successful stories from around the world that we can draw from as we engage in changing the methodology of education in the US.

What conditions must change in your country to better support education?

I dream of the day when teachers are as valued in our country as CEOs, doctors, lawyers, etc. I want teachers to be respected as much here in the US as they are in Finland.

What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?

Innovation in education is available with just a few simple keystrokes. We can learn and collaborate with each other. Country borders don’t matter anymore because the walls enclosing us are collapsing. At the Global Forum, I was energized and inspired by seeing what my peers were teaching their students around the country and globe. The best part is that all of the projects and hundreds more are available for every teacher view on the Partners in Learning Network. Anyone can access this free resource.

What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?

Don’t be afraid to be creative or innovate. Don’t be afraid to turn left. My husband told me when we were sightseeing recently that every time I stepped out of a store, I automatically turned left. I didn’t know where I was going, but it seemed like a good direction to go. Eventually we got to where we needed to be, too. Sometimes in the classroom you will be teaching a lesson and you will come to a fork in the road. Will you stay on track or will you follow the children’s request to turn left and try something new?

When I was in high school, my classmates and I loved to convince our French teacher to ditch the regular lesson and talk about France and French food. Clearly we were supposed to stay on track and learn the conjugation of regular and irregular French verbs. I don’t remember those lessons. What I do remember is when she veered off course, told us all about the wonderful aspects of life in France. After class, I wanted to get on a plane to France just to eat the food. Teach with passion and conviction. Don’t be afraid to try something new.

What educational “trend” do you think is helping students?

One of the best trends in education is helping our students learn how to collaborate with one another. We talk about 21st learning and yet we still have our students sitting in individual desks. The more we move student desks into groups and encourage collaborative thinking, the better we will prepare our students for the workplace. When you think about origins some of the great new companies in existence today you will also think of how people came together to combine their ideas into something extraordinary. We need to cultivate collaboration from kindergarten.

Is there a trend that is getting in theway of learning?

The over-emphasis on high-stakes testing is stifling our students from learning. I believe testing started as a way to make sure children in all 50 states had access to a quality education. Unfortunately the pendulum has swung too far into testing and got stuck there.

The result is that the art of teaching has become lost. Teachers are pressured to stay lock-step in the mandated, prescribed curriculum given to them by districts. It’s almost like an assembly line delivery method of education. We are worried by student test scores, but the scores are a product of our own delivery model. What happened to creativity? Creativity and the arts are the cornerstones of our country. When technology is used as an effective tool it bridges curriculum and cultivates creativity. Project-based lessons that allow for integration of the arts and individual creativity bring the spark of excitement back in children’s eyes. They become passionate and engaged in their own learning.

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

I would give every child a processing tablet and access to the Internet. Learning isn’t limited to school anymore. Learning is happening all the time and from everywhere. With a portable tablet and access to the Internet, every child is on equal ground for a 21st century education wherever he or she is located. Even if a quality teacher isn’t available in person, there is always one available virtually. A global classroom and universal access for every child is my 21st century dream.

About Julie Hembree

  • Birthplace: Groton, Massachusetts, USA
  • Current residence: Sammamish, Washington, USA
  • Education: BA University of Southern Maine, Masters in Education, Lesley University
  • Website I check every day: I check two websites everyday – Twitter and the Nerdy Book Club- http://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/
  • Person who inspires me most: My father was a wonderful teacher and modeled what a difference a person can make in a child’s life. I wanted to be like him and carry on his passion for teaching. He died when I was a young girl, but the lessons he taught me during my childhood have never been forgotten.
  • Favorite childhood memory: I used to get in trouble for reading under the covers with a flashlight when it was way past my bedtime. I think that was my family’s first clue that I might grow up and become a librarian.
  • Next travel destination (work or pleasure): To the mountains in the area for some snow skiing with my family and in the upcoming months to the ALA, NCCE AND ISTE conferences.
  • When was the last time you laughed? Why?  This morning when I saw my 120 pound dog on the couch, where he had slept all night. I think as he looked at me and thumped his tail he was saying, “See, you aren’t the only one who thinks this couch is comfortable!”
  • Favorite book:  As a child, the series that hooked me into reading was the Nancy Drew Mysteries by Carolyn Keen. I read every book in the series two or three times. Like Nancy, I love my convertible and going on a drive in the sunshine with the top down. To this day, I will choose a mystery over any other genre for pleasure reading.  My favorite non-fiction book is The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller. It should be required reading for every teacher and administrator in education. We’ve lost our way, down the testing and earning points reading road, and Donalyn’s book is a great resource for teachers on how to get kids excited about reading.
  • Favorite music: Anything by the country band, Rascal Flatts. My daughter and I have seen them in concert eight or nine times.
  • Your favorite quote or motto: I have a couple: “Do your best the first time, you may not get a second chance.” My second one dates back to lessons I learned from my grandmother and is a classic:  “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
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