Saturday, January 21, 2017


I am grateful to work at West Hills! Just check out this recent sunrise over our campus.

I am grateful for our supportive families and community members! Look at what the PTSA recently surprised us with.

I am grateful we are able to keep the library doors open in the afternoon so that students have a safe place to study after school.

I am grateful to work with such highly qualified, dedicated, and caring colleagues! We love our students.

I am grateful for our students! They are our reason and inspiration for everything. I loved getting to see this student art come through the library recently.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Thoughts on the El Cajon Police Shooting

It is 11 o'clock at night, and I should be going to sleep, but my head is busy spinning, thinking about the recent police shooting that occurred in El Cajon. While West Hills is located in Santee, and at the surface, today may have functioned like just another regular day on campus, I know that my mind was very much distracted by these events, and I'm pretty sure that I am not alone in this.

As I am up tonight and scrolling through social media, I just want to throw my voice into the mix. It may be just me, but there has been an eerie lack of conversation on the topic when I go through my Facebook feed. Living in San Diego, I expected to see people posting more, and yet what I have mostly noticed is a lot of silence. [NOTE: This also made me think about the Freakonomics podcast episode "Is the Internet Being Ruined." Listen and you'll hear the connection!]

Of course, perhaps no one really knows what to say or to post. Perhaps being rendered speechless is a pretty normal behavior. After all, as I write this, I myself don't quite know what I'm trying to convey, except that I find the silence to be deafening at a time when people are suffering.

Another thought I have is that perhaps no one wants to say something that could hurt others. No one wants to be perceived as being anti-police or anti-black, and so silence may be a proper response of respect. Also, perhaps people are wisely waiting to learn more before expressing themselves.

Along the lines of waiting to learn more, a helpful On the Media "Breaking News Consumer's Handbook" that I recently came across suggests just that. The first point is that "in the immediate aftermath, news outlets will get it wrong." While some of the points from the handbook may not directly relate (e.g., there's almost never a second shooter), I think that the overall guide provides practical information literacy ideas for making sense of what is a timely and highly relevant situation.

Although I haven't seen much discussion of the shooting and protests on my Facebook feed, I have found there is a lot of chatter on social media outlets that our students do use regularly, including Twitter and Snapchat. On these other platforms, students may be exposed to a constant stream of content that includes live video footage taken by everyday citizens. When thinking about media bias, it could be interesting for students to compare and contrast mainstream media news coverage with these other grassroots forms of reporting. How do they personally define and value the different forms of authority? How are narratives framed differently and with what potential impact?

Another aspect to consider regarding social media coverage is that students may encounter a number of charged, discriminatory, and/or hateful comments and "trolling." My hope is that students are not also sources of these comments. Even just reading them, though, may affect a student, and this presents an opportunity to have an authentic discussion about digital citizenship.

Finally, Santee is so close to El Cajon that the events hit home for all in our school community. At the same time, I think it is important to remember that we have a number of students who live in El Cajon and commute to West Hills. We have a number of students who work in El Cajon, and goodness knows they nearly all shop in El Cajon at Parkway Plaza. I can't go there without running into our students! These events have happened and continue to unfold in their space.

Along these lines, we likely have students who have some connection to those involved in the shooting, either in terms of knowing or relating to Alfred Olango's family and/or local law enforcement. We may have students who have made an effort to participate in the protests and others who have been fearful of them or angry about them. This is one of those moments when I feel the weight of responsibility in being an educator. We may feel helpless to change all of the inequities of our society, but we may listen. We may create safe spaces, and we may make sure students know that we care.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Free eBooks for Students and the WHHS Summer Reading Challenge!

Back in February, the Open eBooks project launched, providing children from "in-need families" with free access to popular eBook titles. Now, our West Hills students have access to set up Open eBook accounts by signing up via a Google Form. This is a great opportunity for our students to try reading eBooks for free. Although Open eBooks do not yet work on Chromebooks, see the recent announcement below:

Where can WHHS students sign up for Open eBooks?
 Read FREE eBooks
Information about Open eBooks, including the sign up form link, is on the school library's homepage:

What is the WHHS Summer Reading Challenge?

The library is hosting a WHHS Summer Reading Challenge to encourage students and staff to read for fun over the break. Students may stop by the library for a form or download a copy by going to the library homepage and looking for the yellow button. Remember, the challenge is also open for staff members!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

National Library Week and Extending the Circle of Gratitude

This morning, I arrived at work to discover an email from principal Robin Ballarin. In conjunction with National Library Week, she recognized the legacy of our school's string of librarian "Sues," which includes me.

NOTE: It was indeed serendipitous when I got hired as the third teacher librarian in the history of the school and realized that all three of us are named some variation of "Su-": Sue Arthur, Susan Schreiber, and Suzanne Sannwald.

Throughout the day, I have received thoughtful responses to Robin's email, and it reminds me that what I love most about being a librarian is getting to work in community with others. It is not just "my" library - it is our library, and I extend the kind acknowledgements to countless people who help enrich our school's library program.

While I cannot possibly name everyone, here are some people who regularly contribute to the West Hills Library:
  • Tech Specialist Jovan Bessette - My office mate and constant collaborator with all things tech, Jovan offers a calming influence, positivity when helping, and valuable mentoring for many students.
  • Student Library and Tech Aides - Our faithful cadre of student aides are essential to our daily operations - they help us in many ways, and we enjoy getting to know them, as well!
  • Custodial and Facilities Team - Given the square footage of the library, the number of trash cans, the amount of furniture, the occurrences of leaks, and more...this team works hard year round to ensure the library is a welcoming environment.
  • Individualized Instruction Team - Teachers, aides, and students have been great partners of the library. Currently, Aide Ashley Anagnos (previously Julie Thomas) supervises the library daily during Period 7, and several times a week, students gain work experience by helping care for the library facility. Also, Cathy Coffin is a great club co-adviser!
  • Campus Supervisors - Our campus supervisors are always just a walkie-talkie call away, and they - typically Jake Schwartzwald these days - also keep the library open and available for students after school.
  • Site Substitute Eric Hagen - When Eric is not assigned to cover for other teachers, he is always willing to help out in the library - he has been a welcomed addition!
  • Guidance Team - The Guidance team makes a great neighbor! They help me secure quality student aides, partner with assisting new and exiting students, and are caring when I alert them to students who may need extra support.
  • District-wide Library Staff - Teacher Librarians and Library Technicians from other sites, as well as the district Library and Media Services Office Assistant Laurie Tong, are professional colleagues who work with me to push our collective libraries forward. They also contribute tangibly to our students as we regularly share both print and online resources.
  • District ETS and ITS Teams - These teams are our lifelines to supporting teachers and students with technology. They help make resources available that facilitate learning and with troubleshooting and solution finding so that we are never alone.
  • District Curriculum Team - The Curriculum Department helps coordinate district-level resources that we are able to share with our students, and their support also bolsters our site-level efforts.
  • Community Partners - We are fortunate to have community partners, including the West Hills High School PTSA and Foundation, which donate resources to the library, and the Santee County Library, whose librarians visit monthly delivering book talks that ignite student excitement about reading.
  • Office Team - I am indebted to the admin and classified office staff. Debbie and Janelle (and Courtney) patiently help me navigate everything budget-related; Sheryle saves me hours with her report running wizardry; Lori and Kim care for students I send their way physically and mentally; Brenda, Laura, and Shari always looks out for us; and Robin, Ginny, and the VP team of five are dependably supportive.
  • Our Teachers - While this is only my second year at West Hills, I am grateful that my teaching colleagues have been so warm and welcoming. Thank you to all who kindly share their classes by collaborating with me. The invitation is always open to all - I love having any opportunity to work with you!
  • Our Students - We have amazing students. The library can be a bustling place - I encourage you to stop by at lunch sometime to experience the rush - and yet it works because of our students. I regularly witness students help one another, and I rely upon many students who volunteer their help, adopting the library without ever receiving formal credit. Even those students I may not know as well, they make a difference just by showing up. Their presence matters - they and all of you make the library what it is!
Thank you, Wolf Pack, and Happy Library Week!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

It Takes A Village! Extending Deep Appreciation To All Who Help Me Help Students

Recently, Mrs. Ruggles and Mrs. Romanowski extended an invitation to collaborate on a Bless Me, Ultima project for their 10th grade English classes. I always love working with our teachers and was excited to gather a mix of print and electronic resources that students would need.

To complement the core novel, many topics challenge students to read thematically-related texts, most of which are not freely accessible on the general web. While several books were available in the West Hills library, I certainly did not have enough copies of key books - nor all of the titles - in our collection alone.

Fortunately, since our school is networked as part of a district-wide online library catalog, we have the ability to search the collections of sister schools. After sending out an all call email to my fellow GUHSD Teacher Librarians and Library Technicians, they immediately stepped up to help, just as they always do. They found requested books on their shelves and packaged them up for delivery.

Bless Me, Ultima Project Books
From there, our GUHSD warehouse department ensured safe delivery of the books from the lending sites to West Hills, just as they always do. Knowing how this adds literal weight to their loads, I want to express extra appreciation for the critical role that they play in enabling me to support student learning.

In general, once at West Hills, student office aides are responsible for getting packages sorted into my personal mail cubby. Then, to notify students that books are available for pickup, I rely upon library student aides to deliver notes to classrooms, where teachers kindly accommodate passing them along.

Inter-library loan (ILL) - as this is called in the library world - is a wonderful thing, because it allows for efficient resource sharing, something that is not only practical, but also essential given limited budgets. ILL only works, though, because of the help of many different people who work in concert to help deliver knowledge into the hands of our students.

This is just one example, among countless throughout the year, that illustrates how it indeed takes a village to successfully support our students! Thank you to everyone above - and others who help in big and small ways year round - for contributing to student learning!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Printing: The Saga of the Past Six Weeks and Even Bigger Questions to Ponder

In recent months, staff members have received various communications regarding concerns about student printing, with particular mention of the library. Since the messages have been provided without comprehensive context and often indirectly passed along in "telephone game" style, I hope to more clearly outline some of the issues. As we have been experiencing a high volume of printing with the end of the grading period coming up, the topic is fresh in my mind.

Starting with the bottom line... READ THIS if nothing else

As you may not be interested in reading the entire saga, I will start with my most important points:
  1. Printing Volume: Students print in the library a lot. As of 1/21/16, the black and white cloud printer had served 12,291 print jobs. Keep in mind that a single print job may be multiple pages, and this is often the case.
  2. Printing Woes: The print volume was manageable until the past six weeks when we started experiencing major printing drama, as detailed in the saga below. At various points recently, I have grown weary and worn, and I apologize if you have in any way been on the receiving end of my grumpiness! As I approached our admin team for support, some bigger questions have been raised about why there is so much printing going on, how we may utilize Chromebooks to reduce the need for printing, and even more fundamental questions about expectations for student responsibility and accountability.
  3. Reducing Printing: As someone who strives to protect our environment and would love to free up school funds to be spent on other educational purposes, I encourage the use of technology to reduce the volume of printing when there is an appropriate alternative. I offer my partnership to anyone out there who would like to find ways to digitize lessons, explore management tools such as Google Classroom, or experiment with new projects and types of student work products. At the same time, I think it is important to acknowledge that we are only a little more than a semester into our school's 1:1 implementation, and transition can take time. If you decide next month or next semester that you want to try something new, my door is always open to you!
  4. In Support of Printing: Based on research, I do not propose a 100% paperless environment - I support purposeful printing. I am also a proponent of balanced approaches and believe that it is important to consider the particular needs of different circumstances and individuals. As an aside, an interesting scholar who addresses related topics is Maryanne Wolf. Her book Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain is in our library collection - remember, staff may check out books, too!
  5. Mindful Printing: My only request is mindfulness regarding printing. What needs to be printed and why? Is there an alternative, and what are the pros and cons of this other option? What support do you need to pursue a potential alternative, and how may we as a community best support one another?
And now for more information than you might ever want to know about printing in the library...

What exactly is the library printing policy?

Students are welcome to print in the library with the following considerations:
  • Black and white printing of school work is free. Other black and white printing is $0.10 per page.
  • Color printing costs $0.25 per page, although the color printer recently broke and so this is not an option until a new printer is purchased with library department funds.
  • The printer should not be used for copying services. Teachers may instead facilitate copying via front office duplicating. 
  • Students should keep in mind that library printers do not always function dependably - see more about this below.

Why are students printing so much?

As much as I hope to minimize printing taking away from my curriculum-related teacher librarian responsibilities, I understand that students have legitimate needs to print, and I also believe that students do not always have options to print elsewhere. For this reason, I have advocated that students have access to print on campus, and I support the library being a central place that facilitates printing.

Regarding the legitimacy of printing, I can attest that students only print academic-related material ~99% of the time. Also, while there has been a lot of attention about the printing of essays, it is important to recognize that students print much more than just essays. 

Sample types of printing:
  • Class work to turn in (e.g., essays, reports, and other projects)
  • Handouts, worksheets, study guides, and practice tests posted online that were previously distributed via duplication services
  • SAT and ACT tickets
  • College and scholarship application related materials, including transcripts, letters of recommendation, etc.
  • Job search materials such as resumes and cover letters
  • Athletic clearance forms, physical forms, and grades for coaches
Our students are fortunate to have a great amount of technology at their fingertips, both at school and at home. This is why I don't end up with 200 of a teacher's students printing in the library when an assignment is due. Having said that, it is important to recognize that there are students who do not have printers at home or cannot afford to buy toner when it runs out - plus procrastinators - and so there may easily be 50 students printing from just that one teacher.

When everything functions smoothly, how does printing work in the library?

Students print from their Chromebooks using Google Cloud Print as follows:

  • Since the current library printers are not cloud-enabled, staff desktop computers are used as print servers with printers shared via a staff Google account.
  • Every single student must manually add the cloud printer as an option by navigating to a link and clicking on a button to add the printer. Once added, a student does not need to repeat this step. But, since cloud printers are added per Google account, students who use multiple Google accounts must add the printer to each account separately.
  • Each time a student prints, after having added the cloud printer, it is necessary to not only select the option to print, but to change the printing destination (which is often confusing for students) before the option to print is enabled.
There has been a learning curve with cloud printing (i.e., most students need one-on-one assistance to add a cloud printer), but it is manageable...when it works.

NOTE: Most teachers have the ability to set up cloud printing in a similar way if they have a working printer. To see if this is an option for you, connect with Tech Specialist Jovan.

The Saga: What has jammed (pun intended) printing in the library?

  • Google Cloud Printing Issues: After working smoothly for a year and half, with the shortened URL to add the cloud printer having been clicked 2,559 times (Remember: this means the cloud printer was added to 2,559 separate Google accounts!), the cloud printer stopped working consistently at the end of the fall semester, right when a lot of work was due. Jovan helped troubleshoot the issue, which included trying the following: (1) creating a new cloud printer, which meant every student had to add a cloud printer for the second time, (2) changing the dedicated cloud print server workstation to a different computer and different Google account, and (3) creating a new cloud printer yet again, which meant every student had to add a cloud printer for a third time.
  • Unpinpointable Print Queue Issues: After seemingly resolving the Google Cloud printing issues, there were then a couple of weeks when we suffered from puzzling print queue issues. This, unfortunately, happened to coincide with some major paper deadlines from multiple teachers. The Google Cloud print queue would get jammed, and we would have to manually click individually on stalled print jobs in Google to cancel them. The local print queues would also get stuck, and so we would have to manually cancel each of those jobs via the host operating system, too. We would get error messages on the physical printer and would have to restart the printer, which would take a couple of minutes each time, and all the while, students would be lined up anxiously hoping that their papers would print so that they could receive credit for their assignments. To tackle these issues, I was fortunate to have a village of helpers including Jovan, our site substitute Eric, and all of our library and technology student aides, plus other kind library regulars. It was all hands on deck, and we tried the following: (1) setting up an old printer as a second option, which unfortunately hasn't worked well since it was retired for a reason; (2) having students share or email documents for me to print them locally, which mostly worked except that my name is difficult to spell and if students had already turned in work via Google Classroom, they had to be instructed on how to make a copy to share instead - not to mention my email inbox filling up with documents to print; and (3) setting up iMac workstations to allow for local printing, which interestingly and frustratingly shed light on how students lack an understanding of the difference between local and cloud storage and printing (e.g., they would log out of the iMac rather than logging out of their Google account).
  • Hardware Issues: The main library printer is about eight years old, and it is not a high capacity printer. We have been getting frequent printer jams, particularly when there are a number of students printing at the same time. Un-jamming involves the typical routine of taking out the toner and checking various and sundry doors, as I'm sure most of you have experienced. The good news is that the school will be purchasing the library a new black and white printer, and so this will soon be one less obstacle.
  • Miscellaneous Issues: In addition to the above issues, there have also been miscellaneous
    roadblocks such as the DDoS network attacks that have affected everyone, as well as random things such as all three of my staplers breaking this morning. This caused quite a bit of panic since students understand that the expectation is that papers must not only be printed on time, but must be stapled and ready to turn in. Thank you to Debbie for supplying us with emergency backup staplers and to Eric for being my legs to pick them up!
Congratulations! You have reached the end of this saga! While I don't want to jinx myself, the "Google Cloud Printing Issues" and "Unpinpointable Print Queue Issues" were non-issues for most of this week. We don't know what magically changed (although it is quite possibly due to troubleshooting by our brilliant "Nerd Herd" tech helper students), but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the previous weeks amounted to just a random bad run. Also, if you got lost in the laundry list of technical mishaps, don't forget to review the "bottom line" points with "even bigger questions to ponder" at the start of this post.

*Adding this in honor of all the English classes that have been studying Hamlet lately. Of course, of even greater significance is the question of why or why not?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Virtual Makerspace Resources for Students and Staff

December 10th is GUHSD's first ever Innovation Day! I know that you are innovating on a regular basis since I get to see and hear about what you do through your students every day. Thank you for working hard to help our students be creative and collaborative critical thinkers and communicators!

In conjunction with Innovation Day, I wanted to share a new resource that is available via the library website. As part of my Teacher Librarian credential program, I have had the privilege of studying under a top thinker in the field of school libraries, Dr. David L. Loertscher. In his course, my classmates and I worked earlier in the semester to create "virtual design halls." For my final project, I created our very own version: a GUHSD Virtual Makerspace (vMakerspace). Here is an information doc that explains more.

Click on the image below to explore the vMakerspace.
The vMakerspace is also linked on the school library website.

The vMakerspace is a curated collection of web resources that should all be compatible with our FutureForward Chromebooks and free for at least basic functionality. Think of it as a virtual toolbox for project creation and self-discovery learning. If you want students to create a word cloud, there are links to good word cloud generation sites. If students love music, there are links to music-related tools. In fact, I showed a student these tools yesterday, and she created *THIS* last night!

Also, please know that as I created this resource, a lot of my inspiration came from YOU! For example, thinking of the video projects that many of you assign students, I included video-related tools, as well as collections of Creative Commons "free" photos, stock footage, and music. On this topic, you can always refresh your understanding of copyright and fair use by revisiting John Cross's fantastic presentation from our back-to-school staff days.

If you have questions, comments, or suggestions about the vMakerspace or anything else, please feel welcome to connect with me. I always love to hear from you!