Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Celebrating the Quiet Mentors: Jenny

Meeno Rami's Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching uses the term "quiet mentors" and she reminds us that mentors are everywhere in our lives.

In the text, Rami suggests looking for those who are passionate about their work, enjoy their job, whose students trust them, whose students are engaged, who is most willing to share, who is doing something which interests you but you 
know nothing about, who has a quality you would like to develop in yourself...and so on.

And I thought, my gosh, I know those people. To honor them, I having been blogging all this week about all of the quiet mentors in my life.

Quiet Mentor #4: Jenny
All across the country, school libraries are being closed. Last year, in Chicago alone, 160 school libraries were closed.

Jenny volunteers and collects books for the West Philadelphia Alliance for Children's school libraries (WePac). She buys and gathers donations. She lugs box after box down to the elementary schools identified by WePac and helps them clean and rebuild their libraries.

On the WePac website it says, "...launched in September 2009 at two schools, [WePac] now provides more than 3,100 students in 11 struggling schools and neighborhoods with access to a school library.

I stopped by Jenny's room today to pick her brain about her volunteer work. Among stacks of new books on her desk, she said, "I'm going to go down during my Spring Break and volunteer, or maybe on my birthday."

In addition to hauling boxes of books to underfunded schools over 40 miles away from our school, Jenny also floods her classroom with books.

As a colleague of ours, John, said last week, "I was in her room and everywhere I looked, it was books. I couldn't believe it. And the culture of reading--you can really see it in the kids. They would get up find another book, sit down, and read. They all had books in their hands."

What I honor most in Jenny is that kids who go through her classroom are engaged in reading. It is much more than simple compliance. Her kids cultivate reading lives. As Penny Kittle said in our workshop yesterday, "giving kids access to books in your class is their bridge to a library."

Additionally, it was because of Jenny's classroom library that I was inspired several years to start building my own. Similar to John's experience, I remember sitting in her room for a workshop, among all of those books, and I asked myself what the heck I had been waiting for all those years.

My room, as a student teacher of mine once pointed out, resembled a penitentiary.

I learned at the February SCBWI conference in February that the publishing industry lost 60-70% of its shelf space with the closing of Borders and many independent book stores over the last decade. When we factor in the current pace of the closing of school libraries, few remedies exist to get books into the hands of kids.

A teacher's classroom library becomes critical.

And quiet mentors, like Jenny, who not only cultivate the reading lives of kids but who also inspire colleagues  to change become just as critical.

Quite simply, Jenny's example helped reframe my career...and classroom.

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