2014 School Librarian of the Year Finalist Colleen Graves: The Whole School is Her Classroom

Teacher librarian brings technology, activity, and excitement to the media center.

During Colleen Graves’s 10 years teaching English in her hometown of Denton, Texas, countless teachers would ask for her help incorporating technologies into their lessons. During this time, librarianship was becoming increasingly tech-driven and instructional, a shift that appealed to Graves’s love of teaching people to use ed tech.

“I [was] already being a librarian,” Graves says of those years before she made a career change five years ago. She became a teacher librarian at the Lamar Middle School (LMS) in Flower Mound, Texas (population 70,000) and earned an MLS from Texas Woman’s University in 2012.

Graves has transformed the 30-year-old MLS campus library from a “quiet, desolate, drab” place “lacking any integration of technology” into a learning commons that is a “hub of activity,” says Leigh Ann Lewis, former principal of LMS.

“When I saw Ms. Graves updating and painting the library, I knew that she was going to be an awesome librarian,” says Nimisha Srikanth, member of the LMS Teen Advisory Board (TAB) and makerspace set-up volunteer. Graves’s arrival saw the addition of brightly colored walls, new furniture and design groupings, updated technology, and popular books—all achieved with her $6,000 annual library budget.

The library went from being empty in the morning and having few people during the day, to having about 100 kids there every morning to do homework, use computers, or chat, Graves says.

During “Maker Monday Workshops,” Graves teaches coding and how to develop games using MIT’s Scratch program. Sometimes, she throws a video mashup-themed party where she coaches kids to use the digital media editing program Mozilla Popcorn Maker or sets up Skype sessions with online game developers.

LMS eighth grader Dani Martin attended Graves’s “Coding and Robotics” class. Martin says that the “fantabulous” Graves made learning fun and easier, with activities such as creating a banana piano with the MaKey MaKey tool.

“In elementary school, I had friends who dreaded going to the library” and didn’t like reading, says Martin. “Then we came to middle school, and Mrs. Graves was there and we were like, ‘The library looks so cool.’”

Graves develops a project idea, and then lets the TAB members take the reins and advertise it, says Srikanth. “Ms. Graves taught us to be responsible and to have fun.”

Calling herself a “teacher, a maker, a tech geek, and a book geek,” Graves has a blog featuring class instructions and video (“vlog”) book reviews, created with the free app Videolicious or iMovie, that teachers show in class. She shares library news via her quarterly Smore (smore.com) newsletter, a favorite read among students and faculty.

Students were inspired to start creating their own Smore newsletters and other sites using the website builder Wix. “You have to stay on the ball and keep trying new things,” says Graves. A certified Google Education Trainer, Graves also offers Google Apps for Education training on her blog and made a digital citizenship site with her kids.

Graves’s “Wall of Shelfies” displays student and faculty selfies with their favorite books, and she keeps a notebook in the library where students can note suggestions for new library books.

Graves was a 2013 recipient of the Lewisville Education Foundation Grant for her proposal “Apps and Adapts,” allowing her to upgrade library iPads. Part of the grant went toward securing iPad dongles and tripods for teachers to check out.

According to Cinnamon Dilts, communications and marketing specialist for the LISD Education Foundation, Graves’s proposal aligned with the district’s 1:X Initiative, which works to personalize students’ experience with “the right device at the right time,” according to the 1:X site.

“Rather than asking for thousands of dollars,” Dilts says, Graves explored “how she could improve student and teacher experiences from her place as the technology hub.”

Graves’s presentations to the PTA requesting money for ebook access resulted in the library acquiring OverDrive, along with additional funds for Makerspace supplies. Lots of funding sources exist, Graves says. Accessing them just requires a little digging and lot of writing.

“She made the library a place that matches our advanced generation,” says a student who voted for Graves as teacher of the month. Graves says, “My classroom is the whole school now.”

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