School Library Journal’s School Librarian of the Year: What I’ve Learned, So Far.



Dear readers,

I remember it like it happened yesterday.  It was June 30th, and I had slept in a bit enjoying one of the first official summer days.  The windows were open and I could smell the fresh-cut grass and hear the zip, zip, zip of the sprinklers across the street.  After pouring a cup of coffee and turning on NPR, I was in full ‘summer mode.’  I opened up my laptop, scanned the messages to see if anything urgent had happened, and noticed something a tiny bit off.


School Library Journal.  

Executive Editor Kathy Ishizuka.

Wait.  What?

Oh my goodness.  

I suddenly remembered that a group of parents in our PTO nominated me for the School Library Journal School Librarian of the Year Award.  The nominations were due in May.  I had been working pretty hard all summer on professional development and all the typical summer projects teachers do to get ready for the school year.  Whoever thinks teachers spend eight weeks of summer lounging around has never met a real teacher!  We’re lucky if we get a week on a beach somewhere, or on a trail, or wherever it is that gives you peace.  Most of our summer is spent planning for the next year.  I digress.

I immediately responded to the email.  Then I waited.  I drank two more cups of coffee very quickly.  I needed my brain to catch up with my imagination.  

I was about to speak with the Executive Editor of The School Library Journal!

Fairly soon afterward, my phone rang and it was a New York number!

“Hello Todd, this is Kathy Ishizuka from School Library Journal.  I’m so excited to speak with you.  You have been named The School Library Journal’s 2016 School Librarian of the Year!”

I don’t remember ANYTHING else that she said other than, “…this news in under embargo until the official release sometime in late August.”

A little later in the day I got another email from her:


Holy Cow!  I had totally and honestly forgotten about the nomination.  I presumed that like most things I had about as much chance being chosen as I did winning the lottery.  Well, I was wrong.  I wasn’t completely truthful about not remembering anything from the conversation.  I do remember a little bit about the conversation.  I remember sharing with Kathy that  I was first, happy to be the first male Librarian of the Year!  Woot! Woot! But what I truly remember was discussing the fact that I thought I had no chance because of WHERE I work.  I work in Winnetka.  Folks, I’m not going to lie.  It is an amazing place.  It has a history of over one hundred years of progressive education.  It is on the north shore of Lake Michigan and is a northern suburb of Chicago.  It’s a pretty affluent community.  

One word about affluence:  Just because a community CAN put money into their educational systems doesn’t mean that the WAY it is inserted is necessarily conducive to the most effective learning.  Also, just because my library is well-funded doesn’t mean that I don’t have students who have amazingly diverse and profound needs: social, emotional, academic, even financial.  It’s not all rainbows and unicorns.  Sometimes folks write progressive education off as in, ‘…it can only happen in wealthy communities…’  Let me direct you to a post I wrote recently in which I highlighted a book by my very own professor George Wood, then of Ohio University. In his book, Schools that Work: America’s Most Innovative Educational Programs, George traveled the country highlighting public schools, that work!

School can develop young people ready and able to participate in a democratic society–citizens who are insightful, creative, compassionate, and wise. Pie in the sky? No, this phenomenon is exactly what is happening right now in innovative, exciting American public schools in all types of settings–wealthy and poor neighborhoods, inner-city and rural areas. In Schools That Work, parent and educator George Wood takes us into schools around the nation and shows us firsthand the critical changes that make the difference between schools that work and schools that don’t, including innovations in curriculum, physical layout of classrooms, scheduling of the school day, and the educational approach of heroic teachers and parents.

There are millions of dollars out there now that were not out there when George wrote this book in the 1990’s.  Here is a list of grants (free money) that teachers can apply for.  Someone is going to get this money, it should be YOU! And here is a list of ways to get FREE money for technology and learning tools for your classroom. If you have the desire and the will to stick with some of these applications, you CAN and WILL be able to get your projects funded.  Look at folks like 2015 SLJ School Librarian of the Year Kristina Holzweiss, Diana Rendina and Colleen Graves!  Each of them has applied for and received multiple loans through various Donor organizations and the links above will share their tips with you. YOU CAN DO IT!  It might seem hard, but it is just getting in a groove and pouring your passion and love for learning with your students onto the page or the ‘screen!’

Sorry for that brief diversion, but I think it is really important to put that out there so we can move past it.  Kathy went on to tell me that the location of my school was a big part of the conversation with the panel of esteemed judges.  I don’t remember her words exactly, but she said something like this: ‘…in the end, we looked at what you’ve done to share what you do with the world.  Your blog is read on every continent with readers in over 120 countries.  You present at conferences local and international.  You put it out there for all to benefit from and in the end that is what made us choose you.’  Apologies Kathy for paraphrasing, I truly was in shock during most of the conversation!

The weeks and now months that followed that initial phone call have been filled with tremendous trepidation, excitement, joy, humility and in the end, PRIDE.  Not just for me, but for my parents (especially my Mom for reading those thousands of books with me), my grandmother (who was a lifelong public librarian would have been so incredibly proud) my college professors, both undergrad at Ohio University, but also at NLU for my Masters and My Library Information Sciences Program.  For the amazing Superintendent Trisha Kocanda; Tech Director Maureen Miller; then Principal Daniel Ryan; our new Principal Beth Carmody; to the Principal who hired me, Maureen Cheever. The list continues to the phenomenal president of the PTO Jen Hayes and her RELENTLESSLY SUPPORTIVE parent team.  One parent, Sarah Graham took this project on and held on to it like a relentless pit bull (in a good way Sarah!)  I am proud of the teachers in our building who put up with my craziness.  I’m proud of the phenomenal colleagues that I share my space with Amy Trogdon, Kristin Osborn, and Dexter Codell; they make everything we dream about actually happen!  We have a mind-blowing custodial staff Clive Lascelles, Dennis Myers and our head Maintenance Director Adam Rappaport.  Most important of all is my wife and kids who put up with the insane amount of time spent away from home; the did it because they knew that it was filling my heart with pride and joy. None of this could have happened if it were not for the OVERWHELMING spirit of positivity.  “Yes and…” became the mantra of this team.  We researched, went on field trips, brainstormed, planned, dreamed and sweat together over the many months of manual and mental labor that went into creating and effectively orchestrating our first year in the IDEA Lab.  

So, I know this post has gone long.  I want to wrap it up to say something I said in an interview with my hometown newspaper, The Kenosha News: ‘This award is just as much a challenge for me to work even harder than I did last year.  But work harder to share and help spread the ideas and understanding of how and why the learning that happens in Winnetka, and in our STEAM spaces specifically is so important to children.


So many doors are opening for me due to this immense honor.  Some I can’t write about just yet.  Some I’m not even sure where they may lead.  What I can tell you is that after twenty-four years (that’s amazing isn’t it?) of teaching, I have never been more excited to get out of bed and into the ‘Libratory’ than I am right now.  That tells me things are pretty darn fine.



Kenosha Man Named Librarian of the Year!

I had thescreen-shot-2016-09-07-at-9-21-37-pm chance to sit down with reporter Bill Guida of the Kenosha News recently to talk about The School Library Journal’s School Librarian of the Year Award.  It meant an awful lot to be able to share this news with my home community.  I hope to be able to share my experiences with my colleagues here in Kenosha!

Here is a direct link to the Kenosha News article.



I’m not sure how long the article will be available online so I’m going to post the text and images here as well; there is a very nice video clip online that I think really captures the spirit of the interview.


My Week Without Social Media

Last week, I had the pleasure of chaperoning a mission trip with high school students from Kenosha’s St. Mary’s Lutheran Church and Spirit Alive Church.  37 of us loaded up in three huge vans and one Chevy Traverse and headed to Detroit.  We were blessed to use Hope Lutheran Church in Farmington Hills, MI as our base camp.


While in Detroit, we spent the bulk of our time supporting the Matrix Center.  This centrally located building is an oasis in the Osborne Neighborhood, just a few miles on the edge of Detroit.  We cleared vacant lots, did landscaping, painting and a whole host of other projects that the busy staff just never had the time to do. The hot temperatures made outdoor work challenging.  The intense summer sun and heat pushed us all to our limits.  Still, the trip was fantastic in every respect.  While I enjoyed the hard work, I also enjoyed the mental vacation from social media.

Mission trip

Image courtesy Victoria Fields.

We had asked the youth to limit their phone use.  We wanted them to ‘be in the moment’ that seems to develop when folks are not forever looking down at their tiny screens.  They rose to the occasion.  It seemed only fair that if I was asking them to step back, that I should do the same.  I added ‘vacation responders’ to all my email accounts, professed to the social media world that I was taking a break from it.

While I hardly ever have my phone’s volume up, I noticed the ‘notifications’ popping up on my screen over the directions app. almost immediately.  When we stopped, I was tempted to ‘just check’ on those emails or that funny tweet that popped up.  I knew I was going to have to do something drastic.  In fact, when I told my 18-year-old daughter what I had done, she let out an audible gasp.  I deleted ALL of the social media apps from my phone.  Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Facebook Messenger.  I even deleted my email accounts.  Besides the camera and photography apps, my iPhone was basically, and somewhat ironically, a phone.  The chaperones were using a group text to keep in touch between vans and occasionally we had to place a random call, so I left those two apps intact.  Almost immediately I felt the relief, but also a bit of anxiety.  The word ‘addiction’ gets thrown around pretty loosely.  I don’t think I’m addicted to the phone, but I have been conditioned to pick it up every time it vibrates, ‘just to check.’


One of the many beautiful art pieces at Hope Lutheran Church in Farmington, MI.

Why did I delete the apps?  Mostly because I have so little self-control.  I knew that if they were on the phone, I would look.  At first just, a peek, but soon  full-fledged minutes would turn into hours and so on.  Why not just re-load them?  Well, that’s a good idea, but that would have taken time and by the time I had the ‘need’ to check notifications, the need had passed.  So, I embraced the void.  I figured if something earth shattering happened, I would find out soon enough.


The soaring sanctuary of Hope Lutheran Church in Farmington, MI.

Unfortunately, some horrible events DID in fact happen.  There was an attack in France and shortly thereafter there was another shooting of police officers.  We were alerted to the possibility of violence in major cities across America following these shootings.  I had told the other leaders about my social media ‘fast’ and they were monitoring events.  We shared the bare bones of the events with the students that evening as we gathered.  Seeing their faces reminded me how we ‘used’ to get bad news.  Because we were all essentially processing it together, we had time to reflect, cry and pray.  I think we miss much of this in our 24/7 connected world.  By the time one event hits the news cycle there is another event happening.  We don’t’ have time in this ‘modern’ world to grieve.


The baptismal font is large and centrally located at the Hope Lutheran Church in Farmington, MI.

As the week wore on, I noticed that I didn’t even really miss the facebook updates or countless photos of friends children or vacation images.  In fact, I actually found time to read.  Not as much as I would have liked to, but given the fact that I had 34 noisy teenagers around me all of the time, that I read at all is a miracle!


Detail of a building at the Heidelberg Project in Detroit.

I won’t lie. I was very anxious to re-load the apps and check in with my social media accounts.  Somewhat disappointedly, I must say that nobody ‘needed’ me.  Nobody offered me a book deal, that part in the new action film, nor had I won any lotteries.  In fact, there actually very few emails or updates on my accounts.  I’d like to think that it was because I told everyone I was offline, but I think that the actual reason is that I’m just not as important as I would like to think I am.  I say that not in a disparaging way, but in an honest and humble way.  The world will turn.  The sun will rise.  All without me.


One of the structures at the Heidelberg Project in Detroit.

And yet, despite the fact that I wasn’t ‘missed’ on social media, I made memories that I will never forget; even if I didn’t document them with a tweet, gram or post.  You could say I got to time travel because I saw the ‘future’ in the faces of the youth.  I spent countless hours with them singing, praying, working and sweating.  The future is indeed bright!


The General Motors Building in Downtown Detroit, MI.

How can you manage your social media ‘addiction?’  Well,  Ibrahim Husain’s POST on Lifehack has some fantastic tips, a couple I would like to highlight.  First, he states that you have to acknowledge you have a problem.  Use one of the many trackers to monitor your use.  MOMENT is one of the best in my opinion.  After you acknowledge this, you can start working to curb your addiction.  Husain suggests deleting many of the apps from your phone, permanently.  Do you really need Facebook and Twitter on your phone?  I personally have found that using an interface like TweetDeck helps me efficiently monitor and learn from my Twitter feed.  Haven’t found anything similarly for Facebook.  For now, I’m limiting myself to it by using a timer.


The beautiful organ at Hope Lutheran Church in Farmingham, MI.

I DID make a few changes as I re-loaded those apps back to my phone.  The first is that I turned off ALL notifications except a few key apps (text messaging and calendars).  I will NOT get notifications of new tweets, or posts to Instagram and Facebook.  I won’t even get notifications of email messages. I am sure I’ll miss a few emails late at night or early in the morning.  I apologize in advance to you if that happens. Who knows, hopefully, I’ll find some time to let my mind drift; it is in that kind of moments I find I do my best thinking.  Maybe my monumental stack of books next to my bed will gradually shrink!


The whole crew gathered along the river walk in Detroit, MI.