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.



News-O-Matic: One of the Best Ways to Develop Readers and

As an educator, I am always looking for ways to integrate various subject areas and keep the content fresh and connected to the world.  Many years ago my mentors used the daily newspaper with their students.  They struggled with how to translate the articles to their students who, like in all classrooms, are at a wide variety of reading levels.  What it did do that I especially admired was that it sparked conversations, helped students see a variety of viewpoints and encouraged students to both listen and think critically.

When I was a young student, one of the things I looked forward to was The Weekly Reader.  It was one of the highlights of the week.  Our teacher would give us some time to explore it and then we would read it ’round robin’ style around the room.  Thankfully I was a confident reader so I actually enjoyed this experience.   Some of my friends, however, struggled and counted around the room to see which paragraph they would have to read so that they could practice reading it quietly so they wouldn’t be embarassed in front of their peers.  As an educator now that breaks my heart to think that students did and still do that in some schools.

Weekly Reader March 8-12 1965

Of course, The Weekly Reader evolved over time.  Sadly, the magazine that began in 1928 put out its last edition in 2012 when it merged with Scholastic News.  They began exploring digital editions and today produce dozens of classroom related news magazines.  One of my favorite relative newcomers in the classroom newspaper business was Time For Kids.  Our school decided to subscribe to TFK and for years it has been and continues to be our primary weekly news magazine.  It, like Scholastic News, has been evolving integrating all types of digital elements, quizes, writing and project resources.  Even with various ‘editions’ for a variety of ages, we still struggled with how to reach the students in our classrooms who had vastly different reading and comprehension levels.


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Now, in 2016 I’ve discovered a new tool that changes all the rules.  News-O-Matic has found a way to do what I think has never been done.

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This daily news magazine is the only K-8 reading program that combines:

  • Daily updated content (5 original articles, Monday-Friday, 52 weeks a year)
  • Kid-appropriate content (every article vetted by child psychologist)
  • High level of personalization through multiple reading levels (lexile)
  • Customizable assessment tools correlated to the standards
  • Bilingual text and audio recordings (English & Spanish)
  • Teacher’s guide and vocabulary support
  • Option of peer-to-peer discussion
  • Ability for student to ask questions, comment, or draw
  • Interactive maps

Users will be able to read News-O-Matic on any device, so it doesn’t matter if you’re using a computer at school or a smartphone at home.

News-O-Matic inspires young readers at an early age and creates lifelong learners who can think critically about their world.  We would love to see your students join the News-O-Matic community.

You can start a free pilot of News-O-Matic by clicking on the link:  News-O-Matic


They recently interviewed me about the School Library Journal School Librarian of the Year Award. It was a pleasure working with them; they made it fun for me to be a part of the process.

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The News-O-Matic team is a small, but mighty force.  In my opinion, they have the key components in place.  Each story is screened by a School Psychologist and the staff works hard to keep the news fair, balanced and exciting.

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These were some of the photos from the story and a few of the fun elements I love about the program.  Check out the map feature.  It shows how many ‘books’ it would take to stretch from where YOU are to where the ‘news’ is happening.  Things like this are perfectly suited for my readers!

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Another fantastic feature of News-O-Matic that I forgot to include in the original article: Read to me!  Every article is read by a real human and it is available in both English and Spanish!  How fantastic!  It does this for every reading level.

And, once you sign up with News-O-Matic, you’ll get these very helpful emails that highlight tremendously helpful features!

So, what’s my verdict? I HIGHLY recommend giving News-O-Matic a try.  They offer a free trial and what makes this service so solidly useful is that it is not device dependent.  It doesn’t matter if you have Chromebooks, iPads, PC desktops or Macs or even smartphones, you can use this tool with your students.  Once you sign in as a teacher, you can magage your class.  The simple interface allows you to set lexile levels for your students.  (While I’m not crazy about having to ‘level’ the readers, I know that by doing so it will help them grow more effectively.)  This then adjusts the articles and questions to the individual reader’s level.

I am piloting this source with fourth grade students who work on our daily news broadcast.  This is our fifteenth season of producing a news broadcast.  We’ve come a long way from where we started, but this new tool is going to provide our students with excellent examples and terrific jumping off points for stories that they want to share with our school community.   We are eager to collaborate with News-O-Matic on stories and learn valuable lessons along the way!

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.