A Step Into the Past
Mr. Gerald Cox was my biology teacher when I was in high school. He was also my bus driver when I was in elementary school. His daughter and I were classmates all through school at Bismarck Public Schools in Bismarck, Arkansas. Mr. Cox also served as one of my taekwondo instructors while I was in high school. Several years later after high school, I worked with him when I took my first job as a band director at Bismarck Middle School. By that time he had transitioned to director of technology on campus. We have always had a love of technology in common. But in high school, it was taekwondo that we shared.
What Made Him Stand Out
I remember that Mr. Cox was genuinely interested in me and my friends in high school. (He still is to this day.) He would actually sit with us at lunch when I was a sophomore and listen to what was important to us. If you think back to the teachers that have made an impression on you, this is probably a common theme. When they care about us as individuals, it shows. This is such an important fact for all educators to remember.
An Unlikely Book Suggestion
One day while sitting in Mr. Cox's class, he handed me a book. I recall that he told me he wanted me to read this book. It was The Secret of Inner Strength by Chuck Norris. The book was, of course, about Chuck Norris, martial arts superstar. At the time, I was super interested in taekwondo. I remember thinking, "I don't like to read. I don't want this book." There was no way I could tell my teacher this. It would have been impossible for me to let him down. He had thought of me while he was reading it, and now he had shared the book with me.
I was in a dilemma. Reading comic books was no problem for the 10th grade version of me. Reading a work of non-fiction outside of normal school work was way out of my comfort zone. I couldn't let Mr. Cox down. I had to read the book. I recall putting this off until the last moment late in the evening. The night I finally started reading his biography was transformative for me.
When You Can't Put it Down
The book gave me a glimpse into the life of a martial arts and television/ movie star. I remember flying through the pages at night during the first week of reading. I couldn't wait to see what happened next. I am sure that I enjoyed visiting with Mr. Cox about the book before class and during lunch. Reflecting back, it wasn't the book content that drew me in to read. It was the relationship with Mr. Cox. It was a fear of letting him down. It took years for me to realize the power of relationships after becoming an educator.
|An example book suggestion note.|
During August of 2017, I called Mr. Cox for a quick visit. This is something I try to do every few years with teachers that had an impact on me as a student. During that phone call, I reminded him about the book he had handed me so many years before and how it had impacted me then and now. In addition, I shared with him how it had inspired us to try something similar in the library. This fall, we have been working hard to have students tell us what they like. As a result, we then look for books for those students based on their interests. When we present the potential books to the student(s), we stick Post-It Notes to the book with a personal message. We tried this for a few weeks with some good results. Most students seemed to like getting a message from us indicating that we had thought of them. After a few days of this, a male student came in between classes and said he had heard we were making book suggestions. He also said he hadn't read in a long time, and he wondered if we could suggest a book to him. Apparently, word had gotten out and students were talking about our operation!
Another Visit With Mr. Cox
I actually ran into Mr. Cox at a local restaurant one evening while having dinner with my wife. We had a chance to visit for a few minutes, and I was able to tell him about our book note program. He seemed pleased that his suggestion from so many years prior had inspired our library team. We decided to meet again the following Saturday at his house. While visiting, he presented me with a copy of The Secret of Inner Strength, which is now out of print. This meant so much to me since the book represents the importance of relationships. You can see a photo of us with the book on the left.
Not all students will respond to this approach, but some will. Almost every student will share their interests when we interact with them. I've had to learn to listen intently when they do this. When I have made a regular practice of this, students come to me to initiate discussion (even the quiet students). This is important since many students may not have an adult to encourage them. These relationships can open the door to library book and resource suggestions. They may even change students lives!
We plan to do this again during the school year since it brought success. I would like to get students to share how it personally impacts them when we make book/ resource suggestions. Between genrefication (read about this project here) and programs like this, we have noticed a significant increase in circulation this year. We can't wait to see what the cumulative totals look like at the end of the year. A library is much like a business with the students being our customers. How can we reach them better with our products? Relationship building is one way. Hopefully, our students feel like the valued customers they are!
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3 things I've learned about Breakout EDU.
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