IN CLOSE WITH | Susan Grigsby
A Media Specialist in Forsyth County Schools; curious and creative teacher librarian, and on top of all that a singer, actress, mom, horsewoman, writer, wanderer, seeker and storyteller — Susan Grigsby and her love for learning never ends.
GETTING STARTED How did you get started as an educator, and how has your job changed over the years?
I was working in the Sports & Entertainment Marketing field as a producer/AV technician which required lots of long days and evening hours. When my daughter was born in 1994, I knew I needed a change so I could spend more time with her. I read an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the need for Media Specialists in the state. I didn’t know what a “media specialist” was but it sounded like something that was right up my professional alley! I started investigating and realized it required a Master’s Degree; however, when I found out it was a school position it just seemed like the right thing to do for my children. As luck would have it, as soon as I made that decision a friend told me about an opening for a library clerk in a nearby private school. I enrolled in school, got the job, and have been loving this profession ever since!
I think we are beyond the ‘great new tech tool’. The important thing about edtech right now is that it is being integrated in a way that makes sense.
INSPIRATIONS What inspires you about teaching? Do you have a slogan or mantra that guides you?
I am insatiably curious and teaching gives me the opportunity to learn something new all the time. I really enjoy being around children of all ages and I’ve always been an instigator, a community builder, and I’ve always enjoyed teaching others. There’s nothing more magical than that moment when a child gets a concept for the first time or when the lightbulb goes on and they can read on their own. It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of that. I have a Maya Angelou quote that has been stuck on my computer no matter where I’ve gone: “Surviving is important. Thriving is elegant.” I want my students to thrive and I want them to know that!
That’s an interesting question because I think we are beyond the ‘great new tech tool’. The important thing about edtech right now is that it is being integrated in a way that makes sense. It always drove me a little crazy when someone would wax poetic about a new tool or program that was really, upon deep inspection, an electronic worksheet. A pencil is a tech tool so it’s not about the tool. It’s about how you use it. That said, I am having a lot of fun with Aurasma and experimenting with augmented reality. I don’t want to use it just to make pictures come alive but I’m exploring how to take a current reality and dive a little deeper into it. For example, wouldn’t it be great if we could point our device at a historical site and instantly see it the way it was at the time of its significance or see a reenactment of the event(s) that happened there? What a great way to help students visualize history and make it more real, more relevant, more immediate! I’m also excited about PebbleGo but, frankly, I don’t see it as a “tech tool.” Yes, it’s a digital product but more importantly it is a digital resource for the K-5 student. In our district, we’ve integrated PebbleGo in a way that makes it super easy for students to not only access the program but do so after logging in to their workstations/devices. The “tech tool” part (to me) is creating the ease of access to the digital resources we want our students to use but then the resource itself becomes integrated into the curriculum.
RECENT EVENTS What memorable edtech conference have you attended recently?
I always get a lot out of the ISTE National Conference. I’m seeing a shift there, too, about integration over “bells and whistles.” Speakers are sharing ways to immerse students in days filled with creativity, knowledge creation as well as consumption, and making new connections rather that reporting on ones that have already been made. It’s great when you find tools that can make all of that more exciting but it’s the teaching that really matters. I also get a lot from American Library Association and American Association of School Librarians. I think both of those groups got the pedagogy over tools idea a while ago.
That’s when I realized that being a librarian is a calling and a mission. It’s an honor. It is the embodiment of social justice.
MEMORABLE MOMENT What was your greatest educational moment?
I would love to say I had some dramatic moment of standing on desks and students chanting, “Captain, O Captain!” — but my moment was a little quieter and more private. I was the librarian in a urban/suburban elementary school and I was always running one reading promotion or another. There was a young man who won my latest prize competition and he came in to the library to collect his prize: a book. I always kept a shelf of clean paperback and hardcover books to give away so I invited the boy into my office to pick out the book he wanted. He looked over the shelf for what seemed like an hour and finally made a choice – a gently used hardcover. He asked me when he was supposed to return it and I told him he didn’t have to return it – it was his to keep. He clutched that book to his chest and looked at me with the most honest and vulnerable face I’ve ever seen and quietly said, “I ain’t never had a book of my own before.” I couldn’t speak for a moment or two but finally managed to say something like, “You do now and I hope you love it.” I’ll never forget that moment for so many reasons, not the least of which is that it made me face my own privilege and see that in this great country of ours there are still families that have no room in their budgets for anything above food and rent. It’s not that I was naïve enough to not know that before; just that I’d never been so close to it. That’s when I realized that being a librarian is a calling and a mission. It’s an honor. It is the embodiment of social justice.
It’s great when your participants leave with something tangible in their hands that they can immediately implement in the classroom. PD should be just as engaging and meaningful as the lessons we work so hard on for children. The sessions should be set up to allow “play time” if you’re teaching a new tool or a new way to use that tool. There’s nothing more frustrating than going to PD where you get a quick overview with no time to explore and no time spent on the “why” of that tool or program. If teachers are only getting the “how” then it isn’t transformative – it’s just one more think. Again, I’m going to go back and reference our district’s decision to purchase PebbleGo here. When you provide a resource that makes sense, that supports curriculum, and is easily accessed then teachers will use it once you show them where it is and how it fits into their teaching schema. When that resource is also easily grasped by their students then you’ve got a win-win.
I would love to build a seamless, cohesive partnership between our schools and the public library. For example, see the Limitless Library in Nashville. I think if we can get the technology framework in place to protect privacy but allow “dual citizenship” we could partner to maximize resources in a way that benefits students. I believe if the school system has verified that a student lives within district then the public library should automatically accept that verification and create a public library account. I would love to see it set up so that the username/password process at school could be replicated at the library for seamless access. It would boost school library collections for both print and digital and open up the world of books and information to families that may not otherwise have access.
NO THANKS What educational technology do you wish had never been invented and why?
I can’t think of a thing. Spam, maybe? But that’s not educational unless teachers use it as part of the process for information literacy instruction. I’m not a fan of anonymous-post websites because there I don’t think there are enough adults teaching children about the power of the send button. Sticks and stone may break bones but words can create permanent damage. I used to think – years ago – that the invention of the video phone would be horrible because I wouldn’t want to have to answer the phone with my hair in curlers and my face covered in green mud—but that’s not really how it played out.
The Star Trek Transporter. Think of the implications with commuting! Plus, I’d never be late again!
Reach Susan through http://www.forsyth.k12.ga.us
Got a suggestion for a great person to get IN CLOSE WITH here?
Write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Use IN CLOSE WITH in the subject line, and in the body of your email include their name, title, email, phone if available – and yours, too.