Because Andy Plemmons Sees Learning in a Global, Connected Context

Because Andy Plemmons Sees Learning in a Global, Connected ContextOver the next several months, we'll be sharing a series of profiles featured on ALA's new Libraries Transform site. These profiles highlight libraries and library professionals that are adopting innovative strategies to help libraries transform.  
Andy Plemmons is School Library Media Specialist at David C. Barrow Elementary in Athens, Georgia. He is a member of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) and was named a finalist for School Library Journal’s 2014 School Librarian of the Year. He blogs at Expect the Miraculous and tweets @plemmonsa.

What big change are you implementing that is helping your library transform?

Today, more than ever, we need to share, interact, and collaborate beyond the walls of our schools to connect our learners with a global audience. I share our work on a daily basis through social media, but we also seek out opportunities for students to develop projects that allow a global audience to interact with us. One example is our Barrow Peace Prize project with 2nd graders where students participate in a Google Hangout with me to develop criteria for the prize. They write persuasive pieces about 5 people from history and record themselves via Flipgrid. We invite online voting from people around the world and have a celebratory Skype session with the developers of Flipgrid. One student even designed a peace prize medal to 3D print, which now hangs in the Flipgrid office with their other awards. 

How has this transformation in your library helped to transform your community? 

As I plan collaboratively with teachers, I often hear them ask questions about audience such as “who can we share this with?” or “who could collaborate with us on this project?”  These are questions that initially came from me, but now I am starting to see a shift where teachers think about technology tools that they can use in the classroom and in the library to get students’ voices outside our school to authentic audiences.  We are also making shifts to have students not only reach an authentic audience but also think about how they can use technology and their voices to be change-makers in our world even from a very young age. 

What is one of the best strategies for achieving change in your library and how have you leveraged it? 

When I read the book Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo, I came across a line that talked about expecting miraculous things. This section of the book developed into a motto of “Expect the Miraculous” which has many layers embedded within it that have made big changes in our school.  Achieving this motto has involved offering professional learning sessions with our teachers to explain my goals in the library:
  1. Giving students opportunities to dream, tinker, create, and share
  2. Giving students opportunities to engage in global thinking and global collaboration
  3. Empowering student voices. 
When I plan with teachers, we are intentional about building in time for students to tinker with the tools that we are going to use for a project because they are perfectly capable of figuring out the tools on their own.  We explicitly talk with students as well as model what it means to look at failure as a first attempt in learning. We know that we should always try things that are maybe just a bit beyond our reach, but to look for miraculous things happening along the way. It is not uncommon to hear students, teachers, or families say “expect the miraculous” when leaping into something new.

What resources (books, articles, mentors, web sites, etc.) help inspire your evolving vision of change in libraries?

Two books that have been instrumental in inspiring my work are Show Your Work by Austin Kleon and Invent to Learn by Gary Stager and Sylvia Libow Martinez.  I am constantly inspired by librarians around the globe and follow their work on social media. The #tlchat, #makered, and #edtech hashtags give me ideas to push my own thinking and encourage me to reach for lofty goals. My mentor list is long and includes the likes of Jennifer LaGarde, Matthew Winner, Sherry Gick, Joyce Valenza, Shannon Miller, Jennifer Reed, Nikki Robertson, and John Schumacher.  However, I see the world as my mentor because I never know where my next idea might come from.

What experiences or outcomes resulting from your change have kept you inspired and motivated to continue your work?

The work that we do is tiring because of the amount of service that goes into our work. There are days when I feel like I’ve exhausted myself to serve others and wonder if the amount of effort was appreciated. Suddenly, though, a student’s voice will emerge to remind me why I do this work. A student who wasn’t engaged in school will suddenly find a voice in the library through something I’ve offered and it presses me to always move forward even in the exhaustion.

If you are a library professional interested in sharing a story about how you are helping libraries transform, please contact Miguel Figueroa at