Focus on One Fish and Follow It

Last week I ate dinner at a seafood restaurant with a floor-to-ceiling cylindrical aquarium in the center of the dining room.  As I sat with my family, I couldn’t help but watch the fish– and watch the people watching the fish.  Some people stood in front of the aquarium and just looked up and down, others walked in circles around the glass walls, and still others (like me) just glanced away from their tables and gazed in the general direction of the aquarium.

As I watched, a group of three little girls, probably about fourth or fifth graders, hopped and skipped over to the aquarium, and when they got there, one of them announced (excitedly, and with an air of playground authority), “focus on one fish and follow it!”

And so they did, pointing and laughing and following their fish.

I turned back to my table and repeated these astute directions to my mom.  We marveled at this little learning experience unfolding before our eyes, and wondered if the little girl was imitating a teacher or parent’s voice in her comments.

As we watched the fish and watched the kids watching the fish, we kept repeating and reflecting upon the phrase, “focus on one fish and follow it.”   This was wise advice, we decided, not only for observing aquarium fish, but for sorting through the many responsibilities and goals we seem to chase after all at once in our work and lives.

Though we may never fully be able to “focus on one fish” – or one task – at a time, we can dedicate energy in a focused way.  I’m not suggesting that librarians abandon the richness (and occasional chaos) that makes this job so rewarding and challenging, but I am posing the challenge to concentrate on a specific area to strengthen in your practice, and follow that “one fish” across the dimensions of the school library program

How can you “focus on one fish” in the school library in 2013?  Maybe consider the evidence you’re gathering of the good work you’re doing with students and teachers.  Perhaps you want to build opportunities for inquiry, or expand your knowledge of assessment or questioning techniques.  Is this the year you’re ready to present professional development at your school or at a conference?  Is communication with a certain group – parents, teachers, school leaders – a direction you’ve been meaning to pursue?  What other “fish” might you follow this year?

Possibly, your “one fish” is the approach you take to balancing the many tasks of the school librarian.  Try to focus your efforts on what you determine to be the most valuable contributions you make to student learning.   Know that multitasking is less productive than prioritizing.  Streamlining – not cutting corners, but making wise use of time and resources – makes good sense.

Happy New Year, SLM Blog readers!  Tell me about your “fish” in the comments!  Here’s to the wisdom of children, and the promise in focusing on one fish!

–Rebecca Morris

Image: enoshima aquarium_2 by ajari, on Flickr. Used with a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.

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