An Open Letter to MY Students

To the my students:

I know it’s summer and it’s cruel for me to make you read.

But I don’t care. Suck it up. Read it.

I’ve actually been writing this letter since the day I accepted a position at Hershey.


Because I knew I was going to leave sooner or later. I always do. I want to be everything and do everything. Therefore, I never plant myself in one place for too long. Perhaps it’s bravery, perhaps it's cowardice. But it’s me. And after the 3rd job change before my 25th birthday, I knew it was how it was always going to be.

I was having a lot of fun and we were doing some incredible things in the library. My professional career was growing and expanding and I was speaking all over the country about our awesome library. I had a ton of other projects I was going to do this year. We were going to do some serious rearranging and expand the makerspace. I was going to teach makerspace classes during flex and we were going to have our own MakerFaire. The school administrators were awesome at supporting us and so were the parents. Best of all, the students (you guys) were great.

(Don’t let that go to your head. Only MOST of you were great. The rest of you were just okay.)

Note:  A part of me considered writing this letter as if I was absolutely positive I made the right choice. I considered emphasizing all of the benefits and perks of this new job. I considered repeatedly telling you how “excited I am for this marvelous, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”. If I make this new job seem “irresistable”, no one will question why I left, right? No one will think my decision was stupid, right?

But I decided to just be honest. I’m scared to death and I’m not sure I made the right choice.

So why did I leave?

Well...it’s hard to explain (even to myself)

Have you ever seen the show “Let’s Make a Deal”?

At the end of the show, anyone that has won a prize is given the opportunity to go for the “BIG DEAL”. These people have already won hundreds of dollars, electronics, or vacations. Why would they risk losing that - especially since they literally won it just minutes ago? (And if you’ve ever seen Let’s Make a Deal, these people could seriously be trading their car for a box of cereal).

But there is a chance that something bigger and better is hiding behind that curtain. There is a chance that it is a life-changing amount of money.

And yes - there is still the chance that it could be a box of cereal. And there is a chance that this new job is a box of cereal.

But if I didn’t see what was behind the curtain, I would forever ask myself “what if”?

By far this was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make. And unlike the contestants on “Let’s Make a Deal”, I had more than 30 seconds to think it over (thank heaven). So I thought, talked with family, and talked with friends. One of my friends absolutely refused to give me her advice. No matter how many times or how many different ways I asked, she simply refused. And I hated that. But I get it now. I needed to make the decision on my own. I couldn’t do what most people thought I should do. I would always place the blame on them if things didn’t turn out the way I expected. Another friend asked me “what do you think will you regret more? Leaving or staying?”

Obviously you know my decision.

Unfortunately, I still don’t know what’s behind the “curtain” as I’m just officially starting my new position this week.

And I’m scared.

Terrified actually.

And it’s okay. Everything will be okay.



I may not be resolved in my decision for a long time (or ever), but eventually it will be okay.

So why the heck am I telling you this? Shouldn’t I just say, “Hey guys - you were great - read some books - peace” and be on my way? In my last piece of advice to you, I want you to know that it’s going to be okay.

I know two years isn’t a long time, but I hope it was long enough for you to learn how much I genuinely care about you. Teachers aren’t supposed to be “friends” with their students. But I did. I definitely considered some of you friends. I confided in some of you. I cried with some of you. And leaving Hershey means so much more than leaving a library job - it’s leaving a family of teachers and students that I loved (and still do).

So here I am - on this emotional rollercoaster.

P.S. IT’S THE WORST RIDE EVER. Perhaps you’ve ridden it before? Unfortunately, you’ll most definitely have to endure it again. And it will suck. Hard. (I promise)

But I want you to know that it’s going to be okay.

Middle school was one of the worst times in my life. Every memory I have of middle school is like a scene from a horror movie (with Lisa Frank everything, Trapper Keepers, and Hanson posters). You will question your identity. You will be miserable. You will have your heart broken. You will break someone elses heart. You will lose friends. You will make mistakes. You will fail. You will work really hard, and fail again. It will hurt.

They say people never change - that’s crap. People change. Including you.

I can promise you these things:
  1. You are not alone.
  2. You will feel alone.
  3. It will be okay.
  4. It will feel like it will never be okay.

I wish I could be there to support you on your rollercoaster rides. They will be scary. Terrifying. There will be tears.

But you don’t need to swallow your tears and put on a smile (see #1). It’s actually very therapeutic to explain how you’re feeling (hence this four page letter).

And despite the misery that is associated with middle school (and unfortunately, high school too), there is an abundance of joy that can be had if you just let it happen. So, in addition to all of those awful things I listed earlier, there will be instances of beauty. You will find your identity. You will fall in love. You will save someone. You will be the reason for someone’s smile. You will make friends. You will succeed. You will try again, and you will win. You will feel beautiful.

And when those things happen, savor it. Celebrate it. Celebrate the moments of others.

We live in a world flooded with ugly and mean. Please do not add to it. We certainly have enough. Surround yourself with people that make you happy.

Do me a favor and watch this video. It's called "Wear Sunscreen". Watch ALL of it. Look up the lyrics.

Be you.
Be amazing.
Be happy.
And when you’re not, just remember - it will be okay.

I love you,

Mrs. Heather M. Lister


ISTE 2016

I am so pumped to be headed to ISTE 2016 this year in Denver, Colorado. This will be the farthest west I've ever traveled and there is no conference more fun than ISTE. I have this huge list of people I want to reconnect with and an even longer list of people I want to meet face to face for the first time.

I've got a jam packed schedule at ISTE, but I'm hoping to squeeze a few fun things in there in addition to just "conference" things.

One of the first things I'm doing is heading out with my library rockstar peeps (Diana Rendina, Colleen Graves, Sherry Gick, and Elissa Malespina) to see SparkFun! And even better - we're taking  a big red bus!

MackinVIA Love [Booth #3132]

What kind of conference would it be if I didn't get the chance to share my love of MackinVIA? Stop by throughout the conference to hear from myself, Shannon Miller, Michelle Griffith, or Mesa Heise talk about the Transform Your Library Movement and how the FREE MackinVIA supports integrating digital tools into the curriculum. 

Low-Tech, No-Tech Makerspace [Sunday 7:00-8:30 Lobby D, Table 32]

First up, I'm doing a poster session in Lobby D from 7:00-8:30 on Low-Tech, No-Tech Makerspaces. I was so amazed and honored to be listed in this School Library Journal article on "Hot Ticket Sessions" at ISTE 2016. At this session, you get lots of ideas for maker activities requiring little to no technology. If you've got trash (and somehow, schools have tons), you have maker resources.

ISTE Librarians Network Playground [Monday 8:00-11:30 Lobby D]

Next on the agenda is the ISTE Librarians Network Playground. I'm pumped to present on Google Cardboard because who doesn't love VR? I'll be bringing some traditional cardboard viewers and a few of the Viewmaster Viewers. I'll also bring a few freebies I got from random giveaways. My session is at 9:30 and then I'll be posting lots of love from ISTELIB

"Inclusive Library Spaces: Moving Beyond Accommodation" [Monday 2:30-3:30 Room 707]

Next is something I'm super excited for - my interactive lecture on Inclusive Library Spaces. I'm really hoping to stretch the minds of attendees and help librarians and educators rethink their spaces and resources. Too often we focus on the minimum or legal requirements when serving patrons, but we don't do a lot things intentional to make the library more welcoming and inviting to all. This session is held in one of the flexible learning rooms and I'm really going to try and make this as participatory as possible! Come and share your ideas!

Creating a Makerspace in Middle Schools [Wednesday 11:45-12:45, Room 601 Table 2]

Yesterday, Chris Champion asked if I would co-present on starting a makerspace at the secondary level. Not too many details here, but we're going to roll with it and undoubtedly, it will be epic.

I'm also super excited to see all of my friends at Buncee. If you haven't checked out this tool, you need to find them in the exhibit hall. Granted, there are about 300 other companies I'm looking forward to connecting with, but Buncee is a little family of mine and I can't wait to see them all again. 

If you aren't at ISTE, Craig Yen (and probably many others) will be Tweeting every single second on the #notatISTE16 on Twitter. There's also a Google+ community.

Stay tuned for my reflections :)


Make It Happen: Delta Kappa Gamma Keynote

Today I had the incredible honor of giving the Keynote address at the Delta Kappa Gamma, Alpha Alpha State Pennsylvania Convention in beautiful State College, PA - home of Penn State. 

This was my first Keynote and I was more nervous than I ever imagined I would be. There were only about 300 people in the audience, but I was terrified. Prior to my Keynote, I scanned the crowd and saw many faces I recognized - including a Superintendent from my previous district and some of the teachers I had in elementary school. 

When I saw my elementary teachers - I wondered if they ever saw me becoming "something". Even though high school, I just blended in. I wasn't dumb, but I didn't see the need to display my intellect in any further capacity than what was required of me. 

I say that because, as a teacher, I find myself picking out students saying "oh, you're going to be something some day - I just know it!" But what about all of those other kids. Those kids like me? I wonder if they're more impressed because they never saw it coming. So while I'm smiling inside, I'm also keeping in mind the way that I "judge" students future based on their current lives. 

Dear students - prove me wrong!

The Keynote was such an amazing experience and I can't thank the organization enough for treating me like family. 

Below are the slides from my Keynote. 

I am also doing a workshop on Library as Learning Commons which you can find on my Presentations page.

Now go make something happen!


Extended Your Reach @ PSLA 2016

I just wrapped up an exciting weekend with some amazing Pennsylvania librarians at the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association annual conference. This conference is always held at the "sweetest place on Earth" - Hershey, Pennsylvania. Fortunately for me, this is also the town in which I teach, so I had very little traveling to do.

I currently serve on the Board of Directors for PSLA, so my conference began with a Board Meeting. Meanwhile, other attendees had the fortune of attending a pre-conference workshop learning about the new state evaluation system and how librarians can/should be evaluated. (There is so much debate on this topic and I'm still working out my personal opinion on the issue). So often teacher-librarians are pushed into professional development offerings that target classroom teachers, we sometimes get lost in the mix. And while we most certainly ARE teachers and a lot of the information is beneficial, it's nice to have a dedicated professional development for our unique role. Many librarians look to PSLA to fulfill that need.

Thursday evening was the official kickoff. I got to present at the Tech Learning Lab with Mackin to chat about our new eBook consortium. (I am SO excited about this - more news to come soon).

Then we headed to dinner and our keynote speaker, Richard Byrne. Richard spoke on "Leading Students in a Hyper Connected World" and he was kind enough to share his presentation on his blog, FreeTech4Teachers. Nothing is better than a speaker with a sense of humor. Particularly after a long day of learning.

He really had the crowd rolling when he shared this clip from The Office.

I had followed his blog prior to see him speak, and I'm confident he just gained a few hundred more after his keynote.

Friday morning was kicked off with the Awards Breakfast. This is one of my favorite events in the entire conference because I get to see so many hard working individuals be recognized.

We also heard from Jerry Spinelli and Alan Grantz who were PA Young Readers Choice recipients in 2015. (Soo awesome!!)

The best and worst part about conferences is choosing sessions. I love the ability to choose sessions that interest me, but find it SO frustrating when so many awesome sessions are occurring at the same time. PSLA 2016 was no exception. 

PSLA used this awesome tool called Sched to post the sessions online. You could create an account and make your own schedule. I love it! You can still see the schedule of events here. You can even upload session handouts straight to the app. I loved it.

I presented with some of my best friends (also colleagues) on Blended Professional Learning. You can see our slides here.

After the last session, I grabbed a bite to eat and geared up for the Unconference!

We did the Unconference "Learning Commons" style where we organized according to our interests. You can see the spreadsheet here. There was some amazing discussion on eBooks, makerspaces, coding! (Unconferences are another love/hate relationship. I want to be at EVERY table at the same time).

Along the way, librarian's shared their "Library Wins" which was so empowering.

After the discussions, we moved to the Smackdown. During the Smackdown, librarians share their favorite tools or bring up a topic they'd like to discuss.

Saturday was an easy day with breakfast, our author keynote by Jacqueline Davies, and one final session.

The end of the conference is always bittersweet. You're so exhausted so you're happy, but you're sad that you may not see some of these people for an entire YEAR! (What was life before social media?)

I am so happy to have been a part of the conference. I am also thankful that the conference ended on a Saturday giving me an entire Sunday to get re-energized for the week ahead.

As much as I love attending national conferences like ISTE, AASL, and FETC, there is so much power in your local organization. It's like a little family. We support each other, we encourage each other, we console each other. I remember my very first time I attended PSLA - I was in my junior year as an undergrad. Since then, my family has grown tremendously with new librarians, but the old faces stay around - supporting, encouraging, and consoling. Regardless of whether they just retired or retired a decade ago - they're love and passion for school libraries is contagious.