Facing Failure

This is a post that I've been thinking about writing for awhile now. Thinking about it, at least. Actually putting words to paper (make that screen, I guess) was a little bit more difficult. Though it deals with an issue that we all face in our professional lives, it is something that is personal for me and everyone deals with things differently. This is simply an effort to acknowledge and move past it.

I've been in my public library job for about eight months now and it was only a little while ago that I truly felt like I had failed at something. It was my first toddler storytime session, and by about halfway through it I felt totally out of my element.

Looking back, it wasn't the worst thing ever. But in the moment, with hyper toddlers running everywhere and absolutely no one paying attention? That can be slightly off-putting. That's not to say that inattention was unexpected - I mean, it's toddlers, of course there's going to be chaos. Still, I felt more than a little downtrodden when the session was finished.

So, here I am facing up to a bit of failure.

Acknowledging what went wrong...

While I was prepared with a whole outline and plan of things to do, read, and sing, I admit I wasn't ready with the whole toddlers-as-participants thing. I had done baby storytimes before (quite successfully!) but I really should've been more prepared for the fact that toddlers are developing movements and language all their own and come with their very own curiosity.

Timing. I thought I had everything planned out and timed to fill the whole half-hour, and then suddenly I found myself doing a song twice and adding a couple more for good measure just to fill things up. My mind felt like it was scrambling, and I'm sure that face said the same thing.  

The choice of certain rhymes and fingerplays. When I was planning all of my sessions I found myself building everything around the theme of the week. Songs, rhymes, and fingerplays (and everything else) absolutely coordinated with whatever we were going to be doing that week - regardless of whether or not participation was working. Instead, I found that this wasn't conducive to participation from either the kids or the grownups there. And in the end, I was the only one singing. 

... and learning to adapt.

For one thing, I've inserted a few more wiggle songs over the course of any one half-hour session. I usually try to start with the standard opening songs (Hands go up!) but I also make sure to include two or three stretching songs or songs that require standing and spinning around at any point. Placing these songs between my two books that I read and before the craft that comes near the end helps, I think, in refocusing and transitioning the group to what's happening next.

A major aspect that I ended up heavily tweaking was the use of themed songs, rhymes, and fingerplays. While I like the idea of having everything relate back to the theme of the week, I just think toddlers are too young to fully understand that yet. On top of all that, I think the low participation level on the unknown songs kind of dragged that first session down a bit. So instead, I went back to what was well-known and well-loved. Now, there's a lot more enthusiasm when a particular song is announced as coming up next.

If I do choose to teach a new song, I try to choose something short with minimal actions. For example, I played Sharon, Lois & Bram's Skinnamarink during my Mother's Day session and while the kids may not have known it they had no problem adapting to the idea of shaking your arm and doing the actions for "I love you."

While I was frustrated and disappointed after my first experience, it was important for me to push past it, put it out of my mind, and go back in the following week with a fresh face. In taking a hard look at my own plans and outlines for the sessions, I was really able to look at what was successful and what wasn't. Overall, while it was awful to go through those moments of panic and "oh God, I've failed" feelings - it was good to be able to go over things and then adjust for the better.

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