Shannon Anderson comes from a family of teachers. She has many close relationships with those who teach, including her mom and husband. However, when she started college, she wanted to do anything but teach, because she had been surrounded by education her whole life and yearned for something different. She graduated college with a degree in computer programming, but soon realized that it was not the profession her heart was in. She returned to school and earned a master’s and specialist’s degree in education with an emphasis in instructional technology. It was a perfect fit, combining both of her interests. Within a year of graduating with her master’s degree, she began her career as a media specialist at Statesboro High School in Statesboro, GA, and she is still there 14 years later. It is there that she rolled out the Virtual Storytime project, which has been met with great success.
Advise: What is the Virtual Storytime project?
Shannon Anderson: The Virtual Storytime project is a collaboration of videos and livestreams of our NHS members reading books to elementary-aged students. Members were given the option of doing a live read to an elementary class in our district over Zoom, recording themselves reading a book to show at any time in the elementary libraries, or they could do both!
Advise: Where did the idea come from? How did it start?
Anderson: During preplanning this fall, all media specialists from our district met to discuss what changes we would be faced with this school year due to the pandemic. During this meeting, many of our elementary media specialists voiced concerns about not being able to have visitors to volunteer or read to students. I immediately began to think about how our members—especially those who are dual-enrolled and not on our school campus all day—could help. I began emailing my co-adviser, Paige Sutcliff, during our meeting, and the idea took shape. By that evening, I had researched the copyright concerns, began a list of publishers who allowed read-alouds of their books, and emailed out an interest survey to our members.
Advise: How has it affected your school’s culture?
Anderson: At first, I wasn’t sure how much participation we would have with our members, but I was pleasantly surprised! Our participating members all did an excellent job bringing their books to life and the elementary students love seeing the “big kids.” I received several messages from our elementary media specialists praising the members and thanking us for helping. Once word spread, we had more members sign up to record.
Advise: How can student council and Honor Society advisers go about creating a Virtual Storytime project for themselves?
Anderson: I began by creating a spreadsheet that included publisher names and read-aloud permissions from each publisher. Next, I created some rules and guidelines for members to follow during their recording or reading. Members signed up using a Google form. Each member’s book choice had to be approved by the publisher before starting on the video, but most publishers responded quickly and were eager to allow members to read their books. All videos are housed in a private Google folder shared only with our district’s media specialists.
Advise: In your view, what is the toughest challenge that students face today?
Anderson: Today’s students are immersed in the world of social media. In a short walk-through of school hallways during class exchange, one will find students on Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and countless other apps and sites. Teens become very comfortable on social media and can easily overlook the dangers, such as cyberbullying, pedophiles, or leaving a negative digital footprint. During orientation sessions in our media center each year, we discuss these dangers with students. We give examples of how easily friendships, scholarships, and job opportunities can be ruined with just one post. It is our hope that our discussion will help students remember to think before they post.
Advise: How do you keep students engaged?
Anderson: As a media specialist, my interaction with students can be a bit different than a classroom teacher. We enjoy having students in the media center, whether they are studying, reading, looking for a book, or just waiting for their next class to start. We always try to create an inviting atmosphere where anyone feels welcome to come through our doors. We are attentive to why each student is there and offer any help we can give to make their visit worthwhile. I believe that students who feel valued and welcomed will work harder and stay more focused.
Advise: What are some small ways advisers and students alike can improve their school climate?
Anderson: Get involved in school activities! Recruit friends to get involved! If you see a missing link, find a way to fill it. For example, there are very few times when all extracurriculars come together at our school. Last year, our NHS members recognized that. To help fill that void, we came up with a schoolwide “Trunk or Treat” event for our community. Several clubs and sports teams came together, filled the school parking lot with decorations and candy flowing from car trunks, and we held a wonderful event for hundreds of children within our community.
Additionally, for the past several years our chapter has partnered with our special needs classes and held many activities with our students with special needs, including inviting them to a home football game. Our members arrange to have those students, with the help of NHS members, race the “run through” sign with the players and cheerleaders, and then our members sit with them in the stands during the game, explaining plays and helping their new friends know when to cheer. To continue their new friendships, our members traditionally plan activities and holiday events to hold in the special needs classrooms. But the most important thing? Always promote a positive attitude!
Advise: Was there a particular teacher or adviser who influenced or inspired you?
Anderson: At our school, we are blessed to have two full-time media specialists. The two of us have worked together for more than 14 years. In those 14 years, we have had many experiences advising different organizations. I remember, before I became co-adviser of NHS, I watched my co-worker, Amy Altman, in her roles as cheerleading coach and student council adviser. I saw how groups of students with the right leader could make lasting changes to the school environment. I saw how developing relationships with students could completely change how they behave each day. I saw how helping a student find their niche could help them become the leader they were born to be. Amy probably has no clue how much she has influenced me, but she has shown me how to be successful in what we do each day.
Advise: What is the concluding best piece of advice you can give Honor Society and student council advisers?
Anderson: Take the time in the beginning to get to know your members. Find what their interests are, what excites them, and why. Work alongside them and show that you truly care about their success in NHS, student council, high school, and beyond. I’ve always believed in the saying, “If you enjoy what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life,” and I’m just out here enjoying every day.