the sorting hat

hat_sortingThis is not the hat that will decide whether you’re assigned to Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Slytherin or Gryffindor.  

It is much more contentious than that.

This is the hat you put on when you decide how you are going to arrange your collection – alphabet or genre – and, currently, one of the hottest topics on discussion lists I belong to. Any question about changing the arrangement from the more traditional author-alphabet base to one based on the perceived genre elicits hot and fierce debate as proponents and opponents put their perspective.

The common arguments are…

  • students find it easier to find the sort of book they want in a collection sorted by genre 
  • collections arranged alphabetically keep all the titles by the same author together
  • if students only select from a preferred genre their reading choices are narrowed
  • students prefer the bookshop look of the library because it is more modern
  • if students learn the traditional method of the first three letters of the author’s name they will be able to transfer those skills to locating titles other libraries
  • one title might fit a number of genres so how will its placement be determined

In my opinion the decision is easy and is based on the belief that

The collection exists to meet the needs, interests and abilities of its users and to meet those needs it must be accessible

Therefore, as the teacher librarian we must know our readers and what their needs are. What might be appropriate for the users in one school library might not work for the users in the school in the neighbouring suburb because each school population is unique.  

Even if we currently classify fiction in alphabetical order by using the first three letters of the author’s name, we have modified Dewey’s original arrangement (because he assigned specific numbers between 800-899 to literature) so that users can find what they want more easily.  Then, to make it even easier, we might shelve all the episodes of a particular series together or pull all the fairytales into one smaller collection. We separate based on format – picture book, novel, information book, DVD – and intended target audience such as junior fiction and senior fiction. In the non fiction collection all the biographies might be shelved in one spot rather than in their specific subject of expertise as Dewey mandates or the puzzle books might have their own space so they are easier to find and shelve. Already we are ‘tampering’ with tradition and accepted practice because we want to make the resources more accessible to those who are using them.  

Arranging the collection to meet the needs of the users

Arranging the collection to meet the needs of the users

So why is the decision to arrange the collection according to genre so controversial?

Firstly, the term ‘genre’ must be clarified because there is a tendency to interchange the word ‘genre’ with ‘text-type’ leading to confusion between format, purpose and content.  Genre itself just means ‘a type or a category’ and it is generally applied to literature, music and the arts.  Within literature it refers to prose, poetry, drama or non fiction, each with its own style, structure, subject matter, and the use of figurative language.  

However, in education realms it is also often used to describe the author’s purpose – to persuade, inform, entertain or reflect. And these categories have been broken up even further …

 

An overview of some of the more common school genres

An overview of some of the more common school genres

Rose (2006) cited in Derewianka, 2015

However, in terms of the arrangement of the collection we are referring to another ‘definition’ of genre – those divisions of fiction based on theme, plot, characters and setting.  It refers to categories such as adventure, romance, fantasy, historical and contemporary fiction although there is a much larger list of possibilities and the sort of arrangement that is proposed has become known as ‘genrefying’.

If we return to the the underlying premise that the collection exists to meet the needs, interests and abilities of its users, then it stands to reason that as a priority we need to identify what those are, particularly in relation to their preferred way of selecting their reading resources for leisure and pleasure. We need to ask questions to identify if genre is their first and primary criterion for selecting a new read and the sorts of stories they like to read.  (Thinking Reading  provides a starting point to survey your readers on a number of issues to enable informed collection development.) My experience and research has shown that, generally, primary age students do NOT use genre as their search criteria. While they may like mystery or adventure or whatever books, their choices are made based on

  • peer or teacher recommendation
  • series
  • popular movie, television or game tie-in
  • author
  • cover
  • blurb
  • serendipity

But my experience is not your experience and all sorts of factors come into play such as

  • the age and maturity of the students
  • their proficiency with English (or the predominant language of your collection)
  • the focus of the curriculum
  • their access to reading materials beyond the school
  • their understanding of the concept of ‘genre’

So it is essential that you delve into the reading habits of those who will be reading to understand what will suit them best.

Should you discover that a collection organised by genre is what is best for your clients, then there are still a number of other questions that need to be asked and answered by the stakeholders before making such a significant change because not only is it a huge job absorbing human, financial and time resources it must also be sustained and sustainable. Those questions include…

  1. Why is the change being considered?
  2. Is this a sound reason for change?
  3. Is the change based on identified user needs or preferences?
  4. Why is what is currently in place not working? What is the evidence that it is not? How can it be changed or modified to work rather than introducing a non-standard ‘fix’?
  5. Is the solution based on sound pedagogical reasons whose efficacy can be measured?
  6. How do the proposals fit mandated curriculum requirements? 
  7. Can the proposed change be defended based on user need, sound pedagogy, curriculum requirements AND established best practice?
  8. What reliable evidence (apart from circulation figures) exists to support the changes and demonstrates increased engagement and improvement to student learning outcomes?
  9. Will the proposed changes lead to students being more independent, effective and efficient users of the library’s resources?
  10. Will the changes impact on the students understanding of how other libraries are arranged and their ability to work independently within those?
  11. Have students had input into the proposal?
  12. How will the change support the Students’ Bill of Rights?
  13. Will the change marginalise or discriminate against any users such as identifying their below-average reading level or sexual preferences?
  14. Will the change broaden or narrow the students access to choices and resources?
  15. Is it based on school-library best practice? Are there successful models (measured through action research and benchmarks and published in reliable authoritative literature) that demonstrate that this is a sustainable, effective and efficient model to emulate?
  16. Will the change make it easier to achieve your mission statement and your vision statement?
  17. How do the changes fit within your library policy, which, presumably, has been ratified by the school’s executive and council? Will the change in procedure require a change in policy?
  18. Who is responsible for developing the parameters of the change and documenting the new procedures to ensure consistency across time and personnel?
  19. If a change is made, what S.M.A.R.T. goals will be set to measure its impact?
  20. When will the impact of the change be assessed and what evidence of success or otherwise will be acceptable to the stakeholders?
  21. Who will do the measuring and ensure that the conclusion is independent and unbiased?
  22. If those goals show no change or a decline, will the library be willing to reverse the process? Will this be a practical proposition?
  23. How will the proposed change impact on the role and workload of the teacher librarian?
  24. How will the proposed change impact on the role and workload of other library staff? 
  25. If the change changes the traditional library arrangement, how is consistency across time guaranteed if personnel change because decisions are  subjective?
  26. Who is responsible for developing and maintaining the criteria for placement and the Procedures Manual to ensure consistency?
  27. Is the change worth the time that is invested in re-classifying every title and the money invested in new labels, staff wages etc?
  28. Could that time and money be better spent?
  29. Would better signage, including more shelf dividers, address the problem?
  30. What role can displays play in highlighting different and unfamiliar resources to broaden access and choices?

Documenting the answers to these questions (and others that will probably arise along the way) not only demonstrates your professionalism and the depth of consideration that has gone into the decision but also provides you with a solid foundation of evidence on which to defend that decision should it be challenged.

Having invested the resources in making the change, a new range of issues arises particularly in relation to how you teach staff and students how to use the new arrangement effectively, efficiently and independently.

  • Do they understand the concept of ‘genre’ in this context and the sorts of criteria that distinguish one from another?
  • How will you teach these?  Will teaching the characteristics of each genre become your predominant teaching focus to the exclusion of other curriculum priorities such as information literacy?
  • What will be the genres that you choose and how will these be decided?
  • Are the genre labels appropriate for the users? For example ‘romance’ might not appeal in an all-boys school but ‘relationships’ could encompass the concept.
  • How will the genres themselves be arranged – alphabetical order, popularity, size of the particular collection?
  • Will individual titles within each genre then be organised in alphabetical order of author or is there another way?
  • How will you deal with titles that span two or more genres?
  • How will the genre of each title be identified both on the book and in the catalog?

The arrangement of the resources in your library has to be based on so much more than the outcomes a retailer might be wanting to achieve.  The school library is not a bookshop on steroids and the sorting hat must be one that is put on with extreme care and consideration.  Of all the hats we wear, this is definitely not a one-size-fits-all.

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the transition hat

hat_transition

At the end of 2015 I finally hung up my going-to-school hat after 43 years of being in both the primary classroom and the school library.  Even though I officially “retired” in 2006, I’d still done a lot of casual relief work but for all of 2015 I had been back in a school library with my teacher librarian hat pulled on tightly.  However, I made the decision it was time to move on to new things. With this decision came the need and opportunity to consider what it was about the library I was in that made it unique to its situation and what the new incumbent would need to know to make the transition between us easier.

retirement

As the academic year draws to a close in the USA and elsewhere, and indeed teacher librarians everywhere are moving on to new schools or new lives, I thought it might be timely to consider what it is that we can do to make the transition from us to someone new go as smoothly as possible. What are the things we could and should do that will make for a seamless transition?  While many things are common to all school libraries, each has its own idiosyncrasies that make it unique and knowledge of these makes the new person’s job much less stressful.

However it is essential that the newcomer realises that the purpose of what you leave is not so that you can be the puppet-master from afar but a guide on the side so a welcome note, some flowers, something joyful to accompany what is likely to be a big pile will always be appreciated.

Here are some suggestions drawn from my own experience and that of others who generously contributed ideas to the online forums I belong to.

people

people

People are the key element of a library’s success and knowing who’s who is such a head start. Identifying the essential personnel will be enormously helpful but keep any comments, written or verbal, strictly professional.

  • if it’s possible and practicable, introduce the new TL to the library staff, parent volunteers, student leaders by hosting a morning tea before school starts where they can get to know each other without the busyness of the job to distract them
  • it there are paid library staff members, create a list of their current roles and responsibilities, timetable and other pertinent information
  • provide a thumbnail sketch of each person’s preferences and strengths so your new TL knows who the go-to person is if they want a display mounted, cataloging done, an ICT issue solved and so on
  • provide an outline of the nature of the student population such as whether there are significant indigenous or non-English speaking or LGBTQI groups and so forth who have specific needs that must be catered for
  • if there is a student leadership team for the library, identify those students who are likely to continue in this role and the program/expectations they follow
  • share the names of supportive staff members who are keen to collaborate or who know the collection well – those the new person can go to for advice if required
  • provide an outline of the chain of command so it’s clear who the supervisor is, who to go to for procedural or financial advice, who to go to for technical support and so on
  • make it clear if there are in-house committees or curriculum teams the TL is expected to join or take the leadership role
  • create a list of outside contacts such as frequently-used vendors, book fair co-ordinators, TLs in nearby schools, the local TL network co-ordinator, ICT Help Desk, even the local MP’s secretary and news editor if yours is a school that hosts events where politicians and the press are invited
  • if you are willing or able to be contacted for urgent questions, then provide your contact details

 

paperwork

paperwork

  • a sample teaching timetable is useful because even though it’s likely to change it provides a guide of expectations of the workload and its scope
  • a sample daily timetable indicating current hours the library is open, for whom and for what purposes. Include period and break times and any formal supervisory duties
  • a sample yearly timetable of events that the library has a leadership role in such as National Simultaneous Storytime, Book Week, Premier’s Reading Challenge, book fairs, community celebrations and in-school events including P&C and School Board functions
  • a calendar of requirements such as the submission of the budget; closing date for expenditure; subscription expiry dates; newsletters; student reports; anything already scheduled for the upcoming year such as a book fair
  • if you provide newsletters for faculties, contribute to the annual school report, share professional articles and so on, provide samples of these and the timeline and process you follow as well as a list of recipients
  • a copy of the current budget, annotated where necessary to identify priorities of the current collection policy including those yet to be fulfilled including details of ongoing grant submissions
  • a copy of the mission statement, the current strategic plan and critical policies such as those relating to the running of the library, collection development, collection management and circulation
  • a summary of the short, mid and long-term goals so the new TL can see the direction being taken at a glance (Just because the personnel changes, ratified policy shouldn’t have to.)
  • library procedures manual and diagrams of common workflow tasks especially if they are done by or involve others
  • list of “big picture” tasks recently completed or which need to be done such as inventory of a certain section
  • “cheatsheets” of essential information like logging into the circulation system
  • social media platforms used and how to access these
  • emergency routines such as fire drills and lockdown procedures
  • staff handbook for general school routines and procedures
  • school behaviour management procedures so that  there is consistency and continuity of expectations
  • sample forms used for budget submission; purchase suggestions; library bookings; curriculum planning
  • library-specific curriculum documents if applicable
  • procedures relating to the use of technology, games, makerspaces, access to new books and so forth – students will ALWAYS quote the previous TL’s rules if they perceive any sort of discrepancy
  • a list of above-and-beyond tasks currently undertaken by the library and which are likely to be expected to continue such as textbook management and equipment storage, maintenance and repair
  • an outline of external programs that your school is involved in and for which you have leadership such as Accelerated Reader, the library’s responsibilities in relation to these and any library-specific procedures

 

passwords

password

  • list generic passwords for
    • the circulation system
    • the library management system
    • online subscriptions such as databases, encyclopedia, ebooks
    • accessing the school’s computer network and/or learning management system
    • accessing library booking system
    • student sign-in system
    • social media access including any wikis or websites administered through the library
  • if passwords are not generic then list instructions for how they are generated by individuals

 

practicalities

practicalities

  • the hours the library is open beyond core school hours
  • if you have keys, leave these labelled 
  • if you are required to mark the roll or have some sort of sign-in mechanism leave the details of this
  • if you are required to collect statistics on circulation, library use and so on detail these as well as any software or LMS reports that you use
  • if you are required to supervise students who have ‘free’ periods, leave information about expectations for performance such as whether they are required to undertake formal study or whether it is a time to chat and play games.  Include the hierarchy for behaviour management issues.
  • if you are required to be on duty at each recess or lunch, indicate when you take the mandatory breaks yourself )and where the toilets and staffroom are)
  • clarify whether students are allowed to have food and drink in the library
  • the location of and access to services like photocopying and laminating as well as supplies such as printer paper
  • how the library is impacted by inside duties if the weather is inclement

 

peripherals

peripherals

Many, if not most, teacher librarians wear many hats beyond those of the core business of curriculum leader, information services manager and information specialist and there may be an expectation by administration, executive and colleagues that the newcomer will continue to provide these “extra-curricular” services.  So if you have taken on responsibilities such as co-ordinating pre-service teachers during their internship or the invigilation of exams and so forth, then ensure your successor is aware of these added extras so they can consider their role within them.

Other issues that are worth sharing include 

  • if you open early or close late and this entitles you to time-in-lieu  and when this is generally taken
  • if the library is used regularly for staff meetings and functions whose responsibility it is to set up and restore the environment
  • the care of any plants or wildlife housed in the library
  • the teacher librarian’s responsibility to lead staff  professional learning particularly in ICT hardware and software
  • any parent participation programs that you run
  • your responsibility, if any, for the procurement and maintenance of ICT hardware

However, these suggestions come with a serious caveat.  You leave these guides because YOU have chosen to move on and you are being replaced by a suitably qualified professional.  Sadly, many administrators and principals are looking to cut budgets and think that they can do this by employing a non-school librarian, a paraprofessional, an administrative clerk or even parent volunteers because despite all the advocacy and education about what it is a top-shelf teacher librarian can bring to the table, they still think that it’s just about book circulation. Similarly, as shown through a recent online discussion, others are trying to replace their ‘teacher librarian’ with a ‘digital learning specialist’ or other fancy sounding name because, again, they are still stuck in the notion of the position having remained static since their own childhood school experiences.

I have long advocated that in those circumstances you leave only that which belongs to the school itself and put none of your time and energy into creating lists and notes and so forth,  While this may sound harsh and tough for the person coming into the position, it is my belief that if the decision-makers are driven by counting beans, then beans should be all they get.  We know, ourselves, what it is our tertiary and professional learning in our specialist areas of information literacy, digital citizenship, literature appreciation and so forth bring to the education experiences of our students  and there is plenty of literature and research that is readily available to support this  and, in my opinion, if the hirers and firers choose to ignore this and withdraw this expertise and experience from the staff and students, then they must live with the consequences of that decision.

While that may seem harsh and unfair to the person who is going to fill your shoes and follow your footsteps, nevertheless if we, as a profession, are to continue to make the difference is out students’ education that all the research attests to, then we have to take a stand that will show that the role is much more complex and diverse than many realise and we do so much more than scan the barcodes on books.

Each of us works in a unique situation so although our “big-picture” professional practice will allow us to move into almost any library workplace, it is the detail of the daily duties that make each position unique.  What you leave as a legacy is your decision but by putting on your transition hat and thinking about what you would like to know about your library if you were the one moving into it you will have a foundation for what to leave for the person who follows you.

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the community service hat

hat_community_service

 

 

 

 

Articles and professional papers about the role of the library  often suggest it should be the hub of school life.  It should be the centre cog on which all other aspects of the school turn. 

But, apart from supporting the teaching and learning happening in the school through the provision of resources, services and support, what else can the library do to be that community hub? Do we have a responsibility to do more?

The American Library Association (ALA) identifies service, social responsibility and the public good as three of its core library values.

ALA recognizes its broad social responsibilities. The broad social responsibilities of the American Library Association are defined in terms of the contribution that librarianship can make in ameliorating or solving the critical problems of society; support for efforts to help inform and educate the people of the United States on these problems and to encourage them to examine the many views on and the facts regarding each problem; and the willingness of ALA to take a position on current critical issues with the relationship to libraries and library service set forth in the position statement.

Consider this article published in the New Zealand Herald  on August 18, 2012 where a principal quotes a letter by Judge Phillip B. Gilliam of Denver, Colorado, published on December 17, 1959,

community_service_article

 

Or this more succinct meme that is currently popular on Facebook…

world_living_meme

 

Or this quote from a post to LM_NET discussing the practice of students paying their overdue fines with canned food that is the passed on to those with few reseources…

Today, a student who owed .20 cents brought in a can and expected my aide to forgive his fine AND give him 20 cents in change! [The library assistant]  said she couldn’t give him change because is was for a charity. He took his can back.

Regardless of the older generation’s propensity to generalise and label its upcoming generations as lazy layabouts, wiser heads know that, on the whole, our kids just want to belong and to contribute to their community.  For some this is easy, but for others not so and school is their safe harbour in life, the only place where they feel they are cared for and cared about.

School days can be very fragmented, particularly for those in secondary school where each period brings a change of teacher, subject and often, classmates.  How can there be a cohesive whole when the parts keep changing?  The library is often the most stable constant in student life and as such, has a vital role to play in the development of the student not only as an informed citizen but also a contributing one. For many students, the library is the safest of safe harbours and so often that is cited as one of its key roles within school life. 

Apart from providing shelter from the outside storms, physical and metaphorical, how can the library reach out to students and empower them to fulfil those innate human needs of contribution and acknowledgement? How can we enable them to give their “time, talent and energy” that Judge Phillip B. Gilliam and society generally demand so they can experience the joy of giving, the satisfaction of recognition and the power of acknowledgement?

It can start within its own walls by enabling students to contribute to its daily running.  Even the very youngest students returning their books on time and putting them in the Returns Box are contributing to the well-being of others and if we change our language from the punitive one that focuses on fines for overdues to the positive one of how being responsible helps others, they learn that even though they may only be five years old, they are part of this bigger community called school and they have an important role within that.

A Returns Box made from cardboard cartons was a prominent sentinel at the library door. It could not be missed.

A Returns Box made from cardboard cartons was a prominent sentinel at the library door. It could not be missed.

 

Many schools have library monitors – a coveted, traditional role that dates back to the earliest days of school libraries. While many libraries reserve it for their senior students – those who are often exploring lots of other options to fill their lunchtime hours and who can be unreliable- my experience is that it is younger students who take the tasks on board with relish and who not only do an excellent job but respond very positively to the responsibility they are given.  In fact, I had so many candidates for the positions that I formalised a program called  S.T.A.R.S.  (Student Teaching and Research Services) that took them from Year 3 (about 8 years old) through to Year 6 (their final year of primary school).

Each year students submitted their applications -no one was ever rejected although there were the inevitable dropouts – and formal training sessions were held, usually as part of a lunchtime duty.  Their first task each year was to design that year’s badges so they could be easily identified by teachers and others students and after a secret ballot, a design for each level was chosen.  All students regardless of their year level started as Protostars and as they progressed through the levels they were formally acknowledged at a school assembly with a certificate (also designed by their peers) and their new badge.

It was highly successful and has been adopted and adapted in schools around the world wishing to have a more formal community service program.

We also worked closely with the Special Ed teachers as well as those who had children with challenging behaviours or significant issues to look at regular tasks that needed to be done that these children could do such as the daily feeding of the fish or turning on the computers or making sure all the teddies were sitting neatly on the couches and it was amazing to watch how this shifting of responsibility to those deemed unable to accept it changed the children involved because the perceptions of their peers towards them changed.  Classes were reminded that “We could not have our beautiful , soothing aquarium if Lochie doesn’t feed the fish each day,” or “Make sure you thank Aleisha for having all the computers ready for you” ensured the other students saw these individuals in a different light and gradually school became a great place to be.

Other in-house community services can include such things as 

  • being the meeting place for in-school clubs and groups who share a common interest such as mysteries or Minecraft and who need a supervised venue so they can pursue their goals safely
  • inviting experts in to introduce students to real-world skills such as applying for a job, preparing a meal, creating a budget, asking someone for a date, or even a Gentleman’s Club 
  • being the centre for in-school fundraising efforts for individuals or teams needing support
  • being the centre for raising awareness and support for those in acute need

In times of disaster the library can be a critical element for community support, not just as a meeting and information centre but also for leading recovery as even children who are not directly affected by the tragedy can be left bewildered and afraid, fearing that it will happen to them.  There is much research to show that getting children involved in the recovery process not only helps to alleviate their fears but also allows them to feel empowered and that they can do something and are doing it.

In 2003 our city was ravaged by bushfires with many children in nearby suburbs left homeless and traumatised. While their parents were necessarily focused on doing parent things, many children were adrift particularly as the fires happened during the long summer vacation so their school (if it were still standing) did not become the stabilising influence it could have been at other times.To help these children we organised a teddy drive with the aim being to not only give these children something of their own to cuddle when all had been lost, but also to show that amongst the devastation they had not been forgotten.  Over 5000 teddies from around the world found new homes in this region within six months of the fires. (As well as our own community, teddy bear drives were organised for the children of regional Victoria after the deadly Black Saturday fires in 2009 and also for the children of the Townsville region after Cyclone Yasi struck in 2011.  Even though these were some hundreds of kilometres from us local trucking firms were very generous with free transport of the boxes.  Just ask!)

Some of the 5000 teddies given to children affected by the bushfires of 2003

Some of the 5000 teddies given to children affected by the bushfires of 2003

Similarly, our focus for Christmas 2002 was the children of Charleville, a town in remote Queensland that was enduring one of its worst droughts ever.  So the library became the centre of the Gifts for Charleville campaign, suggested by those in the STARS program and managed and maintained by two Year 5 lads who were not known within the school for their community spirit. At the time they were obliged to spend their lunchtimes in the library rather than the playground and when I handed them the responsibility of the safety of the gifts, their lives were literally changed.  Here was a task that they could achieve, wanted to do because it appealed to that innate need to contribute and which showed them in a new light to their peers.  They relished the fact they were being seen as responsible, reliable and trustworthy and the following year they were valued members of the school community, in the library because they wanted to be not because they had to be.

Christmas for the children of Charleville

Christmas for the children of Charleville

Following the Magnitude 9 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand in February 2011, many Kiwi students in Australian schools were left bereft and wanting to help so a group of teacher librarians throughout Australia organised All Black Day sharing it through their teacher librarian networks to encourage schools to encourage their Kiwi students to run it.  Apart from the significant amount of funds raised, there were many anecdotes shared of how students in individual schools embraced the concept and felt they were indeed doing something positive. Even the very youngest students got involved with those from Penrith Public School, NSW led by TL Ian McLean, creating this presentation.  Scrolling through the comments, you can see the impact this had.

 


All Black Day: Christchurch earthquake appeal, 2011

 

 

Reaching beyond the school walls, the library can provide a range of services that can support the needs of its community including becoming a pseudo-public library in towns where there is no other facility or opening during long vacations so students have the opportunity to renew their loans and keep reading. Primary schools can offer borrowing facilities to siblings  who are not yet school age and I know parents really appreciated our Grab Bags initiative where seven books suitable for the bedtime read-aloud were put into a bag so they could ‘grab’ a week’s worth of stories in one visit.  

As a school in a brand-new suburb with few facilities, parents also appreciated having easy access to the literature and brochures from local government and community services which was supplemented by a page on the school’s website with the names of local dentists, doctors and so forth. Students were also able to find out about local groups like Scouts and sporting teams as well as advertising their own groups and clubs so even if they weren’t in the STARS program they were nevertheless involved in the community in some way. Most popular of all were the connections made with local groups that supported the units of work that were being studied in class at the time so that when students were asked to reflect on their learning and answer the question, “Where to from here?” those whose interests had been sparked could find the information quickly and easily.  

Every school is in a community with a unique demographic and unique needs that can shape the community service hat so that it is a snug fit.  Experience has shown that it is very much a case of “Offer it and they will come.”  Think about the design of your hat and how you will wear it.

 

 

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the technology hat

hat_technologyWhile it may seem like it was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, it is only 20 years since computers, LANs and Internet access started to be widespread in schools. At the time the teacher librarian was seen as the guru of all things ICT, their position and purpose in the school valued and unquestioned and the leadership hat fitted snugly.  Even though our duties seemed to be more about troubleshooting printer errors because of loose cables or empty cartridges, and our teaching was based on just-in-case skills rather than just-in-time learning, nevertheless ICT in those days was seen as the prerogative and priority of the teacher librarian.

 

But times have changed and the world has caught up with us. Storing files on floppy disks, CDs and USB sticks has almost gone; “Google” meaning “to search the Internet” has become part of the population’s  everyday vocabulary, and wifi has eliminated many of the cable issues.  Even the students have computers in their pockets these days; kindergarten students come to school well able to use their fingers to control a screen; and people ask “Why do you have a teacher librarian if you have the Internet?”  (We know the answer but are they ready to hear it?)

fire_hydrant

Perhaps it is time to reposition ourselves.

Many have but from messages to the networks to which I belong, it seems their role has become being the go-to person when someone wants a new app to accomplish something within their teaching or learning or they are the person who presents a range of must-use apps to staff who then find that the technology is driving their teaching rather than the other way round. Others have become the guardians of students’ digital footprints focusing on students’ online safety and well-being. Many are the suppliers and emergency chargers of devices as well as troubleshooting issues with them or the library is the place to print off that last-minute assignment. 

In worst-case scenarios, some schools have by-passed the TL leaving them to their perceived preference for print and hired ICT coaches and instructors who teach typing skills and how to format Word documents and so on, completely ignoring what Jamie McKenzie has been saying for 25 years about just-in-time rather than just-in-case.

All of these roles have a place in the school, but is it the most effective and efficient way of using our professional knowledge, understanding and skills?

google_mug

The teacher librarian of 2016 has to be so much more than this. If we are to wear the technology hat well, we need to put the teacher part of teacher librarian to the fore.

It is our role to help our students enter, safely navigate and use the digital world both as information consumers and creators.  Little of what is online is offered for free (even if it appears so on the surface); is suitable for access and use by children (hence COPPA which restricts much to over-13s); or is without bias. Therefore we need to help them understand what it is they are looking for, be able to analyse, interpret and evaluate what they find to determine if it meets their needs at the time; manage what they gather so it is easily accessible and then use and communicate it efficiently and ethically.

We need to put on our curriculum leader’s hat and burrow down into school, state and national documents of syllabus and standards to identify where the use of technology will enrich and enhance the curriculum rather than drive it.  We have a critical role in both the design and the delivery of the curriculum.

Our designer role can be broad-based or specific.

If there is a formal Digital Technologies curriculum such as that released by ACARA (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority) or a formal learning continuum of ICT capabilties  we need to know the knowledge and performance expectations of it and match those markers to other curricula so skills are taught in context and thus have meaning and value.

For example, under the Australian curriculum, students in Foundation – Year 2 begin “to learn about common digital systems and patterns that exist within data they collect. Students organise, manipulate and present this data, including numerical, categorical, text, image, audio and video data, in creative ways to create meaning.” This requires them to develop a range of understandings and skills including

  • recognising and exploring patterns in data and representing data as pictures, symbols and diagrams
  • collecting, exploring and sorting data, and using digital systems to present the data creatively
  • following, describing and representing a sequence of steps and decisions (algorithms) needed to solve simple problems
  • creating and organising ideas and information using information systems independently and with others, and sharing these with known people in safe online environments

Digital Technologies Curriculum, V.8.1, Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, 2016

Knowing this, we then need to know how these outcomes could be achieved through units of work identified in the English, History, Geography, Science and even Mathematics curricula through an inquiry-learning approach scaffolded by both the information literacy process and the outcomes of the ICT Capabilities Continuum.

Continuing with the Australian example. under the Humanities and Social Sciences curriculum, Foundation students explore the two key questions…

  • Who am I, where do I live and who came before me?
  • Why are some places and events special and how do we know?

They explore both historical and geographical concepts by

  • posing questions about past and present objects, people, places and events
  • collecting  data and information from observations and identify information and data from sources provided
  • sorting and recording information and data, including location, in tables and on plans and labelled maps
  • sequencing familiar objects and events
  • exploring  a point of view
  • comparing objects from the past with those from the present and considering how places have changed over time
  • interpreting data and information displayed in pictures and texts and on maps
  • drawing simple conclusions based on discussions, observations and information displayed in pictures and texts and on maps
  • reflecting on learning to propose how to care for places and sites that are important or significant
  • presenting narratives, information and findings in oral, graphic and written forms using simple terms to denote the passing of time and to describe direction and location

Humanities and Social Sciences Curriculum,  V.8.1, Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, 2016 

By knowing how and which digital technologies can be used in both the consumption and creation of information to achieve these outcomes , we can add real value to the teaching and learning as well as demonstrating how outcomes from other curriculum documents can be covered at the same time.  In this example, there are clear correlations with the information literacy process,  the mathematics curriculum  and the English curriculum enabling integrated, meaningful delivery of the curriculum as well as killing more than one paperwork bird with the same stone.

two_birds

Armed with this in-depth curriculum knowledge the teacher librarian can then collaborate with the classroom teacher to work out which responsibilities each will take on and then how the needs of the Digital Technologies curriculum can be met at the same time.  For example, it may be that while the classroom teacher teaches the students how to collect data, the TL might be responsible for showing them how to present it using an app such as MaxCount from Max’s Toolbox (an early childhood interface for Office) aka Scholastic Keys. Even if the classroom teacher does not teach alongside you and you run a parallel program, you can have the children collect different but unit-related data and use the software to present it.  This approach not only consolidates their understanding and skills but also enables them to transfer their knowledge to new situations – a true sign of mastery of the learning. At the same time, we are helping students to develop that deeper understanding of what it is to be a citizen of the digital world and demonstrating that we have a valuable teaching role in students’ learning rather than just being the resource provider.

If the teacher librarian’s role remains one that is more in isolation than collaboration and is more focused on the concept of “library skills”  then it is essential that we examine the information literacy process thoroughly and identify those aspects that are more likely to be done digitally now such as locating resources, highlighting keywords, making and organising notes, creating bibliographies, presenting products and so forth and develop our teaching around those. In essence we need to translate those skills that were once applied only to print into the digital environment. Show the students that using tools and apps can help them work smarter rather than harder but all the while pushing the message of cybersafety and protecting their digital footprint.

More broadly we need to know and promote the SAMR model. so the technology is deeply embedded into the teaching and learning, guiding teachers to set assignments that have rigour and relevance.

SAMR and Blooms Taxonomy

SAMR and Blooms Taxonomy

In this article  Alan November challenges us to consider whether we are technology rich but innovation poor by posing six questions about how technology is used in student assignments.Is it used as just a substitute for a writing tool or does it open up new worlds to explore by providing access to people, information and so forth that were not available in a wall-bound classroom?

Teaching the teachers is also a critical element of the TL’s role.  Alan November has written an article about what students don’t know about searching Google (their go-to source regardless of any alternatives we put before them) so as well as teaching the students, teach the teachers by offering to lead professional learning sessions on whatever aspects of information literacy in the digital world they need. However, there is nothing worse than sitting through stuff you already know so conduct a needs and skills audit.  Discover what teachers want to know and what they are capable of sharing and set up a mentoring model so specific needs are met.  Introduce new tools or apps that you know have immediate relevance and share examples of how they can be used so teachers can use the ideas as springboards.  Require they show and share what they have done as a result of their learning. Remember just in time is much more effective than just in case.  

Apart from giving them skills that they can pass on, it reinforces the importance of the TL in navigating the digital landscape.

Because the support of literacy and literature is also our core business, look for ways to use ICT to support students’ free voluntary reading (or even that which is mandatory) by 

  • providing books in a range of formats to support students’ needs and preferences understanding that the print-reading brain is different from the digital-reading one (which is elaborated here.)
  • sharing and creating (or getting them to create)  book trailers to encapsulate the essence of a book whether it be
    • a contender for an award,
    • popular reads and recommendations
    • for an author study so different titles can be compared and contrasted
    • to demonstrate the reader’s understanding of the story
    • any other reason
  • displaying QR codes that lead to reviews of the title, related resources or further information
  • creating a blog where students can share their reviews
  • creating an online book club that allows students to connect with others from other places 
  • promoting recommendations through an app like Padlet Backpack
  • providing links to authors’ and series’ websites where there are often extra activities and information
  • using Skype, Google Hangouts and similar software to connect with authors or students in other schools
  • using an online service such  Biblionasium, Goodreads or Shelfari for students to track and reflect on their reading
  • exploring how the International Children’s Digital Library could become part of what you offer particularly for providing reading resources for those for whom English is not their first language

We need to be operating in the same environment as our students and helping them to maximise the benefits of that environment, even if it does mean helping them to use Wikipedia effectively.  We cannot be resource snobs.

We also need to acknowledge the students’ preferences for learning and provide resources in a variety of different formats as well as the information and means to access these. However the provision of the collection must not be an either/or situation – apart from the growing body of research that clearly demonstrates students need to build a foundation of traditional literacy skills based on print, we need to ask ourselves which is the most effective and efficient way to access and disseminate the information within the resource.  

As well as being a leader in the design of the curriculum, the teacher librarian can also have a leadership role in its delivery.

If your school, district or education authority is implementing a blanket suite of tools such as Google Apps for Education undertake the professional learning so you become the go-to person to help other teachers learn how to use the tools and embed them in their teaching effectively. By demonstrating to individuals how the tool they are learning has immediate application in their teaching,  new skills are more likely to be applied and consolidated. Being known as a leader in the suite may also give you access to an individual teacher’s Google Classroom or blog or wiki where you can further support student learning 24/7 with resource suggestions, pertinent instructional videos such as the creation of a bibliography and so forth.

Google Apps for Education

Google Apps for Education

Similarly, you could co-ordinate Parent Participation programs so parents can also learn what their children are using so they can assist them out of school hours when necessary. Reaching out to the community in this way goes a long way to overcoming the perception that the library is only about print. 

Making slideshows or videos that support student learning beyond the walls and hours of the library is an essential service.  My go-to model is always The Library Minute from Arizona State University. Even those these are for university students they encapsulate the idea of providing information and teaching support 24/7. If you’re short of time to make them yourself, ask the students what it is they most want/need to know so you can prioritise and then have them research, script and film the video or create the slideshow.

With new apps being released every day it is not feasible to suggest a list of what does what best but consider using the following formats to support students learning…

  • YouTube channel 
  • podcast
  • wiki
  • library website
  • pathfinders 
  • slideshows
  • blogs
  • QR codes
  • social networking 
  • mobile technology

As the information service manager we need to provide efficient access to resources that will support learning and the criteria for this should be incorporated in the Collection Policy including critical elements such as copyright compliance and acceptable terms and conditions of use which do not contravene Australian Privacy laws.  (In the Sample Collection Policy there is a list of 25 questions to consider as well as specific selection criteria in Appendix A.) As well as satisfying the overall criteria for accuracy, authority, currency, objectivity and relevance, the following chart could serve as a ready reference tool for selection.

S Suitability 

Does the information meet students’  needs?

Is it in language they  can understand?

Are there images to help their understanding?

M Manageability

Is it easy to navigate?

Is the information in chunks that I can manage?

Is the layout appealing?

A Accessibility

Can it be accessed on a mobile device?

Does it load quickly?

Do links take the user offsite to ‘dangerous waters”?

Are there bells and whistles and advertisements that might distract the user?

R Reliability

Does it meet the AACOR criteria of accuracy, authority, currency, objectivity, and relevance?

Are the publication details such as who is taking responsibility for the information readily apparent?

Is the platform stable so I can access it easily 24/7?

T Trustworthy

 Is the purpose of the website clearly apparent?

What information about me is being collected and what is done with that information?

Is there a third-party presence that I should be concerned about?

 

We can also supply print resources which support the upsurge in interest in coding as well as other other popular online apps such as gaming like Minecraft

Many primary and secondary school libraries are creating room for a makerspace where students learn to pose questions and solve problems through the the manipulation and creation of material objects which may include digital technologies. But that is another broad field for another post. 

As identified in the seer’s hat, the skills of the future will focus on problem posing and solving and digital technologies offer opportunities to do this way beyond what we can imagine.  Remember it is less than 10 years since Apple released its first iphone opening up a world that many can not live without.  Even though the technology hat is a large one with a very broad brim it is one we need to put on, adjust to fit and take ourselves, our colleagues and our students deep into the 21st century.

 

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the january hat

hat_january

 

 

 

 

It is January and it’s a new year around the world . And just as Janus, the Roman god after whom the month is named, has two faces to look both forward and back, it’s a time for teacher librarians to do the same.

Even though Australian teacher librarians are enjoying the long break between academic years, memories of the year just gone are fresh and they are already thinking of the new challenge that is just over the horizon.  There’s time to reflect on what worked well in 2015, identify what could be built on in the year ahead and plan for it to happen.  For without reflection there can be no learning and without learning there can be no progress. There is a vast difference between 20 years experience and one year’s experience 20 times.

seeing you, being you

Knowing who we are and what we stand for is at the core of what we do so it’s worth starting by identifying what we believe it means to be a teacher and how this then translates into being a teacher librarian. Explicitly stating our beliefs and making these public provides a professional presence that helps shape and guide our professional practice. It ensures that all the philosophies, pedagogies, programs and practices we adopt are in alignment with our beliefs and our goals.   Even if this has already been done, it is worth revisiting to consider what has been confirmed or challenged and needs changing.

This is my manifesto (which you will need Adobe Flash to view).

 

 

being seen

Despite years of advocacy and education about how the role of the TL has been invented with the coming of digital technologies, there is still a perception that we are irrelevant and do little apart from collect, cover and circulate books.  In this blog post Naomi Bates asks a very pertinent question – what do others see when they see us at work?  And importantly, how do they interpret what they see and how do we project what they see as being of benefit for everyone.  She identifies ten critical aspects of our role and forces the reader to reflect on why they are carrying out that task and how its value can be demonstrated to staff and students.  For example, she asks

If your campus sees you reading, what are you doing with it?

Tell them how you plan to share books with students. Create interactions between students and authors (in person, Skype, book festivals, comic cons).  Send out weekly book reviews via email, or get on your school television to play book trailers.  We always put out signs that say “Get Caught Reading.”  We should also get caught.  Being a role model and getting excited about reading can only lead to more readers.

Naomi is a leader among US teacher librarians and works at Northwest High School in Justin Texas. While her list of tasks may not match your particular situation, now is the time to think about the most common tasks we perform, why we do them, what we can leave behind and what we need to embrace, and how we can show that what we do is valid and valuable so it is valued. Instead of only the tip of the iceberg being visible, how can we provide insight into the 90% that is invisible?

iceberg

 

A library adaptation of the Iceberg Model might look like this…

iceberg2

So teachers might see me putting up a collection of posters outlining the information literacy process I have made  and think “that’s a good way to use up wall space” but do they realise the posters

  • provide a visual scaffold for the students in the classes working on an investigation 
  • reinforce the lexicon of inquiry and information literacy for both students and teachers so the terms become common language
  • encourage conversation between students as they discuss what they’ve done and what they do next
  • are a teaching tool that is frequently referred to as investigations are undertaken
  • enable differentiation of the curriculum as students identify the step that is proving tricky and seek help with it
  • include student input and ownership as they were required to develop the pop-out summary for each step
  • offer a model of poster presentation that students can emulate
  • have been duplicated in a slideshow available to students 24/7 through their Google Classroom
  • offer an opportunity for other teachers to ask questions and perhaps adopt the process themselves
  • are based on years of experience understanding the information literacy process and developing my own extended model

 

From a series of posters about the Research Process

From a series of posters about the Research Process

 

Using your personal manifesto as a starting point tease out your beliefs to identify what they look like in the day-to-day practice of your job. Create a chart that makes the threads of the tapestry explicit. Build on what you know to shape what you do next. Establishing such connections not only reaffirms their importance but helps you set priorities so you work smarter not harder.  

Having established what you do and why you do it, consider who needs to know and how you spread the word most effectively so that the message is timely, repeated and in the place where it is most likely to be seen by its target audience.  Go beyond the teaching body to the students, the executive, and the administration.  Remember to keep your community informed too as they have the power to vote. 

seeing ahead

Examine your school’s annual operating plan to identify the priorities and goals for the upcoming year, particularly those relating to teaching and learning outcomes because it shifts the focus from what we do to what others achieve because of what we do.

As well as the professional side, it is also essential to take care of the personal side.  So make a list of role-oriented events, activities and tasks that you want to achieve so you become and feel a more complete TL.  Set them out in a grid like this one from Sonja Schulz  The Sassy Librarian , print it, display it and enjoy the sense of well-being as you tick each one off.  Give yourself a defined timeframe to complete the challenge so it doesn’t get pushed to the bottom of the pile in favour of “more urgent” things and as you work through it and think of new items, make a list of these and create another 30-Day Happiness Guide.  You might even like to share the Happy Teacher Challenge with your classroom-based colleagues.

January can be a time to relax and rejuvenate – indeed it must be – but taking time to do some big-picture planning and preparation may be the reason you still have a position in the months and years to come.

Janus, the Roman god of new beginnings

Janus, the Roman god of new beginnings

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the santa’s hat

hat_santaThis hat is perhaps one of the best hats to wear.

At a time when those of us in the southern hemisphere are coming to the end of the academic year with access to the library being restricted as resources are returned for all the end-of-year stuff we have to do, it’s nice to be able to put on a fun hat that reaches out to the students and helps maintain the magic of the season.

So this post is focused on the things we do to celebrate the season and everyone is invited to contribute.  Our gift to each other may be a new idea that we can use or adapt.

 

Christmas Countdown

Create a literary countdown for the Christmas season.  Wrap a season-centred book for each school day, create a display that entices anticipation and invite teachers and parents to be guest readers during a lunchtime session.

The Christmas Countdown has been very popular.

The Christmas Countdown has been very popular.

The principal finishes the Christmas Countdown by sharing "Twas the Night Before Christmas".

The principal finishes the Christmas Countdown by sharing “Twas the Night Before Christmas”.

 

Santa’s Bookshop

If you have a book fair at this time of the year, dress it up like Santa’s Bookshop.  Apart from the thrill it gives the students, parents are encouraged to bring their preschoolers in to share the magic.

Create an enticing invitation.

Create an enticing invitation.

An inviting entry heightens the wonder.

An inviting entry heightens the wonder.

Walls and bulletin boards can be used for festive backdrops.

Walls and bulletin boards can be used for festive backdrops.

Vignettes add interest and opportunities to promote titles.

Vignettes add interest and opportunities to promote titles.

 

Involve others

Classes were given cheap umbrellas to convert into Christmas trees.

Christmas trees made from umbrellas.

Christmas trees made from umbrellas.

 

The TL at this school invited all the faculties to create a Christmas display to emphasise who they are and what they do.  Read more.

Faculties contribute their own displays

Faculties contribute their own displays

Put up a small bare Christmas tree and as part of the lead-up, have students add a decoration a day.

 

Create a display

There are lots of ideas on this Pinterest board from Jackie AlSaffar

 

The Giving Tree

Be the focus of your school and community’s Giving Tree.

A Giving Tree for children in drought-stricken remote Australia

A Giving Tree for children in drought-stricken remote Australia

 

Your ideas

I try very hard to give the kids a new, or new to you book. At the end of the year I hold a Book Swap. Kids bring in their books from home, receive a ticket they can redeem for another book.

I also over Christmas, give the kids a new book to have for their own library.

Colette D. Eason

Just thinking that if I was makerspacing then this would be an ideal time to have craft decoration sessions at lunchtime. If you focus on making recycled decorations then costs will be low too. For instance paper chains made out of advertising catalogues, plastic ornaments made out of colourful plastic containers, ornaments made from foil wrappers.

Vivian Harris

. I started my Share a Holiday Memory Contest 2 years ago – I have attached 2 photos to kind of give you an idea of what it looks like – basically I ask students to write down a memory (good or bad some have made me laugh out loud and some brought me to tears) of any winter holiday – Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, New Year’s etc. on some  pretty holiday paper I get at the Dollar Store – once they’ve written it down they post it on one of 2 bulletin boards  then they put their names on an old catalog card and are put in a drawing for a plate of homemade holiday cookies – yes, I’m the baker. Students seem to enjoy it and I make a big deal of having their picture taken and posting it in the school paper.

Joanne Ligamari

I encourage students to check out books over the summer break.  I have a permission form the parent signs saying how many books the student can check out for the summer.  We are a small system (4 schools) and all of our students go from one school to the next through high school.  The librarians cooperate so that even students changing schools can participate.

Cathy Lawrence

I wrote about five different crafts you can do with books that I actually have done :)  Sometimes the best gifts are handmade :) 

Naomi Bates

Umina Campus Library has been the venue for an overnight sleepover for past few years.

Student Council, teachers, & self, volunteer to “give up their beds” to raise funds for homeless – who sleep out EVERY night. They are given cereal and toast in the staff common room by the morning shift of volunteer teachers. Yes; there is also an afternoon shift (outside games) and evening shift (trivia etc) of teachers. Also the local police are notified and do extra drive-bys.

Oh yes, spooky stories were read to all once the lights were dimmed. Torches are essential.

The students get sentimental when they reminisce.

Dianne Gill

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the seer’s hat

hat_seer

 

 

 

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a seer as one who “predicts events or developments” and while I can’t lay claim to having that extraordinary insight that sets such visionaries above the rest of us, in the past few weeks I have had the opportunity and privilege to see what might be in the world of libraries.

While no one can accurately predict the future, nevertheless there are those who examine what has been, what is and can make a very good forecast of what will be. They undertake the research, read the reports, study the trends and draw conclusions that the astute amongst us will consider and act on so that what we are offering remains relevant and required.

In a keynote address at the recent SLANZA conference in Christchurch, Mark Osborne identified three distinct phases in the evolution of education.

education1Education 1.0
This is the period prior to the Industrial Revolution when education was based on immediate, localised relationships.  It was limited to those with whom one interacted within the village or farm. It was based on the master and apprentice model where the skills needed to function within the community were handed down from generation to generation.The library consisted of the knowledge and stories in the heads of the village elders which were passed on orally to younger members as they required it.
 education2Education 2.0
This period was predicated on the factory model where items (students) moved along a conveyor belt having pre-determined bits added to them as they progressed in a lock-step fashion until they reached the end where they were tested for quality control. Uniformity of appearance and outcome reigned.  This one-size-fits-all model was seen as an efficient way to achieve a finished product and even the buildings which were single-cell classrooms off long corridors reinforced the notion.   The teacher at the front of the classroom was the sage on the stage, students were passive “empty vessels to be filled” and learning was measured through written products which demonstrated the level of  content and skills acquired. Curriculum was prescribed and delivered in a just-in-case fashion. Learning was confined to the boundaries of the school and the hidden curriculum of obedience, politeness, punctuality, neatness and respect for authority dominated.  (Bowles & Gintis, 1976) The library was often a converted classroom, although later purpose-built structures emerged, and their main function was to be the storehouse of all the resources that staff and students needed. These were predominantly print and presided over by a person who was seen as the gatekeeper and who gave rise to the stereotypical image of a librarian today.
 education3Education 3.0
This phase of education has emerged particularly with the development of and access to technology as well as the research into how the brain functions and how humans learn.
 It is based on the belief that knowledge is a commodity, free to all rather than being the exclusive domain of the privileged few and that progress is based on not what you know but what you can do with what you know.  Students are considered information creators as well as information consumers and so the teacher is now the guide on the side facilitating personal and collaborative knowledge creation based on the needs, abilities and interests of the individual. Learning is based on the notion that it takes a village to raise a child and thus is 365/24/7 with ubiquitous access to and use of technology to go beyond the walls of the school to wherever it leads.Students have a strong sense of ownership of their own education, are involved in the co-creation of both knowledge and resources and have active choice in their learning. While the library continues to be a storehouse of resources because not everything is available online and there is a growing body of research supporting the young learner’s need to build a solid foundation of traditional skills based on print if they are to be an effective and efficient user of the digital environment, the collection is much smaller and the space more flexible.  It is geared to encouraging collaboration as students pose problems and seek solutions to them configuring the space to meet the needs of their activity.

 

If we consider that a simple Google search today embraces all the technology that was employed in the Apollo program to land a man on the moon less than 50 years ago, and our students carry that power in their pockets but have done for only seven years since the release of the first smart phone, how can schools and their libraries change to meet the demands of Education 4.0 which is already on the horizon? The phrase “21st century skills” is bandied around in educational circles to the extent that it is now part of the lexicon of modern education. But what are those skills, what are they based on and what is their implication for the school library of the future and the teacher librarian who steers it?

Gratton (2011) has identified that the forces of technology, globalisation, society, energy resources, demography and longevity will be the major influences on work into the future and these are going to have a significant impact on the relevance of the current education system. The World Economic Forum has also identified 16 skills students need stating, “The gap between the skills people learn and the skills people need is becoming more obvious, as traditional learning falls short of equipping students with the knowledge they need to thrive”.  Students need to be able to collaborate, communicate and solve problems and these are developed through social and emotional learning.

Skills required in the 21st century

Skills required in the 21st century

How to teach all the skills

How to teach all the skills

Other research from a variety of sources indicates that those jobs most likely to disappear to the efficiency of automation are those that are routine cognitive tasks and non-routine manual tasks while those that require human interaction and social intelligence or have a heuristic element that requires novel recombinations and interpretations of existing information to develop new ideas and artefacts are more resistant. Jobs that involve problem solving, teamwork, interpersonal skills rather than academic, and entrepreneurship will be the focus of the future while those that can be easily-structured into a rules-based process will disappear as computers follow rules very well. This is illustrated by computers being able to play chess at the masters level yet they cannot play a simple game of tic-tac-toe.

The New Work Order Report

The New Work Order Report

future_meme

The workforce  landscape that our current kindergarten students will face will be significantly different from that of our current school leavers.  While there are many infographics offering guidance about the nature of what those “21st century skills” are, the common core comprises

  • curiosity
  • critical thinking
  • creativity
  • communication
  • collaboration
  • connectivity
  • cross-cultural understanding
  • confidence
  • computer competence
  • commitment
  • citizenship

 21st_century

 

Much has also been written about how these concepts can and must be embedded in the design and delivery of the curriculum in the classroom, but how do they shape the school library, its position and potential?

At the SLJ Leadership Summit we have been urged to “teach more and librarian less” and certainly that makes sense if we take on board the evidence that those tasks which are routine, manually-based and do not involve critical human intervention are more likely to be outsourced or automated. Why should a principal pay a teaching salary for a job a volunteer can do?  But what does this look like in a practical sense?  Perhaps it is worthwhile to return to those three key roles of the teacher librarian – curriculum leader, information services manager and information specialist – and examine what they might entail in the immediate future.

curriculum leader

Because the teacher librarian is still likely to be the person within the school with the broadest view of the curriculum as a whole, the role of curriculum leader remains essential, even moreso when we consider how far its boundaries now reach. The core concepts of 21st century pedagogy are also the core of our teaching skillset. 

If the child’s innate curiosity is to be fostered so they can ask and answer their own questions then an inquiry-based approach which builds on what they already know and what they want to find out is essential.  Sitting comfortably within that approach as a scaffold is the information literacy process, a cross-curriculum perspective that encourages critical and creative thinking, the melding of what is known with what is learned to develop new perspectives and the communication of these new ideas with confidence through a variety of channels. Its foundation question of “What do I want to know?” encourages problem solving and solution seeking either by the individual or a group.

However, we can’t lead every inquiry and investigation so our role has to shift from teaching the students to also teaching the teachers so that the language and practice  of inquiry-based learning and information literacy are embedded into all curriculum design and delivery.  It is much easier to have a long-term impact on 30 teachers than 900 students. Rather than being just the teacher of “library skills”, an extension of the English department or value-adding to what  is done within the classroom, we have a specialist teaching role in the development of the reading and research skills, digital citizenship and communications that are at the heart of learning.  At the SLJ Leadership Summit, panellist Tara Jones said she was now her school’s ‘research technology specialist’ as she “collaborates with classroom teachers and co-teaches lessons in the classroom” and is “responsible for embedding technology and research skills within problem-based learning experiences”. Sounds very much what many Australian TLs do already, although the emphasis is on co-teaching rather than just collaborating!

As well as the visible direct instructor’s role that we assume, we must also lead a less visible, more subtle but equally important thrust.  We need to create opportunities that encourage children to question, to explore, to investigate, to collaborate, to persevere, to mentor, to explain, to listen, to discuss, to debate, to decide, to be confident, to have a can-do attitude, to manage their time, to take risks, to cope with pressure, failure and adversity, to be flexible, to be resilient, to be committed, to take responsibility, to be independent- in short, to develop those attributes and interpersonal skills that are going to be the key to their futures. We can do this by

  • developing displays that lead them to new worlds to discover
  • creating challenges which encourage them to solve problems
  • allowing them to wonder and experiment, to follow along paths and down rabbit holes
  • letting them lead their own learning
  • using a variety of groupings that take them out of their immediate friendship circle
  • allowing them a leadership role in the management and running of the library
  • challenging existing ideas by playing devil’s advocate
  • asking questions and setting tasks that are open-ended so there can be a variety of solutions
  • encouraging them to pursue a passion and then enabling them to share it with a live audience
  • encouraging them to teach and mentor each other as well as us
  • flipping the curriculum by using online tools to support 365/24/7 learning
  • creating an online classroom that can be a “ready reference” for students such as The Library Minute
  • providing the ‘river’ but not necessarily the ‘bridge’ which says “cross here”
  • providing flexible spaces for learning that can be arranged and changed to meet the needs of the users and the task including
    • 1:many for direct instruction
    • co-teaching
    • peer tutoring so small groups can work together
    • informal places for relaxation, play and experimentation
    • private spaces where personal learning choices and means can be explored
    • collaborative opportunities
    • outdoor learning
    • reflection
  • providing opportunities for learning to be shared through social networking apps

Similarly, we can be a less-visible support for our teaching colleagues as we share relevant research with them; alert them to opportunities for professional learning; suggest new reads and new resources that fit what they are doing in class right now; go the extra mile to track down that elusive key resource…

With no more powerful advocates for the school library than the parents of its students, we must also be reaching and teaching them, inviting them to be active participants in their child’s learning as the boundaries between home and school, teaching and learning blur and merge into a seamless whole. By reaching out through parent participation programs and social media we can inform parents of what is happening and why as well as forming long-lasting partnerships that can only enhance what the library offers.

And while we are focused on teaching others, we must not forget to keep teaching ourselves through our professional networks, professional reading and action research. We must know that what we do is based on current best-practice and be able to defend and demonstrate this through reference to theory, research and evidence. We need to be the window to the future, not the mirror of the past.

It is the teaching role that we assume in the school that will be the purple cow that Seth Godin encourages us to find -that one remarkable thing that makes us stand out from the herd.

purple_cow

 

information services manager

While some might argue that the provision of resources could be easily outsourced, it is the curriculum leader’s hat that makes that of the information services manager fit more snugly. The responsibility to “develop and implement strategies for evaluating the collection and for determining curriculum and student needs within the context of identified school priorities” is just as critical now as it ever was particularly with the plethora of resources in so many formats available.

The collection, regardless of its format, must still meet the needs. interests and abilities of its users.  It still needs to be regularly evaluated and assessed, added to or subtracted from as necessary. But it now needs to support information creation as well as information consumption and be available 365/24/7 as learning is no longer confined by walls and clocks.  Collection Development policies need to be updated to reflect the needs of now and the next three years so that decisions are informed by evidence. 

In the past couple of weeks I have personally been contacted by three teacher librarians who have been directed to dispose of their non fiction collections by principals who believe that such collections no longer have a place and that the space could be put to better use. The belief that “everything is available on the internet” is alive and well in the minds of many. As the information services manager we have a responsibility to dispel this myth that everything, everywhere has been digitised and that what is available is authoritative, accurate, current, objective, relevant and intellectually accessible to our students. We need to ensure that the Powers That Be are kept abreast of the research that shows that if students are to be effective and efficient users of digital content they need a foundation of traditional skills built on print; that not everything is available online, not even behind subscriber-based firewalls; that what is online does not necessairly meet the needs of students, particularly younger ones; and that we must acknowledge the different learning styles, needs and preferences of our clients and cater for these.

Collection development should not be an either/or decision.

information specialist

The library may no longer be the vast book repository it once was but the need for an information specialist  – the provider of “access to information resources through efficient and well-guided systems for organising, retrieving and circulating resources”-  can be summed up in these three memes which regularly do the rounds of social networking media.

internet_library fire_hydrant

trained_librarian

 

Providing easy access to appropriate and relevant information is more important now than ever before as the library’s walls are breached and the amount of information grows exponentially each year. Even with tools like Google Advanced Search, students can still spend whole sessions searching for the perfect online resource and then be totally overwhelmed by the choices available.

Where once a working knowledge of the Dewey system and the arrangement of the library was sufficient, today and tomorrow a whole new set of skills are needed. Students expect to be able to access what they want, where they want and from whatever device they are using at the time.  So the curation of resources using tools like LibGuides, Only2Clicks, ScoopIt  Pinterest and Pearltrees and the selection and promotion of databases are essential.

We need to teach both staff and students how to use Wikipedia and Google efficiently because we know these are the go-to tools when an information need becomes apparent, and, at the same time, we need to teach them to be mindful of their digital footprint and protecting their privacy. The ethical use of ideas, information and images is also critical in this copy-and-paste society adding yet another layer of complexity to the role.

And because information management is about creation as well as consumption we must also know the right app for the job so we also have to have things like the padogogy wheel and Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy on hand. If anything, the need for an information specialist who knows pedagogy, the curriculum, how teachers teach and students learn is more important than ever. 

The Padagogy Wheel by Allan Carrington is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at http://tinyurl.com/bloomsblog.

The Padagogy Wheel by Allan Carrington is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at http://tinyurl.com/bloomsblog.

blooms_digital

 

the learning space

Key to the library meeting the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s students is the ability for the space itself to be able to adapt to particular needs at a particular time.  While it will still have a storehouse role as well as that of being a sanctuary, they need to become “awesome incubators” (Osborne) and a ‘temporary autonomous zone’ where users can create the type of space that fits their needs at the time.  The physical space needs to reflect the rapidly changing nature of the intellectual architecture so they add to what is happening within and beyond the school.  Users need to be able to create the space they need for the activity they are going to do.  So as well as mobile technology and moveable furniture they need to have areas that cater for noisy and quiet activities, individual, and collaborative work, formal and informal instruction, vertical and horizontal groupings, showcase and feedback… While there is currently a focus on the library as a makerspace this needs to be interpreted as the creation of new ideas and information as well as objects.  But most critically, because of our innate need for contact with others of our species, we must teach our students to thrive in the digital world and survive in an analog one.

An internet search for ‘library makeover’ will yield many stories and images that can be adapted but Extreme Makeover tracks the changes in the library of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics and includes planning and pitfalls and lots of other tips. Diana Rendina identifies six active learning spaces your library should have if it is to meet the needs of its users. Much of this post hs been inspired by the keynote address by Mark Osborne at From the Ground Up, SLANZA 2015 and there is more of his writing in Collected  and the basis for his assertions in an Ed-Talk video.  For me, anyone who starts with the premise that “the first step to considering modern learning environments is to start with learning” is on solid ground.

Contrary to a common belief that libraries will be obsolete by 2025, this glimpse into what can be demonstrates that their place in society is secure.  As the school becomes the centre of the child’s global village, so the library must become the village green -a service centre offering opportunities to teach and learn; the buffer between home and work where schools and their communities can come together; a blended space where tradition meets the future.

“A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.”

Andrew Carnegie

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the social media hat

hat_social_media

 

 

For decades teacher librarians were isolated in their schools, often being the only one of them on the staff.  While there were sometimes opportunities for those in a cluster of schools to get together face-to-face, on the whole it was a lonely position with most professional instruction coming from handbooks, college notes and the occasionally print publication.

 

However the development of social media tools has changed the landscape entirely and now teacher librarians are amongst the most visible professions, exploring and exploiting social media to connect with each other, their clients and the ‘long tail’- those who don’t believe that a library has anything to offer them. No longer is the library confined to a physical building or its collection to print resources lined up on shelves. Rather than the transfer of information it presumed users wanted, the emphasis is now on the creation of information that users have indicated they need.

In 2009, Matthews claimed that a library’s website was its “most important feature” because it had become the first stop for clients seeking information and was the public face of the library and its presentation can tell the user much about the organisation. Thus the design, content and structure of the library’s website was and remains of paramount importance. But now there are so many more ways to connect with the world beyond the walls that we have to have a multi-faceted face to it.

“Web 1.0 took people to the information; [whereas] Web 2.0 will take the information to the people.”

Ian Davis

The library’s focus has to be centred on its users, delivering information, resources and services that meet their actual, rather than their assumed, needs, guided by client requests, response, participation and feedback.

“Library 2.0 is based on community, conversation, collaboration and content-creation.”

Lyn Hay & Jake Wallis

Although many libraries have had a web presence for some time, there is now a range of tools that can be added to it or used to complement it encouraging communication and collaboration.

facebook_logo twitter_logo instagram_logo pinterest_logo edublogs_logo wikispaces_logo edmodo_logo
oztl_logo shelfari_logo youtube_logo flickr_logo skype_logo goodreads_logo  eduwebinar_logo

The selection of the applications to suit the needs of the institution and its intentions is critical.  The tool’s purpose, features and functionality must  support the purpose, content and design of the library website enabling it to develop a broad online presence. Choices need to be made based on accessibility to the clients with COPPA restricting access for under-13s  to many apps. The common denominator must be that they are interactive, participatory and support both the creation and consumption of information.

The Arizona State University Libraries websites demonstrate how this can be done successfully. Rather being confined to physical buildings, they have moved beyond the walls and into the realm of the students using a range of applications to ensure that current customers are better served and new users targeted.

the role of the teacher librarian

From Library 2.0 comes Librarian 2.0.

Central to the library’s participation in the social networking environment is a librarian who understands its philosophies, practices and potential. 

Librarian 2.0 is a mashup of the old and the new focusing on the users, services, technology, content and context in a collaborative, interactive environment.

While the traditional knowledge, skills and attributes remain an essential core, they are enriched by new Library 2.0-based capabilities enabling a more diverse, richer experience for both librarian and client. Policies, programs and practices reflect the new paradigm and the users’ needs become their driver. Rather than being the sage-on-the-stage dispensing information, Librarian 2.0 becomes the guide-on-the-side facilitating the acquisition of knowledge and skills.

librarian_20a librarian_20b
librarian_20c
librarian_20d

 

social media in action

There are as many social media tools as there are purposes to use them.   Indeed, one of the most difficult decisions is to choose the one that best meets your needs and which is likely to have some stability and longevity if that is important. Just three years ago there was a post on a blog listing an A-Z of social media tools – not only is the blog post now gone but most of the tools have too!

The ‘padagogy wheel’ identifies iPad apps that satisfy various levels of the Bloom’s Digital taxonomy but not everyone chooses an Apple environment and apps come and go as regularly as the tides. Nevertheless, it offers some starting points to begin or continue embedding ICT into learning and creating a collaborative and communal space. 

The Padagogy Wheel by Allan Carrington is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.  Based on a work at http://tinyurl.com/bloomsblog.

The Padagogy Wheel by Allan Carrington is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at http://tinyurl.com/bloomsblog.

 

 

However, while having students engage in using these apps is a critical part of the 21st century teaching and learning environment, social media is also a necessary tool in the TL’s toolkit if we are to connect and communicate with our communities including students, staff, parents, and colleagues further afield.  It is the ideal way to un-isolate ourselves and build bridges to the broader community as well as continuing to grow our professional knowledge and practices. 

Perhaps the most commonly used tool is also among the oldest – the email-based listserv such as OZTL_NET and LM_NET. Popular because questions can be asked as they arise and responses delivered straight to the subscriber’s inbox, most educational jurisdictions host a local list so the discussion is particular to the issues of that state or territory.

Blogs are widely used to share new knowledge, understandings and practices as well as provide a range of opinions and perspectives on issues affecting the profession. Each is as individual as its writer and they are a valuable source of new ideas and information.  Recently The Edublogger posted a list of 23 library-based blogs hosted on the Edublogs platform but there are many more available including those from professional leaders like 

As well as blogs from those within the profession there are many from the wider education field who write posts that will enrich and enhance our professional practice.  Look for

There are also many sites which regularly review new releases of titles suitable for our clientele and these need to be selected according to their focus and your students’ ages, needs and interests. Some to explore are 

Goodreads and Shelfari are also worth having on your radar as community-powered tools to keep abreast of new releases as well as criticisms of popular reads.

Most education jurisdictions require a certain amount of formal professional learning to be undertaken and logged each year and to overcome distance issues requiring expensive travel and accommodation costs, webinars are now becoming a more popular method of delivery. These can be national or international and institutions like ASLA  offer them on a regular basis. They have the distinct advantage of being able to participate wearing your pyjamas with chocolate and coffee by your side!

For communication purposes Facebook and Twitter seem to be the favourite platforms and they are used for a variety of audiences. open and closed.  However the COPPA restricts use to over- 13s so primary schools tend to use them for parental communication only.  Facebook is used for sharing upcoming events, book reviews, and other news associated with the school library as well as tips and links to assist parents with their child’s learning.

There are several opportunities for TLs to connect via Facebook including

as well as pages to follow such as the Australian School Library Association which regularly post links to relevant articles.

Twitter is not necessarily used by students (some research suggests they see it as the world of the ‘oldies’) but many parents use it and it’s a way of spreading important messages quickly. Many of the profession’s leaders tweet interesting tidbits daily and the back channels of conferences can be a worthwhile source of new information and perspectives.

Wikis are also an opportunity to connect and learn from our peers although we must consider the 1-9-90 rule – 90% of participants don’t contribute although they value what they read and observe; 9% add to existing discussions and 1% create the content and the commentary. Two wikis worth looking at are Book Week for Beginners and Guided Inquiry both of which support the TL’s professional practice.

Curation tools such as Pinterest, Only 2 Clicks, and Pearltrees are already an integral part of the TL’s sharing hat, and as the concept of flipped classrooms begins to grow, more and more tools like YouTube, Vimeo, Photopeach and Slideshare will become as important to teachers sharing their teaching as they are to learners sharing their learning.

Whatever your social media need is, there is an app for it.  But for the TL of the 21st century, the social media hat is one we must put on every day if we are to remain relevant and inhabit the world where we will find our students. For those who would like the hat to fit a little more snugly you might like to investigate Social Networking for Information Professionals available through Charles Sturt University.

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the tricky topics hat

 

hat_tricky_topics

 

 

 

In a recent edition of the School Library Journal there was an article entitled,  King & King – and teacher who read it -under fire in North Carolina in which a teacher read a book to his class and now finds his job in jeopardy. 

The book in question is from 2003 and is about a prince who marries another prince and was read to a Year 2 class in response to an issue where a child of same-sex parents was being bullied.It also fit into a unit of work being undertaken focusing on fractured fairytales. The outcome has been outrage and now all books that are not in the library’s collection which are going to be read to a class by any teacher need to be submitted to the principal and parents for prior consent.  

King & King - Linda de Haan & Stern Nijland

King & King – Linda de Haan & Stern Nijland

 

The final page

The final page

 

If you are unfamiliar with the story, there is a (biased) synopsis including pictures here.  It’s not the first time it has caused controversy.

Curious about how Australian parents, principals and peers would respond to the issue of such tricky topics being included in the collection and shared in the classroom, I posed the question on Facebook to both personal and professional forums. I asked parents how they would respond to their young children being ‘exposed’ to stories about non-traditional families, specifically same-sex and whether they would require advance notice; principals about whether they would require to know in advance  if such a story were going to be shared; and teacher librarians about their inclusion and handling of such resources in their collection. 

The results were very interesting.

  • Parents were almost unanimous in their responses that they would have no problem with such a focus because they had had such discussions in their families already, their children knew and mixed with such families and that they are just part of the fabric of society.  One parent would like a heads-up so that she was prepared for any questions her child might have, but being in a non-traditional solo parent structure herself, she saw the value of celebrating such diversity.
  • The principal who responded also want a heads-up so she could field any parental response but would definitely support the sharing of such literature because she trusts the TL’s professionalism and knowledge.
  • Teacher librarians were divided – some felt that to read it without prior approval from parents would be “outrageous and create uproar”; another said we were not censors and if a story was worth sharing it should be shared; and others said such family structures and other issues are part of life and to not share them marginalises those who are “different” even further  and questioned whether studies of families and communities without acknowledging all structures would be valid.  Given the hot topic of marriage equality in Australia, there were those who felt TLs had a duty to help older students be informed about the issues and that literature was a non-personal way of doing this.

Inspired by the diversity of opinions among the teacher librarian fraternity, I then posed the similar questions to three TL online networks, one state, one national and one international.  

Should we be required, as teacher librarians developing the collection and as teachers sharing stories with students, to inform our principals and parent body in advance that we are intending to do share stories that may be controversial?

While we are happy to share stories about children with physical disabilities, mental health issues, particular illnesses and different cultural, social and religious backgrounds as we try to promote the message that these things should not define the person or their worth, why are we so divided about stories which feature different family structures, sexual orientation or assisted reproduction? 

Without even going into the specifics of the opinions, the results were interesting.  There were three responses from the state list, three from the national list and a volume from the international list. This pretty much reflected my expectations based on experience of asking similar “deep questions” – for whatever reasons, local TLs do not respond to challenging issues that are put before them so that there can be discussion and debate and corporate growth of knowledge.  However, if someone asks a relatively simple question that can be answered with a search of Google there will be a flood of responses, as there will be if someone is flamed or the profession is threatened, so “lack of time” cannot be the reason more meaty issues are left hanging. 

The responses from the local list focused on the need for a Collection Policy and a Challenged Material policy and the statistics relating to the prevalence of LGBTI issues in our community – “1 in 2,000 births in Australia have  “sex disorder” or are intersex – (unsure due to non reporting) and about 11% of Australian gay men and 33% of lesbians have children and around 10% of Australian population identifies as gay and lesbian.” The other three who responded supported the “mirrors and windows” view of the collection – resources should mirror the lives of the students and give them windows into new and diverse worlds, and that such titles supported inclusivity of students. However there was concern about the age of the children involved because they don’t ‘understand’ the issues while another argued they don’t need to ‘understand’, that young children do not see things through the adult lenses that we apply and all they are seeing and hearing is a story about families with which they are already familiar.

The discussion on the international list was very robust and a range of issues was raised. Here are some quotes taken from responses that formed the core of the person’s argument  …

  • “Kids are living this way. Just as kids deal with child abuse, parents getting killed by the other parent, rape, incest, drugs and such- these days kids deal with transgenders and gay parents. People, teachers, principals and librarians need to be on board.”
  • “However, I also recognize that some people do have an issue with homosexuality and same-sex marriage, and that makes it a controversial topic. But shouldn’t this be a part of education? Learning about things that are different than what we experience? Making us think about our values and behavior, in order to develop critical thinking skills and, hopefully, kindness towards all? “
  • “[Such] are all particularly controversial because they question some of every society’s most deeply-held convictions about some of the most fundamental questions we can ask: about bodies and their constituent parts; how people relate in and to their and other bodies; how people are attracted to other people, and to whom they are attracted; etc”
  • “The teachers are not the parents.  I, as the parent, may want handle it differently than a teacher would and I would like to know how the topic is being introduced to my child.” “Addressing sexual preferences with young students is felt by many (and I include myself here) as usurping parental, religious and cultural roles”  (Usurping the parent’s role was a common thread.)
  • “I have worked with enough feminist and pro-LGBTQI teachers who, on these two topics, trended toward calling all those who disagreed with them as mysogonistic [sic} and ironically bigoted…continuing to expose students to these concerns may seem to desensitize them so that they begin to sympathize with protagonists, identify with certain foci, but what it actually does is offend if it’s not aligned with the student’s personal lifestyle choices.”  (Teachers pushing personal agendas rather than using texts in relation to the curriculum was also suggested several times as was the marginalisation of students who did not share the teacher’s viewpoint)
  • “Normalizing behaviors does not make it right. Religion does not give room for changing views as needed based on society’s expectations.” (The religious element was raised and debated back and forth.)
  • “This was a teachable moment, and he seized the moment appropriately.” (Another common thread.)
  • “When we talk of Mummy and Daddy, are we also talking about their bedroom habits? No, so why do we seem to focus on this whenever the issue of same sex parents is raised? Sex, is the underlying issue that causes people to question books such as King and King, but the book itself has no sexual content.”
  •  “I will read civil rights and anti-racist and feminist and anti-ableism books with gusto, but I have to be more cautious than my straight colleagues about queer matters [for fear of losing my job]”.
  • “I feel that to purposefully shield students (especially if they’re middle- or high-schoolers), to close them off from any resources from which they can learn about it, is to do them a disservice.”
  • “… I must also be sensitive to the needs of my student community, many of whom are LBGT, even if this hasn’t become part of their verbal identity yet at age six and seven. Many more have parents who are LBGT. Even more than that know people in their lives who are LBGT. It can be a very scary thing to live in a community in which the books and media around you show no mirrors or windows. We really do owe it to our children to show them that life is different in different places.”
  • “Refusing to have materials on specific topics in the library collection and/or purposefully choosing not to read aloud those materials is, itself, teaching. It is teaching children that these are not acceptable topics to discuss. It is teaching children that these are topics that must be kept hidden away. It teaches that the viewpoint of the materials offered and read aloud are the truth and the only acceptable opinions. I think it is a huge disservice to ourselves, our students, and our communities when we assume that not directly teaching these topics means that we are not teaching them. We are teaching by omission.”
  • “Straight romantic relationships are seen constantly in children’s literature, not to mention other forms of media. Stories of families coping with divorce, death, and abuse are also part of kids lit and aren’t censored. Stories with single parents, grandparents raising children, adoptive families, etc.; all of these scenarios fall outside of the so-called “traditional” family unit and should be represented in our libraries and our classrooms. A story showing a same-sex relationship is no different. It is representation of the world today.”
  • “Remember, LGBT students can and do come from “traditional” families where they are the only ones in their family (immediate and often extended family too) who are LGBT. This is not the case for most other minority students. Most African American students, for example, grow up in African American families where their family members know exactly what it is like to be African American and the types of challenges they uniquely face. For LGBT students whose family are straight, cisgendered folks, their family does not know and understand what the LGBT student faces. In worst case scenarios, that family might even abuse them or disown them for being LGBT. It is therefore up to us to be a safe place for these students. To create that safe place in our libraries and our schools and to provide representation and understanding that they may not receive at home.”
  • “How can change be effected if we do not present students with alternatives to the status quo?  How much of the acceptance and integration and celebration of minorities would have been achieved if “brave” teachers had not introduced the writings of ground-breaking authors to students? “

Clearly this is a divisive and tricky subject within our profession so then I posed the question about how such resources were treated within the collection so that there was acknowledgement of and sensitivity towards all the stakeholders.  Many teachers get students to select the books for the class library and the children do not discriminate; even within a section such as ‘Junior Fiction’ there is a diverse range of age and maturity so how to cater for this; if a child self-selects a book that a parent reads to them without prior knowledge of its content, so should there be some sort of warning label (which then makes them more than they are, gives them a mystique they should not have, suggests that the topic is taboo, and may marginalise those who choose to borrow them perhaps even making them a target.) Or should they just be placed in the collection and we hope for the best? Is it better to beg forgiveness later than ask permission first?  Do we need permission?  Should we need to ask for forgiveness?

The only response has been that this should be covered in the Collection Policy that has been ratified by the school executive, but how should it be worded if the Collection Policy is being written or reviewed? If the school executive is to approve the policy then it needs to be in alignment with the school’s policy (and many schools may not even have such a document) and offer guidance that they are comfortable with.  

The Australian School Library Association’s Bill of Rights mandates

To place principle above personal opinion and reason above prejudice in the selection of materials of the highest quality in order to assure a comprehensive collection appropriate to the users of the library.

Collection development cannot be driven by the personal prejudices rather than professional practice whether those prejudices are more liberal or more conservative than the school’s ethos. Therefore I have asked my school executive to discuss how they wish to proceed so they are comfortable with supporting the library’s policy and procedures and are willing to defend them if necessary. I’ve drafted the wording of this section of the collection policy as a starting point for them and I’ve also shared this Pinterest board of resources so they are familiar with the sorts of titles that would be included in the library’s collection because currently there are none. I’ve offered to take it to a staff meeting for discussion and suggested that there may need to be input from the Student Representative Council.  

Censorship is not part of the teacher librarian’s toolkit but sensitivity should be.  Despite the range of opinions about this subject, there is agreement that it cannot dwell in the too-hard basket.  What would you do?

In May 2016 United States president Barack Obama officially proclaimed June 2016 as Gay Pride Month.  If the provision of resources that support our right to our own gender identity and sexuality and explain it to others is all that we can do to support those so continually discriminated against, then that must be better than putting our heads in the sand.  A Mighty Girl has released an annotated list of  their favorite books featuring lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) characters. It should provide a start to a collection that promotes inclusion while celebrating diversity.

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the professional learning hat

hat_prof_lrng

 

At the core of our mandate as teacher librarians is enabling our students to become lifelong learners.

Through teaching them about the information literacy process we give them a scaffold they can use in any area that allows them to know how to find out what they want or need to know whether it’s solving a complex mathematical problem or learning how to start a motor mower. As teacher librarians, we pride ourselves on being lifelong learners – but are we?

 

How many of us walk across the stage at graduation, accept that piece of paper that states we are now qualified to teach in this specialist area, and think, “That’s it.  No more study for me”? Or believe that the only way to grow our learning is through TL-specific courses and conferences? Or look at the requirements for progressing our careers and think that they are all focused on the sphere of the classroom-based teacher and therefore irrelevant?  From the messages I read on the various TL networks I belong to, it would seem that all too often this is the case.

Over the last few years, education in Australia  has changed significantly with the establishment of AITSL – Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership – and all teachers are now required to be formally accredited and to log a minimum of 20 hours professional learning each year (100 hours over five years in NSW).  This is because AITSL believes that a great education system is based on its teachers, that the best educators are the best learners and

the best systems make sure that teachers and school leaders can become great as they progress through their profession because people naturally want to grow, develop, and be successful

And for this to be achieved there need to be opportunities and commitment for learning with diverse forms of support that meet the needs, abilities and preferences of the teachers.  In other words, we do for ourselves that which we do for our students. 

 

 

Most education jurisdictions now require the annual logging and formal evaluation of professional learning based on a formal professional learning plan that has stated personal and corporate goals that identify the why, when, where and how of achievement.

For some reason, this seems to pose problems for many TLs who can’t seem to move themselves beyond TL-focused professional learning and nebulous statements such as having children loving reading (which cannot be measured) or improving circulation stats (which prove nothing beyond the number of times a resource is checked out).  Goals need to be S.M.A.R.T – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely – and the best way to formulate is to consult any formal documentation you can such as the professional standards and the Standards of Professional Excellence for Teacher Librarians and identify the areas where you personally need to improve your knowledge, practice and/or commitment.  For Australian TLs, ALIA Schools Group have mapped the AITSL standards to TL professional practice in Teacher Librarian Practice for the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers

Examine your library’s vision statement, mission statement and strategic plan to identify what you want the library to be like in three years and from that identify what professional learning you need to be able to get it there.   If it is not readily available then approach your professional network to see if there is a demand for it and whether they can supply it.  Don’t limit yourself to face-to-face delivery at conferences and meetings but look for webinars and other online opportunities, reading books and articles and so forth.

Even if you have been in the position for many years there is always something new to learn but it may be worthwhile to stop, draw breath, and reflect on what you believe and value and develop manifestos to encapsulate this to help you draw together all you have learned and achieved already and provide a benchmark from which to go forward.  Such an exercise will ensure your plans are true to your beliefs, will help you take them to a higher level and ensure you are invested in the outcomes.  Your plan will be more than a tick-a-box-for-authority document.

If a plan is to be achieved successfully it cannot be overwhelming so three goals relating to the domains of professional knowledge, professional practice and professional commitment should be sufficient but carefully chosen. Ask yourself…

  • How will achieving this goal contribute to
    • my personal professional growth?
    • the design and delivery of the curriculum for teachers and students?
    • the achievement of the library’s vision and mission statements and strategic plan?
    • the school’s plan for progress?
    • the perception of the role of the TL within this learning community?

Explicitly identify the elements for each goal so success is even more likely.  So a PLP could look like 

PROFESSIONAL KNOWLEDGE
GOAL PURPOSE STANDARDS ADDRESSED RELATIONSHIP TO SCHOOL PRIORITIES
Strategy Actions Timeframe Resources Evidence of Achievement
Identify each strategy to be undertaken to achieve the goal  What you need to do to satisfy the strategy  Short.medium.long term human, financial, physical, time 

Performance indicators

Include milestones for long term goals  

PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE
GOAL PURPOSE STANDARDS ADDRESSED RELATIONSHIP TO SCHOOL PRIORITIES
Strategy Actions Timeframe Resources Evidence of Achievement
PROFESSIONAL COMMITMENT
GOAL PURPOSE STANDARDS ADDRESSED RELATIONSHIP TO SCHOOL PRIORITIES
Strategy Actions Timeframe Resources Evidence of Achievement

 

By explicitly articulating the goal, the reason you are focusing on it, and the professional standard it is addressing you are demonstrating your understanding of your need for professional growth and your commitment to it. You are showing that you are taking the process seriously and professionally and not only does this underline the TL’s role in the teaching and learning process but it is more likely to get you the resources – human, financial, physical and time – you need to achieve it. Even if you are required to use a common pro forma, knowing why you have chosen a particular goal and so forth can be added as an extra and addressed in your formal conversation with your line manager. 

In her presentation Revisioning the School Library Program Anne Weaver states, “Teacher librarians must provide cutting edge library programs, using evidence based practice, that focus on goals directly connected to school leadership priorities…” She argues that if we do not do deliver programs that keep the school leadership satisfied that their investment in our salaries is justified then we put our positions at risk. 

In its publication Global trends in professional learning and performance & development AITSL examined the features of innovative professional learning and performance & development…

Features of innovative professional learning and performance & development

Features of innovative
professional learning
and performance &
development

From: Global trends in professional learning and performance & development

 

Their analysis showed that while there is a trend for individuals undertaking professional learning that is based online, collaborative, self-directed and informal and that this has value for the individual participant, it is not the best way for the organisation to leverage the results and grow as a whole.  The most effective combinations for both the individual and the organisation were opportunities that were

  • individual – participants take part alone
  • self-directed – participants choose the focus, pace and outcomes…and monitor and evaluate their own progress and achievement
  • personalised – learning focuses on the needs of the participant
  • situated – learning is within and geared to the goals of the organisation
  • offered – opportunities are made available to the participants
  • incentivised – learning is highly valued by the organisation and participants are given incentives to take part

If one of the purposes of the professional learning is to build the knowledge capital within the school, then specialist teachers like TLs need to be part of the big picture. Sometimes it is difficult to see how matches can be made between the specialist role and the school generally.  How do school goals about a greater focus on STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fit with the TL role that is traditionally associated with English and possibly History?

Such an apparent ‘mis-match’ just needs some new thinking, the putting on of a new hat and some homework using that information literacy scaffold.  

  • Ask yourself…
    • How can I view this goal with a TL lens? What leadership and/or support can I give teachers and students? What resources are required?
    • What do I already know, do, and have that can provide that support or offer leadership?
    • What do I, as an individual need to learn or do so I can provide what is required to the school as a whole?
    • How can I shape that learning into a personal goal using both the professional standards and the Standards of Professional Excellence for Teacher Librarians?
    • Where can I get the learning/training that I need to achieve that goal and deliver what is expected? What resources will I need to access it?
    • How can I demonstrate my learning as an individual and its contribution to the school’s growth?
    • How can I build on what I have learned to strengthen the school’s position in this area and to take it even further forward?
  • Develop a detailed plan to share with your school’s executive which not only demonstrates how your professional learning is in alignment with theirs but will also show that the TL’s role is integral to their success.
  • Put the plan into practice, document it, seek evidence that it is having an impact and share this as part of your formal PL discussions with your executive.

While the focus of the professional learning in a school can be driven from the top-down and for many, remains a passive process of attendance, listening and note-taking, by taking the opportunity to make it a personal action plan that we are committed to, it can have meaning and momentum that really contributes to the big picture.  

If we are to encourage and enable lifelong learning, then we must be lifelong learners ourselves. Putting on our professional learning hat and ensuring it is a snug fit is one way of doing that.

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