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).
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?
A library adaptation of the Iceberg Model might look like this…
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
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.
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.
- What aspects of your professional practice are going to be most useful in helping those goals to be achieved?
- How can you adjust what you do so your professional practice is aligned to achieving those goals?
- What in-house or personal goals do you need to develop to change or extend that professional practice? Are those goals Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely?
- Do you need to create a strategic plan to provide clarity and direction?
- What evidence can you collect – statistics, photos, data, anecdotes, unit and lesson plans, research, student journals and portfolios, qualitative and quantitative assessment – to show that what you are doing is making a difference in targeted areas?
- Is there an action research project you can implement and analyse to demonstrate the library’s contribution?
- How will you collate, present and share the library’s contribution to the teaching and learning?
- How will you use what you achieve in 2016 to take you forward to 2017?
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.