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the school-home reading hat

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In the southern hemisphere long summer holidays are on the horizon while in the northern hemisphere winter is closing in and long nights spent indoors are looming.  Both offer great opportunities for encouraging our students to read, read, read. 

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The single most important predictor of academic success is the amount of time  students spent reading, and this is a more accurate indicator than economic or social status. Time spent reading was highly correlated to success in math and science.  The keys to success lie in teaching students how to read and then have them read as much as they can.quote2

Program for International Student Assessment, 2003

So how can we as educators encourage parents to encourage their children to delve into the world of words, journey through their imaginations and explore what is offered in the pages of a book?

Ask a parent what they want their child to achieve from their school experience and overwhelmingly they will say that they want them to be confident, competent, independent readers. How can we harness parent power to be our partners in this process?

What can we do together to show our youngsters that reading for pleasure is valuable, valid and valued?

How can we work together to help them build and maintain a healthy reading habit to take with them into adulthood?

How can we work together to  support their growth as readers of a variety of topics and formats for a variety of purposes?

Let me state from the start that I am totally opposed to the concept of mandatory reading programs where students must read a particular book, a certain number of books, or any sort of requirement that they are obligated to complete, must report on, be assessed on or in any way be held accountable for having read during their own time. One of the saddest things is that in her book Reading in the Wild Donalyn Miller reports that by Year 6 most students perceive reading to be about being a means to an academic end – a school-based activity, pleasing a teacher, completing an assignment, getting a better grade, scoring points or a positive comment, something imposed rather than chosen.  What are the messages we are giving our students about reading if this is their opinion after just a handful of years of being able to read for themselves?  Where have the magic and mystery gone?

While parents want their children to be successful readers, they often do not know how to support this at home and so it is our job as professionals for whom reading is part of our mandate to support them in whatever way we can. Although our primary role is not one of reading instructor -we must become the guide on the side not the sage on the stage – nevertheless it is to the library that parents and teachers look for leadership. We must become the pivot on which the home/school reading relationship balances.

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Communication between the library and home is the most critical factor in supporting our students’ reading at home. Establish a library newsletter (print or online); a dedicated Facebook (or similar page);  a tweet, a blogpost, emails – whatever medium that your parent community uses frequently for school-home communication – and make its maintenance a dedicated regular part of your professional practice.

There is an abundance of research available about the importance of both reading aloud to children and demonstrating that reading is a valid, valued and valuable activity.  It is our job to disseminate this sort of research to parents, to provide the evidence that time spent reading for pleasure is a valuable investment rather than a waste of time but it should not be done as a series of links to papers written for academics because even we, as the target audience for such writing, don’t read them.  As part of our professional learning, maybe even an identified goal for professional appraisal, we need to locate, read, interpret and share what we learn in a way that is accessible to parents.  Consider creating an infographic that contains succinct information, has visual appeal and links to the original research where appropriate so those so inclined can read further. This one from the Australian Kids & Family Reading Report demonstrating the predictors of successful readers is a powerful example.

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Suggest titles about the importance of reading to and with their children that parents can read for themselves such as 

Reading Magic: how your child can learn to read before school—and other read-aloud miracles, Mem Fox (Pan Macmillan)

The Reading Bug—and how you can help your child to catch it Paul Jennings (Penguin)

Rocket your Child into Reading Jackie French (Angus & Robertson)

The ageless rewards of reading aloud– Margaret Robson Kett

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease (Penguin)

Provide links to where they can be purchased so parents can acquire them while they are thinking about them.

Direct parents of younger students to pages like Reading with Your Child (which has a Creative Commons licence which allows you to adapt it to a format which suits your needs)  and The Art of Reading Aloud, both of which have practical tips for sharing stories with their children at home.

If your students are slightly older and parents are asking why they should continue to read aloud even when the child is an independent reader, share this blog post  which explains why this teacher is reading 180 picture books to her Yr 7s and 8s over the school year and the impact it is already having after just three weeks, and The Reading Promise  which is the story of the bond formed between a father and daughter through reading aloud.  

Or this talk which demonstrates the magic of read aloud and reminds us all why reading aloud is so essential- at school and at home. It is for parents and teachers who want to teach comprehension and connect with kids in powerful ways.

Imagine the power of the advocacy for the library and the status of the profession that will ensue if parents regularly receive such important and valuable information.

With the gift-giving season almost upon us and 30% of all Australian book sales being children’s books; UK sales up 7%  and similar growth in the USA, parents and grandparents will also appreciate knowing about what’s suitable for their offspring for their Santa Sacks.  By being abreast of new releases, what’s trending in your library at the moment, books that are about to be released as movies, and current popular genres, as teacher librarians we can keep them informed of how they might choose wisely and spend their money well.  A regular segment in your communications highlighting titles likely to be of interest will be well-received especially if you include a synopsis (often available from the publisher’s webpage about the book) and a guide age range.  A link to a review or even to trusted blogs where children’s books are reviewed will be appreciated too for those who want to investigate further.  Don’t ignore the long tail – those who have decided reading is not for them – and be sure to share a range of genres, subjects, authors, series and especially non fiction and ready-reference titles because it just might be the hook that gets the reluctant reader on the line.  Know your readers and share suggestions and links to sites that meet their needs in some way.

The Australian Kids & Family Reading Report investigated what it was that was wanted in reading materials…

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Because it is unlikely that parents will be able to provide everything that their child desires in reading materials. investigate if it is possible for your library to make bulk, long-term loans available over the holiday period. If that’s not possible facilitate membership of the local branch of your public library by providing details of what is required and even membership forms.  Emphasise that this is a FREE service as this is not always understood by those new to the country.  Suggest that parents host book play dates or even start a neighbourhood book club. Investigate funding sources or grants that might enable you to give every student the gift of their own book to read. 

Ensure your library’s webpage has links to sites of the “If you like… then try…” variety so students can access suggestions for their next read easily.

For those whose preference is ebooks demonstrate how they can access the school’s collection of these from home or direct them to sites such as WeGiveBooks; Just Books Read Aloud or specific YouTube clips that allow them to hear a book read to them or to sites like the International Children’s Digital Library where they can read for themselves.

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For those whose reading is currently limited to reading instructions for games or making things, offer links to safe, appropriate sites such as Scratch and Minecraft or to author and series sites such as Brotherband, Pottermore or Peter Rabbit where they might be encouraged to move from screen to print.

If your school requires a formal leisure time program or parents request such a guide, construct a challenge such as Dr Booklove’s Reading Challenges which are not only open-ended so the reader still has a significant say in their choice of reading material, but also provide suggestions for parents wanting to extend their child’s reading repertoire. If there HAS to be some form of accountability for what has been read then consider the sorts of tasks suggested through The First Book Club. They might like to make a start on any formal reading challenges such as the Premier’s Reading Challenges which operate in Australian states and territories, particularly if the titles are linked to holdings in the public library. Create a seasonally-appropriate display where students can share what they have read and rate it for others to consider putting it on their to-read list.

There are as many ways for schools and homes to connect via reading as there are school, homes, students and parents. Perhaps you could share your ideas in the comments so others can make this critical partnership even stronger. Whatever you do, make it bring back the love of reading for its own sake so students don’t just view it as Miller’s students did.

Above all, just let them read.

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the presenter’s hat

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I recently read and reviewed Luke, a wonderful addition to the wonderful Stuff Happens series which is “a contemporary reflected-reality fiction series for young boys aged 7 to 11 years old”. In this episode written by James Valentine, Luke suffers from glossophobia – the fear of public speaking.

At the same time I was reading it, I was preparing a full-day presentation for newbie teacher librarians and I realised that while sharing my thoughts with others, either in person or in writing, is not difficult for me, there are many in the profession who are like Luke.  Thus, when the profession’s leaders call for advocacy and tell us it is our job to speak up to ensure that our learning communities know what it is we do, this can be an anathema for many or at least, something with which they are very uncomfortable.

As well, as the new Australian school term starts and northern hemisphere colleagues are thinking about the new school year, the listservs are again filling with requests for advice for undertaking tasks that ill-informed principals and administrators think we should undertake but which do not make the most of our specialist teaching expertise and experience.

So perhaps it is timely to share a few tips and tricks that might encourage the less bold to start being pro-active and educate those around them about what it is we do in this new age when even the need for the existence of libraries is being questioned.

Know your audience

This is the most critical element because it shapes not only what you will speak about but also how you will say it. 

As discussed in the reporter’s hat the teacher librarian has a number of prospective audiences who need to know what we do and why we do it. including

  • pupils
  • parents
  • peers
  • principals
  • pre-service teachers
  • politicians

Each has different interests and needs and each brings different prior knowledge and preconceptions to the table so our language and presentation methods must reflect this. If we are to engage effectively then we must adjust our perspective to meet their needs.

Each also presents a different dynamic to the relationship – the ‘power-balance’ between teacher librarian and pupil is very different to that between teacher librarian and principal, for example – and this can also affect our level of confidence if not competence. 

By carefully considering the purpose of the presentation and what we want the audience to take away from it, either as knowledge or a commitment to action, we are more likely to pitch our delivery at a level that will strike a chord with our listeners.

Know your topic

Be cognisant of what it is that interests your target audience.

Identify what it is you want them to take away from having attended your presentation.  Are you trying to persuade them, inform them, reassure them, entertain them, challenge them, broaden their understanding or consolidate what they already know?  What do you want them to know, do, understand, appreciate and value as a result of your presentation?

A good speech is like a pencil: it has to have a point.

Choose your topic carefully and address it from a perspective that shows them how you can be a partner in the process not an add-on.  Each audience group probably feels they have enough to do without having more layers added to their workload so present from a perspective which demonstrates how you can lighten their load while value-adding to it rather than making it even heavier. Wherever possible, use in-context, practical examples that can be applied immediately while basing that practice on sound pedagogy and evidence that can be delivered if necessary. Make your point, demonstrate it, provide the evidence (or link to it) and wrap it up.

While it can be tempting to think that this might be your only chance to talk to these people, try to avoid a scattergun approach that becomes an “all-I-know-about…” treatise which leaves them confused and bamboozled.  Much better to speak briefly on a focus topic and be invited (or invite yourself) back again than leave them feeling overwhelmed, ignorant and insignificant. 

Remember, it is about informing them rather than promoting you.  


pupilFor pupils, it may be the curriculum and thus your regular teaching program, drawing on your knowledge of their needs and abilities, sound pedagogy and real-world context should cover that. But they may also want to know about the latest releases, exhibitions, game and movie tie-ins  and so forth.  Ask them or have a suggestion box and schedule a regular session that has a student-directed focus.  If they ask for something about which you have no knowledge, seek out an expert – it may even be a student – and even if all you do is introduce and thank the speaker, your public speaking skills will improve, your confidence will grow and you set a model for students to follow.

 

parentsParents are most interested in what their child is learning and how they can support that.  There are a number of opportunities to talk to them about the role library can play in this – at parent orientation nights,   P & C meetings, or even holding special parent participation programs where you can explore topics in greater depth. But rather than giving them an in-depth course on the elements of information literacy or inquiry learning, think about the aspects that are most likely to crop up in the home.  We MUST acknowledge that regardless of what we might preach and practise at school, Google and Wikipedia are going to be major players in both adult and student information searches so starting with a how-to about determining the most effective keywords or looking at the authority of a website to determine its objectivity and currency will most likely be effective starting points.

If the children of your parent audience are much younger than that, then consider a workshop in how to read aloud well or how to select appropriate bedtime stories that will foster the child’s interest in becoming an independent reader.

peersInformation literacy development and skills are now being embedded into the general curriculum, as they should be, so our peers are now expected to be able to help students master those elements of the process that used to be seen as the sole domain of the teacher librarian. The Australian national curriculum is built on an inquiry model, and Guided Inquiry is becoming the common pedagogy.

So this is when your teach-the-teachers hat is most critical. Investigate what it is that your teachers want support with so that their professional learning is relevant and meaningful to them and they are ready to engage with it.  Depending on the structure of your school, work with groups or faculties or the entire staff use an actual investigation they are about to set to explore the element of Guided Inquiry or the Information Literacy Process that they have identified so they are able to put their learning into practice straight away.   

Introduce them to Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process focusing on the Affective Domain so they understand how their students feel as they move through an investigation or assignment and how they, themselves, are probably feeling. As well as teaching them the mechanics of the processes, also indicate how you are able to support their actual teaching through suggesting appropriate research-based outcomes, offering spotlight lessons or resource provision or input into assessment tasks and their rubrics.  Seek to value-add rather than add on.

If it’s possible structure a series of presentations that can be logged as part of their formal requirements for professional learning.

In my opinion, the teaching-the-teachers hat is the most critical role we have because it is easier to influence 30 teachers than 500+ students and have the entire learning community starting to speak the same language.

principalBecause principals are the primary decision makers when it comes to staffing and funding, presenting to principals, either individually or en masse, is one of the most important things we can do to ensure the preservation and appreciation of the profession.  Wearing my university marker’s hat I’ve assessed hundreds of assignments which specifically focused on the obstacles that stood in the way of having a top-shelf library-based program in place.   When every obstacle identified by each candidate was unpacked, it invariably came back to what the principal knew, understood, appreciated and valued about the role of the teacher librarian.  

Although we might think it is the principal’s job to know the ins and outs of the roles of all the staff, this is a big ask as more and more responsibility is devolved on them from above.  So make it your business to teach your principal and others about how you add to teaching and learning in a way that offers them the data and evidence they need to be able to cite in reports and their own presentations.   

 

preservice

The preservice teacher’s experience with a qualified teacher librarian is often limited to the person who was in charge of the library at their secondary school and that is the role model they are likely to have in mind.  Regardless of that person’s effectiveness, in the intervening time the TL’s role will have changed as technology and other developments and expectations march on so we must be prepared to let them know about what it is we can offer, both while they are on their prac and in their early years of teaching.  

In terms of the longevity of the profession, they might be our most important audience because those who come into the profession with the experience and expectation of a top-shelf TL as a partner will demand the same support as their career progresses.

If you can talk to those at your local university about how to best use our expertise on their next prac or internship, then make yourself available to do so.  If your only audience is those who come to your school, make sure your schedule a time with them to spread the word and the wares.  They will be having conversations with their peers and the word will spread and the demand will grow.

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Have you noticed that whenever there is a political announcement about education to be made, politicians always choose schools and almost inevitably the school library? They come to us!  So use the opportunities to present what you do and can offer,  particularly in relation to the topic the politician is going to be speaking about, so they  can see there is an immediate application and implication for what they are trying to sell.

If there is an upcoming election at local, state or national level, offer a presentation to all candidates, sitting and wannabes, so they can understand what it is a TL adds to the education of their constituents’ children, particularly as education is such a hot-topic election issue.

Be the TL the politician thinks of when the opinion and voice of an educator is needed.

 

Know how to present

Public speaking that engages the audience is almost an art form so be aware of all those things that we teach students when they have to give a speech, present an argument or participate in a debate.

  • Know about enunciation, pronunciation and articulation.
  • Understand volume, speed and tone.
  • Use language -vocabulary and sentence structure – appropriate to both audience and topic. 
  • Consider body language and eye contact.  
  • Research public speaking tips and watch videos that offer suggestions.
  • Be prepared to put more time into preparing the presentation than it takes to deliver it.
  • Know and practice pre-presentation calming techniques that clear your mind so you have just your presentation on your mind.  
  • Know how to deliver your message with passion and professionalism 
  • Avoid jokes at the beginning which often fall flat and leave the audience turned off and tuned out already.
  • Introduce yourself, but keep within the context of your presentation so your audience know you have authority on the topic and the credentials to present it.
  • Provide contact details so participants know that you’re not just there for the duration of the presentation.
  • Be responsive to your reception.  Yawning and fidgeting, looking at mobiles and so forth are not good signs
  • Be empathetic – acknowledge the difficulties that your audience faces, particularity with time, and suggest ways these might be overcome.
  • Demonstrate that you have trodden their path, that you are on their side and you are there to help them collectively or individually.
  • Be flexible – adjust your presentation if needed to explore an avenue your audience is particularly interested in or consolidate an aspect they are experiencing difficulty with.  
  • Be focused – try not to let a particular participant divert the discussion to their agenda, Let them speak but know how to draw the attention back to the focus of the rest of the audience.
  • Appeal to different learning styles with both vocal and visual presentations and embed activity, interaction, participation, and reflection within them.
  • Use podcasts and videos within your presentation to demonstrate or consolidate but keep them short and ensure there is excellent sound and visual quality. Diverting the focus to a “third-party” can make bringing it back to you difficult.
  • Conclude by setting a task or posing a question that will ensure your audience continue to think about what you’ve offered after they walk out the door.
  • Follow up by establishing an email group, a Facebook group, a blog post, a wiki – whatever suits them and the topic so ideas can be explored, questions answered and new networks built.
  • Above all, be yourself. It’s the easiest way to relax and deliver your message effectively.

Make sure you have finished speaking before your audience has finished listening.

In Valentine’s story Luke doesn’t overcome his fear entirely, but he does find a solution that works for him. That is the aim – find out what works for you.  Mark Twain has been quoted as saying, “There are only two types of speakers in the world: the nervous and the liars.” Hopefully these tips will help you pull on your presenter’s hat with a little less anxiety.

 

 

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the community service hat

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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, and addressing those now called the Baby Boomers…

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

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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). Library Ninjas is a similar program adapted for secondary 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. Apart from the community service component, such programs also develop leadership skills and a solid work ethic which can then be transferred to  broader community situations.

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 professional learning hat

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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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the paperwork hat

hat_paperwork

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paperwork can be a pain – so much so, it often gets left at the bottom of the in-tray or filed in the too-hard basket.

However, I believe it is an essential part of our job as we are so often the only one of us in the role in the school and there is much that we do that is a mystery to those who are unfamiliar with the L side of TL. Paperwork allows for continuity and consistency of policy, procedures and practice even when the personnel changes.  It can be used to explain and defend decisions by showing that they are based on accepted best-practice in library circles.

Paperwork also provides possibilities to explore and to reflect.  As we construct policies , procedures and programs and align them to fit the specific situation we are in there is an opportunity to examine why we do what we do and, if necessary,  explore other ways to do it.  For example, many are choosing to switch their shelving arrangements to one driven by genre rather than author and while there are many questions that need to be satisfied before that, or any other major change, is made, nevertheless it provides the motivation to consider different practices. 

But paperwork is so much more than a Collection Policy and a Procedures Manual glanced at occasionally and amended every now and then.

Purpose

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey tells us to “begin with the end in mind” so all the steps we take are leading in the right direction. Therefore it is critical to explicitly identify the purpose that the library serves within the learning community.  Return to The Visionary’s Hat  for ideas about examining the current place and perception of the library’s role and then construct a mission statement that clearly establishes

  • what this library is about
  • what it stands for
  • how that is demonstrated

The mission statement is the basis for all decisions made regarding policy, procedures and practice and sets the guidelines and parameters for the services you offer.

If the purpose of the library now is different from what it should be, then create a vision statement  and a strategic plan so that your mission statement can be achieved. Because a mission statement should be a brief, broad, big-picture concept, there will always be a gap between what is and what could be.  Having formal paperwork to support what you are doing not only establishes priorities but also provides evidence should your actions and decisions be challenged.

Position

Having established the purpose of the library within the its community, it is then essential to identify the position of the teacher librarian within that so it is clear what it is that we do that makes the role distinct from all others.

Ask yourself,

What is my role within this school?

Revisit the beliefs and manifesto that you developed in The Teacher’s Hat and then try to encapsulate your role in just six words.  Here are some examples…

  • Inspiring students to read and learn
  • Service Information  Reliability Convenience  Vision Strength
  • Share literature and information seeking skills
  • Reading builds success.  We build readers.
  • 21st century transliteracy impacts academic achievement

Learning for the Future, 2nd edition identifies the role as

curriculum leader, information specialist, information services manager

View this presentation by Ned Potter and brand yourself!

Then consider

  • Why are you a teacher-librarian?
    • It is critical that the specialist teaching role of the TL is the predominant one or the perception that the role can be done undertaken by a general librarian, a library assistant or an untrained clerical will continue to grow, particularly as “everything is on the internet” and “librarians are all about books” remain the perspectives of many
    • It is critical that you demonstrate how you value-add to the teaching and learning in the school and support this with evidence-based practice, formal or informal.
    • Understand that your most important clients are the staff, not only because it is easier to influence 30 staff members than 300 students but also because the greatest influence on students’ use of the library is that made of it be their teachers.
    • Research shows that for pedagogies and scaffolds such as inquiry learning and information literacy to be most effective, they need to be embedded in meaningful contexts and because the teacher librarian does not have the time nor the opportunity to teach everything that needs to be taught, it is essential to form partnerships – 1:1, team, faculy and whole-school- to offer professional learning so that these approaches are across-school and across-curriculum practices.
    • As  the curriculum leader it is essential to know the scope of the curriculum -national, state and school-based- so it can be resourced in collaboration with teaching staff so the needs of students, staff and curriculum are met
    • It is also our role to introduce new services such as access to the online resources of the National Digital Learning Resources Network through Scootle, and programs such as Improve, Spatial Genie, Mathletics and so forth.  We are also often considered the experts in the identification and use of Web 2 tools so teachers can use these with their students, so it is essential we know what these are.

 

  • What is your current position in the school?
    • Do you collaboratively plan and teach across the curriculum?
    • Do you cover classroom-based teachers’ planning and preparation time?
    • Are you viewed as a specialist teacher with skills that span the curriculum or are you viewed as an English teacher on steroids whose  primary purpose is to enhance reading and the love of “literature”?
    • Are you everyone’s dogsbody or doormat with no defined teaching role? 

 

  • What do you want your position to be?
    • Use  the domains, standards and performance indicators of the Standards of Professional Excellence for Teacher Librarians (or the appropriate professional role statements for your location) to clearly understand the scope of the teacher librarian’s role.  Even though the AITSL professional teaching standards govern our professional knowledge, practice and commitment for accrediation and registration purposes,  these specific statements developed and promulgated by ASLA explain just what an excellent teacher librarian is expected to know, do and provide, giving us not only heights to strive for but also a succinct role description for our colleagues.  ASLA have also produced the Evidence guide for teacher librarians in the highly accomplished career stage and are working on guides for the other AITSL levels which provide more detailed advice about the role of the TL but these are available only to members.
    • Know the difference between a dream and a goal is an action plan and a timeline and in the same way as you have created a strategic plan, develop a plan to get you where you want to be.  Use The Bridge-builder’s Hat for suggestions for strategic connections and consider
      • what you want your primary position to be
      • what you need to do to achieve your goal
      • what you already know, do and have that you can use
      • what you need to know, do and have to move forward
      • what resources – personnel, physical, financial and time – do you need to achieve your goal’
      • what would be a reasonable timeframe in which to achieve your goal
      • what would be significant milestones on the journey
      • what will be the indicators that your goal has been achieved

The most important factor is to be visible – recess, staff meetings, faculty meetings, online.  Even though it is a university site there is much we can learn about visibility  from the Arizona State Uni libraries  and adapt it to our situations.

However, as well as being visible, put your position in writing.  Develop a role statement for yourself and the other members of the library’s staff that can be used to introduced the staff and what they do for the learning community.  Use statements from

to provide a generic statement on the role of the teacher librarian and then develop this to demonstrate what this means for you in your school. Use the duty statement to explain and educate so you become your own best advocate. Make it a fluid document so that what you do this year, you can build on next year and so the duties change to meet the changing needs and expectations.

Begin with a brief rationale based on creating an information literate school community just to set the context of the library within the school for both your supervisor and those who follow in your footsteps.. Set clear S.M.A.R.T (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely) goals and demonstrate, ensure and check that each duty you perform is helping you achieve them.  Think of a Duty Statement as a self-management policy as opposed to a collection management policy. But ensure your goals are in alignment with the schools’ philosophies and policies. use the Learning for the Future headings of curriculum leader, information specialist and information services manager and adapt their descriptors to demonstrate how this will be interpreted in your situation-what it will look like in your school.

Use the  Standards of Professional Excellence to set personal performance targets. be canvassing the staff to see what their expectations of you are so you can set priorities on the results of an Information Needs Audit.. They may have needs that the previous teacher librarian didn’t meet, or they may not be aware of the range of services you can offer. Draw on your Collection Policy to determine goals and priorities for purchasing, assessing, weeding and so forth.  Write these up as specific duties so that the annual inventory becomes a collection evaluation exercise not just “counting the books”. Avoid quantitative performance targets such as “increase circulation by x%” because you are providing a measure whose achievement is beyond your control. But, under a sub-heading such as Curriculum Renewal you could write something like “Assess and map the resources supporting the current _____ curriculum to determine if they are current and relevant to staff and student needs. Discuss with ________ faculty how their resource needs (in digital and print format) can be met.  Research cost and availability of new resources.  Advocate for appropriate budget funds and allocate these to acquire these resources.”  That still gives a measurable target but also includes a structure for you to follow and your supervisor to understand what is involved. 

Create a balance of duties that demonstrate that you are an integral part of both the teaching and exec teams and that you also have unique skills in librarianship and those times not filled with direct contact with staff and students are filled with administration roles, such as supervising and teaching your administrative staff.) Include references to specific documents so the hierarchy can see that your duties are being guided by authoritative sources.  Use this document for professional performance appraisal, both personal and formal. Impress with your professionalism.

Develop similar statements to cover the roles of any other library staff members and volunteers so it is clear that each has a distinct and different contribution to make to the efficient and effective functioning of the library.

Policies

Having policies in place about the what and why means there is agreement of knowledge, consistency in application, and accountability regardless of personnel changes.

Library policies are broad statements based on research and best practice. They

    • provide an important reference for library staff, administrators and teachers
    • provide a ratified document that can be used to defend a decision which is challenged
    • guide decisions about the necessary staffing, funding and facilities to implement the policy
    • offer assistance to new staff about what is done and how it is done and why

They  need to be developed within the context of the philosophy, policies, guidelines and directives of the school and the educational authority to which the school belongs and reflect their ethos and goals so they demonstrate the professionalism and ‘librarian’ side of ‘teacher librarian’.

A policy provides a concise formal statement of principles which underpin how the library will act in a particular area of its operation.  It needs to be developed within the parameters of system and school requirements and philosophies and demonstrate how it will contribute to those big-picture goals during its life. A policy should identify

    • a definition of its focus
    • its purpose
    • the goals to be achieved during the life of the policy
    • the broad principles which are to be followed to achieve these
    • key personnel responsible for authorship and implementation
    • its review cycle

A policy is a public document available to the school community and often written in consultation with them. It should be brief and broad stating what happens and why. A change in personnel or procedure should not require a change in policy.

Key library-based policies include

  • mission statement (what the library stands for)
  • vision statement (how the library’s services will grow and change over the next three years)
  • collection policy (how the collection is developed including its purpose, selection, acquisition, evaluation and a Challenged Materials Policy)
  • collection management policy (what happens to the resources once acquired, although much of this will be in the Procedures Manual)
  • collection access policy (who may access the resources, when and how and consequences for those who show a lack of responsibility) 
  • textbook policy (for those schools where circulation of textbooks becomes the library’s responsibility)

However, there is a host of other policies  that may be developed under the auspices of the library including those relating to

  • intellectual property and ethical use of ideas, information and images
  • information literacy
  • inquiry learning
  • technology planning
  • internet access
  • computer network usage
  • privacy
  • administration

These policies should be school-wide documents rather than library-specific.  However, as the person with the speciailist knowledge, the TL is in a position to take a leadership role in their development.

Procedures

Procedures differ from policy because they explain how something is done, rather than why. They reflect the information services manager aspect of the TL’s role. A Procedures Manual is an internal document which details specific practices that implement the policy and ensures consistency and continuity of practice and equity so the library’s practices are not the subject of one person’s or faculty’s agenda. They are based on research and best practice, and thus are  more easily adapted to new situations than a policy.  A change in personnel or practice should be identified in the Procedures Manual not the policy. For example, while the policy might state that “acquisitions will be made in accordance with identified school requirements”, procedures identify exactly what those procedures are. If the Procedures Manual provides a step-by-step description of how new resources will be entered into the library management system, then if the LMS is changed, it is the Procedures Manual which will be changed rather than the Collection Policy.

Procedures, particularly those relating to acquisition , must be in alignment with the education authority’s requirements and therefore it may be necessary to continually maintain and manage your budget,  invoices and receipts. Keeping track of expenditure is an essential element of the TL’s role.

As well as providing step-by-step guidance for those undertaking particular tasks associated with the smooth running of the facility, there are some procedures which impact directly on the library’s users such as stocktake or inventory.  Therefore it is worthwhile producing documentation which explains why the interruptions are necessary and how they will lead to an improved collection and services.  Some jurisdictions also require a formal report of the state of the collection for auditing purposes so it is essential that this be completed and submitted.  Check how long such reports need to be kept – in NSW, it is seven years.

Similarly, if there are procedures you require users to follow, such as requesting  resources or booking a library timeslot, then these need to be explicitly documented (with links to the software if that is used) and distributed to those who require them. Make sure your form, print or electronic, provides you with all the information you need to provide the most comprehensive service possible so the user is inclined to return.

Documentation of how to access online databases, other subscription services and the use of Scootle to access the NDLRN (Australia only) is also essential so that these services can be used independently. Acknowledge that there are those who do not like to seek help so the provision of such information through pamphlets or posters can be very liberating for them and it’s another way to reach that long tail of potential users who think that the library is not for them.

Clear, attractive and accurate signage is also critical. Made using an app such as MS Publisher using a consistent format, font and colourway, signs can be tailored to the needs of your collection allowing even the youngest users to be independent in their searching and selection.  Hanging signs using appropriate models connected with fishing line over the areas most often used by your clientele also enable users to feel empowerment over the environment. 

Explicit, clear signage allows for independent selection.

Explicit, clear signage allows for independent selection.

Hanging signs made from cheap, lightweight models strung together with fishing line mean even the youngest user can find the section they want

Hanging signs made from cheap, lightweight models strung together with fishing line mean even the youngest user can find the section they want.

 

The teacher librarian is often regarded as the copyright manager and thus it is worthwhile developing documentation that details what is allowed to be copied and under what conditions.  While staff and students may have access to official copyright sites such as Smartcopying in Australia, providing a ready reference for the most common situations will empower clients to make their own decisions.

Programs

Because we are teacher librarians our teaching programs have to be as explicit and professional as those required of our classroom-based colleagues. We need to identify what we want students to know, do, understand, appreciate and value as a result of our teaching and this has to be explicitly identified in the preamble and rationale of our programs.  Not only does it emphasise the teaching aspect of the position, it demonstrates why the TL must hold dual qualifications.  Programs must

  • be based on current best-practice pedagogy
  • reflect our knowledge of the curriculum
  • demonstrate the AITSL professional teaching standards
  • embrace education authority-based initiatives like Quality Teaching
  • support identified school-based priorities
  • focus on inquiry-based learning and information literacy
  • promote cyber safety and digital citizenship
  • develop online competency

The American Association of School Libraries has identified a set of standards for the 21st Century Learner that could well underpin the programs of all of us, regardless of location or sector.  They cover four broad categories

inquire, think critically and gain knowledge
draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge to new situations and create new knowledge
share knowledge and participate ethically and productively in our democratic society
pursue personal and aesthetic growth

Within each category, there are skills, dispositions in action, responsibilities and self-assessment strategies that permeate every level and strand of the curriculum.  The document provides an authoritative base on which to build any teaching platform but also highlight the specialist nature of the TL’s role.

promotion

As well as those teaching-based programs, there are also promotion programs such as the Premier’s Reading Challenge, Children’s Book Week, World Read-Aloud Day, National Poetry Month and so forth that can help put the library at the hub of what happens in the school. However, because it is possible to have something new every week, it is essential that as the TL we pick and choose judiciously those events which will receive a heightened focus.  Once an event has been selected, it is worthwhile creating a file that explicitly links the event to the teaching and learning outcomes within the school and promoting this to teaching staff so they immediately identify how it will add value to the curriculum.  Including information about resources used or activities undertaken means there is a ready-reference if the same event is chosen in subsequent years.

Most schools are required to produce an annual report each year do parents are informed about what has been achieved and accomplished.  Contributing a section about the achievements of the library to this is formal way of alerting  administrators, executive, staff and parents to the doings of the library and how funds, including the salaries of the library staff have been invested in teaching and learning outcomes.  An even more extensive report such as this one by Joyce Valenza for the Springfield Township High School Library can be produced and made available through the school library’s website. As well as encapsulating data, it could also be an outlet for your Junior Journalists as they report on the key activities that have taken place throughout the year. Take photographs and videos of special events so they can be included.

It is also worthwhile to regularly gather statistics such as patron usage, resource acquisition and circulation and other relevant data several times throughout the year so a snapshot can be provided and analysed.  User satisfaction reports from staff, students, school leavers and parents can also provide valuable evaluative information, as well as demonstrating growth and change. Creating a well-rounded, well-balanced annual report not only demonstrates professionalsim but can also demonstrate how well you are adhering to and working towards your strategic plan as well as giving pointers for improvement.

Less formal promotions such as supporting parent participation programs or producing a pamphlet to assist parents with reading with their child at home are all part of the paperwork but all contribute to that evidence-based practice that is so critical.

propaganda

There are many ways to advertise the library’s services that involve informal paperwork and these will be examined in The Promoter’s Hat.

Putting on your paperwork hat, as ill-fitting as it might feel, goes a long way to declaring and demonstrating your professionalism.

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the bridge-builder’s hat

hat_bridge_builder

 

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

John Donne

 

 

Yet, within the school setting, the library is often seen as an island, apart from the main rather than a part of it. 

The physical isolation imposed by the nature of the space, and the professional isolation of usually being the only TL within the school and not part of a particular team or faculty can mean that, at the very least, a moat separates the facility from the school mainstream.   In the past, some TLs have been guilty of not only building the moat but also pulling up the drawbridge and it is this perception of exclusiveness and remoteness that is often only a childhod memory, that drives the modern-day perception and stereotype – a bit like that of a library being a quiet space where people are continually told to shoosh.  

Thus the work we do is often invisible to other staff and students and therefore the value we add to the teaching and learning of our community is often overlooked. Just today, there is yet another discussion about the role of the teacher librarian within the school on a state listserv as a TL finds her professional knowledge and responsibilities eroded by those who don’t understand them, and sadly, responses show that there is little, if anything, official to back up what it is we must and can do. Even though, individually and collectively, teacher librarians have been promoting their role -even instigating a formal Federal Government inquiry in Australia- it appears that advocacy is a hat we will continue to wear. We wear it for ourselves, for others and for those who are yet to come. 

The moat must go and it is the TL who is in the best position to remove it.

Building bridges builds influence

It is widely accepted that the library, with a qualified teacher librarian at the helm, should be the hub of teaching and learning within the school and its associated community. Building influence enables a broad base of people to understand our role and accept that it is valid, valued and valuable thus enabling us to be a leader of the teaching and learning – our core business as TEACHER librarians.

If we were to reflect and represent our current sphere of influence,  would it look like this…

broken_bridgeOr this?

interchange

If a bridge is defined as a structure, real or metaphorical, which spans a gap or a barrier, then there is the implication that a bridge connects two points.  One end of the connection is the library, but where could its other end be?  We need to answer these questions…

With whom can we make connections? How can we make those connections?

Let’s look through the people lens …

Networks People
  • local physical TL networks
  • state, national and global online TL networks
  • social networking groups such as iCentre, Three Rs, ALIA, CBCA, OZTL
  • professional associations
  • networks of other library professionals
  • networks of other educators, local, state, national and global
  • P&C and other parent organisations
  • children’s services organisations and providers
  • local public and specialist libraries
  • personal learning networks, physical and virtual
  • profession leaders on Twitter
  • local schools including those in other sectors
  • student networks
  • principals, peers, pre-service teachers
  • students and student leaders
  • executive staff
  • administrative staff
  • other library staff and volunteers
  • classroom-based teachers across KLA and year levels
  • parents, including pre-school parents and grandparents
  • people whom students admire and regard as role models
  • community leaders and experts
  • politicians- local, state and national
  • other teacher librarians
  • publishers, authors and illustrators
  • the ‘long tail’ – those who believe the library has nothing relevant to their needs, interests and abilities
  • media

We need to ask…

Who do we already have strong connections with?

Which connections could be strengthened or renewed?

Who could we reach out to, to make new connections?

How could  one set of connections be used to build a new set?

Even if the TL is in the fortunate position of being in a positive, well-supported environment, there are always new connections that can be made that will help to spread the influence of the library further and cement its place as an integral, vital part of the community.

The Networked TL

The Networked TL

While connections are all about  people, there are unique aspects about our job that we can employ to allow us to make existing connections stronger and also reach out to a wider audience to make new ones. 

Processes Spaces Resources
  • knowing the curriculum across the strands and year levels
  • collaborative planning and teaching
  • recognising our unique position within the school and being prepared to take on a leadership role
  • being visionary, knowing what the best 21st century library looks like, plan and deliver that environment
  • collection, analysis and presentation of evidence of our contribution to teaching and learning
  • initiation, promotion and publication of library events
  • broad-based promotion through traditional and social media of what the library offers – reaching the “long tail”
  • development of tutorials so users can operate independently
  • making the sorts of services we can offer known to our clients (see Information Needs Audit)
  • staying up to date with personal professional learning including knowing the critical research which shapes our programs and practices
  • being up-to-date with research in other areas which can be shared with colleagues
  • developing a contemporary collection based on the needs, interests and abilities of its users
  • participating in a range of committees where library input would enhance outcomes
  • delivering or facilitating professional learning for teaching staff, especially about library-related matters such as Guided Inquiry, information literacy, the role of recreational reading, using ICT tools.
  • being visible at and contributing to staff and faculty meetings
  • contributing to school communications
  • establishing an evolving online presence so that the library’s resources are available anytime, anywhere
  • actively seeking and listening to user input
  • encouraging a gaming culture in learning
  • offering scheduled and just-in-time learning opportunities
  • using technology to reach and expand the knowledge of library users
  • maintaining lines of communication particularly with the principal, executive and administration staff
  • providing opportunities for student participation and leadership
  • being open to new ideas and opportunities
  • having the policies, programs and procedures which will take the library into the future
  • sharing research and resources for and with all
  • developing strong parental support through communication
  • offering parent participation programs
  • inviting volunteers to participate
  • beyond the walls – anytime, anywhere
  • physical and virtual
  • attractive, comfortable, welcoming, imaginative, collaborative, flexible, interactive and safe
  • quiet as well as more boisterous ares
  • makerspaces
  • the domain of everyone not just the library staff
  • a place where the students want to be
  • a place where users can operate independently
  • meeting special needs so services and resources are accessible to all
  • liaising with public institutions such as libraries, galleries and museums
  • being where the community’s children and youth are
  • contemporary collection which meets the needs, interest and abilities of its users
  • opportunities for user input into collection development to help reach the ‘long tail’
  • ‘own’ vs’ acquire’ vs ‘access’
  • acknowledge need for both physical and virtual resources
  • create and build on local community resources
  • identify, collect, annotate and curate resources
  • inter-library loans
  • research and resources which support teachers’ professional learning
  • open access vs locked-down
  • support a variety of learning styles
  • seek support from networks for new resources
  • keep abreast of new publications and tools
  • collection is kept relevant through continual evaluation, analysis and weeding
  • promote new resources through traditional and social media
  • support parents and parenting
  • efficient and effective online connections through working hardware, appropriate software and robust internet connectivity

 

None of these lists is exhaustive – there are many additions that could be made.  But they might offer a starting point for putting on the visionary’s hat  and then identifying a specific focus for your future planning.  

Begin with the end in mind by defining the need by identifying a particular area for development that relates to your situation. Put on the hat of your clients and consider how bridges could be built between their needs and the library’s services, remembering that we are one and they are many. Rather than telling people what is on offer from the library’s perspective, view the issue from the angle of “What does this group expect/require of the library in order for it to be relevant and useful to them?” 

What sort of bridge should you build?

What sort of bridge should you build?

Market research using something such as the Information Needs Audit modified to meet the shape of its audience is always a valuable foundation because it provides the evidence that your practices are targeted, required and likely to be valued.

Then use an inquiry approach beginning with posing questions such as

How might we use the Australian Curriculum to lead teaching and learning in the school?

How might we use social media to reach our clientele and to offer anywhere, anytime access?

How might we collaborate with other child-centred community organisations to extend what we offer teachers, students and parents?

How might we develop a collection which meets the needs, interests and abilities of its users?

How might we develop tools that will help the user use the library, its collection and services more independently?

How might we promote the physical space of the library as a teaching and learning centre?

How might we use the expertise and experience of other members of the staff and student body to build better connections?

Using a question format and wording it so that it offers the possibility of collaborative solutions that invite a range of creative possibilities that may or may not be adopted demonstrates a willingness to work with others to explore a variety of options to negotiate and implement solutions that can be woven together to form a strong, sustained and sustainable connection.  Having the ‘big-picture’ question then allows for its detailed analysis as solutions are sought, explored, and prioritised.  

For example, in a recent workshop one group focusing on raising the profile and identity of the TL and knowing that the teachers in their schools were struggling with the implementation of a new required curriculum that spanned eacj key learning area, proposed, “How might we use the Australian Curriculum to lead teaching and learning in the school?” Rather than the more nebulous question of “How might we raise the profile of the teacher librarian in the school?” it was turned into a more practical and productive question that, through its solutions, would directly address clients’ needs while also working towards achieving that ultimate goal of raising the TL’s profile. 

A brief brainstorming session identified that this could be addressed by

  • knowing the curriculum across all strands and year levels, acknowledging that often the TL is one of just a handful in the school with this sort of overview
  • delivering or facilitating professional learning to support new initiatives embedded in the curriculum such as an inquiry-based approach or the introduction of a new perspective such as a greater emphaisis on indigenous issues
  • being pro-active in collaborative planning and teaching by seeking and suggesting opportunities where our specialist knowledge can enrich and enhance teaching and learning
  • having an online presence which allowed anytime, anywhere access to the collection for staff and students
  • building a relevant contemporary collection

Some of these were well-established concepts, others were more novel. A longer timeframe may well have elicited a greater range of ideas. Within the group, pairs then further brainstormed just one of those aspects identifying what they currently had and what they eventually wanted, and then started to build the a bridge between the two by identifying what needed to be done to achieve the goal. Having narrowed  the big statement Building bridges builds influence into a specific, manageable, achievable, relevant and timely goal, these ideas then provided the practical foundation for the library’s immediate strategic planning. Apart from the direct connections that would be made during its achievement, it was clear that there would be a number of others, each of which would contribute to the influence of the library and a greater understanding of its contribution to teaching and learning.

An image search of the Internet for “bridges” brings up an amazing array of these structures built in the greatest geographical extremes and using what appear to be the flimsiest of materials, created by people who had a need to span the gap regardless of the obstacles it posed.  TLs must adopt a similar can-do attitude by being open to new ideas, looking for opportunities, stretching beyond the traditional anchor points (such as English and Social Studies) and be willing to tackle the deepest of chasms or the broadest of floodplains. As we advocate for our positions which seem to be becoming more and more tenuous as new staffing models are developed, the roads to and from the library need to be broad, strong and well-populated, rather than beings seen as just a single lane only wide enough for us to push our own career barrows. Rather than a rickety, one lane bridge built to take the minimal traffic of a previous generation, there must be a network of connections leading in many directions providing the super-highway to and for 21st century education.

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