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the january hat

hat_january

 

 

 

 

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

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

seeing you, being you

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

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

 

 

being seen

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

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

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

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

iceberg

 

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

iceberg2

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

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

 

From a series of posters about the Research Process

From a series of posters about the Research Process

 

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

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

seeing ahead

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

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

In the meantime check out this list of celebrations for the year, these suggestions for the first day, and this wonderful poem by Naomi Bates.

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

Janus, the Roman god of new beginnings

Janus, the Roman god of new beginnings

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the seer’s hat

hat_seer

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Skills required in the 21st century

Skills required in the 21st century

How to teach all the skills

How to teach all the skills

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

The New Work Order Report

The New Work Order Report

future_meme

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

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

 21st_century

 

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

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

curriculum leader

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

purple_cow

 

information services manager

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

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

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

Collection development should not be an either/or decision.

information specialist

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

internet_library fire_hydrant

trained_librarian

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

blooms_digital

 

the learning space

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

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

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

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

Andrew Carnegie

Pushing Beyond Future-Ready: Creating a Bold Context for K-12 Libraries

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the tricky topics hat

 

hat_tricky_topics

 

 

 

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

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

King & King - Linda de Haan & Stern Nijland

King & King – Linda de Haan & Stern Nijland

 

The final page

The final page

 

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

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

The results were very interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Australian School Library Association’s Bill of Rights mandates

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

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

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

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

This article from School Library Journal is worth reading and considering in light of your circumstances and professional practice. Unnatural Selection: More Librarians Are Self-Censoring

You might also like to consider the issues raised in The Censor’s Hat.

Parents Are Divided Over a Book in a Popular Student Reading Program in Oregon

One of a number of lists of recommended titles available focusing on gender identity.

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the professional learning hat

hat_prof_lrng

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Performance indicators

Include milestones for long term goals  

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

 

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

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

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

Features of innovative professional learning and performance & development

Features of innovative
professional learning
and performance &
development

From: Global trends in professional learning and performance & development

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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the events manager’s hat

hat_events_manager

 

 

 

Whoever thought being a teacher librarian would encompass being an events manager?  Staid, middle-aged women guarding and counting the books in the the twilight of their careers having such a glamorous title goes right against the stereotype!  But in fact, it’s one of the most important roles we can have if we are to get out students to be readers.

We all know the competition that we have from other media for occupying children’s leisure time and while, in the past, the “passive” activity of reading only had to compete with the more passive activity of television viewing, especially after dark when outside play and sport was no longer an option, now there is the interactivity of computer games and other screen-based activities to compete with.  Coupled with the observation of Donalyn Miller (aka The Book Whisperer) that by the time students reach Year 6 they view reading as a school-related subject only and it is a means to an end to complete assignments, our role of reader leaders  is more critical than ever. 

If our students are going to be readers they need to see it not only as a valid, valuable and valued use of their spare time but they also need to see it as fun!  Something they want to do rather than something they have to do.  And we, as teacher librarians, are in the best position to do that.

Even after we have created the most enticing and exciting environment in the school there is much that we can do to persuade our students that reading can be right alongside their other activities and that rather than competing it can complement it.

seuss_quote

 

 

special events

Scattered throughout the year are many events that are focused on literature and literacy that lend themselves to creating a special event

 

Susan Stephenson (aka The Book Chook) has compiled a more extensive list of these and each lends itself to a library-focused celebration.  Often there are particular themes associated with the event and there are always discussions and suggestions for ideas on teacher librarian networks but consider asking the students how they think a particular event could be celebrated.  Share the load of ideas, organisation and implementation.

Put A Poem In Your Pocket Day sparked a focus on reading and writing poetry

Put A Poem In Your Pocket Day sparked a focus on reading and writing poetry.

 

literary luncheons

Literary luncheons sound so elegant and can be so much fun.  

Select and set aside a day a month (such as the third Friday) for the entire school year.  Use the calendar to identify any special events that might be occurring close to that date, including those that might not be related to literature and literacy) and use that as your focus.  Consider how you can bring a literature focus to the event.  For example, Harmony day might involve looking at books about peace and examining the peace movement of the 60s.  Or invent a theme such as Cinderella Day when participants read and hear all the different versions of Cinderella from cultures around the world, or perhaps have a focus on a particular author or character.  Cast the net as widely as you can so that more students are attracted and understand that the library does have something to them.

Organisation is quite simple, particularly if you involve your student assistants.  Have them devise the publicity strategies and be responsible for its production and display. Also have them develop the program, selecting texts to be shared, activities to be undertaken (and organising the required resources)and deciding if a guest speaker is appropriate  If there is to be a guest speaker, have them write the invitation explaining its purpose and what would be required of the speaker. Students are also responsible for thanking the speaker at the end. Putting the responsibility of running the event on the shoulders of the students not only lessens your workload (although as the adult you need to oversee everything for feasibility) but also gives them ownership and helps them develop an array of life skills.

Participating students just have to bring their lunch and enjoy – or arrangements could be made with the school canteen or the Home Economics faculty to cater for it.

Promote the event to the local newspapers and television stations who are always looking for local colour – another avenue for advocacy.

 

author visits

Author visits involve preparation, time and money but given they can be better than a visit from Santa as the joy is relived every time the child picks up one of the author’s works, they are worth the effort.  Sometimes it is possible to share costs with other schools; in other cases the author will come for free but requiring the opportunity to sell their books at the time. In some extreme circumstances, some authors will also consider negotiating their costs (which are set by the Australian Society of Authors.

Book Week for Beginners (managed by the author of this blog) has a host of ideas for organising a successful author visit including a downloadable pdf file with a step-by-step guide 

 

book week

Each year the Children’s Book Council of Australia hosts Book Week with winners of the Book of the Year awards being announced on the third Friday of the month, the Friday preceding the celebrations. It is also a grand opportunity to have the school community’s focus squarely on the library.  Book Week for Beginners  has been established to share ideas of how this week can be celebrated in a school. While there is a specific theme for each year and specific ideas are offered to highlight that, it also contains a lot of other information that relates to hosting Children’s Book week anywhere including how to hold the ubiquitous book parade.

 

book fairs

Book fairs are huge events for teacher librarians requiring a lot of collaboration, co-operation and manipulation of timetables.  But for many children when the bookshop comes to school is the only opportunity they have to browse and purchase a new book for themselves.  For some school libraries, a book fair is its only source of revenue and so it deserves the time and effort required. The most successful fairs are often held in conjunction with other events in the school such as parent-teacher interviews, concerts, or Grandparents Day because they bring parents into the school with more dollars than a child’s pocket money.

Companies offering packaged book fairs often supply everything that is needed including ideas for the theme but it is always worthwhile approaching a local bookseller and working out a special deal.  

Ideas for organising and managing a successful book fair are available at Book Week For Beginners

The Polar Express wens its way around Christmas books at Santa's Book Shop

The Polar Express wens its way around Christmas books at Santa’s Book Shop

family nights

Host family nights – mother-daughter; father-son; mother-son; mother-daughter, grandparents, whatever combinations works for your demographic where parents and children can get together to read together.  Depending on the time of the year, include a sausage sizzle or hearty soup so there are opportunities for parents to talk to other parents and maybe establish new friendships. Offer a compelling reason such as showing the movie version of a popular book or students performing a readers’ theatre for families to make the effort to come.

 

book clubs

There is a host of configurations for book clubs in a school based on age, genres, and purpose.  While they may take the TL’s time and expertise to set up, they can often become self-sustaining particularly if you enlist the assistance of another teacher who has a particular reading interest and knowledge.  What is critical though, is to set the book club’s activities apart from being a school-based lesson in disguise so while adult book clubs might focus on discussion questions about the plot, characters and setting or deconstructing the techniques the author has used, encourage student book clubs to go beyond that to focus on fun activities that are related to the particular book so interest is maintained.

One of the easiest book clubs to manage is Pair and Partner.  Dig out all those multiple copies of class readers that have been shelved away and encourage friends to check out the same book and discuss it amongst themselves. Reading it at the same time means the interest is parallel, not one person having moved on while waiting for the other to read the single library copy. 

Another is a Movie Book Club, particularly for those who are a little older. With so many books being made into movies that become very popular arranging a viewing of the movie and then comparing and contrasting it to the original text can be a great way to reach out to those who prefer to view than read.

Putting on the Events Manager’s hat can seem like an added imposition but the benefits are so worthwhile.  It can be a better fit if you follow these tips…

  1. Create a calendar of events
  2. Claim the dates
  3. Invite your students assistants to help you with ideas, preparation, promotion, and delivery
  4. Offer variety to reach as many students as possible especially those who have not yet realised that the library has something for them
  5. Understand the value of the results and enjoy them as much as the students.

 

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the censor’s hat

hat_censor

 

 

 

 

Putting on this hat is one that does not fit well for many teacher librarians.

Is restricting access to some resources censorship or duty of care?

 

Certainly it is a question that raises its head frequently on the teacher librarian networks, moreso in the US where the ALA has very clear policies and statements on the freedom to read which is “essential to [their] democracy”.    In terms of Australian libraries the closest I could find to a similar statement was the ALIA Statement of free access to information .

While these are critical statements that govern a library’s right and responsibility to provide resources regardless of an individual’s perspective or preference, as teacher librarians we must remember that we are in a school situation and as such, we have an official duty of care to the students in our care.  We cannot not set ourselves up to be paragons of virtue or the moral compass of the community, but what we do and offer must reflect the values and attitudes of the school community we serve.

Unlike the US where censorship seems to be alive and well – ALA state that there were at least 464 books challenged in 2012 alone but they also say that probably 70-80% are not reported- such censorship does not happen in Australia. The last book banned here was Portnoy’s Complaint. We do not have a Banned Books Week to celebrate the freedom of speech but that’s not to say books aren’t challenged – recently one person complained of one word in Roald Dahl’s “Revolting Rhymes” which was selling in a national supermarket chain and the chain’s reaction was to pull the entire stock off the shelves!  The resultant publicity resulted in their selling more books than ever!

However, there is still the issue of what is appropriate to a particular audience and who decides.

The answer comes down to our professional knowledge about the development and maturation of the students, their reading needs, interests and abilities, the curriculum the collection is required to support, the underlying ethos of the school and its community and collection development practices.

In the ideal situation, that collection is built up in consultation with the teachers and selection aids, including reviews and recommendations, are used to guide choices.  Given that most teacher librarians have more contact with children than the average parent, they are more likely to have a deeper knowledge of what is appropriate, although parents should be able to make suggestions but these should always be measured against the selection criteria of the Collection Policy. The TL is also in the position to have the broad overview of what is happening in the school regarding teaching, learning and the curriculum as well as being the most likely to have a knowledge of what is available and suitable to support this.  TLs are also highly connected and so they can find out what else there is very quickly and get suitable suggestions from a range of other professionals.  They can put their leadership hat on top of their censorship one.

Censorship, to me, is when a book is not added to the collection because of the personal prejudices of the librarian, principal or someone else.   The most recent widespread controversy I can think of is when many schools banned Harry Potter because of the witchcraft/magic aspect and while many may have justified their decisions because of their personal interpretation of the tenets of their faith, denying children access to that series is censorship.

Conversely, NOT selecting a Jodi Picoult novel (for example) for a K-6 school is about knowing what is developmentally appropriate. It is not about being the Book Police. Teachers and parents rely on us using our professional knowledge to make the call, BUT they always have the option of purchasing titles or borrowing them from the public library if their child wants to read beyond what we acquire.

No school library can acquire every resource that is available for its target age group – that’s why the Collection Policy is such a crucial document and needs to be tailored to the individual school.  A one-size-fits-all-policy copied and pasted from elsewhere cannot reflect the unique needs of a particular school because the demographics of each school are so diverse.  This policy should identify who the readers are; the goals for developing the collection for the next three years (such as a focus on a format or curriculum area); and have specific selection criteria that will guide choices so they are in alignment with achieving the goals. But most importantly, it is underpinned by the needs, interests and abilities of the collection’s users based on the professional knowledge of those who are teaching them.  A Collection Policy developed by the TL and ratified by the administration is also the best defence if a selection (or lack of) is questioned. Demonstrating how it meets the selection criteria (or not) of a formal policy is hard to argue with.

Censorship is not always restricted to titles that might seem obvious because of their focus on sex, violence and other unsavoury practices.  These are some recently challenged in the US…

  • True Diary of a Part Time Indian.
  • Color Purple
  • Year of the Jungle
  • It’s a Book
  • Looking for Alaska
  • Bridge to Terabithia
  • To Kill A Mockingbird
  • Of Mice and Men
  • A biography of Oprah Winfrey
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
  • Forever
  • Killing Mr. Griffin

Even Bob Graham’s Let’s Get a Pup is on the US list. And I’m sure many of us are familiar with stories of Mr McGee’s penis being hidden by white-out in Mr McGee and the Biting Flea when teachers or parents have been offended.

lets_get_a_pup

;

Censored and Banned Books: From John Steinbeck to Dr. Seuss

Recently there was an issue in a primary school I know where a pre-school child selected a book from the Junior Fiction section as a class read-aloud and it was clearly not suitable for that age group.  It happened because someone had decided that because it was in picture book format then it was Junior Fiction, something we know not to be true.  This has prompted a formal collection appraisal and evaluation of the collection, judging the location against an authoritative list and making changes where appropriate.  We also established a Senior Fiction classification (identified by a sticker on the spine)  acknowledging that some students are intellectually and emotionally mature enough to read materials that might be considered YA and their needs should be catered for just as those of children who are not yet reading independently are catered for.

This was not censorship – it was duty of care exercising our professional judgement to cater for the individual needs of the students.  While students have access to the entire collection, identifying those that might be cause for concern because a young person does not have the requisite maturity to deal with the content (particularly in collections that cater for a wide age group) is showing responsibility not restriction. Until our students are old enough to take personal responsibility for their choices  (and the Child Online Privacy Protection Act would deem that to be 13)  it is our role as teachers to provide the scaffolds to help them and we must never step back from that.

Of course, there are always going to be individuals who disagree with your selection and location of resources and that is why having a Challenged Materials Policy (scroll to the end)  as part of your Collection Policy is vital.  Such a policy means one person’s agenda cannot drive the development of your collection. It provides a formal way for a complaint to be made and considered while also showing that an individual can only dictate what their own child/children can have access to – they cannot make decisions on behalf of other parents. It requires the complainant to specifically identify the focus of the objection rather than relying on hearsay or gossip.

Nevertheless, censorship in itself can be an interesting topic and it offers much scope for investigations…

This article from School Library Journal is worth reading and considering in light of your circumstances and professional practice. Unnatural Selection: More Librarians Are Self-Censoring

You might also like to consider the issues raised in The Tricky Topics Hat

However, ultimately we must see our selection of the collection as guidance not censorship.  Hopefully, the hat will sit more comfortably now.

 

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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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the game-player’s hat

hat_gameplayer

 

 

 

As the cooler days of Australia’s winter encroach, more and more students make their way to the library as a warm haven during recess and lunch breaks. But to expect them all to want to curl up and read for that time may be a bit ambitious so this is a perfect opportunity to introduce them to some of the “old-fashioned” board and card games of yesteryear.

Those of us of a certain vintage may well remember the family nights where televisionwas turned off (if there were a television) and games like Monopoly, Scrabble and Squatter would be set up or a lively game of cards would ensue.  As well as being entertained, we absorbed the social niceties of taking turns, sharing, patience and how to lose gracefully while learning to think strategically, plan ahead, and know enough maths to keep the scorer/banker honest. Like traditional fairytales, the best games always had something to teach us.

While today’s students seem to be entranced with screen-based games, the library can become the place where more traditional formats are introduced and so much learning can take place. Games enable students to

  • collaborate with their peers to set goals, rules, deadlines and make collegial decisions through negotiation
  • develop an understanding of “fair play” and the need for rules to ensure this happens
  • reinforce the concepts of taking turns, sharing and being gracious in success or defeat
  • develop resilience and perseverance as there is an expectation they will play through to the end rather than giving up because they are not winning
  • have a common topic of conversation in which all can be included
  • assume roles that place them in unfamiliar situations and having to make decisions based on different perspectives which may challenge their existing ideas
  • think strategically and plan ahead, posing and answering questions, considering cause and effect both immediate and longer-term
  • think creatively to reach a solution or conclusion
  • deal with a variety of information, often in a diverse range of formats and from a diverse range of sources, and synthesise this to solve problems, make informed decisions and consider how their actions will impinge on another’s as well as how another player’s actions determines theirs  

Many games feed directly into specific curriculum outcomes and priorities justifying their existence in both the library and the classroom as yet another way of meeting the diverse learning styles of our students. Libraries Got Game: Aligned Learning Through Modern Board Games by Brian Mayer and Christopher Harris explores the role of games in education in depth offering sound pedagogical evidence for their inclusion in the classroom and library programs.  Even though the curriculum links are US-based, it’s a small jump to the Australian Curriculum.

Games were a popular part of my library’s resources and one of the most popular pastimes that continually drew participants was the jigsaw table. Edged with strips of dowel glued down to minimise the chance of pieces landing on the floor, there was always a jigsaw waiting for a passer-by to stop and add a piece or two. Even the principal couldn’t resist.  The difficulty of the puzzles varied, but given their importance in the development of visual acuity and spatial awareness, eventually I had two tables – one for the K-2 brigade and the other for those older (including adults.) Initially I bought the puzzles new to ensure they were complete, but I also got donations from puzzlers who had completed a puzzle and didn’t want the challenge of doing it again.

Board games were also popular, especially those that could be completed in a short session like Chinese Checkers, Trouble, Ludo, Snakes and Ladders and Junior Scrabble but there was also the opportunity for students to continue a longer game like Monopoly over a couple of days because I had the luxury of space to keep it set up near the circulation desk. It amazed me how well students respected their friends’ games and did not touch them during the day. To ensure fairness, students could sign on to play the next round which would include the winner of the previous game.  Chess was also popular and we had many chess sets donated after a local club introduced the students to the game at the instigation of a teacher with a passion for it. Two students who had often been seen as trouble-makers in the playground organised a Round Robin competition and one lunchtime a week, all the library tables were set up for this. Suddenly the boys had a purpose and a responsibility and not only did their attitudes changes, but the attitudes of students and teacherstowards them also shifted. They were popular rather than pariahs.  Students were encouraged to bring in their own games too and often the popularity of one of these determined the library’s next purchase. However, parents were also very generous and donated games too, often instead of a book for the Birthday Book Club.

Some of our Asian students also introduced their friends to the mysteries of Mah Jong which soon became as popular as chess and brought community members in as teachers and mentors, strengthening the ties between home and school and amongst the community, which had a broad ethnic base.

Card games also proved popular with Uno an enduring favourite while many learned to play gin rummy, euchre, whist, 500 and Hearts from their peers and teachers who also dropped in to be challenged.  (I have always taught Vingt-et-Un as a way to get students proficient in rapidly counting to 21.) 

As well as the actual games there was a significant collection of books in the Pick-a-Puzzle section that was always popular as students pored over pages to find Wally or travel through mazes or solve clues to progress through an adventure. This lead to the creation of  our own version of Where’s Wally as students created clues about where in Australia he might be for their friends to unravel, as well as The Quizzard of Oz, still going strong as Backpack Bear.

The Pick-a-Puzzle collection was always popular.

The Pick-a-Puzzle collection was always popular.

Some of the enduring memories for me of these games sessions are the camaraderie between the players, the gentleness and patience that experienced students showed as they taught younger or inexperienced children how to play, the willingness to abide by the rules and the acceptance that it is OK to lose, because, after all, it is only a game, even though it might be instilling life lessons.

Computer games were beginning to make an appearance although hand-held devices like Donkey Kong were discouraged at school and mobile phones were not what they are today.  However, there is a growing body of literature that is exploring how popular games can have significant value in the learning process both in the library and in the classroom.  MindShift examines Beyond Grades: Do Games Have a Future As Assessment Tools? and How game-based learning teaches problem solving in context while Russ Pitts examines how video games can change the world, one child at a time.  and Dean Groom asks What’s holding schools back from using games in class? In the Winter 2013 edition of YALSA (Young Adult LibraryServices)– Vol. 11, Number 2, entitled Minecraft Programs in the Library: If you build it they will come by Erica Gauquier and Jessica Schneider, and there have been a number of discussions in the Scootle Community about its use in the school context.  Judy O’Connell has also blogged about it in her Hey Jude blog post Building the (Minecraft) lost city of Babylon In fact there is new literature being published almost daily demonstrating that this is a hot topic that the teacher librarian not only needs to know about but also should be taking the lead in sharing the literature and starting the conversations.

If, like me, you feel you don’t know enough about the online gaming learning environment, then Games MOOC offers an open course designed for educators who want to learn more about games, simulations and game-like environments for education. It is designed for all levels of participation and a new course will start in July 2014.  You can look at what has been offered previously to determine whether this would be of benefit.

In the meantime, Blake J Harris has traced the development of the videogame and he has identified 10 Video Games that Book Lovers will enjoy Some of them go way back to console systems like Atari so might not be easy to access, but if you read the comments at the bottome there are other suggestions to explore too. There is also the NMC On the Horison video to view, while the School Library Association New South Wales is holding a gamification conference in August 2014 but if you can’t get to , the page offers some names of people to follow in this field.

Putting on the game-player’s hat offers the TL a number of opportunities…

  • It enables students to see that the library is about more than the circulation of books and it might offer something of interest for them
  • Creating a display of resources that include instructions for playing popular games, the history of games and even unusual, historic or rare games may encourage a shift from player to reader
  • Students may well take their knowledge and enthusiasm for a particular game home to their families, opening up new conversations and entertainment options
  • Providing students with opportunities to play games not only gives them social and gaming skills they can take beyond the school walls, but also provides experience to create their own game, a common end-product of a classroom-based study
  • Providing teachers with professional articles about the relevance of games within the curriculum not only expands their professional knowledge, but also offers them another tool with which to connect to students, as well as demonstrating the TL’s leadership and being at the cutting edge of new initiatives
  • Providing the powers-that-be with professional articles may influence their thinking about the use of mobile devices within the school and loosen some of the tight restrictions that have been imposed
  • Drawing families into the library for a Family Games Night like the more traditional Family Reading Night offers another avenue to promote the library and its services to parents, including those who share their child’s perspective that a library has nothing to offer them.

Because Games and Gamification has been identified as one of the 18 top trends in the 2014 NMC Horizon Report K-12 edition,  the game-player’s hat might become a game-changing one!

 

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the read-aloud hat

hat_read_aloud

 

 

 

Last week I put on my casual relief/substitute’s hat and over three days I taught ten classes – over 250 children aged between four and nine.  And each of those children heard at least one story read aloud to them as part of a series of lessons I’d prepared in consultation with the regular TL and their classroom teachers.

But was I exploiting my position and offering “a fallback lesson” because I hadn’t planned “something more engaging and creative” , doing something that “a clerk…a parent or even a higher level student could do” as I sat “in front of a bunch of students holding a book — usually with a lot of pictures –” while I contorted  myself “to occasionally show the kids a picture — which cannot possibly be seen by the kids in the back row”? Even though I “know how to read” (so presumably the activity was not adding to my professional learning), were the children merely sitting there “engaged(?) in a basically passive activity”?

This was an observation posed on an international teacher librarian message board this week – posed not by a parent or a principal, but by an instructor in library science in a US university whose job it is to observe and mentor those who wish to join our profession as they undertake their practica as part of their learning journey.  The inquirer admitted that his entire career had been spent in the secondary sector but it is very disturbing that one whose job is to guide those who will follow in our footsteps had not bothered to acquaint himself with the very fundamentals of what it is to be a teacher librarian in a primary/elementary school where supporting the development of reading skills is as critical as supporting the development of research skills. Because if a child cannot read, how can they conduct effective and efficient research?

As many respondents indicated, the read-aloud hat is one of the most important in our wardrobe.

If reading to children were common instead of a rarity, we’d be facing fewer academic and social problems in this nation.

Trelease, J. 2001 The Read-Aloud Handbook 5th ed., New York: Penguin

 

In  Reading Magic, which international literacy consultant and children’s author Mem Fox believes may be  “the most important contribution I have made to the world” the benefits of reading aloud to a child from the day it is born are explicit. Reading aloud to a child in the first four months of its life is critical for laying down the foundations for successful reading later.

This book is a must-read for every teacher librarian and a must-have in every collection for teachers AND parents to borrow.  In Chapter 2, The Magic in Action, Fox describes a 15-minute session she spent with three-year-old Ben during which they shared three books and the joy and delight both experienced as they did. Apart from anything else, it was all about two people having a great time together.

Engaging in this kind of conspiracy with children is perhaps the greatest benefit of reading aloud to them… The fire of literacy is created by the emotional sparks that fly when a child, a book and the person reading make contact.

 

Listening to Possum Magic at just three days old - ten years on,  she's now reading everything!

Listening to Possum Magic at just three days old – ten years on, she’s now reading everything!

Sadly, many parents don’t, won’t or can’t read to their child during those critical early years and so it becomes the teacher’s and the TL’s job to do so. Through reading aloud, the child learns

  • the sounds and nuances of the language it is likely to speak most fluently throughout their life.  By 12 months the connections in the brain have been made and no matter what, no other language will ever become as natural as the one heard during that time.  Children cannot learn to talk without being spoken to and sharing a story and having a conversation about it brings a new dimension to the everyday topics introducing new ideas and understandings as well as introducing new words and ways to express them, building their confidence to speak in front of others
  • the abilty to concentrate for an extended period of time so the full story can be enjoyed, even savoured; the ability to solve problems and begin to predict, understand cause and effect; and the ability to participate in tricky situations and life lessons at arm’s length using their existing knowledge while being able to take risks in a very safe environment
  • the language of books through phrases such as ‘once upon a time’ and ‘happily ever after’; through the formal grammar of the writng; through the rhyme and rhythm and repetition of the words; through the expression used as characters are assumed and they hear what their own inner voice should sound like in different situations
  • concepts about stories allowing them to go beyond their everyday lives, flying on imaginary journeys, meeting amazing people and taking part in spectacular events; concepts about stories being complete entities contained in a physical vessel; concepts about print and pictures, their purpose and how they work
  • about the cultures, ideologies, socioeconomic circumstances, and timeframes, that the stories they hear span and this enables them to bridge the gap between what is and what is imagined
  • to imagine, and as Einstien (Saturday Evening Post, 1929)  proclaims “imagination is more important than knowledge”. Without imagination we cannot predict, pretend, or propose – critical elements of problem solving 
  • how characters are developed and the issues and dangers of stereotyping; how mood and atmosphere can add to the interpretation;
  • the foundations of the information literacy process as they hear questions modelled, learn to read the pictures, participate in discussions, consider perspectives and justify their point of view
  • that reading opens up a world of topics, genres, authors and series that they might never discover for themselves

But most importantly, they learn that  reading is fun; it is valued by the adults in their lives so it is a worthwhile skill to have and activity to participate in; and it is something they can succeed at and enjoy. Rather than just showing them the path that leads to a world of wonder, reading aloud to them helps take them along it. If you or your colleagues and community are still not convinced then read the research… Reading to Young Children: A Head-Start in Life by a partnership arrangement between the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research or  The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease.  (He even offers free, downloadable brochures to display or distribute.)

However, reading aloud isn’t enough if it doesn’t engage the listener.  While Mem Fox focuses on the parent-child relationship and the privilege of sharing stories at bedtime to close the curtains on the day, the TL is more often in a 1:many situation in less-than-ideal circumstances.  To help address this I’ve written The Art of Reading Aloud.  It focuses on

  • creating a special space
  • choosing the story
  • setting the scene
  • the art of reading aloud

This last section is critical because it is the performance part – the part that will leave the lasting impression and leave the child wanting to be entertained that way again whether they are sharing a one-stop picture book or a serial spread over several reading times. It encourages you to watch children’s programs which share stories and model how the listeners are engaged and then practice, practice, practice.  If I can have a group of 9 year-old boys entranced in The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka or 12 year-olds absorbed in The Pain and the Great One by Judy Blume (both picture books written for a younger audience) then anything’s possible.

Reading aloud does not stop just because students are old enough to read for themselves and so it’s abandoned.  But there are many reasons why we should continue to read aloud well beyond that.

This blog post  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  is the story of the bond formed between a father and daughter through reading aloud. 

Whether you are reading aloud to your child or to a class, do it as well as you can – you are conveying much more than the words on the page.

The read-aloud hat is so important we must wear it well and wear it with pride.

 

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