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the reader support hat

 

 

Ask any teacher librarian what their core business is and somewhere in a relatively short list will be a phrase relating to enabling and supporting students to be effective, efficient, independent readers.  Whether that be preschool, primary, secondary or tertiary and referring to reading for pleasure or reading for research, the development of reading is at the heart of what we believe and at the heart of what is expected by our communities.

If there were a magic bullet to enable everyone to achieve the goal, then it would have been discovered by now and the continual arguments about phonics versus whole language would be silent; politicians would be basking in the glory of having a 100% literate community and publishers would be providing resources that meet the criteria. The teacher librarian’s role would be easy – just provide the resources to meet the students’ interests.  Needs or abilities would not be a concern.

But the simple truth is that, like everything, there is no one way.  We are individuals and the way our brains are wired and the way we learn to read are as individual as our DNA and our fingerprints.  So why then, does learning to read and then developing and honing the skill have to be such a competition?  While the “finishing line” is reasonably clear, why do we demand that all cross the line at the same time?  Instead of paving the way for a smooth and safe journey, why do we pepper it with obstacles to climb over or manoeuvre around?

As the new school years looms in Australia and New Zealand – back-to-school advertising starts the day after Christmas – and mid-year assessments and reports are gearing up in northern hemisphere schools, there seems to be a rise in the need to be able to show that students have improved (or will improve) as the result of programs and practices and that the only way to demonstrate this is through quantitative data and comparison with other students. 

Thus schools, teachers and ultimately TLs are looking for ways to measure this improvement whether it be through schemes that require students to have gained a certain number of points by responding to their reading; demonstrating that they have read a certain number of books or for a certain number of minutes; or moved through certain, arbitrary levels of achievement as though reading is a road with clearly defined bus stops on the way; or some other method that brings in an element of competition with other students.  (And don’t be fooled – kindergarten kids know about good, better, best.)

The educational buzzword of the moment is “accountability” and my recent experience back in a primary school showed that teachers are spending more time teaching to a test so they can collect data than they do celebrating the joy of learning – the cry of “there’s no fun anymore” was common amongst experienced teachers like myself; less-experienced teachers were bemoaning that the job they did and they job they believed they should be doing were poles apart; and students were learning that school was all about jumping through hoops and being tested to prove you could jump as high as the next person.  That it was all a huge competition that you had to win to succeed and if you didn’t you may as well tattoo ‘failure’ on your forehead.

Don’t get me wrong – I do believe that we need to monitor students’ progress but in a way that enables us to support their individual development by providing support or extension where it is appropriate.  In regards to reading, back in the 70s when I began my initial teacher education in New Zealand, Dr Marie Clay was examining the reading behaviours of the very young and amongst a lot of other ground-breaking stuff, introduced the concept of running records which meant the teacher noted the child’s strategies as they read aloud and was able to make decisions about what support the child needed to become more independent. a running record enable the teacher to see what strategies the child had already internalised so these were not taught over and over unnecessarily, with the instructional focus falling on those strategies that needed refining.  It was about improving teaching not measuring learning.

In her book, Reading in the Wild Donalyn Miller found that by Year 6 the majority of students viewed reading as a means to an academic end, not a source of pleasure in and of itself.  Given that the five-year-old goes to school with the firm belief that they will be reading by the end of the first day what is it that we, as their educators do, that changes them in six or seven short years? What have we done to kill the joy of the printed word and the things it can teach us and the places it can take us?

So what role does the teacher librarian have in ensuring that that core business of assisting students to be independent readers, able to access, understand, interpret and manipulate text? Recent conversations on and in professional forums suggest that there are two camps when it comes to wearing the reader support hat,

The first camp comprises those who believe that their role is to be guided by teaching staff who see the library’s role as purely an adjunct to their teaching programs and support mandates that students should only borrow books that are at their reading level; that they should be able to read everything they borrow; that books must be of a certain type, format or length; that they should support a particular topic or focus within the classroom. They believe that students should choose from a pre-selected range, particularly restricting younger ones to picture books or those with plenty of photos, regardless of whether the child might share their choice with a parent or sibling and often agree to label or shelve the books, supposedly to make choice easier but in effect proclaiming the child’s ability or lack of it to peers. This is despite the mounting evidence that reading levels are inaccurate, vary according to the measure used for the exact piece of text, and the means for establishing a child’s reading level are also problematic.

Three Myths about Reading Levels ..and why you shouldn’t fall for them

Reading is an interactive process, so the difficulty or ease with which a particular reader can read a particular text depends in part on his or her prior knowledge related to the text and motivation for reading it.  

In other words, a student’s reading choices are not independent, free, interest-driven and satisfying the need of the moment.

The second camp comprises those who believe in free voluntary choice so that students can be in control of their own reading journey and be empowered by and positive about having that control. They can shape their own reading journey; learn what they like and dislike; learn how to discard what doesn’t appeal for whatever reason; acknowledge that they will find some books easy and others more difficult (as happens in real life depending on our experience with the topic); explore a whole variety of worlds, characters, situations and opinions so their horizons are broadened in ways that only reading can do; challenge themselves to take new paths and detours; be challenged and perhaps changed by what they encounter and thus become better informed; become independent, critical, discriminating readers reflecting the real-world experience rather than some artificial domain. They can choose to extend themselves to read more challenging materials about unfamiliar topics or they can seek comfort in something that offers them support in a time of need. They can walk out with the thickest book in the library because that bolsters their self-esteem and image amongst their peers and regardless of whether it can or will be read, keeps a positive message about the joy and wonder of reading flowing.

Perhaps it is time to re-visit our core beliefs about what teaching and learning are and how those beliefs feed our programs and practices and how our programs and practices reflect those beliefs, while also examining our vision statement and what we believe a best-practice, top-shelf library looks like.  As well as being the reader leader  we must also be the reader support.

Are we in a school where there has very much a one-size-fits-all  philosophy where students read class novels as a whole and move forward in a lock-step fashion?

Are we in a school where students are expected to read only within their “level” and where our collections are shelved according to those levels?

Are we in a school where reading is measured in the number of books read, minutes spent reading or points gained and rewards are offered on the basis of that?

Are we in a school where reading is seen as an academic competition where only the best will ever succeed because success is only measured by an academic score?

Are we in a school where the TL’s role is seen as the reading instructor rather than the reading facilitator, the “sage on the stage” instead of the “guide on the side”, to quote Jamie McKenzie

If we are, what are we as TLs who supposedly have the big picture in the frame, doing to change the environment so that the running track becomes more level and every child has the chance to cross the finish line at their own pace?

Have we reflected on our professional beliefs and practices and articulated what we believe the school library’s role in supporting literacy to be?

Are we in a school that values individual difference and the importance of literacy?

Have we read Donalyn Miller’s books, or Readicide by Kelly Gallagher or the writing of Stephen Krashen so that our personal professional learning and understanding is up to date?

Are we aware of the research about the value of independent reading and the school’s role in this such as the Kids & Family Reading Report AND are we sharing this with our colleagues, executive and parents?

Are we encouraging students to set their own personal goals relating to reading so their journey becomes their own, one which they are in charge of and for which they can make their own decisions? Are we rewarding them in a way they feel is appropriate when they achieve their goal?

Are we supporting them through open-ended challenges such as Dr Booklove’s Reading Challenges, Joy Millam’s Challenge or that from Naomi Bates?

If students are required to respond formally to some of the titles they have read, are we offering a variety of ways that they can do this?

Do our circulation policies and practices support children’s choosing and choices as well as frequent, regular access to a wide range of resources?

Are we sensitive to and supportive of the needs of our clients, including those in different family structures, those for whom English is not their first language, those who are exploring their gender orientation, those who have learning difficulties generally and so on?

Are we sharing information about learning to read with the parent community as well as suggestions for the sorts of books they could investigate for their children?

If, through that reflection we find there is a mis-match between our personal beliefs and our professional environment then we need to ask ourselves hard questions about our choices of staying, challenging and changing or finding ourselves a position more in tune with those beliefs.

But in the meantime, with the current climate of testing and assessment and accountability and so on, which is only likely to increase sadly because of the associated high-stakes outcomes like funding, I don’t know how we can get the powers-that-be to rethink what they are doing and what they require of us, if we are required to do a formal assessment on what we cover in the library on the literature side of things, perhaps this may be a strategy that can be adopted and adapted as necessary.  

I believe that if we are to encourage students to be lifelong readers, we have a responsibility to engage the kids in the love of story, the magic of words, the rhythms of the language and so on that we can and be as inventive as possible in our assessment tasks so they are hands-on, developmentally appropriate demonstrations of what students have learned.  Not just endless worksheets and book reviews.

One way of managing the data collection is to identify the outcomes you need to address and choose a range of stories that will enable you to do this.  Share these stories over a number of sessions but instead of trying to assess every student on every story, just target a few for each session.

Have in mind those students and monitor their participation in the discussions and if they are not participating (perhaps they are swamped by those more vocal) then ask them a question directly that will help you mentally assess their capability.  If possible, make notes about the target students at the end of the session so you don’t forget what you learned. 

If you have a collection of stories then you can introduce the concepts you are focusing on cumulatively with each one by saying something like, “Remember when we read… we thought about how being in a thunderstorm made us feel.  Well, our story today is set in the dead of night so I want you to think about how that might make you feel. And how it might change the way the characters in the story think and feel and act.”  If you start your assessments with the kids you know will pick the concepts up quickly, this cumulative, spiral reinforcement will give those not-so-confident students time to build up their own mindset so when they become your target group for the session they have been set for success.  And in the meantime you’ve helped them all engage more with the story, increased their understanding of the sorts of techniques authors and illustrators use and kept them engage with story and reading as a whole.

Use your curriculum and talk with the teachers to identify those things that you will focus on during your time with the students so they are then free to focus on other elements. This not only creates a partnership between you but explicitly demonstrates how you can assist them in lessening their workload. It is unlikely that the PTB will pull back from what the curriculum currently demands – it’s as though those who write the curricula are in competition with each other to see who can get their students doing things faster, regardless of any developmental considerations or long-term interest in keeping them reading –  because that will be seen as dumbing down the curriculum and they won’t wear that.

There are so many ways we as teacher librarians can support our students’ reading so that it becomes a choice rather than a competition and we need to be their loudest voice so that each of them has the right to be a winner in whatever way that looks for them.

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the school-home reading hat

hat_school-home

 

 

 

 

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

quote1

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

Program for International Student Assessment, 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ageless rewards of reading aloud– Margaret Robson Kett

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease (Penguin)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

what_kids_want

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

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

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

icdl

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

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

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

Above all, just let them read.

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the presenter’s hat

hat_presenter

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Know your audience

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

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

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

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

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

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

Know your topic

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

preservice

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

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

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

politician

 

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

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

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

 

Know how to present

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

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

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

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

 

 

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the transition hat

hat_transition

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

retirement

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

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

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

people

people

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

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

 

paperwork

paperwork

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

 

passwords

password

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

 

practicalities

practicalities

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

 

peripherals

peripherals

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

Other issues that are worth sharing include 

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

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

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

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

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

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the community service hat

hat_community_service

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Consider this article published in the New Zealand Herald  on August 18, 2012 where a principal quotes a letter by Judge Phillip B. Gilliam of Denver, Colorado, published on December 17, 1959, and addressing those now called the Baby Boomers…

community_service_article

 

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

world_living_meme

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

It was highly successful and has been adopted and adapted in schools around the world wishing to have a more formal community service program. Apart from the community service component, such programs also develop leadership skills and a solid work ethic which can then be transferred to  broader community situations.

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

Other in-house community services can include such things as 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas for the children of Charleville

Christmas for the children of Charleville

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

 


All Black Day: Christchurch earthquake appeal, 2011

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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the santa’s hat

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

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

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

 

Christmas Countdown

Create a literary countdown for the Christmas season.  Wrap a season-centred book for each school day, create a display that entices anticipation and invite teachers and parents to be guest readers during a lunchtime session. You need to start collecting titles early so there is diversity from those shared in the classroom.  To help you I’ve added the tag Christmas Countdown to appropriate reviews on The Bottom Shelf and with new reviews in the pipeline, there is a range of titles from Australia and beyond.

The Christmas Countdown has been very popular.

The Christmas Countdown has been very popular.

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

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

 

Santa’s Bookshop

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

Create an enticing invitation.

Create an enticing invitation.

An inviting entry heightens the wonder.

An inviting entry heightens the wonder.

Walls and bulletin boards can be used for festive backdrops.

Walls and bulletin boards can be used for festive backdrops.

Vignettes add interest and opportunities to promote titles.

Vignettes add interest and opportunities to promote titles.

 

Involve others

Classes were given cheap umbrellas to convert into Christmas trees.

Christmas trees made from umbrellas.

Christmas trees made from umbrellas.

 

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

Faculties contribute their own displays

Faculties contribute their own displays

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

 

Create a display

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

 

The Giving Tree

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

A Giving Tree for children in drought-stricken remote Australia

A Giving Tree for children in drought-stricken remote Australia

 

Your ideas

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

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

Colette D. Eason

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

Vivian Harris

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

Joanne Ligamari

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

Cathy Lawrence

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

Naomi Bates

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

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

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

The students get sentimental when they reminisce.

Dianne Gill

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the 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.

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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 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 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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