Over the past couple of weeks there have been two significant events in school libraries in Australia – the start of the school year and Library Lovers’ Day. And because the two can be linked directly, they present great teaching opportunities that can be solidly supported by outcomes from the Australian Curriculum, thus underpinning the Educate-Advocate Hat.
From conversations on several TL networks, it seems that many TLs use the first weeks of the school year to set the rules for the library. Rules which pertain to behaviour, circulation, the care of the resources and the other things required to have a smooth operation.
From other conversations on those same networks, to celebrate Library Lovers’ Day on February 14, many also asked their staff and students what they loved about their library, seeking affirmation of the role they do and the environment they provide. A common theme emerged from those heart-shaped affirmations – that of the library being a calm, peaceful safe harbour.
So, what if we combined those two concepts and started by asking the students what a safe harbour looks like to them?
If, as Stephen Covey suggests in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, we begin with “the end in mind”, and start with the premise that the library is seen as a safe haven and then work back from that to establish the behavioural expectations and personal responsibilities that would make it what everyone seems to want it? So that the “rules” are not imposed by an authority figure but developed co-operatively and collaboratively by those expected to follow them?
Under the self-management element of the Personal and Social Capability strand of the Australian Curriculum V9 , even foundation students are required to “co-create goals to assist learning when working independently or collaboratively” and so, such an approach can be the start of being able to do this.
Many TLs are showing classes the Bluey episode (ABC iview, Season 2, Episode 30) in which Bluey and Bingo are playing “library” together until their cousin Muffin arrives and causes chaos, thus offering an opening big-picture question of “Why do we need rules?” This, in turn, will help students understand that if there is to be a safe haven then there needs to be certain consistencies to ensure that things work for everyone. Having established the need for some rules, the discussion can then move to more specific questions relating to the sorts of things students expect to be able to do in the library, and then their suggestions for the sort of behaviours that will enable those things to happen. For example, they might say, “We like to read quietly.” So ask them how they could make sure this could happen. However, instead of accepting “Don’t talk”, have them express this in a way that reinforces the positive behaviour expected – “Use a quiet voice when you speak.”
While older students will be familiar with the school’s behavioural expectations and thus be able to frame and phrase those they want for the library, younger students will still be learning so it can be useful to use an “intermediary” such as Dr Booklove so the TL is not seen as yet another authority figure looming over them. Asking an errant child, “What would Dr Booklove like to see?” can often defuse situations because it puts the behaviour and its response into the third person.
Having established the expectations for general behaviour, this can then be extended to book care and circulation with the emphasis being on the individual student’s responsibility to others so that they can demonstrate both their social awareness and social management. Even older students can see that Muffin’s taking all the books means Bluey and Bingo miss out.
Although this approach will lead to different standards for the different age groups, this should be expected given the different levels of maturity and experience, (reflected in the AC outcomes) and is worthwhile because students are more likely to respect rules that they have had a hand in forming. And instead of becoming a ho-hum-here-we-go-again lesson for students to tune out of, by explicitly acknowledging their developing maturity and expected ability to develop self and group management skills, the TL is building relationships that will have deeper repercussions in the future as the students’ attitude towards the library as a positive place is reinforced. They will see it as the safe haven for learning and leisure that they desire, In addition, the TL can put on the educate-advocate hat as lesson plans are directly linked to outcomes that go beyond basic literacy development. Seems like win-win to me.