Archive by Author | Barbara Braxton

the safe harbour hat

 

 

 

 

 

As children of the 50s my brother and I knew what a safe harbour meant, literally.

Growing up in a small port town, we would roam the beaches, the rocks and the wharves until the tide or the weather turned or it got dark. The chances of us getting into strife were minimal as all the while we were supervised by invisible eyes all of which knew us and our parents and grandparents.

I was Queen of all I could see....

I was Queen of all I could see….

But times have moved on and not all children have that same carefree childhood.  Too many students have so many impediments in their lives that the routine of going to school is their one security, although sadly for a number it is school itself that is the impediment.

Across the globe and the generations libraries have been a safe haven for those in need, and the school library is no different,  How many stories do we hear in which the teller refers to seeking sanctuary in the library during breaks in the school day?  How many times does a teacher librarian state that the library’s role as a safe harbour is one of its key functions?

However, is it enough to offer just a safe physical environment for those seeking refuge, or is there more we can do to reach out to these students?

the invisibility cloak

Many students try to be invisible at school.  If they blend into the background then perhaps the tormentors and the demons won’t find them and they can be safe for a little while.

But being invisible is not a natural part of the human condition. In a recent hospital stay, as sick as I was, I still found a natural need to be more than someone’s case study, more than the patient in Bed 2, more than another face on a pillow, or body in a bed. Even though I had something rare and life-threatening, I needed to be Barbara, a unique individual who had something to say and something to offer. So I found myself telling people that I had been a teacher for 50 years; that I lived in the peace of the bush and the noise and busyness of the city hospital was overwhelming; that my mum was a pioneer for female journalists… anything that might strike up a conversation and a relationship that took me beyond invisibility and anonymity.

And so it needs to be with those who choose the library as their safe place, because our self-esteem and self-worth are inextricably entwined with our sense of belonging, the belief that we matter to others and their perception of us (or what we believe it to be.) So, even some thing as simple as saying, “Good morning, Jemima” (where knowing and using the student’s name is critical) has a sub-text that tells Jemima that

  • she is worthy enough for you to acknowledge her presence
  • she matters enough to you that you have made an effort to recognise her, know her name and use it
  • her struggles are recognised and you have acknowledged her courage in coming to school today even though that might have been very difficult for her

That, in itself, might be the reason she comes to school again tomorrow.

going further

Being the teacher librarian can be an isolated role making it tricky to form the essential relationships that are necessary for optimum learning, and often we are not included when the stories of students are shared around the conference table with teachers and counsellors.  But I maintain we should step forward and put ourselves in the stories of those who are the regulars seeking that lunchtime bolthole because we might just have the key that unlocks a whole lot of potential.

First stop is the student’s primary teacher, the one who has the pastoral care because they are most likely to know the back story and be able to give you an insight into the child’s likes, interests, and preferences.  For example, some students can’t cope with public praise but may respond to a quiet word; some may have a specific talent such as art that you could draw on for improving the library landscape; some may have a specific interest in a field that  you expand and explore together; some may be computer wizards that you can capitalise on; some may like to help the younger ones find what they are looking for; some may be craving a bit of responsibility and respect… each of us has something to offer if only someone would take the time to discover it and draw it from us.                 

Armed with this knowledge  and that of your own observations, consider how you can subtly include the student in the running of the library or helping others or meeting new friends. Perhaps the computer person could be responsible for ensuring the computers are back to the login screen at the end of the session; the fantasy fan could make a list of “If you liked…then try…”; the artist could revamp signs and displays; the budding archaeologist could develop a display; the music fan might develop a playlist of background music; the Minecraft expert might help up-and-comers; the OCD student might keep the shelves in order and neat – whatever might acknowledge their talents and interests and put them to positive use.  Apart from reinforcing their knowledge that you have taken the time to find out about them as an individual and taken the first steps in building a connection, often the distraction might be that day’s circuit breaker that puts a happy memory in the bank for the day.

It could even be a turning point, as it was for two lads in Year 5 who did not have the most positive reputation among staff or students until I put them in charge of a project for charity.  We were collecting  gifts for children whose families were so badly affected by drought there was little likelihood of Christmas that year. The change in the boys when they were entrusted  with some responsibility was remarkable and not only within themselves, but also in the eyes of the other students.  What had been shaping up to be a tricky Year 6 turned into being the best year for them and their peers as the goodwill was carried over.

Similarly for Ava, a student struggling with literacy and forming relationships. We talked about how she could cover an ugly, empty space with a display of her choice and her choice so excited her that her grandmother and I had many conversations about how she was driven at home to make it better and better and suddenly literacy wasn’t a problem any more.  Her teacher was astonished that somehow we had found the hook and she was off. 

As teacher librarians we are not psychologists or counsellors and we should  not expect that we will solve the student’s issues.  But if we accept Glasser’s Choice Theory   that the choices we make are in response to satisfying one of the five basic needs – survival, love and belonging, power, freedom and fun – using what we have at that point in time with the information available to us, then through observation and conversation we might just make the connection that means the student will come to school tomorrow feeling better than they did today. They will know they are neither invisible or anonymous, they belong and can contribute, they have unique knowledge and skills that can help others, and there is hope that things will move forward.

From little things…

Even little ports can harbour big ships.

              

the first week hat

What does your first week of “library lessons” look like?

Have you programmed the usual round of sessions where students are reminded of where to find things, how to borrow them, how to look after them and how to behave? Another barrage of I-talk-you-listen  Another barrage of white noise that confirms their belief that the library is a place for downtime for them?

Or have you planned something to stimulate their thinking and reflecting on what they know, where they talk and you listen and together you build an anticipation and excitement for the year ahead?

Thirty years ago, in Mathematics Education for a Changing World,, Stephen S. Willoughby identified that by Year 6 what was taught to students was 38% new and 62% was revision of what was already known and it was not until Year 9  that the “new” outweighed the known. This raises serious issues about motivation, attention levels and zest for learning. So if for six years or more, students come to the library in that first week and hear what they have always heard, then they will do what they always do – tune out, see little value in the library and what it offers, and join the majority of students who, Miller discovered,  saw reading anything as just an imposed means to an end.

Yet those first sessions could be so much more.  They could be an opportunity to build the platform for the rest of the year so that library time, particularly if it covers teacher preparation time, becomes meaningful, dynamic, productive and anticipated.

In the series All You Need to Teach Information Literacy that Macmillan Education commissioned me to write some years ago, I started each year level’s units with one that focused on the students reflecting on what they already knew about libraries to encourage both students and the teacher librarian to consider what still needed to be learned and to build their programs on that.

By using opened-ended questions and whatever format suits the age group (class discussion; think, pair share; individual written responses) students can identify and share their knowledge and understandings so the TL can ensure that their forthcoming learning was new, challenging and productive.

For ease of organisation, I’ve sorted the focus questions into year levels but they are designed to be mixed and matched according to circumstances (and avoid repetition)..

Kindergarten

  • What is a library?
  • Who can use the library?
  • What sorts of things can you find there?
  • What sorts of things can you do there?
  • Who is there to help you?

Year 1

  • What is your favourite part of the library?
  • Can you usually find what you are looking for?
  • If you wanted a book about … where would you find it?
  • Do you understand why some things are found here and others there?
  • How do you borrow something you want to take home?
  • How do you look after it when it is at home?
  • Is borrowing a book the only thing you can do in this library?

Year 2

  • What do you know about our school library?
  • What do you think new students would need to know about it?
  • How could you help them learn about this library?

Year 3

  • Why is the library the hub of the school community?
  • How do you use the library for learning? For recreation?
  • Once you have selected a fiction title, how do you find others by the same author or others in the series?
  • Once you have selected a non fiction title, are you able to navigate it so you find the information you want easily and quickly?
  • What could you do to make the library a better place?

Year 4

  • Why do we have libraries?
  • How are libraries organised so you can find what you want efficiently and effectively?
  • Why are they organised this way?
  • What services, apart from the circulation of resources, does this library offer?
  • Which do you use?
  • What else would you like to see offered?

Year 5

  • How can you use what you know about this library to help others use it?
  • How can you use what you know about this library to enable you to use other libraries?
  • If you have a need for information, do you have a sequence of steps you can follow to solve it?
  • Which ones are you comfortable with; which ones do you need support with?

Year 6

  • If your teacher sets you a research assignment, do you feel that you can undertake it successfully, even if you feel a bit nervous at the beginning?
  • What sequence of steps would you take?
  • Why is being able to do research important?
  • Why is being able to use a library efficiently and effectively important?
  • How could you help another student use the library and its resources to complete a research assignment?

An analysis of students’ responses, including examining what is NOT said as much as what is, can help you shape the focus of your program with lessons only limited by your imagination.

For example, little ones respond to stories in which toys, teddies and animals are placed in situations with which they are familiar so why not introduce a teddy or two to be the ‘new student” that they have to teach. It puts them in the teaching role which is always powerful, the teddy in the role of the learner, and enables those who may be new or unsure to avoid the direct spotlight, often one which marginalises them. Even Kindy Kids can be authors with the tried-and-true strategy of experience, photograph and caption growing to a class book to share. (The pride in taking it home and showing parents their page was tangible!)

Brinda and Bella, dressed in school uniform, were used to introduce and review library places and procedures.

Brinda and Bella, dressed in school uniform, were used to introduce and review library places and procedures. Each year a new teddy joined the Kindergarten class and accompanied them through to Year 6!

At the other end of the scale, senior students were appointed Junior Journalists. Each trio chose a role of reporter, photographer or editor (which rotated with new assignments) and were assigned a school-based event, person or  location to investigate and prepare a report for the school website so visitors to the site could get a deeper feel for the school. As well as gathering and preparing the information, they were required to document both their steps and feelings from beginning to end and many were reassured to discover that they were not the only ones who initially felt daunted and nervous at the start but liked the feeling of success and pride of the finished result. Being published in such an open forum also meant they had to be accurate and write carefully, and they could share their work beyond the family, a subtle way to showcase the work done in the library.

The Building Services Officer had a new-fangled GPS device so as part of a unit investigating the histroy and geography of the local area, he taught Year 6 how to use it! They learned a lot about latitude, longitude, maps and how to use them in a meaningful context.

The Building Services Officer had a new-fangled GPS device so as part of a unit investigating the history and geography of the local area, Year 6 asked him how it worked. They learned a lot about latitude, longitude, maps and how to use them in a meaningful context as their work became an integral part of introducing the school to the public via the website.

 

Meanwhile, inspired by this clip, students in the middle years were tasked with developing a glossary that explained how to use the cues and clues of both print and digital texts so they could navigate them easily and readily. They began with examining lots of texts for their assigned focus – contents, captions, headings, subtitles and so forth – and had to produce a definition of it. Combined, these became a go-to reference point for others. Again, putting them in the role of the teacher is powerful and empowering and ensures student-directed learning and a differentiated cussiculum.

Another character that students loved was Dr Booklove, who was essentially in charge of the library. In the first week little ones worked “with” him to create some guidelines for looking after the things they borrowed from the library and not only were these displayed as a large poster, they designed a bookmark with the list on the back to be given to every student to help them remember what was needed.  So even Kindy students became teachers. Older students also worked with him to determine what an orderly productive library time looked like when their class was there so both rules and consequences were collaborative, negotiated and age-appropriate.

Dr Booklove

Dr Booklove

The more learners are put in charge of their learning, the more invested and empowered they will feel; the more responsibility they are given, the more responsible they will be. So, having used their responses to identify gaps in their knowledge of library use and the information literacy process, look for ways in which they can become the teachers so whatever outcome you are seeking becomes not only an integral part of the learning but is embedded in a meaningful context which has purpose and allows them to transfer their new skills to new situations.

Apart from the increased engagement by the students in a model where they are the driver of their own learning, such an approach differentiates the curriculum allowing each to work at their own level of understanding.  Usually, some well-considered questions that address what you want them to eventually know, do, understand and value to initiate thinking are all that is required for the investigation to develop its own momentum, opening the doors to self-directed learning that really needs a minimum of formal planning by the TL. 

The first week sets the tone of what will follow for the year.  It can either be Ho Hum or WooHoo. 

the newbie hat

Your TL degree is so new and shiny that the dust hasn’t had time to settle on its frame yet, but in a few short weeks you are going to be stepping into your dream job – the one you’ve been thinking of for years and have undertaken hundreds of hours of gruelling study to achieve.

Yet even though you might have excelled in your assignments and learned that being a TL is so much more than being a reading expert and circulating books, where you once thought you had this thing mastered, suddenly your brain is empty and you’re wondering where on earth you start.  There just seems so much to do, and that you want to do but where to begin?

Firstly, go back to your initial learning about information literacy and recall the work of Carol Kuhlthau who examined the affective domain of taking on a new research task. (If you’re not familiar with her work, then that should be your first professional learning task because it will give you great insight into how students feel and respond.)  Understand and accept that the feelings of being uncertain and overwhelmed are natural and common, take a deep breath and be kind to yourself.

 

Information Search Process

Information Search Process

One of the reasons that we do feel as though we’ve just hit a wall is because we have so many ideas that the starting point is not clear. This is the time for clarity of thought and action and the best way is to break the task down into immediate, short, mid and long term goals.  Time management is critical and Stephen Covey’s Habit 3 of putting first things first is a very useful mantra., as is his matrix for managing tasks.

Time Management Quadrant

Time Management Quadrant

Learn to ask yourself these questions…

  • Does this need to be done now or can it wait?
  • Is it more important than what I am doing right now?
  • If I don’t do it now, will that have an impact on other tasks that must be done?
  • Is it more important that the other things I have planned for today?
  • Will doing this help me achieve what needs to be done in the short, medium and long-term?
  • Does it require my time and attention or can I delegate?

If it helps, document the tasks you need to do and the ones you want to do so you don’t forget and when it comes time to develop a strategic plan  to develop and manage the library’s growth all those big ideas are not forgotten or overlooked.

But first things first… what is it that needs to be in place before the first staff and students come through the door on Day 1?

There are two different scenarios – are you moving into an established library or are you starting a brand new one – but the tasks merge very quickly. If it is an established library, see if there has been anything left for you from the previous TL; if it is a new library then you have a clean slate and will have a little more to do. But the focus is the same – having a facility that is up and running efficiently as soon as possible.

people

Relationships are the most critical part of the job and the impression you make first up will be the lasting one, and could quite well determine how the library is used long term. So…

  • meet the current library staff and ask them about their current roles and responsibilities, timetable and other pertinent information including their aspirations. So often in situations where you are new and they are not, situations arise where those who have become used to doing things in a particular way cling to those ways, perhaps as security, and toxic relationships build. Perhaps have a general chat over a cuppa to reassure them that you are a team player, that you will respect existing practices although these may change in light of current best practice but you are willing to discuss major differences so there is understanding on both sides
  • schedule time with your principal and supervisor to gain insight into their vision for the library and how it will support the school’s overall goals and contribute to teaching and learning. Even though what you take from this may become a long-term goal, it demonstrates that you want to become an integral part of the movement forward.
  • seek an overview 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
  • be prepared to give each child a fresh start regardless of any overdues or lost books from the previous year.  Build the relationship by letting  them show you their reliability and responsibility and acknowledge they are more important and the loss of a few books is the cost of doing business.  The long-term gain is worth the short-term loss. Read Corey’s Story.
  • investigate 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 Put on your students’ advocate hat  and be willing to listen to their needs and suggestions and implement those that make sense.  Remember, that for many the library is their safe haven and you really want to keep it that way.
  • understand 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. Discover who the most supportive staff members are, those keen to collaborate or who know the collection well and ask how you can support them.  Don’t ignore those who may be reluctant but a little positivity that your work is appreciated can be the lift you need in those early days.
  • identify any expectations and opportunities  for joining or leading  in-house or curriculum committees and play an active part in these.  Go beyond the traditional English faculty so you can demonstrate that the TL ‘s role is cross-curricula.
  • investigate outside contacts such as parent volunteers, 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

practicalities

Remember that all the teachers are bursting with the enthusiasm of a new school year and may be somewhat tunnel-visioned when they come looking for resources and so forth. They may not know or have forgotten that you are new and learning the roles, routines and responsibilities so…

  • if possible, be familiar with the library management system so you can do basic circulation tasks. If not, then just use old-fashioned pen and paper and record the teacher’s name and the resource barcode to add to the system later.  It might be tempting to get teachers to do this for themselves, but this is an easy way to establish a connection and learn names and faces
  • if a teacher asks for particular resources and you’re not familiar with the collection yet, make a note of it, follow through and deliver them as soon as you can even if it means going an extra mile.  It’s the manner in which you receive the request and the effort you make that will be remembered.  Understand your main job is to support their teaching so that’s your priority.
  • have a basket of lollies on the circ desk in those early days – teachers will appreciate and remember them!
  • offer to put together a tub of books to tide them over the first few days. Suggest a novel for that first read-aloud or have a display that they can select one from. Remember your first week on a new class and how manic it can be.
  • if you are in a primary school, do whatever is necessary for Kindergarten students to be able to take a book home on the very first day.  This is so important in establishing their beliefs about what “big school” is and their attitude towards using the library
  • create a display of new titles or “back to school” or something that will entice those who have been waiting for the library to reopen to come in and borrow
  • understand your teaching role, whether it is in a collaborative situation or covering teacher prep, and prepare for the first week’s lessons by focusing on understanding what the students know about the library and how they use it.  Ask them what a library is; what it should look like when they are there; and what they would like it to be. That gives you information about their perceptions; a collaborative set of “library rules” and some direction for the future while it gives them input and ownership as they show you what they know.
  • know the requirements and procedures for marking the roll and reporting absences
  • know, or create, 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
  • know the hours the library is open beyond core school hours including supervisory duties at break and lunchtimes. Work within your contract or award so you get your required breaks and ensure you know where the staffroom and toilets  are. Investigate how the library is used during inclement weather and your responsibilities during these times.
  • if you are required to supervise students who have ‘free’ periods, ask for information about expectations for attendance and performance such as whether they are required to undertake formal study or whether it is a time to chat and play games.  Know the hierarchy for behaviour management issues.
  • have a safe system for any keys in your care
  • clarify whether students are allowed to have food and drink in the library
  • know the location of and access to services like photocopying and laminating as well as supplies such as printer paper and any procedures for accessing these

paperwork

Paperwork can be both a boon and a bugbear and it certainly seems to be having a boom in teaching, with just about every thought having to be recorded and analysed.  However, it is critical to remember that the most important thing we do is build relationships with staff and students for without those, nothing else happens or matters. We must always keep in mind that we teach students NOT subjects. So…

  • investigate what paperwork already exists, or has been left for you.  If you are in an established library, be content to let this guide you until you have found your feet and your direction. If this is a new school library then there will be time enough to develop a Collection Policy and so forth and it will be all the better for your developing knowledge of the school’s ethos and needs.
  • in the absence of anything having been left, creating and/or finding the following may prove most useful…
    • a draft teaching timetable that provides a guide of expectations of the workload and its scope, including administrative duties and lesson prep time
    • a daily timetable indicating current hours the library is open, for whom and for what purposes, including period and break times and any formal supervisory duties
    • a 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. See this calendar of events for ideas for celebrations.
    • 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
    • requirements for contributing to social media, newsletters for faculties, the annual school report, sharing professional articles and so on, including the timeline, the process followed and 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 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 you can see the direction being taken at a glance (Just because the personnel changes, ratified policy shouldn’t have to.)
    • the library procedures manual and diagrams of common workflow tasks especially if they are done by or involve others
    • a list of “big picture” tasks recently completed or which need to be done such as inventory of a certain section
    • “cheat sheets” of essential information like logging into the circulation system
    • any social media policies and platforms used and how to access these if they are within your domain
    • 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
    • policies and 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 such as textbook management and equipment storage, maintenance and repair and the procedures for these
    • 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

In the ACT, where I worked, the first week of the year is devoted to professional development, and planning and preparation for the weeks ahead. Each year, my library manager and I hosted a  Brunch’n’Browse session. We put on a scrumptious lunch, had lots of pick-a-ticket prizes, distributed The Library Book, displayed  new releases, teacher reference, and whatever else we had to support the first-term school-wide theme, and gave teachers and teams plenty of opportunity to browse, talk, plan, ask questions, make suggestions, select their borrowing time…

New staff met us and saw what we had to offer and how we could help them, as well as meeting other staff informally.  Even though it took a lot of preparation, it set the tone for the library for the year and was one of the most effective things we did.

Jenny, my library manager, talking to the principal and teachers about our new resources. princi

Jenny, my library manager, talking to the principal and teachers about our new resources.

 

My other priority was to ensure that every Kinder Kid could borrow on their very first day and so Jenny worked really hard to ensure they were on the circulation system while I prepared library bags with essential information for parents including  Dr Booklove’s Share-A-Story guide and Hot Reader’s Challenge.

The first week’s lessons focused on students exploring the library, identifying what they knew and used and wished for, and developing their own behaviour expectations , all of which gave me insight into where the rest of the term’s program would go. I didn’t assume or presume their prior knowledge. For example, if they didn’t know how to locate resources using the OPAC then the next lesson would be pairs exploring it and writing instructions for others to use.  Those who were competent helped those that were not-so so each worked at their own level and achieved something useful, as well as opening up new social pairings that might not have otherwise happened.

Each school is unique because each child and staff member within it is unique, and so there can be no one-size-fits-all, 1.2.3 checklist that can be ticked off. Starting afresh could be seen as a new , final assignment where we use all those learning, research and organisational skills that we acquired to this new, practical situation. Just as with students, each of us is at a different point but hopefully these suggestions can be placed somewhere in that Covey time management matrix to make the transition from university student to fully-fledged TL easier.

the “I’m here” hat

 

 

 

 

 

This post is being written as the world is gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic and in the blink of an eye, schools, while technically still open in Australia, have switched to a remote-learning model that is based on the availability of and access to technology.  

Like those they teach, teachers have as many issues with learning to use new platforms, programs, apps and so forth and for many the learning curve has been steeper than that of the spread of the virus itself.  They are being bombarded from all sides with new demands and expectations from the government, the education authority, the principal, the parents, the students as well as trying to convert the curriculum to a totally new format; deal with copyright issues; source resources; deal with digital safety and privacy issues and so on and on through an endless list.

And that doesn’t factor in all the other variables that students and their families are dealing with… or, indeed, the teachers themselves. We cannot go behind the closed doors to see what privileges and obstacles there are – just know that they are many, unique and important to the individual.

Source unknown

And, somewhere, in the midst of the mayhem, is the teacher librarian.

In a setting where, under ordinary circumstances, their role is often neither understood nor valued, the current climate has become overwhelming. And what could be construed as their time to shine as the information specialist supporting teachers with a range of things, can become a time of even greater invisibility. Some have even expressed a fear that their jobs will no longer be there when normality returns because with no resource circulation, no books to cover and no need to teach during teacher prep time what is their purpose? They don’t have their own Google classrooms or video hangouts or whatever method is being used to connect with students so why waste a salary that could be spent on other stuff?

Yet this could be the brightest spotlight we have ever been in, for although we might not be teaching directly, we can still wear our teacher’s hat, using it not as being the ‘sage on the stage’ model which many see as the definition of ‘teacher’, but to draw on our underlying, fundamental knowledge of the development of the child, best-practice pedagogies matched to learning styles, and the span of the curriculum to evaluate and share all that we are being bombarded with so it becomes a targeted approach to support classroom-based teachers on their new journey, rather than scattergun, For example…

 

  • share these sorts of things with your parent body so they have access too, perhaps finding something new that captures their child’s imagination. and include information sites such as this one about the virus in many languages that you think will be useful to them
  • look for ideas that promote and consolidate learning at home that don’t require timetables or technology such as a scavenger hunt on a daily walk or creating an obstacle course from chalk on the footpath and share these with both staff and parents
  • find a book similar to We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, take an easily duplicated character from it and encourage children to make one and place it in their window for those out walking to find.  Change it up with a new story and character each week.

  • consider how you can get books in the hands of the students through your library management reservation system and some sort of click-and-collect opportunity
  • set up some reading challenges that encourage students to keep reading, or if your school is involved in a premier’s reading challenge facilitate this with information about how it can be continued at home
  • spend some time creating a library website that becomes a one-stop-shop for information about the library and its services, as well as links to resources to support the curriculum for both staff and students and trusted leisure sites – use Inside Out to help you determine the who, what, why . (The linked site was one I built years ago, before the cookie cutter approach and drag-and-drop, and was part of the main school site so there were crossovers.)
  • keep your own daily diary of things that you have done, learned, been grateful for, rewarded yourself with, the people you’ve reached out to and how so you can see that you are contributing and you are making a difference

If ever there were a time to put on the information specialist hat , it is now. To make visible what is often invisible. To be the guide on the side not the sage on the stage. To be the buttress to the foundations, rather than trying to be the whole building. This is why we have that masters degree on top of our teaching degree and to show that our specialist subject is information – acquisition, evaluation and dissemination – rather than the keeper of the books or an English teacher on steroids.

But above all, we must remember teaching is not a competition, and particularly during this time, it’s not about who was most able to replicate the in-school experience in a landscape that is so vastly different that it cannot duplicated or replicated.  Teaching is about relationships – every time we smile at a child we are validating their worthiness to be liked and loved – and whilst ever there is a camera and a screen between us, it will not be the same.  So just because the TL is not physically  front and centre of a group of students. either on-screen or not, their role in supporting teachers is critical if those teachers are going to be able to do a tenth of what is being expected of them. 

We must be kind to ourselves and to each other if we expect to be there for those in our care, either virtually or in reality.

This diagram (original source unknown) provides us with some options…

If we are overwhelmed and struggling despite the plethora of tips about how to cope and what to do that we are being bombarded with, then you can bet our colleagues are too. Reach out to someone today – send them an R U OK message and offer them an ear, a word of support, a resource that might make them laugh or relax. Be that safe haven that we offer to students to staff.  That’s what they will remember you for – the kind word, the acknowledgement of what they are doing, the personal touch from someone who ‘gets’ it = at a time when they hit the wall.

But most importantly we need to remember this…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the gardener’s hat

Wearing my volunteer’s hat, I am currently helping a colleague at a local school evaluate the collection and weeding all its sections in preparation for a major refurbishment later this year. At the moment all the shelves are cram-jammed full of books, many of which haven’t really seen the light of day since they were first placed there!  (You can tell because they are obviously unopened, are yellowing, have unused date due slips, have an “old book’ smell about them, in many cases a publication date of more than 20 years ago and it takes strong fingers to prise them from their neighbours.)

 

Unlike a lot of teacher librarians, I have no problems disposing of books and, working on the philosophy that if they are not good enough for our students then they’re not good enough for others – a view shared by my colleague – the recycling hopper is gradually being fed. 

But many have an emotional connection to books in print and find it difficult to throw them away, particularly if they are still in a reasonable condition.  It is almost like it is sacrilegious for a librarian to do such a thing.  Yet, we are quite happy to dispose of food that is past its use-by date, discard clothing that is no longer a good fit and even dig up plants that are growing in the wrong place in the garden in the name of “weeding”.

Not being prepared to put on our gardener’s hat is doing our clientele a disservice for unless we regularly appraise and evaluate the collection, the shelves just become more and more tightly packed, giving easy access to nothing rather than everything.  While non fiction seems to get a regular workover because information changes and we can’t expose our students to that which is out-of-date, how often do we turn our attention to our fiction collections – both novels and picture books? Many of the novels I’ve culled in the last few days were on the shelves when I first began my TL career 23 years ago; some were even around when I began my teaching career 47 years ago!  A quick check of the item’s record showed that if something had been borrowed at all, then it was done back in the 90s, so clearly there was unlikely to be a revival of its popularity.  Added to that, children’s reading habits and expectations have changed – now they prefer characters who represent their generation and at the very least, expect them to have access to the internet and a mobile phone (unless it is genuine historical fiction). Life has changed significantly in the last 30 years since the introduction of the World Wide Web and young readers expect this to be reflected in their reading materials.

Picture books are different, particularly those written for a young audience, because the themes of those are usually timeless, although there is a growing trend amongst authors to embed a message of either social or environmental significance within the plot, and so it is the battered and bruised of that format that generally find their way to the compost, hopefully with a newer brighter version of the most popular stories being planted in their stead.

Teachers’ resources seem particularly problematic because there are some who cling to old favourites of yesteryear despite the changes in best-practice pedagogy and curriculum.  However, when I was asked to tackle that section, I found it easiest to pull what was no longer current or relevant and place them on a table in the staffroom with a large notice saying “Help Yourself”. Those teachers who wanted their favourites could now have them permanently; that which was left filled the recycling bin!

Apart from teacher librarians having issues with disposing of materials, it also seems to be very wasteful to the non-professional eye and many have problems convincing principals, peers and parents that we have a duty to ensure that the collection meets the current needs, interests, expectations and abilities of our clientele.  To help combat this I have written Taking Stock which examines the need to undertake a regular inventory of the collection, and encouraging those who think it’s just an annual “counting of the books” to understand and share the underlying purposes and processes.

The Collection Policy should also address the deselection of resources in detail and the following is taken from the Sample Collection Policy I have written after many years of experience marking university assignments on this topic.   

De-selection of resources –the systematic and deliberate removal of unwanted items from the collection to ensure it remains current and relevant for its users—will be formally done during the mandatory annual stocktake, although it will also be an informal process undertaken throughout the year as needs arise.   The final decision for de-selection remains with the teacher librarian based on her professional knowledge of the needs, interests and abilities of the collection’s users, both staff and students.  This includes considering

  • regardless of age, retaining resources that are known to appeal to particular age groups such as the collection about dinosaurs for Kindergarten so their perceptions about the value of the library are developed and their expectations met
  • regardless of age, retaining fiction titles such as the Harry Potter series which have enduring appeal and use; works by authors whose appeal and popularity has been established and continues; and works which continue to support the curriculum such as historical fiction
  • students’ access to ICT within and beyond the school so there is anytime, anywhere access to information if required
  • students’ preferences for print resources over other formats, as well as the need, identified by current research, to develop literacy skills using traditional formats so that onscreen skills are enhanced
  • the provision of resources that will enable users to have a range to cross-check information for authority, accuracy, currency, objectivity and relevance

De-selection will be considered for items which

  • are dirty or damaged beyond reasonable repair   
  • are in a format no longer supported by available hardware
  • have information which is inaccurate, out-of-date, biased, racist, sexist or misleading
  • contain racial, sexual or cultural stereotyping as a predominant feature of the plot or characterisation
  • are unappealing in appearance or format
  • are inappropriate or irrelevant to the needs, abilities and interests of the library’s users
  • have significantly declined in circulation and unlikely to be popular or required again
  • have been superseded by newer editions that have greater aesthetic appeal
  • are unused duplicate copies

Digital resources will be deselected if

  • they meet any of the appropriate criteria above
  • links are no longer live
  • have altered terms and conditions of use which are unacceptable
  • have accompanying advertisements or other material which is inappropriate
  • have embedded links which lead to inappropriate sites
  • no longer comply with copyright
  • they are no longer deemed suitable for the use of students

In order to ensure the collection is up-to-date the following should be used as a guide to replacement times.

Dewey Classification Timeframe Type of Resource Timeframe
000 2-10 years Biographies flexible
100 5 -10 years Fiction individual basis
200 5-10 years Encyclopaedias 3 -5 years
300 2-10 years Reference individual basis
400 10 years Periodicals 3 -5 years
500 2-10 years Almanacs 3 years
600 2-10 years Ebooks Based on licence and hardware availability
700 5-20 years Audiobooks Based on licence and hardware availability
800 flexible Digital resources Based on curriculum needs, licence, hardware availability and software compatibility
900 5-10 years Teacher Resources Based on curriculum currency and compatibility
Maps, charts,posters, ephemera Individual basis

These criteria are to be used as a guide rather than a rigid set of rules. Consideration will also be given to keeping

  • classics, award winners, and titles likely to be in demand again such as the Harry Potter series
  • local history resources
  • school publications for archival purposes
  • titles on current reading lists
  • out of print titles that are still useful
  • biographical resources relating to prominent local, national and international figures
  • resources which might be of historical interest or for comparison at a later time

Culled resources will be written off in accordance with approved procedures, including amending the record in the library’s management system.  They will then be disposed of appropriately according to their reason for culling.  Most materials unsuitable for the school library are likely to be unsuitable for other libraries so careful consideration needs to be given to their final destination. 

Resources will be marked in such a way that it is clear they are no longer required, including defacing barcodes.

The sale of unwanted titles will to be within the guidelines of the educational authority’s financial procedures.

Disposal of resources is always a touchy topic – there are many who will be offended that those I’m dealing with now (and have in the past) are heading for recycling.  There are regular questions on the various TL networks for names of organisations that will take and re-home weeded resources, sending them to not-so-fortunate communities, often overseas.  But the cost of storage and shipping of such donations are exorbitant in many cases, and one wonders if it wouldn’t be better to have an in-house sale so students and staff could own their favourites and then donate the proceeds to those organisations and communities.

There is also the proposition that they could be shared in community refuges or other places where children might not have access to books of their own, but one wonders what message this sends to those children.  Are they only worthy of some old, musty second-hand library book with a defaced barcode and a blacked-out school stamp? Or would they, too, be better served by having books bought with the cash from those who choose to buy such a book?

Weeding books will always be contentious and controversial as people have an emotional attachment to books for a range of reason, unlike their relationship with other objects.  But if we are to serve our clients properly, in accordance with our mission statement, the school’s philosophy and ethos, and that of professional associations which guide us in best practice, then as teacher librarians we need to step beyond the personal into the professional, put on our gardener’s hat and weed our gardens regularly. That is how the rest of the collection will thrive.

This  article about handing the power and process of weeding the collection over to the students, is well worth your time for many reasons.  The process is linked to whatever the class is studying at the time and becomes a valuable selection skill that could be transferred to their selection of other resources for research in the future. The rubric is linked within in it but under “visual appeal” I would add something about the text’s layout because I have found that to be the first element a student uses to appraise the use of a book. 

the astrologer’s hat

 

 

 

The Cambridge Dictionary defines an astrologer as one who uses “the study of the movements and positions of the sun, moon, planets, and stars in the belief that they affect the character and lives of people” to to tell people how “they believe it will affect their lives”..

While the role of the teacher librarian might not be dependent on the alignment of heavenly bodies, sometimes predicting what it is that our clients will want to read or access is as nebulous as trying to predict the future. I well remember having the first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone come across my desk and while it was accessioned, I looked at the cover, which was not particularly eye-catching, and wondering who among my students would read it and having assigned it F ROW, assumed that it would be a shelf-sitter.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Then the chatter on the UK librarians’ listserv started and rather than being a shelf-sitter, it was centrepiece of a Fancy-a-Fantasy display complete with Hogwarts made with a cardboard box and plastic cups, Christmas lights and swathes of starry fabric. I scoured local stores for related merchandise, and snagged some unique pieces because Warner Bros  had not yet bought the rights and I even had permission from Bloomsbury to create an online quiz activity which was extremely popular!  As was I LOL!

But series like that which become a world-wide phenomenon are rare and so as mere Muggles we need to use more concrete cues and clues as to what is likely to be in demand with our readers this year.

Luckily, they are more plentiful than we might realise, and not only can we be ready to meet the demand we can even shape the fads and fashions.

Here are some suggestions…

  • Look at the calendar for perennial events such as back-to-school, Easter, ANZAC Day, Christmas and look to build up your collections for displays to celebrate these.
  • Literary events such as Library Lovers’ Day, National Simultaneous Storytime, World Book Day and Book Week also offer opportunities to introduce new titles, authors and genres to broaden students’ reading horizons, taking them down pathways they might not have even thought to explore.
  • Any special occasions that will be happening in the school or the community, such as the commemoration of an historic event, also provide a platform to be proactive with topics and genres to shape choices and perhaps start trends.
  • Websites such as IMDb and BookRiot provide advance lists of books that will be released as movies in the upcoming year (Artemis Fowl , Doctor Dolittle, and Little Women are among those for 2019) enabling the astute teacher librarian to not only acquire original and updated editions of the books but also other titles in the series, by the same author, about the same topic or in the same genre, and perhaps even prepare some critical literacy lessons which compare the various versions.

 

  • Similarly, other sites offer insights into books that are likely to be adapted to television and with the variety of streaming services now available, this can be a rich resource for connecting kids and books.
  • Superheroes, particularly those based on the Marvel and DC comic characters, continue to be blockbuster movies and as well as the spin-off series that accompany the releases, DK have published a number of non fiction titles that not only provide behind-the-scenes information that enrich the movie experience but also support the reader who prefers factual texts.
  • Award lists can also be indicators of what could be trendy although it is important to determine who has compiled them and why – adults determining what children should read because of literary merit may not select the same titles as those who are tuned into what young readers are actually enjoying and demanding.  Among my go-to sites for suggestions and reviews are The Nerdies because Donalyn Miller and John Schu are particularly in tune with what kids want to read.
  • Complement promotion of popular titles with displays of “If you liked that then try this” to capture current interests, broaden horizons, engage readers while they wait for their turn for the in-demand book, and avoid being left with 20 unwanted copies when the faad moves on.

Just as astrologers put cues and clues together with their experience to make predictions and develop horoscopes for the future, so we, as teacher librarians need to use whatever we have to make our collection development and promotion as effective as possible, particularly in this time of diminishing budgets. Sometimes our predictions may miss the mark, but at the very least we will have promoted a lot of titles, genres and authors and just like a horoscope, someone will nod in agreement.

 

 

the imagineer’s hat

 

Just over 45 years ago, in 1973, a 21-year-old sat in her first session at Christchurch Teachers’ College in New Zealand, ready to begin to realise her childhood dream of being a teacher. Unlike her peers who were going from the classroom of high school to the classroom of college to their own classrooms in a school, this young woman had a couple of years of life experience under her belt having lived in  Papua New Guinea and Australia, both exotic locations in the still-isolated New Zealand of the early 1970s.

But like them, she had her imagineer’s hat on, constantly thinking about how what she was learning would translate into practice in her classroom. She wanted her students to come in each day full of wonder and curiosity, happy to be there and eager to explore and discover the new pathways into their world that would open up to them that day. She quickly discovered that “language arts” was her thing, that inquiry learning based on the Nuffield model fitted her like a glove and that maths continued to be the mystery it was in high school. But being a teacher in the primary system of both New Zealand and Australia means having to master all areas of the curriculum so she immersed herself in her studies, keeping a journal of how she imagined she would integrate the theory of both child development and subject mastery with the dream of that wonder-filled classroom a few years hence.

Fast forward two decades and that 21-year-old, who had a 21-year-old of her own by then, is back at college ready to study again, albeit with 20 years experience and reality under her belt, a vastly different study situation where everything is done online including lecturer and peer interaction, but still with that imagineer’s hat firmly on.

What is it she wants her students to feel, appreciate, value, learn and understand as a result of visiting the school library?

What does she need to do and put in place to make that happen?

How will the environment, services and attitude she offers enable the students and the staff to feel that the library offers them something, caters to their needs and is a place they want to be?

What would she, as a student, want to see, find and do in this space to feel that she was welcome, my needs were satisfied and it was a place she wanted to spend time in?

Everyone from retailers, restaurateurs and resort owners tell us it is not about the product but “the experience”, so how can the teacher librarian provide an “experience” that enriches and enhances the visitor’s learning?

Luckily for that apprentice TL of the mid-90s, she was in a brand new school with a brand new library and a visionary principal who could see the impact technology would have and who gave her carte blanche to develop the best resource centre ever.  

But as the Australian school year comes to an end, the northern hemisphere one gets under way and a new bunch of apprentice teacher librarians about to graduate and move into their own libraries, starting from scratch is not an option for all.  Nevertheless, it is possible to possible to put that imagineer’s hat on and imagine or re-create that big picture even if we have been bogged down in the daily detail that the endless paperwork burden dictates. 

Here are a few steps to follow…

  1. As the name implies, the imagineer’s hat requires imagination so shut your eyes and dream about the library you would love to  be and work in. Think about the environment, the atmosphere, the collection – content and arrangement, the services, the timetable – every aspect of the perfect library that you can think of.
  2. Make notes about your vision and identify those things you have, those things you can improve and those things you can strive towards. Prioritise them.
  3. Create or revisit your vision statement. Make sure it still encapsulates what it is you want your library to be. Remember its purpose is to succinctly state the future direction of your school library such as A best-practice 21st century library which is integral to the teaching and learning at xxxx Primary School and offers a warm, inclusive, supportive environment for all.
  4. Create or revisit your mission statement to ensure that it still reflects the purpose of the library and its place within the school’s philosophy, ethos and educational programs. It needs to inform the development of strategies for improvement and the goals and objectives so its achievement can be measured.  There have been many changes and advances in the last few years so something you wrote a few years ago may have been accomplished or need tweaking to reflect the current and proposed situation.
  5. Identify those areas that you want to change – environment, procedures, professional knowledge, professional practice – and be explicit about how you want to change them.  Begin with the end in mind and determine what you want things to be like and look like so you can work towards specific S.M.A.R.T. goals.
  6. Identify the particular pathways you need to follow to achieve your vision.  For example, if you want to change the look of your library, check out photos on Pinterest or read The Landscaper’s Hat and Landscape Your Library; if you want to expand your professional knowledge map out your professional learning program; if you want to change procedures then research best practice and get input from stakeholders  – whatever it takes to make the change you want to be and see.
  7. Revisit or revise your strategic plan so that your ideas are formalised and accountable so the library of your imagination can become a reality
  8. Be on the alert for great ideas and activities that others are employing and sharing and which might work for your clientele, save them so you don’t forget and implement them as soon as practical, always working towards that dream.

Schools and school libraries have changed so much since that 21-year-old first sat in that Teachers’ College classroom all those years ago but in fundamental ways the students she teaches have remained the same – they still have to attend school from 5-15 and they still aspire and expect to learn to read, write and calculate. And they still deserve to achieve that in the very best of conditions that she can provide by constantly wearing and adjusting the imagineer’s hat.

 

the kindness hat

 

 

 

If you have a choice between being right and being kind, choose kind,” spoken by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer in R. J. Palacio’s seminal text, Wonder  has not only resonated with many but has sparked the #choosekind challenge movement inspiring people to pledge ” to create and spread more kindness in the world.”

Wonder - R. J. Palacio

Wonder – R. J. Palacio

While there are those who need such an inspiration and motivation to be kind to others, I think kindness is an innate prerequisite for being a teacher as we put ourselves aside to meet the needs of the 30 little ones in our care, and teacher librarians must have a double dose as we interpret our role as one of service to not only a school of students, rather than just a class, but also the staff.  Our days, and often our nights, are swallowed by trying to anticipate, interpret and meet the requests and needs of so many that in being kind to them we are often being unkind to ourselves.

We  try to be all things to all people in our complex role that embraces both teacher and librarian with so many stops and tangents in between, perhaps afraid that if we are not, if we miss helping someone it will be the beginning of the end for the role in the school.  We know that when budgets are under siege administrators look to the ‘peripheral’ staff to cut first and it’s often the TL whose job is the first to be questioned. But while we are trying to be kind to others we neglect to be kind to ourselves, beginning a spiral that can end up with us being unable to be kind to anyone.

Back in 1996 as I first started the transition from a classroom teacher of 24 years to an apprentice TL , an astute principal introduced me to the works of Stephen Covey and, in particular, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.   

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People - Stephen R. Covey

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen R. Covey

I read it from cover to cover and back again – the first of this sort of text I had ever read – and while all the habits resonated and taught me much, one became the guiding principle for my life…  begin with the end in mind.

To quote Covey…

Habit 2 is based on imagination–the ability to envision in your mind what you cannot at present see with your eyes. It is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There is a mental (first) creation, and a physical (second) creation. The physical creation follows the mental, just as a building follows a blueprint. If you don’t make a conscious effort to visualize who you are and what you want in life, then you empower other people and circumstances to shape you and your life by default. It’s about connecting again with your own uniqueness and then defining the personal, moral, and ethical guidelines within which you can most happily express and fulfill yourself.

Understanding and accepting this led to goal-setting so “the steps that I took were going in the right direction” – goals which led me through a successful transition at a traumatic time in my life when my very teaching career seemed in doubt; through discovering that teacher librarianship fitted me like the proverbial glove and studying and gaining three masters degrees; through the need to give back and mentor other ‘apprentice’ TLs; and through to the final goal of “being able to retire  from school-based work satisfied and still intact at the end of 2016”.  However, when I realised that I would not meet the “intact” part of that goal if I continued the way I was, I brought the end date forward and finished at the end of 2015 with ‘intact” intact – barely.

Even though in 2015 I was in a part-time position it was too easy to fall into a full-time mentality and a range of circumstances meant that I was not being kind to others in the way I should be, simply because I was not being kind to myself. 

Because that is the key – if we are not kind to and take care of ourselves then we cannot be kind to and take care of others.

But if we are to be kind to ourselves we need to identify those issues that trigger unkindness so that they can be addressed.

While each of us is unique, it’s fair to generalise that there are at least four that are common…

  • matching the ideality of university to the reality of school
  • wanting to be a jack-of-all-trades and master of all
  • time management
  • work-life balance

ideality vs reality

We know that learning is most effective when

  • there is a need and purpose to learn
  • the learning is within a real-life context
  • it is based on what we already know and believe
  • there is an expectation of success
  • there is opportunity to apply and practise the new learning
  • it offers clarity and understanding
  • it is owned by the learners

We know from our university research and readings that the ideality of the teaching role of the TL is at its best when delivered within the context of classroom learning, planned and taught in collaboration with the classroom teacher so that the TL’s specialist subject of information literacy -in its broadest context – is embedded into the everyday learning in the classroom, can be readily transferred to other situations and support and guidance is offered at the point of need.

But for a range of reasons, the reality is vastly different with such things as

  • fixed timetables
  • students and classes coming infrequently for short periods
  • teaching in isolation to cover teacher prep time
  • lack of time to consult and plan with classroom-based teachers
  • lack of a library “curriculum”
  • lack of understanding of and appreciation for the role of the TL within the school

If we are to be kind to ourselves we have to manipulate what we know to match what we have so that it is win-win for everyone (Covey’s Habit #4)  The solution, and the pathway to it, will be unique to each of us but it is important that we work to achieve something that we can work with comfortably so we don’t start the day frustrated and on edge.  That’s not to say we abandon the ideal, but if we can develop a plan that will move more towards it -‘begin with the end in mind’- and accept that it might be a long journey to its achievement then we are more likely to accept the current lot, work with it and have some peace of mind.

jack-of-all-trades

The reason that this blog is called “500 Hats” is because that reflects the complexity of our role, and we tend to think that we must be across every aspect and like Bartholomew Cubbins, each time we take one hat off another one appears. In addition, each person perceives not only our role differently but also sees their needs as the priority. So often we are torn, if not shredded, and left wondering if we will ever get all the pieces together.

The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins - Dr Seuss

The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins – Dr Seuss

 

Joyce Valenza writes about this dilemma in her blog post A Belated Confession , offering insight into the issue and revealing that even when we see our hero colleagues looking like ducks swimming serenely along, they, too, are paddling like crazy to stay on top of the water.  She offers a personal survey to help us reflect on the key aspects of our role, and help us develop some priorities that are in alignment with both our school and personal mission statements, strategic plans and personal goals.  Areas of strength can be identified as well as those for which we might need to establish a professional learning plan. 

Rather than working harder we can learn to work smarter.

time management

There always seems to be more work than time left at the end of the day and as one task tends to lead to another not previously considered, the to-do pile mounts up and up and up and the must-do task list gets longer and longer 

It was scary how fast my part-time position became a full-time commitment as I effortlessly slipped back into the practice of taking stuff home just so I could stay ahead.  In my previous position, my home work was confined to creating an award-winning, cutting edge school website alongside working through three masters degrees, but this time with the library management system online, easy access to SCIS, Scootle, and a zillion other resources, social media and so on, apart from the 150km commute, nothing seemed to separate my work life from my home life.  And with a hubby who worked even more ridiculous hours than I did, it was easy to slip into old habits and watch that to-do list grow again.

Once again, my friend Stephen Covey came to my aid.  I returned to his time management matrix to start identifying priorities and getting things back under control and practise Habit 3 – putting first things first.

Time Management Quadrant

Time Management Quadrant –Stephen R. Covey

While Covey explains its function and operation fully in his book, I learned to ask myself these questions whenever a new task popped up…

  • Does this need to be done now or can it wait?
  • Is it more important that what I am doing right now?
  • Is it more important than the other things I have planned for today?
  • Will doing this help me achieve what needs to be done in the short, medium and long-term?
  • Does it require my time and attention or can I delegate?

Setting work-based priorities has to be tied into your strategic plan so you are not suddenly confronted by something that has moved into Urgent and Important because it was swamped by other things.  The big picture has to remain as clear as the daily detail so if, for example, you are required to write an annual report or contribute a page to the school yearbook, start on the first day of first term taking photos, jotting notes and so forth so that when it is due most of the work is done. 

Because being a TL encompasses two distinct sides of our profession, even though the T side should be the predominant side we must also have time for the L side if we are not to end up in a series of crises.  Workplace awards should delineate a certain percentage of at-work time that is set aside for administrative duties, a time that is independent of lesson preparation and planning.  You need to know what your individual rights are and ensure that these are delivered by your administration. If you are forced into a corner and are not given sufficient time then enlist the help of the staff to help you determine your priorities by sending out an Information Needs Audit. Such a document not only educates your colleagues about the extent of what you do on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, responses will help you establish priorities and also act as a defence if your time allocations are questioned.

Keeping all the balls in the air is a juggling act but by being pro-active with time management, even down to creating a daily timetable for your at-work time, you can be much kinder to yourself than you have been.

work-life balance

Anyone who is a teacher, is married to a teacher or even knows a teacher knows that the job is not “9 till 3” despite popular opinion.  Those hours are our performance time, the other 18 hours in the day are for the preparation and evaluation of that performance (and the performance of others.)  It is so easy to slip “stuff that can wait” – the important but non-urgent things – into a basket to lug home at the end of the day, often returning to school the next day still in the basket untouched.

Each of us has a different way of trying to achieve that magical work-life balance -if we ever do – and we must know ourselves if we are to set up an effective and efficient routine.  Some like to stay at school until the work is done and take nothing home; others are so tired at 3.00pm they prefer a break and to attend to what needs to be done at home, either early or late depending on our circumstances and body clock. But whichever method we choose it needs to work for us and our families.  The consequences are too great if they don’t.  

Even if we think we are indispensable and “my students need me”, the truth is that they don’t need you as much as your family does.  There are thousands of teachers but most kids only have one mum or one dad.  A brutal but powerful way to put things in perspective is to imagine what would happen if you were involved in a major car accident or struck down with a serious disease.  Whose lives are likely to be the most impacted?

If you find it hard to let go of school work and feel guilty if you take time out to go on a family outing because there are reports to write, assignments to mark, books to accession or whatever, go anyway even if you ‘justify’ the time by imagining how what you experience and learn can add to what you offer the students in the morning.  Anything we do to enrich our own lives also enriches that of our students because it is something more we can bring to the table. 

When I finally retired from school-based work in 2015 (having been practising retirement since July 2006) I still had stuff in my important-non-urgent pile on the floor of my study, but, amazingly the school continued without it being done and after tripping over it for a few months I finally sorted it, consigning most of it to the recycling bin.  AND THE WORLD STILL TURNED.

At last I had learned how to #choosekind

 

the long tail hat

Recently there was a request to a network I belong to seeking advice about placing a popular series of books on the shelves, a series that was one of several of its type which started as a successful movie franchise and forty years on remains as popular now as it was when it was first released.  In fact many who enjoyed it as children are now sharing it with their own children. But there was a strong between-the-lines implication that because it was a movie tie-in it didn’t have literary merit and therefore didn’t have a place on the school library’s shelves.

In some respects, this was a view I held years ago when I first started reviewing books for the very young on my blog The Bottom Shelf. I was inundated with books relating to television characters and was reluctant to review them because I couldn’t relate to the characters and I didn’t want to encourage anymore screen-time than children already had.  But then one day in a chain store I saw a little one pounce on a book featuring a well-know show here and the delight she demonstrated and the nagging and pestering she did to own it, with no regard for the other toys on display, changed my mind entirely.  If a familiar character was going to be the “in” to reading for a three year old, then I would review them and let parents know about them. 

In hindsight, I don’t know why I objected so strongly because I certainly had a dedicated space in my school library for “Family Favourites” based on the familiar characters of preschool programs in the belief that seeing them would help with the transition from preschool to ‘big’ school, and my collection and display of the Goosebumps series was definitely the instigator of reading in so many young boys of the time.

Family Favourites

Family Favourites

The Long Tail is used in many fields to describe a statistical phenomenon that is best described with this diagram…

A pictorial example of the "long tail" concept.

A pictorial example of the “long tail” concept.

 

In libraries, the term refers to all those potential patrons that a library has but who don’t use the facility because they don’t believe it has anything to offer them.  Whether they are non-readers or reluctant readers or accomplished readers who prefer a certain subject, they perceive that the library is not somewhere that would cater for their needs and no amount of advertising the general collection (in whatever format) persuades them.  They might even be those who remember an unfriendly librarian, environment or experience from childhood and at that early stage decided there were better places to be.

The term Library 2.0 is also one that has been bandied about over the last decade and it refers to the changing model of the library to one that is user-centred rather than librarian-driven.  It encourages patrons to have a say in what they want and need in regards to both the collection and the services so that what is offered is relevant to those who are using them. 

But, regardless of the efforts made to change what is offered and how we offer it, there will still be the long tail who have the belief or attitude that they and libraries are not compatible.

No matter how hard we try, many of the services we offer are not being used by a majority of our population. It’s never been easy to reach this group with physical services, because libraries are constrained by space and money and cannot carry every item that every user desires. 

Casey, M.E. & Savistinuk, L.C., Library 2.0

I believe that we have a responsibility to reach out to these people, investigate what it is they are interested in  and seek to provide it if possible.  This is much easier in the school setting than the public library because the audience is somewhat “captive and contained” and we, as the person responsible for developing the collection and the services, should be pro-active in discovering needs and interests.  Don’t wait for them to come with requests – they won’t do that if they’ve developed an anti-library attitude.  This is particularly important if we are to satisfy the Students’ Bill of Rights  that underpins our professional practice.

The Australian School Library Association’s School Library Bill of Rights  lays down the basic tenets for collection development including 

 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.

 

So even if we would prefer all our offerings to have “literary merit” or being relevant to the curriculum or whatever other restraints we impose on it, we need to consider those whose library experiences needs to be a little less highbrow and a lot more enjoyable. 

As the Australian school year draws to a close and plans are being made for 2018, perhaps it is timely to consider how the long tail might be at the forefront of the strategic development plan including how their needs can be determined.  It is not enough to place a suggestions box on the circulation desk or conduct a survey of current library users because that will only lead to offering what we always have, doing what we’ve always done and marginalising those potential users even further.  It means thinking of who our target clientele might be, even if that’s a small, specific group to start with and then talking directly to them to discover how they believe the library could be more relevant to them.  It means looking at new ways of promoting new services and resources well beyond the library walls and demonstrating that we are listening and then acting on what we hear.

With advocacy for maintaining and expanding library services still being such a critical part of our role, explicitly focusing on the long tail and deliberately addressing their needs rather than hoping some sort of osmosis will bring them through the doors may be the key to giving your facility a new lease of life and a promising future.

the prep-time hat

 

 

 

Collaborative planning and teaching is the ideal in the teacher librarian’s world – that wonderful state when you can plan the aspects of an investigation that will be your responsibility and then team teach them in the library with the classroom teacher assisting (and learning.)

This approach is so successful because all the investigations into how the brain functions and how people learn suggest that learning in context is most likely to be retained and this is considerably heightened when there is curiosity about, a need and desire for  learning, a connection to it and the expectation of success.

Adapted from “The Whole Story: natural learning and the acquisition of literacy in the classroom” Cambourne, B. (1988)

 

When the brain is confronted with new information, the data goes through a series of ‘filters’ to determine where it fits in with what it already known.  Even without the 21st century science, Piaget called it assimilation and accommodation. while Marion Diamond’s book The Magic Trees of the Mind provides a very readable explanation of the learning process. Essentially when new information is presented to the brain, after being assessed for the fight or flight response, the brain seeks to associate it with something already known. If it finds it, the existing dendrites (the magic trees) assess whether they are being confirmed or challenged by this new information and it is assimilated into what is already known and the dendrites change to accommodate the new learning. If the new information challenges the existing knowledge and beliefs too much, it may be discarded and if no relevant connections are made it will be held in the short term memory but quickly forgotten if there is nothing to consolidate it.

So the argument for collaborative planning and teaching so that students understand the relevance of what they are being taught in the library curriculum within the bigger-picture context of a class investigation is very strong.

However, the reality is that more and more teacher librarians, particularly in the primary/elementary sector are being used to cover teacher preparation and planning time and there is little, if any, connection to what happens in the library and the classroom.  Indeed, it is this coverage of this time as part of the ‘specials team’ that is keeping those TLs employed!! And so instead of the learning being just-in-time it becomes just-in-case and often quickly discarded.

So if this is your situation, how can you make the most of it so the students can maximise what is on offer? This is particularly so when you may only see the students once a week on a fixed timetable and their class investigation moves on in between library visits.

Know the curriculum

As is explained in The Scope and Sequence Hat  having a step-by-step one-size-fits-all curriculum is not only difficult to develop but also ineffective if it has no connection to anything the students are doing. While the days of having students fill out a worksheet of responses after a brief introduction to a topic might seem attractive, their efficacy is very dubious and there is little evidence that what is learned in the library is then transferred to new situations in the classroom.

This was recognised when the Australian Curriculum  was first structured and the elements of information literacy that had been the domain of the teacher librarian were embedded in the curriculum itself rather than being an adjunct as a cross-curriculum perspective.  Now all teachers would be required to teach students how they could identify and information need, and then locate, evaluate, interpret and use what they discovered to satisfy it.

Thus knowing the requirements of the curriculum in relation to information literacy is a critical first step.

Each strand of the curriculum has aspects of information literacy and inquiry that are common to the others even if they are worded differently.  All require the students to

  • pose questions
  • locate information in one form or another that will help answer them
  • determine its relevance, currency and authenticity
  • interpret what it is telling them
  • combine what they discover  to create new information
  • present what they have learned so development and understanding is apparent
  • use their learning as a stepping stone to taking action or even further learning

Of course, each year level requires a different level of sophistication but that is the beauty of a spiral curriculum that focuses on process rather than product and concept rather than content.

While the TL is primarily a teacher – hence our title- the teaching we do is different to that of the classroom teacher because we are trying to enable students to develop skills and understandings that transcend artificial subject borders and can be transferred to one degree or another to any situation throughout their lives.  Whether they need to know the time the next bus will get them into town or whether they have to solve a complex scientific or legal problem, they have the skills to assist them starting with the three basic questions…

  • what do I need to know
  • what do I already know
  • what more do I need to find out

While curricula may specify particular content that students must cover, understand that a topic is just a vehicle on which the deeper concepts and processes travel on and so it is very possible to use any subject matter to embed that which you want the students to know.

Thus the term lifelong learning has particular application for what we do. 

Making the transition between the roles of a classroom teacher and a TL can be one of the biggest hurdles to be overcome but once it is done things become much clearer. So become very familiar with the curriculum for the year levels you are teaching and draw out and write down the information literacy aspects that are applicable using the headings from the Information Literacy Process as a guide.  If your school uses a formal pedagogical model  such as Guided Inquiry then map the elements of the Information Literacy Process on to that so you know where each fits. While this may be time-consuming initially, not only does it deepen your understanding of your teaching role but it only has to be done once because large-scale changes to overarching curricula are infrequent.

Consult with the teachers

This may seem to be easier said than done particularly if you are covering the only time a teacher has off class to plan.  But there are ways and means.

If the teachers are part of a team that has a team meeting when you are available put yourself on the agenda of that at the beginning of the term.  

If you have their classes while they meet, ask for a meeting before or after school or during a break.  The school day is longer than the 9-3 “performance” time and so they should be willing to meet with you at a mutually acceptable time.

If face-to-face meetings are not possible, then use email.

If their response is that they don’t care because they don’t view the library instruction time as an integral part of their teaching, then they are tacitly giving you the go-ahead to do what you like.

Whichever method you use, armed with your curriculum document ask them which aspects they would like you to focus on, regardless of the content vehicle you hitch it to. It is important to help them understand that information literacy is not a lock-step process – indeed most of the models demonstrate that it is recursive as we switch back and forth between elements as required – and so it is not possible to effectively teach each step in one investigation, particularly with once-a-week visits.  Try to complement their focus so you are linking but not rehashing what is being done in class. For instance, if the teacher is focusing on posing questions, then your focus could be helping the students locate the information and assessing it for relevance.  Stress that with this approach you are able to lessen their workload rather than add to it.

Often new TLs ask how they can increase collaboration in planning if not teaching and sometimes they have an expectation that offering to lessen a teacher’s workload will be a magic wand that will have them clamouring at the door and are disappointed when they aren’t. But there are many reasons that teachers feel unable to collaborate from being protective of their program to not understanding what it is you are offering, so the most common answer is to work with those who are interested.  Apart from the benefits, there is a belief that this will encourage other teachers to want a slice of the pie as though they absorb the increased learning opportunities by osmosis.   But often the result is that the status quo remains, there are those who do and those who don’t.

Spreading the Word

If you are going to do the best for the students in your care then the more teachers you can work with the better. So even if a particular teacher shows no interest in what you do with their students it is important to keep the lines of communication open.  

If full responsibility for planning and teaching rests with you, map out your program for those students for the term, including links to the curriculum outcomes they are addressing, and email this to the non-participating teacher.  At the very least, it helps break down the notion that library time is unrelated to anything that is happening in the classroom and is, in fact, a valid and valuable teaching opportunity. 

After each lesson, send a brief email outlining what was covered and even identifying those who grasped things and those who were struggling.  Again this emphasises the teaching aspect and demonstrates that while your job may be different, as a teacher you are on an equal footing.

Unashamedly eavesdrop on staffroom conversations and if you hear a teacher expressing concern over an aspect of the curriculum or something they are doing or proposing to do that you can assist with, even if it is just resources rather than teaching, then email them with your suggestions.  

Offer to run in-house professional learning sessions that demonstrate what you can offer and do to support what teachers are planning or doing. 

Every little bit helps to educate about and advocate for the role of the teacher librarian and demonstrates that we are much more than keepers of the books.

Walking the walk

Having talked the talk, it is essential to walk the walk.  

Once the focus of your sessions has been identified, use your own inquiry approach to plan your lessons.  Use these two big questions to guide your planning…

What do I want the students to know, do, understand, appreciate and value as a result of my teaching in the short and long-term?

What evidence will I accept that learning has occurred?

Then using your own or an imposed format, plan your lessons as required by your school authority.  

Link to classroom content wherever possible but don’t try to duplicate it – a parallel topic is just as valuable as the classroom investigation as it offers another perspective and shows the transference of knowledge, understandings and skills to new situations.

Use literature as a basis if desired – using open-ended question starters such as what if, how would/could/should, what could can open up lots of avenues for thought and investigation that can then kickstart further learning. My favourite is to read The Great Tasmanian Tiger Hunt by Michael Salmon and ask the children what Colonel Horsfeld-Smythe should have know about the Tasmanian Tiger to make his hunt more successful. Not only did it spark investigations about the life of the Tasmanian Tiger but it also opened up discussions about endangered and extinct species, conservation and even the ethics of hunting and zoos! And all the while the students were learning many of the elements of information literacy!

As accountability and data collection drive teaching more and more, for better or for worse, more and more teacher librarians are being asked to add comments to student reports.  In a climate where it is often hard to remember each student’s name because you see maybe 200 students per day, being asked to write an individual comment that is accurate and defensible can be very difficult but nevertheless it must be done.   Some teachers are happy with a blanket statement of what has been covered while others demand grades and specific comments. so devise ways that work for you that will allow you to keep track of progress and achievement so you can meet your responsibilities. It all adds to that advocacy that we are teachers first and foremost.

Wearing the prep-time hat can be a bonus and a blessing for all parties if we are prepared to make the most of the opportunities given to us. Rather than bemoaning that we have reality rather than ideality, we need to embrace it and make it work for us and the students.