One Semester In: What does a TL do again?

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ETL401 Assignment 2 Part B Critical Reflection

One Semester In: What does a Teacher Librarian do?

So, I’ve finished my first semester of study in the Masters of Education (Teacher Librarianship). I’ve blogged, I’ve posted on forums, I’ve read (LOTS!!!), I’ve chatted with fellow sufferers … ahem, students … in our collaborative facebook group, and I’m ready to answer the big question now. What exactly does a TL do?

I hope I’m not letting the side down here when I say I still find this question challenging to respond to. But I’m certainly coming to grips a bit more with how to deal with those people who tell me, oftentimes well-meaningly, that it must be lovely to spend my days surrounded by books. It is, really. Totally lovely. But what I’d give for five minutes to actually open one and read it beyond the blurb on the back, or the SCIS record! So, being a TL is about far more than curating books, as I reflected in an earlier blog post (Rodgers, 2014a)

I don’t actually feel like my view of the role of the TL has changed much due to my studies in this subject. Not that my perceptions are the same as they were six months ago – far from it. But “changed” feels like the wrong way to describe it. It has been, for me, more of a process of clarification, of being able to put critical concepts to ideas that were floating around in my head. Applying theories to the practices that I was attempting to undertake within the wonderful walls of my library without consciously realising why I was doing it, apart from that it just kind of felt like the right thing to do.

So, now I have might on my side. The might of Karen Bonanno, who tells me that it’s vital that I advocate for the importance of my role in the school, and that I fight with all my mighty fingers to ensure that my colleagues recognise my worth, both intrinsically, and in what I can give to them and their teaching practice (Bonanno, 2011) The might of Annette Lamb, who believes that my strength as a TL lies in my ability to partner with teachers, and to ensure that my role description clearly identifies the profound impact that I as TL can have on the curricular goals of the school, and on student achievement (2011). The might of Carol Kuhlthau, who advocates for the importance of the teacher librarian as the primary agent for 21st century learners to call upon, and who recognises the key role that a TL plays in creating a school which prepares its students for the complexities of a 21st century information and learning landscape (Kuhlthau, 2010, p17). And who, just quietly, was so on the money about the feelings of frustration, doubt and confusion in the exploration phase of her ISP model – I felt like she was monologuing my life at points in my journey through this subject!

The many and varied discussions about the ways in which libraries can meet the ever-changing needs of a 21st century learning have been fascinating, and have informed my own thoughts about the future of resourcing in such a transforming information landscape. The contrasts between reading onscreen vs paper was a topic in both the forums and our collegial facebook group that generated much discussion, both in our roles as 21st century learners and our roles as Teacher Librarians in Training (Rodgers, 2014b).

Similarly fascinating has been the ongoing discussion about the importance of collaboration, and tied into this the need for principal support of the role of TL. Farmer’s discussion of the principal as the “chief catalyst for collaboration” (2007, p56) really resonated with my own experiences of working with a dynamic and engaging school leader who strongly supports the role of the library in the learning framework of the school. Comments in both the forums and to my recent blog post about support have indicated that this is not a common thing, however (Rodgers, 2014c), which makes me mourn for those TL’s who aren’t experiencing that essential support from their leadership. It also reflects on the critical importance in our profession of advocacy – the need for us all to ensure that our influence is not only felt, but visible, and that the wider teaching profession are aware of the vital role a connected and engaged TL can play in establishing and steering the learning culture of the school in profound ways (Oberg, 2007)

I’m equally as enamoured with my chosen profession now as I was when I started paddling this canoe upstream, and I’m glad for a rest in the rapids before next semester starts. I wonder what additional enlightenments might come about the wonderful world of Teacher Librarianship in my next subject? I can’t wait to see!!

References

Bonanno, K. (2011). A profession at the tipping point: Time to change the game plan. http://vimeo.com/31003940

Farmer, L. (2007). Principals: Catalysts for Collaboration. School Libraries Worldwide, 13(1), 56-65.

Kuhlthau, C. (2010) Guided Inquiry: School Libraries in the 21st Century. School Libraries Worldwide January 2010, Volume 16, Number 1, 17-28. Accessed from http://comminfo.rutgers.edu/~kuhlthau/docs/GI-School-Librarians-in-the-21-Century.pdf

Lamb, A. (2011). Bursting with potential: Mixing a media specialist’s palette. Techtrends: Linking Research & Practice To Improve Learning, 55(4), 27-36.

Oberg, D. (2007). Taking the Library Out of the Library into the School. School Libraries Worldwide, 13(2), i-ii

Rodgers, T. (2014a)  Library Girls! And Boys. http://thinkspace.csu.edu.au/biggerontheinside/2014/08/11/librarygirlsandboys/

Rodgers, T. (2014b) Online vs IRL reading. Blog post 1. 03-Aug-14

Rodgers, T. (2014c) The Teacher Librarian and the Principal: A Modern Fairytale. http://thinkspace.csu.edu.au/biggerontheinside/2014/10/16/the-teacher-librarian-and-the-principal-a-modern-fairy-tale/

 

The Teacher Librarian and the Principal – A Modern Fairy Tale

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ETL401 OLJ Blog Task 3

In the castle of books there lived a teacher librarian. She battled dangers unknown, and hardships unnumbered. Surrounded by foes of information and enemies of enlightenment, she endeavoured to impact the village around her with her wonder of words and her love of learning, but she couldn’t battle the hordes alone. She needed a fairy godmother.

Sounds dramatic huh? But really, it’s a challenge that teacher librarians face every day. The TL role can be isolating, and often we operate in a vacuum, surrounded by colleagues with little understanding of the role that we perform (Oberg, 2006, 14). It is in this context, then, that support from above becomes vital if the TL is to be empowered to exert influence on the learning culture of school.

Many studies have shown how important principal support is in facilitating the effectiveness of the TL and, as such, the library.  Farmer describes the principal as the “chief catalyst for collaboration”, responsible for establishing the vision of the school, and facilitating the curriculum that is offered (2007, p56). With the principal playing such a vital role in the learning culture of the school, then, it is imperative that the role of the library and the TL in this learning culture are both recognised as important by the principal, and thus afforded the support that will allow them to flourish.

Hartzell argues that the quality school library program relies on a librarian, and that no great library can be run without a passionate teacher librarian who brings their own stamp into the space (2009). Whilst this may be true, without a school leader who supports the TL, who collaborates with them on their vision for the space, who encourages them to dream big, and who supports both through their words and actions the professionalism and importance of the TL in the life of the school.

It is unfortunate, then, that literature shows that many principals don’t fully understand the role of the media specialist. Morris and Packard discuss the lack of recognition of principals for the importance of the TL in supporting the instructional process and contributing to student learning (2007, p36). By recognising the positive impacts that the TL and library can have on student achievement, and by modelling an atmosphere of recognition of the powerful role of the TL in the learning environment of the school, the engaged principal can facilitate an atmosphere of collaboration and communication between teaching staff and the TL which is vital to ensure that the full potential of the library as a centre for learning is realised (Morris, 2007, p23).

My experience in this fairy tale has been profoundly influenced by my own experiences with a supportive and empowering principal. With a bias towards yes, and a philosophy which encourages innovation and collaboration, my principal has inspired me to think big in my vision for what our library could look like, and how it, and indeed I, can influence the learning culture of the school. It’s a wonderful working relationship to be a part of, which contributes positively to the culture of our engaging library, and models for other staff the importance of the library in the narrative of our school.

References

Farmer, L. (2007). Principals: Catalysts for Collaboration. School Libraries Worldwide, 13(1), 56-65.

Hartzell, G. (2009). Librarian-proof libraries? Guest rant by Gary Hartzell. http://doug-johnson.squarespace.com/blue-skunk-blog/2009/8/25/librarian-proof-libraries-guest-rant-by-gary-hartzell.html

Oberg, D. (2006). Developing the respect and support of school administrators. Teacher Librarian, 33(3), 13-18. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/224879111?accountid=10344

Morris, B. J., & Packard, A. (2007). The Principal’s Support of Classroom Teacher-Media Specialist Collaboration. School Libraries Worldwide,13(1), 36-55.

Morris, B. J. (2007). Principal Support for Collaboration. School Libraries Worldwide, 13(1), 23-24.

Information Literacy: More than just a set of skills

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ETL401 OLJ Blog Task 2

Literacy has increasingly become a buzzword in the rhetoric around education. We often hear in the media the need for a focus on literacy, and people commentators frequently bemoan the need to get “back to basics” in literacy education.

What is missing from these discussions, though, is a clear understanding of what “literacy” is. In education today, literacy is about more than just phonics and grammar. The literacy spectrum that we are dealing with in education covers a wide spectrum of literacies, embracing myriad skills and requiring multiple levels of understanding and application of knowledge. Schools deal with often competing demands to teach multiple literacies, and students are required to negotiate these complex skills across a wide range of subject areas. It’s not just about conjunctions!

Information literacy is really, as I see it, one of the core competencies that all students need to be fluent in, and all teachers should be addressing in their teaching and learning. It’s also one of the primary responsibilities of the TL, as we lead our schools into the brave new world of the 21st century information landscape. So what is information literacy then?

Information literacy is a broad concept. Fundamentally, it is about the ability of an individual to access information from a wide range of sources, analyse and synthesise what they find, and then use and present that information in ways that are appropriate to their purpose. This covers a wide range of individual literacies, from visual literacy to traditional grammatical literacy to computer literacy and more. ASLA defines information literacy as “an information process where students can access, use, organise, create, present and evaluate information” (2009). This is a core skill required by all students in all stages of education, and is really, in my opinion, the “basics” that we should be getting back to – or, more accurately, moving forward to!

Information literacy is not just about the ability to succeed at school, however. Its impact is far broader than that. As we face a rapidly changing technological and information landscape, the skills that people need in everyday life are also changing, and the ability to critically evaluate and engage with new forms of information is a vital skills for all learners (Eisenberg, 2008, p.43). Bundy cites ALIA in referring to information literacy as an essential skill for lifelong learning, with impacts on social inclusion, knowledge creation, participative citizenship and empowerment on personal, corporate and organizational levels (2004, p4).

The role of the teacher librarian in ensuring that our students are information literate is paramount. In our positions in the information heart of the school, we have the ability to influence the learning culture that our students are immersed in by providing rich and meaningful information literacy experiences. Working collaboratively with classroom teachers to support the implementation of curriculum in meaningful ways allows us the opportunity to ensure that information literacy is an embedded way of thinking, not simply something that is learned for the exam and is then forgotten. This requires, in some cases, significant change in the learning culture of a school, as staff all need to support the idea that information literacy and curriculum are inextricably linked (Herring, 2011, p34). By ensuring that learning is meaningful and related to real world contexts, we ensure that our students become thoughtful participants in their world, able to engage and interact with the complex information processes that will surround them. What an exciting role to play!

References

Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA)/Australian School Library Association (ASLA). (2009)

Bundy, A. (Ed.) (2004). Australian and New Zealand Information Literacy Framework: principles, standards and practice. 2nd ed. Adelaide: Australian and New Zealand Institute for Information Literacy (ANZIIL) and Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL).

Eisenberg, M.B. (2008). Information literacy: essential skills for the information age. DESIDOC Journal of Library and Information Technology, 28(2), 39-47.

Herring, J. (2011). Assumptions, information literacy and transfer in high schools. Teacher Librarian, 38(3), 32-36.

 

The Library and Me – Leadership Reflections

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ETL504 Assignment 2 Part B

This semester has been challenging for me. Whilst grappling with the demands of postgraduate study (why did I think this would be easy again???) I’ve been dealing with challenges at work, as we have been negotiating some of the competing and conflicting priorities around budgeting and resource allocation, and ever-present personal political agendas. My study has also given me many opportunities to reflect on the role I play in the learning culture of my school, and the way in which my leadership impacts on those around me. It’s an eye-opening experience!

It has been challenging for me to examine the way people have been discussing the library this year since I have taken it over, and the resistance I have found from some colleagues has been surprising (Rodgers, 2014a) I have always considered the library a special place (Rodgers, 2014b) so it has been somewhat surprising for me to recognise that other educational leaders in my school don’t see it that way. It’s also been interesting to see people’s changing perceptions of my role within the school. Over the past 8 years I have developed a reputation as a hard-working enthusiastic team member, and have led a number of key initiatives that have contributed positively to the learning culture of our school. Over the first semester of 2014, many staff members appeared to stop seeing me as an educational leader in our school, and instead viewed me as their photocopy assistant, air conditioning controller, and keeper of the computer lab keys, as these were their primary interactions with our previous TL.

Creating a new paradigm for leadership in the library, then, is my continuing challenge. To boldly go where no TL has gone before – in my school, at least. My readings around leadership this semester have really helped me consolidate my views on my own leadership style (Rodgers, 2014c) as servant leadership, which I believe fits nicely in the library landscape. As Bonanno (2011) discusses, it’s vitally important as teacher librarians that we create a sense of our own value and worth, and facilitate an environment where our colleagues recognise this, and see us as professionals with something to offer them, particularly with the advent of the new curriculum and it’s general capabilities which fit so nicely into the library framework (ACARA, 2013).

It has been encouraging throughout this course to recognise that what I do instinctively as past of my leadership style (although I’d never have called myself a leader before!) actually fits some of the recommendations for effective leadership in the literature. For example, Belisle’s (2005) discussion on effective school leadership as requiring “collegiality, cooperation, partnership, respect for all, and mutual support” resonates strongly with my collaborative and supportive approach to leadership. The importance of deep communication through collaboration is something that I strive to do in my everyday interactions, and I reflected on in an earlier blog post (Rodgers, 2014d). The ability of individuals to make a difference no matter what their title is a principle that I model daily, both to staff and to students, encouraging those around me to recognise the potential of their visions, and their ability to contribute positively to a situation, whether it be a lunchtime minecraft building session or a planning meeting to organise a schoolwide program. This is reflected as an important principal of teacher leadership by Collay (2011), who recognises the valuable role of teachers at all levels of the school hierarchy in leading change.

 

Whilst my role as self proclaimed library lover has meant that I have always been an advocate of the importance of a well resourced library in schools, I must confess that I previously viewed the primary role of librarian as the custodian of books, in the same way that many others might see it (Purcell, 2010). The complexities of the leadership role that faces the TL cover not only areas of adolescent literature, but also collegial responsibilities for curriculum and pedagogy, the changing face of information, and the challenges posed by a dynamic and ever-changing technological landscape (Herring, 2007). The teacher librarian is concerned far more with people than pages, and this realisation has been perhaps my biggest mind-shift since taking over this role, and over the course of my study this semester.

So, where to from here? I’m sure that there are many more realisations I will encounter during my studies. But what I’ve learned so far is that the library is a living organism, which feeds the learning soul of the school. One respondent to the recent 21st Library Futures report referred to the school as an ecosystem, and wondered what would happen when you removed the giant tree that lived in the centre of the field – how would this impact life that depends on it? (NSWDET, 2010, p4). I love this idea – the interconnectedness of teaching and learning, focused around the library as an ecological necessity. Without it, providing shelter and food to the wildlife, holding the soil together, creating the life-giving oxygen that the inhabitants need, the entire ecosystem would crumble. Such is the power of an effective school library, and the responsibility of the teacher librarian to ensure through their leadership that the library continues to live and breath its essential purpose. What an exciting responsibility to have!

References

Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. (2013, January). F-10 Overview. Retrieved October 2, 2014, from The Australian Curriculum:www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/Curriculum/Overview

Belisle, C. (2005). The teacher as leader: Transformational leadership and the professional teacher or teacher-librarian. School Libraries in Canada Online, 24(3), 73 – 78. http://www.clatoolbox.ca/casl/slic/SLICVol24issue3.pdf

Bonanno, K (2011) A profession at the tipping point: time to change the game plan. http://vimeo.com/31003940

Collay, M. (2011). Teaching is leading. Everyday teacher leadership: Taking action where you are (pp. 75-108). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Herring, J. (2007). Teacher Librarians and the school library. In S. Ferguson (ed.) Libraries in the twenty-first century: charting new directions in information (pp.27-42). Wagga Wagga, NSW: Centre for Information Studies, Charles Sturt University.

Purcell, M. (2010). All librarians do is check out books right? A look at the roles of the school library media specialist. Library Media Connection 29(3), 30-33.

Rodgers, T (2014a) A STEEP learning curve – the Library landscape. http://thinkspace.csu.edu.au/biggerontheinside/2014/10/07/steeplearningcurve/

Rodgers, T (2014b) Library Girls!! And Boys. http://thinkspace.csu.edu.au/biggerontheinside/2014/08/11/librarygirlsandboys/

Rodgers, T (2014c) Forum post 1.

Rodgers, t (2014d) Leading from the library. http://thinkspace.csu.edu.au/biggerontheinside/2014/08/20/leadingfromthelibrary/

 

 

A STEEP learning curve – the Library Landscape

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I’ve found the varied discussions of others’ school library contexts interesting – it’s like peering through the Playschool windows into other worlds! It has also helped me focus my attention on the strengths of my own context at Evans High School, and allowed me to take stock of what our opportunities are for development in the future.

So, my STEEP analysis of the library@Evans!

Social: in previous years, the library was massively under-utilised, with students only coming in to use a power point if their phones needed charging, or escape from the rain or heat. There were many behaviour referrals as a result of negative incidents taking place in the library during break times, and seniors rarely used the space during free or study periods.
When I took over at the start of 2014, we implemented many changes to the space. As a result, the library is now used very differently. Students gather during break times to play games, read, sit quietly in one of the soft comfortable spaces around the building, or hang out with their friends. There is a lot of positive interaction going on, as students collaborate on building worlds in minecraft or clash of clans, play card games or chess, watch movies, or chat. There is a committed group of students who are running a “library warriors” group, organising library displays and activities, and contributing ideas about future directions of the library.
Our school library caters to the mainstream high school (coed 7-12), an intensive English centre with a fluctuating population of a wide range of cultures and backgrounds, and an autism unit. One of the key strengths of the library socially is that it provides a nurturing safe space for this diverse community to interact with each other, and build some positive connections.
Staff are also more actively involved in the library, with CAPA staff working with classes to create works that can be featured in our gallery spaces. Other staff frequently visit to help students with study or research both in break times and senior study periods, and engage with students by playing cards or chatting about what’s happening. It’s a vibrant, lovely, wonderful space to spend my days!

Technological: our previous principal was focused on making our library a technology centre, and created three computer labs in the building which take up a huge amount of the floor space. We have three labs which each have 24 computers and a data projector, and DER wifi throughout the building.
We are about to add mobile devices to our technology arsenal, with 10 laptops and 20 iPads being available for student use, as well as a trial of a number of different ereader and tablet devices.
Our BYOD/BYOT policy is about to be implemented, which will mean that students will be able to bring their own devices in and connect to the school wifi. As we have just lost our DER TSO position, much of the management of this program will be done in the library, and by me as both TL and technology team member.
The recent departure of our DER TSO position has meant that there have been changes in the way that school-supplied technology is supported in our school. (All students from Yr10-12 have a DER laptop, with IEC students able to borrow one from the school pool of laptops during their enrolment). As this position was previously located in the library, there is a natural inclination amongst students to continue to see the library as their support hub for technology issues.

Economic: In recent years, the library budget has been minimal. As my position in the library is a trial, it was also supported with an increase in budget from both the high school and IEC, and support for additional technology purchases for the library from the Technology Team based on my support of ongoing ICT initiatives in the school. There has also been allowance made for additional funds across the school for beautification projects, which has led to a pool of money being made available for painting and new library supplies.

Environmental: Our school has a strong focus on recycling, and the library has a number of paper recycling bins around. Our SRC runs an aluminium can recycling program, and the library is a central focus of that, with dedicated can recycling bins at the front door. We are developing a “freecycling” policy, which encourages students to think about ways to be environmentally friendly in their disposal of unwanted items – is there some way it could be reused or repurposed, or rehomed to someone who may be able to make use of it? We are also holding an art competition in Term 4 where artworks and sculptures will be only able to be produced with books that have been weeded from our library collection, and will be included as part of a gallery wall which is going to feature a shelf unit constructed from old encyclopaedias. Much of the soft furnishing which has recently been added to the library (couches, cushions, etc) has been sourced from donations from our school community, both saving it from landfill and creating an awareness of the benefits of giving things new homes, rather than purchasing new.

Political: This for me is the really interesting one. There are a number of office spaces in the library which are being used by individuals, and the space is then not available for the wider community. Changes in the library are being resisted, because of personal politics, and personal agendas about maintaining space which is seen as “theirs”. There is some resistance to change from the supervising library Head Teacher as well, who was responsible for overseeing the previous librarian, and perhaps feels that the change in position reflects poorly on her management of the library in previous years. It’s a minefield, but there is also a lot of support from the senior exec, as well as from teachers who have seen the changes that have happened so far, and are excited for what might come in the future.