Part A: Statement of personal philosophy: what do you think makes an effective teacher librarian?
It is my belief that the library is the heart of the school and the work of the teacher librarian can make a significant difference to student achievement. My aim is to encourage students to become enthusiastic readers, critical thinkers and skillful researchers. I am committed to making sure that children have a positive learning experience. I see my role as that of a guide, facilitating independent learning and helping students reach their full potential.
An effective teacher librarian has to meet the changing needs of the library’s users and take into account the ever changing pedagogical and technological landscape therefore I feel among the vital dispositions, skills and attitudes for a teacher librarian is to be reactive, innovative and reflective.
Part B: Critically evaluate your learning during the teacher librarianship course, focusing on three themes.
Theme 1: ICT use in the library
As the information landscape continues to evolve, so does my own learning and development. Interestingly, in my first blog post on this course, where I discussed the role of the teacher librarian, I did not mention Information Communication Technology (ICT) at all (Riddle, 2014a). I now however understand that its use and integration can be of pivotal importance for a teacher librarian’s practice and as a corollary, children’s learning.
Two readings in my first subject ETL401 particular stressed the importance of being a reflective practitioner who considers the current and future impact of technology and adapting to the changing learning environment (November, 2007, p. 44; O’Connell, 2012, p. 6). This was a significant learning moment as ICT use in the library till this point, was largely limited to using the library catalogue. As I progressed in this subject I developed a particular interest in ICT and in ETL503 (Resourcing the Curriculum), I started to consider the increasing expectations for children to present, assess and share their work in a variety of multimedia formats (Riddle, 2015). In a blog post, I stated that it was vital that teachers and students are provided with the resources to meet these needs (Riddle, 2015). However, at this point, though I agreed with the theory, it was not something that I was doing in practice.
One way I achieved this was creating a Library YouTube channel in an after-school book club.
The idea for this connected my initial readings in this subject, developing understanding, and a statement from a teacher who told me that when discussing with children what they wanted to be when they grew up, one of them said “A YouTuber”. This was the first time she had heard this sort of response. Creating content on YouTube is now a viable career option (Johnson, 2017, p. 61) and I felt there was a need to support the skills associated with creating and uploading content in this way.
Below is the children’s first video
In YouTube Book Club, children became ‘content creators’ by planning, scripting, filming, editing and uploading book related content. I shared this with the school Principal and I then asked him to share it the rest of the school. This practice of sharing is supported by ASLA (Australian School Library Association) standard 2.6 which states that highly accomplished teacher librarians “model the use of ICT to their colleagues” and “work collaboratively with colleagues to improve student learning and engagement” (Australian School Library Association, 2004, p. 9).
The club was a success and the children uploaded five videos. However, the next step would be to ensure regular uploads. When critiquing Arizona State University Youtube page in a blog post, I commented on their lack of recent videos (Riddle, 2016) which can have adverse effects on engagement as people are more likely to unsubscribe to an inactive channel. The same would be true for the library channel. A future project that would be a logical next step would be to create a channel that could incorporate regular videos from the library with information sharing, guides and content created by the children.
A distinguishing feature of Web 2.0 are the principles of active users, interactivity, and user generated content (Schwerdtfeger, 2013, March 17). My Youtube channel is a good example of a platform that embraces these principles (Riddle, 2017). My interest in technology for library instruction led to me to attend a course recently on this very topic and to choose the elective subject INF 506 (Social networking for Information Professionals). The subject content in this elective as well as my experience during my Study Placement, developed my understanding of Web 2.0 tools as not just a teaching tool but as an important method of communication.
Two platforms which I developed as a result of my studies at Charles Sturt University was a library Twitter page and a Pinterest page.
Of particular inspiration to me during the Study Placement was the Marketing and Communications Team at the State Library of Victoria. Their presentation impacted on how I used Twitter in particular. The team used strategic marketing initiatives to celebrate and share what they were doing as well as attracting new visitors. I started having a more formalised structure to my postings and thought more deeply about what and how I would share. The marketing team stressed the importance of sharing across teams in the same institute. The literature highlights the benefits of this collaborative approach, which as discussed in my blog post, (Riddle, 2017) includes the opportunity to extend the reach of content (LePage, 2014) and to contribute towards a sense of community (Ramsey & Vecchione, 2014, p.77). Some examples of this ‘cross-pollination’ can be seen below on my Twitter page. In one example I have written a Tweet @ a member of the Senior Leadership Team, in another retweeted the Secondary School Library tweet and in another included the school’s main Twitter page.
Xander is our library helper today! @DIS_PrimarySLT @DIS_Dubai pic.twitter.com/7Ux0rkHQn0
— DIS Primary Library (@DISlibraryPS) November 24, 2016
Aisha has beautiful crazy hair!! Cup cake hair!! @DIS_Dubai @ScheepsV pic.twitter.com/qtI98qe80T
— DIS Primary Library (@DISlibraryPS) May 18, 2017
Theme 2: The role of the teacher librarian : Literacy
My first subject on this course ETL401 focused on the many overlapping and interconnected roles of the teacher librarian. I learnt that while the definition of this role can vary, professional standards and policies help to define and set high standards for the position. During some independent reading and research for the assignment, I was particularly interested in a UK government educational strategy document titled “Building an Outstanding Reading School” which connected to my readings on the instructional role of the teacher librarian. The article discussed the importance of celebrating and promoting a culture of reading. This was backed by research which highlighted the significant impact this could have on children’s achievement and development (Clements, 201, p. 3).
This reading in particular coincided with my annual professional development targets and I started thinking in more practical terms about how I could promote reading throughout the school. Our Professional Growth Targets had to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (SMART) and this helps to measure the impact of changes implemented and gives a specific time frame and sense of accountability. One of my targets was to develop the school’s first ever Book Week. This was done in collaboration with the teachers, SLT (School Leadership Team) and Literacy Coordinator. Activities included a Book Fair, DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) session and a decorate your class door as your favourite book character competition. In this competition all classes decorated their doors as the front cover of a book and the whole school got involved including the school Principal and administration! By the end of the week the whole school looked like a library!
While Book Week was a success I felt I wanted to increase links with the curriculum and to increase academic rigour connected to literacy. The following year, I expanded the activities to include a story writing competition using the platform storybird.com. Children in Years 4 and 5 were given their own accounts. The platform allowed them to write their own stories using images to inspire writing. They could also collaborate with classmates if they wished. Children went through the process of writing and editing to produce their own books.
Reading The Ancient Dragon by Ammara in 5O. Well done another great story! https://t.co/TxlyatpV29 @disdubai
— DIS Primary Library (@DISlibraryPS) April 30, 2017
During my Professional Growth Review at the end of the year I received very positive feedback and Book Week was included as one of my key success for the academic year.
Inspiration for reading also comes from authors themselves. I started to organize regular author visits which have included local and international authors.
Photos below of three international author and illustrators Steve Swinburne, Michael Foreman and Marcus Alexander.
Thanks Steve for inspiring us with our writing! @steverswinburne @DIS_Dubai pic.twitter.com/uvnZmztYqx
— DIS Primary Library (@DISlibraryPS) February 29, 2016
30 were so lucky to have famous author and illustrator Michael Foreman visit today! @EmiratesLitFest @DIS_Dubai pic.twitter.com/m2ixmExy5z
— DIS Primary Library (@DISlibraryPS) March 8, 2017
End of the day library fun times with @getyourreadon . What a great day for all the children! Thanks so much Marcus! pic.twitter.com/lloiTvOfl3
— DIS Primary Library (@DISlibraryPS) October 9, 2016
During lessons, we connect to authors in real time by sending them tweets when we are reading their books. Children also take part in ‘author studies’ where we focus on one author for a period of time. Social media is used to promote the library and its activities and to engage with our students. One fun activity we did, was take part in the #extremereading challenge when children tweeted pictures of themselves reading in weird and wonderful places!
The article “Building an Outstanding Reading School” particularly focused on the importance of reading frequently and for pleasure. During my time in the school we introduced after-school parent borrowing to encourage parents to come and borrow a book to read with their child.
A reminder about family borrowing in the primary school library! @DIS_Dubai pic.twitter.com/bYlbem8kOT
— DIS Primary Library (@DISlibraryPS) October 18, 2016
Family borrowing is on Monday from 2.50-3.10 pm and Tuesday mornings from 7.30-7.45 in the PS library @DIS_Dubai @DIS_PrimarySLT pic.twitter.com/o9yo6Cz3Ff
— DIS Primary Library (@DISlibraryPS) October 31, 2016
It was also a great opportunity to promote the concept of following the child’s interest when it comes to making choices. I feel strongly that children need to find their way to get ‘hooked’ into reading and that while we have a responsibility to expose them to a variety of genres we should never force our choices onto them. Another way I tried to facilitate this was through regular exposure to a variety of texts during read-aloud sessions and to making sure there was sufficient time in the library lesson for not just browsing but also reading. Children today in many schools have such a busy schedule that it could be easy for a book to be checked out and remain in their bags. Having time to read a few pages in a relaxing environment I found was a catalyst for some reluctant readers to be reeled in.
Research has demonstrated the significant influence teacher librarians can have on students’ learning (Bush & Jones, 2013, p. 4) but we need to also be aware that it is difficult to conclusively measure this impact and therefore be cautious in interpreting results which may for example reflect correlation and not causation. Other studies have focused on positive outcomes when the teacher librarian works with staff (Morris, 2007, p. 24; Haycock, 2007, p. 25) and I believe it is perhaps best to see the teacher librarian working at the centre of the school in collaboration with staff and parents to improve student achievement.
My desire to create lifelong readers was put into practice by understanding how students learn. This knowledge is on-going and as a result of my own research and workplace knowledge. These two strands are noted in ASLA Standard 2.1 ‘Understand how students learn’ (p.3). Practical application and reflection is vital in order to grow as a teacher librarian. This involves considering what works and adapting according to technological and pedagogical change and over time differences in how children learn best.
Theme 3: Leadership and management
When I started this course I felt I had a clear idea about the management expectations for a teacher librarian. In a blog post I stated that these centred on managing a budget, sourcing and ordering appropriate materials, timetabling, running inventories, cataloguing, processing and analysing data as well as managing staff and volunteers (Riddle, 2014b). However, the concept of leadership was less tangible to me and was not something I had felt was particularly significant to the role. Indeed, until this point I had not really considered my own leadership capacities in my role as teacher librarian. I think the reason for this, is that the position is not always a formal leadership role within a school hierarchy. Though this can vary globally and from institution to institution, this lack of consensus perhaps impacted on how I initially perceived the role.
In a blog post I stated that through my studies “I gained a greater depth of understanding of the scope of leadership possibilities and was able to reflect on areas where I needed to develop” (Riddle, 2014b). The concept of instructional leadership (Marzano, Waters & McNulty, 2005, p. 18) was of particular interest to me and I felt I could see quite clearly where I could play a more pivotal role in leading elements of teaching and learning across the school. In a blog post I reflected that this could be best achieved by “working in collaboration with a hierarchy of personnel throughout the school” (Riddle, 2014b).
This developed in practical terms when I took over responsibility for coaching children for the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature Readers’ Cup competition.
The role involved working initially with over 200 children. In order to get as many children as possible involved I invited the whole of Year 5 and 6 to take part in an internal heat prior to selecting the children who would compete. This made the process fair, open to everyone and most importantly got more children enthusiastic and excited about reading and the festival. There were then weekly meetings with the two selected teams over a five month period.
The role meant I was collaborating with the children, their parents, the class teachers, SLT and the four other staff members who would be acting as mentors to the children. On a practical level, this meant being highly organised and utilising management skills. On a cognitive level it meant being strategic, planning and prioritising. Most important though was utilising social and emotional leadership qualities. Kotter (2013) stated that efficient leaders need to have a clear vision (para. 8.) so that others are motivated and inspired towards a common goal and shared vision of success. This is also known as transformational leadership (Browning, 2013, p. 14) which focuses on the intrinsic human motivation to succeed (Tedx Talks, 2009, July). Something that indicated to me that the children were intrinsically motivated was that they never once asked me what the prize was until the day of the competition! Similarly, the staff I worked with, and the mentors in particular remained on board throughout the whole process. Their support and shared enthusiasm played a key role in the teams’ success.
The children were competing against over 300 other teams, reached the Finals and were then placed 1st and 2nd. It was a wonderful achievement for the children, school and for me professionally, it was one of my highlights during my time in the school.
I felt this was enabled by the school culture of collaboration and the fact that I had already been in the school for a number of years meant that I had the trust of the children and my colleagues. Most importantly, I strived to create a learning environment where the children felt appreciated and inspired
Me with the Readers’ Cup Teams for the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature
Chevron Readers' Cup Finals are on 9th March. Good luck everyone! @EmiratesLitFest @DIS_Dubai @ScheepsV pic.twitter.com/XETHzFoyQx
— DIS Primary Library (@DISlibraryPS) February 28, 2017
Library team and children celebrating getting to first and second place
We did it!!! pic.twitter.com/tEjgcP9Tqu
— DIS Primary Library (@DISlibraryPS) March 9, 2017
A very happy library team, so proud of the hardworking students who reached for the stars and never gave up! 1st & 2nd from over 300 teams pic.twitter.com/8YpmaX8a63
— DIS Primary Library (@DISlibraryPS) March 9, 2017
Well done our champion teams 'Dare to Dream' and 'Beyond Books' in today's @gulf_news @DIS_Dubai @DIS_PrimarySLT pic.twitter.com/ZlGztfrKdq
— DIS Primary Library (@DISlibraryPS) March 11, 2017
Interview at 20 seconds
Our winning teams and interview featured in the Day 7 highlights @EmiratesLitFest @DIS_Dubai https://t.co/YBsnaVSQFr
— DIS Primary Library (@DISlibraryPS) March 14, 2017
Another example of me taking on an instructional leadership style role, leading elements of teaching and learning across the school was when I worked in collaboration with the art teacher to run a Creativity Workshop for teachers. We ran the session four times to cater to all staff. I disseminated information I had learnt from a workshop on creative writing, storytelling and visualization and adapted it to the context of classroom and specialist teachers.
One of my Professional Growth targets was connected to building the capacity within my team. This follows a distributed leadership model which focuses on teams rather than individuals (Harris, 2004 as cited in Harris and Spillane, 2008, p.31). In a blog post, I reflected that this leadership style was present in my school and stated as such, I see myself as part of a “dynamic organization with many moving parts” (Ailshie, 2013, para. 4 as cited in Riddle, 2014b). A major advantage of this structure is that it utilises the expertise present in a team (Ailshie, 2013, para. 9). I was very lucky to work with two talented and hardworking librarian assistants. During the academic year I kept a focus on building on their skills through providing opportunities for team teaching, shared lesson planning, feedback, professional dialogue and external Professional Development opportunities which we attended as a team or they attended solo and took responsibility for disseminating the learning. In my Appraisee Review the comment was made “Kate has a flair for coaching and the development and growth of her team is evident” (Evidenced In Professional Growth review image under Theme 2).
Part C: An evaluation as to the extent to which what you have learned during this course will assist in developing your skills and attitudes as a professional teacher librarian.
From my experience, there is a great deal of variance on how the role of the teacher librarian is perceived and carried out. The ASLA/ALIA teacher librarian professional standards help to set benchmarks and expectations for the role.
The first standard refers to ‘Professional Knowledge’. While I am already a fully qualified teacher and had a solid background in teaching and learning, this course developed my specialist knowledge of information literacy, resources and ICT in particular. Standard 1.1 states that excellent teacher librarians “understand the principles of lifelong learning” (Australian Library Association, 2004, p. 2). Although I previously knew what this concept meant, I feel I now have the skills to enable this to happen. Resourcing the curriculum appropriately, following children’s interests and promoting a culture of reading throughout the school were all ways I attempted to achieve this. Professional knowledge from the course is key to enabling change because theory and research can validate certain decisions rather than relying on a ‘hunch’ that you are making the right judgement. Speaking from a viewpoint that is based on professional understanding and experience is also important in terms of gaining the trust of your colleagues and school community.
ASLA/ALIA Standard 2 is concerned with ‘Professional Practice’ covering the areas of learning environment, learning and teaching, library and information services management and evaluation. New ideas and concepts gained from observation and exposure to theory means I am continually changing and adapting the environment to best meet the children’s needs. This was particularly relevant to my context of working in a very small space which presented certain challenges. My studies and experience at a study visit to Methodist Ladies College Library (MLC) in Melbourne made me think more about having adaptive and flexible spaces. This has impacted, for example, on how I select furniture. I now prioritise furniture that is moveable and can be configured in different arrangements. I think of the potential of a space to enable exploration, collaboration and discovery. The MLC school Principal described the library as an ‘inquiry lab’. This concept has been supported by discussions into maker spacers in school libraries throughout my course. This in turn has enabled me to think more broadly when conceptualizing how best a space can be utilised.
The third ASLA/ALIA Standard concerns ‘Professional Commitment’. I feel this is crucial to being a successful teacher librarian. In particular the desire to want to continue learning by active participation in “education and library professional networks” (3.4). Learning from observation and dialogue with other information professionals has been some of the best professional development I have experienced and something which I would like to continue by creating more opportunities to visit other school libraries. Professional commitment to me also means working in a cycle of reflection and change, remaining open-minded to new ideas and practices. Sometimes this involves taking risks and making mistakes but it is part of the cycle of evolving as a teacher librarian and not remaining static.
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