Wow what a journey this has been! I began my journey towards becoming a teacher librarian last year in 2014 as a means of diversifying my professional practice, despite never having worked in a school library before. Becoming a teacher librarian, I reasoned, would allow me to continue my love of teaching, enhance my own professional knowledge and practice, in particular reference to upskilling myself in Literacy and ICT which is highlighted throughout the new Australian Curriculum.
Fast forward to the present and I am so close to finishing my Masters of Education Teacher Librarian course. It has been a very quick journey, considering I only started in July 2014 and we are now in July 2015, and I’ve not yet really been able to apply all I’ve learnt throughout the course. Within the small confines of my classroom I have, but I’ve not yet worked in a school library and I believe I am one of the very few MEd TL students (there were none on my study tour) with no practical experience whatsoever, or who weren’t currently working in a school library. I certainly felt on the back foot for a lot of this course.
In this final, reflective blog post, I will provide a brief reflection of each subject that I undertook. Some of these reflections will be detailed, others will be brief and this will depend on what I personally gained from each subject. I will cover each subject in chronological order, and in so doing, will hope to show the journey of my learning from its very humble beginnings to where I’ve arrived now.
ETL401- Teacher Librarianship
Throughout my course, I’ve had so many people cheekily throw Purcell’s words at me, “all librarians do is check out books, right?” (Purcell, 2008). It’s been with increasing pleasure and pride that I’ve been able to respond with facts and figures that leave them reeling a little. Facts like up to 9% of student achievement can be attributed to the school library (Lance, 2001 in Oberg, 2002), and that with up to 20% of students ignoring information they don’t understand, a TL is pivotal in overcoming this information deficit (Herring and Tarter, 2007). By relaying these facts to several members of staff, both teaching and non-teaching, I believe that they are beginning to understand the value of having a TL as a information specialist who can work collaboratively with them to expand their students learning and skills in various ways – not just lend books. This has been seen in the increased collaboration between staff and the TL, with many of the library lessons now being used to explore information literacy. At first, a lot of the staff would just smile and nod at my many comments I would make about what I had learnt while undertaking this course – remembering that there is very little exposure of how a TL can really enhance learning outcomes for students. For example, not once in my entire initial university degree did they mention a TL, their role and added value to the school. So it has only been by taking this course have I really understood. This subject, for me, was the eye-opener I needed to land me smack bang into my learning and into the enormity of the role of the TL.
The biggest learning experience for this subject, was developing my understanding of the importance of collaboration between school leadership and school librarians in order to achieve the best outcome for students. For this alchemy to happen, a couple of things need to be present. The school leaders need to be open to the potential of the school library and need to see the immense value it provides. The TL, in their role, MUST have high initiative, must seek this collaboration and must actively espouse the virtues and value of the library. Stereotypically, librarians are not known for their extroversion and active collaboration, so they may need to work hard to change this perception in order to be heard and valued by closed-minded Principals. Librarians need to be seen and heard within the school environment! As such, this must then be a symbiotic relationship of dynamic collaboration- the librarian and the leadership team must work together.
Whilst this is the best case scenario in a picture perfect world, I find a huge resemblance to this learning and that from my Bachelor’s degree when studying behaviour management. It is all well and good to study these notions – it would be amazing if this could all happen. When studying the different behaviour models and approaches you think, great! That would work, that sounds amazing, I could definitely implement that! But putting that into practice is a totally different story. They fail to mention the many elements you need to consider such as the different personalities, that Jimmy may be from a broken home and that he is passed around from home to home etc. These are all variables that whilst on paper, the theory sounds amazing, but does it actually work? This is what I found with this course. Whilst it is ideal that as a TL you have the support from the Principal and Executive staff whilst working collaboratively with colleagues, even team teaching – depending on the school itself as well as how staff view the role of the TL differs from school to school. It also depends on how willing you are to stand up for yourself and advocate for the library and show your value. As such, I have been working extremely close with our Librarian at my current school to make this collaboration happen. She has been a fantastic mentor and through our discussions I believe I have reignited the fire within her and she has since been promoting her services and expertise loud and proud. Our stage team has worked very close with her since and we are slowly effecting change. In the past, when she has spoken up at staff meetings, a lot of staff members feel as though she is being arrogant or over the top – maybe it’s because she is so passionate. However, I have shown support and after many conversations with our colleagues they are beginning to see the many other ways we could use the library. This has been evident from the increase in invitation for her to attend stage meetings, more staff members engage in her expertise before and after school as well as more input from the TL at staff meetings where she will share ideas, resources etc.
The promotion of Information Literacy is at the core of what TLs should be doing and it is particularly this area I want to keep developing in my own practice. Kuhlthau (2004), Kuhlthau and Maniotes (2010), Herring (2007), Stripling (2008) and Eisenberg (2008) among others, convinced me that the use of information process models not only offers students a framework to assist them with a particular information problem but also a valuable metacognitive tool. I was shocked that, as a classroom teacher, not only did I know so little about information literacy and certainly did not think of it beyond a set of skills, but I had not even heard the term “guided inquiry”. Therefore, the critical comparison of Kuhlthau’s ISP and Herring’s PLUS models, undertaken in ETL 401 was very useful in determining a starting point for my own practice. The exploration of information process and enquiry learning models enabled me to see the relationship between positive digital citizenship and information literacy. I adapted my practice within the classroom almost immediately. More guided lessons were introduced and instead of assuming students had these 21st century learning skills, I was explicitly teaching students the skills they would require to become lifelong learners. Since then my knowledge and understanding has expanded greatly. My lessons still contain similar themes, but are essentially less teacher directed and more student lead. This allows me to take advantage of the knowledge and understanding students currently have and build on their skills and research abilities. These lessons are additionally no longer taught in isolation, but are integrated into many classroom activities. I also saw our TL and began to discuss the many ways guided inquiry could be used in her library sessions with my students, which then led to how it could be used with all classes. Stage two (my stage team) were very intrigued and interested in taking this approach during library sessions because they saw the value of it.
Each term, we have sat down with our TL to discuss what we are learning in the classroom and we brainstorm a variety of ways the library could enhance the learning outcomes of that subject. We have been particularly focused on ICT skills and up skilling the students in the guided inquiry process, which they have been exposed to in the library and then again in the classroom. It has been fantastic to see that the students are now making connections between what they have learnt in the library with what they are learning in our classrooms. My colleagues have made many comments such as, ‘Why didn’t we start doing this sooner?’ and ‘I am finding our students are finally understanding how to process information found on the internet a lot more’ – Yes! Because they are making connections and building upon skills not just doing fill-in activities that have no relevance!
ETL411- ICT for Innovative Practice
Prior to experiencing ETL411, I thought that I was competent in the use of ICT. It is only now that I realise how limited my knowledge was. I had heard of web 2.0 tools in discussions with other teachers previously, but had never raised an eyebrow or intended to seek more information. Being a classroom teacher of 4 years I am still learning the ropes and obviously still have a lot to learn. It has been through completing this course that I realise how beneficial web 2.0 tools can be in teaching and learning programs.
One of the major benefits of integrating Web 2.0 tools within curriculum is the engagement and motivation it provokes in students (Backes, 2012; Combes, 2014). Not only was I oblivious to the meaning and benefits of web 2.0 tools, but also the range of tools out in the big World Wide Web.
It was only after the first assignment that I became well informed and engrossed in researching the many web 2.0 tools available for a range of different purposes. There is definitely no shortage of what teachers can access to engage and enhance student learning outcomes, it is just a matter of looking for it (which is not hard at all). I found Jeff Dunn’s, ‘The 100 Best Web 2.0 Classroom Tools Chosen by You’ website (2011) extremely useful (it is an annotated bibliography) and it is a resource I have utilised several times now and have also shared with my colleagues. From this I actually presented a workshop on the use of web 2.0 tools in the classroom to the entire staff. We looked at Jeff Dunn’s website and many colleagues, who just like myself, had never contemplated using these in the classrooms before. I think this comes down to a lack of experience with ICT and it can be intimidating at times. From this we brainstormed several ways these tools could be used to enhance the curriculum. We have had a class set of iPads in the school for almost 4 years and very rarely are they used. However since the workshop they are constantly booked out. The TL at our school has also been able to demonstrate the many ways web 2.0 tools are used in the library during her sessions and the classroom teachers weren’t even aware that she had being doing this before hand. So between myself and the current TL we have be up skilling the staff on the use of ICT in the classroom. The students engagement has increased and their ICT skills are developing. Students are now creating projects on tools other than just powerpoint, instead they are using Prezi, which the kids absolutely love! Instead of publishing writing on a word document they are now creating books on Story Jumper and even having them physically published which is something not many students have had the opportunity to do. The parents have also loved this web 2.0 tool because they now have a keepsake.
The last assignment enabled me to delve into curriculum design. By critically thinking about how I could integrate a web 2.0 tool into my unit of works, I could visualise how I can implement it into my own classroom. The step by step analysis made me question effectiveness, conflicts, solutions, resources and student outcomes. During term 4 at our school we run weekly ‘interest groups’. Each teacher chooses a particular area they feel they have expertise in e.g. music, science experiments, art, ICT etc and the students get to choose what workshop they would like to attend for 7 weeks. I chose ICT and in particular – creating animations. Without the knowledge and skills I gained from this course, I would not have had the confidence to delve further into the animation process other than using powerpoint to create a stop-motion animation. We initially began with powerpoint, but as the students became more confident we then used the web 2.0 tool ‘Scratch’ which I explored while undertaking this course. The students loved it, with some of them even making their own interactive games and exploring it further at home.
ETL504- Teacher Librarian as Leader
Leadership is an area I initially felt was not necessary to cover in a teacher librarianship course. However the more I have studied, witnessed librarians in action and looked at job advertisements it became clear this is an important part of being a librarian. Employers want someone who is able to manage people, the volunteers and technicians, as well as someone who can manage a collection. Leadership as a role of the teacher librarian is written into the standards of professional excellence, instructing us to engage in school leadership, participate in key committees and build collaborative teams (standard 3.3).
During this subject I was exposed to a wide range of resources and understandings that prompted me to reflect and think critically on my initial understanding of the Teacher Librarian and their position/ role within a school. Prior to my studies in this subject my understanding of a leader was more aligned with a manager. Further development of my understanding of leadership involved the concept that leaders are people who are able to influence others.
From readings, I initially stipulated that good leaders make the effort to regularly engage with all members of the team. However, I now recognise that a good leader does much more than engage with the team – they listen intently (Minute MBA, 2012; Forsyth, 2009); have a deep understanding of themselves, of the strengths and weaknesses of each member and of the team as whole; they are effective in getting team members to share their vision and they learn with and from the team (Collay, 2011).
I really enjoyed exploring the discussions of mission and vision statements. My prior knowledge of these two concepts limited my ability to distinguish differences. However, I feel I now have a solid grasp of the difference between a vision statement and a mission statement. A vision statement is aspirational and audacious (Johnson, 2010; Virtualstrategist, 2008a); it is future-focused (Charles Sturt University (CSU), 2014). While a mission statement is about why we exist and our core function (Virtualstrategist, 2008b). It is operative and drives everything you do (Johnson, 2010).
It was during Module 6, Teacher Librarian (TL) as Leader, that I had my light bulb moment. Simon Sinek’s TED Talk introduced me to the idea “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it” (Sinek, 2010). This concept took my understanding of the importance of having a vision worthy of following further. I can be an inspiring leader firstly if I have a vision worth following, but secondly I need to inspire in others why my vision is important; why I am creating the change process, for them to come along the journey with me.
I felt my lack of experience as a TL limited my contributions in the forums. Although I had been an avid viewer of the forums, I had been a limited contributor. I enjoyed exploring and creating a vision for a 21st century library. Valenza (2010), Sullivan (2011) and Hay (2014) presented many innovative and functional ways to create physical and virtual spaces in the library to cater for 21st century learners and establish the library as the central learning space in the school. I look forward to running my own library, where as TL, I can lead from the middle to create a library fitting of my vision. My vision for my future library is really hard to say at this point, due to my lack of experience and trial and error with what may or may not work. However I see it in the direction of becoming an integral part of the school that co-exists within the school community, not a separate entity.
ETL503- Resourcing the curriculum
The process of evaluating and developing a model collection was hugely beneficial as I have not worked in a school library before. I was unaware of many aspects about collection development and management; in fact I didn’t even realise these terms differed but Kennedy (2006) helped me understand the processes involved in developing and managing an effective school library collection. If I had to take over running a school library tomorrow I could use the models suggested by Hart (2003), Hughes-Hassell & Mancall (2005), and Kennedy (2006), to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the collection and to make informed decisions about the direction the library should go.
One seemingly obviously lesson I learned was that every school’s collection must be shaped by a clear understanding of the school community it serves and the needs of this community (Waldron-Lamotte, M 2014). One cannot simply copy another library’s collection and hope for success; it needs to be developed with the context of the school and the teaching and learning needs taken into consideration (Hughes-Hassell & Mancall, 2005).
Another important lesson I learned was how quickly a collection can become irrelevant to its users. By reading Hart (2003) and conducting a collection evaluation of a sample collection, I realised that if this process is not conducted regularly and systematically, the collection cannot possibly meet the needs of its users. This brings me to the process of weeding. I now understand a large collection does not necessarily mean an effective collection, and as Baumbach & Miller (2006, p6) wrote, “Out of date information is never better than no information”. Regular weeding of the collection, closely related to the collection’s purposes and goals, is vital to ensure its relevance and efficient use (ALIA & ASLA, 2009; Waldron-Lamotte, M, 2015).
I also reflected on the growing implications a digital collection has for a school library. However challenging licensing and copyright issues may be, it is of vital importance that online and digital resources are included in a collection policy (Johnson, 2012; Waldron-Lamotte, M, 2014b). Other challenges digital resources present include tailoring the digital collection to meet specific needs of the school community, and providing access to information 24/7 by developing links between home and school (e-resources, 2010). A highlight of completing this course was discovering all the digital and online resources already available for access to all NSW Department of Education and Communities (DEC).
The issue of copyright compliance was something I had never given much thought of as a class teacher.
The Information Sheets for schools on the Smartcopying website was useful in helping me understand this complicated area. I know that both the collection itself and the way it is used must comply with copyright laws and this must be mentioned in a collection policy to provide a level of protection (National Copyright Unit, nd). Prior to the evaluation and development of a collection model, I did not fully understand the role and responsibilities of a teacher librarian, especially around evaluating a collection, copyright, weeding and managing digital resources.
The most important thing I learnt was that the collection is a dynamic thing- it must continually change to meet the needs of its users. As such, the TL needs to know the curriculum, needs to know the needs of students and teachers and needs to be responsive to these needs in a timely manner.
ETL402- Literature in Education
I found this subject very interesting as well as very beneficial to my own teaching practice. I remember it assisted my programming for the first term of the school year as I was programming the stage two British Colonisation unit at the time, and one of the first assignments for this course was to source literature that would aide and enhance a unit of our choice.
Braxton (2008) states that “literacy through literature was the prime responsibility of the teacher-librarian” and I think this subject really captured this notion. This was a subject that allowed me to combine my love of reading and teaching all in one! It was really exciting to gather hard data that supported what I’d believed all along; that using stories in the classroom, or, more simply, using children’s stories and literature, or fiction to teach content or non-fiction was good practice. Indeed, using literature in the classroom can offer students “close, reflective, analytic study…while meeting the expectations of the … curriculum” (Unsworth, 2006).
This subject was a reminder of the multifaceted role of the TL. In particular, fiction advocate and Instructional Specialist. This Instructional Specialist is also an important reminder that the TL is essentially also still a teacher. As the fiction advocate, the TL is responsible for the materials selected for the school library that will instill the skills and love for reading. In particular, the materials will influence the students’ attitude to learning, knowledge and power of words (Gavin, Forbes, & Nagelkerke, 2011).
At our school, we run a program called Accelerated Literacy where we select a book to study for a term. Accelerated Literacy (AL) teaches spelling, grammar and vocabulary and also teaches the ways of thinking – the discourses, or cultural knowledge – that underpin what these mean. This knowledge is an essential part of being able to decode text and therefore succeed educationally. As a result of AL teaching, students gain control over how to put it all together. This is a very successful program and we are able to delve into many different topics and explore the world we live in. By undertaking this course, I suddenly realised, our school is already using literature to explore various topics, why not broaden that and use literature to enhance the learning outcomes and students’ understandings of topics and concepts in other KLAs as well. I discussed this with our TL as well as my Assistant Principal and at a staff meeting I put this idea forward to my fellow colleagues. We then attended a staff development afternoon where we got together with classroom teachers within our local area to discuss the new English curriculum. It was noted that the use of literature to teach other topics was highly valuable and there were many resources out there to support this. Since then the TL has provided each classroom with literature that will help support our KLA knowledge development each term. We have been able to explore key concepts at a deeper level and students will often make connections far greater with the characters in the story rather than just the key notes we discuss in class. It has been very successful and the school is looking to purchase more resources to continue this approach – particularly literature surrounding the topics and concepts of Asia, as this has been a new emphasis in the Australian Curriculum.
This course has been wonderful, challenging and a complicated experience and it has certainly enriched my life and my classroom practice.The completion of this degree does not mark the end of my learning. In reflection I am more proactive in seeking, locating and trialing new technologies and ways of teaching. My motivation to implement and improve on my expertise has crossed over into many aspects of my life. Personally, I am now a more successful learner and teacher. I have a deeper awareness of ASLA’s Standards of Professional Excellence and the knowledge and skills required by TL and strive to achieve these standards within my own teaching practice. I exercise and improve on these skills continually. My skills at leading and interacting with my peers to support and provide professional development have strengthened my self-confidence and have resulted in improved results for my students. I am continuing to participate in professional networks to expand my knowledge and how to most effectively use it.
My view of the role of TL has changed during this course of study in that I now consider it as fundamentally a partnership, rather than limited to a support role. I have also come to realise that TLs must take a proactive leadership role in influencing innovations in e learning, pedagogy and integrating information literacy. Teacher librarians face many challenges in such a wide ranging role, and whilst not all the Standards of Professional Excellence (ALIA/ALSA, 2004) can be achieved at all times, and indeed some factors are beyond our control, ultimately, the role of the TL is provide a dynamic, flexible place where students are engaged in a variety of learning activities. Time and time again, all the reading I have done in the various subjects and my observations of the wider profession, point to the key understanding that the user, in this case the students and the broader school community, is at the heart of everything we do in school libraries. I know that when I do get a job as a TL, I will be collaborative, I will show initiative and I will work to consistently promote the school library, its resources the rich knowledge that a TL can bring to the school community.
This is a fantastic clip that cleary outlines the libraries of the past and highlights the future direction of our school libraries. Johnson, D. 2010, March 25. Libraries past – libraries future . Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7K-4ZF0x5ic
Reference List- Final portfolio
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Baumbach, D. & Miller, L. (2006). Less is more: A practical guide to weeding school library collections. Chicago: American Library Association.
Braxton, B. (2008). The teacher-librarian as literacy leader. Teacher Librarian. Retrieved from: www.redorbit.com/news/education/1324258/the_teacherlibrarian_as_literacy_leader
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Oberg, D. (2002). Looking for the evidence: Do school libraries improve student achievement? School Libraries in Canada. 22(2). Pp 10-13.
Purcell, M. (2008). All librarians do is check out books, right? A look at the roles of a school library media specialist. Library Media Connection. 29 (3). Pp 30-33.
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Sullivan, M. (2011). Divine Design. How to Create the 21st Century School Library of Your Dreams. Accessed from http://www.slj.com/2011/04/buildings-design/divine-design-how-to-create-the-21st-century-school-library-of-your-dreams/
Unsworth, L. (2006). E-Literature for Children: Enhancing Digital Literacy Learning. New York: Routledge. (ebook). p.122.
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Virtualstrategist. (2008a, July 9). How to Write a Vision Statement that Inspires. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ioY-YS
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Waldron-Lamotte, M. (2014). ETL 503 Module 2 Developing collections to support teaching and learning [Online blog post]. Retrieved from https://thinkspace.csu.edu.au/melissawaldronlamotte/2014/12/20/etl-503-module-2-developing-collections-to-support-teaching-and-learning/
Waldron-Lamotte, M. (2015). ETL 503 Module 5 Evaluating Collections [Online blog post]. Retrieved from https://thinkspace.csu.edu.au/melissawaldronlamotte/2015/01/31/etl-503-module-5-evaluating-collections/