Reflective Professional Portfolio – ETL507 Assessment 5
Part A: Philosophy
An effective teacher librarian (TL) fully engages with students and staff as both teacher and librarian. The TL supports teaching and learning experiences by: resourcing the curriculum in a manner that considers the local context; providing access to and implementing current research in best teaching and learning practices; developing the information literacy and fluency capacity of students and staff; and inspiring a love of literature and ethical information use. The TL also develops themselves and their library by keeping up to date with best practices in the information services industry and responsibly managing its resources.
Part B: Thematic Reflections
I have focused my reflections on the themes of leadership, technology and literature. These themes are ones that recur throughout most, if not all, subjects in the course and are areas where I could see growth in my understanding and application to my practice throughout the course.
At the outset of ETL504: Teacher librarian as leader I was sceptical about the claim that leadership is part of the role of the teacher librarian. As I detailed in my initial blog post for the subject, my experience with school leadership structures did not resonate with the idea of the TL being recognised as a school leader. Through reading the discussion forum and blog posts of other students on this topic, I realised that perhaps it was my understanding of leadership that needed to change. I therefore engaged in the subject with a mind open to entertaining such a paradigm shift.
It was no secret that leadership was seen as a role of the TL. Starting from ETL401, readings included leadership tasks in the roles to be balanced when allocating TL time (Purcell, 2010, pp. 31-32) and even made it into the title of one article (Sheerman, 2013). I had, however, managed to keep the concept on the periphery, but in ETL504 I had to grapple with it directly.
The first half of the subject looked at defining leadership and applying concepts of leadership to understanding organisational leadership structures. The separation of the concepts of management, task-oriented practices aimed at keeping an organisation moving from day to day, and leadership, vision-setting and motivational support for effectively managing change and growth in an organisation (Bush & Glover, 2014, p. 554), was addressed. This helped me to see that a key component of traditional school leadership positions, such as assistant or deputy principals, involved more management (Bush & Glover, 2014, p. 556 – 557) than leadership. While there is nothing in that precludes a TL from also holding one of these formal positions, these types of roles are not something that I think automatically adhere to the position of TL, nor are they facets that I particularly aspire to pursue. Isolating the concept of leadership from management then led to exploring different representations and qualities of leadership.
As we explored different theories and models of leadership, certain models and leadership characteristics stood out as both consistent with my understanding of the role of the TL and which also resonated with my own personality. I think that leadership roles for the TL typically arise situationally or as a result of a school leadership structure where the principal practices a distributed leadership model (Harris, 2014; Australian Institute for Teacher and School Leadership, 2016). Both of these have the characteristic of the TL’s leadership being dependent on the authorisation and perception of others, which is consistent with my initial understanding that TLs are not in the traditional “official” leadership hierarchy (Bush & Glover, 2014, p. 560). When in a position to practice leadership, I feel that servant leadership (Agile at Barclaycard, 2016) and instructional leadership (University of Washington, 2015) suit the mission of the TL to provide information, resources, and training in the effective use of those to the school community. My understanding of the applicability of these styles of leadership was reflected in posts in the early part of the session, in my first assessment and in my final assessment.
Notwithstanding this growing understanding of leadership, I found the first assessment task frustrating and not very useful or applicable in and of itself. The concept mapping task struck me as an ill-defined hybrid between a concept map and an organisational chart and the time investment to figure out how to construct it, both in theory and in practice using the designated program, seemed out of proportion to the worth of the exercise in terms of the teaching and learning goals. Nonetheless, this experience gave much to reflect on when constructing teaching, learning and assessment tasks for students in future.
More particularly, I did not find the thought exercise of constructing an idealised leadership structure for a change-resilient school very useful in itself. As graduates of this program, we will be working (or are currently working) in a real world context, not in an idealised vision of it. Notwithstanding that, I found the practice of critically analysing leadership structures was helpful when I went out into the real world and observed different information services organisations in my ETL507 study visits and professional placement. I think that the ability to critically analyse these organisations and compare them to my own working context was a key factor in applying lessons from such different organisations to my school library practice – as I touched on in the blog posts linked previously.
In the final analysis, I ultimately found the background in leadership and change management theory in ETL504 relevant to my role as a TL. Engaging with the subject material did show me that, with a broader definition of leadership, the position of TL can encompass a leadership role and certainly has roles that draw on leadership qualities and behaviours. I still remain unconvinced that an official school leadership role is, or should be, a typical component expected in a TL position. After all, if a leader is identified by the perceptions of others, though I may exhibit leadership qualities and implement leadership behaviours – how many need to identify as my followers before I can be considered a leader?
Use of information and communications technology (ICT) is central to teacher librarianship. The use of technology is integral to many, if not all, of the roles of a TL including resource management, resource circulation, supporting and teaching inquiry-based units, and developing information literacy and fluency.
Coming in to the MEd(TeachLib) course, however, I was fresh from a year of job-sharing as a classroom teacher on a Year 2 class where I had experienced significant technological challenges. Between the school RFF structure and the task split with my partner, I did not teach any science or technology classes. Even though in previous classroom teaching situations I had been an avid technology user, an accumulation of frustrations (SmartBoard malfunctioning, iPads not having consistent apps loaded, sporadic internet connectivity, etc) led to minimal instructional technology usage in my teaching and learning activities and, honestly, a bit of technology-integration burnout on my part. Thus, the somewhat idealised expectations regarding instructional technology integration peppered throughout the subject materials, posed a challenge to me as I reflected on in my final assessment for INF533. But, despite the challenges, technology use is expected of the TL.
For starters, even in schools with a minimum of ICT investment, the NSW Department of Education provides for a computerised library management system (LMS) with borrower records being shared with the computerised enrolment and employment databases used by government schools. While using this tool is essential for library resource management and circulation, it also has the capacity to begin functioning as part of a virtual learning commons (Loertscher & Koechlin, 2014). From my year of experience working as a primary school TL, I feel that increased levels of technology and training are needed to allow students and staff use the library management system in more than a cursory way. Developing effective use of this platform is an area where I would like to grow in the coming years. So far, I have made some efforts in customising the home page of the LMS and developing resource lists within the catalogue to support curriculum topics requested by teaching staff, but there is still much more that could be done.
Another area that would benefit from technology use is inquiry-based learning. Inquiry learning models such as Guided Inquiry Design (Kulthau, Maniotes, & Caspiari, 2012) and the NSW Information Search Process (ISP) (School Libraries. Learning Systems. State of New South Wales (Department of Education), 2015) rely on access to current, relevant, and authoritative information. In the current age, up-to-date information texts are increasingly found in digital formats. Articles documenting successful inquiry learning projects (McGuiness, 2013; Sheerman, 2011) typically include significant use of ICT resources. Of course, using these resources for inquiry learning leads us to the topic of information literacy or fluency.
ICT can only be a resource for inquiry learning if the students and teachers can use it effectively. Information literacy (Eisenberg, 2008), information fluency (Global Digital Citizen Foundation, n.d.) and digital citizenship (Education Services Australia, n.d.) all deal in slightly different ways with the ethical and effective use of ICT. As information service professionals, TLs have a responsibility to develop these related competencies within the school community. Research indicates that these competencies are best developed in the context of authentic tasks (REF, DATE), so combining information literacy and inquiry tasks in library lessons makes a lot of sense.
There are, however, barriers to incorporating ICT use to support inquiry learning and information literacy as a TL. Two, in particular, that I have encountered when trying to implement these tasks this year are a lack of collaboration and cooperation from classroom teachers and technological insufficiency. In my primary school, the only technology I had in the library at the beginning of the year were three desktop computers: one as a circulation kiosk, one as the online public access catalogue (OPAC) kiosk, and one in the workroom. There was no capacity to display something to the whole class and no library-specific devices for students to work with. Despite this paucity of technology, I attempted to supplement classroom inquiry projects in collaboration with teachers. The experience was a bit of a shambles. Usually, even if I remembered to bring borrowed laptops to the library with us, by the time I had the student groups logged on (at anywhere between a 1:2 and a 1:5 device to student ratio) some of the laptops were running out of power and others were failing to connect to the internet. With an hour-long session that encompassed transition between class and library, borrowing and returning books, and whatever lesson and activity was planned – not much useful learning happened.
Since that time, the library has been given a projector linked to one of the computers and five laptop computers. This is a small step in the right direction, but will still require careful planning to find effective learning activities that can be done with device to student ratios ranging from 1:2 to 1:5. I managed to begin using this technology to engage students, which I discuss somewhat in the next section. However, I believe that while ICT is definitely something that is a theoretical fit with the role of the TL and the school library, it must be sufficiently resourced and supported to be effectively used.
Thus far, reflecting the resourcing constraints that I face, the greatest influence of technology use on my practice as a TL that has flowed from the MEd(TeachLib) course has been through the professional networking it facilitated. Using networks built through my university subject cohorts, university alumni Facebook groups, and NSW DoE social networking sites has given me much-needed support and inspiration, which has helped me to effectively serve my school community.
A passion for using literature across the curriculum was one of my motivations for pursuing a career change from classroom teacher to teacher librarian. Therefore, it came as no surprise that promoting literacy and a love of reading, as well as resourcing the school with literature across the curriculum were key learning areas across the master’s course. Even though I came into the course with strength in these areas, I have learned and developed my understanding and skills through this experience.
ETL503 opened my eyes to the importance of selection criteria for the library and the variety of selection aids available. I am still working on developing a relevant collection development policy with selection criteria relevant to my particular school context, but I am still responsible for selecting resources. While I don’t think that teachers care about the selection aids that I use when picking books for the library, I am glad that we were challenged to think about them in our first assessment task for ETL503. Having support for selections helps give me confidence in my choices, especially as I try to negotiate the balance between materials for pleasure reading and for curriculum support. For instance, when tasked by the P&C this year with providing quality literature for home reading and popular reading for library borrowing, I used selection aids such as our current quality text multiple copy resources, the CBCA Book of the Year shortlists, the Premier’s Reading Challenge booklists and various book review blogs to try and provide a balanced order.
Acquiring books is one side of the coin, getting them into the hands of the school community is the other. A topic that came up in various subjects was the idea of promoting or marketing library resources and services to the community (Newsum, 2016, p. 102). I had never really thought about this before, but it has become an invaluable “point of difference” in my bag of tricks. Even the simple act of showcasing new or underutilised materials at our weekly staff meeting and giving teachers a brief idea of the content and how the material ties into the curriculum has been revolutionary at my school. The principal and other teaching staff have thanked me for this type of promotion and spoken of its benefit to the teaching practice of the school. In addition, staff borrowing from the library increased by over 300% this year compared with last year. While my initiative was only one factor in that rise, I can’t help but think that it has been a significant factor. An area for personal improvement in this area is the promotion of books to students – especially my Stage 3 students.
The holdings of my library are almost exclusively print-based. As such, it excludes an area of literature that I was exposed to in this course that I have yet to fully capitalise on) – digital literature (Alexander, 2011). Taking INF533 (Literature in digital environments) opened my eyes to the exciting possibilities in the wide range of digital literature resources. I commented on my blog about the possibilities and difficulties of incorporating digital literature in the primary school library. Aside from one music video (John, 2018), a handful of websites and one use of an e-book, which I used to project the illustrations of a small chapter book at a more class-appropriate size, I have not been able to make much use of this mode of literature; even though those learning activities were very engaging for students. I hope to find ways to overcome my current technological constraints, discussed in the previous section, and incorporate more digital literature into the library curriculum and collection.
Final thoughts – tying it all together
As I reflect on this year, in light of my work experience and what I have been learning in my course, I do feel a bit like I have been trying to tick all the boxes in my first year as a TL, rather than working from a coherent vision. Therefore, I have started to formulate a literature (or story) centred vision for the library:
The library is a community hub for stories, where staff, students and parents can:
- Enjoy stories composed by others – fiction, non-fiction, text, audio, video, print or digital;
- Share the stories of others – through responsible research and writing using both hard copy and digital sources; and
- Share our own stories – by creating fictional or factual stories in digital or print formats that represent the experiences and imagination of the author.
Part C: Professional Development
The Standards of professional excellence for teacher librarians (Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) & Australian School Library Association (ASLA), 2004) document organises the standards under three broad categories: professional knowledge, professional practice, and professional commitment. I feel that the main strength of the MEd(TeachLib) course was in laying a theoretical groundwork for the professional knowledge category and in providing a theoretical basis for recognising the importance of pursuing the standards in the other two categories. It also provided practice in the research and independent study skills, and professional networking practices that will allow for continual development across all the standard categories. I look at each standard in a little more detail below, highlighting how the CSU course supports the meeting of those standards, where it falls short, and identifying possible avenues for continuing professional development – all, of course, from my perspective.
The first standard, professional knowledge, covers areas such as information literacy, integration of ICT in teaching and learning activities and knowledge of children’s literature and ways to promote reading and literacy. In my reflections above, I have discussed how the MEd(TeachLib) course prepares students by providing theoretical underpinnings and encouraging development of practice in these areas. The facets of this standard that were less apparent in my experience were those relating to theories of traditional literacy development and “understanding of how children and young adults become independent readers” (ALIA & ASLA, 2004, p. 2). This area of instruction tends to be sparse in teacher preparation courses as well. This is therefore an area where I feel that I would benefit from independent research and further professional development.
The second standard focusses on professional practice. The course has again laid a solid, general, theoretical groundwork in areas relating to the various sub-standards of learning environments, learning and teaching, library and information management and evaluation (ALIA & ASLA, 2004, p.3). However, to achieve excellence in these areas requires actual practice and competency in specific programs, and practice with the specific population and context of a given school. Development in these areas will require experience in an actual school setting, time to incorporate all of the elements into my practice and probably professional learning in specific areas that will be highlighted as I put my learning into practice.
The final standard of professional commitment is something that can only be fulfilled when working in the field. The course has clearly indicated the importance of the various facets of this standard – lifelong learning, commitment, leadership, and community responsibilities (ALIA & ASLA, 2004, p. 4). However, the standards related to these can only be met in practice, not in theory.
Overall, I feel I now have a solid foundation for my professional development with a framework into which I can fit future learning. This future learning is likely to focus on refining the practical details that are essential to effective practice in the messy reality of budget-constrained schools.
Note: This blog has been edited after the initial submission of this assessment task to add the information on the hyperlinked mentions of my own blog posts to the reference list and to add this explanatory note. – MS
Agile at Barclaycard. (2016, October 14). What is servant leadership? [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKk0AaaFqtU
Alexander, B. (2011). The new digital storytelling : creating narratives with new media. Retrieved from Ebookcentral.
Australian Institute for Teacher and School Leadership [AITSL]. (2016, April 20). Professor Alma Harris, distributed leadership [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/biPC_IJyiHo
Australian Library and Information Association and Australian School Library Association. (2004). Standards of professional excellence for teacher librarians. Retrieved from https://read.alia.org.au/alia-asla-standards-professional-excellence-teacher-librarians
Bush, T., & Glover, D. (2014). School leadership models: What do we know?. School Leadership and Management, 34(5), 553-571. doi: 10.1080/13632434.2014.928680
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Eisenberg, M. B. (2008). Information literacy: essential skills for the modern age. DESIDOC Journal of Library and Information Technology, 28(2), 39-47. Retrieved from https://publications.drdo.gov.in/ojs/index.php/djlit
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