ETL507: Professional Experience and Portfolio
Assessment 6: Professional Reflective Portfolio
Part A –
Statement of personal Philosophy: What do you think makes an effective Teacher Librarian?
A teacher librarian (TL) is a specialist teacher, bringing together knowledge of literacy and literature. TL’s focus on developing a school’s information literacy alongside fostering a love of literature. Overarchingly taking inspiration from the community they work in and 21st Century Learning to develop programs that engage with all stakeholders (caregivers, students and staff). We are custodians of a physical and often digital/online spaces which comes with a responsibility to cultivate a collection that is relevant, easy to access and engaging for our community. Finally, we need to be creative and flexible to meet the changing landscape of information services and engage in ongoing professional development and reflection to continue to grow our own knowledge.
Part B – Critical Evaluation
Formal reflection has never been a strong part of my study. I struggle to find the time and passion to adequately write down my thoughts in a way that I would consider appropriate to be viewed online and for others to read; as my own form of notetaking is often relaxed and handwritten, drawing on visualisation through mind maps and highlighting. Critically looking back on my blog, I view it as lacking in many ways as much of my own personal reflection was done through notes and forum postings. In hindsight, I wish that I had transferred many of those forum posts and perhaps made the time to digitise my notes to my blog and used them as a deeper reflection tool. In my future career I hope to become more comfortable with formal reflection and perhaps find a colleague to be accountable to, as I often find it helpful to have discussion around my learning. While reading over my reflections I have identified three main themes that have dominated my learning through this degree: librarians having more of a role than just books, technology and leadership. In each of these I have found an interest and a goal for the future.
More than just books…?
When asked what a librarian does most people will mention reading, books and research after all it is common knowledge that a library specialises in books. At the beginning of my degree I would say that I had a better idea than most what a teacher librarian does, due to my own life experiences, my mother having been a teacher librarian for many years and a constant love of being in the library as a teenager (Petterson 2016). I have never truly shared the view of a librarian simply looking after books, nevertheless, throughout the course of this degree I have broadened my view of what a modern TL does. During ETL401 I came up with the acronym TRAILS (teacher, researcher, advocate, information specialist, librarian and supporter) I still feel this adequately sums up my view of the roles of a teacher librarian, highlighting 6 of the key roles we undertake many of which go far beyond just being a custodian of books. (ETL401 Assessment 2, Petterson, 2016)
Inquiry learning is something I remember learning about in my bachelor’s degree and had often pushed aside as a classroom teacher due to a crowded curriculum and behavioural issues. ETL401 introduced me to the value and importance of inquiry learning to all stages of development and how it in many ways underpins the type of learning we should be encouraging in the library: self-motivated, synthesis of ideas and real-life meaning (Bonanno & Fitzgerald, 2014). Halfway through this degree I had a temporary position as a TL and made a decision to implement inquiry learning as the main focus on library lessons due to a school wide focus on comprehension and research skills. Thanks to my study in ETL401 ( ETL401 Assessment 1 , Petterson, 2016) I gained knowledge of a variety of strategies, I chose the BIG 6 (Big 6, 2014) as it simplified the process and would be easy to implement across all years. It worked to varying success but became a discussion topic with classroom teachers when they visited the library, and some began using similar language in their own research-based units of work, utilising the process to explicitly teach research skills.
More than just a tool for literacy
In ETL402 I found a passion for researching science fiction and its role in schools, this formed the basis of one of my assignments, I wrote a literature review that examined the importance of literature for more than teaching literacy. Science Fiction was an excellent catalyst for this as so much of it is centred around teaching ethics and technology (Petterson, 2019). During this I came across a quote that has stuck with me since I read it:
“The ultimate purpose of literature is not to teach something, but to illuminate what it means to be human and to make accessible the fundamental experiences of life, love, hope, loneliness, despair, fear, belonging…” (Short, 2018).
Although books and texts online can be used to teach spelling, decoding and other fundamental literacy skills we must not forget to teach children why they should love great literature. For its connection to the human experience and the ability it has to invoke feeling and tell stories we may otherwise never experience therefore widening our world view and inspiring us to do and be more than we were before. There is a strong argument for science fiction and reading for pleasure in general and its connection to 21st Century learning skills is strong, particularly critical thinking and communication when students are encouraged to discuss texts with passion and meaning (Lamb, Marie & Doecke, 2017).
“The world has changed far more in the past 100 years than in any other century in history. The reason is not political or economic but technological…” (Hawking, 1999).
Technology has become a force of nature in society. As information and literacy specialists it has become a vital part of our role as librarians to educate our staff and students about the value and dangers of technology. Part of our role as TLs is to be literacy specialists, this includes digital literacy. The Australian curriculum (Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Agency [ACARA]. (2020) highlights digital literacy as becoming just as important as traditional forms, as we spend more time in the digital space both at home and for educational purposes.
Digital Literacy and Citizenship
“Digital natives” is a term often used to describe the generation that grew up with technology and were thought to take to it naturally (Yang et.al, 2014). In my own writing early on I believed that this was the case for many children (Petterson, 2016) but as I progressed through my degree the research began to change and therefore so did the conversation about how we should teach technology. I now believe that it is vital to teach digital literacy explicitly, starting with the basic building blocks and working up to more complex tasks (Todd, 2009) therefore it should be embedded in our teaching styles and classrooms. Cherinet (2018) discusses the changing role of TL and how we are now change agents, knowledge workers and website developers in order to provide the information needed by our communities, when and how they need it. We should be compelled as change agents to advocate technology inside the library as it contributes so much to how we interact with factual information and increasingly entertainment purposes, including digital texts.
Going hand in hand with digital literacy is digital citizenship. There is no avoiding the footprint we all leave in the digital space and children need be taught acceptable behaviours and their consequences in the online world to keep them safe. During our digital study visits I was inspired by Korodaj & Godfree (personal communication, May 13, 2020) when they discussed the unique programs, they offer in their high school library to teach digital citizenship. By creating their own modules for students to work through it enables staff and students to regularly refer to and develop their skills while also adding value to the TL role within the school. I hope one day to create my own school library website that can be as informative and useful for my school community.
Equity has always been a passion of mine and has drawn me to the role of TL as libraries provide a place where all are welcome and can receive help to better themselves. The library hopefully provides a place where technology is available to use for free. In many schools this takes the form of computer labs or a physical technology collection that is available to borrow. Cushing (2016) and Kelly (2014) provided excellent examples of the impact libraries have when they help bridge the gap of technology and the value they can have to their communities. In my own practice I see this regularly occur at the council library, I often help community members complete basic technology tasks.
Overall learning about the leadership role a TL must take on was one of the most personally challenging and reflective parts of the course. Naturally I shy away from leadership despite having skills and experience in being a leader, I dislike attention and confrontation that often comes with leadership roles (Petterson, 2020).
Leading from the middle
TL’s are uniquely positioned within a school. Often outside of most structures but intrinsically linked to much of the school through the provision of resources. As a result, we hold a position of leadership over our domain but should also strive to take on more leadership so that we can better support out staff and students. Through the process of creating a diagram of the leadership structure within the school (Diagram below) I was challenged to think deeply about where and how a TL should interact with the social hierarchy of a school, settling on a mixture of leadership roles but centred in the middle. This was difficult to overcome as my previous experience’s as a TL and the research were juxtaposed in how I was treated. Previously, as a TL I had been ignored and overlooked with a limited budget, as a temporary position I had little support from school structures to implement a meaningful and engaging library program. I realised as part of this process that much of the disappointment I felt in that role was a result of poor leadership from above and not because I did not try hard enough.
Leading from the middle requires a great deal of communication and collaboration but also requires patience and a strong school culture of innovation and reflective practice.
Leadership opportunities in schools provide opportunity to advocate for our roles. Many schools in Australia and beyond are losing their trained librarians because of funding but also due to an image problem, where we are seen as unneeded and outdated. By stepping into more roles and demonstrating our skills we make them obviously valuable and create an irreplaceable resource to the school and community. While on my practical experience I witnessed firsthand how quiet advocacy can have a big impact on a school culture. The TL focused on caring for the school community and providing what students and staff need when they need it. She built relationships with the wider community, bringing in the public library and developing relationships with the nearby preschools. Demonstrating that by merely building relationships we can create a feeling that the library is valuable and engaging.
By connecting to public libraries, we are advocating for lifelong library use and helping families to know what services are available, often for free. This is particularly vital in lower socio-economic areas. My practical experience was unique as I also work at the public library closest to the school I was at. Due to the small size of many of the school libraries nearby a connection with the public library means that families have access to a far larger collection and e-resources the school budget cannot provide. It also engages parents with reading and community events.
Finally, a resource called the Care Continuum (Reinsel Soulen, 2020) was highly influential to my thinking about how advocate and lead within a school context. It was borrowed from the field of medicine and designed to be used with new members of staff to create a culture of positivity. The process emphasis mentoring and partnership to provide ongoing support and encouragement between staff. I hope to in the future utilise this strategy to create meaningful relationships with staff so that there is ongoing support in both directions.
Part C – Professional Standards Connections
This course has taught me a great many things but like all professions the learning never really ends. TL’s more than anyone should understand the value of life-long learning and demonstrate this in our daily practice. The professional standards ( Australian Library and Information Association, 2004) give up an outline of what we should be striving towards as we work in the information services profession.
Through studying this course, I have been given a solid base of information to build upon. Much of the professional standards (1.1-1.3) are equally related to being an excellent teacher as they overlap with the skills needed to teach the English KLA. Throughout the course I feel I have learned the most in standard 1.4 “knowledge of library and information management”. It has been enjoyable to learn about library management systems and to develop a wider understanding of information retrieval and management. I particularly think of my practical experience this year where I spent much of my time in a school library accessioning and developing class sets of texts. This included advocating for them with classroom teachers and raising awareness of the value a class text can have in guided reading and literature studies. In the future I would like to undertake more professional development in regard to 1.1, I often feel a little rusty when discussing the science of reading as it is something I have not deeply engaged with since the second year of my bachelor’s degree.
Learning about collection management policies and the leadership role of a teacher librarian ties into the second standard. From my experience and networking with other TLs I have found these to be the two of the most challenging parts of the job. This is often a result of poor leadership in the school, a misunderstanding of the role by other staff and a lack of consistency in the library previously. Throughout this degree however, I have been encouraged and made connections with valued TL that demonstrate best practice. As I hopefully step back into a teacher librarian role, I hope to develop skills in collaboration (2.2) to better support implementation of the library and literacy across the whole school setting.
Leadership (3.3) was something I did not connect with teacher librarians consciously at the beginning of this course but has become a key theme in the role of TL. By actively engaging in both formal and informal professional development TL’s can better support innovation in a school. Personally, a targeted area for improvement with professional development is ICT. As a teacher I have had little opportunity to develop my skills with teaching coding, 3D printing or other newer technologies. This is largely due to working in lower socio-economic schools or areas where there has not been a consistent technology teacher for a prolonged period. Over the next couple of years, I hope to attend some professional development to further my skills in this area and continue to build professional connections to create a learning community I can consult with when needed.
Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Agency. (2020). Digital Technologies. https://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/f-10-curriculum/technologies/
Australian Library and Information Association (2004). Standards of professional excellence for teacher librarians. https://www.alia.org.au/about-alia/policies-standards-and-guidelines/standards-professional-excellence-teacher-librarians
Big 6. (2014). About. http://www.big6.com/pages/about.php
Bonanno, K & Fitzgerald, L. (2014). F-10 Inquiry skills scope and sequence and F-10 core skills and tools. Eduwebinar.
Cherinet, Y.M. (2018). Blended skills and future roles of librarians. Library Management, Vol. 39 Issue: 1/2, pp.93-105, https://doi.org/10.1108/LM-02-2017-0015. https://doi.org/10.1108/LM-02-2017-0015
Cushing, A. (2016). “If it computes, patrons have brought it in”: personal information management and personal technology assistance in public libraries. Library & Information Science Research, 38(1), 81-88. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lisr.2016.01.005
Hawking, S. (1999, December 31). A brief history of relativity. Time Magazine.
Kelly, C. (2014). Brimbank libraries: building a learning community. Australian Library Journal, 63(2), 154-164. https://doi.org/10.1080/00049670.2014.898234
Lamb, S., Marie, Q. & Doecke, E. (2017). Key skills for the 21st century: an evidence based review. https://education.nsw.gov.au/our-priorities/innovate-for-the-future/education-for-a-changing-world/research-findings/future-frontiers-analytical-report-key-skills-for-the-21st-century/Key-Skills-for-the-21st-Century-Analytical-Report.pdf
Reinsel Soulen, R. (2020). The continuum of care. Knowledge Quest 48(4). 36-42.
Short, K. (2018). What’s trending in children’s literature and why it matters. Language Arts, 95(5), 287-298. http://www2.ncte.org/
Yang, Z., Yang, H. H., Wu, D., & Liu, S. (2014). Transforming K-12 Classrooms with Digital Technology (pp. 1-409). Hershey, PA: IGI Global. doi:10.4018/978-1- 4666-4538-7