I began my journey towards becoming a teacher librarian in 2011 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, but within a family-friendly framework. I would be able to engage, enthuse and guide students, and impart my love of reading and literacy. And surely the quiet sanctuary of the library would be a respite from the noisy and rambunctious classroom?
Fast forward to the present and I am so close to finishing my Masters of Education Teacher Librarian course. It has taken longer than I anticipated, 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 tis information deficit (Herring and Tarter, 2007). 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.
Naively, prior to this course, I didn’t realise that it was primarily the role of the TL to teach students about information literacy- surely this was the role of the classroom teacher? I still believe it is primarily the role of the classroom teacher. However, most classroom teachers, and I include myself in this, would benefit immensely from working closely with a TL to help embed this explicitly within their existing practice. The biggest prohibiting factor, however, is time- where and how do classroom teachers fit this into an ever expanding curriculum, and secondly, do classroom teachers even know that TLs can offer this expertise? This comes down to the individual TL and their willingness and their initiative. Personally, through working recently with a TL, I am much more explicit in my teaching of critical thinking and literacy to my Year 7 and 8 students. I have found this practice time-consuming and slow, but ultimately rewarding. The students have found it challenging, and tiring- the close, analytical work is not something they are necessarily used to, but they too, have found it rewarding and I would hope they would carry these skills with them in their senior years of study.
I was first introduced to the ALIA Teacher Librarian standards (ALIA, 2011) in this subject and I have used these consistently in my assignments as a set of explicit values and standards on which to “hang” my understanding of the role of a TL. I wonder, as I finish this course, and hopefully find work as a TL, how I will continue to use them in the real world.
ETL501- The information Environment
I’ve recently heard it said that “the internet is a playground and there’s no one on yard duty” (source unknown, 2014). This subject seems to sum this up perfectly. I had little understanding of the role of the TL in providing digital literacy information to students and to the school, and this subject helped to increase my understanding, however, in doing so, I also felt quite frustrated at times, by the slow paced nature of it and I questioned the need to be so thorough and deliberate in the searching for relevant resources. Perhaps, on reflection, this is how secondary students feel and act- often like bulls at a gate wanting to rush into their assignment and get it done, without giving the requisite thought and evaluation to the resources they are using for it. Indeed, O’Connell and Groom (2010) note the vastness of the internet and how it is impossible for students to search it thoroughly and in doing so it does not make them information literate. So, the role of the TL is to help provide students with a carefully selected and vetted set of resources they could use- most broadly in the library’s resource collection, and then, more specifically, in the pathfinders they create for the classroom teacher to assist their students with their assignments.
This subject highlighted again, the importance of collaboration with classroom teachers and the need for TLs to know the school curriculum intimately. It also emphasised how thorough TLs need to be and how much we can take the critical thinking and evaluation of the relevance of a resource or learning tool for granted, and therefore, how important it is that we explicitly teach this critical thinking to our students. The pathfinder that I created for this subject was time consuming and I don’t know how practical it would be for a TL to be able to create one for every assignment in every class in the school! This is where the explicit teaching of resource evaluation is crucial. Although, as Kuntz rightly notes, pathfinders are not a be-all and end all, but merely a strong starting point, a plan of action from which students can commence (Kuntz, 2003).
ETL503- Resourcing the curriculum
I did quite well in this subject, although I remember struggling with it at the time. I was not working in a school at the time (as I was on leave) and I felt very out of my depth as I did not have access to a collection policy from which to work. I did, however, appreciate the practical nature of the assignments- I do think I will be able to take my knowledge and apply it in a practical setting when I eventually get there.
It is imperative, and part of any good practice that the school library collection is consistently evaluated. In so doing, its strengths and weaknesses are highlighted. This allows the librarian to build the collection to best meet the needs of its users (Bishop, 2007) and so the collection remains relevant (Kennedy, 2006). An important part of this process is weeding. This was the first time I’d ever heard this expression (so limited was my experience). I’m yet to weed in person, but I understand that the process is pivotal and that TLs must be ruthless when evaluating resources. Clear and well-considered policies enable this process to happen efficiently. Clear policies also work to enhance the status of the librarian within the school environment. They demonstrate their professionalism and their commitment to providing the school with the best resources. Indeed, the clear policies can help increase their budget to allow them to develop their collections further.
This subject also accentuated the increasing complexities of a library collection within a school. As schools develop larger electronic and digital resource collections, the management and integration of these into their existing collection must be considered. Many issues may arise, such as access and ownership (subscriptions and renewals etc.), licensing, software and applications, the longevity of the resources and the equity of these resources (does the school provide the hardware or do they operate on a BYOD model?). If so, then is the software compatible with all hardware models? (Latham and Poe, 2008). These electronic items also need to be catalogued in such a way that they are accessible for all relevant patrons.
The most important thing I learnt is 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.
ETL523- Digital Citizenship in Schools
Digital footprints are often spoken of in a negative way- Just what grubby mark are we leaving in cyber space? What I really enjoyed about this subject was how it got me to re-frame my perception of this. How it got me to think about the digital footprint I’m leaving behind and how I can cultivate this footprint to be a positive one.
I recall not enjoying the collaborative presentation of this work. Although the distance education coursework has been challenging in many aspects, I quite enjoyed the privacy it afforded- particularly as I was completing this course with others who were so much more experienced than I! I know that collaboration is good practice and I know that this is what will happen in the real world and I welcome that, however, sharing academic thought processes with others more experienced is daunting, even given the anonymity of the online environment.
In one assignment I investigated the role of Facebook within a school environment and investigated how it can be harnessed in a positive rather than a negative way. For the first time last year, I did actually use Facebook with my Year 12 students. I used it as an information dissemination point- to remind them of tasks and also as a discussion board. Whilst it was succesfful for reminders, it was less so for discussion. What I found, was that students were quite hesitant to engage in any real pedagogical discussion- they too, like me, were afraid of making mistakes and were not confident enough to try. Perhaps I had not established the space as safe enough, or perhaps it is the nature of these students. I would be hesitant to try this with students at younger year levels as I don’t think they have the maturity to operate as carefully in an online forum.
This subject has highlighted the need for the TL to encourage the use of the digital environment within the school, but to do so within a strong, established framework that clearly adheres to legal, moral and social laws and norms and to make sure that everyone operating in this digital environment is aware of these and complies to them.
ETL402- Literature in Education
Braxton (2008) states that “literacy through literature was the prime responsibility of the teacher-librarian” and I think this subject really captured this notion. I undertook ETL402 after a year’s study leave, so I was probably ready to launch back into my studies. This was a subject that allowedme 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). Using books in a senior psychology classroom, I argued, didn’t have to be arduous or time-consuming (as time is of the essence in senior classes), but, with the help of a competent and proactive TL, classroom teachers could easily fit short books into their curriculum to help illustrate a concept. TLs can also help students with the experiential side of reading, as well as the technical aspect, again, enhancing their learning (Cart, 2007).
Perhaps most exciting is that I am taking my knowledge learnt in this subject, and in particular, in this assignment (The case for literary learning) and will be presenting it at the annual CDES Psychology Teachers’ Conference on February 27, 2015 in workshop 26. The screenshot from the conference flier can be seen below. (http://www.cdes.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/CDES_Feb_2015_Conference.pdf).
Image taken from: (http://www.cdes.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/CDES_Feb_2015_Conference.pdf).
I really appreciated how this subject emphasised the role of reading for something other than pleasure and espoused that reading is essential for intellectual growth and development and for making sense of the world, particular within a curricular context.
EER500- Introduction to Educational Research
This subject complemented my background as a Psychology teacher quite nicely, however, I was initially unsure as to how it fit with the role of a Teacher Librarian. How, amongst all the other work of resourcing and collecting and managing and curriculum planning there was time left for research. However, the relevance of this subject became obvious on my student placement. Here was a public library gathering, analysing and using evidence collected through research to shape their future operations. Indeed, if TLs can provide evidence to best support their position, then they are more likely to get the full support of their leadership team, which will mean they will get the funding or support that they need.
I chose to investigate the role of student leadership within Catholic schools- an area that I am interested in and which was particularly relevant for my position as Year 12 co-ordinator, but not as a TL! The assignments reinforced the notion of strong and pertinent research questions and that it is absolutely vital for the purpose of the research to be evident within these questions. If adequate time and due process is given to constructing strong research questions, then the following processes will be much simpler (Stone, 2002). Careful preparation and forward planning is the key.
ETL505- Describing Education Resources
This was a tough subject, and as it was described to me, a rite of passage for all TL students. Whilst it exhausted me, it was also exciting to be learning a new language and to be doing some of that close, analytical work that I demand of my students- no wonder they get so tired! The process of learning about metadata has helped me understand the need for a common language between information specialists. This common language means that they can do the work they are meant to do- help patrons access resources in the most expedient and efficient manner possible and that resources can be shared amongst agencies too. Even though a common language is present, there is still room for human error, and this was evident when one of our exercises on the assignment was incorrect.
This subject increased my understanding of the Dewey Decimal system and of RDA hugely. Although most TLs are not required to do any cataloguing, the rationale behind cataloguing decisions is critical and helps with the organisation of resources within a school library.
Here’s a Youtube clip of Bob the Alien. If only the DDC was that simple!
Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8hIQwfDY5xY
January 27, 2015.
This course has been wonderful, challenging and complicated experience and it has certainly enriched my life and my classroom practice. 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.
Here, this short clip brilliantly sums up what it means to me to be a TL.
January 27, 2015
Reference List- Final portfolio
Australian Library and Information Association. (2013). Standards of professional excellence for teacher librarians. Retrieved from: http://www.alia.org.au/sites/default/files/documents/ALIA.ASLA_.2004.TLstandards2013.05.30.JB_.pdf, January 27, 2015.
Bishop, K. (2007). Evaluation of the collection. In The collection program in schools : concepts, practices and information sources (4th ed.) (pp. 141-159). Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited.
Braxton, B. (2008). The teacher-librarian as literacy leader. Teacher Librarian. Retrieved from: www.redorbit.com/news/education/1324258/the_teacherlibrarian_as_literacy_leader
Cart, M. (2007). The Teacher librarian as literacy leader. Teacher Librarian, 34(3). Retrieved from: http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/ps/i.do?&id=GALE|A158682754&v=2.1&u=csu_au&it=r&p=EAIM&sw=w October 10, 2014.
Herring, J. and Tarter, A. (2007). Progress in developing information literacy in a secondary school using the PLUS model. School Libraries in View, 23, 23-27.
Kennedy, J. (2006). Collection Management: A concise introduction. Centre for Information Studies, Wagga Wagga, Australia.
Kuntz, K. (2003). Pathfinder: helping students find paths to information. Multimedia Schools, Information Today, Inc. Available from HighBeam Research: http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-110025061.html
Latham, B., & Poe, J. (2008). Evaluation and selection of new format materials : electronic resources. In J. R. Kennedy, L. Vardaman & G. B. McCabe (Eds.), Our new public, a changing clientele : bewildering issues or new challenges for managing libraries (pp. 257-265). Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited.
Oberg, D. (2002). Looking for the evidence: Do school libraries improve student achievement? School Libraries in Canada. 22(2). Pp 10-13.
O’Connell, J. & Groom, D. (2010). Connect, communicate, collaborate. ACER Press: Victoria.
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.
Stone, P. (2002). Deciding upon and refinining a research question. Palliative Medicine.16. P265-267. Retrieved 16th December, 2012.
Unsworth, L. (2006). E-Literature for Children: Enhancing Digital Literacy Learning. New York: Routledge. (ebook). p.122.