Carpe diem

16 05 2013

According to Learning for the Future, one of the three key roles of the TL is that of curriculum leader and many are wearing that hat as they guide the implementation of the Australian National Curriculum in their schools.  However, for many, much of what is done for that is a behind-the-scenes role as resources supporting its various strands and outcomes “magically” appear just as they are needed, and little thought is given by the classroom-based teachers just how the resources might have been identified, located, evaluated, selected, acquired and processed so they are right there when required.

But on May 22 the National Simultaneous Storytime will give us an opportunity to be the star on the stage rather than the guide on the side.   This is a chance to work with all teachers across all year levels to share a story and develop a range of before-and-after activities that are tailored to the needs of each class so they can fully appreciate both the text and the experience.


This year’s text is The Wrong Book by Nick Bland and it really can be used across all ages. Thoughtful collaboration and planning will allow  all levels to experience a shared event (one-school-one-book is a phenomenon in the US) and  might even help dispel the myth that picture books are for little people.

For starters, the publishers have given permission for it to be

  • presented as a readers theatre
  • presented as a story telling
  • presented as a puppet show
  • translated for multicultural storytimes

So, immediately there are some ideas that will engage the older students particularly if they are charged with creating a presentation for younger students. Each idea has the potential for a host of associated learning opportunities from investigating the best sorts of puppets to use and designing and creating these to learning how to use your voice with no other props to tell a story, that could form the basis of a very productive partnership between TL and teacher.

Other sites have ideas too, but be warned – they take more effort than photocopying a blackline master or template. Shoosh-and-colour is not an option. Share the ideas with your colleagues (they might even spark some original thoughts) and decide how you will work together to make this event more than a ten-minute time filler.

The page from the official site gives suggestions for books with similar themes as well as other titles by Nick Bland so if you are not in a CPT situation, perhaps there’s an idea for a parallel program in the library.  During the day, take photos, tweet, post on Facebook , exploit social media to get others involved and afterwards tell your parents what their children did and how much they enjoyed it. Even having students create a bookmark that says

I enjoyed sharing The Wrong Book by Nick Bland with thousands of others during the National Simultaneous Storytime today

is a way of reporting to parents and putting them in the picture and the library in the spotlight.

There’s an app from iTunes; teaching notes; even a Braille version – the only thing there is NOT is an excuse to avoid being involved and seizing the opportunity to provide a leadership role and demonstrate why your school has and needs a teacher librarian.

Be pro-active.  Be visible. Be out there.  Your job may depend on it.


Teachers asked, “Who’s in your school library?”

8 02 2011

See the new issue (January/February 2011) of Teacher magazine published by the Australian Council for Educational Research for our latest article, this time with important information for teachers on school libraries. “Who’s in your school library?” (pp.64-65) lets teachers know about the research which shows that well-stocked and properly staffed school libraries make a difference to quality teaching and to student literacy and learning. If their school is falling short, it is suggested they find out more and lobby the decision-makers asking “why Australia is falling behind in the PISA reading results…”? Recommended reading for all teachers.

Redefining equality

28 03 2008

Equality in education in Australia seems to be defined as all students being offered a similar curriculum up to a certain point, say, the age of 15.  Of course, teachers and parents know that a student’s interests, talents and strengths can usually be identified well before this.

Here’s a new definition for equality.  Give all students the opportunity to excel at what they are really interested in.   Give every student an equal opportunity to experience success at school. 

Here’s an example.  Last year a friend’s daughter reluctantly went on an excursion to a local shopping mall to sing Christmas carols.  She was one of the school leaders, and this was something the leadership group had to do.  Surely I am not alone in finding this odd. Shouldn’t a singing excursion be offered to students who are interested in singing? Our reluctant protagonist even had a younger sister at the school who is an all singing, all dancing kind of student who would have excelled at an opportunity to perform in public, but was not offered the chance.  It doesn’t make sense.

Will it really be the end of the world if some students don’t do algebra? I’m a maths teacher, and I think algebra is important (not to mention incredibly fun), but some students just don’t get it during second term of year seven. Later , if and when they need it, they can learn it in the context of what they are working on, but if we force students to do algebra in year seven, term two, weeks 1 to 5, some students will fail, and we are setting them up for that failure.

If students had more flexiblity in what and when they learn, they may not graduate with a working knowledge of algebra, or be aware of the Agrarian and Industrial revolutions. They may, however, emerge as young adults who know what success feels like, success at something that is meaningful to them personally.  Imagine the flow on effect that could have on our communities.

Now that would be an education revolution. 

So what’s this got to do with school libraries?  Well, as Utopian as it may seem,  this is the kind of education that school libraries and teacher librarians can support.  Teachers and students tell us their information needs, and we help them to discover the answers, and in doing so, develop the information literacy skills that are so essential in this age.   We don’t work to a curriculum, although we do support it.  We work with methods that adapt to any subject, any year level.  We connect users with their resource needs.

If I could get Kevin and Julia’s undivided attention for a few minutes, I’d talk about school libraries, and then I would ask them to listen to Sir Ken Robinson *.  There’s a reason why every time someone blogs about this, they write, “everyone should watch this”. I too say, everyone should watch this.

* Taken from  – Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining (and profoundly moving) case for creating an education system that nurtures creativity, rather than undermining it. With ample anecdotes and witty asides, Robinson points out the many ways our schools fail to recognize — much less cultivate — the talents of many brilliant people.

True literacy bubbles and froths with joy

4 02 2008


Accolades to our very own “feral word herder” and Hubber, Peter Macinnis, who has extolled the role of libraries and especially teacher librarians as a part of his latest Ockham’s Razor contribution. He ends his talk, “Is the book as we know it dead,” with the following:



The vapid politicians who carry on about Australian history, meaning dead-white-male history, are also the ones who most commonly bleat about “literacy”, which means simplistic reading and writing skills that can be tested.  These enemies of education with their foolish lists are yesterday’s men.  True literacy bubbles and froths with joy, even when a dead political hand is placed on it, and the new literacy will, teachers willing, sweep their foolishness away.


But who will teach this new sort of literacy?  Not the teachers of English, computing or science: they lack the skills and the time.  Among the professionals of education, only one group can do it.  Oddly enough, they are the very people most at threat from those who say the Book is Dead.


Some call them school librarians, but they’re really teacher-librarians, people trained both as teachers and as librarians.  Rather than getting rid of them and their libraries, we need to fund them better, far better.  We need more, not fewer, libraries, more, not fewer, teacher-librarians.


I care about remembering and transmitting Australia’s story.  The explorers weren’t the sort of people who learned lists of dates, they were people who questioned things and chased a brighter future.  If Australia is to have a future worthy of the explorers, we must educate our young.


Testing doesn’t improve literacy, teaching does, and our teacher-librarians sit at the heart of inspirational teaching. Politicians who don’t understand that are selling us all short.


Click Here to hear the entire program or read the transcript. 


Click Here for more on Peter’s exciting book on the truth of Australian explorers,

 Book cover

Australia’s Pioneers, Heroes and Fools (Pier 9, 2007).



Secret library business

8 01 2008

A little known fact about having a teacher librarian in your school is that she/he is more than one person.  A great teacher librarian is networked with TLs throughout Australia online and involved in regular local gatherings.  So when your school employs a teacher librarian, they are really tapping into the collective knowledge and experience of hundreds of school library professionals, who have amply demonstrated over the years the strength and loyalty of their collegiality, born in the pre-internet days of inter-library loans.  It’s kind of like the Borg*, but with more comfortable shoes, and much less evil intent.

Here’s how it works.  An English teacher comes to me and says, “My Maori students loved reading Whale Rider.  I don’t know what else to suggest that they might enjoy”. So I say, “Leave it with me, I’ll get back to you”.

Now, New Zealand fiction isn’t my strong point.  If you want classic sci fi, then I’m your girl, but in this case I am only temping in this school, so there isn’t time to adjust my reading habits to suit the student demographic. So it’s off to the Batphone, or in this case, the computer.  Shortly afterwards, I send off my question, and the first response takes only a few minutes.  Within the hour I have produced a fairly decent list of book titles and authors held by the school library.

Upon presentation of said list to the English teacher,  he is suitably impressed. In the unspoken law of TLs, I do not mention the online consultation, and take full credit for the result, just as I expect my colleagues to do whenever I am able to help them out.

At University, we called it “The Invisible College”.  Yes, there are lots of different avenues to find information, but sometimes it is easier and faster to just ask someone who knows.

So is this a big secret I shouldn’t be telling the non-TL world about? I hope not. Principals in particular need to be aware of these networks, especially when interviewing candidates who will be the sole TL in their school.  It is part of ASLA’s Standards for Professional Excellence for Teacher Librarians, a document that every principal should read.  Point 3.4  states that teacher librarians should “actively participate in education and library professional networks”.

Does your school have a member of The Invisible College?


*The Borg are a fictional pseudo-race of cyborgs depicted in Star Trek. The Borg are depicted as an amalgam of cybernetically enhanced humanoid drones of multiple species, organised as an inter-connected collective with a hive mind, inhabiting a vast region of space with many planets and ships, and sophisticated technology. – taken from Wikipedia, the hive mind of the Internet.

Reading role models

7 01 2008

A while ago a fellow parent asked me about an incident that had occurred in her daughter’s classroom.  She knew I was an advocate for libraries, and wanted to know what I thought of what she had witnessed that morning.

Upon entering the classroom as a parent helper, she noted that all the students were sitting quietly at their desks, as was the teacher.  The students were reading.  She approached the teacher’s desk, her entry still unnoticed. She spoke, and was still not acknowledged by the teacher, who appeared to be staring out the window.  It wasn’t until she was right next to his desk that he realised she was there, and with a start, removed the earphones of his iPod.

I told her what I thought.  Somewhere in there, the words “utterly disgraceful” probably passed my lips.  Clearly she was bothered, especially when she feels her 7 year old daughter needs more help with her reading, so I assured her it would be appropriate for her to take the matter further if she felt it necessary. 

So here is a class of, say, 20 students, in a school with no teacher librarian, and a classroom teacher whom I think it is safe to assume is not a reader. Who is their reading role model? If their parents are not (and I know plenty of very nice parents who would not read often, or at least not when their young children are awake) then when do these kids ever see an adult reading for pleasure? 

Each year the Premier sends out a list for the PRC, but is the Premier seen as a reader?  Is the school principal seen reading?  Are teachers seen reading?  Do any of these people talk to students about their reading?  Ah, but talking about reading is a whole other blog entry. This one is just about the reading example being set, or not, as in the above example. 

So did the mum in question take the matter further?  No, she didn’t.  She did think about it though, and concluded that the teacher appeared so embarrassed to be caught out, she felt that was consequence enough. 

He should thank his lucky stars he’s not my child’s teacher.

New Years Resolution

5 01 2008

It may be school holiday time around Australia, but there’s no break from school in this house.  Once the Santa countdown had passed, the school countdown starts. Only 23 more sleeps until school starts, and I’m not sure I will survive it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the holidays.  I love having my kids at home, living life at a more relaxed pace where I rarely look at the clock.  It’s 75% of my children who are not very happy with the situation.  They love school (and kinder) so much, that we play school most days at home.

Three days ago my five year old emerged from the bathroom wearing white gloves (with blue sequin trim, from the dress up box) and explained that she had decided to become someone who works with insects and spiders.  The gloves had been donned so that she could pick up a member of our daddy long legs family that lives in the bathroom and protects us from our annual summer onslaught of mosquitoes.

It was an exciting moment for me.  We’d been doing reading, writing, painting, code breaking, soccer, sodoku, home made concerts, song writing (the lyric, “help me, or I will kill you” has me somewhat concerned), card games, online scrabble, and anything else that gives them their learning fix.  It was great to have some new inspiration.  A trip to Melbourne Museum is planned, and bug catchers were investigated on eBay.  Books, of course, were also researched.  There’s great materials out there for early primary, but I am hoping the Museum will provide more Australian themed materials.  There’s also “Bugs in 3D” screening at IMAX. 

Wouldn’t it be nice if schools operated like this.  Each student’s interests are identified and provided for.  Sounds impossible?  Not really. That’s exactly what can be achieved with a great library. 

I used to teach a great unit of work in collaboration with a history teacher on the subject of JFK. Instead of expecting 25 identical biographies of the man, we would start off with a big brainstorming session after the students had read a brief overview.  From this we would end up with topics ranging from Jackie’s fashion to the Cuban missile crisis to Jack Ruby.  Once students had identified two areas of interest, we would teach the class how to constuct questions. At the end of this, the class had produced 50 different assignment outlines, and they then chose one of their two to continue with.  Research tables were drawn up and a quick lesson on plagiarism followed.

Only at this stage did the students enter the library, each carrying an assignment on a theme they had chosen, and questions that they really wanted to find answers to.  Without fail, the students were genuinely interested in the work,  and every class was enjoyable and productive.

It’s a process I repeated for three years, with different staff across different subjects and different year levels, and it produced the same result every time, engaged students and teachers reporting a higher quality of work that was varied and interesting to assess. It’s not hard to understand why.  Don’t we all work better at the things that interest us the most?

[These types of strategies have emerged more recently in the form of webquests, in varying degrees of effectivness.  Some are as restrictive as the old class project, just presented with more bells and whistles. Others are quite leading  in the conclusions that students are expected to arrive at.  Like anything on the internet, they need to undergo quality assessment, something which TLs are perfectly qualified to do.]

It’s been 10 years since I left that school, and the same principal is still at the helm.  I had fought the good fight for teacher librarians. I had led by example, believing I had contributed to the global understanding of what a teacher librarian brings to a school.    A few years later I discovered the school didn’t even employ TLs anymore, just librarians and technicians.   I’m not sure if that was because they couldn’t find a TL, or a cost cutting exercise. I do know that the staff I worked with felt that when I left, I took the collaboration with me, that it was something that I offered, not something that they should expect from all teacher librarians. 

At the time, I think I did make a difference for those students, but overall, I don’t think what I did contributed one bit to a collective advocacy for teacher librarians and school libraries. Each year more graduates start who have not been taught about TLs, and teachers move between schools with no guarantee they will have a TL when they get there.

I have three New Years resolutions for 2008, one of which is related to The Hub.  Make The Hub your New Year Resolution. Let’s try something different to get our message out there. 

School libraries make a difference!