Behind the blog

6 04 2008

I thought it a good time to add a friendly reminder that there is a website behind this blog, which explains why this group was formed last year.  Have a look around our pages. 

Teacher librarianship seems to be a bit of a mystery to the general public, and even some teachers and principals.  We hear stories from so many TLs that they are understaffed and struggling with insufficient budgets, while at the same time read about massive philanthropic programs overseas aimed at building libraries to improve people’s lives (to be featured in next blog entry).  Even ignoring all the evidence (yes, it’s all here under “the research”) that supports our claim that well staffed and funded libraries improve education, isn’t it just common sense?  If you love to read, then don’t you learn forever? 

Teacher librarianship isn’t a simple job to explain.  It’s about encouraging a love of reading by matching the right books to readers, but it’s also about providing access to a wealth of information, and teaching our students HOW to define what it is they want to find out, and the best way to discover the answers.  We don’t feed students, we teach them to fish.

I find this story about our Federal education minister Julia Gillard heartening. 

Gillard says mortgage stress is real

Ms Gillard said on Sunday there were many statistical measures of mortgage stress.

“But the measure I use is I talk to people,” she said.

It’s time we talked to Julia too. We have the research, but let’s get the stories to her too. All schools may have libraries, but too many have locked doors.  

Do you want your story to be personally delivered in the next Hub Hamper?  Then click here and send it to us.  Anonymity guaranteed if requested.   We want the good news and the bad.   What great things have you achieved in your role that you couldn’t do as a classroom teacher?  What has happened to your staffing levels and budget in the past few years?  Tell us in 100 words or 1000.  Let’s get “school libraries” into the federal vocabulary. That’s the aim behind the blog.

All entries will be bound into a lovely book, which we will match with the right reader.

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.

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.

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!