Like so many the world over, I grew up with Bob Dylan, listening to his music and enjoying the beauty of his lyrics and music.  When I listen to his songs today, warm memories are evoked  – significant moments in my life.  Dylan’s songs have penetrated my soul.

But while it is fabulous that Dylan has received one of the highest accolades in the world, the Nobel Prize for Literature, to me this achievement signals a new dawn for literature!

It was some years ago that I put an idea into action at one of the schools at which I worked.

I had a vision of staging a Literary Festival which would be all encompassing; one that would inspire and enthuse interest in literature.  I aimed high by insisting that literature was something that stretched across the curriculum and touched all aspects of students’ education.  Although I didn’t articulate it then as strongly as I do today, my idea was based on my strong belief that reading and writing is the cornerstone of all education.  Pitched as a Literary Festival for our senior school, Years 9-12, I ensured that there were inspirational events for all 300 students and all of the teachers who taught them.   With 18 presenters and nearly 50 concurrent sessions in its first year and 26 presenters and more than 80 concurrent sessions in its second year, the two Literary Festivals held in 2007 and 2008 ran over three and four consecutive days respectively.  I have blogged about this event previously: Staging a successful Literary Festival. Always keen to repeat the event, feel free to contact me if you need guidance in making an event such as this happen in your school.  It really isn’t as hard to make happen as it may seem on first look!

By referring to this event as a “Literary Festival” from the outset, I was reiterating my firm belief that the event should focus on all aspects of the written and spoken word.  When discussing my ideas with other staff, I pitched widely for ideas of the kinds of artists who could be included.  At its end, both Literary Festivals included traditional presenters such as authors and illustrators, but they also included poets, clay animators, puppeteers, scientists, journalists, musicians, actors and motivation speakers as well as hip hop artists and songwriters – all of whom are united in their passionate desire to engage, stimulate and challenge us with their love of the written and spoken word.

The songwriter we had in sat around with an enthusiastic group of students running a workshop which aimed to have them compose a short song: words and lyrics.   Singing and playing their music to a small audience was a fitting finale.  The hip hop artists we brought in presented fabulous sessions to a large audience and then ran workshops in which students were guided on how to go about creating their own hip hop music.  By the end of the Literary Festival, CDs were created of the students’ work.  While only one small part of the overall Literary Festival, these workshops turned out to be one of the highlights of the overall event.  The English teachers and students alike were overwhelmed with the end result.

Undeniably – these were ‘magical’ learning events!

So when I heard that Bob Dylan had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, I felt that my thoughts of nearly ten years ago had finally been vindicated.

While some raised their eyebrows in surprise at the award for Dylan, I feel that finally songwriting has found its rightful place within the world of literature.  An awesome achievement!!

Say hi to Saya:

CG picture of Saya
Now say hi to her parents Teruyuki and Yuka Ishikawa:

Teruyuki and Yuka Ishikawa

Saya was “born” just last year and is the pride and joy of her devoted parents.  She is, Mrs Ishikawa says, a typical 17 year old Japanese girl who “is humble and kind, a good student with a strong set of morals and ethics,” and encapsulates “the modern representation of kawaii” – being cute.

Saya is pretty and perfect.

And although it is hard to believe on first look,

Saya is a digital creation!

When Teruyuki and Yuka Ishikawa first started creating Saya in a Tokyo computer lab, they had plans for her to be a character in a short movie.  Inspired by the positive response when they first presented her to the public, a year on, the couple have quit their day jobs and with corporate backing are now working full time on their creation.

Last week, Saya made her debut appearance in a short animated video at CEATEC, a consumer electronics exhibition in Japan:



Read more about Saya in this BBC article: Saya: Big ambitions for Japanese ‘digital daughter’ or check out this lengthier video which seems to be a video of the display at the CEATEC exhibition.


Last week my husband and I went for a coffee at one of our favourite spots in outer suburban Melbourne.

Getting out of the car, we could hear someone shouting.  It didn’t take long to realize that the young guy, looking slightly disheveled and ‘out of it’ who was standing on the corner was the one shouting a string of abusive rants at another more ‘cleanly’ dressed guy who was hastily retreating from the scene.  Fortunately, nothing ‘ugly’ transpired, but the incident of just a few short seconds left me rattled, pensive and concerned.  It’s a question I found myself asking earlier this year following a similarly unexpected incident when I blogged Are we failing those we teach?

Reinforced by daily news reports of violent, antisocial behaviour involving theft, assault, abuse and even murder by young perpetrators, one can’t help feeling frightened, anxious and nervous about the ramifications of young people who know no limits on their behaviour and it’s impact on society.

Then, last week, I read the horrific account of the sexual abuse endured by a 16 year old boy at the hands of his classmates.  Hoping that the revelation of his story, 30 years after it occurred, may prevent other children from being hurt, this brave 46 year old stated that

Silence is the perpetrator’s greatest weapon”

A shiver coursed through me as I reflected on the damage that may have been perpetrated on students long before ‘mandatory reporting’ by those of us working in schools became compulsory by law.

Such disturbing thoughts were compounded last week when I read the recently published Young Adult (YA) novel Saving Jazz by Kate McCaffrey.

Over the years, I’ve had lengthy discussions with teaching colleagues – teacher librarians, librarians and general teaching staff in secondary schools – as well as school psychologists and social workers about the inclusion or exclusion of novels in school libraries written for the YA market on a range of tough themes: rape, incest, anorexia, pyromania, drugs, abortion, suicide and more.    The argument of whether to include books of this nature in school library collections vacillates between exposing or hiding from teens influential ideas that may encourage them to ‘experiment’.

Following my read of McCaffrey’s latest book though, my belief is reinforced that well written novels which clearly present a social issue and then guide teens on appropriate ways of responding to deviant behaviour most definitely belong in our school libraries.  While confronting, well written literature offers students a safe place to learn and explore real life issues.

It is also my strong belief that it is incumbent on teaching and ancillary staff working with teenagers to read these kind of novels so as to develop a real awareness and an understanding of the impact of changed social dynamics that dominate the lives of today’s teens.

I hope that this short review of Saving Jazz will inspire many educators to dip into the real world of teenagers so as to learn, explore and understand the real life issues facing today’s secondary school students both in and out of the classroom.

Saving Jazz – Kate McCaffrey

saving-jazzA hard hitting ‘in-your-face’ novel about cyberbullying.  When Allison is found floating in the bath by her mother, the story of what and why is revealed by a series of blog posts written by her friend Jazz.  As the ugly truth about events that occurred is revealed, the reader develops an increased appreciation of the grave ramifications that can result from posting on social media.  A well written novel, which presents a clear, well defined message through the voice of Jazz and at its end is quite uplifting.  Despite the mature age theme, this novel is highly recommended.

Rating:  *****
Theme Fiction:  Social Issues
Suitability:  Year 10-12+


Just last week a dinner guest asked me to elaborate on my occupation because today, he said with assured confidence, there’s no need for librarians, Google can provide all the answers!

With desperate determination to not let him see my eyes roll in despair, I launched into a defence of our profession explaining why Google wasn’t the panacea for all learning.  It’s a topic I blogged about more than five years ago: 10 reasons why Google can’t replace learning

Ho-hum …..  I guess the message just needs to be repeated and repeated and more – much more – needs to be said and done to continue impressing on the public the valuable role performed by those of us working in the field of librarianship.

Then I came across this fabulous post on the State Library of Victoria blog: So you want to be a librarian?  For those who have been in education for a while it serves as a lovely trip down memory lane.  For those of us who are newer to the field of librarianship however, it provides a chance to look back, contemplate and realize how vastly different the role of librarians are today in the 21st Century.

From my own vantage point, working as a teacher librarian in a senior school library, its comforting to know and see how much our image has changed.  I’m left questioning though whether we are doing enough to communicate how much we can teach, assist, mentor, guide and support our library patrons – both students and teachers.

Publicizing all that we can do and give needs to extend to the wider school community as well if we are to achieve that end goal of helping the general public understand why we cannot be replaced by Google!

The gift of education

More than a couple of years ago I came across a commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace in 2005 at Kenyon College.

An extract of his speech “This is water” has been coupled with graphics and is overlaid with David Foster Wallace reading his speech.  Intended as advice to graduating students stepping out into the world, Foster Wallace’s asks us to consider an alternate meaning to the banality and mundanity of everyday life.

Each of us he contends has to choose how to live our life.  Working on auto pilot, we can become bogged down by the boredom of routine and its inherent petty frustration.  If I am the centre of the world, my expectation is that my needs and feelings should determine the world’s priorities, he says.  If, however, we can learn how to think and pay attention to details and to perceive our world through the eyes of others, we will learn to enjoy the options life has to offer.  Looking beyond ourselves and the tiny details of daily life will, he suggests, make us more compassionate and reap rewards that will enable us to live a more fulfilling life.

The gift of being educated is understanding how to think.  Deciding what has meaning and what doesn’t is, he says, real freedom.

Take a few minutes to consider his words:

A collective sigh of relief can be heard from teachers across Australia as we bid farewell to a long and somewhat cold Term 3 to commence a two week school break which will provide just enough time to re-charge our batteries prior to coming back for Term 4 – the last term of the 2016 academic year.

For some it is a time of contemplation.  For others it is a time of anticipation.

For many school administrators though, it is a time of deliberation as they trawl through the range of staffing issues posed by staff resignations.

Resignations, of course, are submitted for a variety of reasons.  New challenges in new teaching positions would, one hope, be the most common reason for submitting a letter of resignation.  Yet, a significant portion of resignations of teaching staff in our schools are from those who have simply had enough.  Either they have reached a suitable age to step into retirement or they have decided that teaching is no longer what they want to do.

It is this significant number of resignations which has me worried.  Sadly, each resignation represents an incredible loss of skill and experience and our school communities are the poorer for their departure.

While I touched on this topic recently in a post which focused on how we should be supporting graduate teachers to ensure they stay in teaching a tad longer than 5-7 years, this time my concern is focused on how schools should be working hard to retain experienced teachers in the profession.

So much has changed over the years I have been in education. Demands on teachers today have dramatically increased from what they used to be:

  • Accountability is high on the agenda.  The onerous amount of accountability required by teachers to work colleagues, department heads, school administration and of course to parents eats away at the time and energy levels of teachers.  On top of teaching duties, accountability has to be fitted into the teacher’s busy week.  Just recently I became aware of one school which requires all teachers to call parents twice a term!
  • School intranets have taken on a life of their own.   Busy teachers today need to find time to document curriculum, record lesson plans, note student achievement on the school intranet so that parents and heads of departments can gain a real picture of what is being taught and how students are progressing.
  • Upskilling, particularly in the use and application of technology in the classroom is a constant requirement.  The expectation of not just learning to use technology but to be confident and able enough to integrate this into day-to-day teaching is a difficult demand for teachers.  For experienced teachers though, this requirement can be quite threatening particularly when learning has to occur on-the-job.
  • New pedagogy coupled with new teaching styles are a dime a dozen in education!  So much time and effort needs to be expended by teachers to master the latest philosophies embedded in ‘flipped classrooms’, ‘visible learning’, ’emotional intelligence’ and ‘differentiated teaching’ to name just a few.   While new methods and teaching ideas should not be discounted, this constitutes yet another demand on teachers’ time and energy.
  • Participation in extra curricula activities often involve evening or weekend commitments.  As schools compete with each other more and more for school enrollments, the variety and number of extra curricula activities have expanded dramatically from previous years.

Clearly the demands on teachers today are much higher than they were not all that long ago.  The ongoing requirement for teachers to stay abreast of new pedagogy, skills, methods and programs is essential.  Yet the shift into 21st education for the set of experienced teachers who are now in their mid to late 40’s and older has not necessarily been smooth or easy.  While a deep passion for teaching is most probably the key factor that keeps many of these teachers in education, rewards and incentives for them in their chosen profession are severely limited.

It so happened that the year I started my teacher training was the year the basic course qualifications were extended.  To my shock, when I graduated and took up my first teaching appointment, my salary was considerably higher than teachers who had been teaching for many years.  Within a few very short years, I found that I had reached the top of the salary scale.  As my years in schools continued, my salary effectively stagnated.  The only way to increase my salary was to take up positions of responsibility which paid an allowance, an appealing choice only if I wanted to devote more of my working time to administration  rather than teaching.

The lack of rewards and incentives for teachers has been a sad fact for a very long time.

I was thrilled when a year ago the school in which I work decided to recognize exemplary teachers by inviting them to take up two year appointments as ‘master teachers’ a role which had a significant monetary reward.  So chuffed was I at the time that I penned these thoughts off to our school admin:

It is great to see that teachers who excel in the classroom are to be rewarded for their efforts and encouraged to stay in the classroom.   For too long salary increases associated with promotion have been linked to teachers taking on greater administrative responsibility. The introduction of a Level 12 salary positively rewards excellent teachers, giving teachers across the school a tangible professional goal to which they can aspire. Such an excellent incentive will also positively impact students’ achievement.

So when I read an article in the news last week – $76,919 max: how teacher pay peaks and how the government wants to fix it The Age, September 15, 2016 –  I was equally thrilled to learn that the concept of salary incentives to encourage experienced teachers to remain in the classroom was finally being considered by Education Minister Simon Birmingham.  Recognizing OECD figures highlighting that “teacher pay in Australia levels out after around 10 years of service compared to higher-performing countries where the increases are more staggered”

The Turnbull government is pushing for teachers’ salaries to be linked more closely to their skills rather than how many years they have spent in the classroom.”

With support from Australian Education Union President Correna Haythorpe who stated that

“Experienced classroom teachers should be recognised and rewarded for their high levels of knowledge and skill and their contribution to schools, without having to move into administrative roles,”

it seems that an impasse that has existed for Australian educators is at last being addressed.

One can only hope that the process of introducing such salary incentives occurs quickly, before all the experienced teachers hand in their resignations!!

Last week I was flipping through some notes I’d made when I attended the CBCA conference back in May this year.

While I blogged about this conference soon after, one talk, which really piqued my interest at the time, has remained in the back of my mind.  A panel discussion by eminent authors Mark Norman, Carole Wilkinson and Claire Saxby addressed the topic:

Has the Internet killed Non-Fiction or Created Myriad Possibilities?

My notes, taken on the day, best elucidate a difficult issue facing today’s authors of non-fiction books:

When addressing the question of whether or not the Internet is killing Non-Fiction books, Mark led the discussion by saying that for upper primary and older students, his books cannot compete with the Internet.  Facts viewed visually on YouTube, he said, outstrip interest in reading books.  Instead, he concluded, the Internet and Non-Fiction books create pathways to each other.   Carole and Claire echoed this sentiment saying that older readers shy away from reading about the kinds of facts they present in their books.   They are, they admitted, dependent on an audience such as us to introduce young people to their books and implored CBCA to find ways to bridge the gap between Non-Fiction writers and teachers so that these books are used more.   Imploring our help to ‘market their books’ to school students they were open to any ideas.

With a conference audience almost exclusively comprised of teacher librarians, we represented a wide range of schools from across the country.  It would have been ideal if we’d had some time to collectively respond to this issue, but unfortunately, we didn’t.

As I watch an end of year culling of the book collection in the senior school library in which I work, I am reminded yet again how little our non-fiction collection is being used by our year 9-12 library patrons.  As reflected in this amusing parody which I saw some years ago, the reasons may be quite simple:

Is it really that non-fiction books are nothing more than antiquated tools not suited to today’s tech-savvy high school students?  Or is it that teachers and teacher librarians no longer direct students to non-fiction books as a valued source of information?

With fascinating facts and inspirational photography, the books created by these authors provide a wealth of information from which readers can learn so much.  Yet each of the authors on this panel intimated that today they restrict their writing to the primary school age market.

So the question remains:

Should teacher librarians be culling or retaining non-fiction books in senior school libraries?

Are there pros and cons to be considered?  Or are the benefits of exposing students to a wide range of resources too obvious to state?

While debate on this issue can probably extend for a very long time, numerous ways to assist the authors of non-fiction books to market their books to senior students spring to mind:

  • Focus books:  Use non-fiction books as a springboard for discussion around a specific topic.  Having a pile of non-fiction books on hand to inspire and generate discussion can be very powerful.  Students could work in pairs or small groups to discover information from non-fiction books.
  • Competitions:  Give students a set time to list 10 facts about a specific topic by looking through a range of non-fiction books that are brought into the classroom or library.  In the process of locating the facts, students can be incidentally taught how to scan tables of contents, the index, chapter heading and sub-headings to quickly locate information.  Reading literacy will enjoy a real plus from such activities.
  • Author visits:  Invite the authors of non-fiction books to speak.  Presentations focused on not just the content of their book, but how the author went about researching and then compiling facts into their books can be both enlightening and informative.  As an added bonus, have authors discuss the process of getting their book published and how the book cover was selected – both fascinating aspects.
  • Book clubs: Vary the traditional notion of a book club by having students meet and discuss non-fiction books which address focus topics.  With students free to explore topics of interest, provide a forum in which they share their passion with others, then sit back and see students inspire each other.
  • Book launch:  Interest and excitement about new releases can become a powerful way to ‘sell’ non-fiction books in a class, year level, school or school community.  Contact publishers to find out which non fiction books are about to hit the market and volunteer to hold the launch at your school.  Inspire enthusiasm among faculty heads to get involved and have their students participate:  science students could stage experiments described; art students could demonstrate skills outlined; drama students could dramatize portions of the text.  The range of possible ideas by which senior school students can be involved in a book launch are endless.
  • Book fair:  Hold a book fair which has a specific focus on non-fiction books.  Try restricting the book fair to a specific theme by selecting just one subject or be game and aim to create a book shop within the walls of the library in which a wide range of subjects are showcased.  To ensure success and excitement are maximized, invite a local book shop to partner with you.  Be sure to set terms and conditions that ensure the book shop oversees the set up and sale of books.  Publicize the event widely.
  • Assignment requirements:  An assignment which requires students to use a wide range of resources, including non-fiction books, will ensure that students are encouraged to read widely.  Teacher librarians are an invaluable resource for subject teachers to help design class assignments incorporating ‘must include’ references.
  • Resource lists:  Teacher librarians proactively create resource lists for specific topics studied across a range of subjects offered in secondary schools.  By incorporating both hard copy and digital resources, it is easy to encourage students to explore the valuable non-fiction collection held in the school library.
  • Create links:  Library sessions teaching students how to scan webpages can be linked to the layout used in non-fiction books: chapter headings, topic heading and sub topic headings.  By creating links between digital and hard copy resources, teacher librarians will be assisting students to become independent lifelong learners who develop skills that they will use in further study and future employment.
  • Create pathways: Instead of allowing non-fiction books to compete with YouTube videos, encourage students to find links between these resources.  For example, present students with a selection of non-fiction books and then have them find a video which discusses the same topic.  Taking the use of YouTube videos to a new level by having students turn on the ‘subtitles’ can become a way of teaching them how to take notes which they can later use in the writing of an essay or assignment.  Creating pathways between the Internet and non-fiction books, as suggested by Mark Norman at the CBCA conference, can turn into a powerful learning tool.