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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.

I was talking to a work colleague the other day, at least she was a work colleague until she quit at the end of last year.

She was back in our school working as a CRT (a casual relief teacher) for the week, filling in for someone who was on leave.  As we chatted about this, that and the other, I was hanging out to ask her the one question uppermost in my mind: why was she working here as a CRT rather than taking up a teaching position in another school?  After all, she’s only in her early to mid 40’s, way too young to quit I’d have thought.

Fortunately I was relieved of the need to ask.  In between sharing what she was doing with herself nowadays, she told me in no uncertain terms that she was not in the slightest bit interested in finding another teaching position because she was ‘over it’.

For a moment that seemed to drag on for eternity, I was stunned and lost for words.

Sad ….. real sad ….. I thought to myself.  How come someone so young was standing there telling me that she was ‘over it’ when she had only worked in education for just ten years.   It didn’t seem possible or real.

Then later in the same week, I found myself lamenting with a male member of staff the number of older teachers who had given notice that they were retiring at the end of the year.  Another imminent exodus of experienced teachers.

Thinking while talking, I found myself contemplating the difference in the two conversations.  What a difference it is to have teachers retiring vs those who quit because they are ‘over it’.

Yes, I know.  It is said that most graduate teachers only stay in education between 5 and 8 years which must seem like forever when compared to the average university/college graduate who is likely to have 15 – 20 jobs over the course of their working lives which translates to maybe 3 or 4 years in the one job!

It’s a worry – and a concern.

The investment in the education of university/college graduates is enormous. The cost, time and energy invested by students to gain their teaching degree is high and is easily equivalent to the investment made by society/government in the provision of teacher education programs.

It’s almost inconceivable, but unfortunately is quite real, that students in our schools can and are constantly exposed to new and inexperienced teachers throughout their school days.

While it can be rightly argued that many of those ‘experienced’ teachers retiring may have stayed in the job for a few years too long, the end result equates to a significant loss of a wealth of teaching experience.

But returning to thoughts about my work colleague who quit after just ten years in the profession, the question ‘why’ keeps nagging at me.  Our chat informed me that she loves kids, teaching and sharing knowledge of her teaching subjects.  The bottom line for her was the demands of all the other things that she had to do.  It was these tasks, she admitted, which tipped her over the edge and made her realize that she was no longer enjoying ‘teaching’.

There’s little need to list all these other duties and demands on teachers as for those of us working in education, we are all too familiar with the list which unbelievably seems to grow year by year.   Besides, in a previous post Passion vs Process I list the countless number of responsibilities and duties that regularly impinge on a teacher’s daily/weekly working life.  As I re-read and contemplate the list I wrote some four years ago, I’m struck yet again by the incredible demands teachers have to endure if they want to keep their job!  Coming across an article published in The Conversation on this issue, I was struck by this comment comparing the Finish and Australian education scene:

In the Finnish system, early-career teachers are trained well and then, crucially, supported to try new things in the classroom.

In Australian classrooms, the high level of administrative demands, teaching loads, pastoral care and extra curricula activities leaves too little time for collaboration and innovation.

It’s a sad fact that unless you work in education, you just don’t know how hard it can be.

Much has been written about the high attrition levels of teachers in our schools which is said to run between 30%-50% – an astoundingly high figure.   Rebecca Vukovic in an article published in HQ a year ago: Early career educators are resigning from their jobs at an alarming rate writes convincingly of the problem as she quotes numerous researchers one of whom claims that “early career exit from teaching has reached epidemic proportions and appears intractable.”

Frightening.

So what can be done to retain teachers who love kids and teaching/sharing their knowledge?  One recent article I read aptly concludes:

provide the right working conditions for early career teachers to thrive; and strive to integrate all the elements it takes to educate a child.” (ABC News: We can’t afford to ignore the teacher exodus February 4, 2016)

Many of the articles I’ve read over recent times seem to skirt around the real issues that are causing burnout and high attrition rates among new graduate teachers.  Solutions to combat the situation however don’t seem to be as plentiful.

It’s time.  Schools need to start addressing the issue!

  • support new teachers with experienced mentors who have been taught how to mentor
  • involve teacher training academics who have developed a rapport during the teacher training years in the employing schools to support new teachers in their first couple of years of teaching
  • ensure ongoing professional learning is relevant and inspirational so that engagement with lifelong learning becomes an integral part of the job
  • limit the number of additional duties a new teacher has to complete in a day/week for the first couple of years of their employment
  • re-think yard duty and before/after school duty so that new teachers can take this time to recharge their batteries prior to the next lesson
  • monitor workloads so that fewer teaching hours for first year graduates are gradually increased so as to guard against burnout
  • control the amount of paperwork required of first year graduates so that they are not overwhelmed by the enormity of the job from day one
  • welcome graduate teachers into our staff rooms to ensure feelings of loneliness and inadequacy do not set in
  • value the ideas, thoughts and knowledge of graduate teachers as they have much to offer, share and teach experienced teachers
  • praise of graduate teachers’ achievement and contribution to the class, year level, department and/or school should be liberal and sincere to help boost confidence and self worth
  • salary incentives with appealing incremental increases should be available to entice and encourage graduate teachers to stay in the job
  • job security in the form of permanent rather than casual teaching positions should be plentifully available to graduate teachers

It was a few years ago that I wrote a concluding paragraph on a post which discussed the value of teachers in schools.  My thoughts from then apply equally to the way we need to value our graduate teachers.

It’s incumbent on school administrations to constantly express their appreciation of their teaching staff, to laud them and ensure they know they are of value in the day to day running of the school and the overall achievements and recognition for which the school strives.  Schools that treat their teachers well are sure to reap the dividends! (NovaNews: Teachers – A school’s greatest asset! February 19, 2012)

So ATARs are back in the news again.

Just last week I was lamenting the fact that basic literacy and numeracy skills had, for sometime, not been part of the checks made on trainee teachers before they gained certification to teach.   Within that post, I reflected on earlier posts I’d written which lamented the ever lowering ATAR required to gain entry to teacher training courses.

So it was with some interest that I read a report of James Merlino, the Victorian Minister for Education, flagging a proposal in a discussion paper launched at a recent principal’s conference, that would require students wanting to enter the teaching profession to attain a significantly higher ATAR score than is currently the case.  While not stating the cutoff threshold, Merlino has floated the idea that “an ATAR threshold or minimum study scores for English and two other VCE subjects” would be required to gain entry to teacher training courses.  In addition to this ‘radical’ idea is a suggestion that prospective teachers be assessed to determine if they possess suitable teacher qualities such as emotional intelligence, an ability to relate to children/young people and skills of collaboration, flexibility and adaptability.

Both of these per-requisites seem more than fair to me.  Not so to others though!

Sadly, the loudest to dispute the need for such measures came from university vice-chancellors the very next day:

Unis warn of teacher shortages under tougher entry hurdle push

Entry to teaching courses cannot be determined by ATAR scores alone they contend.  Many scaremongering concerns are outlined in this newspaper report:

  • use of such a ‘blunt’ instrument as ATAR scores will lead to teacher shortages
  • when such a model was adopted in New South Wales, there was a 10% drop in student enrollment in undergraduate education programs
  • teacher shortages will occur at a time when Victoria is experiencing a population boom
  • there is no correlation between a student’s ATAR and their performance as a teacher
  • entry standards based on ATAR scores disregard the relationship between socioeconomic status and ATAR scores and will hence lock the ‘poor’ out of the teaching profession

The final  outlandish point made in these duplicitous arguments comes from Australian Catholic University vice-chancellor Greg Craven:

Every point of ATAR that you move up, you are telling thousands of people that teaching is not an attractive thing for you to do,” Professor Craven said. “You could end up with a real collapse of the teaching workforce.” (The Age, August 16 2016)

The Australian Education Union (AEU), on the other hand, supports the lifting of standards.  Given that the AEU reflects the views of teachers working in schools, a valid comment in this discussion may be for university academics to come visit schools and take a real look at the impact of their graduate teachers on the academic levels being attained by students in our schools.  Is it possible that universities are not at all concerned with the quality of their graduates, but rather fear the flow on ramifications to the viability of programs they offer?

It is a fact that entry requirements to teacher training programs have been falling.

ATAR entry to teacher traing 2009-2016

 

Is it not blatantly clear that teachers who have struggled academically through their own schooling are going to find teaching difficult? 

While Finland’s teachers are drawn from the top 20 per cent of students and only one in 10 applicants is accepted. Singapore accepts only one in eight who make the top 30 per cent cut-off. South Korea draws from the top 5 per cent.” (The Sydney Morning Herald, January 21 2013)

 

Is it not about time that we stop discussing this issue and finally take a stand to see whether or not higher academic standards of students entering the teaching profession is a factor that can impact student academic outcomes?

I admit to doing a double take when I read a recent article in EducationHQ Australia: Graduate teachers’ skills on the improve.

Aspiring teachers have shown improved performance in a national literacy and numeracy test designed to weed out those unsuitable for the classroom.”

Perhaps I’ve lost touch with reality over the years because I have always assumed that the kind of rigorous checking that I went through well before I graduated with a teaching degree, was still in place.

From this statement though, it appears that my assumption was totally off base!

While I have gone on to get a few additional qualifications over the years, my initial training was as a Primary Teacher.  Well before – and I’m talking here about a year into a three year course – all of us had to sit a basic English skills test, which included a check of our spelling, writing and reading skills, along with tests that checked our competence in a range of mathematical processes.  Successful graduation hinged on scoring very highly on these tests.

In addition to achieving these determined levels in English and maths, each of us had to demonstrate an ability to read sheet music – yes we had to play an instrument from a piece of unseen music – as well as to demonstrate basic swimming proficiency – swimming a minimum of 50m in all four strokes – which provided us with a swimming certificate stating our achieved level of competency.

For those of us who didn’t reach a satisfactory level in any four of these mandatory skills, we were required to enroll in ‘remedial’ classes for that category.  Once a set period of remedial tuition had been completed we were  invited to re-sit the assessment to demonstrate our competence.

While I can imagine training institutions balking at the idea of teaching their trainee student teachers to read music and swim (even though I personally feel that this requirement ensured we graduated with a set of valuable skills that some of us didn’t have when we entered teacher training programs) to imagine that a check of basic literacy and numeracy levels have not been part of teacher training programs seems nothing short of farcical.

One can’t help wondering if the lack of these requirements over the years has contributed to the stagnant NAPLAN results which flooded the news so recently.

Couple this thought with thoughts I wrote very early this year which highlight the continually lowering entry requirements for candidates into the teaching profession, and we are left wondering what exactly has and is going on in teacher education programs.

The losers in all this are of course the students in our schools.

I noticed last week that a work colleague posted a link to a fabulous article written by Sally Dring “Don’t overlook your school librarian, they’re the unsung heroes of literacy”.

When I read this article a couple of years ago, I was delighted to read Sally’s reply to my RT: “it needs saying!”.

Dring’s post highlighted the many valuable attributes and skills that teacher librarians bring to schools:

  1. With dual qualifications in both teaching and library management, teacher librarians are skilled in being able to see the big picture from the perspective of both students and teachers across a range of subjects and year levels.
  2. An expertise of teacher librarians is teaching ‘information literacy’.  Learning how best to locate information online and then learning how to judge its value and relevance to the topic at hand is a skill that can best be taught by teacher librarians.
  3. Teacher librarians are able to support teachers across the school by providing valuable links to resources relevant to curriculum being taught. Teaming with teachers to locate new resources when curriculum content changes as well as providing resource lists for students and teachers is a valuable skill held by teacher librarians.
  4. By encouraging students to shun plagiarism and instead demonstrate learned note taking skills, teacher librarians assist students to become independent researchers.
  5. By utilizing and valuing the skills teacher librarians have at their finger tips – how to approach and start a research assignment and how to locate and assess relevant digital and hard copy resources – school teachers can act as role models to the students in their classes on how to best use the skills of teacher librarians.
  6. The core ‘business’ of teacher librarians is reading and literacy.  Locating the right book at the right time for an individual child or teacher is a skill which should be highly valued and utilized by all members of the school community.

Dring concludes her well stated thoughts by imploring school communities to make the most of a valuable asset so often overlooked:

But many school librarians are seen purely as minders of a spare IT suite or as date label stampers. They are enormously, depressingly, frustratingly underused.

So don’t forget to seek out your school librarian. You will be amazed at how much support they can give you and how much time they can save you. And they really do want to be taken notice of.

It strikes me as sad that nearly two years after first reading Dring’s article in The Guardian, the same issues are still being discussed in the literature.

Just recently, I read another great article, this time by Aussie writer, Kay Oddone, who in her take on The importance of school libraries in the Google Age notes the positive attributes of teacher librarians and implores readers to user her arguments as a “catalyst for discussion” to bring about change.

As I consider the arguments presented by these two writers and being cognizant of the two year gap between their publication, I’m left wondering whether anything much has changed in the intervening years.  And if nothing much has changed in the intervening years, perhaps the question that needs to be asked is ‘Why?’

Why is the role of teacher librarians still not valued in our school communities?

It is one thing for teacher librarians to bemoan the fact that they are not valued by their school community or its administration.  To ask why though is, quite frankly, confronting!  After all, no one wants to admit failure.  Yet, to bring about change, we need to be able to objectively assess what it is we are doing, look at it from all sides and angels and figure out a different path.

I can already hear the wail coming from a large body of teacher librarians reading this!

  • It’s not easy!
  • We’ve tried before!
  • There’s not enough time!
  • It’s impossible to change school culture!

What we need to be able to do is to brainstorm different ways to approach issues of concern.  By looking at just some of the statements mentioned by Dring in her article, ideas tumble to mind.

  1. Highlight the ‘teacher’ in teacher librarian:  Don’t assume that teaching staff and students know that you have dual qualifications in teaching and librarianship.  Repeatedly and excessively refer to yourself and those on your team as teacher librarians highlighting what you can do to assist them.  If the school community doesn’t know about our skill set, how can we expect them to utilize our skills?!
  2. Run assignment ‘help’ sessions:  Be proactive: volunteer to run an ‘introductory’ session for a new topic or assignment which may include where to start an assignment, how to find resources or how to best organize information located.  Don’t fall into the trap of volunteering to run such sessions for the one subject or the one teacher or the just the one year level as that leads to the possibility of ‘routine’ overshadowing the wide range of skills that can be offered by teacher librarians.  By ‘sprinkling’ the volunteering offer among different subjects, teachers and year levels a ‘buzz’ can be created and a ‘need’ for the skills on offer can be generated.  When demand can’t be met, other voices may well take their request to admin for you!
  3. Collaborate with teachers:  By asking teachers to assist in the location and evaluation of new resources, a ‘team effort’ between teachers and teacher librarians will be initiated while increasing awareness of all the valuable resources available, so invite teachers to help locate new resources: new hard copy books, new eBooks and new online resources.  Creating joint ‘ownership’ of resources is an important and valuable way to increase their use!
  4. Run library skills workshops:  Run imaginative and fun workshops for students outside of class time on basics such as using the library website, where to find information, how to use databases, the dangers of plagiarism and note taking.  Creating a presence for the library in the eyes of the student body will underline that teacher librarians are able to do lots more than just fix the photocopier!
  5. Promote library resources:  Share and publicize lists of resources available through the school library.  Make access to these resources easy to find and easy to use. Share these with both staff and students.
  6. Be heard in staff or faculty meetings:  Teachers are busy and struggle to find time to do everything, so reach out to them.  Request a short time allocation at full staff meetings or ask faculty heads for 10 minutes of a faculty meeting and share skills that can be offered as well as how/where resources can be located on the school intranet or library webpage. Don’t try to share ‘everything’ at once.  Aim for a series of show and tell sessions or a few sessions a term/semester.
  7. Hold workshops for teachers:  Help new and old staff overcome their hesitation to utilize library staff and resources by running orientation sessions sharing the location of resources in both the library and on the library website.  Hold these at the start of the year or during the year over a recess or lunch break.  Food and coffee/hot chocolate are valuable enticements!
  8. Create ‘foot soldiers’:  Always have at the back of your mind the aim to create ‘foot soldiers’ to further the library cause.  Once teachers know how much assistance teacher librarians can provide in the delivery and support of curriculum content, the more they will act as role models on how best students in their classes can use both library resources and the skills of teacher librarians.  And if, as I suspect some of you are saying – ‘tried this and it didn’t change anything’ – try again by targeting different more influential teachers in the school.  Remember to always target those teachers who are most likely to tell others on staff what a fantastic support you have been to them!!
  9. Promote reading culture in the library:  Never forget that all library staff are the school’s resident experts on reading and literacy.  Promote this regularly in every possible way with all teaching staff and all year levels: hold book events, create challenges, flyers, posters, websites, competitions and circulate reading lists online and in hard copy.  Being innovative, staying fresh and keeping the library collection vibrant are as important as never giving up – even when programs laboured over don’t succeed the way it had been hoped!
  10. Create a visible presence for the library and its staff:  And finally ….. create a visible and ongoing presence for the library and all library staff.  Publicity is a key to success. Once a program has been initiated and put in place, be sure to ‘sell it’ by telling the whole school community what was initiated, who was involved and what was achieved.  Publicity should come in every form imaginable: newsletters, library and school blog posts, social media, wall displays and student presentations.  No amount of publicity is too much!

Sticking with a negative attitude is most certainly not going to change anything.  Taking a step back to look at a situation with fresh eyes is demanding, exhausting and very time consuming.  Could the effort be worth it?  Is an improved role for teacher librarians and school libraries guaranteed by the effort expended? Quite simply – no it’s not.  But if we don’t try to turn the situation around in our schools, yet another two years may go by in which teacher librarians continue to be underutilized and undervalued.