Much has been written about the role of Teacher Librarians in our schools. Sadly though, much of it is lamentations about the decreasing numbers of Teacher Librarians manning our school libraries. Every so often though, I come across inspiring words that do much to remind us of the incredible skill and value held by this professional group.
Just recently in a blog post Why can’t kids search? 10 tips to develop better search skills I mentioned Clive Thompson’s acclamation in an article for Wired about the value of Teacher Librarians, suggesting that as a profession we actively garner the support of such vocal writers. Not long after, I happened to spot a tweet which mentioned a blog post: 5 inspirational words of wisdom to librarians, a potpourri of comments on the blog posts of others put together by Aron Tay of the National University of Singapore.
Then, just recently, a colleague, pointed me to the ASCD journal Educational Leadership which in its October 2011 (Vol. 69 No.2) edition has an excellent article by Carl A Harvey The Coach in the Library.
Harvey has done well to highlight to our teaching colleagues and school leaders that Teacher Librarians have been guiding, mentoring and educating staff and students in schools for a very long time. The very nature of our role is one of providing guidance and support to library patrons, to help staff and students not only locate resources but to guide them on how resources can be incorporated into their lessons or projects. Like many reading this post, I have worked in school libraries long enough, to experience the evolving nature of our professional role. Teacher Librarians regularly take a leading role demonstrating to their school communities how technology can be embedded into the curriculum. As noted by Harvey, successful education and training of our teaching colleagues comes when working “at the point of need” when teachers are “focused on the task or project at hand, and reflects something the instructor wants to do with students…..” Making learning meaningful is a key to ensuring that learning occurs.
I concur totally with Harvey when he suggests that the best professional learning occurs in small focused groups. En mass instruction in staff meetings, those ones that all staff are required to attend, is not the way to go. Like the students we teach, we are individuals, who each has their own ‘readiness to learn level’. The beginning spot, the interest level, the need level and the time available to learn something new, varies tremendously from teacher to teacher. It is not possible to bundle all our school staff into the one room at the one time and teach them something new.
I feel passionately about the need for teachers to embrace digital technology and make it their own. I feel just as passionately though, that a new process of teacher education must be introduced into our school structure. With so much to learn and so much to assimilate it is unreasonable to expect teachers to engage and learn in their spare time or at the start or end of a busy day or at a conference of just one or two days duration. Working to improve the quality of our schools and opportunities available to our students must begin with looking squarely at how we can bring our teaching staff on board.
An expectation that teachers engage in professional learning programs is now well cemented into our schools. Time and space must be set aside within the busy school week for teachers to learn, play, experiment and most of all think how newly acquired skills can be embedded into their day-to-day teaching. The experience, know-how and skill among the many talented Teacher Librarians in our schools can easily be harnessed by school administrations to help develop new approaches to professional learning programs. These programs could incorporate any or all of the following features:
- Focused group learning: Bite sized chunks of knowledge are easier to digest than extensive lengthy programs. Designing learning sessions based on the interests and/or needs of teachers that have simple, clearly articulated aims and goals should be made available.
- Cluster learning: Providing opportunities for teachers with similar interests and/or needs seems to be most logical. Being able to brainstorm together, experiment and learn from each other, will not only increase learning opportunities, but will increase bonding and sharing.
- Hands on learning: Being given time to practise new skills under the guidance of a mentor strengthens learning. Having the opportunity to play with new technology not only ensures new skills are learned, but enhances self-confidence.
- Open ended learning: Being able to learn new skills without constraints of structure and deadlines can be liberating. Given the freedom to learn as much or as little, as slowly or as quickly as one likes means teachers are able to take responsibility for their own learning.
- Non demanding learning: Removing competitive elements from the discovery and development of new skills means that teachers can learn at their own pace without the risk of being compared to their peers. Not feeling intimidated, not feeling pressured to achieve, but rather being encouraged to learn just for the sake of learning is a learning environment we try to create for our students. Why not for our teachers as well?
- Meaningful learning: Seeing the immediate relevancy and value of a new skill or a new technology tool can be inspirational. Presenting instruction about a solution or approach which reflects a teacher’s on the spot need leads to powerful learning. Capitalizing on ‘on the spot need’ can be most powerful!
- Lifelong learning: Learning how to learn is something we are constantly striving to instil in our students. Should we not be trying to achieve this ourselves? Should teachers not lead by example demonstrating to their students that learning is not only a joy but is a lifelong process in which all people can, should and do engage?
- Reflective learning: Part of learning new skills requires time to think and assimilate the new with the old. Having the time and the means to reflect on new skills is an extremely important part of the learning process. Incorporating opportunities for reflective learning is essential.
- Self-paced learning: With decisions left in the hands of the learner, that oft repeated phrase ‘if only I had time’ can be tackled head on. Enticed by desire and encouraged by determination, teachers are able to independently determine what, when, how and where they learn and develop new skills and hence take full control and ownership of their own learning.
- Online learning: Unlike ever before, teachers today are able to explore a wide range of learning programs which can be tailored to meet their individual needs and interests. Online learning programs provide a supportive and safe learning environment for a range of learners from the beginner to the highly experienced. Exploring all aspects of education, including targeted skills and a range of Web 2.0 tools through both the Blogosphere and/or the Twittersphere can be exhilarating, invigorating and highly stimulating. Introducing online learning opportunities within a school is both realistic and extremely feasible.
Developing exciting, stimulating and meaningful professional learning programs for teachers within our schools is essential. Ensuring that the content is grounded, relevant and well thought out is a must. Designing programs that are at the one time short enough to be pursued regularly, yet long enough to enable learning to be absorbed and consolidated is a key to their success. Incorporating the experience, the knowledge and the skills of Teacher Librarians could move schools to new levels of achievement not previously considered.