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Posts Tagged ‘tips’

Such simple advice.  Profound, simple and very accurate!

For those of us working in school libraries, we don’t need to be told the amazing power inherent in books.  We know it.  We feel it when our library patrons – staff and students alike – express

  • the anticipation of borrowing a good read from a vast collection
  • the excitement when a book of choice is finally found
  • their thoughts about a book read when returning it

Building upon the wisdom shared by the Simpsons, we must recognize that books also have an amazing power to:

  • allow us to learn about other people, cultures, religions
  • let us explore the world and the universe
  • explore the geographical wonders of countries
  • enable us to learn facts about life as it was in history
  • delve into the life of others, learn about relationships, develop empathy
  • expand vocabulary & language skills: the basis for improved writing
  • let us slip into a fantasy world where imagination can roam free
  • develop critical thinking and analytical skills
  • provide relaxation and reduce stress
  • entertain us: make us laugh, feel happy, feel sad …..
  • improve self confidence as we discover others living in similar circumstances
  • expand our knowledge on an infinite range of topics
  • allow us to teach ourselves new skills
  • promote improved concentration
  • engage in a great, inexpensive hobby

The OECD’s 2018 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results were announced a few days ago.   The results for Australia are not good.

Australian 15-year-old reading scores are way below those of their peers in ten countries – including Singapore, Estonia, Canada, Finland, Ireland, Korea and Poland.

And around 41% of Australian 15 year olds have failed to meet the minimum national standards in reading – up from 31% in 2000.

Since PISA first assessed reading literacy in 2000, Australia’s mean score has declined by the equivalent of around three-quarters of a year of schooling …..

The Conversation (December 3, 2019)

Tackling the cause of lower reading standards is imperative.  Let’s discuss what is not working, what is working and how we can do it better.  Let us all join forces – school administrators, teachers, those of us working in the field of school librarianship, students and parents – and tackle this issue together.

There is a perception in schools that school libraries are simply a repository of books and information.  No – it is not true!  So much more goes on inside the school library.

My many years working in school libraries has taught me much.

Teacher Librarians do not differ at all from Maths Teachers, Science Teachers or History Teachers.   All of us constantly, express and share with students our passion, our excitement and our awe of the subject matter that is the focus of our teaching.  Teaching is not just a job that involves imparting information.  To be a successful teacher, it is essential to engage our students and to engender a love of the subject matter we are teaching.

Read a book ….. learn about the world”

has forever been the mantra I’ve shared with students I’ve worked with in both the classroom and in the world of school libraries.  It has been a deeply rewarding time in which I have been able to indulge in my passion of connecting students with the wonderful world of literature.

It is incredibly important and powerful to establish a “connection” with students as they come into our school libraries.  Chatting about books being selected, books being borrowed and demonstrating a familiarity with the library collection is essential.  Those of us working in school libraries engage daily with students:

  • showing an interest in what they are reading
  • letting them know we are very familiar with children’s and Young Adult (YA) literature
  • helping students find books that interest them
  • ensuring that books are in their appropriate reading range
  • chatting about the book they’ve chosen as they borrow
  • sharing titbits about the book, the series or the author a student is borrowing
  • providing a safe and comfortable haven for those who need a quiet place ‘to be’
  • assisting struggling readers and those who come to English as a second language

As I  collect my bits and pieces, pack my bag and close the door on this chapter of my working life, I leave knowing that I have managed to engage with students and share with them my passion and love of reading.  I look back with fond memories of some of the standout events I have initiated and held in the cause of promoting a love of reading and the warm buzz emanating from those who attended.

The warm memories of achievement, knowing that I’ve been able to make a difference will be my inspiration as I move onto my next challenge.

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A link between increased screen time and falling literacy standards of school aged students was extensively explored in a recent Four Corners program aired on ABC TV.   Broadcast on November 11, 2019, the program can be viewed on ABC iview

A report about the program on ABC News (11 November 2019): The first generations of ‘digi kids’ are struggling with literacy as experts warn against screen time makes interesting, but disturbing reading.

Their investigation reports that education experts fear screen time is contributing to a generation of skim readers with resulting poor literacy.  A longitudinal study of Australian children, they report, indicates that by age 12 or 13, up to 30% of Australian children’s waking hours are spent in front of a screen.

In an attempt to explain the low literacy levels being recorded in Australian schools, this program also focused on methods being used in schools to teach reading and questioned whether our education system is failing our students.  Responses by students about their interest in reading books is, to put it bluntly, woeful.  Mobile phones and technology are far more appealing than reading a book.

After analyzing the initial results of a national survey of 1,000 teachers and principals conducted by the Gonski Institute: Growing Up Digital Australia study, which its authors describe as a “call to action” on the excessive screen use “pervasively penetrating the classroom”, Four Corners concludes

The survey found excessive screen time had a profound impact on Australian school students over the past five years, making them more distracted and tired, and less ready to learn.”

 

Infographic: Key findings from the Growing Up Digital Australia study which surveyed 1000 Australian teachers and principals. (Four Corners)

 

It’s clear.  We have a problem.

Attempts to improve reading standards in our schools need to be addressed.  Proficiency and interest in reading will not magically happen without a concerted effort to create change.  Considered planning and thought to devise innovative and inspirational programs that will make reading appealing is essential.

School library staff, a rapidly diminishing group of professionals in our schools, have the skills, the knowledge and and the passion to make this happen.  School administrators, just like those at Caroline Chisholm Catholic College where, as was reported in The Age in early November 2019 – Melbourne school turns its results around by reviving its dying library – must take note and act now.

Just recently, I proposed a range of different ways that could be implemented to improve and develop a positive reading culture.  While not exhaustive, it is a list of ideas that could and should be implemented to ‘start the ball rolling’ in a school that has a poor to non existent reading culture.

  1. At the outset, it is important to avoid the ‘blame game’.  No one person or group of people within a school can be the root cause of a school’s poor reading culture.  Identifying issues of concern and then creating a program that tackles the issues constructively is what needs to be put in place.
  2. Ideas and enthusiasm are more important than throwing lots of money at the problem.  No amount of money on  its own can garner an interest in reading.  Sure, having money in the kitty can be a great help, but not having oodles of money to fund a whizz bang program shouldn’t be a show stopper.
  3. Refurbishing an old library or building a brand new library in a school will not, on its own, inspire a changed school reading culture.  If such plans are in place, a program to inspire the joy of reading should be implemented well in advance of the construction of a dedicated new building.  Such a program should commence at least 12 months ahead of construction beginning.
  4. Creating a positive school reading culture requires a comprehensive and well thought out program.  Utilizing the skills of Teacher Librarians, professionals  who hold recognized teaching qualifications along with qualifications in librarianship/library management, together with other trained and qualified Library Staff – Librarians, Library Technicians and Library Assistants – should take a leadership role in the school to lead and advise other school staff in the creation of an innovative and inspirational program.
  5. A successful program to inspire a love of reading that may have any chance of initiating a changed school reading culture can only be achieved if a school’s Library Staffing is at an optimal level to ensure programs can be effectively initiated, planned, communicated, staged and at their end – evaluated.  Ensuring that a skilled and experienced Head of Library is employed to be the voice and the driving agent of both the Library Staff and programs that are to be initiated is essential.  A good starting point to determine Library Staffing numbers is through ALIA – School Libraries.
  6. To ensure the success of any programs initiated to improve and develop a positive school reading culture it is essential for Library Staff to team with the school’s English Staff.  Ideally the Head of Library and the Head of English will work as a unified team initiating, planning, communicating and staging events that will feed into altering the current school reading culture.  Strength in numbers along with the authority they hold as respected faculty leaders will have a powerful effect at many school levels: administration, teachers, students as well as the extended school community.
  7. Both Library Staff and English teachers across the school should lead by example.  Becoming role models to their students by openly demonstrating and expressing their love of reading is stating the obvious.  By talking about books read/or books that are on a teacher’s list to read and most of all, silently reading in the classroom when that is what the students in the class have been asked to do, sets a powerful example to students of the value and importance of reading.
  8. Reading is an essential life skill and is a component of all subjects across the curriculum.  As such, it is the responsibility of all teachers in the school to demonstrate to their students the value and importance of reading as an essential life skill.  Bombard all teaching staff with promotional information to develop their awareness of the value and importance of reading as a life skill essential to all subject areas and to help them find ways to incorporate reading into their daily lessons.  And yes, that includes sport, maths and science subjects too!
  9. Teachers across the school need to be encouraged/required to participate in Library/English based events and activities in the same way that all staff are encouraged/required to participate in the many sport, music and art events that occur throughout a school year.
  10. Schools regularly present awards, prizes and scholarships to students for achievement in a variety of endeavours.  Aim to present prizes, awards and scholarships to students for literary pursuits in equal measure with those awarded for sport, art and music.
  11. At the time of developing the school calendar, consideration needs to be given to co-curricula and extra curricula programs that focus on literary pursuits.  So often the only inclusions in this area revolve around sport, art and music.  If a school is serious about wanting to change its school reading culture, it must tweak time allocations and program offerings to incorporate literary related events.
  12. School administration personnel, the school’s Curriculum Committee or the schools’ Teaching and Learning Team need to to devise ways to promote the place of reading based initiatives into the school calendar.  Ensure that students who want to pursue footy training or choir practice at lunch time are also able to attend literary based events being held in the school.  Lunch times are precious non class times.  Check these times are not all devoted to the usual trio – sport, art and music.
  13. To effectively develop a positive reading culture across the school there must be a ‘top down approach’.  High level action from Principal/Deputy Principals, Executive and the Teaching and Learning team emphasizing the joy of reading needs to be developed and implemented.
  14. Introduce programs that aim to ‘ingrain’ reading as a habit.  Consider the implementation of the DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) program at the start of each English period.  To ensure the right message is being shared, the program should require the participation of all students and all teachers.  Explore other similar programs until the right one is identified.
  15. Schools are not just comprised of students and teachers.  A wide range of support personnel, including maintenance and administrative staff are also part of the mix.   Most importantly and not to be forgotten though are the parents of students in our care.  Programs that extend across the school community should be a major focus if aiming to create a positive reading culture.
  16. School students spend more time in their home with their parents and family than they do in school.   Creating specific programs for parents to educate them of the importance of reading skills and programs that help them learn how to encourage their children to read is as essential as those programs being developed for use in the school.

Having spent many years working in education, in a variety of school settings as both a classroom teacher, a teacher of Deaf students, a Teacher Librarian and a Head of Library, I have seen and experienced much.  Working in a school that has a rich and exciting reading culture is exhilarating.  Working in a school that has a poor to non existent reading culture is heartbreaking.

Although I have recently tendered my resignation to my current school, it is my hope to still be able to contribute, in some way, to the collective consciousness of those working in schools, stating loudly, clearly and often:

Reading is the cornerstone of all education!

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It’s just over 12 months since France passed new laws banning smartphones, tablets and smartwatches in schools.  The law came into effect just one month later and aimed to extend an earlier ban of smartphones in classrooms, in place since 2010, to a ban of smartphone use across the entire school premises.

Studies citing the success or otherwise of the ban are hard to come by.  An article in Forbes magazine a year later, The Mobile Phone Ban In French Schools, One Year On. Would It Work Elsewhere? (August 30, 2019) indirectly comments on its benefits by quoting research from the London School of Economics:

  • due to increased concentration, limited phone use in schools directly correlates with exam success
  • restricting phone use is a low-cost policy to reduce educational inequalities
  • reduced screen time reduces the negative impact of social media: bullying
  • phone theft has been reduced

The Forbes article notes that the most difficult aspect of the French ban is enforcing it. Despite the consequences, including confiscation or detentions, students being students, have found ways to get around the ban, mostly it seems by using their mobile phones in either the toilets or in the playground where there is less supervision.

So how does this report bode for schools and students in Victoria?

Announcing the new Government Policy on June 26, 2019, Victorian Minister for Education James Merlino stated quite clearly the bounds of the new policy and its intended aims:

Mobile phones will be banned for all students at Victorian state primary and secondary schools from Term 1 2020, to help reduce distraction, tackle cyber bullying and improve learning outcomes for students.

Mobile Phones To Be Banned Next Year In All State Schools, 26 June, 2019

It sounds good.  Will it work though?  Will students comply or will they rebel against school rules imposed on them by the Government?

Could this ban becomes counterproductive?

Instead of banning mobile phones, should we instead be acknowledging the negative issues raised and do what we know to do best:

Teach students how to use mobile phones responsibly!

The arguments for and against the ban of mobile phones in schools raise many issues:

  • Can we ignore the fact that mobile phones have become the dominant mode of communication?
  • Does a ban of mobile phones in schools inadvertently highlight their negative use: aka cyberbullying?
  • Should we not be tackling the sticky central issue surrounding mobile phones – distractability?
  • Is the onus not on educators to create programs that develop and improve sustained concentration?
  • If mobile phones are a dominant part of our daily lives, doesn’t it make sense to incorporate them into our day-to-day school life?
  • Can educators, by creating positive opportunities for the use of mobile phones in the classroom, effectively teach students appropriate use?

So hot is this issue becoming, that a recent post on Education Review (October 4, 2019) took the question to the streets.  While watching this short video, I couldn’t help but notice the preponderance of mobile phones in the hands of people on the street behind the interviewer!

 

 

As we edge toward D Day – or should we be saying B (Ban) Day?! – educators still have a month or so to toy with some of the positive possibilities of using mobile phones in the classroom.  Take a few minutes to read through Will Longfield’s article: I’m a teacher, and I have no problem with phones in my classroom. Here’s why. (EducationHQ News, November 18, 2019) to glean lots of pertinent insights of the value of mobile phones in the classroom and ways they can be used in a classroom setting.  Some salient points raised:

  • learn what mobile phones can do – recognize an apps User Interface
  • cameras in mobile phones can take photos of teacher’s notes
  • monitor what’s going on – mobile phones should be screen up on desk
  • voice recording between two students = authentic student reflection
  • listening to music may not be all that bad
  • it all boils down to developing mutual teacher-student respect

Yet ….. arguments such as these are countered by the positive results reported in one school in New South Wales which has been trialling lock-up pouches for students’ mobile phones.  Reporting on ABC News: When schoolkids lock their mobile phones away in pouches for the day, amazing things happen (22nd June, 2019) students themselves are saying that they valuing the opportunity to be disengaged from technology.

While only time will tell the outcome of this debate, it is heartening to read positive comments, such as those in a recent KidsNews article which reports findings in schools in which a ban has already been trialed. The article: Kids in schools that have banned devices are seeing the benefits, whether they like it or not (August 12, 2019) reports that:

  • kids are now playing and having conversations with their friends at lunchtime
  • kids are finding it easier to be organised at school without their mobile phones
  • students are doing things together; not sitting on their phones
  • students no longer have to check their phone every two minutes
  • not being able to check emails and timetables during lunch forces students to get more organised
  • fully immersive conversations at lunchtime have replaced conversations that go off track when people look at their phones
  • social interaction among students has improved
  • the absence of phones had helped students to avoid distractions during the day
  • Michael Carr-Gregg (child psychologist) adds that banning phones is a sensible *mental health strategy* that lets children focus on learning

It will be interesting to re-visit this issue sometime in early 2021 to check the impact the ban has had on students in schools throughout Victoria.

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It’s back in the news!

How to attract high achieving school graduates to teaching seems to have become a perennial question plaguing real reform in education.  The conversation has been going on for years.  During those years, I’ve published some passionate blogposts tackling the obvious:  entry ATARs for graduates taking up teaching degrees need to be lifted:  It’s disturbing: Entry ATAR score for teaching drops (February 24, 2013), Entry ATAR scores to the teaching profession drop further! (January 31, 2016) and Will minimum ATARs for teaching ever be introduced in Victoria? (August 28, 2016); salary and career incentives for teachers needs to be improved: How can we keep graduate teachers in our profession? (September 4, 2016); teachers are the most valuable asset in our schools: Teachers: A school’s greatest asset! (February 19, 2012); if changes are not implemented students lose out: Australian reading achievement sinks to an abysmal low on world ranking! (January 29, 2013).

Australia loses out and the value of education in the eyes of society will continue to be derided.

Clearly though, my voice is not very loud.  I, along with thousands of other teachers, are just the plebs in the system.  We can state the obvious until we are blue in the face and nothing will change.

Just two weeks ago, the question hit the airwaves once again when the Grattan Institute, an independent organization which is dedicated to developing high quality public policy for Australia’s future, released a proposal to attract high achievers to education.

The published report stated that:

Over the past decade, demand from high achievers for teaching fell by a third – more than for any other undergraduate field of study. Only 3 per cent of high achievers now choose teaching for their undergraduate studies, compared to 19 per cent for science, 14 per cent for health, and 9 per cent for engineering.

Australia needs more high achievers in teaching, because great teachers are the key to better student performance.”

Based on the responses of around 1,000 aged 18-25 who had achieved an ATAR of 80 or higher, it was found that if they were offered higher top-end salaries and greater career challenges, teaching would be a more appealing career preference.

Hence the first two recommendations outlined by Peter Gross, School Education Program Director, in the short video above, focus on increased salary and extended career opportunities for experienced teachers.

But is this all that’s relevant to ensure we train and keep the highest quality candidates in our schools.   If anyone says yes to this statement – they are clearly out of touch with what it means today to be a teacher!  So much more is involved.  I’m inspired by words I wrote just on three years ago: How can we keep graduate teachers in our profession?  Forgive me for copying and pasting my concluding suggestions here again.

  • 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

Let’s get serious!!! Teachers really are a school’s greatest asset!

This isn’t the first time I’ve blogged about this issue.  Sadly, I doubt it will be the last.  How long, I wonder, will it take for the Grattan Institute’s recommendations to be considered, argued about and implemented?

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I came across this video a little while ago.

It’s one of those videos which makes you appreciate how easy it is to impart knowledge in the most simple of ways.  For teachers we refer to it as our

bag of tricks!

Once you’ve been in teaching for a little while, knowing how to present to students so that they really ‘get’ the point of the lesson really becomes second nature.

Teaching becomes so routine, that sometimes, we even forget that we have these skills ‘up our sleeve’!

What am I talking about?  Simple teaching skills such as

  • Gaining attention by breaking with routine.
  • Using silence for optimum results.
  • Ensuring words of instruction are minimized.
  • Engaging with students at their level.
  • Asking pointed question to stimulate thought.
  • Utilizing student knowledge to highlight information being shared.
  • Injecting humour into the lesson.
  • Incorporating physical objects to illustrate a point.
  • Exploring alternate teaching styles.
  • Allowing students to draw conclusions.

The lesson being imparted in this video is valuable for us all.  The point of the lesson is made clearly and strongly.

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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.

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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)

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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.

UPDATE:  This post has subsequently been edited and re-published in Connections: Issue #99 2016 under the title: It’s time: Let’s improve schools’ perceptions of teacher librarians (13th October, 2016)

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Common Sense MediaI recently came across the Common Sense Media website and discovered all kinds of valuable info which can easily be slotted into lessons or displayed in a library on a loop to promote cyber awareness.

While there’s a wealth of valuable information to explore on this site, these two short and sharp videos speak volumes.  There quick and colourful format will ensure that their message is absorbed by young students.

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It was early December last year that a newspaper headline screamed out at me:

Teach teens to read, NAPLAN chief warns”

Finding the same article online (The Age. December 2, 2015) the headline had been toned down a little:

NAPLAN chief says first step to better results is teaching teenagers to read”

The message however is the same: students need to be taught to read throughout their school years, not just up to Year 2, which, it is said, is a common occurrence in schools across our country.

Following a report on the controversial NAPLAN testing conducted throughout Australia in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 which indicates that reading levels beyond Year 7 are stagnating, ACARA (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority) general manager, Stanley Rabinowitz, comments that as students get to higher levels there needs to be an emphasis on not just reading to learn but learning to read. 

The assumption is that because we think they are reading, we don’t have to do reading instruction in years 7 and 9.”

I have long argued that reading is the cornerstone of all education.  I’ve talked about this at conferences and endlessly with work colleagues in schools in which I’ve taught.   I’ve blogged long and hard over the years about the importance of reading and the necessity to create an atmosphere that inspires our students to read.

Over the years, I’ve put my words into action by creating a range of innovative and inspiring reading programs within those schools I’ve worked.   Most of all though, I talk with the students in my classes each and every time I have the pleasure of sharing with them in my library.  I talk with them about the importance of reading and the immeasurable joy and knowledge that can be gained from reading. Without a doubt, I tell them

Read a book ….. Learn about the world!”
There’s no doubt in my mind that reading is the key to successful educational achievement.  Resources poured into education seem misdirected if they are not supporting this basic key skill.  Our students need to not just be taught to read, but to be inspired and encouraged to read.  A positive and inspiring reading climate in each and every school must be created.
  • Saturate students with books.
  • Inundate students with positive role models.
  • Make reading a ‘cool’ activity.
  • Initiate enticing book events.
  • Talk lots about books, authors and writing.
  • Encourage a whole school reading involvement.
  • Utilize the enthusiasm & expertise of Teacher Librarians.
  • Talk regularly about the value of reading.
  • Create reading opportunities during the school day.
  • Invite – often – authors, illustrators & storytellers to the school.

There’s no room for complacency.  Programs designed to encourage reading should come with no strings attached.  Negative overtones should not enter the picture.

A fascinating discussion about education was recently presented by Fareed Zakaria in his regular CNN broadcast.  Reporting on the merit of Australia’s announcement for a bold new school curriculum which gave more prominence to coding over history and geography, Zakaria moved the discussion on to the importance of developing workers who not only had skills but learned how to interact, relate and communicate with others.  “Succeeding at work and in life is more complicated” he says “than simply learning to code.”  Distinguishing between ‘relationship workers’ and ‘knowledge workers’ he emphasized the importance of students learning to interact with people.   A powerful tool to develop these skills is reading.

Reading fiction with complex characters and stories trains us to observe others and empathize with other people … which is why many medical schools are requiring that their students read fiction to become better doctors. (at 3.17 mins)

Fareed Zakaria-What in the world- Coding vs humanities

It is encouraging to hear the voice of a highly reputed social analyst support what Teacher Librarians have been saying for a very long time.

Encourage our students to read.  Inculcate reading across the school curriculum rather than relegating it to the sidelines of school programs.

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