Identifying strategies, initiatives and support

I’ve just placed a new response over on the School Libraries 21C site.

This is the section I’ve put off answering because, really, I find it quite daunting. We, as educational practitioners in school libraries, can spout off about how we should be listened to until we are blue in the face, but helping to provide the necessary statistics as evidence for change – in an organised way, that can be trusted and accurately interpreted – is so difficult.

When governments do attempt to initiate national testing of students, to gather that hard evidence of the value being added to learning, we look at their motives with great suspicion – and rightly so, when we all know how statistics can become such a powerful weapon for cost-cutting and false advertising. After all, teacher-librarians spend a lot of time teaching students how to analyse data and texts to detect their authority, validity and reliability.

Ross mentioned that “one of the critical challenges in terms of continuous improvement and personal capacity building is keeping up to date with the vast body of research”.

Having just attended the two-day NSW DET Connected Learning 2009 conference (and presenting in a session last Wednesday), I’m internalising a lot more than just “research and carefully looking at how this can be interpreted and translated into daily professional practice”. This year’s conference was subtitled “Transforming Learning and Teaching” (even the order of “learning” and “teaching” in the title was examined!) and it made me think back to this blog site on more than several occasions.

Some of the points raised by the keynote speakers were so important, thought-provoking and challenging. The presentations by Mark Treadwell and Peter Blassina, particularly, were quite mind-blowing. If you haven’t seen the TED talk on “The Sixth Sense” by Pattie Maes (MIT Media Lab), as discussed by Peter Blassina at the conference, it’s a must-see:

After that video, we were all feeling more than a little inadequate, and yet incredibly excited by the possibilities. As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, here I was thinking my iPhone was pretty clever, and a harbinger of how students of the future would still be needing the help of teacher-librarians to plough through our information world. If “The Sixth Sense” becomes a commercial reality, the learning curve starts anew before the current one is even finished. Are any of us ready for the next paradigm shift?

Ross also mentions how “often teacher librarians claim that much research is so remote and disconnected from their professional practice. This is an important challenge. In order for research and practice to be more intricately connected, how can this be done? What would you like to see?”

Colleen Foley and I were pleased we had plenty of school principals at our session! But there was so much information to convey in a 50 minute session of a two-day conference – at which all attendees were giving up two days of their vacation. Thus “strategies / initiatives / support at the practitioner level” depend upon practitioners giving up their own leisure time to keep pace. Which is hardly ideal. How else can we ensure that principals are empowered to act in the most effective ways? And will every teacher-librarian be comfortable and capable of providing the local research data being asked of them, and then interpreting it, and internalising the research from further afield, and making it relevant to their day-to-day educational encounters?

At my school, I’m probably very fortunate that we are part of the Priority Schools Program (PSP). In order to keep getting our funding, compiling statistics of our evidence-based practice is embedded. As teacher-librarian, I made sure I was part of the PSP committee, but I can see that setting up something similar – regular, planned pre-testing, post-testing and evaluating – is not easy in non PSP schools.

The time (and funding) needed to analyse results, particularly, and prepare reports that convince all stakeholders that certain changed practices are achieving, or not achieving, outcomes is substantial.

Essential “Strategies / initiatives / support”: Hasn’t it always been about this, and don’t we always complain there’s never enough planning, reflection, money, time and training?

2 thoughts on “Identifying strategies, initiatives and support

  1. There was an amazing vibe at the conference watching that TED video together. From the moment the guy took his photograph with his hands in the traditional “framing” gesture, we all wanted one. And the calculator/phone keypad on the hand!

    We also loved that he was still buying books – complete with Amazon ratings and book reviews to help him select!

  2. Without a doubt, provision of time for collaborative planning between teacher librarians and teachers is crucial, both now and in the future.

    I’ve been fortunate (or worked hard to change the situation) that collaboration is valued by all/most staff members in my various schools. In those primary schools where TLs are used for total Release-from-Face-to-Face teaching, then collaborative planning should still be happening – and if time is not granted within school hours, then I guess it is one of those out-of-hours things, like staff meetings. (If it takes the teacher librarian turning on an afternoon tea to coerce teachers to come and share their programming plans, then so be it.) Use every strategy until you find one that works.

    From experience, I’ve found that my relationships with executive staff can be the key to getting things changed, especially in areas such as school tone and culture. The Principal is sometimes too far removed from class programs, but many executives are doing a teaching load in addition to their executive, administrative and supervisory roles. TLs and executive staff achieving excellent results in collaborative work in the library can lead to good teaching models. If TLs can win over executive staffmembers, the job is half done.

    I hear of schools where the staff do not always work as a team. There are ways to ensure that team building continues to evolve. Again, strong leadership from the executive is paramount. Good communication is also essential, and that’s another element that needs to keep evolving, and being reevaluated all the time.

    Hardware-wise, ensuring that the school library isn’t the place for unwanted, outdated technology would also be of high prority. This can be a difficult one to win, but again, a school with a supportive, open staff at least paves the way for the case to be made.

    Had I not worn my advocacy hat, I’m not so sure the first (and only) IWB in my school would have made it to the library. The portable building wobbles, the ceiling is low… but my point of view was received and understood by the people who make the decisions. And it probably helped that I had a wall prepared for its arrival, in anticipation!

    Embedding the provision of time into the School Plan, for ongoing evaluation of programs (through evidence-based practice), collaborative teaching, ICT, staff communication, Again, this is surely a leadership (and school community) issue, and if it’s not happening, one lone TL is not going to feel they can change anything singlehandedly, and nor should they. Mind you, neither should they just shrug and give up the good fight.

    I’m feeling a need to urge teacher-librarians to try to make more use of programs and projects already being provided by NSW DET.

    My school has participated in the Identity Rap: Sharing our stories, which was first run in 2008 – and had about 12 participating schools, although my school had about seven separate small groups working on the rap points – and was then rerun last term 2009. I had really hoped (and expected) this rerun, and excellent word of mouth on the previous rap, would have seen increased participation across the state (and Australia), but in reality very few schools saw out the new rap to its conclusion.

    These “Identity Raps” have embedded higher order think skills, incredible opportunities for maximising talking and listening, extending students’, teacher librarians’ and teachers’ ICT skills, increase community interaction (via parents being able to discuss the rap points with students, and even view the rap from home), all while addressing English, Aboriginal Studies and PDHPE outcomes.

    This is just one example of a service provided by the NSW DET, publicised widely, and yet not fully embraced.

    There would be many others, and yet we are also supposed to be preparing for Web 3.0?

    Thanks Colleen, Ross and Lyn for a great opportunity with the School Libraries 21C blog!

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