The Strategic Teacher-Librarian

On the eve of the new school year I am so thrilled to see the innovative approaches being taken on by so many teacher-librarians and other school library professionals. People are embracing learning commons thinking. It is truly inspiring.

At the same time I do still hear frustration and anxiety from some, including worries about being isolated in their school, colleagues’ lack of understanding of what the teacher-librarian has to offer, timetabling concerns, and perhaps most frequently heard, lack of budget support.

While some of these conditions are certainly subject to the vagaries of education funding and policy decisions, I humbly suggest that each of us, no matter our role in school libraries, can be proactive in improving understanding of our role and consequently make a stronger impact. It’s all about being strategic. Thinking and acting strategically means looking outward to the larger school community and also looking inward, assessing our own approaches and being willing to make changes and grow.

Becoming a Strategic Teacher-Librarian

With this post I introduce a few strategic concepts for advancing the status of school library programs. Over the next few weeks and months I will be expanding on each of these ideas. For now, please take some energy as you start afresh for the new school year, and think about becoming a strategic teacher-librarian.

Vision and Mission

Perhaps a cheeky question, but do you really understand what you are trying to accomplish? It’s easy to get caught up in new approaches without really understanding why. It’s also easy to resist new approaches and languish in the familiar.

Student Success in the SLLC

CSL: Excellent School Libraries

School libraries have unique value in education. Understanding and being able to articulate the unique value proposition of the library learning commons (LLC) in terms of how students benefit is critical. If we can’t explain why we exist, how do we expect others to understand?

This resource from Canadian School Libraries takes a student-centred approach to explaining the value of the LLC, and includes a PDF download for you to share. Can you make connections to your school community? Can you articulate your unique value proposition?

Accountability

School libraries have unique value, but we need to be able to demonstrate how that unique value supports school and district goals and advances student success. Without a specific curriculum and based on cross-curricular collaboration, finding ways to demonstrate accountability may seem an elusive task. Accountability and planning go hand in hand. How can we measure and demonstrate success if we don’t know what we are trying to achieve?

Inevitably we’ve all heard other teachers comment that it must be nice not to have to write long-range plans and report cards, the hallmarks of teacher accountability. Well they are right to be critical, if we are not engaging in similar strategies for accountability in the library. Strategic planning is critical for demonstrating accountability.

Are you trying something new this year? Can you articulate why? Can you make connections to school goals and explain the expected impact on students? Have you thought about how you will know if you have been successful? If there is a cost involved, can you justify the expenditure? These are all elements of a good strategic plan. If your budget is inadequate, perhaps, just perhaps, it’s because you have not made a strong case to your principal. Budget is, after all, the practical expression of a strategic plan.

Strategic Planning in the LLC

Strategic Planning in the LLC

At the other end of that strategic plan is the annual report, where we get the chance to demonstrate outcomes and impact to the principal and the broader school community. The annual report helps you to reflect on the year and plan for the year ahead. Being rigorous about this cycle is essential for demonstrating accountability. Being able to demonstrate success may also have a positive impact on that budget!

Making Your Case

Frequent and meaningful conversations with administrators is part of strategic planning, and the principal’s support is essential. Canadian School Libraries (CSL) has created a comprehensive resource for administrators that may help your principal to make connections and understand their role. The page also includes a PDF download ready for printing and sharing.

Embrace Measurement

Triangulation

Conversations, Observations: Assessing learning processes.

You know the frustration. You see so many students and for  varying purposes and lengths of time – how can you assess whether they are learning or not? I have two answers to that question.

Learning in the library is about processes, and process is a huge part of assessment. The observations we make and the conversations we have with students as they learn are critical for collecting the triangulated data used for assessing student learning. Applying some structure to how we record and use the information we gather is key for demonstrating the program’s impact.

The other part of the measurement equation is explicitly looking for ways to assess the program, plan for improvement, and measure success. Quantitative data (collection, circulation, facility, marks, etc.) are only useful if they are linked to desired goals and outcomes. Qualitative data – what people say about their library experiences – can and should be gathered and shared. Never underestimate the power of story!

Leading Learning Growth Stages

Leading Learning helps you assess where you are, decide on next steps, and measure success.

Leading Learning: Standards of Practice for School Library Learning Commons in Canada, provides a powerful framework for program assessment, and helps you to determine  next steps for improvement. Consider using Leading Learning as a program measurement guide.

Expand Your Sphere of Influence

Again, there are two reasons why it is so important to get out there and make connections with other people. When we expand our network we increase our circle of influence, as described by Stephen Covey in his influential book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. When we have more influence in the school community, we are more likely to have a say about things that concern us. The more we increase our sphere of influence the more chances we have to make meaningful program connections with our teaching peers.

Expanding your sphere also means building your professional learning community. Especially with the information processes that we teach, knowledge is increasing exponentially and contexts becoming exponentially more complex. The professional conversations and exposure to new learning resources facilitated in learning communities, particularly in broader online contexts, are key to keeping abreast of new approaches to incorporate into your program.

Market, Market, Market

MarketingMarketing is not a bad word. Marketing is not advertising, although advertising may be a part of marketing. We are good at marketing stuff in the library, but are we also trying our hand at marketing ideas?

Marketing means making connections to what our customers (students), clients (administrators), partners (teaching colleagues) and society at large (larger education community and beyond) value. I asked you at the beginning of this post to consider the unique value proposition of the school library learning commons. Marketing is the process of intentionally making connections between this value and what is valued by those we serve. This is the solution to the perception that others don’t understand what we do. Of course they don’t! They don’t have the training and specific program knowledge that we do! It is up to us to open their minds to the possibilities.

Henry Ford QuoteHere’s a marketing approach to try on. Instead of asking teaching colleagues how you can help them, why not flip that approach 180 degrees. Ask them what they are trying to achieve – what their goals are for student learning – and then make the connections to how you can help them achieve those goals. A simple but powerful change. Instead of despairing at our own perception that nobody understands what we do, take a proactive marketing approach and open up deeper opportunities for collaborative learning experiences.

Seems a lot for an “introduction” to strategic teacher-librarianship, but believe me, there is much to learn. Stay tuned for future posts expanding on these key ideas. In the meantime, try it on. Become a strategic teacher-librarian.


 

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A Settler Seeking Truth

Like so many Canadians, I have been seriously affected by truths about our society and our history that have emerged since the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Calls to Action in 2015. I’ve been struggling personally and professionally with how to address reconciliation for many years,  but my great worry has always been that so many well-intentioned words and actions from settlers like me have the potential for perpetuating paternalistic approaches. I needed to get past the paralysis that worry can inflict, and I think I’ve finally started down that path.

I’ve had a few “aha moments” over the past year that have helped. Reconciliation begins with truth, and it is our responsibility to learn truths previously unknown, misrepresented or untold. This idea has been brought home to me in so many ways, a couple of which I share here.

Truth in Our Stories

I was fortunate to attend the Manitoba School Library Association’s conference last October, the theme of which was Truth in Our Stories: Seeking a Path to Reconciliation. MSLA’s approach was brilliant. Instead of having educators presenting to other educators, conference participants gathered to listen. All of the presenters were from the local Indigenous community, and our task was to watch, listen and to learn, which indeed we did. Listening inspires humility, and the stories we heard inspired hope.

Other “aha” moments came at the Ontario Library Association Super Conference 2018. Respected journalist and conference keynote speaker Jesse Wente spoke about the importance of stories. His words in this article written in 2017, as Canada 150 approached, also confronted how stories have been used to institutionalize assimilation, with devastating results. (Canada needs to give Indigenous stories the platform they deserve.)

The interest is there, because after 150 years, we’re finally trying to know each other. That’s what Canada 150 is: the first time in its history, really, that Canada seems to be trying to know its Indigenous peoples. Truly know them. And what’s one of the best ways to get to know someone? Through stories.

Of course, colonial states know that – that’s why they obscure and steal stories, and create new ones, to reinforce the colonial state.

I was also very encouraged by author and OSLA spotlight speaker Jael Richardson’s advice to teacher-librarians to work diversely, read diversely and live diversely as we use the power of libraries to shape an inclusive future. I’ve taken her advice to heart.

Reading Diversely: Over the past year I’ve been reading as much as I can by Indigenous authors. I’m so impressed with the vibrancy of Indigenous literature, fiction and non-fiction, for all ages of readers. As Jesse Wente says, we get to know people through stories, and it is so gratifying to see these stories becoming visible. I have also been seeking to understand Canada’s history unfiltered by the colonial lens that has skewed our national psyche for so long. That learning journey has included participation in the University of Alberta’s MOOC, Indigenous Canada, which should, in my humble opinion, be required learning for every Canadian.

Working Diversely: My work is focused on supporting practice in the school library learning commons. To me the most important thing for educators to face up to is acknowledging that truth as we have historically known it is as it has been told, and understood, through our own cultural lens. Dr. Dianne Oberg (TMC 2017) encourages us to increase our cultural competency in this regard as we consider strategies for improving practice.

In much of our practice as educators, we avoid acknowledgement of race and culture—including our own race and culture–and sometimes we use terms such as ‘diversity’ and ‘multiculturalism’ without thinking deeply about our assumptions about the world that are encompassed within those terms. Our profession is predominately white, female, middle class, and well educated, but rarely do we engage in discussions, for example, about whiteness and white privilege, or about gender politics and power. Without recognizing and understanding our own culture, it is impossible to recognize and understand in any meaningful way the culture of others. Both are essential parts of cultural competence. (Oberg, 2017)

My work with Canadian School Libraries has allowed me to help highlight some of the amazing educators who are engaged in this discourse, and who are taking amazing leadership in their school communities. Take for example:

Living Diversely: It’s all about relationships. Jael Richardson encourages us to live diversely within our own communities, and I am seeking out opportunities to make personal and community connections. These days my working relationships are mostly formed through professional associations. I am so fortunate to be able to connect with colleagues and friends in the Ontario Library Association, and particularly grateful to be involved in its mentoring committee and the Spirit of Reconciliation project.

My involvement in Canadian School Libraries (CSL) has included facilitating the TMC5 research symposium which focused on culturally relevant and responsive school library learning commons. CSL is also a member association of the Canadian Federation of Library Associations / Fédération canadienne des associations de bibliothèques (CFLA-FCAB). CFLA-FCAB, which has been very aggressive in its response to the TRC Calls to Action, releasing its own report and recommendations for reconciliation and decolonizing Canada’s libraries.

Hope in an Uncertain Times

Our collective journey has just begun, and there is so much more to learn. There is so much work to be done, and it is easy to become discouraged. But I am certain that we are on the right path. I see so much hope and optimism in the leadership being taken by Indigenous leaders, communities and individuals. I see so much hope in the humility of so many Canadians who have truly been taken aback at their own ignorance as truths have emerged over the past few years, and have started down a similar learning path to my own. I have found this article, What reconciliation is and what it is not, from Indigenous Corporate Training very helpful in keeping us honest as we move forward.

I feel very strongly that as educators and particularly as school library practitioners we must come down firmly on the side of information and media literacy as we help our fellow learners critically assess what they read and hear, understanding deeper nuance, and making informed decisions for themselves. We must actively raise our voice when conversations degenerate to blinkered and intolerant pronouncements and actions from leaders and citizens who should be held to higher standards. The school library is a window to the wider world. Where better to find truth in our stories.


 

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Canadian School Libraries

If you’ve checked into this blog recently you may have noticed a certain dearth of activity. I plead distraction, not inaction. For the past two years a huge portion of my attention has been directed at the formation of a new national organization, Canadian School Libraries (CSL).

CSL Poster

Click on this infographic for a summary of CSL’s organizational progress.

Born from the ashes of the dissolution of the Canadian Library Association and following the clear mandate set out by participants in a national survey, CSL has moved forward confidently and aggressively in its short existence. We have now been fully incorporated as a non-profit charitable organization.

CSL’s early accomplishments are impressive. We have published Leading Learning / L’Apprentissage en tête online, partnered with the Manitoba School Library Association to host the fifth Treasure Mountain Canada research symposium, created a vibrant online journal, cultivated partnerships with provincial and territorial associations, and fostered a robust professional learning network with our wide-reaching communications strategy.

Canadian School Libraries is now a member of the Canadian Federation of Library Associations / Fédération canadienne  des associations de bibliothèques (CFLA-FCAB) and the International Association of School Librarianship (IASL), extending our voice and influence nationally and internationally.

I am proud to serve as the first Chair of Canadian School Libraries, working with board members Carol Koechlin, Liz Kerr, Judith Sykes, Richard Beaudry, and past board member Jo-Anne Gibson. This is a working board, so expanding on my (volunteer) board description I could add editor, web developer, graphic designer and business manager.

Now that we are established it’s time to add this blog back into my professional priority list. I seem to still have quite a bit to say about all aspects of school library learning commons practice, and look forward to sharing more over the coming weeks and months.

In the meantime, please do visit the CSL website to explore the extensive resources on offer. Please be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.

Canadian School Libraries

Connect to the CSL website!


 

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