The Role of the Teacher Librarian – Reflection

ETL401 – Assessment 2: Part C

In a recent Blog post, I remarked that I felt like an “outsider looking in”  (May 13, 2012), meaning that as a classroom teacher, I viewed the school library as a repository of books and AV equipment, but was blind to the possibilities that were not immediately visible to me as an onlooker.  My experience working with school librarians has been, unfortunately, minimal.  Not until last year did I have the rewarding experience of working ‘with’ a TL who, with the support of leadership at the school, initiated collaborative meetings with year levels to plan for units of inquiry (IBL) as well as providing literacy and ICT support for the school.  Working with this TL gave me insight into the role and opened my eyes to the potential positive impact a teacher-librarian could have on student learning .  The role of the teacher-librarian is multi-faceted and dynamic (Herring, 2007) and is key to the development of information literacy and lifelong learning.  I expressed this view in the Topic Two Forum: ‘Media Specialists’ (March 5, 2012) and noted that “the teacher-librarian at my school worked with us to develop and deliver our IBL topics, she ran workshops which introduced us to web based resources and programs along with running the resource centre and computer lab.”  This TL shared her expertise in inquiry based learning and was proactive in communicating with staff as well as being a leader in providing professional development in IT skills and managing the Resource Centre in a professional manner.  This TL exemplified the ASLA standards in the areas of “the principles of lifelong learning, learning and teaching across curriculum areas, the school curriculum and library and information management including the use of ICTs” (ASLA 2004, p. 2 quoted in Herring, 2007, p. 29).  Without the support and shared vision of the principal, I can now appreciate the challenges and obstacles that could interfere with such an integrated program.

In the beginning few weeks of this course I felt somewhat out of my depth.  I knew, from the modelling I had experienced, that the role of the teacher-librarian could be challenging yet, ultimately, rewarding.  The early days of ETL401 seem almost like years in relation to the information I have consumed over the past few months.  I have gone from fumbling around journal data bases and trying to set up my Blog to investigating how to create online Pathfinders for research, looking for new media sources like TEDed YouTube videos and thinking of innovative ways to approach inquiry based learning.  I look back on my first post and realise what a complete novice I was:  “It’s been quite an adventure searching through the Databases. I have used EBSCO host before but not to its full potential.” (Topic One Forum, Learning Tools, March 4, 2012).

A few months on and I am pleased to say that I have been given a contract as TL in an Adelaide Eastern Suburbs primary school.  As a teacher, I was more than happy to plan with the TL but those opportunities were very few and far between.  Of course, some TLs do it better than others and some are simply not trained to be information specialists as mentioned in the post Re: TL’s involvement in curriculum planning (Topic Three Forum, April 11, 2012 ).  As it stands, my role as TL is .6 or 3 days per week. In response to the post, Constraints in the role, I expressed my concern regarding the time allocation for my position stating, “the principal has suggested that the TL role may be on the decline due to government funding and union negotiations about how much time teachers are given for planning” (Topic Four, April 30, 2012).  Nevertheless, I am fortunate to be in a TL role that can both support my learning for this course as well as support the learning of the school community.  As Lamb & Johnson state, “many school administrators aren’t aware that today’s teacher-librarian can play a critical role in transforming the school into a twenty-first century laboratory for learning with a wide range of resources and technologies.” (2008).

As a lifelong learner I am encouraged by the experts I see before me.  As I read through the literature I am constantly inspired by other TLs/SLMSs, who are leading by example and sharing their wealth of knowledge to help inform my own professional practice.  I am motivated when I listen to Joyce Valenza speak about ‘why’ teacher-librarians matter (Vimeo – Topic 5, Collaborative Practice); I am stimulated as I view Buffy Hamilton’s BLOG, The Unquiet Library  and imagine all the possibilities of supporting information literacy within the school community; and I am encouraged by TLs like Sue Spence (The Teacher Librarian Toolkit for an Information Literate School, islandjourney.doc) who share their knowledge, expertise and tools of the trade to assist in the development of qualified teacher-librarians, hopefully, like myself.

Information Literacy – Not just a fundamental set of skills.

The Alberta model, Focus on Inquiry reflects the cross-curricular and transferable nature of inquiry-based learning (2004).  The revised model is a non-linear approach to the research process whereby the inquirers work through the stages of planning, retrieving, processing, creating, sharing, and evaluating whilst consistently reflecting on the process throughout the inquiry (Alberta, 2004, p. 20).

 “To become independent learners, students must gain not only the skills but also the disposition to use those skills, along with an understanding of their own responsibilities and self-assessment strategies. Combined, these four elements build a learner who can thrive in a complex information environment.”

Standards for the 21st Century Learner, AASL, 2007

Alberta, 2007,  Focus on Inquirya teacher’s guide to implementing inquiry-based learning,  Alberta Learning,  Learning and Teaching Resources Branch

My New Role as a Teacher Librarian

When I started this course I felt like an outsider looking in.  I was a teacher who used the Library, brought students to the Library, and was sometimes involved in collaboration with the Teacher-Librarian on research topics.  Now, the shoe is on the other foot and I suddenly find myself in the role of Information Specialist.  I feel fortunate that I have this opportunity to take on this role as I am still in the infancy of my study as a Teacher-Librarian.  I am fortunate also that I have a principal that appears to have faith in my abilities and that is supportive of the role that a Teacher-Librarian has within in the school community.

This will be a steep learning curve, but one that I am excited about tackling.  As I read through the course material I am continually inspired by the likes of Joyce Valenza and Buffy Hamilton who exemplify what an excellent teacher-librarian should be.  I am learning, constantly, but isn’t that what life is all about?  The world is not static.  We’ve been catapulted into an information/technological age where the need for informational literacy in the traditional sense will be required but, more importantly, “the nature of that information and the strategies for evaluating it are rapidly changing” (Hamilton, 2009, p.48).

Collaboration – The Key to Success

“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself”  Henry Ford

After all, isn’t ‘success’ what we’re all after?  We want our students to be successful learners.  We want our teaching practice to have successful outcomes.  If we all want the same goal, and are moving in the same direction together then ‘success’, as stated by Henry Ford, should “take care of itself” and be the result we are all aiming for.

Perhaps, the most concise definition of TLC (Teacher Librarian Collaboration) is stated by Montiel-Overall.  Her working definition for TLC for the 21st century is as follows:  “Collaboration is a trusting, working relationship between two or more equal participants involved in shared thinking, shared planning, and shared creation of innovative integrated instruction” (Montiel-Overall, 2005, p. 9).

Carol Brown also states in America’s Most Wanted: teachers who collaborate (2004), that there are several social factors that “affect success in collaboration”:

  • Proactive Team Leader
  • Shared Vision
  • Self-Confidence in Contribution
  • Open Communication
  • Trust and Mutual Respect

These social factors are a reminder that relationships between teachers, teacher-librarians and leadership are of the utmost importance.  Brown also points to external environmental factors that may cause collaborative efforts to breakdown, such as “lack of administrative support, time limitations and rigid schedules” (2004).  The environmental factors that lead to positive collaborative experiences are “scheduled planning meetings, impromptu discussions, administrative support, defined roles and flexible scheduling” (2004).

It all comes back to “moving forward” as Henry Ford so wisely stated.  If we keep placing obstacles along our pathway to success then our goal of creating a “student-centred” (Montiel-Overall, 2005, p. 2) learning environment is greatly hindered.