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Softly, softly: the library's role in staff professional development

Teacher librarians need to be at the forefront of curriculum change within their schools

They must be leaders in this change. In their role as information specialists, they are well placed to facilitate the shift to a critical thinking, ICT and personal learning framework such as that required by the new Victorian Essential Learning Standards.

How do they do this? One avenue is the running of staff professional development sessions. The topics need to be varied and broad; the focus must always be on teaching and learning. Engaged teachers who are confident in their own learning will more easily develop a learning culture and be more prepared to let go of a content-focussed curriculum for one which is flexible and allows for student input. Through input comes engagement for both teachers and students, and for teacher librarians.

One major way that teacher librarians are able to assist their schools and make an impact within it is to provide professional development (PD) to teachers and other school staff. At Sacre Coeur College in Melbourne's Glen Iris, the library has always run sessions as part of the end-of year professional development program.'Work when and where opportunities arise' has been our motto and our PD has taken many forms. 

Opportunities to provide PD can occur when there are changes in staff in curriculum-related areas, when there is a chance to work with teachers who are prepared to take risks and focus on skills rather than content, or when new curriculum directives are introduced by education authorities. The PD role has been undertaken not to the exclusion of our other activities, but in conjunction with them and is a product of the information environment in which we operate.

The importance of a PD role for teacher librarians is well documented, and appears for example in the ALIA/ASLA standards of professional excellence for teacher Librarians (2005); in Learning for the future: developing information services in schools (2001); and in other role statements published locally and internationally. 

The Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS)

The new Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS) has provided an excellent framework for our PD role. Our focus has been on ways in which the library can support the introduction of these curriculum initiatives, particularly as they encompass many of the information literacy strategies and learning outcomes which the library has long promoted. VELS emphasises the use of content knowledge to foster deep understanding and intellectual quality. A VELS-driven pedagogy leads to greater emphasis on information literacy, information skills, thinking skills and students controlling their own learning. Teacher librarians as information specialists are well placed to facilitate the shift to the critical thinking, ICT and personal and interpersonal learning frameworks required by VELS.

Information and Communications Technology

ICT is one of the interdisciplinary domains of VELS and features strongly in the PD provided by library staff at Sacre Coeur. Over the past five years, as part of the end-of year professional development programme, we have run sessions on interactive whiteboards, electronic notetaking, combating plagiarism, the TLF Learning Objects and MyClass, shortcuts to the web, new websites and search engines (information literacy, thinking skills, rubrics), creative questions for extended brainstorming, Inspiration©, file management and the use of equipment. ICT training is readily accepted by teachers as part of the library's role. Our challenge is then how best to encourage and support the effective use of ICT, particularly new and emerging technologies. And while we have mastered many technologies, we are now grappling with blogs, wikis, ipods, mobile phones and interactive whiteboards.

It is critical that the use of ICT is integrated with the teaching of thinking skills. A glimpse at the VELS support materials for teaching and learning (2007) indicates the importance of this relationship. To assist with this integration, the SLAV guides, Making a difference and Researching together, have been made available to staff on their computer desktops and we have demonstrated their use. I have run VELS-specific PD, 'An introduction to VELS' and 'VELS and the Thinking Curriculum', with our Director of Studies.

The library's profile, particularly with regard to the thinking curriculum, was given a significant boost with the opportunity to follow up on the PD session, 'Assessment FOR/AS/OF Learning', held at our school in December 2006. Our guest speaker, Dr Gaell Hildebrand, referred to the work of Jamie McKenzie, a long-time advocate for the school library and its impact on student learning. This presented an opportunity to have input both into the curriculum and into skilling teachers in the use of ICT. In January 2007, I modelled ways in which staff could use a range of resources to develop assessment FOR and AS learning. The emphasis was on asking the right questions, the development of multi-domain tasks and rubrics.

In July 2007, in conjunction with our Director of Studies, I followed up with a focus on ways of teaching thinking, emphasising the VELS Thinking Processes, Habits of Mind and integrating ICT. In December I co-presented a session on the use of interactive whiteboards, focussing on useful resources.

While this whole school PD may not capture individual teachers at the time, we have planted seeds and advocated on our own behalf as experts in ICT and learning and teaching, so that when they do identify a need, they may use us to work with their classes. Feedback has been positive, enquiries have increased and we have never been busier!

Faculty-based work

Time constraints with whole school PD mean that it is only ever possible to provide an overview and framework for teachers to take further. Ideally, these general ideas will be taken up at faculty level.

Several have been implemented.

  • In Science, on researching together.
  • In English, on hyperlinking in Word documents.
  • In the Humanities, on Photostory, researching together and combating plagiarism.
  • The Maths Department is undergoing data projector training.
  • The LOTE Department is taking on The Le&rning Federation learning objects.

In the primary school, the focus on MyClass and The Le&rning Federation learning objects has been facilitated by the teacher librarian. These sessions are often followed up by work with a particularly enthusiastic teacher in their classes. Attendance at faculty meetings makes it easier to manage this process. Library staff regularly attend Primary, English and Humanities meetings and sometimes other faculty meetings too.

And beyond

As a result of school-based work, in May 2006 I was invited to address the Catholic Schools Curriculum Co-coordinators group on VELS and the school library. It was clear that many coordinators had not considered involving their teacher librarians in new curriculum planning, so I provided them with a pro forma for planning and a toolkit of websites that form the basis of our reference tools.

One-on-one

Rosemary Horton (2007) sees one-on-one PD as the most effective way of reaching teachers. They receive the PD they need when they need it. She sees this 'onsite professional development' as having advantages because:

  • we are usually up to date with teaching and learning theories
  • we have unique opportunities, being outside the confines of subject or year level
  • we can see the overlapping interests of different learning areas
  • we often have the time and the distance to see common problems and areas of concern
  • we are often the experts in use of technology and its application for education
  • we can be catalysts for change or change agents, not where we are 'leading the charge', but as guides to teachers when they need help, specifically when it comes to using technology in education. (Horton, 2007).

Professional development of this sort can be quite challenging. Once you have established your credentials as an expert in a particular area, teachers will assume that you can do all sorts of things that you may not be able to do, but it provides an opportunity for you to skill up together, and often allows you to work with classes to facilitate student learning. It also keeps your own skills up to date.

Our focus on PD in ICT and thinking processes at Sacre Coeur is the result of a commitment to making an impact on learning and teaching whenever and wherever the opportunity arises. It stems from identifying where in the school we should best locate ourselves for maximum effect. This may not work for all teacher librarians, but for us it has been a very rewarding aspect of our work – and enhanced our profile.

Kris Johnstone
Head of Library and Information Services
Sacre Coeur, Victoria

This article was originally published in the Curriculum Leadership Journal, vol 6, issue 19, 20 June 2008, http://cmslive.curriculum.edu.au/leader/default.asp?id=23970&issueID=11463

Reprinted here with permission.

References

Australian School Library Association & Australian Library and Information Association 2001, Learning for the future: Developing Information Services in schools, 2nd edition, Curriculum Corporation, Carlton South, Vic.

Australian School Library Association & Australian Library and Information Association 2004, Standards of professional excellence for teacher librarians, viewed 29 July 2007, http://www.asla.org.au/docs/TLstandards.pdf

Hildebrand, G 2006, Assessment FOR/AS/OF Learning, paper presented at the Sacre Coeur Professional Development Seminar, Glen Iris, Vic.

Horton, R 2007, Teacher Librarians: What are we? What should we be? Professional Development from the Inside, viewed 24 July 2007, http://alia.org.au/~rhorton/education/role.html

McKenzie, J 2003, Questioning as technology, From Now On: The Educational Technology Journal, vol 12, no 8, April, viewed on 25 July 2007, http://www.fno.org/apr03/qtech.html

School Libraries Making a Difference 2004, UK Department for Children, Schools and Families, Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, the Association of Senior Children's and Education Librarians, School Library Association, viewed 25 July 2007, http://www.schoollibrariesadvocacy.org.uk/toolkit/making_a_difference.pdf

Spence, S 2002, Survey highlights major problems with library staffing, AEU Journal, SA branch, December.

State of Victoria (Department of Education) 2002, Principles of Learning and Teaching (PoLT) P-12, viewed 26 July 2007, http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/20690/20060620-0000/www.sofweb.vic.edu.au/blueprint/fs1/polt.html

Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority 2006, Victorian Essential Learning Standards: Introduction to the Standards, viewed 20 July 2007, http://vels.vcaa.vic.edu.au/about/index.html

Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority 2007, Victorian Essential Learning Standards: Teaching and Learning Resource, viewed 20 July 2007, http://vels.vcaa.vic.edu.au/support/teaching.html