SCISConnections

Taking the driver’s seat

Initiating change toward an Information Literate School Community

Information Literate School Communities (ILSCs) are held up to new and studying teacher librarians (TLs) as one of the main goals to be accomplished by members of our profession. As a current TL student at Charles Sturt University, part of my education has been to examine exactly what role we should take in creating ILSCs and what barriers there might be. It did not take long to discover information literacy (IL) was complex. It had a myriad of definitions upon which no one agreed. There were elements, components, characteristics, frames and competencies. There were opinions, models, authorities, toolkits and theories galore. The only thing not out in the academic literature was a set of instructions on how to turn the darned thing on! By the end of the assignment, I realised the magic key I was looking for was, in fact, me. In order to bring about the changes necessary to create an ILSC I understood that I would have to initiate and drive the ‘change train’.

However, as I worked through the theoretical issues for my university assignment, I ran into some ground zero realities in my workplace that pointed out that I would be starting the change process a lot further back from my goal than anticipated.

Professional literature points to the TL as the pivotal person in the adoption of information literacy into the curriculum, yet the key to successful ILSCs lies in the collaboration of all stakeholders. Change takes time and effort and teachers are already time-poor and coping with change on many fronts. Change needs to emanate from the TL, but the TL has not traditionally been perceived as a leader in most school communities.

But by far the most revelatory finding was that debate and discussion concerning IL may have been around in the academic sphere for more than 20 years, but it hasn’t reached much further. When I brought the IL concept to school to begin a dialogue about it, none of the stakeholders had even heard of it! (I couldn’t help but notice how this fitted beautifully with the first understanding in the IL process: that there is a need for information.) In my visits and discussions with professionals since, I’ve discovered this is not an unusual scenario. It made my determination to be a change facilitator even stronger.

So how does one lone, nearly trained, part-time TL become a change facilitator? This became my essential question and I would like to share my insights and experiences with any other TLs who may have just settled into the driver’s seat of the ‘change train’.

Be brave

Sorry for the cliché but … what have you got to lose? My observation is that the libraries most under threat are the ones that don’t appear to be embracing IL, or engaging with the Education Revolution. There needs to be determination to change the perception of the library from a passive information depot to an active agency for building knowledge, and this change needs to be evident for all stakeholders in the school community.

Barriers such as gaining the principal’s support and convincing teachers to collaborate with you can seem overwhelming to a new TL trying to live up to the TL standards of excellence. It’s easy to become stressed trying to do it all and do it now. Since one can only change oneself, I devised a professional development plan based on Gary Hartzell’s Building Influence for the School Librarian and Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I use it to remind myself that I have less control over change in the outer rings (Collegial and School) but, by accomplishing the goals in the inner ring, those further out will be positively affected and I keep pushing outwards.

Reading and re-reading authors such as Michael Fullan, Thoma J Sergiovanni and Hartzell helps me to build guts. Being an active participant in groups like OZTL_Net is also enormously empowering; there are so many passionate, intelligent, experienced mentors among the membership.

Have vision

Spend time daydreaming about what your ILSC will look like, how it will operate, ideally who would be doing what. A solid vision of what you are trying to accomplish is needed so you can share it with others and communicate its benefits. One of my favourite future scenarios for our school involves me spending half my time in the classrooms, not the library, as an IL consultant for students while they work through the stages of their projects. I want to be available for individual intervention or small-group, just-in-time teaching as well as being collaboratively involved with the planning in our project-based curriculum.

I’d also like to see us with a whole-school information plan.

Be prepared!

In sales and promotion it is crucial to ‘know your product’. The same applies for the TLs promoting IL. Choose an IL process you are comfortable with – Big 6, PLUS, ILPO, The Information Process (ISP) – and learn it inside and out. Remember you’ve got to sell it – and defend it. You may even want to modify it down the track. Start working out how this IL process will fit into the philosophy, vision and curriculum of your school. You are going to have to convince the teachers to let you collaborate. If your colleagues are worrying about what you might do to them (eg make extra work) then they won’t be able to see what you can do for them. I’ve worked up a sample unit and some sample activities so I can show the teachers how IL fits in.

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A professional development plan showing the rings of influence for a teacher librarian

Set goals

Besides my professional development plan, I also set goals for the library each year, including IL goals. From these goals I make simple action plans. My current action plan is to collaborate with the Prep teacher in incorporating IL into her class planning. My long-term plan is that as the current class moves up, I will target the next teacher to work with, incorporating IL into her plans. I don’t have enough hours allocated to work with all the teachers and, in this way, the children will have already had experience with IL, making it easier for the next teacher to pick it up and continue. Our Prep teacher is recently out of university and is keen to incorporate ICT and IWBs into her teaching. We’ve begun ICT activities and for Term 4 my action plan is to collaborate in the use of Super 3 to carry out a small class project.

Grab opportunities

I chose to work with our Prep teacher because I saw a good opportunity to introduce change. It’s important to grab whatever you can in the way of opportunity. New buildings, new library plans, new principal, new teacher, new curriculum, new units; anything will do to begin shifting the perception of the library and the TL’s role. The introduction of new ICT tools can be one of the best opportunities; who can say no to some collaborative support in planning its use? But it’s important that the focus remains on the IL process. To stakeholders not familiar with IL, it’s easy to confuse the IL process with the use of ICT tools.

I’m lucky enough to be a casual relief teacher (CRT) at the school as well as the part-time TL. The first time I introduced students to Big 6 was when I did some CRT work. I worked with the class to plan an activity using the process and took photos of the planning on the whiteboard and the progress of the activity. I did not get to the evaluation stage but left the plan for review with the teacher. What a great way for her to hear and see the outcomes and success of the process!

All of these things, of course, are only first steps toward creating an ILSC. I know I have a long way to go, but I see things have changed and I know I’ve come a long way. I’m confident that now the change train has left the station and I’ve gained confidence in driving it, it will gather speed.

Catherine Hainstock

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Part-time teacher librarian at an independent primary school in Melbourne, Catherine is in the last year of study for her Master of Education (TL) through Charles Sturt University.