Barbara is a retired teacher-librarian from Australia who I have known for many years. In a long, thoughtful e-mail to me she shared a summary of the staffing situation in NSW. The challenges and threats sound very similar to those faced by school librarians in the US. Barbara also sent the following e-mail in response to my call for ideas about librarians as entrepreneurs the other day. Why do I think any job Barbara holds would never be in jeopardy? Read and learn...
Peeing on the Job*
Two weeks ago I gave a presentation to NSW teacher librarians which I called "Peeing on the Job" because it gave some ideas of why we should reach out to parents, peers, principals, pre-service teachers and politicians and how we could do that.
I started by having participants consider and identify their purpose, position, policies, programs, procedures, practices and priorities (you can see why I gave the presentation that title) and two links I shared were
- Ned Potter’s Prezi http://prezi.com/hl392i93n8um/you-already-have-a-brand-here-are-5-ways-to-influence-it/
- Personal manifesto http://photopeach.com/album/18mcp6w This was my creation from a model I discovered during a unit of my latest masters degree.
After I pointed out why the parents, peers, principals, pre-service teachers and politicians should be our key targets (notice I didn’t include pupils and I explained why), I shared ways they could do this, limiting myself to the six most successful that I had done when I was in my library six years ago. The purpose was to give them something which they could use as a springboard to adapt to their own situations, particularly as teacher librarian jobs are perceived to be under threat here, especially in NSW where a controversial policy of Local Schools, Local Decisions giving more budgetary and staffing power to principals is imminent. (I’m not against the concept overall but my own experience where, despite having a really high profile and doing a really good job I was not replaced when I retired because the principal had a different agenda and wanted the staffing points to support that.)
This is what I offered them ...
Parents Remember, they want the best for their child so
- Have a prominent presence through your newsletter, website or social networking and keep them regularly informed of what each class is undertaking while in your care; events; new releases of books or movies (The Hunger Games, Snow White and the Huntsman classifications). Make yourself or your presence their go-to place for information. Reporting to parents is part of the accreditation process so look for creative ways to do this. It doesn’t just mean putting a generic, meaningless comment on each child’s report.
- Provide homework support with links to curriculum-related websites, YourTutor http://yourtutor.com.au/, safe game sites for each age group; interesting sites that will engage them like Kid’s National Geographic http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/kids/ .
- Provide a parent information lounge both on your website and in your library with information about the school, child development, supporting their child’s literacy and numeracy development, cybersafety, local services and entertainment for children (collect brochures or link to sites), help lines such as the Poisons Information Centre or Lifeline, even lists of appropriate authors, titles or series for each age group for birthday or Christmas lists.
- Collaborate with other teachers to host parent participation programs in which the parents learn how to listen to their child reading, or help with homework without actually doing it, searching without Google, understand information literacy, anything that they feel that they might need. Be the pivot on which the relationship between the home and school balances.
- Support parents reading with their child by having grab bags of seven selected titles, that parents borrow like a resource box. There are enough appropriate books for a new title every night, are easily available and borrowed in one transaction.
- Create links with your pre-school, even having regular storytime sessions with them if that is practical.
- Speak at P&C meetings about what you do so the word spreads that the school library is a very different place from that which they might remember.
- Conduct an Information Needs Audit and find out what their priorities are and how they would like them delivered.
- Be pro-active and take every opportunity to find out what’s coming up in their program that you can support with physical and online resources – develop pathfinders and hotlists, and give them catalogues to browse for suggestions for collection development. Offer to write a statement about how the library has contributed to students’ learning for reports. That way it can be defensible if challenged.
- Co-ordinate a program of professional learning opportunities to develop information literacy and ICT skills, such as how to use the databases- formalise these with scheduled show-and-share segments in your regular staff meetings. Co-ordinate mentoring programs and partnerships so those with the know can help those without.
- Monitor listservs and other professional services for information about upcoming events, conferences, professional learning opportunities, programs and competitions their students could be involved in and so on and email these details to individuals directly. For example, there were recently a lot of unique activities supporting the Transit of Venus that students could be involved in and the London 2012 Olympics are just days away.
- Use your non-teaching time to go into the classroom and booktalk the bulk loan, new releases, the PRC titles, the upcoming Book Fair or Scholastic BookClub titles, authors, series or themes. Watch the interest grow and the teacher’s problems with SSR diminish
- Offer the library as the venue for displaying the class’s work on a theme or invite classes to develop a display on a mutually agreed theme. Look for ways that student work can be seamlessly integrated into what is happening in the library. Whenever the media or politicians go to a school, they always go to the library – have it loaded up with student work.
Principals With the introduction of Local Schools, Local Decisions, principals will have a greater workload than ever and with the responsibility of configuring staffing to suit the needs of the school, now, more than ever the teacher librarian has the responsibility to demonstrate what it is they do, rather than expecting the principal to find out. But advocate for your role through action rather than ear-bashing.
- Prepare a detailed budget in advance of the preparation of the school’s budget identifying the priorities and how these have been determined. Apart from demonstrating your professionalism, it enables the principal and those allocating the money to be aware of your needs so they can make informed decisions.
- With permission, organise events like Literary Luncheons, author visits, Book Week celebrations and invite the media. It always makes the principal look good.
- Send a weekly email which keeps them in the loop of
- the events happening in the library,
- collaborative planning and teaching opportunities
- comments about individual learners – you know who;
- individual achievements like who has reached their PRC goals so he/she can congratulate them;
- new purchases;
- anything that shows the range of duties you undertake that is not a load of meaningless statistics.
- Become their personal information specialist and send information about research they should know about, publications they should read, events (school and local) they should attend, promotions and programs the school might be involved in
- Submit policies, plans, proposals and so forth for approval and ratification so he/she is aware of your professionalism, the scope of your role and the seriousness you devote to it. Act with integrity, dignity and respect and it will be reciprocated
- Offer to co-ordinate a Principal’s Reading Challenge that allows students to set and meet their own targets and be acknowledged for their efforts with a certificate from the principal. If you use a prescribed list of must-reads, ensure that the books are available from the library, that the students have input into the list, and that they are not restricted within it by arbitrary levels or lexiles
- Because pre-service teachers are in the school for such a short time we really need to get in early, but they are often on information overload with their head moving like Noddy’s. So greet them on their tour of the school and give them an information pack that has the essential information about what you offer, how they borrow and so forth. Include anything that will help them understand what you do, how they do things, things they might use on this prac or at a later date
- a formal invitation to discuss their prac assignments with you,
- any forms for booking the library,
- a diagram of the information literacy process that you use,
- a library map
- a summary of what the spine labels cover (eg if you have your PRC books colour-coded for stage explain this)
- pro-formas for book reviews that they might be able to use
- a list of titles, authors and series that are appropriate for each age group within your school
- a form they need to fill out to get borrowing privileges (so they are responsible for what they borrow not their associate teacher) which includes contact details for after prac is finished. You might also want to make it clear that their prac report won’t be signed until all loans have been returned.
- If you have a bookmark or some other freebie (even a chocolate frog), it all adds to the atmosphere of friendliness.
- Set aside a time (even if it’s a recess) early in the prac when they can show you what they need to achieve and how you can help them do this, either with resources, ideas or collaborative planning and teaching. Make sure they know that the resources are not limited to print and that services are not limited to circulation. This may be their first experience of working alongside a teacher librarian and if you do it well, they will be looking for the same support in their next school and when they have their own class for the first time – knowing that there is a colleague whose core business is to collaborate and support can be the rock on which they base that first year on.
- In the pack or in your discussions, give them the link or a copy of Doug Johnson’s 10 Things a Baby Teacher Should Knowhttp://www.doug-johnson.com/dougwri/baby-teachers.html which has become a seminal article that helps during those few weeks
- Also show them or provide them with the link to Connect2TLs http://www.connect2tls.info/for-teachers.html which has a number of links to brief, straight-forward articles of what it is a top-shelf teacher librarian can do for them. My experience of prac teachers is that they are bower birds gathering all that they can and eventually reading it so present your information pack attractively (it could also be the basis of the one you provide new teachers at the school) and make it a goodie bag they want to delve into.
- If you live near a university which offers a B.Ed program, get to know the staff and offer yourself as a guest lecturer to explain and demonstrate information literacy. Given that the new Australian Curriculum has its inquiry aspects built into each strand, teachers are going to need to know the language we are speaking to the students so that there is uniformity and conformity not confusion.
Politicians love to be seen as being ‘in on the action’ which is attracting their constituents. They love an opportunity to be seen and talk and getting them on your side is imperative. Be apolitical and put your preferences aside. Don’t limit yourself to the sitting member – wannabes need to get their names into the community so people recognise it on that election sheet, and those in Opposition love to be informed enough to ask Questions in the House. Build up a positive relationship so when the pollie needs a school for a photo opportunity, a launch, a place to place funds, it’s your name and face that come to mind
- Invite them to any library-based function you have but look for unusual celebrations – the Unique Selling Point that will make your event stand out – such as a student-organised Literary Luncheon, a poetry reading by a local poet, a book launch by a new author or illustrator – anything that is also likely to attract the media so they can have a photo opportunity
- Invite them to be guest readers, bloggers, speakers, artists or presenters, especially celebrating students achievements based on library challenges. Do a lot of the legwork for them such as
- booking well ahead, including information about the importance of the event with the invitation, sending a reminder with a background brief and an indication of what they are expected to do – it’s about getting them to value the library not necessarily save them work. They will come again if you are PROFESSIONAL (but keep your principal in the loop.)
- selecting the book and getting it to them in advance to practice
- suggesting the focus of the blog post such as their opinion of Local Schools, Local Decisions
- have them be a focal point of your citizenship studies so they talk about what they do
- if you know they have a passion for poetry, drawing, music or whatever invite them to perform as part of a school-based event. It doesn’t matter if it’s not library-related, it’s about reinforcing the connection.
- Email, write or phone them http://hubinfo.wordpress.com/action/ to let them know how decisions affecting the employment and deployment of teacher librarians affects the teaching and learning in the schools in their electorates – let them know that the parents are the voters who will keep them or not
- If there is something such as Local Schools, Local Decisions that is really going to impact on the teaching and learning at the school, make an appointment and visit them. Be prepared and demonstrate how the issue will affect the families in the electorate rather than your employment. Keep in mind that votes talk and there are more parents than teacher librarians.
M.Ed.(TL), M.App.Sci.(TL), M.I.S. (Children's Services)
COOMA NSW 2630
* I asked Barbara about the title. Her reply:
In Australia ‘peeing’ also means urinating on and I chose that title to get attention for my presentation, but mainly because of all the alliteration of people – parents, peers, principals, pre-service teachers, politicians (and I could have added pupils) -and also the paperwork - policies, programs, procedures practices and priorities. In the slideshow I even had a background picture of one of those garden features of a little boy peeing! But given that most practising teacher librarians would probably not want to pee on or piss off the Powers That Be, if you can think of a better, more appropriate title please do so.
Well, Barbara, it may piss some people off, but I'm keeping the title!