Tonight I am in reflective mode while also being in frantic planning mode. Like anyone involved with education in Australia, we are very busy getting into a new academic year. In my case, I am working with a raft of new teachers who are learning about the challenges of being a teacher librarian.
Last week I worked with around 40 friendly folks as part of a program with the Department of Education here in NSW. These people came from a range of schools, and brought with them a range of experiences. One thing in common was enthusiasm. It reminded me of my days of training to be a TL. In one of my placements I was lucky to be mentored by a vibrant TL, whose forte was ‘rat cunning’. Looking for opportunities to work smarter, and influence your staff as often as possible was part of her overall approach to efficient management and advocacy, and underpinned her philosophy which in every way saw her and her school library address the Australian School Library Standards of Professional Excellence.
As I watch another batch of experienced teachers become students once again, I see and feel the nervousness, difficulty, confusion, and amazement that epitomizes a teacher’s discovery of what a teacher librarian actually can know and can contribute to a school. So many come into this thinking it is going to be a ‘walk in the park’. After all, they may well have seen or been in a school with library that has no teacher librarian – so in that context all they has seen is perhaps 5% of what is possible. It’s why I know that experienced Teacher Librarians are extraordinary, and that every single school and every single student deserves to have a TL leader in their school to make sense of 21st century multi-literacies.
On the other hand, there are also students who have come into the course who have a passion to be a Teacher Librarian. They already know some of the features of the job, and perhaps sense the power and magic of the possibilities. These people are looking for a life-changing transition which they want to be wonderful, colourful, and inspirational.
This week I’m also revisiting other aspects of my own TL journey. I am working with a small central school in mid-west NSW. Recently this town experienced dreadful flooding, and the school library was one of those spaces that was affected.I have worked in a variety of settings and operated with a shoestring budget. I still recall how the Principal and I re-organised the library layout with wire – literally re-shaping and re-organising the ancient library shelves to create useful and exciting spaces. I then raided the bargain bins at iKEA and the reject shops, and made that library a hub of activity. In a primary school of 400 students we ended up having a lunchtime rule – after the first 100 students got into the library, we had to shut the doors. They queued outside..waiting for their turn. And no, we had no air-conditioning!
So here I am consulting to a recently flooded central school – saved books, destroyed library. What next? Once again it’s the same issues – what exactly should a school library in a central school provide for its students? How is this achieved with budget and staffing constraints. Surprisingly the answers are the same here as they are in any school, and what the Principal is discovering is the complexity of what’s required in just the same way as my new students are surprised.
But of course the facility is only half the story. As we all know, it is what happens in the curriculum that is also critical. If you are a teacher librarian you already know the answer. My new students are barely even aware of the questions they are going to be asking themselves in a few weeks! But through all that turmoil, what is exciting is that they will make the journey. I recall last year the absolutely glorious and inspiring thoughts and ideas that some students were able to write about by mid-year.
If you are new in ETL401, and reading this – courage. You have taken the first step in the journey of transformation. Teacher librarianship is not just something extra. It’s a brainstorming, mindshifting, electrifying opportunity to meet 21st century learning needs in all its dimensions head on. Nothing can stop you after that!