Teacher-Librarians

Pekka Reinio

Welcome to The Library IT Crowd, a column brought to you by the Ontario Library and Information Technology Association (OLITA). We showcase some of the great librarians and library professionals currently working with technology, get to know them, and share their experiences! We hope we can inspire you, and shed some light onto what goes on behind the scenes with library tech workers!

Your name: Pekka ReinioPekka Reinio

Your title: Teacher-Librarian

Where do you work: At an elementary school library, Barrie, Ont.

Describe your role. What do you do at your library?

I am a full-time teacher-librarian, as well as the math lead and technology lead, in a K-8 elementary school. I have combined these three roles into one seamless position to collaborate with teachers and deliver literacy/math/tech programming for students. My typical day might include: providing mini-lessons and challenges to twenty-three 10 year olds coding with Scratch, troubleshooting with a team of grade 7 students during a green screen shoot, working with a small group of grade 3 students on a transformations math activity, “tech time” for the K-1 split class which includes the use of our Dash robots, and finally, planning a set of lessons with two junior teachers as we get ready to introduce a stop-motion film component to a literacy unit.

My role also requires continuous management, organizing, and prepping of a variety of resources:  books, computers, iPads, robots, math manipulatives, and building kits. Also thrown into the mix is the scheduling of parent volunteers, library helpers and classroom partnering.

What projects over the past year are you most proud of?

I have a few projects that I am most proud of:

Over the past six years, I have had limited success teaching students how to code and program robots. It seemed like a majority of students were not interested in either coding or robotics beyond the first few lessons. Last year I changed my approach to coding/robotics instruction.  Now, with the use of mini-lessons and challenges, it has become fairly standard to teach coding and robotics in a way that engages nearly all students for 10-20 lessons and beyond (each coding/robotics lesson runs for 50 min).

As the teacher-librarian/math lead, I co-ordinate the programming of mathematics for various grade levels to address areas of need in our school. This involves the organizing of monthly planning meetings, goal setting with teachers, small group instruction, and evaluation of student progress.

Overhauling and simplifying the Dewey Decimal System so that book exchange is much more intuitive for our younger students. The bulk of the overhaul took six months of work, but was well worth the effort!

What upcoming projects do you have on the horizon?

Next year I would like to support more inquiry based learning across all grades. This would promote learning across subject areas, teamwork, and hands-on learning by engaged, enthusiastic students who will take responsibility for their learning and apply technology in a meaningful way.

How do you think your library will change over the next 10 years?

The teacher-librarian role in public schools across Ontario is in a precarious position. Many public school boards no longer employ dedicated teacher-librarians and the trend looks bleak.

To solidify this valuable position within our schools, teacher-librarians must look to re-imagine their role. In my case, I bring technology and math skills to support student learning in the library space. However, as teacher-librarians re-imagine their role, we must remain focused on student achievement, demonstrating a love of learning, promoting collaboration, and exploring new approaches for student success.

Sarah Macintyre has been working in libraries for over five years, and has been at St. Thomas Public Library for half that time. In her position, Systems and Support Services Librarian, she has overseen many new digital initiatives, including the launch of the Creators’ Community services. She can be reached at smacintyre [at] stthomaspubliclibrary.ca

The School Library: Where vs. Who

Where

If you asked someone to describe a school library, what would they say? I’ve been asking myself this question because of three things that have happened recently:

  1. Colleagues sending me pictures on social media of creative reading nooks and book trees
  2. The unending stream of students being sent down to the library during class time
  3. A visit from some teacher-librarian colleagues who were looking for ideas on how to transform their library into a learning commons. They had been specifically been instructed to look at furniture.

From these three examples, I think others would describe a school library as:

  1. a place to store books
  2. a place to send students to work
  3. a place that has well-designed, modern furniture

Who

If the school library is a place for storing books, supervising students and having learning commons furniture, do we really need teacher-librarians? Do any of the above require a university degree.

In his 2013 article “School Libraries and Student Achievement”, Ken Haycock asked a related question: “Do school libraries really make a difference?”  The answer might surprise you. He found that a book warehouse, a supervised space and comfy furniture did not have an impact on student achievement. What he found was, we “are confusing school libraries with teacher-librarians … The impact is derived from the teacher-librarian.”

The Book Warehouse

Yes, we have and love books. Instead of report cards, teacher-librarians manage print and digital resources to be used by the entire student body and staff. We investigate what is coming out each publishing season, read reviews and books, talk to teachers about what their students need for reading and research, and make purchasing lists to best match those needs. I may not build a tree out of books, but I curate both print and digital resources so students are not overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information that is available to them today.

Still a Teacher 1

For a variety of reasons, teachers often send students from classrooms to the library to work. Some teachers understand that we may or may not be able to accommodate the students; others react: “But what else are you doing?” Sadly, despite many presentations, some staff no longer see me as a teacher. This is not a new problem. My predecessor struggled to convince other teachers that the library was her classroom.

This situation is unfortunate because when the classroom teachers co-teach with a teacher-librarian, student achievement increases by 20-50%. David V. Loertsher shares this result in his 2014 article, “Collaboration and Coteaching: A New Measurement of Impact” (Teacher Librarian 42:2). The article also describes the success and challenges of teacher/teacher-librarian collaboration. It echoes something I already know: I sometimes think it is fortunate that only a handful of teachers collaborate with me. I couldn’t juggle any more.

Yet there is something powerful when we reduce the teacher-student ratio from 30:1 to 15:1. When I work collaboratively with a classroom teacher, as a team, we are much better able to give descriptive feedback to students as they progress through their work.

If I’m ever asked to state what I do in a nutshell, I say: I co-plan, co-teach, co-assess.

Still a teacher 2

“Why do we need a library when we have Google?” a colleague once teased me. I love Google. Google is great. Google often helps me in my teaching.

For example, I’ve been asked to teach students how to create a YouTube video. Teachers are shocked when I turn to the class and say: “OK, go Google how to make a YouTube video.” Classroom teachers get stressed because it sometimes takes more time for students to find the answer by themselves, instead of me just telling them how to do it.  But the most important 21st century skill is learning how to learn. If a student gets stuck at home, he or she now knows how to find the answer. Also, the students also don’t fall asleep as I lecture them about YouTube.

What a Teacher-Librarian does (and Google doesn’t) is we ask students:

  • Are you using Creative Commons images and audio?
  • Why should you?
  • What are the consequences (for you and others) if you don’t?
  • What are the exceptions?
  • Where can you find good resources for Creative Commons images and audio?

Teacher-librarians often see the gaps students have and guide them over the bridge.

The Commons

The visit from my library colleagues who were looking for learning commons furniture made me realize how often we think about the library space over the library program. When teacher-librarians get together, we almost never talk about our day-to-day work. Instead, we are eager to see what the host librarian has done with his or her space and what kind of technology he or she has access to.

For me, the library learning commons is more pedagogical than physical. It is vital for all teachers to consider this question: How do we change instruction when most of what we traditionally taught (content, how to, facts) is now Googleable? How do we design assessments that allow students to co-create knowledge? How do we get students to take control over their own learning?

The Canadian Library Association’s recent document Leading Learning places the teacher-librarian at the forefront to answer these questions. In their “Standards of Practice for School Library Learning Commons in Canada” (page 8), teacher-librarians are to:

  • Facilitate collaborative engagement to cultivate and empower a community of learners
  • Advance the learning community to achieve school goals
  • Cultivate effective instructional design to co-plan, teach and assess learning
  • Foster literacies to empower life-long learners
  • Design learning environments to support participatory learning

Only a person, and not a room, can carry out all these actions.

The School Library: My Definition

As we move to an increasingly digital, BYOD world, will people change their definition of a school library? Will the space cease to hold an importance? Teacher-librarians may worry that the loss of the room may mean the loss of their jobs. But as Ken Haycock has observed, the school library is really the teacher-librarian. This library consists of our:

  • teaching program
  • curation of resources
  • and our learning design for the 21st century

 Barbara McVeigh is a secondary school teacher-librarian with the Peel District School Board. She scribbles and pedals in her spare time. Continue the conversation with her on Twitter: @barbaramcveigh.

Dumping Ground or Hallowed Ground?

When school library professionals are recognized as vital to student success, why do schools still see them as ‘other’?

Reading can provoke some strong reactions in me, even non-fiction, and sometimes the most innocuous sentence can create a firestorm. Such was the case when I read my most recent issue of Professionally Speaking, the official magazine of the Ontario College of Teachers. In an article about establishing good nutrition habits, (September 2014, page 36) the author quoted several educators. This is how one of the sections began:

“Although Ann Vieira, OCT, from Anson Taylor Public School in Scarborough, Ontario
is now a teacher-librarian, she has a long history (think 25 years) of being in the classroom.”

Wait a second. Why might her role as a teacher-librarian negate her experience on this topic?

My blood started to boil, but I talked myself down from my tirade – it wasn’t meant to be a slight, it was just a turn of phrase. As I continued to read the magazine, I found another reference to school libraries in an article on volunteers on page 41:

“if a volunteer isn’t a good fit in your classroom, see if there’s a need elsewhere in the school (sorting books in the library or selling tickets at a fundraising event, for example).”

If “not a good fit” is a euphemism for less-than-ideal or bad volunteer, then why is it more satisfactory to place them in the library? These two examples seem to suggest that there is a wall between students and school libraries, a distance that does not exist in classrooms or with class teachers.

This notion is reinforced by the practice of placing inferior teachers in the library as their assignment. The assumption behind this practice was that the individual would do “less harm” in the library than if he or she was in the classroom.

The idea that school libraries and school library professionals are apart from students is far from the truth. The Canadian Library Association recently released an updated Standards of Practice for School Library Learning Commons in Canada, called Leading Learning. School libraries are less about resources and more about relationships, connections and networks between learners and people.

Dr. Ross Todd is quoted on page 7 as saying:

“The hallmark of a school library in the 21st century is not its collections, its systems, its technology, its staffing, its buildings, but its actions and evidence that show that it makes a real difference to student learning, that it contributes in tangible and significant ways to the development of meaning making and constructing knowledge.”

The revised standards, freely available, provide five core standards of practice:

  1. Facilitating Collaborative Engagement to Cultivate and Empower a Community of Learners
  2. Advancing the Learning Community to Advance School Goals
  3. Cultivating Effective Instructional Design to Co-plan, Teach and Assess Learning
  4. Fostering Literacies to Empower Life-Long Learners, and
  5. Designing Learning Environments to Support Participatory Learning.

The word that keeps appearing in those categories is learning, and learning happens in people, not with things. The transitional growth stages are meant to be positive and not judgemental: Exploring, Emerging, Evolving, Established.

One of the key leaders in a Learning Commons is a teacher-librarian and Ken Haycock says,

“The role and impact of the teacher-librarian can be synthesized quite simply: teacher-librarians impact student learning and achievement by forming strong and positive relationships with members of the school community, especially the school principal; by collaborating with classroom colleagues to plan, develop and assess independent learning abilities in students; by fostering a recreational reading culture in the building; and by providing informal staff development opportunities.”

So if school libraries are truly about students and learning, how can this message be conveyed more effectively to the groups that work with school libraries, otherwise known as the school community? The answer exists in that new document. School library professionals can start by sharing the revised CLA standards document with their staff members.

The “Moving Forward” section of the document encourages people (and not just teacher-librarians, but also learning commons teachers, library technicians, teacher-technologists, and learning commons support staff) to begin by establishing a Learning Commons Leadership team in the school, a group representative of the school community with student and parent involvement.

When it is more than an individual working towards this transformation, the opinions of those involved with the School Library Learning Commons will also change.

On Twitter, a recent image suggested that if a=1, b=2, c=3, d=4, e=5 and so on, then

k+n+o+w+l+e+d+g+e = 96%,
h+a+r+d+w+o+r+k = 98%
but a+t+t+i+t+u+d+e = 100%.

Eventually that attitude change will filter up to the Ontario College of Teachers and its publications.

Diana Maliszewski is the teacher-librarian at Agnes Macphail Public School in the Toronto District School Board. She is the editor-in-chief of The Teaching Librarian, the official magazine of the Ontario School Library Association and is the OSLA representative on the Open Shelf OLA editorial board.