The Role of Teacher Librarians in Networked School Communities

Mal Lee and Maureen Twomey

November 201o

Historically the role of teacher librarians in schooling has always been strongly influenced by the developments with instructional technology (Lee and Winzenried, 2009).

In recent years the shift to the digital and networked technology has amplified that impact and obliged teacher librarians across the developed world to continually adjust their role, and to think hard about the role they might best play in the ever-evolving scene.

The nexus with the technology, and the necessity of responding astutely to the ever –evolving scene has positioned teacher librarians as a group well to the fore of their teaching colleagues, obliged them to lead and unwittingly provided education authorities and schools a highly valued resource, ideally placed to play a significant role in the on-going evolution of schooling.

That awareness of the latest instructional technology developments coupled with the teacher librarian’s rare facility to observe the macro workings of the total teaching and learning process is a combination few other teachers in hierarchically structured schools posses.

The challenge for education authorities, schools and the teacher librarians themselves is to decide how best to use the teacher librarian’s expertise, what role they ought play and what kind of on-going support they require to play that role.

This is the challenge that we put to the teacher- librarians of the Brisbane Catholic Education schools at their annual professional development day.

While theirs is a particular point of view, expressed at a particular stage in the evolution of schooling it nonetheless provides an invaluable insight into the thinking of a sizeable cross section of Australia’s teacher librarians.

The highly positive feedback provided by virtually all in the group indicates that Brisbane Catholic Education (BCE) has in its teacher librarians a very considerable, and largely unrecognized and untapped resource well positioned to play a leading role in the BCE school’s shift to a digital, and in turn networked mode of schooling (Lee and Finger, 2010).

The contrast Mal Lee noted between the BCE teacher librarian response’s and that of another state who were presented with the same ideas was marked, underscored the variability in situations across Australia and highlighted the need to be cognizant of the every expanding gap between the proactive and reactive schools and education authorities described in Developing a Networked School Community (2010).  While the latter group were frightened, and indeed reacted angrily to the insight provided into the evolving school scene the BCE group, of near 100 responded positively, and revealed, as will be seen below a macro appreciation of the megatrends impacting on schools and a commitment to leading the evolution of enhanced mode of schooling rarely encountered by a group with virtually no executive experience. Moreover while the BCE teacher librarians’ appreciated the importance of focusing on the specified learning outcomes the other group opposed this development.

The organizational culture of the authority and school has a profound impact on the teacher librarian’s outlook.

How Brisbane Catholic Education, or indeed any similar school or education authority opts to take advantage of this rare resource is one for it to decide.

The work on the evolution of schooling that Mal Lee has done with the Chair of Educational Leadership at ACU, Professor Michael Gaffney (Lee and Gaffney, 2008) and more recently with Professor Glenn Finger, the Dean (Learning and Teaching) for the Arts, Education and Law Group at Griffith University (Lee and Finger, 2010), (Lee and Finger, in press) has underscored the inappropriateness of the ‘one size fits all’ model once schools move from the traditional paper based organizational mode and enter the digital, and in particular the networked school phase.

Within the networked mode of schooling, where the schools are working increasingly with their particular community, with its unique networks and distinct context it is ever more important to adopt solutions appropriate to that context, at that particular time.

It is a vital concept that needs to be borne in mind as one considers the way forward.

Allied is the fundamental importance of adopting graduated, controlled, piloted and measured evolution.  As schools and education authorities move into as yet uncharted waters it is as important in education as it is in industry that organizations venture forward with clear outcomes in mind, learn from the experience and if the desired outcomes are not realized alternative approaches can be explored. (Drucker, 2001) (Lee and Finger, 2010).

The Challenge Provided

Following the keynote presentation by Mal Lee, the Brisbane teacher- librarians were asked to complete a response sheet reflecting on four key questions.

  1. What do you believe are the key tasks of the role of a teacher-librarian that needs to be enacted now to develop your networked school community?
  2. What role should you as a teacher-librarian play in developing your networked school community?
  3. What changes do you believe you need to make to your current practices?
  4. What form of support do you believe that you need now and in the future to enact your role as a teacher-librarian in your school to develop your networked school community?

The Responses

Ninety-one participants completed the response sheet highlighting four key areas for teacher-librarians in the development of their networked school communities.

Teacher-librarians identified the importance of their role in the leadership of their school particularly in areas of technology planning and development and in digital literacy. Teacher-librarians also identified the changes they believed needed to made both personally and professionally to develop their role in a networked school community. Overall, there was an agreement that the teacher-librarian should be a key player in the leadership team of their schools and that support needed to be given to their role at both the school and system level.  Another area identified in the responses was access to professional developed and key role teacher-librarians play in facilitating professional developed for their school communities.

Teacher-librarians identified some of their key result areas as being the following:

  • Leading and developing collaborative partnerships
  • Curriculum leadership
  • Leadership in digital technologies
  • Leadership in digital and information literacy
  • Resource development and management including digital resources

In all responses the importance of the teacher-librarian working collaboratively with staff, students, leadership, the school and wider community to improve student-learning outcomes was noted.  It was noted that of all the roles in a school community, the teacher-librarian ‘sees all classes and teachers each week and is well-positioned for networking and collaboration’. Teacher-librarians believed they were able to ‘pioneer’ and model ‘new IT which promotes better learning outcomes for students’ as well as being able to ‘challenge existing practices that may not be ‘good practices’ and ‘encourage more use by reluctant teachers’. Teacher-librarians already develop, manage and ‘promote use of library website, online resources and online databases’.  A significant aspect of these collaborative partnerships for teacher-librarians is the role they play in communicating new technologies to teachers and providing professional development in the use of these digital resources and programs in the curriculum.

Teacher-librarians believed they were in a position to ‘identify pitfalls and strengths and feed this information back to administration’ as well as having an ‘awareness of strengths and weaknesses among staff’. Working alongside staff, teacher-librarians are able to be a ‘trouble-shooter’ and ‘problem-solver’ for teachers, and students and ‘encourage and support staff to experiment and utilize different applications and external resources’ in their classroom.

Curriculum leadership and pedagogical leadership were also identified as areas of importance in the role. Teacher-librarians saw themselves as ‘proactive’ in ‘integrating curriculum and information literacy skills’ and ‘working with teachers to promote appropriate us of technology’ making links between curriculum and digital literacy skills as well as ‘teaching digital literacy skills’. A significant part of the role of the teacher-librarian was involvement in planning with teachers. ‘Time release from scheduled classes’ and not being placed on timetabled classes or providing ‘release time’ were identified as issues preventing their participation in planning and working with teachers. ‘Working collaboratively with staff in program development and delivery’ for the development of information literacy and digital literacy was noted by the respondents as an important part of the role for teacher-librarians in their school community.

Locating, creating and managing digital resources were highlighted as a significant part of the role of teacher-librarians in developing and managing the school resources. As teachers, teacher-librarians understand ‘how learners learn today’ and as librarians they are skilled in being are able to locate, manage and develop appropriate resources.  ‘Locating and evaluating digital resources’ and ‘managing digital resources’ to enable ‘equitable access’ are now significant tasks undertaken by teacher-librarians in their role of managing the schools resources. The management and development of digital resources involves teacher-librarians ‘liaising with technicians’ and having an understanding of not just the hardware but more importantly ‘the software and how it is used in an educationally sound way’. Teacher-librarians indicated in their responses that they play a role in the ‘investigation and evaluation of online resources’; that they are involved in ‘creating digital resources’ and the ‘management of digital collections’. Being a ‘catalyst and mentor’ and an ‘early adopter of technology’ means teacher-librarians ‘keep abreast of software developments, current research and new technologies’ and can keep ‘leadership informed of relevant advancements’ and ‘trends in technology’ and ‘proposing their use in schools’.  Organizing digital resources and developing a ‘well-designed resource centre component of (the) school web site’ allows students access to resources beyond the physical and time boundaries of the school library providing ‘two-way interaction with parents and students’. Twenty-two respondents indicated that the school libraries needed better budget allocations to develop access to online databases, subscriptions – both print and digital, and the purchase of digital resources.  It was also noted by one teacher-librarian, that systemic level subscription to some digital resources and online databases could improve access and address equity issues for all students enrolled in BCE schools and that systemic subscriptions attract better pricing structures.

Fifty-four participants identified the importance of the teacher-librarian role in the leadership of their school.  There was a strong focus on the importance of the teacher-librarian having ‘involvement in the planning and implementation of Information and Communication Learning Technology’ (ICLT) and being a ‘member of the technology committee’ and ‘part of a team with curriculum support, ICLT coordinator and leadership teams’.   The respondents considered the role of the teacher- librarian ‘pivotal’.  There was a strong belief that they should be ‘included in school executive’ and a ‘member of the administration team’.   The areas of technology planning and development and digital literacy were highlighted as significant parts of the teacher-librarian role.  The respondents highlighted the need for ‘genuine time (to be) given to develop digital literacy and to be viewed as ‘a key professional in each school’. Teacher-librarians identified the challenge for them to ‘provide data/reports’ to administration teams and to ‘engage key movers’ in these teams.

Changes at the personal level and the professional level along with changes to their role in schools and the physical environment of the library were identified by teacher-librarians as issues and challenges for them to develop the networked school community. Personally teacher-librarians felt the need to ‘become more technology savvy’ and be ‘more experimental with IT’. The respondents indicated the need to ‘accept constant change’, to be ‘more confident’ and ‘more proactive’ and to have ‘more involvement in the planning and purchase of ICLTs in the school’.  Reflection on ‘how work time is spent’ and the ‘priorities’ for teacher-librarians were listed as important as was being ‘future orientated’.

At the professional level, teacher-librarians believed they needed to ‘keep up with current developments in ICTs’ and be involved in more professional development in new technologies as well as maintaining their ‘professional reading’. Respondents noted that their work should involve developing ‘expertise in the function and short-falls of the world wide web to give effective direction to students’; working ‘with classes/teachers more on digital technologies’ and ‘investigate pedagogy for different technologies’; having ‘more involvement in planning with teachers’ and ‘liaise more with the IT coordinator’.  Teacher-librarians also recognised the need for ‘support, training and time to become familiar with software’ and that there was a ‘need to move from set lesson each week to integrated use’. Teacher-librarians also identified a role in ‘up-skilling of parents’.

Fifty-three respondents thought that some revision of the role of the teacher-librarian in networked school communities was needed.  The most repeated comment by respondents was that there needed to be ‘a shift from set lesson times’ to making the teacher-librarian more ‘usable with specific tasks’ and a ‘flexible timetable’ where collaborative planning with teachers was a priority. The ‘TL role needs to be seen as an information professional who can bring an educational perspective to ICT within the school.  Role is about information and literature regardless of format – print or digital’. Teacher-librarians need to set ‘formal goals’ and ‘establish initiatives‘ indicating the learning outcomes and then gather data on the achievement of these goals. Respondents indicated that as teacher-librarians they were responsible for writing an ‘annual report every year’ for the principal so that decisions could be ‘data driven’ and for developing a ‘long term plan for the library for the digital world’. There was also a need for ‘structured communication with school curriculum leaders and classroom teachers’ as well as ‘more professional involvement in curriculum planning’. Teacher-librarians indicated in their response that an increase in library assistant hours would reduce the ‘day to day’ administration demands and free them to be more involved in working with staff and students. It was also noted by some respondents that where the role of the teacher-librarian is part-time, it could be combined with the role of IT coordinator and Curriculum Support Teacher to become a full-time position.

Some teacher-librarians indicated the need for library refurbishment.  Respondents indicated a need to have the library well-equipped with technology including such hardware as interactive whiteboards. There was a general understanding in the responses that a library needed to be physically designed to provide users with appropriate access to digital technologies now and into the future.

‘Recognising a more focused role’ and ‘changes in the way the role is viewed by administration’ were identified as essential for teacher-librarians in the networked school community.  The teacher-librarian ‘needs to be recognised as ‘cutting edge’ professional not the ‘library lady’. There was an agreement that the teacher-librarian should be a key player in the leadership team of the school and that support needs to be given to the role at both the school and system level.  Support from ‘principals and administration’ teams were considered essential for the role.  Allocation of time for teacher-librarians to work on and develop their IT skills and the schools IT resources was considered important as was having a shared vision of the role of ICLT in the curriculum by all stake-holders.  Support from colleagues for the role was considered important as well as the teacher-librarian having opportunities to regularly communicate with staff in formal ways such as staff meeting.

The belief was that school infrastructure that was up to date and supported by a technician was essential for the development of a networked school community.  The respondents indicated that as teacher-librarians they believed they need to have more understanding of the network in their schools and that there should be ‘wireless access to all areas’ of the school as well as ‘funding for on site assistance when needed’.

52 respondents indicated that access to professional developed was essential for the teacher-librarian in the development of their role in the networked school community. ‘Ongoing PD in digital resources and technologies’ to ‘keep up to date with current trends, skills and technology’ was considered essential if the teacher-librarian was to be a leader in the learning community. Respondents repeated the need for time to be able to explore and learn new digital tools and resources as an essential ingredient for teacher-librarians. The opportunity to network with other teacher-librarians providing opportunities to share best practice and exchange ideas and information was very highly valued by the respondents.  It was strongly believed by participants that teacher-librarians were key to facilitating the on going PD of teaching staff and to working with teachers as they integrated digital literacy and skills into the curriculum. The school library remains the ‘hub of information’ for the networked school community and the role of the teacher-librarian key to improving student learning outcomes.

Conclusion

One can soon appreciate from these responses the very considerable resource this particular education authority and its schools have ready to use to best advantage.

It is a rare resource in that as Mishra and Koehler (2006) and Finger and Jamieson (in Lee and Finger, 2010) note on their work on TPACK and teacher readiness for the digital and networked world the normal problem is the shortage of technological understanding, not a group with that understanding and willing ready to lead and support.

In considering how to use this resource the research points to the imperative of looking forward, to a mode of schooling that will be increasingly networked and where the schools will use their technology to work far more closely and collaboratively with their homes and their particular community.

It is important to appreciate that the above is a snap shot of the group, and that at the individual school level – as is apparent worldwide – there will be very considerable variability in the size and nature of the schooling, be it primary or secondary, inner city or semi rural, in the school’s position on the paper, digitally based and networked schooling continuum and the readiness of the school’s leadership to take advantage of this resource.

With this in mind the authors suggested a way forward where the education authority discusses with the interested schools, or indeed networks of schools and their leadership pilots how the teacher librarians, the school’s information professionals are best used in a way that suits the particular context, and the authority discuss with the relevant parties how it ought best support these initiatives.  The group response does provide an insight into the kind of options that can be explored.

In conclusion it is important to underscore that aforementioned positive outlook, the group’s recognition of enhancing the specified outcomes, and willingness and readiness to lead did not emerge in one part of Australia and not another serendipitously but rather is a reflection of a strongly supportive culture within this particular education authority.

The challenge is how this particular group of decision makers, and those at a similar point on the proactive – reactive continuum now harnesses and capitalizes upon this rare resource.

The answer lies – perhaps disappointingly to some – not in a long dated Industrial Age ‘one size fits all approach’ but rather in a far more nuanced approach that takes into consideration the unique character of every school operating within its particular set of networks, addressing a particular suite of educational needs with a particular school community, at a given point in time.

When schools, and teacher librarians move to the networked phase of schooling they move from constancy and continuity to on-going change and evolution where the total school community needs to shape the desired form of schooling and the use of its staff.

Maureen Twomey

Maureen Twomey is currently the teacher-librarian at Assisi Catholic College, a Prep-12 college in the northern suburbs of the Gold Coast.  Maureen has been a teacher-librarian for 20 years with experience in both primary and secondary settings as well as in independent and systemic colleges.  She is a past-president of the School Library Association of Queensland and a past board member of the Australian School Library Association.

Most recently, Maureen was part of a team at Assisi that was awarded the Brian Bahnisch Award by the School Library Association of Queensland. The Brian Bahnisch award is a biennial award, which recognises and encourages collaborations and partnerships involving teacher-librarians, teachers and members of the school community.

Maureen believes that there are major challenges ahead for teacher librarians.  The role needs to develop new and innovative ways of working for the future if teacher-librarians are to remain relevant in the emerging digital learning landscape.

Mal Lee

Author/educational consultant

Bibliography

Drucker, P. (2001). Management Challenges for the 21st Century. New York: Harper Business.

Hansen, M.T. (2009). Collaboration: How to Avoid the Traps, Create Unity and Reap Big Results. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing.

Lee, M. & Gaffney, M. (Eds) Leading a Digital School, Melbourne: ACER Press.

Lee, M & Winzenried, A. (2009). The use of instructional technology in schools: Lessons to be learned. Melbourne: ACER Press.

Lee, M. & Finger, G. (Eds) (2010) Developing a networked School Community Melbourne: ACER Press.

Lee, M. & Finger, G. (Eds). (In press). Leading a Networked School Community

Mishra, P & Koehler, M 2006,‘Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge’, Teachers College Record, vol. 108, no. 6, pp. 1017–54.

About Mal Lee

Mal Lee is an educational consultant and author specializing in the evolution of teaching and schooling from the traditional paper based mode to one that is digital, and in turn networked, and the impact of the technology on that evolution. Mal’s is a macro focus examining all the elements associated with the development, leadership and operation of schools operating within a digital, and increasingly as networked school communities. Most importantly his is a positive approach that envisions how educators and school communities might best use the ever-evolving, ever more pervasive technology in the home, on the move and in the classroom to provide an ever better schooling for the full range of students. Mal is a former director of schools, secondary college principal, technology company director and a member of the Mayer Committee that identified the Key Competencies for Australia’s schools. A Fellow of the Australian Council for Educational Administration (FACEA) Mal has been closely associated with the use of digital technology in schooling, particularly by the school leadership for the last two decades. A historian by training Mal has written extensively, particularly in the Practising Administrator, the Australian Educational Leaders and Access, Educational Technology Guide on the astute use of technology in the development of schoolings. Mal has released four publications with ACER Press. In 2008 Mal and Professor Michael Gaffney edited and had published Leading a Digital School. In 2009 he co-authored with Dr Arthur Winzenried The Use of Instructional Technology in Schools – Lessons to be Learned, and with Chris Betcher, The Interactive Whiteboard Revolution – Teaching with IWBs. In 2010 Mal joined with Associate Professor Glenn Finger (Griffith University) in the writing of his most significant work yet for ACER Press on Developing Networked School Communities: a guide to realizing the vision – on the next phase of schooling. Copies of the books can be obtained from the ACER Press website at - http://shop.acer.edu.au/acer-shop/product/A4032BK
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