This paper examines in detail Sharon Coatney’s The Many Faces of School Library Leadership (2010) through the perspective of three influential topics: advocacy leadership, literacy promotion, and the changing definition of literacy. Reflections are made throughout on current practice in the secondary school library and questions for further study are suggested.
Coatney’s The Many Faces of School Library Leadership (2010) is pertinent to my situation as I struggle with the demands of being a full-time teacher-librarian in a secondary school of 1450 students, and 100 staff. Ken Haycock (2010) discusses the principles for becoming persuasive and developing influence. (7) I am struggling to feel that my work is having an impact on the school community and I want to change this. Similarly, I was drawn to Deb Levitov’s section called “The School Librarian as an Advocacy Leader” (29-40). As with many things about my current position, I’m learning my job as I go. Levitov’s writing changed my way of thinking from being a victim of the system, to being an advocate for change.
I have been surprised to discover that the budget for our library has shrunk by 66% in 10 years and I am definitely having difficulty coping with these cutbacks. Last month I submitted my first application for a corporate grant to boost the level of technology in our school. I feel like I sacrificed a margin of pride in completing this request for funds, but I feel that grant writing is where I need to focus some of my attention to boost the resources in the library. My principal needed to sign off on the application, and it started an interesting series of conversations with my colleagues about fund distribution throughout the school. Even if I’m not successful in receiving the grant, I will have shed more light on the effects of budget cuts that we face in our library and how this will affect the greater school community. I know that I need to stop behaving as if I’m the sole proprietor of the library and start, as Levitov (2010) recommends, “involving others in the process of grant writing for the school library [in order] to gain input from teachers, administrators, parents, students, or business people.” (36) Levitov continues to suggest that being present at meetings, having evidence of student learning and promoting legislative action through political relationships are all ways of advocating for libraries at local, provincial and national levels. (36-38) I am particularly interested in sourcing more methods of developing Levitov’s evidence folders (2010, 37) and feel that this may be a potential research topic for further exploration in this course. If I could gather effective evidence, then I know I would feel justified in further spending time and energy on advocating for resources.
The aspect of my job that I have always been most enthusiastic about is the promotion of my school community’s love of reading. Doug Achterman (2010) suggests some innovative online ways to improve the enthusiasm about reading using online tools like video book trailers and blogs. (70) Achterman (2010) also suggests creating an online community with Goodreads (http://www.goodreads.com/). (71) I have managed to create a wiki, a website and a Ning, but only some staff are involved in each. I would like to create a safe place for more staff, students and parents to communicate online as well.
An area of reading promotion that I have spent little time with is with my board’s selection policy, and I am actually unsure if we have one. It would add a formal touch to my library website, and relate back to the area of advocacy when I’m questioned about how I spend my budget. Helen R. Adams (2010) spends a significant portion of her section of the text on preparing for challenges to library materials. She suggests that having this policy readily available, posting it in a public place, like the website, and adding a feedback area where the school community can add suggestions for new material would help build awareness of the collection. (48-49) All of these are ideas that I would like to develop further as both literacy promotion and advocacy.
The concepts of curriculum mapping and collection mapping, discussed by Jody K. Howard (2010) are elements of my position that I could use more development in. I can see how a teacher-librarian of an elementary school would attempt a curriculum map, but we have almost a hundred staff. I find this task of horizontal and vertical curriculum mapping very daunting, although I can certainly see how the teacher-librarian is in a unique position to tackle it. I see overlap and inconsistencies in content and delivery all the time from my perspective, but I’m not sure how I would begin this. So far my strategy has been to join the Professional Learning Community (PLC) with a new department each semester, in order to have a trickle down impact on the students. I am currently engaged in a curriculum mapping session of the science department in the areas of research, writing and digital literacy. I hope to use our work here for a whole-school model. I anticipate difficulties getting the whole staff to buy in to this model, but even if I target just a few mandatory courses, then I will reach more students. I hope that mapping more of the school’s curriculum will also help me improve our collection to provide accurate resources for teaching and learning.
Collection mapping in my library is largely aided by the use of a printout that analyzes the dates and percentages of each Dewey category in our resources. It is the most useful tool that I have, but I’m still finding it very difficult to purchase based on Dewey categories. I’m not sure which is more important: the age of a resource, or the fact that it may be an irreplaceable, primary source of material. Also, our composite school of diverse learners means that I’m shopping for a range of materials from grade 4 reading level to university-bound students. As such, I’ve started advocating in conversations with our leaders of special education and student success about adding funding our collection to better accommodate these unique people. I’ve also started to turn towards developing the use of our databases, which are paid for at a board level. Both issues have highlighted the need for our school’s definition of literacy to change.
Changing Literacy Definition
The advent of online spaces for teaching, learning and independent research has created complex challenges in each of these areas. The richest section of Coatney’s text (2010), came during Doug Achterman’s discussion of how the teacher-librarian has the unique role of identifying and redefining literacy. The internet has changed how we read, how we interact and how we engage with material. I consider myself an intermediate user of the internet, but this one section of the text enlightened me as to how much we struggle with the new literacies that the internet has compounded. Achterman says that “online reading requires similar but more complex processes for successful comprehension” (79). In addition to the traditional methods we use to comprehend new material, users must also make critical choices of how to clarify and confirm material, and constantly evaluate the reliability of information. (Achterman, 80) I feel a strong impetus to help my graduating secondary students with these new literacies. The growing expectation in post-secondary is that students will have developed these competencies a tthe secondary level, but they haven’t. I hope that my role in curriculum mapping will allow me to reach every student in the school, and help them develop vital attitudes for approaching new literacies.
My empathy for new technology users, as Kristin Fontichiaro describes it (p. 109), is underdeveloped as well. She describes a few simple tricks to help new users that I need to accommodate whenever possible to make essential information easier to find. I have an abundance of pride when it comes to my hard-earned knowledge of technology, and I need to get better at sharing it. Both Achterman and Fontichiaro describe creating situations where librarians can be model teachers of thinking strategies, similar to what Violet H. Harada describes. (p. 21) I like her analogy of the library being a fishbowl allowing teachers to develop their own thinking while watching the teacher-librarian teach. (p. 21) If the new definition of library includes both a physical space and an online space, then I’d like to improve my online presence. I want to work to be a model at school and online for other teachers in the promotion of literacy in all its forms.
Reflections and further questions
Reading Coatney’s The Many Faces of School Library Leadership (2010) has left me with further questions about my role as a leader within my school and board. In the scope of literature about the unique role of teacher-librarianship, I seldom feel well-represented as a full-time, secondary librarian. I was drawn to the sections of Coatney’s text that were particularly relevant to secondary school situations. I would like to heighten my profile as a leader within my school, board and eventually, province. I would like to take the time necessary to explore these concerns:
- if curriculum mapping of an entire school’s program is possible at the secondary level and are there examples I can find to emulate in my own school?
- then using my curriculum map can I build cross-curricular units like the one that Howard (2010) suggests that involve multiple grades and classes working towards a common, meaningful goal (97)?
- if I create an accurate curriculum map, then can I develop new digital literacy standards and assessment tools for implementation?
- if my curriculum map is truly valuable then can I develop Levitov’s evidence folders (2010, 37) to further my position in advocating the necessity of library programming and resources?
I hope to explore these questions throughout the course and if possible, within my major research paper.
Coatney, Sharon. (Ed.). (2010). The Many Faces of School Library Leadership. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.