When I approach a new assignment in my M.Ed. course, I often employ a healthy dose of skepticism. Looking over the course syllabus, when I saw this assignment asking me to create a mission statement for my library and for myself, in the role of teacher-librarian, I thought that this was sure to be just another hoop-jumping/busy work assignment. I was wrong. As usual, the process of writing the mission statement, battling with myself over the semantics and diction, and comparing my own creations with those of my colleagues has really solidified by beliefs in what I do. Here’s what I developed.
Mission statement of the Orangeville District Secondary School library
To provide all staff and students with the opportunities for success in their development of fluency in reading, writing, research and digital publishing.
Mission statement of teacher-librarian
To guide the library community in their pursuit of deeper learning through concept attainment and critical thinking with emphasis on developing lifelong skills in personal and collaborative creation, communication, and curation.
Constructing mission statements both for my library and for myself in the role of teacher-librarian relies heavily on analysis of my own influences. In the role of teacher-librarian, I think of myself first as a teacher. This priority seems to run contrary to the common perception of what a teacher-librarian’s job description is, but to me, it’s my primary role. During my career of 17 years, my teaching has been influenced by a few major educational ideologies. Accordingly, the library’s mission statement will reflect the essential work that springs from my mission statement as a teacher-librarian.
The first time I was swayed in my teaching ideology and practice was through the idea of concept attainment, which I learned with author Barrie Bennett at the time of his book release of Beyond Monet (2001). Concept attainment highlights the imperative that curriculum should be driven by concepts not skills. My instructor Bennett (2001) explained it this way:
Concept Attainment pushes the analysis level of thinking. It invites the brain to find patterns. Students remember information longer and understand the design of concepts more quickly and more deeply when asked to think at more complex levels and to discuss their ideas with one another (p. 190).
Therefore, as teachers we must give our students multiple ways to demonstrate their understanding of concepts. Understanding this fundamentally changed the way that I developed my courses and day-to-day lessons in my subject areas of English, drama and media arts. My favourite concept attainment assignment is the concept map which I used largely at the end of a semester for students to demonstrate their understanding of course material, and to study for their exam. With the advent of online software, this idea has evolved into my love of the online tool Prezi which is essentially a blank canvas that allows for a multi-dimensional expression of concepts through presentation. Prezi is collaborative allowing multiple users to influence structure for a common goal. Students are drawn to the autonomy that Prezi gives them, andteachers appreciate how Prezi allows them to easily differentiate for each student. Bennett’s work of 2001 has carried through to my role as a teacher-librarian, making sure that the library community has ample opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of concepts.
After incorporating the ideas of Bennett & Rolheiser (2001), the work of Trilling & Fadel (2009) took me in quite a different direction. Having always been someone who embraced technological advances, Trilling & Fadel (2009) solidified my understanding of how globalization and the internet were necessitating change in the education system. Trilling & Fadel (2009) use historical examples and recent data to assert that the education system must adapt to incorporate the skills necessary for our students to both survive and be competitive in their futures:
What is certain is that two essential skill sets will remain at the top of the list of job requirements for 21st century work:
• The ability to quickly acquire and apply new knowledge
• The know-how to apply essential 21st century skills— problem solving, communication, teamwork, technology use, innovation, and the rest—to each and every project, the primary unit of 21st century work (p. 10 – 11).
We must prepare our students to be lifelong learners, able to adapt and survive to new challenges as we cannot tell what the future holds for them. Explicitly teaching metacognitive strategies allows students to become aware of their strengths and how to overcome their limitations. I model my thoughts allowed to students in whatever academic realm we are working in from searching for books to revising writing. I am confident that these new strategies in teaching will provide greater opportunity for a lifetime of success in deep understanding of concepts and skills.
The newest development in my own learning of pedagogy comes from the work of Garfield Gini-Newman, who is an instructor at the University of Toronto, and speaks publicly through his attachment to The Critical Thinking Consortium (2010). Gini-Newman describes his teaching model as developing critical thinking skills in all students. He takes course concepts, and develops them through questioning, media and analysis. I am developing models for inquiry that will work well for any research project. I expect that developing these models may take the rest of my career. My mission statements reflect this current work in critical thinking and I plan to project these goals throughout the school in our writing, reading, research and digital publishing models. I am beginning with the science department who asked that I collaborate with them on developing a research continuum for all courses by grade. Adding the critical thinking layer to our skill continuum will deepen the concepts and help scaffold student learning through each stage of research, writing and publishing.
As you can see each word in my mission statements has been carefully selected to highlight each one of my own pedagogical strategies as a teacher-librarian. If my library is to reach into every physical and virtual space within my school community, then its mission statement must be achievable and reflective of each diverse member. Accordingly I have focused on the positive outcome of success for all using the word opportunity to guide their work. With such a diverse body of learners, improving fluency not literacy, is the goal. It is my intention that this mission statement will not become outdated, and may even influence the work of the rest of my career.
Bennett, B., & Rolheiser, C. (2001). Beyond Monet: The artful science of instructional integration. Toronto, ON: Bookation, Inc.
Gini-Newman, G. (2010). The critical thinking consortium. Retrieved from http://www.tc2.ca/wp/
Trilling, B., & Fadel, C. (2009). 21st century skills: Learning for life in our time. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.