Canadian School Libraries Journal

This week editor Derrick Grose and his team of editors released their inaugural edition of the Canadian School Libraries Journal.  Derrick says: “This first issue of the Canadian School Library Journal reflects the exciting times in which we are working” and “the actual work being done in school libraries”.

For those of you who don’t know, Canadian School Libraries has gone through some redevelopment in the last couple of years.  Like a phoenix from the ashes, it is reborn and lead by the Canadian movers-and-shakers in school library.

Here’s my contribution:

A Book Club for the Ages: An OSLA and TVO Collaboration

What they don’t teach you in teacher’s college is how lonely teaching can be.  The professors don’t tell you that if you wanted to you could completely fly under the radar, inherit a dusty binder of outdated material and recycle it for the next thirty years of your career alone in your classroom. You may have a department office where you can bounce ideas off of each other, but if you’re like me, and there are only eleven of you in the whole district, then that opportunity doesn’t come around enough.

In 2009 I began to feel the power of developing my own professional development through online places as reaching out to internet-based PD suited my autonomous, asynchronous and rural lifestyle. I co-wrote an Ontario Ministry of Education English course for these new-fangled platforms called eLearning and I discovered the possibilities for distance education.  I joined Twitter, I started to blog and I found my tribes both through the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario (ECOO) and the Ontario School Library Association (OSLA). The commitment of these groups to hosting really great face-to-face professional development conferences is profound.  Through this new knowledge I emerged as a leader in educational technology in my school, district and beyond.  I did all of this simply by showing up and sharing.  It’s actually that simple.  About the same time, I became a teacher-librarian and my opportunities to promote global competencies [See Exhibit A] exploded.

Ontario 21st C competencies
Exhibit A: Towards Defining 21st Century Competencies for Ontario, p. 56

When I arrived at teacher-librarianship, I inherited a library that felt deeply confused…the books had become second-class citizens to the clunky desktop computer lab that pulled focus.  In 2012 we transformed our library into a learning commons.  I went through my first emotionally draining power weed going from 12,000 items to 9,000 in 6 months and the average publication date of my collection went from 1989 to 2003. Like a bad boyfriend, I washed that confused adolescent library out of my hair.  There is nothing like a renovation to rejuvenate…and then the really hard work began.  It wasn’t enough to buy new furniture.  I needed to shift the culture of learning in my school.  As an innovating early adopter of the learning commons model, I felt alone [See exhibit B].

Exhibit B (CC BY 2.5)
Exhibit B (CC BY 2.5)

I was in a trough of disillusionment [Exhibit C]. I often struggle with the cheerleading aspects of teacher-librarianship because I need to feel deeply committed to whatever I am advocating. That’s really easy to do about innovative ways to deepen critical thinking but less so about standardized testing.  Easy: Graphic novels and makerspaces. Difficult: having every student write in proper APA format. You get the picture.  So what does anyone in need of a professional pick-me-up do?  I started my M.Ed. in teacher-librarianship at the University of Alberta completely online.  I relished every moment of the four years I studied and I fell into a deep mourning period the moment it was over.

It's Complicated
Exhibit D: Alanna’s book review in Goodreads

That year at our ECOO conference, I was having post-workshop beverages with my tribe and we started talking about how to keep the good feelings growing.  We had just come from a marvellous session that was essentially a panel discussion about a riveting book [See Exhibit D].  We were talking books at an educational technology conference. We were moaning how one conference a year just isn’t enough when your professional development tribe is spread all over the world.  That was the eureka moment for a crazy journey of online partnerships.

The first year I promoted twenty books using just Twitter and Goodreads.  The second year we tried ten. I used my WordPress blog to go deeper in my reviews and questions.  I tried to get these introverted book nerds to meet up once a month in a Google Hangout  and once a year at the conference for breakfast. I interviewed people reading the books and I interviewed the authors.  I promoted our book club with publishers and most times I was able to secure a review copy and even a discount for our book club members.  Overall I had 94 people interact with the book club worldwide.  It was exhausting and rewarding all at the same time but the book club wasn’t yet running itself.

Through my volunteer work for the OSLA, I met Katina Papulkas who came to our quarterly meeting in November 2015 with an idea for a partnership.  I told her about my experiments to build community through online book clubs and she told me about TV Ontario’s (TVO) TeachOntario. So the OSLA volunteered to run two pilot book clubs and I rebirthed our discussion about danah boyd’s book.

Book Club Partnership
Book Club Partnership.

The trick about running online communities is that you really have to redefine the idea of “participation”. I have been greatly influenced by the participatory culture ideas of museum curator Nina Simon and of communications professor Henry Jenkins. Lurkers are people too.  I just appreciate it when I can measure their lurking.  In that first book club we had 24 people join, but there are some discussions that have had 994 views since then.  I’m not kidding!  In our current book club using Trevor Mackenzie’s Dive Into Inquiry, I have 140 page views on one discussion thread this week. Whether I would ever have been able to gain that kind of traction all on my own through Twitter or not is beside the point, because I am reaching a different audience through TeachOntario.  The audience inside TeachOntario is made up of public educators who are wary of their online presence and who have specifically asked for a walled garden approach to their PD, learning in this space so that they can be free to be themselves.  I am finally reaching the early majority, the late majority and maybe even some of the laggards.

For face-to-face time, we’ve tried breakfast at the ECOO conference, book giveaways to entice new readers to join us but our best yet has been to partner again with #PubPD.  The Edtech Team who create Google Summits came up with the idea to coordinate a date once a month North America-wide where like-minded people would come together at a common watering hole and talk about a specific PD topic.  The creator delivers five questions on the topic via Twitter, so it’s a Tweet Up Meet Up.  Last summer I was presenting at a different venue each month and I got to meet a lot of new people and sell them on the idea of joining us in TeachOntario.  In August, we broke a record with 39 people at once attending our #PubPD while at the Pedagogy B4 Technology conference in Markham, Ontario.

The biggest advantage of partnering with TeachOntario is that Katina’s team is filled with extraordinary people who design the online space, manage the technology, promote our activities, encourage us to do more and relentlessly pursue the authentic and cost-free sharing of professional development. If I say to the TeachOntario group, “I have an idea…” they run with it and make it happen in a polished, professional way.  They are flexible, adaptable and vigilant in their mandate to deliver quality professional development. They enable us, and they empower me to keep working hard to contribute to the growth of this community.

My goals for the future of these book clubs is that I hope that the book clubs will feel like they don’t have a start date and an end date.  I want to step away from being the fulcrum of the momentum.  I want it to take on a life of its own and for past participants to propose new readings for discussion and to lead.  I’d like the walled garden to include all educators in Canada if not beyond our borders to the globe.  My online professional development experiences are as rich, or richer, as the ones I have face-to-face. No, I take it back. They’re definitely richer because they are self-driven.


Alanna KingAlanna King is an agent of change in the Upper Grand District School Board. She works tirelessly to improve availability and access to resources in all media forms in her secondary school library learning commons. Alanna is proud to represent the Central West region with the Ontario School Library Association and can best be found on Twitter @banana29.

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