Originally published in Canadian School Libraries Journal May 21, 2019.
When the political world beckons me to pick sides and arm myself, I conscientiously reflect on my purpose and my goals as a teacher-librarian. I also surround myself with like-minded idealists, searching for ways to not only make sense of the turmoil, but also to develop a solid plan for staff and students. Some of this professional reflection is mandated, but most of it is self-selected and self-driven. Through various professional development activities, I am able to use a range of cost and delivery models to satisfy the diversity of my PD goals each year. Even when funding and traditional PD offerings become scarce, school library staff have a rich abundance of PD opportunities to gorge themselves on.
In Ontario, I am required to complete an Annual Learning Plan (ALP) for my administration in which I outline my goals for the year in professional growth. I attach my ALP to my budget proposal for the school library as department head, and then the real work begins of achieving some forward movement. One of my key planning tools is Leading Learning (2018), and I go through the levels of achievement in each category with my library colleagues and my administration. Teacher-librarian Sharon Seslija describes the necessity of tying standards to the review process with this visual:
In this visual, Seslija outlines her team’s goals as they endeavour on a system-wide review of the effectiveness of school libraries, but the elements are similar to my goals each year. I consider the different ways I can grow but also how I can share this learning to further develop my administrator’s goals, always keeping in mind that advocacy for the school library is continual. Because I am drawn to the innovative tool and the disruptive pedagogy and because I am passionate about fundamental and emerging literacies, working in the school library for a decade now, tests the full-range of my skills. In their paper produced for Treasure Mountain Canada 2016, school library educators Sandra Bebbington, Ellen Goldfinch and Julian Taylor describe the teacher-librarian’s mandate for professional learning this way:
In order to be able to meet the needs of our school communities and remain relevant in this day and age, it is imperative that we as school library personnel, whether at the school or board level, make efforts to remain avant-garde and innovative. In order to have others believe the school library is the heart of the school then we need to make efforts to ensure that this is the case. Professional development provides opportunities for lifelong learning that can inform and teach us how to do this. As school library staff we are strategically positioned to make a difference in the school dynamic.
(Bebbington, Goldfinch & Taylor, 2016)(Bebbington, Goldfinch & Taylor, 2016)
It was my job to not only maintain my expertise and repertoire of skills with growing demand, it is my role to continually raise the capacity of the staff in my school, and often beyond in my board, my region, my province and further. Building a network of peers and professional partnerships to support this continual risk-taking, assists me in summoning the courage to do this work each day.
Why should teacher-librarians self-direct their professional development?
Leading Learning reminds me to:
Create a vision for library learning commons. Study the professional research, evidence and literature on this approach to school wide learning. Examine current pedagogical studies and weave key ideas into the elements of a learning commons to deepen understanding. Engage the entire school: teachers, students and other members of the community in study and renewal.
(p. 23)(p. 23)
which is no small task. When I first started to tackle this call to action in 2009, I began to connect with the least stressful PD opportunities I could find. The Ontario School Library Association (OSLA) ran a 3-day workshop at York University in Toronto that year funded through the Ontario Teachers’ Federation (OTF) Summer Institute program. Being in a rural area, travel costs and accommodations are often a barrier for me to participate face-to-face, but OTF funds accommodation in conjunction with this program. 2009 was the first time I heard about “The Learning Commons” through learning leaders Ruth Hall and Diana Maliszewski. I immediately felt that three days wasn’t enough learning for me, and started to think about graduate programming. Professor Dianne Oberg describes the challenge of pursuing higher learning in the studies of school library:
Three kinds of school library education continue to be offered in Canada: diploma programs, i.e., specialist courses offered at the undergraduate level; Additional Qualifications (AQ) programs; and master’s programs (MEd or MLIS). Graduate level study in librarianship generally provides the most extensive preparation for evaluation work, through a required research methods course and/or through courses on evidence-based practice. Continuing professional education in evaluation work can be accessed through professional reading, conferences, professional development workshops, and personal learning networks (PLNs).
(Oberg, 2014)(Oberg, 2014)
Following Diana’s lead, I signed up and was slated to begin my M.Ed. with a focus on school library at the University of Alberta, part-time for the next four years. Although I self-funded the tuition and book costs, learning online fit my lifestyle, and learning part-time while working meant that the time commitment was manageable. I was eligible for a tuition tax credit, and my board gives a Master’s degree bonus annually, so it was worth it. This program blew the roof of my expectations and one of its major achievements was to bring together school library educators from across the country. Whenever I felt dumbfounded by a particular challenge at work, I asked my classmates, and together we had rich discussions to propose possible solutions. The truth is that I didn’t know what to do with myself when I finished the program, as I thought I would never find that level of dialogue and learning again.
Jumping forward to this year, I had the fortune of teaching our grade 12 creative writing class. This elective class is unique in the school in that it is essentially teaching the creative process, and many of my students were starting this learning from scratch. I jumped into another fully-online Additional Qualifications (AQ) course, officially adding Writing Part 1 to my Ontario teaching certificate. Even though there was pressure to complete assignments within timelines again, I really appreciated carving out the dedicated time and attention to the practice of writing through my teacher and mentor Tina Ginglo. The best part about doing a formal course is that I’m encouraged to create reflective artifacts like this one:
In the AQ course, each of these points in the reflection is turned into a discussion which invites another part of the professional development process: feedback from peers. Teacher Melissa Jensen describes the richness of working with colleagues on the act of professional development this way: “I learned that I am reliant on feedback and require it to keep me engaged in personal and professional pursuits.” Perhaps as teachers we still value the gold star approval from the school environment, but more than that, teachers crave validation and critique from peers that we hold in high esteem. This feedback cycle of professional development pushes us to our next level.
How should teacher-librarians find sources of professional development?
When funding for professional development dries up within your board or province, there are still viable and valuable options. I’ve taken advantage of some pretty frugal and creative uses of the internet, volunteerism and face-to-face PD opportunities. Part of this turn in attitude means recognizing the need for professional development in others, and then creating the PD that you would like to take advantage of. “Creating opportunities for professional development that are economical (or free) and flexible can potentially increase the number of participants seeking new professional learning opportunities.” (Bebbington, Goldfinch & Taylor, 2016) One such example of this unconference style is the EdCamp movement, which involves finding a local low-cost or free space (often a school), and opening it on Saturday. Well-organized EdCamps involve a full-day of discussions that are lead by the participants. Like-minded people indicate at the start of the day what topics they’d like to discuss, and then find each other. When discussing opportunities for collaborative growth, Leading Learning suggests “Although Professional Learning Communities are created within a school, they may extend beyond its walls, to schools within a board where common experiences are occurring. The power comes from the immediacy of contact and collaboration that takes place as ideas are explored. (p. 37) One of my biggest complaints about attending flashy sleep-away conferences is that their keynotes do not have a grasp on the context of the participants. At EdCamp, the experts are your peers, and the participants help each other to grow. I try annually to participate in my neighbouring board’s EdCamp Waterloo which learning leader Kim Gill diligently organizes. A riff on the format is being organized by the subject association Educational Computer Organization of Ontario (ECOO) which is running its second annual ECOO Camp. The cost to participate is minimal and includes lunch because food is important. Sometimes it’s a box lunch, sometimes it’s potluck, sometimes a food truck is organized to stop by at the opportune moment of appetite. I look forward to increasing my network again, and by presenting, my registration fee is complimentary.
The richest component of school library professional development that is completely free is the volunteerism I engage in through the Ontario School Library Association. Many provincial school library organizations have active online social media accounts, including my beloved Twitter, and websites, and through these sources, I became interested in taking on a greater volunteer role. At first sitting on the OSLA council meant a steep learning curve, but by adopting a philosophy of boldly saying “Yes, I’ll join that committee”, I was immediately entrenched in the process of really making change happen. The council covered my expenses to meet centrally four times per year, attend and advocate for school libraries with faculties of education, plan provincial professional development for school library colleagues and meet with partners like TVO, building online PD through their network TeachOntario. I was thrilled to add an additional two year opportunity to volunteer as OSLA’s co-planner for the Ontario Library Association’s Super Conference in 2018 with Jess Longthorne and again in 2019 with Diana Maliszewski. Part of the planning process means choosing sessions and a keynote speaker to represent a cross-panel spectrum of topics. Working with an elementary expert alongside my secondary contributions ensured that we had something for everyone in our conference offerings, but personally allowed me to better understand the range of work that school library staff undertake from kindergarten to graduation. The documentation of work on council rarely involves more than minutes or action items, but the legacy of this work resonates across the province. In one Treasure Mountain Canada paper, library faculty Peggy Lunn describes the necessity of joining your provincial school library organization: “Without an ongoing professional affiliation with OSLA, and with evidence that there is minimal engagement in action research with other faculty or the teacher librarian community, this group [school library staff] will not have opportunities within their immediate professional environment to become more acutely aware of the issues surrounding School Libraries.” (2014) What I have learned by volunteering for OSLA, can’t be taught in education school or online in an AQ. One of those takeaways from my experience is that providing professional development for colleagues is paramount to understanding the function of the school library. Lunn continues to say “…the annual OLA Super Conference offers a highly tenable, sustainable mechanism to enable ongoing collaboration between more groups within the School Library Community of Learners.” (2014) Many action research projects have begun or have been continued through this conference in particular, therefore I can assume that this level of engagement is happening across Canada in similar venues.
One of these venues that continually pushes me to my next level is Treasure Mountain Canada. Prompted by the fearless Liz Kerr, I submitted my first paper to Treasure Mountain Canada in 2012. It was essentially the capping paper to my M.Ed. but the addictive quality of hanging out for 36 hours with this incomparable group of school library peers in Canada, has prompted me to submit each time. The comment I usually hear when asking others to consider submitting is that the formality of the paper seems too daunting. Looking at the other papers online in the Canadian School Libraries Research Archive will help hesitant contributors to recognize that some of the papers are part of formal learning, whereas others are presentations or artifacts from other examples of professional learning communities. Teacher-librarian Caroline Freibauer , for example, used Treasure Mountain Canada to share her work from a grant program called the Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP). As part of their work, Caroline invited Dr. David V. Loertscher and Carol Koechlin to lead their inquiry project using the Learn by Doing Model. Although Caroline was thinking about working with her colleagues in an action research project when she used this diagram, the model fits how I think about engaging with Treasure Mountain Canada.
In imagining and developing my own action research questions, doing a review of literature and going the extra step to share these findings widely, I deepen my understanding of my own process and my achievements in trying to answer the original research question. Our provincial school library document Together for Learning (2010), suggests that one of the key methodologies in transforming from a school library to a library learning commons that by “Tracking the Transformation: Gathering data, analyzing it and communicating ideas within the school and across professional networks will help to guide, facilitate, and assess change. By using the tools of Evidence-Based Practice and Professional Learning Communities, the school will be assisted in transforming into an effective Learning Commons and be provided with evaluation criteria and results.” (p. 36) Documenting the learning process in ourselves and in our work helps to solidify our progress towards our goals.
Since the last Treasure Mountain Canada, I’ve been thinking a lot about developing the cultural responsiveness of my library learning commons. Pat Trottier, who submitted a paper in 2017 declares her own goals in this area: “We wanted to establish a culturally responsive education for our students and develop a learning environment that promoted success for all students. We continued to work on tolerance and empathy and celebrating our diversity.” (Trottier, 2017) Some of the best resources I’ve found to help me in my journey are completely free and online. I rely on the wealth of reading material that the Amnesty International Canada Book Club provides through its website and discussion activity on social media site GoodReads. In writing to them they’ve developed special spine label graphics for me that I use in our collection, and provide discussion guides for each of their book recommendations. Another emerging star is the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) held in Brampton, Ontario each year. The FOLD festival provides monthly reading challenges that prompt my own exploration beyond my comfort zone.
These reading suggestions have prompted us to start a staff book club exploring one title together for a few months and meeting regularly to discuss our progress. Together for Learning (2010) suggests that a goal of transforming the learning commons philosophy should be: “Fostering a reading community: Building a physical and virtual collection of professional reading materials and websites …Facilitating professional learning communities” (p. 17). We have begun to take group field trips to hear related speakers or the author. We’ve started to include other schools in our book club as word of our success spreads. I often supplement my own learning and the discussions with staff with further resources from TVOand podcasts from VoicEd Canada to provide new perspectives and to deepen the conversation. All of these organizations together achieve inclusivity by bringing disparate perspectives together and highlighting methodology when facing challenges in education.
In revisiting the purpose of this article, I aim to offer readers hope and this small sampling of resources for you to consider accessing no matter the context that you find yourself in over the coming days. Whenever I feel tossed about by the whims of change, I try to stay grounded in answering my own inquiry questions in pursuit of elevating my learning within the standards of our profession. Rather than becoming lost at sea, I pull into the safe harbour of professional development, and I am reassured by these opportunities that are presented for my own growth.
Canadian School Libraries (CSL). (2018). Leading learning: Standards of practice for school library learning commons in Canada. Retrieved from http://llsop.canadianschoollibraries.ca/
Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) (Ed.). (2019). The Reading Challenge. Retrieved April 25, 2019, from The Festival of Literary Diversity website: http://thefoldcanada.org/events-landing/readingchallenge2018/
Freibauer, C. (2014). Project based learning: A TLLP project. Retrieved April 22, 2019, from Canadian School Libraries Research Archive website: http://researcharchive.canadianschoollibraries.ca/2017/10/18/project-based-learning-a-tllp-project/
Jensen, M. (2010). Improving reading comprehension of junior division students as the teacher-librarian: An action research study. Retrieved April 22, 2019, from Canadian School Libraries Research Archive website: http://researcharchive.canadianschoollibraries.ca/2017/10/15/improving-reading-comprehension-of-junior-division-students-as-the-teacher-librarian/
Loertscher, D. V., & Koechlin, C. (2011). Learn by Doing Model [Illustration]. Retrieved from https://sites.google.com/site/bhnbootcamp/
Lunn, P. (2014). Ontario’s faculty of education librarians: A (still) untapped resource for school library advocacy. Retrieved April 22, 2019, from Canadian School Libraries Research Archive website: http://researcharchive.canadianschoollibraries.ca/2017/10/15/ontarios-faculty-of-education-librarians-a-still-untapped-resource-for-school-library-advocacy/
Oberg, D. (2014). Relentlessly focused on learning: The role of evaluation. Retrieved April 22, 2019, from Canadian School Libraries Research Archive website: http://researcharchive.canadianschoollibraries.ca/2017/10/15/relentlessly-focused-on-learning-the-role-of-evaluation/
Ontario School Library Association. (2010). Together for learning: School libraries and the emergence of the learning commons [Pamphlet]. Ontario Library Association.
Seslija, S. (2014). Greater Essex County DSB / University of Windsor Collaborative Inquiry Project. Retrieved April 22, 2019, from Canadian School Libraries Research Archive website: http://researcharchive.canadianschoollibraries.ca/2017/10/15/greater-essex-county-dsb-university-of-windsor-collaborative-inquiry-project/
Trottier, P. (2017). Working together as a learning community. Retrieved April 22, 2019, from Canadian School Libraries Research Archive website: http://researcharchive.canadianschoollibraries.ca/2017/11/20/working-together-as-a-learning-community/