Friday, 24 October 2014

Helen Gardener - Teacher Librarian - ETL 507

Enrolling in the Masters of Education - Teacher Librarianship was one of the best things that I have done.  As an avid reader and library user, I thought I knew a little bit about what was happening and what should be happening in the library.  To say I was wrong, is a little bit harsh, but to say that I had a lot to learn is exactly what my position was.  Every subject that I completed taught me something that I have taken away, thought about and used to shape my perspective of teacher librarianship.

My original definition of the role of the teacher librarian involved books, searching for information and encouraging students to read.  ETL401 changed my view of the teacher librarian and their role within the library and within the school. It opened my eyes and ignited my passion for learning.  ETL 401 encouraged me to ask questions of my own school librarian, to find out why she wasn't in my classroom, supporting me to enhance the learning curriculum.    It also encouraged me to think about the skills I already had and the skills that I would be learning and how I could use those skills in the library and in the classroom.

There were many a-ha moments while completing ETL401.  The definition of the role of the teacher librarian proved to be a point of consideration. The biggest issue for me during this subject was the comprehensiveness of the role of the teacher librarian and how at my school, this role was under utilised and undervalued.

There isn't one single definition for the role of the teacher librarian. Ubiquitous in nature, the role of the teacher librarian extends beyond the library, into the classroom and the school community.  The Standards of Professional Excellence for Teacher Librarians provide a sound basis upon which to develop your own understanding of the teacher librarian's role and encouraged me to explore how I could fulfil the standards.    There are multiple definitions of the teacher librarian, the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA, 2010) describes one of the many roles of the teacher librarian as, the expert in the school who can assist classroom teachers with explicitly teaching information skills and ensuring that these skills are incorporated into learning and teaching.  I was beginning to understand that the role of the teacher librarian is a synthesis of technology, information, literature, learning and so much more.  It is the role of the teacher librarian to encourage students to become involved with their learning to achieve their goals and to teach them the skills to help them do this.  It is the role of the teacher librarian to understand learners and their needs, and to resource the library to meet these needs.  It is the role of the teacher librarian to remain abreast of current trends and issues, to acquire new knowledge, and to update their skills to meet the constant changes of the world. (Lamb, 2011)

Current pedagogical trends encourage lifelong learners who are reflective and self-directed.  They are quality producers, designers and creators, active investigators and effective communicators, leaders, collaborators and contributors.  The omnipresence of the teacher librarian encourages the development of all of these skills, empowering students to become active learners, effective participators and positive contributors.  These skills don't stand-alone; they are not just for use in the library.  

ETL401 encouraged me to reflect further on the role of the teacher librarian in my school and to question why she stayed in the library, like she was hiding.  Discovering Joyce Valenza (2011) and the "What do TL's Teach" poster made me realise that advocating for the school library and the skills of the teacher librarian were just as important as teaching the students. The library needs to be front and centre, the hub of the community.  Herring (2007) wrote "the library and the teacher librarian are an integral part of the learning and teaching community", and I concur.  ETL401 taught me that to be noticed and to be "the place" to be, you have to advertise, you have to let the students and the school community know what is going on in the library, you have to be innovative and think outside the square, just like library users.

ETL501 opened my eyes to the world of Web 2.0 and how to use ICT and library information to effect.  This was a most enjoyable and informative subject.  During this subject, I developed the First Fleet Pathfinder for the Grade 4 students at my school.  This was the first year of the Australian Curriculum and while there were some resources, teachers were reinventing resources they already had or inventing their own.  I created the Grade 4 First Fleet Pathfinder for students to use as they completed their in class History tasks.  The pathfinder helped students to locate appropriate resources to complete set tasks independently or co-operatively.  As with many things involving the Internet, some of the links worked all the time, some only worked sometimes and now after a couple of years, they don't work at all.  At the time of its creation, it was well received and used for 2 consecutive years.  Pathfinders don't need to be presented in such an elaborate way; although it is imperative they are easy to use, with straightforward everyday language, with simple visuals and up to date information.  

The practical knowledge of website evaluation acquired in ETL501 still serves me well to this day.  I am always wary of any website that I visit for informational purposes and I have shared this with all the students that I have taught.  It was interesting that as I completed Assessment Item 2 for this subject, I came across two websites that had inconsistent and inaccurate information.  Students love hearing the Internet being described as the wild west of the information landscape and being the most accurate and inaccurate source of information to the world.  This information holds enough gravity for students and teachers to take note and be wary.  Along with the ICT component, ETL501 highlighted my need to change my thinking from classroom teacher to teacher librarian.  It was a challenge for me to think further than my classroom and see the big picture of cross-curricular learning and how it could be achieved.  It highlighted to me the importance of the teacher librarian developing a collaborative partnership with classroom teachers and how this collaboration could develop into a powerful resource.  (Lamb, 2011) 

As I completed ETL504, I realised that the school I was teaching in didn't value the teacher librarian as a leader.  The school was structured with the Principal at the top, the Assistant Principal and then the classroom teachers and specialist teachers.  The teacher librarian was with the specialist teachers,  a specialist lesson twice a week, once for borrowing, once for ICT, which was really just learning how to use Office.  Through studying ETL504 - Teacher Librarian as Leader, I was able to see why our school librarian was classed with the specialists.  She stood alone.  There was little collaboration.  There was no leadership.  Sergiovanni (1984) suggests "effective leadership is evident when teachers, parents and students work together to achieve a common goal, creating high morale, a sense of pride and a sense of value".  This takes me back to the importance of advocating for the library, for the teacher librarian and the services provided within the library; it's not just about borrowing books.  

The teacher librarian needs to become an agent for change as curriculum, technology and teaching practices evolve.  Innovation, expertise and enthusiasm will support the development of a dynamic collaborative team. Leadership for the teacher librarian needs to be authentic, decisive and distributed.  Authentic - through the development of positive working relationships and positive learning environment.  This can be achieved through communication, collaboration, problem solving and change.  Decisive - by acting when potential problems are recognised, and distributed to develop an inclusive atmosphere and to encourage staff to step up and take responsibility.  Robin Sharma's (2011) YouTube clip emphasised that it is imperative for employees be given the opportunity to take on roles of leadership with the understanding that not all teachers are looking for executive roles, but, it is beneficial for them to feel valued and appreciated.  The creation of a sharing culture within the school can be created through communication, collaboration and critical connections between staff and students.  A sharing culture encourages teachers to share what they know, what they can do and what they can learn, creating a powerful, collaborative team.  Below is a mind-map demonstrating the connection between leadership, collaboration, communication and change, three elements that are dependent on a web of support to be successful.
Leadership Mindmap - ETL 504 - (Gardener, 2013)
One of the most interesting and inspiring elements of this subject was Don Tapscott's (2012) Four Principles for the Open World.  Not only did this TedTalk kick start my penchant for TedTalks viewing, but demonstrated to me how the roles of teacher and learner become fluid as the sharing of skills and knowledge takes place (Tapscott, 2012).  The sharing of information creates a powerful base from which informed decisions can be made regarding planning, programming and teaching.  Empowerment and ownership of a shared vision creates a positive force encouraging staff and students to embrace the vision.  N.B As I travelled through Vietnam, I witnessed my own murmuration of starlings, and it was magnificent.

ETL503 encouraged my thinking to consider the role of the school library as well as that of the teacher librarian.  It is not enough for school libraries just to have fantastic resources or be well resourced.  Teachers and students need to learn how to use the library and the information it holds. Meta-information, or how we search for curriculum resources, how we find resources and why we select a particular resource needs to be at the forefront of professional learning for classroom teachers. (Gardener, 2014) 
My blog post The Role of School Libraries highlights the priorities of school libraries and the importance of beginning conversations regarding the engagement of learning with knowledge and interactivity.  
Assessment Item 2 for this subject involved the creation of our Dream Library, knowing the clients and the community and how best the library could be resourced.  This activity brought home to me the diverse nature of our learning communities, without considering socio-economic or cultural influences.  It reminded me that we learn in different ways, and it is the role of the teacher librarian to know the learners and their learning needs.  This knowledge underpins the provision of effective resources for users.
Harris’s (2012) article on library resourcing defines the skills of a teacher librarian when it comes to quality resourcing. "A librarian’s ability to find quality texts, like all good magic acts, blends art and science to amaze the audience,” and I agree.  It was during this subject that I really connected with the importance of the resources in the library, the number of resources and their quality.  I wrote one of my favourite blogposts during this subject, after completing some of the subject's required reading and discovering the phrase "Post-Literate Society".  It made me think that if there is someone writing about it, perhaps there is something in it.  Call me a dreamer, call me crazy, but I can't imagine society without reading, formal or informal, especially with teachers and teacher librarians emphasising the importance of reading for education, for leisure and for life. (Gardener, 2014)

ETL505 was the most intense of any of the subjects that I have completed. Not because it was hard, but because it required critical analysis of subjects that were outside the realm of "normal context".  It was not a topic you could discuss happily over coffee, but it was definitely a subject that kept me thinking and analysing.  I liked how exact you had to be and I liked that the universal rules were to be used to the letter.  While I completed my practical placement I had the opportunity to catalogue new resources and had a tiny amount of experience using SCISWEB.  It didn't help me complete my assessments.  ETL505 taught me the importance of quality metadata and the importance of ease of access for library users.  As a library user, you take for granted the subject headings used in the OPAC, not realising the science behind it.  This subject also taught me about subject heading allocation, the assignment of Dewey Decimal Classifications (DDC) and how they work together when users are searching for resources.  Library systems have evolved with library users at the forefront and ease of access being paramount.  It is of no use having a library full of resources if students can't find resources to fulfil their learning needs.

I have always considered myself to be a "literature buff", especially when it comes to children's fiction.  With a reputation for being able to find a story to match any classroom topic, I thoroughly enjoyed ETL402 - Literature Across the Curriculum.  I cannot remember my life without reading and one of my classroom teaching goals is always to pass on my love of reading to my students.  There is always a book being read to the class, there are always opportunities for students to drop everything and read. Contemporary fiction is my favourite genre.  Growing up in the 70's and 80's in Wagga Wagga, there wasn't a lot going on for most kids - Wagga has changed a lot in the last 20 years- but I lived a thousand lives through the books that I read.  Contemporary fiction has moved with the times and in the 2000's, current trends include families, love, loss, death, dying, drugs and could begin to include terrorist situations, school shootings and religious disharmony.  I concur that the reading of fiction develops empathy in kids and also provides them with the opportunity to live the life experiences of someone else from the safety of their lounge room, or their bedroom, or the school bus on the way home.  It is important that fiction is used in the school learning curriculum.  Students have a greater opportunity to connect with their learning through reading about characters, created especially for them, in a story.  It is the role of the teacher librarian to collaborate with classroom teachers to develop learning programs that enhance student learning through the use of fiction.  Not only does it bring literature into their learning, it brings the library to the classroom through the omnipresence of the teacher librarian.

Another most enjoyable element of the course was attending the Study Visits.  It was fantastic to be able to see first hand how other libraries are operating, both in schools and professional organisations.  I took the opportunity to visit Brisbane Boys Grammar and Brisbane Girls Grammar Schools.  While Girls Grammar was waiting for their custom made library to be completed, Boys Grammar were well and truly set up with the needs of "boy" users in mind.  I noted the strategies that they used and took them back to my own school library.  Some of them were knocked back by our teacher librarian, but others I adapted and employed myself.  I work in a boys school and quite often, boys will come to the library desk and say something like, "I'm looking for this book and it's blue and it has writing on the front..."
So, I collected books from the shelves that had a blue or bluish cover, with writing on the front, and made a display.  Above the display I wrote, "I'm looking for a book and it's BLUE.....!!!"

ABC Blog - Blue Window (McGovern, 2014)
  While the image at left isn't what our library looked like, this picture served as inspiration.  The boys did stop to look at the books, and, they even borrowed the books!!  It was amazing to see how many books in the library had a blue cover.  The visits to the Grammar Schools highlighted the importance of meeting the needs of users.  I loved hearing the library staff say that they do things because the boys like it, or the girls like it.  I loved seeing that the libraries had been built with their learning needs in mind, boys are known to print their assignments on the day they are due, so the printing area is large, open and conducive to teenage boys usage needs.  The girls like finding a quiet place to work or read and small, defined areas were created for them.  My favourite place to visit was the Qld Archives.  I didn't know that it was there and I didn't know that the public had such freedom of access.  It was most interesting to learn that members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities were rated among the highest users of the archives, where they are able to access their family and local histories in a quiet, organised environment.

My learning experiences have been many and varied.  As I have reflected over the subjects that I have studied, I have remembered all sorts of learning experiences that have stayed with me and others that I have filed away for future reference.  As I have learned, post-grad study is no mean feat.  It requires dedication and determination.  

My position on the role of the teacher librarian has developed considerably over the last 2.5 years.  My definition of the role of the teacher librarian encompassing and considers many attributes of the teacher librarian that I had taken for granted, over many years,  as a classroom teacher and library user.  

Teacher librarians are more than just keepers and organisers of books.  We are experts in the school who can teach information skills across multiple curriculum areas, we are information specialists who can teach both students and teachers how and where to find the information they are looking for, we are collaborators with classroom teachers in the planning and programming of exciting and informative teaching and learning strategies.  Teacher librarians are skilled leaders with detailed knowledge of current educational pedagogy, teaching students how to seek, critically evaluate, synthesise and present information that represents their learning.  We understand library users and their needs and strive to meet those needs through effective resourcing and critical planning.  We are tireless advocates for the library and the services provided by the library and the resources found within the library.  We are readers; lovers of books and the stories and information that is found within them.  We are learners of skills and sharers of ideas, making the learning journey for students one of information, knowledge, skills and achievement.

I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment of my course and I would like to thank the subject co-ordinators for their support and guidance throughout the course.  
I am looking forward to the next step in my career, 

Helen Gardener - Teacher Librarian.



·      Australian Library Information Association. ALIA. (2004). Standards of
professional excellence for teacher librarians. Retrieved August 23, 2014, from Australian Library and Information Association:

·      Australian Library Information Association. ALIA. (2010, May). Submission from
ALIA to the ACARA Consultation on the DRAFT K-10 Australian Curriculum. Retrieved August 18, 2012, from Australian Library and Information Association:

·      Gardener, H. (2013, April 8). Assessment Item 1 - ETL 504. Teacher Librarian As
 Leader . Brisbane, QLD, Australia.

·      Gardener, H. (2014, March 3). Libraries for a Post-Literate Society. Retrieved
October 25, 2014, from Mrs Gardener:

·      Gardener, H. (2014, March 22). The Role of School Libraries. Retrieved October 23,
2014, from Helen Gardener:

·      Harris, C. (2012). A Librarian's tricks for finding those complex texts cited in
 Common Core. School Library Journal , 12.

·      Herring, J. (2007). Teachers Librarians and the School Library. In S. Ferguson,
Libraries in the twenty-first century: Charign new directions in information (pp. 27-42). Wagga Wagga, NSW, Australia: Centre for Information Studies, Charles Sturt University.

·      Lamb, A. (2011). Bursting with Potential: Mixing a Media Specialists Palette. Tech
 Trends , 55 (4), 27-36.

·      McGovern, C. (2014) Say What You Will. ABC Blog. Retrieved from:

·      Sergiovanni, T. (1984, February). Leadership and Excellence in Schooling.
 Educational Leadership , 4-13.

·      Sharma, R. (2011, April 20). How to Build a Winning Team. Retrieved March 2013,
·      Tapscott, D. (2012, June 10-12). Four Principles for the Open World. Retrieved
October 23, 2014, from Ted:

·      Valenza, J. (2011, May 26). What Do TL's Teach? Retrieved July 31, 2012, from


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