Thursday, December 4, 2014

Teacher Librarians as Teacher Leaders

An email on the Iowa Teacher Librarian listserv asked:

To those of you in a district that received a TLC grant for 2014-2015, are you in a leadership position in your district? If you are - what position are you in? If you are not in a leadership position - was this by personal choice or lack of positions that you felt that you fit into?  

That was a good question, and a great discussion ensued.  One librarian wrote that she'd asked a state contact person about the TLC grant and about the possibility of using it to replace a TL position that was cut from 1.0 to 0.2.  The reply:

I am not sure a library position would ever work under the guidelines of the Teacher Leadership and Compensation legislation. The bigger issue in your scenario is that I am not sure I see how a Teacher-Librarian would work with classroom teachers to improve their instructional practice which is the intent of the legislation.

Obviously, that was troubling to the great TLs of our state!  It's clear that this "state leader" has not met many teacher librarians if he couldn't imagine TLs helping classroom teachers to improve instructional practice.  Is he even aware that we are, in fact, licensed teachers?  That we are "uniquely prepared and strategically positioned to . . . collaborate with the school community to design and enact rigorous learning experiences"? (from the Vision for Iowa's School Libraries, found here.)

I started to write a lengthy response, but then realized that this is what blogs are for!  Here it is:

Run me out on a rail if you want to, but I have a few thoughts on this.

I have to ask myself, why do we as a job category have this stereotype of the keeper of the books, the shusher of the stacks, the old stick-in-the-mud who is easily replaceable?

A few weeks ago, I was at the SLJ Summit in St. Paul and was chatting amiably with a professor of school librarianship at an out-of-state college.  In talking about my libraries, I mentioned that I transitioned most of the elementary collection to the bookstore model, doing away completely with Dewey Decimal.  She was horrified.  She said, "What do your students do when they go to high school?"  I replied happily, "Oh, I did it at the high school too!" She said, "Well, what about when they go to the public library?"  I said, "Well, that's not really my problem, is it?"  I do teach DDCS under the auspices of teaching outlining, but I asked her, how many lessons would I need to do to teach students Dewey Decimal so they really know it?  Please.  I have better things to do with my time - and theirs!  (And honestly - then the question should be, why don't we teach Library of Congress, if we're trying to get them college ready?)   

To which, she huffed, "Well, my students still have to learn Dewey Decimal!"  - she also is a TL at a small elementary school.  I worry for her graduate students.


Then yesterday, I was cleaning out an office within the library to use as our Makerspace.  The district's professional book collection was housed there, and although I've done a nice job weeding the regular education professional books, the average year of my books about library science is surprisingly 1993.  (Yes, I did just spend twenty minutes figuring out the average age the old-fashioned way!)  I say surprisingly because I have some beauties of retro books.  (I collect retro books, cookbooks and library science titles being my favorite.)

Aren't these marvelous?
From Adventures on Library Shelves by Muriel Ringstad, illustrated by Jeanne and Charles Pearson, OBDO Publishing, 1968.
When I looked through these books to find some laughable out-of-date lessons, I was a little humbled.  Because you know what?  My students would be better if they were able to read an atlas or an almanac expertly.  It is not that librarians of yesteryear were teaching ridiculous things.  They weren't.  But we aren't librarians of yesteryear.  We need to teach the skills necessary today, and Dewey Decimal isn't one of them.

Okay this seems a little ridiculous, doesn't it?
So listen people.

This year, I made two decisions - one, I don't bring my work home.  I was getting really burned out, and that's not good for anyone.  And two, I am focusing on one building level, in my case, elementary.  Because if I do a great job here (and I do think I am making a difference), I can say, "Isn't it sad that all I do at the high school is buy books?  Can you imagine what two of me could do?  We need a full time teacher librarian at both school buildings."  Yes, I'm a K-12 librarian.  Yes, I have to serve the needs of all students.  But. I. Can't. That makes me really sad, because two of my children plus my foreign exchange student from China are at the high school! But I'm doing what I can.  (And for the record, I do plenty more than just buy books at the high school, but not as much as I should be doing.)  

We have to be more than our stereotype.  When we are more, then of course our administrators would think of us as being Teacher Leaders - although, they probably should say we are irreplaceable, they can't imagine putting us somewhere else, and we already are building leaders.  

 Read Iowa's Vision for School Libraries - I don't know about you, but I can't find teaching the Dewey Decimal System in there.

The thing is, this is about more than eschewing Dewey Decimal. There isn’t a bulleted list of programming that you can mark off to prove you are a great TL because every situation is different.  But, I like lists (Workflowy is my favorite app), so I’ll make one:
  • Are you seen as a change agent in your school?
  • Are some people uncomfortable with your library program?

If the answers to those two questions are yes, then you are probably on the right track.

One last thing.  My first day of class with Becky Pasco at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, she asked everyone why they were or wanted to be librarians (most of the students were working TLs, getting their endorsement).  One person said, "I was a science teacher my whole career, and I just want to do something easier as I get to retirement."  Any of you who know Dr. Pasco can imagine her reply.  She waited a bit, not to embarrass the woman and others who said something similar, because there were, but when everyone was done, she said, "Any of you who think that being a teacher librarian is a job that you can just skate through your career, that it's an easy way to go to retirement, there's the door.  Being a teacher librarian is the hardest job in the school.  Our field has a shortage, but we don't need you if you think that this is an easy job."  (My god I love that woman.)

Take a look at yourself, at your position, at your career.  Are you skating to retirement?  Or are you challenging yourself every single day?  

What have you done lately that makes you proud?  Which of the tasks below are you really good at, and which needs your attention?  (I know I need to work on connecting communities of learners.)

I'd love to hear your comments!