Monday, August 29, 2011

Why does T4L=despair for some?

 On Wednesday August 24, 2011 I had the pleasure of working with twenty-five teacher-librarians at the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board's annual summer institute. My session was called "A Little Learning Commons Can Go A Long Way" and after a brief round of People Bingo and a Prezi-fueled talk, much of the time was participant-driven as people circulated among five centres based on key elements from the OSLA vision document Together For Learning. The teacher-librarians were encouraged to set their own personal goal and see if it could match with one of the sections involved in developing a learning commons. Near the end of the workshop, the group talked about the one thing they were going to try to do this year. Some of the answers really inspired and impressed me.
  • start writing an annual report and share it with people in the school
  • write up some teaching ideas and strategies as "lesson plans" to show administrators what we teach
  • buy a camera and start documenting via photos some great things happening in the library
  • make a blog but target it for the teachers so that more professional dialogue can occur
  • start a wiki with the students and a teacher to show that we aren't "just book pushers"
  • use the "paper blogging" idea to introduce the idea of sharing information and privacy
  • restart the area's "Battle of the Books" using the Forest of Reading and social media
This was a motivated, friendly and eager group of educators. They were also honest - and they confessed that Together For Learning often left them feeling inadequate and overwhelmed. This was not supposed to be the purpose of the document. It was an outline of what's possible, of why teacher-librarians and school libraries are so important and still matter in the 21st century. Yet, this isn't the first time T4L has been misinterpreted or done the opposite of its original intent. Remember that school board that was going to close all their school libraries and distribute the books to the classrooms? They rationalized their decision by quoting T4L, explaining that they wanted to create Learning Commons, technology areas that everyone could use. Talk about throwing the baby out with the bath water!

I'm not exactly sure why T4L elicits this sort of response. In my brief introductory chat with the DPCDSB teacher-librarians, I used the following analogy.
Some people, after reading T4L or attending a workshop, feel like this is a vision of their school library - a place or program that is insufficient, has holes, lacks key things. It's a deficit model. "My school library is no good - I don't have (flexible partnering time / a decent budget / a full library staffing allocation / many computers). Teacher-librarians are left feeling sad about what they have.
I encouraged the listeners to take a different point of view.
Look at your school library more like this.
Yes, it may be small, but you're doing a good job.
And look at those openings.
Those are openings for new possibilities.

So add something new.
Try a new teaching strategy.Borrow a laptop.
Let the students choose the next book to read.
You've still got your school library, but with just a bit more.
When that change is successful, try adding something more.
Squeeze in a new collaboration.
Try a new Web 2.0 tool as part of a unit.
Through deliberate "baby steps", you can make your school library a learning commons, the hub of a flexible and responsive approach to learning collaboratively. If anyone has any insights on how we can transform the despair felt by some after reading T4L into inspiration, please comment below.

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