Monday, June 13, 2011

The KISS principle and the best reps

This past weekend, I attended an Ontario School Library Association council meeting. I couldn't stay 'til the end of the session, as I had to drive my children to a birthday party, but we did get quite a bit accomplished (although the to-do list is still pretty long). The group is working on a shared document (in Google docs) that will help us with talking to both political candidates in the future provincial election and to media outlets interested in the future of school libraries. We call it our "elevator speech", based on something that someone (Carol Koechlin? Ross Todd? Ken Haycock?) once advised - you should always have ready a brief and clear description of what it is you do and why it's important that you can share at a moment's notice, just in case you happen to share an elevator with someone important or influential.

That's easier said that done! When I was interviewed by Global TV a few weeks ago, I found it hard to articulate in just a few words what makes me unique (and by extension, worth preserving). I was struggling with a Twitter friend with this topic as well - how do you describe exactly what a teacher-librarian does? How is a teacher-librarian different from a classroom teacher? How is he/she difference from a public librarian or a library technician? We need to be super-clear and avoid edu-babble or edu-jargon as much as we can. Even when we think we are providing a direct message, it doesn't always work out that way. During the recent flurry of news on school libraries, it seemed like some people were trying to twist the message of "Together For Learning" (the OSLA vision document that describes how the school library of the 21st century is like a learning commons) in a way that justified the staffing and budget cuts they are making. That's completely contrary to the message of that document - in this world full of information, you need someone who knows what's going on to help you sift through it all - but even that description reeks too much of the old "resource manager" and not enough of the "instructional leader". If / when I figure out exactly how to KISS it (Keep It Simple, Stupid!) I'll share my "this is what a teacher librarian is, and this is why we need them" in 3 sentences or less.

What I am clear about, however, is that we need the best representation possible. We need to showcase teacher-librarians who are great at what they do, not the ones that enter the job to "get out of marking" or the ones who are placed there by administrators because that's "where they can do the least damage" to the unfortunate students around them. We don't want complainers; we don't want techno-phobes; we don't want people who lack people skills. At an awards ceremony I attended recently, I met the antithesis of what we want to see in our teacher-librarians - sadly, the person was the recipient of an award. Her acceptance speech was so unspeakably horrible (and she ended it by insulting the company representative that sponsored the award) that this quote from the Adam Sandler movie "Billy Madison" came to mind: "What you just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I've ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response, were you even close to anything that can be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points and may God have mercy on your soul."

I won't spend any more "screen time" discussing this less-than-ideal situation (note to self: remember the positive position, Diana!) - but just try to be the best representative you can be. The damage a specialist teacher can do will radiate beyond their own job and possibly result in a principal or set of teachers believing that there's no need for that position in a school there or elsewhere. Don't do damage - be the best you can.

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