Tag Archives: teacher

The ‘teacher’ in ‘teacher librarian’

Earlier this week, through Twitter, I became acquainted with Lisa Hinchliffe, Professor/Coordinator for Information Literacy Services and Instruction in the University Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an affiliate faculty member in the university’s library school.

While perusing her writing, this paragraph resonated with me:

Careful consideration to constructing the learning environment and not only focusing on teacher performance has been a mantra for my instructional design practice since then.

This is a very interesting area of investigation for me as a teacher librarian. When people ask me where I work and I say Melbourne High School, they assume I’m a teacher and when I say I’m a teacher librarian, they say, oh, you’re in the library, as if I’m in a box, maybe like a music box that, when opened, keeps the ballerina firmly attached to her space, rotating clockwise only to one tune – definitely not a teacher, not a real one anyway.

Nothing could be further from the truth, in fact, because (and I feel like telling them this, but it’s too long and sounds defensive), my role is just as integrated in education as a teacher’s only it’s more diverse and doesn’t necessarily play out as the teacher at the front of the class which the teacher owns.

Everything I do is connected with the teaching and learning that happens in the school: I work across the curriculum, I teach transferable, global skills, I create curricular content and educational resources online, and I depend on collaboration with teachers and students. Nothing useful would eventuate if I didn’t collaborate – that is, have conversations, come into classes, watch how teachers teach, watch how students learn, etc. If I didn’t do that, if I didn’t have that insight and developing understanding, then my work would be detached from the work of teachers and learning of students, and I would be exactly what most people think I am – in a world of my own, the library world, ‘not doing any work’, as some teachers like to joke (it’s getting tired).

Of course, the big one in terms of being accepted as a real teacher is that you assess student work and write reports – and that’s sad because teachers’ talents do not reside in this tiresome task.  It’s sad that the marking becomes the overriding signature of teaching.

So, big rave, but ‘teacher performance’ is what most people equate with ‘teaching’ and ‘being a teacher’. If I don’t ‘teach class on my own’, if I’m not standing there talk-teaching, then I’m not a teacher; I must be a librarian.

Sigh.

‘The learning environment’ that Lisa mentions is really something that I’m interested in unpacking, and I think I’m in the position of understanding it well because of my whole-school involvement with teaching and learning.

All teachers know well that learning happens everywhere, anytime and not just in the classroom during the class. I have a form this year, for the first time, and I try to inject as much learning (in the broadest sense) as possible in those 10 minute daily sessions. The blog that I started for my students is a virtual time-capsule which I hope they’ll appreciate once they leave school. It’s a mish-mash of photos of students, recorded interviews with them, short panel sessions about what they think, whiteboard surveys of inane content, interspersed with creative short films and animation, gifs, memes (whatever I think they might respond to), and some academic guidelines along the lines of study skills and sharing of our online resources for some of their subjects. Mostly the blog is an experiment, and the main aim is to create community, to let them know I care about them, not just their academic pursuits, hopefully support them when they do something they’re proud of, enable them to support each other.

The ‘learning environment’ is exactly what the library is about. Of course, the whole school is a learning environment but the library is a more concentrated one.  Unlike classrooms which are utilised by specific teachers and classes, the library is the space for everyone – across age groups, academic levels, and curriculum. It designs its space and purpose very carefully, in response to the needs of its users, never static, always acting on ongoing reflection and observation, experimenting.

The word ‘library’ has been contentious for a long time – some prefer ‘learning commons’, some ‘media centre’, others insist the traditional ‘library’ is still the most apt name. Perhaps. It does come with a lot of baggage, but then new words acquire the baggage over time. In the past I was annoyed when ‘library’s’ main connotation was a space for books but these days I doubt that anyone would have that limited view for either school or public library. Both are open, welcoming spaces and both are synonymous with learning.

It’s the ‘teaching’ part which is more difficult to insert. I’ve pulled out two quotes from Lisa’s powerpoint (linked from her blog post):

“Teaching: Any activity that has the conscious intention of and potential for facilitating learning in others”.  Robert Leamonson

“Good teaching is the creation of those circumstances that lead in significant learning in others”. Donald L. Finkel in ‘Teaching With Your Mouth Shut’.

It’s time to broaden our understanding of ‘teaching’. Only then can the ‘teacher’ in ‘teacher librarian’ begin to be understood.

Constant Moyaux (French, 1835–1911)
View of Rome from the Artist’s Room at the Villa Medici, 1863
Watercolor on paper

 

Should teachers be more like conductors? TED tells

Orchestra conductor Itay Talgam has discovered that the secrets of good conducting shed light on leadership in general. I found the messages in this TED talk to be very relevant to teaching.

[ted id=663]

Itay Talgam’s TED biography observes that Talgam

finds metaphors for organizational behavior  — and models for inspired leadership — within the workings of the symphony orchestra. Imagining music as a model for all spheres of human creativity, from the classroom to the boardroom, Talgam created the Maestro Program of seminars and workshops.

Talgam’s workshops aim to help everyday people develop a musician’s sense of collaboration, and a conductor’s sense of leadership: that inner sense of being intuitively, even subconsciously connected to your fellow players, giving what they need and getting what you need. It’s this art of listening and reacting in the moment that makes for a swinging jazz combo, a sublime string quartet, a brilliant orchestra — and great teams at work.

Talgam talks about the conductor’s ability to use a small gesture to suddenly create order out of the chaos. When he asks who we should thank for the success of the performance, he is asking what the role of the conductor really is. In the same way as the teacher, the conductor is the single leader responsible for the success of his people. The question is – how does he create music out of the chaos?

According to Talgam, it’s not all about complete control of the orchestra. It’s about the joy of enabling other people’s stories to be heard at the same time – the story of the orchestra, that of the audience, unseen stories of people who made the concert hall and even those who made the instruments.

Talgam shows examples of different styles of conducting. There is the example of the conductor who is so clear about what he wants that he becomes overclear. Talgam describes this type of conductor as having a strong sense of responsibility. This type of conductor insists that there’s only one story to be told, only one interpretation of the music, and that’s his interpretation. In this case, the musicians feel they are not allowed to develop, but are only used as instruments. 

Talgam insists that leadership of the orchestra can be achieved with less control, or with a different kind of control.

One of the conductors is shown conducting with his eyes shut, confusing the onlooker with his apparent withdrawal from control. Talgam explains that, in this case, the musicians get their cues by looking  at the conductor’s face and gestures, and then looking at each other, with the first players of each section leading. This conductor claims that the worst damage he could do to  his orchestra would be to give them an overly clear instruction which would prevent them from listening to each other.

In another example, the conductor explains that by not telling the musicians exactly what to do, he’s opening a space for them to put in another layer of interpretation, another story. Talgam explains that this method without clear instructions works because it’s as if the musicians are on a rollercoaster, whereby the forces of that process put the action into place. You know what to do and you become a partner. This experience is exciting for the players. 

And what happens when there’s a mistake? The conductor’s body language is enough. When it’s needed, the authority is there  but authority is not enough to make people partners. This kind of conductor is there 100 percent but not commanding, not telling them what to do, instead enjoying the whole experience with them. In this case the conductor creates process but he also creates the conditions in the world in which this process takes place. The soloist is allowed to be autonomous and is consequently proud of his work. Developing a partnership brings about the best music.

I think we can take a fair bit out of this talk and apply it to teaching. Teaching is like conducting or leading. What resounds with me is the fact that overly explicit instructions and tight control can be at best limiting, and quite possibly suffocating. Setting up the process and allowing room to move seems like a good way to teach. Realising that your interpretation is not necessarily that of everyone else opens up rich possibilities for learners. Understanding that members of the orchestra or class learn from each other. Getting to the point where you know the students so well that they can read your every nuance, and standing back and smiling, just enjoying the process unfolding before you, is possibly every teacher’s dream.

When, as a teacher or leader, you create the environment, give support, and then step back – you get to the wonderful point of ‘doing without doing’. As Itay Talgam says,

if you love something give it away.

Educational resources in The New York Times

The New York Times has a ‘Teacher Connections’ section which is updated daily. Just browsing here today and saw some great stuff, so I thought I’d share.
There’s a Daily Lesson Plan and a Daily Lesson Plan archive, which has amongst its categories Civics, Global History, American History (of course), Fine Arts, Geography, Language Arts, Mathematics, Media Studies, and more.

I’ve copied one of the Fine Arts lessons into my art wiki: Art happens: investigating the modern art of Robert Rauschenberg. The overview states:

Students investigate the work of American Modernist Robert Rauschenberg by responding to his art and reading about his life and ideas. They then individually create a work of their own that pays homage to a Rauschenberg to demonstrate an understanding of his aesthetic sensibility.

The lesson is well planned, and includes objectives, resources/materials, background, activities/procedures, including homework, further questions for discussion, evaluation/assessment, vocabulary, extension activities, interdisciplinary connections, references and other information on the web. There is a feedback option at the end of the lesson.

The News Snapshot is an excellent idea for students to interact with the latest news:

Every Monday through Friday, News Snapshot features a newsworthy and provocative photo from The New York Times, along with the basic set of questions answered by journalists when relaying the news– who, what, where, when, why and how.

This section includes student handout, teacher’s page, suggested activities, and the questions.

Issues in depth is subtitled ‘Teaching with the times’ and includes curricular materials, news specials, and issues in depth. Each page provides a wealth of resources: lesson plans, Times articles, multimedia, archival materials, quizzes, crosswords, related Web sites and more. This section is designed to help students make connections between course material and issues and events in the news. There’s are wide variety of topics here, including the election, Iraq; and also material on literature, including specific books, poetry, Shakespeare, journalism, and more.

‘Science and Health’ includes topics, such as teen health, global warming, hurricanes, and more.

There’s more here – eg. crossword puzzles for the different curricular areas, ‘on this day in history’,etc., and I won’t go into detail for all of it; you’ll just have to look for yourselves. Actually, I do want to mention ‘Campus weblines’ where you can learn about how to produce a quality online newspaper from the student editors themselves. This is informative and detailed.

I recommend you give this section of The New York Times a squiz, and then dart over to Student Connections which ‘Science questions and answers’ and letters to the editor amongst other things.

But wait, there’s more! Parent Connections includes things like ‘coversation starters’ (they have thought of everything!) and a family movie guide.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll be keeping an eye on the educational section of The New York Times from now on.