Acceptance speech for 2010 CASL / Follett International Teacher-Librarian of the Year Award - June 4, 2010
Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you very much for the honour of this award. I am very thankful to those who were a part of the nomination and selection, and thankful to all the educators who influenced my path on the road to teacher-librarianship. Being selected for the 2010 CASL / Follett Award is an honour for my school district, province, and me. It is the greatest award I have received as a teacher-librarian. Thank you CASL and thank you Follett International for this recognition.
It is most unfortunate that as a young adult, I didn’t consider being a school librarian earlier. If I had, I could have enjoyed a few more years at the best job in the universe. In high school I was a member of the Future Teachers’ Club, and volunteered in classrooms, but volunteering in the school library didn’t enter my mind. I now encourage volunteerism in the library and appreciate the many volunteer students who benefit from receiving authentic work experience there.
I only have one memory of my childhood elementary school library and it is quite unremarkable. I can only guess that the visit was so that the school librarian, Mr. Downey, would take our class to give our classroom teacher a prep period. I don’t remember being taught anything there. Likewise I have very few memories of being in the high school library. I remember the school librarian, Mr. Rollins, explaining the Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature to me. Not the class, just me. This was a time before cooperative program planning and teaching (CPPT).
The situation was not much different at university. Back then there were no classes collaboratively taught by librarians and faculty in the courses I took. Now, however, the situation is changing. At the University of British Columbia, professors work with the Education librarian to ensure that all elementary preservice teachers participate in collaborative program planning. The awardee for last year’s CASL / Follett Teacher-Librarian of the year, Michele Farquharson, was part of the planning team that organized this and she supports it to this day. Student teachers and volunteer teacher-librarians collaboratively plan to integrate information literacy skills into a unit of study, and the student teachers can use the unit during their practicum if suitable. Even if it is not suitable, at least they would have had an authentic experience of doing collaborative program planning with a teacher-librarian, and develop a comfort level and expectation that during their practicum and when they become teachers they would continue to do CPPT.
Last week the Vancouver Secondary Teacher-librarians met at Simon Fraser University (SFU) for an update session organized by our Teacher-Librarian Consultant, Moira Ekdahl. A librarian there encouraged us to bring our classes to SFU, not just for a visit, but for learning about doing writing assignments at the university level. She would give our high school students an orientation to university writing. I plan to bring her some students. This experience for the secondary students would be similar to the elementary students coming to the secondary library to work on part of a unit of study.
When I was a beginner teacher-librarian there was a lot of support for CPPT. My mentor, Liz Austrom, included me in teaching units in a variety of subject areas – some were grade-wide, for example: English 8 – library orientation; Art 8 – People Hunt; Social Studies 9 – an in-depth, six-period research project on the Industrial Revolution; Science 9 – writing abstracts for scientific articles – now I was the one teaching the Readers Guide to Periodical Literature – but to whole classes. Students were most enthusiastic to use the newest technology ... microfiche!
I have had the good fortune to be a teacher-librarian in elementary school libraries too. What fun it was to use C & C to bribe the primary teachers and M & M to bribe the intermediate teachers to meetings in the library. Food always works, right? Inside the invitations, I identified C & C as coffee and cookies and M & M as muffins and milkshakes. We developed wonderful stations assignments and research projects. A huge mural and a big book were the results of a unit on space with the two kindergarten classes; the caterpillar to butterfly unit with the grade 1 class concluded with great excitement by freeing the butterflies outside; Humour stations and Canadiana stations with the grade twos; First Nations stations and Literature Circles with the intermediate classes to name a few.
The link between school libraries and literacy is no secret to teacher-librarians. We might even consider ourselves the original literacy mentors. One literacy initiative in our school is Reading Pals. Two Skills teachers and I trained interested grade 11 or 12 students to co-read aloud with struggling grade 8 students during silent reading period. This is a win-win project for both the junior and senior students. The senior students are developing leadership skills and the reading assessments of the grade 8 students have increased incredibly.
Although not everyone makes the link between school libraries and literacy, former Vancouver Police Chief Jamie Graham, a supporter of school libraries, told a large audience about the correlation between lower literacy levels and higher juvenile delinquency rates. He recognized and encouraged us to continue our work in supporting literacy.
Now our school libraries are going digital. As a result there are new challenges, for example, how do we ensure that students are using information ethically in an increasingly easy world of “cut and paste”? I was thrilled last week to be asked for the first time to collaborate with the web design teacher. He wondered about attribution for sources his students used when designing websites. As a result, he, the students and I are learning about the Creative Commons. This is collaborative inquiry and it is authentic learning of digital skills.
These are some examples of CPPT that I have been fortunate to be a part of. Occasionally people ask me how to do CPPT. Sometimes, like the web design teacher, teachers approach me for help. Sometimes like the Reading Pals program, I do outreach to hook the teachers in. Hard as I try, and for various reasons, not all teachers in the school collaborate with me. I appreciated what Dr. Ross said yesterday at the Treasure Mountain research retreat – that we have to build the library programs with like-minded people – and not to water the rocks. The new word is that we will be building Learning Commons with like-minded people.
Originally I planned this speech around three advocacy points that not all potential library supporters understand: that school libraries are teaching libraries, where teaching occurs; that there is a strong link between school libraries and literacy, and that the library is the most democratic part of the school. Every student has access to the library, when it is open and when there are teacher-librarians providing instructional, physical and intellectual access to support student inquiry.
I encourage each of you to begin and/or continue being active in your advocacy. Work with your parents, union, public librarians, university librarians, talk to your trustees, elected officials and community members – anyone. Develop and support your “Friends of the School Library” or “Coalition for School Libraries” advocacy groups - you never know who will be the one to make a difference. Find the evidence of the benefit of school library programs and give it to them. Ask them to use this to speak out on how each child deserves to benefit from a school library program.
I am always proud to tell the student teachers and others that being the teacher-librarian is the best job in the school. Not too long ago I heard a colleague say that it is the best job in the universe. I can’t disagree with that!
(Pat Parungao, Teacher-Librarian, Vancouver Board of Education)
NOTE: Pat was also, formerly, Vancouver's TL Consultant