This is my space. It’s where I can talk, rant, vent, discuss and share things that inspire me, that will hopefully, in turn, inspire you.
My most recent inspiration has come from Glenys Bichan, Library Manager at Cambridge High School. However, I couldn’t possibly do her story justice so I asked her if she would be prepared to share it with everyone here. I’m thrilled to say she agreed, so here is the story of a fluffy giraffe called Jaimee eLula.
Jaimee is the culmination of my six years as a librarian at a co-ed secondary school. How can this be? I have learnt some stuff……
Being a librarian is not about books, it’s not about information provision, it’s not about collection collation, it’s not about cataloguing, it is not about my blog or Facebook page, it is about people.
Our people here are predominantly 13-18 year olds. The seekers and finders of life. Those in the midst of discovery about who they are, what the world is, where they fit in it, and this means they need Jaimees.
Jaimee the Giraffe is named after a young man who worked in our library, He suffered a brain tumour at a young age, attended our school as a differently abled student and then we had the honour of employing him in our library. Very sadly while I was attending a SLANZA conference Jaimee Moore passed away. He left us his determination, his gentle heart and his courage. Our giraffe continues his story and his qualities. Jaimee touched people, and now he still will.
A month ago I organised our Waikato/BOP SLANZA training day. I wanted to impart the concept that the power of a library is based on relationships, on people. All we do is based around this. We invited a school counselor and other panelists to talk about the needs of our students, what they face as Generation Z, the issues that they grapple with and how we as librarian practitioners can support them best. The counselor suggested all libraries need a big cuddly toy. I thought Yeah, but Nah, a great kiwi colloquialism meaning maybe a good idea for others, but not for us.
Two days later I had a student bowl into the office- 14 years old, top graded student, witty, sporty, a different thinker, and I like her a lot. She sat down, burst into tears and said “Miss I feel so empty”.
I listened, I empathised and then I got into my car raced down to The Warehouse and bought Jaimee. Yesterday she came into my office, hugged him and smiled “Thanks Miss for getting Jaimee. It is so good to just snuggle up to him.” Since then I have had students who have never before engaged with us ask for him. They sit him on their knee, they get on a computer and they type like fury. Their teachers are blown away. They have never concentrated like that before.
Jaimee seems to have super powers.
Attending professional development, listening to the experts and doing what they say works. It’s no surprise, but maybe we should not be in such a rush to say Yeah-Nah. We participate in professional opportunities to learn, to be challenged, to glean. It’s not about the lunch, it’s about changing our mind-sets. Why? For our people! The challenge of professional development is to activate the gleanings and knowledge we acquire, otherwise our expert speakers become void, a hollow voice, a waste. What makes us tick? What is the driver behind our school library? It is to impact people.
The usage of libraries continues to evolve. It is no longer a place of quiet study and silent reading. Instead it is a thriving community, a place of learning by discussion, of people not being informed only by notes and pages, but by social engagement, online learning, open discussion – and fluffy giraffes called Jaimee.
In our library here at Cambridge we call it a HUB – Holistic, Ubiquitous and Bold. We deal with the whole person. Not only their learning but as members of our community. We challenge old preconceived ideas about librarianship and are moving into a new area where a “library’s mission is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in communities” as stated by David Lankes, author of The Atlas of New Librarianship. He goes onto say that one of the most vital parts of that knowledge creation is through conversation! And, “By establishing a climate of participation, risk-taking, acceptance of “messy” learning and inquiry, we can create conversations that in turn create school libraries that are responsive and organic. A participatory approach to librarianship can ultimately lead to learning experiences that in the words of Steve Jobs “make a dent in someone’s universe”
At Cambridge High School this looks like a lounge, a place you retreat to as a safe place. It is warm; it is filled with people you connect with; it is a place where meaningful discussion occurs; it is comfortable; it is a place where you read, a place you watch TV, a place you discuss what you read, what you watch and how you react to those ideas. It is place of debate; it is a place of security. It is a place where you eat; a place where you are most relaxed.
This is our library. It is all of those things; secure, open, real, and it has a fluffy giraffe. It is not the family room of chaos, it is a lounge of being and learning. If our lounge is the umbrella, the spokes are the HUB.
Holistic – deals with the whole person. We provide information, knowledge and support to all our stakeholders in a way that adds to them as people and as members of our community. People leave our space feeling valued and respected.
Ubiquitous – impacts on and is accessible to our users 24/7. Not just with information and knowledge but because we have had conversations that have challenged and affirmed our users. We build confidence, value, character and resilience.
Bold – our library has an open vision which is imaginative and we think outside the box – what box? We embrace the big picture of a 21st century information provider. We scan the landscape and shift accordingly. The outcomes of being bold is that our students will flourish, not just academically but socially within our community.
So Jaimee eLula Giraffe is now a staff member. He is being told secrets, read picture books to, held while his friends type like fury. He is carted around the school on grand tours; he is there, and he can be whatever our people need him to be in their often confused, shaken, broken and scary worlds. Jaimee is an identity when they struggle to have one, and he is soft and gentle when their world can be hard and harsh.
Jaimee, according to my people, will soon have his own blog. He will tell their stories, and this will be amazing to read. Maybe the story of Jaimee will become its own story within the stories of our people!
They will be determined, gentle and courageous – just like Jaimee Moore.
This is the culmination of a truly amazing journey of learning for those of us involved! Today I conclude the series Leon and I first discussed writing at the beginning of this term. I have loved working with him, wrestling with the questions the process threw up and celebrating the exciting outcomes for both us and the students. What follows is Leon’s reflection of his year with his 9 Homeroom boys and then a piece by Robyn Laidlaw, Head of the Alternative Pathways who describes her insight into this whole process.
I have had some interesting conversations over the course of my inquiry this year. I have more questions than I have found answers to and the waters are still very murky for me around guided inquiry.
One of those recent thought-provoking conversations was with a colleague around the inquiry approach which led to the question, “Do I think that children should be able to choose their own topic for inquiry?” My initial answer was yes, as this is one way you know you will have engagement from students as the topic is of interest to them. The challenge to my thinking came with a further question, “Well what if a student was to go through school only ever wanting to learn about motorbikes?”
This got me thinking. How do we as educators introduce them to important topics in a way that sparks interest and potentially passion, which could then lead to them becoming invested in their learning? I have never met a student who has come to me wanting to know about the Treaty of Waitangi but is that because I haven’t introduced it in a way that is fresh and relevant for them?
I thought the process of inquiry, learning how to be a good researcher, was the really important stuff. For me, it became about the skill-set developed along the way far out weighing the knowledge gained. But then how does a young person aged 11 0r 12 truly know what their real passion is if they have only been exposed to a limited amount of life skills and subject matter? How does a student know whether they’re passionate about say, art, if they’ve never been exposed to it? Creating the right balance of knowledge versus skills is crucial in reaching this important equation.
As teachers we need to ensure our students are exposed to a range of experiences in the hope we can create an environment in which they can truly find their life’s calling. This is a different journey for each of us and it doesn’t happen always happen during the short years at secondary school. I know I didn’t find mine till I was 30. I’m reminded of something I heard someone say once, “some of the most interesting people I’ve met had no idea what they really wanted to do by the age of 30, 40 or even 50!”, so why would all our students experience that epiphany while they’re with us?? …… IT’S OKAY IF THEY DON’T!
On the positive side of the equation, using our library’s learning space and collaborating with our learning resource staff has been an integral part of us being able to successfully carry out our inquiry. Firstly, the physical space and the resources that were readily available to us made it easy for the students to work however it suited them for the task. They could find space to work independently or in groups. They had access to computers as well as the wide range of reference material to aid them on their journey. And they had access to a knowledgeable and approachable librarian. It was a perfect working environment to meet the needs of the learner.
Collaborating with Senga and her staff was also critical to our inquiry. The combination of the right environment, the right resources and the right people in a library is absolutely crucial to success. As I have mentioned previously, the library had never been a positive experience for me due to my own arrogance! Senga was able to show us how our library space could be used to enrich what we were doing in the classroom. I had a number of conversations with her around the guided inquiry process and she was able to steer me in the right direction to find answers on the many occasions where I felt completely lost!
Working with our library staff enabled students to access a wide range of information in our library that I never even new existed. Not only resources and texts we had on site but also external, digital sources of information. If you are thinking of heading down the inquiry road I would definitely recommend your first stop to be your school’s library!
Some things I know for sure
- Guided inquiry is the way forward to encourage life-long learners who have the skills to be whatever they want to be
- Levels of engagement noticeably improved in my classroom as students felt like they had more control over their learning
- Students were happy to be assessed for their work as they got to show their learning in ways that were fun for them
- Students had a real sense of direction due to the co-construction of a timeline and criteria. This meant that everyone knew what the targets were and how they could achieve excellence marks (although this did not happen for all!)
- Students loved the freedom of learning in their own time, at their own pace and being trusted to carry out tasks along the way. This is how I operate best. I have spent many hours pouring over planning and reports in the same manner. I know when things are due, but I usually procrastinate till the last minute, or I will take regular breaks to listen to music, go outside, chat to others or find any excuse to avoid what needs done. But in the end my tasks are completed on time and if not I only have myself to blame! Surely this should apply to our students to some degree…… after all, it’s how the world works! However, I also believe that putting small goals and checkpoints along the way is essential so that students learn those time management skills that are necessary in today’s workforce
Things I still need to know
- Far too many to list!
- What does a real Guided Inquiry look like in practise?
- How do you deal with those students that just seem to be reluctant towards learning?
- What else can I do to meet the needs of individual learners?
- How do I make this approach fit within our school’s assessment system?
- How do I bring in a Bi/Multicultural approach to Inquiry?
Our research & learning co-ordinator put it in words that made sense. It’s like I have started a puzzle and have filled in the border. That was the easy part. Now I have to fill in the pieces in the middle, which is where the real challenge begins.
It would be very easy to go back to the safety of what I know and muddle through as I have done since the beginning of my career. However, having seen that glimmer of light though, I don’t think I would be doing myself or the profession any justice. I know there is massive hard work to come. I only hope that others take the challenge and also have courage to begin looking at teaching in this way. As we all know, it is much easier to paddle the waka when you are not the only one on the oar!
Thanks for those that have taken the time to read my reflections and rants, and I welcome any ideas or feedback moving forward. Finally, I leave you with a couple of quotes:
“Our whole reason for showing up for school has changed, but infrastructure has stayed behind”
“The less educators try to control what kids learn, the more students’ voices will be heard and, eventually, their ability to drive their own learning.”
It is a privilege to sit and write this reflection. I am the current Head of the Alternative Pathways Department at Southland Boys’ High School. As the name suggests, our department runs a little differently from a traditional mainstream system in that our teachers are with their classes 80% of the school day. We have found at our school there is around 10% of our students who require more time with one teacher rather than the traditional 5-6 teachers in one day.
Our boys are likely to have lower literacy and numeracy levels, they could have home-life issues and some have multiple agency involvement in their out-of-school life, so these boys need a different approach to teaching.
The teachers in our department are a very special breed. They are the kind of teachers you would hope all students could have access to. Earlier in the year Leon assessed his group and decided to run with an inquiry approach in his classroom.
For me, as the head of this department, this has been an excellent step for Alt. Pathways. We know traditional teaching doesn’t work of our boys. We know they need to move more, they need to access all their senses to learn and using an inquiry approach allows this to happen.
I observed the class while Leon led the boys through their first inquiry. They have been engaged, they have been problem-solving, they have been taking their own learning to places that may not have been thought of in a traditional unit plan. The boys have been given the right to develop their own questions and to find the answers. They have discovered there are often no single answers only more questions. In my opinion it has been a very successful journey.
So what does it mean for me?
- It means we have boys wanting to be in class – less attendance issues
- It means we have engaged learners – little to no behaviour management required
- It means our assessment data is authentic – no prescribed ‘tests’ to show progress
Setting out on an inquiry is not for those faint of heart. I would only suggest this to other heads of departments if you have faith in your teachers. They need to be very good classroom managers, they need to have great organisational skills and they need to have a well developed system for tracking students progress throughout this process. They also need to be able to ‘let go’ of what has been seen traditionally as ‘good practice’. Students engaged in work can be noisy and messy and it doesn’t always mean sitting at a desk writing stuff down.
Having a supportive and informed librarian has helped in this process immensely. For my staff to be able to go to one person and one place to receive positive and timely support is so very important. In Leon’s journey he had that support from Senga and they in turn encouraged other like-minded teachers to also become involved. This gave Leon a base of teaching staff across departments that both he and the boys could go to throughout the inquiry. A team approach is vital and our library staff are part of the teaching and learning team.
For our boys this has been an effective way to work through a term’s work. I congratulate Leon for his foresight and thank Senga for her support.
We had a full house in the library to finish the day today. Three classes were here, sharing the space with each other.
A Year 7 and a Year 8 class in the main part of the library and a Year 10 class working on Power-points for their English assignment in the computer area.
I love the concentration on the chess game and the concentration on the book side by side.
More learning going on!
And my favourite shot of the day. A pair of Year 7’s, complete with spectator poring over their chess game while a Year 12 student reads through his notes in preparation for his next exam.
Everyone was happy working, reading, playing, studying, talking, learning together. It’s one of my most favourite things about working in a school library!
At lunchtime today our Head of English was doing some shelving while on duty. This is what she found on a shelf.
Who said boys don’t have a way with words and aren’t creative?
We all had a chuckle and re-shelved them.
Anyone else got some great “boy” stories?? Share them in the comments so we can all enjoy them!