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Becoming indispensable

Becoming Indispensable
School Library Journal “Learning Quarterly,” 2/1/2003

I was disappointed when the latest version of the American Association of School Librarians’ Information Power standards replaced the title “instructional consultant” with “instructional partner.” The term “consultant” is what gives library media specialists the license to take part in staff development training. If education has ever had the need for a good in-house consultant, it’s now. Education is changing at a rapid rate. No, I take that back. Education is being asked to change at a rapid rate, and technology is proving to be one of the most costly and frustrating changes.

Some schools use technology well, while others don’t. And the difference has more to do with whether a school offers leadership in staff development than with its finances. Media specialist Mary Alice Anderson and her principal, Scott Hannon of the Winona Middle School in Minnesota, provide good examples (see Building a Better Staff and Creating Tech-Savvy Teachers) of how school librarians can successfully lead their colleagues in professional growth. Why are media specialists better equipped than others to handle the role of technology advisor?

  • Professional trainers may not have experience in education, and they’re not based in schools.
  • District technicians often lack teaching or interpersonal skills.
  • District-level trainers are usually spread too thin to work with individual staff members.
  • Classroom teachers are too busy teaching kids and may be reluctant to experiment with new educational methods.
  • Videotapes, online instruction, manuals, and trial-and-error experimentation require a higher level of personal commitment from teachers.

So who does this leave as the logical educator to integrate technology into the curriculum? You guessed it. My school district and the Winona schools have had wonderful success giving our media specialists responsibility for staff development in technology, because librarians have:

  • A healthy attitude toward technology. Librarians teach not only how to use technology, but understand why and under what circumstances it should be used.
  • Good teaching skills. Media specialists offer good pedagogical techniques and have well-developed human relations and communication skills. We are understanding and empathetic when technologically related stress occurs in the classroom.
  • An understanding of the role technology plays in information literacy and how it fosters higher-level thinking skills. We view technology as just another tool that can be used by students completing well-designed information literacy projects.
  • Experience as skillful collaborators. School librarians have long focused on integrating research and information literacy into the curriculum, and, as a result, many media specialists are excellent at collaborating with classroom teachers.
  • Serve as models for the successful use of technology. The library’s automated catalogs, circulation systems, electronic reference materials, and student workstations all existed prior to current technologies. Teachers rightfully see the media specialist as the educator most comfortable with technology.
  • The flexibility to provide in-building support. A flexible library schedule enables us to be a real asset to teachers learning to use or integrate technology. Librarians can work with teachers in the library, lab, and classroom.
  • A whole school view. Along with the principal, the media specialist is most knowledgeable about the school’s resources, and can suggest when technology needs to be upgraded.
  • Concerns about the ethical use of technology. Media specialists teach kids how to evaluate information and understand online copyright laws and intellectual property issues. Who else but librarians worry about this stuff?

But those responsible for staff development must keep learning themselves. Media specialists can justify a need for workshops, conferences, and training sessions beyond that of the classroom teacher. And, accompanying the extra training, administrators must come to the understanding that the knowledge and skills gained will be shared with the rest of the staff. Whether called a consultant or a partner, the school library media specialist needs to be a major, if not lead player in building staff development efforts. We know kids; we know technology; and we know what works. All of that makes us even more indispensable!

Posted on Thursday, June 28, 2007 at 07:16PM by Registered CommenterDoug Johnson in | CommentsPost a Comment

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