You never know what’s going to happen when you leave in the morning, or in my case, the afternoon. Today I went to visit the Wellington High School Library... on my way to the library, I ran into THE Tony Cairns, who I met at Educamp Welly back in February! He’s a really outgoing guy that makes people feel instantly welcome as if they are all his closest friends...True to form, within seconds of us reconnecting from three months ago, he invited me to a a regional PD event taking place in a couple of weeks at Wellington HS. Not only that, but I mentioned that I was hoping to go to another #WellyEd event EduIgnite Term 2 Pukera Bay School (June 2nd) which is actually the night before this PD event he invited and he offered to drive me before I could tell him I had been looking for a ride to this fairly far away evening event!!! I was so happy--my problem was solved just like that! Just by leaving my room and coming to WHS, a problem was solved. It's important to remember that when we get out there in the world, we may find solutions to our problems, you just never know. :)
It’s SO fun to meet people that are on the exact same wavelength as you. And, aside from being fun, it is a reminder that even if not everyone “gets you”, there is always someone “out there” that will “get you.” I feel really fortunate because it takes a lot of time and energy to organize meetings, events and transportation so whenever I catch a small break and learn about new opportunities, it really propels me forward, so I could not be more excited about these upcoming events.
I haven't really gotten to the library visit but just reflecting on the meetup with Tony for a minute--it makes me so happy when I see people that I have already met. It makes feel that I have been here long enough to start building a network, and the makes the thought of leaving just that much harder. Coming to a new city in a new country is like giving a kid a brand new “toy” that they have never seen before. They may have seen something similar, but this one is slightly different. The kid will spend time trying to figure out how it works and what it can do, and maybe even what they can make with it.Eventually the kid will begin to get some satisfaction out of learning how to slowly master this toy. But what inevitably happens next is it’s bedtime, the holiday break ends, it’s time to go visit the relatives, or some other interruption at which point the kid whines something to effect of “do I have tooo?
Now, onto the library! It’s fabulous and felt very familiar, like it could have been located anywhere, but in a good way. There are tall windows with sweeping views of the city, since the school is located in a pretty high altitude up a big hill. The first two words that come out of my mouth are welcoming and productive-There are lots of different spaces being used for various purposes in different locations, along with a very large collection of print materials and tons of student art work adorning the walls.
I met with Jane the school librarian who functions in the role of the Teacher-Librarian as we know it in the US, Christine, the assistant librarian who handles crucial behind the scenes operations issues that keep the library running, and Finn the part time library assistant and playwright. I loved finding out that Finn has a highly acclaimed play opening in a few days right here in Wellington! https://www.bats.co.nz/whats-on/my-dads-boy
Wellington High school has a well stocked library via the support of the school which provides an appropriate budget to get the needs of the library met. In addition, the decision makers are open to Jane’s opinion as to enhancements or improvements to the library program, services, equipment, furniture, and so on. It should be noted that not all school librarians are able to have input--in some cases, decisions about the library are made without their consultation.
The library is seen as an integral part of the school and teachers contact Jane to help organize units of inquiry. By including the librarian in the process, these teachers will receive the benefit of learning about the print, digital and other resources she can acquire through various sources to maximize student learning and engagement. In addition, Jane spends a good amount of time trying to teach students about citations, electronic resources, research skills and more. The staff at Wellington High School *know* the value of a good school librarian and therefore, she is able to continually *bring* those value added services.
As a side note oration, It is my opinion that hiring a school librarian is the most cost effective investment a school can make, since this person supports the teaching and learning of every single person in the building. Yet, for some reason, many schools in NZ (and in other places around the world) go without anybody in the library (if there is a library).
Just like in the US, many students are leaving high school and showing up at Universities without an understanding of some very basic rules of research. When I taught the “Research Skills and Applied Technology” course at Georgia Perimeter College (for more than ten years), I too found that the concepts of citing sources, analyzing articles (rather than copying and pasting them) or evaluating websites were novel ideas for students!
This problem (or knowledge gap) happens because each year, many teachers, starting with primary school teachers say “they don’t need to know that right now” or “that’s not in our standards” or “they learn that in x grade.”--So every year, many teachers think the next person is going to be teaching the students these critical skills. My commentary is not meant to *ding* the busy teachers who have to focus on curriculum and assessment in these harsh school climates.
Teachers have a heavy burden of things that “must be done” But, the issue is real and the problem is HUGE. The solution is very simple. Every school needs to have a well trained school librarian. This is the information age but the only thing many students know how to do is google then copy and paste. The only thing that will make students more informed is information. This information can come from their teachers, OR it can come from the school librarian.
As I heard someone once say, knowing how to swipe a device, does not mean someone really knows what to do with it. Since swiping should not be mistaken for real knowledge this digital native term that keeps being handed to children is a bit misleading and gives students way too much credit when it comes to area of research. They may be born having an intuition on how to use a touch screen, but now more than ever, they need strong guidance on how to stay safe safe online, how to be kind online, how to work collaboratively, how to think about what makes a *good* website, and very importantly, how to analyze text for bias and falsehoods! The school librarian when partnered with the content area teacher form a powerful superhero duo that can grant magical research skills to students!!
I have lost track of this post and it’s become so long, that even I do not want to read it...it is way too long. So I will summarize by saying that I met three people who are running a well oiled machine known as the library. There were students everywhere, and they looked happy and comfortable. Some were working independently on computers, others were working at tables, mostly with their own devices as this is a BYOD school. I listened to some of their chit chat and thought it was refreshing for kids to be able to share a few social words. There is tons of student art work in the library. Art selections are made via course instructor recommendations and students are paid $100.00 for their work to be places in the library. Some items are sculptures, some are various drawings and paintings, others are tapestry--It’s highly variable and really gives the space an “at home” feel. Jane uses her projection system every day to show students a database or other resource. Like Dekalb County School District and probably other districts in the US, NZ schools are privileged to now have access to some outstanding databases. But, it’s a real struggle getting the information out to all of the teachers and students.
On a much lighter note, and one that makes me very happy, this vibrant school actively seeks out and gets amazing guests to visit the library for talks and presentations. I am not talking about that once or twice per semester--I am saying that the librarian, and many clubs and groups find speakers so that the students can learn about the world around them and become curious. The guests are often very high profile people (celebrities actually) from their industries. An event calendar is posted and if a student wants to come, they come. Thirty might come or 300 might come!! The concept of bringing people into the library has been one of my special interests for a while now. When some Georgia librarians started doing it, I was fascinated...it was such a new and exciting concept to me and it makes so much sense. While applying for the Fulbright, I found a school near Dunedin that brings workshops to the library during lunchtime (1 lunchtime for the school, and for many schools here in NZ). I contacted them last year and they invited me but never got a chance to visit in person, although I did go take a picture near their sign when I was nearby during a school holiday. Dunedin is very away, but I was there two, maybe three times, all during a school holiday.
I’ve done it again...I have gotten off the topic of the WHS library. Perhaps I found the visit so stimulating and invigorating that it has gotten me thinking about lots of *library things* Thanks for going with me on this winding road of a post.
Sue is a teacher and school librarian living in Atlanta, GA, USA. She was in NZ as a Fulbright Distinguished Teacher from Feb-June 2016.