After a wonderful evening at the home of Dave Winter and his lovely wife Jude O'neal, it was time to go the SLAZNA Workshop. I wanted to get a picture of Jude but she was still in her pajamas and did not feel she was camera ready so she took this picture of Dave and me before the drive to Hamilton Boys' Hight School where the conference was being held.
Upon arriving to the conference, I was greeted by Gerri Judkins at the registration table. Gerri is just one of those people that makes everyone feel so cared for and welcome. It was nice to see Gerri again. I was a bit worn out from my whirlwind tour of the schools by the time I got to SLANZA so Gerri may have thought I did not remember her from the last conference but of course I did! The awesome thing is that there were many people that I knew from my last SLANZA conference!!! I love this bunch!!
The Waikato/Bay of Plenty SLANZA workshop is entitled: “The librarian as Mentor”--this is a topic that is talked about infrequently but we know it’s happening all the time. The librarian is uniquely positioned to identify and observe students who may be in need of some sort of support (typically emotional but needs run the gamut). Guidance Counselor Betty Diprose gave some great tips on how to connect with and respond to students in situations that require careful attention.
One tip she gave was to “look for exceptions” if/when a student is giving an account of a problematic situation. This means that when you hear something pleasant or positive weaved into the generally troublesome storyline, you take the time to focus on that element and perhaps probe it a bit further. This may seem like “just a distraction” but in reality, it enables the student to focus on this protective feature/strength and build on a new conversation. From this micro focus on the positive, the student may begin to build a new narrative that focuses on other positive aspects of their life, which then builds coping skills and moves the conversation out of the dark/negative/problematic place and allows for new possibilities. There were other great tips and ideas. A popular favorite was “Talk to Ted”--If someone comes in really upset, they can hold the giant plush “Ted” and confide in him while the librarian or teacher or counselor leaves the room. A great time was had by all in this timely and informative session. As usual, all of the librarians generously shared their experiences and insights!
Dave stayed to take some pictures (at my request as he really needed to get home to get ready for educamp)! From L->R Glenys Bichan, Cambridge HS Library Manager, Cathy Baine, Hamilton East Library Manager, Hamilton East Library staff (sorry I cannot remember your name), me, and Jan Mathews, Melville HS Library Manager
A few other event photos
Today was the first day of the three day of Hamilton Schools, set up my lovely host Linda, a retired librarian and active SLANZA member, hosted me in her Cambridge home. I woke up with bells on my feet as the sun decided to make a showing this morning after the non stop torrential downpours here. This is a view from my bedroom window. I love the green grass, the flowers, the apple tree, the pool...I love it all! I just love this gorgeous house and backyard.
At around 10:30 am during teatime, Glenys Bichan, the librarian at Cambridge HS came to pick me up and bring me to her nearby school. Since Linda my host Linda has a broken hand at the moment and could not drive me, it has been sweet of others to take me around!
I was very eager to spend time with Glenys as I had seen her present at a SLANZA meeting a few months ago and I know how passionate she is about serving her students, Visiting Glenys at her school library has been on my school visit bucket list since my arrival due to her outstanding reputation.
When we arrived, it was support staff tea time. Support staff include office workers which here are called administrators by the way. In other words, you would not walk into a NZ school and ask to see the administrator if you are trying to meet with the principal. Thanks to Jessie Scovill, I learned that one during our DC Fulbright orientation! Here in NZ, the librarian is considered to be in the “support staff” category as opposed to being considered with the teaching group. Along with the office administrators, I met the building IT person and the campus caretaker (who I guess is sort of like a groundskeeper/handyman/all around go to person). There was also a staff pastoral care person at tea. The school contracts with her to come once a week to tend to any staff members that that have outside life issues that they need support on. Even staff members who need support as they are trying to help others in need can use this service! I am told that if you have a problem that is interfering with your ability to do your job (because it is distracting or time consuming etc) it’s good to see the pastoral care person. I did not ask about the qualifications for the people in the position but I am thinking they have probably have actual counseling backgrounds.
I was shocked to hear about pastoral care for staff because sadly, I have had many conversations about how many schools in the US do not care for their staff members who have illnesses, injuries, losses, and other stressful events. I feel that in many schools, the focus remains on ticking boxes and “getting things done” and if there is a staff member who is not present or is struggling in some way, they are simply seen as an annoyance, inconvenience, and barrier to “getting the boxes ticked.” I have told many people in the past that I think the school should be a place that shows care to its staff. I am really happy and very shocked to hear that this model exists here in NZ (at least in this one school).
I would not know where to start with talking about my day; it was a very inspiring day and I got to learn the lengths this librarian goes to in order to serve her students with heart. She has created a warm, inclusive environment where all students feel welcome and at home. Perhaps I can elaborate when I have time to process things a little more.
I had a great chat with “the librarians” and by that, I mean “student librarians” who are called librarians. They are a very wonderful group of students that come from a variety of backgrounds and have a broad range of interests. I could write a book about this group of kids, and actually I think maybe Glenys should do just that! There are 40 “librarians” this year and they constitute an informal family. There is a “Head Librarian” which is a leadership position. She creates programs for the “librarians” such as social events, work incentive programs etc. This type of participatory engagement is fun and refreshing.
Jeanette is the library assistant and does all of the cataloguing. The books come in unprocessed and the first step is to cover the books in plastic, which Jeannette also takes care of. After they are covered, they go onto a shelf where Glenys attaches the bar code labels that she creates after entering the books into the library cataloguing system. Once the books are shelf ready, there is one last step---Glenys creates a blog post about most of new books as a way of communicating with the school and encouraging the students to come check the books out.
The school has a wide variety of books magazines, databases and also DVDs. The DVDs are often used by students for the english level assessments (Level 1, Level 2, Level 3)--each level requires a slightly different type of written analysis. A combination of books and films can be used as the basis of the content for the students’ written responses.The librarian saw the demand for the DVDs and took the opportunity to make purchases of select titles but she also had the chance to buy up a lot of DVDs from a store that was going out of business and they even gave her the awesome shelf!
I informally interviewed students, who said they really like the physical layout of the library while others said that they liked how comfortable the vibe is and they love the social atmosphere. I saw about 25-30 kids deep into online games during tea time (where students get a 30 minute break). In general, a number of BYOD schools in NZ have students coming into the libraries to use the wifi to play games. The librarians are also seeing the usage statistics going down in some cases. There are a few contributing factors for this: 1. The students playing games are changing the vibe in the library and the students looking for a book loving sanctuary are turned off and are coming in and checking out less, 2. The students playing games used to check out books but now they mainly play games, 3. More students may be starting to read books online and/or electronically. Either way, I have been to several school libraries where the students are buried in their devices and they will tell me “the best part of the library is the wifi.” As much as I think students should have freedom, I have a sense that some students are losing their sense of balance.
This is a complicated issue because the librarians cannot “police” the students on portable devices so there is no sense in setting up a “school work only” policy if is not enforceable. And then there is the issue of the student having the right to “relax” with their device during tea time and lunch. This seems like the same issue we discussed years ago regarding “playing games” on computers during lunch in HS libraries at the GLMA meetings and on the listserv. I remember hearing great cases for allowing the kids to decompress and play, and others for keeping the computers for research and academics only. But in that scenario, there were a limited number of computers in library whereas now, everyone walks in with a device and there is frenetic energy going on in the midst of other students reading or studying. It’s all rather informal since it’s break time...students pretty much plop down anywhere and at this time, most libraries do not have a device zone.
Glenys and her team created a PEACE theme this year and I just love this display. It says "Can you fix the world Piece by Peace- Heal the World! Simply fabulous! The velcro puzzle pieces get taken apart and put back together by students so it's very interactive and encourage the students to think about the world.
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.
Today I had the pleasure of meeting library manager Jenny Carroll and librarian Vhairi Miles at Wellington Girls College. (WGC)--These two ladies make a perfect team! When I arrived, the library was flooded with girls who quickly found spaces for themselves wherever and everywhere. Some worked on computers, while others sat at tables chatting and eating, while others sat on bean bags on the floor.
The girls are allowed to eat their lunch in the library and those that I spoke to said they love coming to the library during lunch. It was raining today so I asked them if, on a sunny day they would be eating outside and they said no, they love coming to the library and eating there! They said they like being able to eat their lunch and work at the same time. There was a very casual, yet respectful culture and while there was no whispering, the students have good self management so it did not get very noisy despite the fact that there looked to be around 100 or 200 students in there at one time.
This is a BYOD school and many students carry devices. There are no restrictions as to when they can use these devices. It was refreshing to see that the girls were social (with each other in person), despite their proximity to their devices. In some schools, the students (more often I have noticed it with boys), they choose to place their attention on the device and not on the other nearby students.
This special library has a library cat, Talullah who is very loving and helps the girls study for tests as well as be available for hugs and cuddles on demand (lol) . I can tell that she really has a great home here and is a great fit as the WGC libary cat. Apparently, she voluntarily left her last home when the family got a dog and she adopted the girls at this library to be her new family.
The librarians provide sessions that cover research skills, evaluation, curation, digital citizenship, along with monthly displays/promotions and periodic special programs and projects. This library is often host to professional development sessions for other librarians. In addition, the librarians gather materials and resources for teachers to support them in their teaching of the curriculum.
At the WGC library, relationship building is a priority and everyone is made to feel very welcome. This is an inclusive space that provides a room for the clubs to meet, a quiet space for students who need to focus, a place for the learning support specialist/guidance counselor to meet with students, and where student voice is valued. When the library was rebuilt the Māori students named the library He Kohinga Maramatanga or the Place of Knowledge. The land where the library sits used to be a beach and the local fish gathered there. Now, the space is a gathering place for knowledge instead. The Pacifica culture is represented in beautiful artwork at the stunning library entrance where students from all cultures represented at WGC can read the word "Welcome" in their respective language.
I hope I have covered the highlights from my visit today. The library has a beautiful collection of books, many flexible spaces, beautiful paint colors, fantastic lighting, wonderful student librarians Most, if not all secondary schools have librarians with qualifications and they seem to feel like familiar high school libraries. There is much more variation on the funding for libraries at the primary school level. Walking into any properly funded and well functioning library is always a breath of fresh air.
People who really know the impact of a school librarian, understand the enormous impact this special person can have on the lives of students. Kylie Parry @ParryKylie is one such very special librarian who works tirelessly to reach the hearts of her students at the Seatoun School, (located in a Wellington, NZ suburb).
I first met Kylie on a group visit to the school which was arranged by Fulbright NZ director Colin Kennedy. I felt instantly drawn to Kylie and really wanted to get to know her better. Yesterday I went back to her school to spend the day in the Seatoun library. When I visit a school library in NZ, I never know what nuggets I will take away so I do not ever try to guess what my experience will be that day.
Anyone who has ever worked in a library (or even a school) knows that it can be a very lively, organic place that takes a different shape each day, based on the energy, needs, and desires of its 'customers.' This day was no different...Kylie sat me down to ask me what some of my goals for the visit were. I was doing my best to explain (which is to learn what types of inclusive practices she has to make all students feel welcome) when in walked the administrator who handles the library budget. Oooh "library budget, that's music to my ears but I am digressing. I could see this lovely woman was holding a craft supply list. She had come to double check that the order was correct and in the process, Kyle demonstrated what all of the supplies would be used for. I was fascinated at her ability to find cool craft activities that would appear to 5-13 year olds and do-able for 30 minutes lunch sessions.
Crafts? Well yes, crafts. There are many readers that probably did not raise an eyebrow when I mentioned crafts supplies. But there are other readers that might be a bit surprised such as people who have their own fixed notion about what they think a school library is or should be and it's one that does not include crafts in their minds.
Like many kiwis I think Kylie is a "maker" at heart. People here have a lot of creativity and ingenuity. I think it has its roots in the scarcity of resources from war time, where there was a huge emphasis on conserving all resources, which in turn has evolved into a very practical minded, no waste mentality. In addition there is a strong environmental conservation ideal here which also calls for not using anything you don't need (such as bags in a store, receipts etc). When you couple this mindset with the high price of imported goods (although there is a significant amount of "cheap" import stuff here in Wellington similar to the Dollar Tree), I think the result is people that think creatively and try making their own stuff.
But back to my conversation about Kylie! She is not planning crafts activities with the notion of turning the kids into "makers" by having a maker space in the library. Kylie is planning these fun, creative ventures as a way to encourage the students to visit the library during their lunch period. This awesome librarian wants the all of the kiddos to think of the library as "a fun and safe place." Relationship building is a key component to Kylie's strategy to improve the students' love of reading, especially for those who might not be very keen on checking books out (beyond their weekly class visit checkouts).
Lunch time in NZ schools presents a unique opportunity to the school staff members who want to participate in offering a program to students. While I cannot vouch for all the schools in the country, I can say that all of the primary schools I have seen have one lunch period for approximately one hour each day! This gives the students time to eat their lunch, chat, play, and still have 30 minutes to do a planned activity. Different schools have different ways of planning for lunch programs and it would probably make a great inquiry project. But at Seatoun, the students who chose to come to the library during lunch, come from 1:00-1:30 pm (they eat from 12:30-12:45).
I never intended on writing and endless post and it breaks "all rules" of blogging but I suppose I am in the habit of explaining everything. The people of NZ are very patient and they are very good at explaining things to me and I suppose maybe I am becoming an explainer, or maybe I already was an explainer, I am not sure!
At any rate, the students waited eagerly outside for us to enter the library then Kyle gave a "senior student" the job of holding up an "OPEN" sign and inviting the excited students in! On this day, the students made metal creations using rainbow floral sticks, (that can be turned into just about anything with some creative twisting). My job was to give out the string as the young artists proudly finished their creations and "made them into necklaces and bracelets". As the students came to me, the each looked so proud of what they made and they explained what it was, and how they made it. They were simply filled with glee and pride.
This was a very fast moving half hour and there must have been nearly 100 kids in the library! Kylie's mission is very successful. Her customers are extremely happy and leave the library feeling good about themselves. And tomorrow, if all of the same students want to come again and do the same thing, they are invited! Kylie knows that with practice the students gain confidence and become leaders the next day by helping newcomers to the activity. Sorry about no pictures of kids, I do not have permission to photograph them.
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.