The breadth of the role of the teacher librarian (TL), and the need to ensure that they meet the needs of their particular school community, requires the teacher librarian to set priorities in order to perform their role effectively. Careful consideration needs to be made about how to establish these priorities and how to communicate these with stakeholders so that they will be received in a positive and supportive light.
TLs can ensure that their priorities are understood and acknowledged by key stakeholders, including principals, teachers, students and parents, by aligning them with the teaching and learning goals of the school, as these are “the core business of the teacher librarian” (Hay & Todd, 2010, p. 36). School (and system) goals and objectives for different curriculum areas or different groups of students should be used to inform library programs and priorities (Johnson, 2007). Focusing on knowledge construction through constructivist and inquiry-based frameworks (Todd, 2007, p. 63) and helping students to “apply new skills and knowledge across discipline areas and grade levels” (Hay & Todd, 2010, p. 36) ensures that TLs are addressing whole school needs and student learning outcomes, and leans positively towards gaining support from the school community, especially teachers, executive staff and the principal.
Setting priorities based on knowledge of the curriculum and programs to address the results from school, system and national testing shows school communities how TLs can support teaching and learning in the school and improve outcomes for students. Todd (2007, p. 72) explains that, through collaboration with teachers and study of curriculum outcomes, “zones of intervention” can be identified, enabling TLs to develop “authentic research through the school library” whilst supporting teachers in implementing the curriculum. They can also draw upon data that the school has that identifies areas for improvement and contribute to whole school plans to address these (Todd, 2007, p. 75).
TLs may also draw upon the research literature from their field when determining priorities, particularly methods for enhancing student learning outcomes. This research will “provide the empirical basis for making and justifying decisions, and for identifying gaps on which continuous improvement programs can be built” (Todd, 2007, pp. 65-66). The use of research, at a local level and beyond, provides a solid basis for establishing library priorities and increases the perception of the TL as a valuable, professional member of staff.
Once priorities have been set, it is crucial that TLs gather evidence to support these and communicate their priorities and how they can impact on student learning to key stakeholders in the school community. TLs need to be advocates for themselves and for the library, but this needs to be accompanied by empirical evidence (Hay & Todd, 2010, p. 37). This is important not only in garnering support for the library and its programs, but also in campaigning for funding, staffing and resources. Hay & Todd (2010, p. 37) argue that TLs “need to engage the whole school community in conversations about the school library and its contribution to learning”. Some ways in which they can do this include:
- Presenting reports at school board meetings
- Writing articles for school newsletters
- Providing the principal with regular reports outlining needs, priorities and activities of the library
- Public relations events (Lamb & Johnson, 2004-2007) – such as speaking or having a display at parent information nights, Numeracy information sessions, Literacy information sessions
- Presenting findings on school library web site/blog/app
- Linking the mission and goals for student learning in the school library to those of the school and key research claims (Todd, 2007)
- Presenting information about library events, resources and programs at staff meetings regularly
- Ensuring that the library collection contains up-to-date resources in a variety of formats, including relevant resources for teachers, and setting up displays of useful resources so that they are visible and easily accessible
Making sure that student learning outcomes are the focus of communication and library priorities will help to create greater understanding and acceptance of library programs and the role of the teacher librarian.
Hay, L. & Todd, R. J. (2010). School libraries 21C: the conversation begins. Scan, 29(1), 30-42.
Johnson, D. (2006-2007). Demonstrating our impact: putting numbers in context part 1. In Doug Johnson: writing, speaking and consulting on school technology and library issues. Retrieved from http://www.doug-johnson.com/dougwri/demonstrating-our-impact-1.html
Lamb, A. & Johnson, L. (2004-2007). Library media program: evaluation. In The school library media specialist. Retrieved http://eduscapes.com/sms/program/evaluation.html
Todd, R. J. (2007) Evidence-based practice and school libraries: from advocacy to action. In S. Hughes-Hassell & V. H. Harada. School reform and the school library media specialist (pp. 57-78). Westport, CY : Libraries Unlimited.