The teacher librarian as evidence gatherer, researcher, and advocate for school libraries

In an age where school libraries and teacher librarians are operating in the midst of funding and staffing pressures, the demands associated with My School and school performance, and the fight for professional credibility and the support of their school communities, it has become inevitable that teacher librarians need to be gathering evidence to support their role in the school. Teacher librarians are required to prove their worth and demonstrate how they impact upon the learning outcomes of students.

Todd (2008, p. 40) describes evidence-based practice as the “use of research-derived evidence to make decisions about how the school library can best meet the instructional goals of the school”. It focuses on student achievement of learning outcomes and how teacher librarians impact upon this. Todd (2008, p. 40) argues that “If we do not show value, we will not have a future. Evidence based practice is not about the survival of school librarians, it’s about the survival of our students”.  Students need teacher librarians who equip them for a successful school experience by developing deep knowledge and critical thinking, and the “ability to apply new skills and knowledge across discipline areas and grade levels” (Hay & Todd, 2010, p. 36), as well as developing the “competencies and skills for thinking, living, and working” in the twenty-first century (Todd, 2008, p. 40). Given the high stakes for our students, it is crucial that teacher librarians demonstrate how they are contributing to this.

Teacher librarians are well positioned to have a positive impact on student achievement. Oberg (2002) reports that regular library use has shown to play a role in improving student achievement (p. 12) and “students whose librarians played an instructional role – either by identifying materials to be used with teacher-planned instructional units or by collaborating with teachers in planning instructional units – tended to achieve higher average test scores” (p. 13). Todd (2007, p. 72) also describes how collaboration with classroom teachers can provide TLs with opportunities for developing authentic research through the school library by identifying “zones of intervention” within the curriculum. The vital task for TLs is to provide evidence of the value of these activities.

Evidence-based practice “validates that quality learning outcomes can be achieved through the school library and that the school librarian is an important instructional partner” (Todd, 2008, p. 41). However, Hay & Todd (2010, p. 34) claim that TLs tend to make claims about their impact on student outcomes based on personal experience, intuition, unstructured observations and anecdotes rather than empirical evidence. In order to be effective advocates for their profession, TLs need to engage with research literature to “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). They need to analyse test results for data that affirms the library’s contribution to positive results or highlights areas in which library involvement may help to improve weak results (Oberg, 2002, p. 11). Todd (2008, p. 40) suggests that multiple types of evidence be gathered, as “using and comparing data from a number of sources… can develop stronger claims about your practice’s impact and outcomes”. Such evidence is essential if advocacy is to be powerful and effective.

Once gathered, evidence should be shared with key stakeholders in the school community, such as the principal, executive staff, teachers, students and parents. It is important that these stakeholders recognise that library activities are based on best practice, are student focused, and are working towards the achievement of school goals and objectives. Oberg (2002, p. 13) stresses the importance of presenting data in meaningful ways, such as in the form of stories, case studies or scenarios, in order to have the greatest impact. The need for continuous gathering and communicating of information is also argued by Kramer  & Diekman (2010, p. 30), who claim that assessment data needs to be reported regularly rather than just in times of threat. It is a constant stream of why we are at the centre of teaching and learning”.

Part of being a proactive researcher and advocate also involves recognising what is happening outside of the school library, in the general school environment and in other schools. Active engagement with teaching/learning committees in the school, developing professional networks, using professional associations, and attending conferences provide an opportunity for teacher librarians to gather and share evidence about the impact of their practice (Hay & Todd, 2010, p. 37). Todd (2007, p. 74) suggests that TLs create an EBP portfolio so that claims about library can be continually refined and extended.

Evidence gathering is an important role for teacher librarians, and is essential if they are to be proactive in advocating for the profession and the value of school libraries in the twenty-first century.

References:

Hay, L. & Todd, R. J. (2010). School libraries 21C: the conversation begins. Scan, 29(1), 30-42.

Kramer, P.  & Diekman, L. (2010). Evidence = assessment = advocacy. Teacher Librarian, 37(3), 27-30.

Oberg, D. (2002). Looking for the evidence: Do school libraries improve student achievement? School Libraries in Canada, 22(2), 10-13.

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.

Todd, R. J. (2008). The evidence-based manifesto. School Library Journal, 54(4), 38-43.

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