Term 4 2021
- Feature article
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School Library Spotlight: Xavier College, Burke Hall
SCIS speaks to Fiona O’Rourke, a teacher librarian at Xavier College, Melbourne, about starting her new job in a time of COVID-19 lockdowns.
1. What is your job title and what challenges are you facing?
I have just commenced at Xavier College, Burke Hall as a part-time teacher librarian for the Middle Years.
Beginning a new job in a school can be both exciting and daunting. However, when you begin at the commencement of Lockdown 5.0 and are thrust into remote learning it really is a whole new level of adventure. It was a career first, further complicated by the challenge of learning how to use unfamiliar digital tools such as MS Teams when I was used to Zoom, using a Mac when I have always had a PC!
Taking the time to listen to what the students want and enlisting their help with actioning it brings me the greatest joy.
Mindset is everything. I viewed it as an exciting opportunity to learn. The experience did not disappoint. The learning curve was steep and often mid-lesson with the students as my teachers.
The Head of Learning Resources and a fellow teacher librarian were very generous with their time and expertise, showing me how to call the roll, upload lessons to the learning management system as well as the basics of MS Teams. Armed with this knowledge, I dived into my first online class with Year 8s. The homeroom teacher introduced me and kindly stayed for the lesson. It is these small acts of kindness that make a deep impact on you.
No matter how well you have planned or strategised, when your students tell you that you sound like a computer or you are lagging, your heart skips a beat, and you know you need to pivot. The reality is that it affects the flow of your lesson. That may mean restarting the call, asking a student to co-present or praying to your network provider. When you have not yet met your students, it really is a leap of faith. You are trusting them to help you. Working together and problem-solving can lead to a deeper connection with them. Letting the students know at the beginning of each class that I was new to the programs and that I would love their help and advice was viewed not as a weakness but as an opportunity to share their expertise.
Online breakout rooms have been extremely useful, making it easier to have meaningful conversations and to ascertain student understanding of the task at hand. Personally, it has been more important to forgo the lesson content and to invest in the time to connect.
There are many wonderful educators sharing ideas and resources about surviving remote learning. Kathleen Morris’s blog has been a life-saver, helping me to create online content for my students. My favourite tools are Canva (creating digital posters), Loom (creating screencasts) MS PowerPoint (recording presentations) and iMovie (recording read-aloud stories). MS PowerPoint was a great place to start my digital content creation journey as each slide could be recorded separately. I found it time-consuming as I was tripping over words or forgetting important points. MS PowerPoint allowed me to keep each slide narration short and to the point.
Many years ago, I read Bill Cullen’s It’s a Long Way from Penny Apples and was struck by his mother’s counsel: ‘Say nothing till ya hear more.’ I have found this advice to be invaluable both professionally and personally. As I begin my journey here at Xavier College, I am mindful of pausing, taking time to actively listen to others, reflecting on what it means for me, the community of learners and the library.
2. What is the most rewarding aspect of working in a school library, and why?
Building learner and teacher capacity as well as promoting student voice and agency are the most rewarding aspects of working in a school library.
I endeavour to create a culture of ‘learning how to learn’ as explained by Guy Claxton, emeritus Professor of the Learning Sciences at the University of Winchester, well-known for his Building Learning Power approach to teaching. Information has grown exponentially, and it is important to give learners the tools to be discerning when selecting content. It is rewarding when you see students independently access your LibGuide in preference to doing a Google search. However, it is more pleasing when you see them ask questions about the author and purpose of a website.
Equally important is the concept of student voice and agency. When students have co-ownership of what and how they learn, it makes learning more meaningful and purposeful. As curators and caretakers of information we also need to be co-creators. Taking the time to listen to what the students want and enlisting their help with actioning it brings me the greatest joy. Such collaborations have given birth to projects such as the creation of a Young Adult collection for Year 5 and Year 6 students in my previous school.
3. What do you see as the most important part of the library’s role in the school community?
Collaboration, conversation and convenience (ease of access to the collection), and these principles guide my practice. I love Montiel-Overall’s (2006) work on the different levels of collaboration. As I embark on my teacher librarian (TL) role here at Xavier College, I have begun with her lower levels of coordination and cooperation. I, a TL colleague and Senior School LibGuide guru and the Year 7 teachers have collaboratively revamped the LibGuide for the current Humanities inquiry unit. Teachers have booked in extra sessions and students have given insightful feedback on what works well and what needs to be improved.
The power of conversation cannot be underestimated. Those incidental chats in the hallways can lead to monumental change. The ease of access to the collection is paramount. If library users cannot access content easily and in multimodal formats we need to rethink and change how we service the community. I love how our Middle Years library has two rows of front-facing shelves above its other shelves. Also, each fiction series has a special spine label with the ordinal number of the book. Authors with multiple series are colour-coded.
Watching a student-created film clip Burke Hall: What does the Library mean to you? gave me a great sense of my new place of work and its purpose. I was particularly struck by this comment: ‘I am not a great reader but the library makes me feel safe.’ It highlights another important role that libraries play – helping to maintaining the wellbeing of our students.
4. How do you promote reading and literacy in your school? Are there any challenges in doing so?
It is exciting to see that my new school wants to continuously reflect and improve. I am excited to be a part of re-energising the whole school’s reading culture. The Head of Learning Resources is passionate about our reading culture and is a crucial advocate at leadership meetings. I am looking forward to our in-house symposium Turning the Page: An Exploration into the Joy of Reading.
At present, the school has a well-established Year 7 and Year 8 reading program called Read to Succeed. Students have a dedicated library session once a cycle where they log their reading, engage in 1:1 conversations with the teacher librarian and choose books they want to read.
SCIS is invaluable. It is a cost-effective and time-saving alternative to cataloguing your collection while lending authority and uniformity
to your Subject Headings – for both print material and digital content.
Sessions exposing students to different genres are beneficial; however, it is more important that students know that all types of reading are acceptable. Initiatives such as Book Club and Buddy Reading also play an important role in promoting reading at the school. Challenges? For all of these things to be effective, collaboration and shared responsibility are imperative across all teaching faculties, and include administration staff, students and parents.
5. How do you encourage students to make use of the library?
The days of cardigan wearing, shushing librarians are disappearing. I still love to wear a colourful cardi; however, I encourage students to see the library as a space for fun, collaboration and creativity, a place to chat, laugh and share ideas.
For me, makerspaces and libraries are a good fit. I have always taken the lead from the students. A few years ago, I invited a class to put forward their ideas, thinking beyond the possible and imagining a futuristic space. Examining their responses and dialoguing with them, it was easy to see what the challenges and aspirations were. One student wanted a robot to reshelve the books! Exploring this idea further led to the library purchasing a Lego Mindstorms robot. Thus began my journey into robotics and makerspaces.
During the cold winter months, I have previously organised a buddy reading program before school. Students escaping the cold have been pleasantly surprised how enjoyable it is to read with a younger student. Even students who don’t view themselves as good readers have enjoyed being a role-model to their fledgling reading partner.
6. What is your favourite thing about SCIS?
SCIS is invaluable. It is a cost-effective and time-saving alternative to cataloguing your collection while lending authority and uniformity to your Subject Headings – for both print material and digital content.
As with any service, it is important that the user experience is effortless. With pertinent professional learning workshops offered, this has certainly been my experience. I enjoy reading Connections. My favourite section is the App review. I also love accessing relevant information on SCIS’s Twitter feed. SCIS is also a great resource for curating curriculum resources. I use the SCIS catalogue to discover new digital resources. As SCIS itself says, using their digital repository certainly is ‘a great way to future-proof your library in a digital age’.
Montiel-Overall, P. (2006). Toward a Model of Collaboration for Librarians and Educators. The International Journal of Learning: Annual Review, 12(6), 37-54.
Claxton, G. (2006, September 06). Expanding the Capacity to Learn: A new for education. British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, Warwick University, Coventry.