Term 1 2023
- Feature article
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Leading whole school literacy from the library
Dr Margaret Merga writes about her new book, which covers the importance of the library in leading a whole school literacy policy (WSLP).
Literacy is a general capability to be taught across all learning areas in Australian schools. Students use literacy skills to learn and demonstrate their learning across the curriculum, and they need to learn both cross-disciplinary and discipline-specific literacy skills to achieve their academic potential (Merga, in press).
A whole school literacy policy (WSLP) should guide collective understandings of literacy within a school, articulating clear literacy learning goals and detailing how they will be attained. Libraries and their staff should feature in these policies as key literacy resources. Unfortunately, in my recent investigations of Australian WSLPs, I found that school libraries are often not mentioned at all (Merga, 2022). We need school libraries to feature strongly in WSLPs so that their contributions are recognised and funded, and not seen as peripheral or disposable.
But how can we get school libraries into the WSLP? We need school library professionals on or leading the WSLP planning team.
School library professionals can be an excellent choice to lead a WSLP from their libraries, building relationships and facilitating knowledge exchange across the school (Merga, in press).
There is a real opportunity for them to move into this space because there is a lack of guidance for schools on how to write a WSLP, which is probably one of the reasons that many Australian WSLP are not fit for purpose. If we make the school library professional the most knowledgeable person on this topic, we have a real chance to change the way they are seen in schools within and beyond the library.
To this end, I decided to write a book that shows how to create or revise a WSLP and promote it in the school library community so that school library professionals have the materials they need to lead these kinds of initiatives, doubling down on the importance of their library as a vital literacy resource.
How can schools benefit from your leadership?
As I explore in detail in my upcoming book, Creating an Australian School Literacy Policy (Merga, in press), schools can benefit from school library professionals taking a leadership role in creating their WSLP for a number of reasons, five of which I touch on here.
- Qualified. While many teachers and leaders in school communities might not realise that Australian teacher librarians are qualified educators (Merga, 2019a), they are dual-qualified library staff with expertise in both education and library and information sciences.
- Knowledgeable. Teacher librarians are effective literacy advocates (Merga, 2019b) and they have skills in meeting the needs of diverse literacy learners (Merga, 2019a). There is a growing body of research linking qualified school library staff and positive effects for student literacy performance (as reviewed in Lance & Kachel, 2018).
- Cross-curricular. Teacher librarians are outside the silos around specific learning areas and year groups, and they are adept at communicating and building relationships across the school. This can help them to get all educators and support staff within the school on board with whole-school initiatives such as a WSLP.
- Collaborative. While some classroom teachers may prefer to work independently, the role of an Australian teacher librarian is typically collaborative, and these professionals actively try to increase the scope of their collaborations throughout the school (Merga, 2019a). More than 90% of job descriptions for teacher librarians seek a collaborative and team-oriented staff member (Merga, 2020).
- Leaders. Teacher librarians are instructional leaders (Branch & Oberg, 2001), with leadership expectations often articulated within their role (Merga, 2020). As such, they are up to the challenge of leading a WSLP from the library.
For more information and a detailed explanation of how to plan or revise a school literacy policy and implement it, please read my new book Creating an Australian School Literacy Policy, published in Australia by Hawker Brownlow Education.
Branch, J. L. & Oberg, D. (2001). The teacher-librarian in the 21st century: The teacher-librarian as instructional leader. School Libraries in Canada, 21(2), 9–11.
Lance, K. C. & Kachel, D. E. (2018). Why school librarians matter: What years of research tell us. Phi Delta Kappan, 99(7), 15–20.
Merga, M. K. (2019a). Collaborating with teacher librarians to support adolescents’ literacy and literature learning. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 63(1), 65–72.
Merga, M. K. (in press). Creating an Australian school literacy policy. Hawker Brownlow Education. https://www.hbe.com.au/hb6449.html
Merga, M. K. (2019b). Do librarians feel that their profession is valued in contemporary schools? Journal of the Australian Library and Information Association, 68(1), 18–37.
Merga, M. K. (2020). School librarians as literacy educators within a complex role. Journal of Library Administration, 60(8), 889–908.
Merga, M. K. (2022). The role of the library within school-level literacy policies and plans in Australia and the United Kingdom. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 54(3), 469–481.