By Christine Steinhauser
School Librarians are lifelong learners. Ongoing education for us and all teachers is a requirement so we are all on the lookout for good, meaningful professional development. Sandy Kelly and I carpooled to the Anti-Bullying Summit. While chatting about professional development I told Sandy about a professional development opportunity the Reading School district offers its employees. We decided that this was a topic worth sharing in the Forum.
The Superintendent of the Reading Public Schools, Dr. John Doherty, completed his doctorate degree a few years ago. In the process, he took classes from Alan November. He has created a 6 credit graduate level class for Reading Teachers called "Expanding the Boundaries of Teaching and Learning," which includes online courses from November Learning (http://novemberlearning.com/). The class consists of teachers and administrators from all levels of education. It meets once a week from August until April. The teachers who took the class in past years (now in its 3rd year) come and teach various topics. I was in the first cohort group along with librarians from the high school and the other middle school.
Here is an excerpt from the class syllabus:
Powerful technologies are creating a worldwide shift of power. For example, during the time that your students are in the work force, China will replace the United States as the world’s most powerful nation (Friedman, 2007). Are your students prepared to be globally competitive?
Our education system is based on a 20th century culture that creates dependent learners instead of empowered learners. As technology becomes more powerful and more ubiquitous it will be essential to re-define the roles of learners and educators. Educators will need to become knowledge facilitators and students will need to become knowledge generators. This course will challenge you to raise expectations of student achievement and to prepare students to be globally competitive.
Leadership skills such as communication, team building and literacy will be redefined based on global information and communication skills.
This class was very unique. It gave staff the unusual opportunity to learn, experiment, create, and grow together using technology. Each assignment was created to investigate a different aspect of collaboration, technology and critical thinking. Groups would change; for one assignment my group consisted of other librarians taking the class, for another the group would consist of one administrator, and one teacher from each level- elementary, middle and high. We were expected to live what we were learning: posting to a blog once a week, using a Twitter backchannel in class, and having our assignments and other class information on a ning. We read and discussed the following books, all of which I highly recommend:
- The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman (2007). If you wish, you may omit pages 403-476.
- A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, Daniel H. Pink (2006).
- Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, Will Richardson (2009).
- 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times, Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel (2009).
- Web Literacy for Educators, Alan November (2008).
- Empowering Students with Technology, 2nd Edition, Alan November (2010)
The technology topics that were covered in the class include wikis, blogs, Google Docs, Wikipedia, podcasting, video creation, PhotoStory, Glogster, Voice Thread, Voki, Jing, Flickr, Delicious, Twitter, Prezi and more. We were expected to create a blog post once a week and read and respond to at least three class members' posts. We were expected to follow at least one educational blog and one technology blog. I followed Joyce Valenza and found that I could easily blog just by sharing what Joyce wrote about! We did not all become experts in all of the applications, but we became familiar with them. The goal was not to just add technology to our lessons, but to change our teaching style to include a more global presence for both students and teachers. We wanted to help our students create a digital footprint to be proud of. Students are creating content with responsibility and a broader sense of worth knowing that it is shared with more than just teachers.
The beauty of this kind of professional development is that it was instantly put to use. When you are in a classroom with your peers, planning and collaborating, you can go to work the next day and start to apply what you have learned. Collaboration was essential. I found that there were a lot of teachers who wanted to collaborate with the librarian! These collaborative lessons are ongoing three years later and have expanded to other teachers and lessons.
This kind of teaching required some district changes initially. The acceptable use policy has been expanded to include online forums such as blogs and wikis. Student sign the AUP at the beginning of the year which will give them access to the applications. Our district has student email for grades 5-12. All students are required to use their school email address for these applications, keeping their “business” and “home” online presence separate. Lastly, our district does not block the applications that we need.
I recently send out a question to the listserv asking what professional development members found to be most beneficial. I received many different responses which I will summarize later in this article. The purpose for my query was to see if any other districts had a professional development model like my own district, Reading. I received only two responses outlining an in-district model. One was from my friend and colleague, Sharon Burke, librarian at Reading Memorial High School. She mentioned an "Expanding the Boundaries of Teaching and Learning" class that we took together and most recently co-taught a class on online resources, plagiarism, and copyright. The second came from Joanne Mack from the Bristol-Plymouth district. In her district, the instructors are from nearby colleges (Bridgewater and UMASS Dartmouth) and the content varied. Classes occur after school or Saturday, and are paid for by the district. Like me, Joanne finds herself very fortunate to be so supported by her district. The one thing that surprised me when I received comments from the listserv is that no one mentioned any of the major conferences like Blue Ribbon, MLA, MRA or MassCue. I find conferences a very good place to get ideas. Maybe it is because budgets have been so tight lately. If I want to attend a conference and my district can’t send me, I put in a proposal to present at that conference. I have gotten to attend two conferences for free this way.
My thanks to everyone who responded to my post on the listserv:
What has been your favorite Professional Development Opportunity? I am gathering information about what librarians feel is the best Professional Development opportunities for us, within the district or at conferences, in person and virtual. What topics were covered? Who attended- teachers, administrators, just librarians? So, please "hit me" with your best PD experiences! I know that you all have such great ideas!
Here are the responses (in no particular order) I received from members when I asked what people considered the best professional development opportunities for librarians:
- Literacy Across the Content Areas -- PCG [Public Consulting Group] in New Hampshire is the best!
- Online class by AASL on Backward Design for the 21st Century Librarian. What made it so powerful was the opportunity to figure out Understanding by Design specifically with other school librarians.
- Information Commons (presentation by Valerie Diggs)
- Discussions about integrating e-books into collections
- Any new YA literature
- MLS workshops
- Networking with other librarians at conferences
- Thinkfinity PD
- EdWeb provides professional learning communities on topics of interest that you can join. Topics like Educational Leadership, Autism, and Gaming in Education. They have webinars that can be viewed once a month that allow live discussions during the webinar. The webinar is also archived and there are ongoing discussion threads before and after where people share ideas and resources. PDPs are printed out on the computer after attending webinars.
- The Foundation for Children's Books (held at Boston College) http://www.thefcb.org/
- Annual and Midwinter ALA meetings and biannual AASL meetings
- Children's Literature New England (meets every other year) http://www.clne.org/
- Keene State College, NH - Children's Literature Festival promoting the reading, studying, and use of children's literature. http://www.keene.edu/clf/
- EISLA meetings (Eastern Independent School Library Association)
- Children's Literature Summer Institute at Simmons College (every other year)
- MLA and MSLA combined forces for a conference down on the Cape. Katie Baxter (Nobles & Greenough) and others did a whole day on the Teenage Brain.
- I have to say it was when the administration in our district gave the district's librarians the PD days for the year to work on a five year plan. They were spread over the year so we had time to send out surveys, have a committee with other stakeholders as members and really get some good input to chart out where we want to be heading. By myself in a high school of 1300 students, there is no way I would have been able to do this on my own, but with the middle and elementary librarians taking part too it became a fun and useful guide to library services and vision. Susan Babb from MLS was very helpful with this, but we really developed it on our own.
- The Anti-Bullying Summit at Cushing Academy was the best one I have attended in a while!
- NEH Summer Institute in teaching African American literature for 4 weeks one summer with visiting writers and scholars from all over the country—the best scholars and writers in the field at the time—and thirty teachers from around Massachusetts.
- Undoing Racism: The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond - http://www.pisab.org/
- Framingham State College. Mixed groups-- usually at least one other librarian there, but it's a mix of teachers of different subjects and grade levels. One of them was a project-based learning course through Framingham with our own Judi Paradis, and it was excellent. Most of the classes are technology-oriented.
- EDCO classes- a theater games course, which was awesome and added some new tricks to my bag. I also took one on creating a research process through PBS
- MSLA conference-- I always leave with many new ideas to try out and have really enjoyed it
- SLJ Leadership Summit is held annually and does require travel and hotel expenses but the event is free. One and a half days, meals included and the best minds in school librarianship discussing the most leading edge issues in our profession. Information about upcoming summits usually is released late summer.
- Serving on a NEASC committee was a rewarding professional development opportunity. In exchange for four days of hard work, I was able to study the workings of another school library to prepare and write a report. The librarian, teachers, guidance counselor, nurses and administrators I worked with were very informative and helpful. It was a unique experience that gave me a picture of an entire school working toward a goal and how the library can support that goal.
- BER conference- Deborah Ford's 'Increasing the Effectiveness of Your School Library Program.' Some of the material was common sense, but a lot was really informative. A workshop along those lines - ideas to better manage your library program and where to find the resources to do it - would be wonderful.
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