Is it Really That Easy?
A few years ago, while completing my Diploma of Eduction (DipEd), I completed my first teacher practicum just three weeks into my course and really felt a sensation of sink or swim. Having only just started the DipEd, I certainly didn’t feel adequately prepared in my understanding of how to teach, how to design a unit to teach or even a how to break a unit down into lesson plans to carry out the unit successfully. Beyond this, I certainly hadn’t begun to grasp a detailed understanding of how students learn or the various approaches to teaching and learning that are available and could inform my teaching. Being new to Melbourne at the time, I did not have a local knowledge of the community of the school I was placed in and how this contributes to learning assessment of the students or even the broader school community and it’s involvement. Nor did I have an understanding of the incredibly broad and diverse needs within the school that I was to complete my first practicum.
My student teacher practicum was at Collingwood College in Melbourne with my supervising teacher at the time for my Media method being Chris. This practicum proved an enormous learning curve and raised more questions than I had anticipated, as was the experience of many other students completing the DipEd with me at the time. Interestingly enough I now am reflecting on my time there, so many years later, and the reason for this is because Chris, my supervising teacher at the school, was not only the Media teacher but also the Teacher Librarian there.
Being located in the library and having Chris as my supervisor certainly placed me in the hub of the school and it is only now that I realise how central her role as the T/L, and all that this role could possibly entail, contributed to the Library being so central. Chris as the T/L significantly contributed to the shaping of the school and ultimately to the success of the whole school and I now realise within the context of my current learning why she is so successful in this role, how she takes on the many diverse roles as stipulated by Purcell[i] and applies them quite specifically at Collingwood College for the benefit of all the users of the library and the wider community.
Quite clearly, in line with Bishop’s[ii] ideas stressing the importance of community analysis and needs assessment for the benefit of collection development, Chris knew the community and the users of the library service incredibly well and this was reflected in the Program administration of the library and it’s resources.
In terms of students, it soon became apparent that, the student body is one of the most diverse students bodies I may ever encounter. Apart from the school catering to students from Prep to year 12, Collingwood College caters to students that are incredibly demographically diverse. Some of the immediate community live directly next to the school and come from the high-rise public housing. Within this community there is a diversity of backgrounds that span from refugee arrivals to other groups from lower socio-economic backgrounds that are not recent arrivals. The majority of the students from the immediate community participate predominantly in what is called the ‘mainstream curriculum’.
One of my first lessons was the impact student background has on a student and their learning. As an example, one of the students in my media class that I was teaching during the practicum was a recent East Timorese refugee. At the time the political situation in Australia had resulted in policy change that did not allow any access to financial support for refugees until they had been in Australia for at least two years. When this student was always tired at school and struggled in lessons to actively participate, I needed to discover what was contributing. I discovered that her situation meant she needed to work every night till 1 am to help contribute to the support of her larger refugee family as they had no access to support. Directly after school she would begin work and at 1am go home and try and complete homework before going to bed and starting the day all over again. This moment left me with a sinking feeling about the adversity some students contend with in their participation in education. Questions were quickly forming about how do we support students to contribute to a betterment of situation in life. Questions also were forming about what is the best model of teaching that I can work with to engage and make meaningful the learning for the students I am working with. It was at this point that Chris provided the greatest guidance about curriculum planning and helped me access the incredible resources available at their library that covered an incredible array of resources specifically dealing with multiple intelligences, active learning and how to design curriculum with this in mind. To this day, it is still the best resource collection I have come across for teachers in a school library.
The other student body within this incredibly broad school came from further afield. As a result of the school responding to declining numbers, the school was working on strategies to turn the school around and attract students to contribute to an increase in enrolments. These strategies involved an assessment, development and implementation of various curriculum innovations as a way of attracting students to the school. One example that had been implemented before I arrived was the Steiner stream that operated parallel to the mainstream curriculum.
As one of a few schools in the State education system offering a choice in curriculum, students came to this school specifically to obtain a Steiner based education. Interestingly, the two streams are separate from each other and the students do not take classes across these streams. It is one or the other. However, there is an option to transfer to the other stream if you find the stream you initially chose is not suited. Although, as I discovered this is only allowed once; for obvious reasons of not disrupting the curriculum streams with instability brought on by constant changing.
The result is that the student population of each stream is demographically very different. To add further to the diversity, within the school exists a Language school for new arrivals. Many students attend this school for six months of intensive English lessons before they can attend school. This is another source of enrolments for the school. The school also has a separate campus called ‘The Island’ where education is specifically vocationally oriented and teenagers attend to focus on programs that are apprenticeship based such as cooking. The Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden began at Collingwood College and seeing it in practice is certainly impressive.
In terms of community analysis and the effect on the school, Chris is instrumental in her leadership role as a Change agent, Resource guide, Leader, Learner and Teacher. Chris researches, participates in professional development outside the school on various curriculum models and strategies and then guides the school through implementation. She conducts professional development at the school about the approaches to teaching and learning and resources the school on the ideas and implementation. She is involved in the policy development, planning, collaboration and information sharing. She participates in collaborative teaching taking on the role of teaching information literacy in support of the wider curriculum and helping students learn about strategies in utilising media to access information and thinking processes to enhance learning and deepen understanding.
During my Practicum, Chris was in the process of assessing Reggio Emilia and informing the teachers and larger school community about this approach. Interestingly, the school now has a Reggio Emilia stream and they have been implementing the International Baccalaureate (IB) as an alternative to VCE at year 12.
In Connection to Purcell’s[iii] article, I can certainly see how Chris fulfills the roles of Instructional partner, Leader, Information Specialist, Teacher and Program Administrator. She makes it look so easy but at this stage I am not so sure it is as easy as she made it seem.
On this note I have included the following video I discovered. I can certainly attest that it has added to my anxiety. I can’t help but wonder how can a T/L possibly achieve so much with what appears to be so little in terms of time, budgets, support and what appears to be an ever-expanding and constantly evolving array of media and resources?
[i] Purcell, M., “All Librarians Do Is Check Out Books, Right? A Look at the Roles of a School Library Media Specialist” in Library Media Connection, Nov/Dec 2010, pp 30-33
[ii] Bishop, K. (2007). Community analysis and needs assessment. In The collection program in schools : concepts, practices and information sources (4th ed.) (pp. 19-24). Westport, Conn. : Libraries Unlimited
[iii] Purcell, M., “All Librarians Do Is Check Out Books, Right? A Look at the Roles of a School Library Media Specialist” in Library Media Connection, Nov/Dec 2010, pp 30-33