Coaching concepts: My CoachEd. Seminar keynote

On Friday I had the pleasure of presenting a keynote and speaking on a panel at the Perth CoachEd. Seminar, hosted by GROWTH Coaching International.

In my keynote, I talked about theoretical underpinnings that have shaped my work in coaching. These include reasons to pursue a coaching culture in schools, such as the aim of a growth-focused culture of continuous improvement in which members are self-directed, self-efficacious and agentic. This means that coaching needs to be separated out from evaluative or performance review processes and not be used as a deficit model aimed to ‘fix’ or improve teachers. The metaphor of the stagecoach reminds us that coaching is about getting the coachee from where they currently are to where they want to be (not to where the coach wants them to be, and not to where management wants them to be).

I discussed those things needed for effective coaching conversations, like relational trust and rapport. I also spoke about ways of thinking about organisational conditions of coaching such as the need for organisational trust (e.g. that the leadership team aren’t going to corrupt the intention of coaching or undermine the confidentiality of the coaching relationship); holonomy which theorises each member of the organisation as simultaneously an individual and a part of the collective; and semantic space where coaching becomes a ‘way we talk around here’.

A question that arose was: Does introducing coaching to an organisation change the culture of that organisation, or does an organisation need particular pre-existing conditions in order for coaching to work there? I would argue that both are true, and that context is what matters. Schools need to look to and start from their own contexts. They can ask: Where are our staff, students and community at? What do we want from coaching? How do we move towards a coaching culture in a way that best suits our community and our needs?

Importantly, coaching is not a stand-alone solution or silver bullet. In my school we have worked towards a differentiated model of in-house professional learning in which staff have voice and choice in taking advantage of a process that most suits their career stage and needs. These options include different types of coaching by different types of coaches, but also more advisory, mentor-style relationships, and also collaborative groups that run like PLCs or journal clubs.

I also spoke about the interaction between coaching and identity, and that coaching can be a less formal approach or become a way of being. Both being a coach and being coached can influence a person’s beliefs and practices.

Below I share my slide deck.

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Knowledge is always the new black

Le Penseur; source: pixabay jstarj

In education, 21st century skills, future-focused capabilities, emotional intelligence and ‘soft skills’ are all the rage. The OECD has launched an OECD PISA Global Competence Framework, which will be the basis for the PISA 2018 Global Competence assessment, which seems to indicate that international standardised tests are now intending to measure “the capacity to examine local, global and intercultural issues, to understand and appreciate the perspectives and world views of others, to engage in open, appropriate and effective interactions with people from different cultures, and to act for collective well-being and sustainable development.” In Australia, the Gonski 2.0 report recommends further embedding of and emphasis on the Australia Curriculum General Capabilities—which include critical and creative thinking, ethical and intercultural understanding, and personal and social capability—in order to “equip every child to be a creative, connected and engaged learner in a rapidly changing world.”

While teachers don’t choose between teaching knowledge or teaching skills, there is a continuum along which a teacher might sit in terms of which way they lean in their teaching. While the curriculum provides an anchor, what is favoured when planning and teaching? What comes first in a learning plan: explicit teacher-led instruction or inquiry exploration? What does the assessment task measure and in what ways are students asked to demonstrate their knowledge, understanding and skills? I have written before about my own approach to knowledge and skills in my own English and Literature classrooms.

While there are politics involved (What should students know? Who decides? What knowledge is privileged? What knowledges are marginalised or excluded?), it should be obvious to state that knowledge is crucial in education. Knowing stuff is absolutely fundamental for teachers and for students. Teachers know their stuff and are both subject knowledge experts, and experts in teaching and learning. Students need to learn, apply, revisit and revise the stuff. The discipline-specific stuff might be facts, formulae, terminology, texts, concepts, processes, and strategies.

During last week’s CONASTA conference (the Australian Science Teachers’ Association annual conference) Minister for Education Simon Birmingham said in an interview “we know that students will get the best possible opportunity if the teacher in front of them is skilled in and passionate about the scientific subject that they’re teaching. Australian students deserve to have the skilled physicists teaching physics, skilled chemists teaching chemistry, skilled biologists teaching biology and mathematicians teaching maths.”

Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel addressed the conference. In his speech on raising 21st century citizens he noted that “in 2018, there is still a fundamental duty to teach students content: concepts, facts and principles. Taught by teachers trained as experts in that content, with all the status and resources and professional development that we would demand in any other expert occupation.” He added: “I have had many, many meetings with employers, in my role as Chief Scientist and as Deputy Chair of Innovation and Science Australia; and six before that, as Chancellor of Monash University and President of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering; and before that, as the CEO of a publicly listed company. In all my meetings with people actually hiring graduates, no-one has ever said to me: ‘gosh, we don’t have enough people who know how to collaborate’.’ No, what they say to me is: ‘we don’t have enough specialists in software engineering. We can’t find graduates who are fluent in maths. We have meetings where three quarters of the people in the room can’t critique a set of numbers without pulling out a calculator and slowing us down.’” This alludes to cognitive load theory; we need plenty of knowledge in our long-term memory so that when we come to thinking, creating, or collaborating, we are able to use our short-term memories to do thinking, solving or creating.

In his new book, Creating the schools our children need: Why what we’re doing now won’t help much (and what we can do instead), Dylan Wiliam notes that skills are discipline-specific, rather than transferable. He challenges whether some so-called skills are skills at all. He writes that “the big mistake we have made in the United States, and indeed in many other countries, is to assume that if we want students to think, then our curriculum should give students lots of practice in thinking. This is a mistake because what our students need is more to think with. The main purpose of curriculum is to build up the content of long-term memory so that when students are asked to think, they are able to think in more powerful ways” (p.134). He adds that “the only way to make humans more capable in their thinking is to expand the store of things that they have to think with—in other words, to have more knowledge in long-term memory” (p.155).

An example of discipline-specific knowledge as inextricable from critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication is the PhD. A major criteria of a PhD is to make an original contribution to knowledge. This means thinking critically to design appropriate research questions; synthesising and analysing literature; designing and applying a systematic research method; drawing together results and findings; and discussing what it is that these contribute to the body of knowledge that currently exists. There is both critical thinking and creativity in this process. It is impossible to argue for an original contribution to knowledge if you do not yet know the existing knowledge base. In the PhD there is collaboration and communication with participants and supervisors; and the all-important communication with the reader. There is a lot of knowledge at work here: knowledge of the field of research, knowledge of your own research and how it fits into and adds to the field, knowledge of the appropriate language to use for various audiences and modes of communication.

A more mundane example might be cake-baking. This week, I baked and iced a bowling ball cake at the request of my son, for his bowling alley party. The task actually took plenty of knowledge, applied from previous baking successes and failures, and also from my Fine Art background. I had to plan how to make a spherical cake that had structural integrity. It needed to hold together, stand on a cake board, and be transported to the venue intact. I worked to marble and polish the buttercream icing so it looked shiny, as well as to make the holes in the ball.

We often don’t know what we don’t know, and downplaying knowledge leaves us wide open to the Dunning-Kruger effect in which we overestimate our capacities. If we are critical thinkers, we need content about which to think, and theory on which to build. If we are creators, we need to know what has come before in order to know that what we are creating is inventive and not a rehash of what has already been done. If we are innovating, we need to fully understand the problem. We need to know rules before we can bend them, and we need to know content before we can tinker with it or move beyond it.

Australian singer-songwriter Peter Allen sang that “everything old is new again.” No matter the education flavour of the month—grit, growth mindset, STEM, coding, virtual reality, flexible seating, mindfulness—knowledge should always be in vogue.

Reference lists as sites of diversity? Citations matter.

Last year at the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) conference, I had a coffee urn conversation that has stuck with me. Professor Pat Thomson challenged me on my citation practices, specifically who I cite in my writing around education. I have thought about this brief interaction a lot since then, and it has influenced my academic writing.

I have found myself asking: Who am I citing? And why?

I realised that my academic reading is influenced by my pracademic life, in which I work full time in a school and hold a research adjunct position in a university. I am not situated in a university department, and often come across particular authors and publications because I am exposed to them as an education practitioner working in a school, who engages in professional learning marketed to educators. These kinds of publications are quite different from critical education scholarship that questions normalised knowledge theories and critiques entrenched social structures.

Who we cite positions our work in a field. It aligns us with particular epistemologies and ontologies; ways of knowing and of ways of being. It can polarise us from others. In this blog post, Pat Thomson puts it this way:

Who cites who is not a neutral game.

Since my conversation with Pat, I have been much more aware of my own lack of neutrality, of the ways in which my own citation practices amplify some voices and ignore others. I have been more aware of my potential responsibility as an author to be mindful of not only with whom I situate myself, but whose work I might be ignoring in the process.

This week is NAIDOC (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) Week in Australia, a week in which Australians celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This year’s theme—Because of Her, We Can!—invites Australians to honour the often unacknowledged stories of Indigenous women. Three Indigenous education scholars whose work I follow are Professor and Ngugi/Wakka Wakka woman Tracey Bunda, Kamilaroi woman Dr Melitta Hogarth, and Wagiman woman Dr Marnee Shay. I wonder how non-Indigenous scholars can cite the work of Indigenous academics. UK independent researcher Dr Helen Kara reflects on her work with Indigenous literatures in this blog post, noting the long history of Indigenous scholarship and the ethical and relational dimensions of engaging with it as a Euro-Western researcher.

Previously I considered things like how recent my references were, or what kinds of texts they covered. I now ask some different questions of my reference list:

  • How does this list situate my work in the field? With what kind of scholarship am I aligning my work?
  • From what nations, cultures and classes do my references come? To what extent do they represent Euro- or Anglo- centric ways of knowing and being?
  • What is the gender mix of my reference list?
  • Whose voices are silent? Whose scholarship have I ignored or excluded?

While during my PhD I tried to read everything I could get my hands on, and find a place for it in my literature review (Look, Examiner! I have read all these things!), writing for journals has helped me to be more judicious in selecting literature as part of an argument and part of a greater research conversation about education. Conferences now avoid all-male panels or all-white keynotes. Can we also approach our reference lists as sites of diversity and inclusivity?

The ‘Flip the System Australia’ book is in production

Flip the System

This week the book manuscript for Flip the System Australia: What matters in education, has moved from the editorial team to the production team at Routledge. It is ‘in press’, which means that the full manuscript will be copy-edited, typeset and a cover designed.

The book is edited by Jon Andrews, Cameron Paterson and I. It includes a collection of 27 chapters by a range of educators, mostly from Australia but also perspectives from around the world. The contributing teachers, school leaders, educators and scholars are: Jon Andrews, Gert Biesta, Susan Bradbeer, Paul Browning, Carol Campbell, Keren Caple, Kelly Cheung, Flossie S. G. Chua, Rebecca Cody, Benjamin Doxtdator, Scott Eacott, Melissa Fotea, Carla Gagliano, Ryan Gill, Dan Haesler, Gavin Hays, Andy Hargreaves, Adam Hendry, Anna Hogan, Melitta Hogarth, Tomaz Lasic, Ben Lewis, Bob Lingard, Rachel Lofthouse, Kevin Lowe, Cameron Malcher, Chris Munro, Deborah Netolicky (me!), Michael T. O’Connor, Cameron Paterson, David Perkins, David Rutkowski, Pasi Sahlberg, Sam Sellar, Yasodai Selvakumaran, Greg Thompson, Ray Trotter, Shaneé Washington, and Daniel Wilson.

What draws the book’s contributions together is their ‘flip the education system’ theme. The Flip the System movement is not our own. The first book in the series (preceded itself by other publications, which we explain in the book) was Flip the System: Changing education from the ground up, edited by Dutch teachers Jelmer Evers and René Kneyber (2016). The Swedish version, Flip the system: Förändra skolan från grunden, was edited by Per Kornhall, Jelmer Evers and René Kneyber (2017). The UK version, Flip the System UK: A teachers’ manifesto, was edited by teachers Lucy Rycroft-Smith and Jean-Louis Dutaut (2018). Flip the System is a loose kind of series in which the notion of ‘flipping the education system’ evolves as diverse international voices explore what this might look like.

In previous Flip the System books, the editors and authors have called for a reprofessionalising of the teaching profession; an education system in which teachers are empowered to influence the education system, rather than being dictated to by top-down bureaucracy. When I explained this theme to a colleague recently, their response was laughing out loud. Is the idea, of teachers being empowered to shape the education landscape, laughable?

Certainly it is easy to feel disempowered as a teacher in an education system obsessed with measurement and competition. Education appears to be a political football constantly booted around for votes. It is also an increasingly corporatised arena in which companies peddle solutions and generate relentless data.

Can those in schools—teachers and school leaders, and even students—be empowered agents in the system, rather than fodder for the education machine? We think so.

To give an idea of the kinds of material covered by the book, sub-themes of the chapters in Flip the System Australia include:

  • Democratising education and addressing inequity.
  • Resistance to mechanisms or systems driven by performance, dehumanised measurement, increased competition, and constant edu-surveillance.
  • Replacing top-down accountability with support for teachers and teacher-led, inside-out reform.
  • Teacher leadership, autonomy, empowerment, and professionalism.
  • Elevating the voices of those working in schools.
  • Learning and leading for a system that honours those who spend each day in our schools, including teachers, school leaders, students and families.

As Jon, Cam and I have edited this book, we have realised why teacher voices are often absent from education debates. It isn’t just that teachers are not usually invited to decision making tables, or that they are often placed at the bottom of education power structures. There are ethical dimensions to our work which mean that we cannot always share our stories or give the media newsworthy soundbites. Our stories are also those of our students and our communities, and we are responsible for protecting them. Also, teaching is complex and demanding work, and teachers and school leaders are in the service of their students. Where is the time for contributing to the system when we are busily working inside the system?

We three editors each work full time in our schools. We have written our chapters and edited this book in our ‘leisure time’ (note the ironic inverted commas). I was surprised to realise that while we have each met each other (I have met Jon; I have met Cam; they have met one another), at no point have the three of us been in the same physical room together. The magic of Skype, Zoom, Google Docs, Twitter, and Dropbox have meant that we could collaborate from afar, in our own timezones and our own time.

We have done this work, as Flip the System editors and authors have done before us, because we think that this book and these authors have something important to contribute to the conversation on education. We are thrilled to be able to give a platform to teachers, school leaders and education researchers. We are grateful for the generosity of the contributing authors. We know there are voices missing from this book, but we hope the book can be part of a move to diversify the voices to whom others listen around education.

Flip the System Australia is coming. And we can’t wait to hold a print copy in our hands.

You can follow the progress of the book on Twitter via @flipthesystemoz and #FliptheSystemOz.

Opt-in interest groups for teacher professional learning

Source: pixabay.com by @rawpixel

I wrote earlier this year about the individualised professional learning pathways model that my school is trialing this year. Teachers and leaders are now able to have more voice and choice in the internal process of professional learning in which they engage. Where before staff were allocated a school-based development process (such as coaching) based on their place in a three-to-four year cycle, we have in 2018 opened up a range of new options and each staff member negotiates with their line manager the one most appropriate to their career stage, interest and development needs.

One of these options is what we are terming ‘Professional Learning Groups’. These groups have been opted into by staff from PK to 12, from various faculties, and in a variety of roles including teachers, leaders and staff from libraries or co-curricular arenas. This year, of our 140-odd teaching staff, 40 chose to be involved in one of these groups, so each group includes about ten people. The following groups were on offer.

  • Teaching best practice
      • Members of this group have a particular interest in teasing out classroom teaching. From evidence-based methods to transfer to ensuring that they are able to ‘reach’ all students in their classes, they have come with a desire to focus on their core business as teachers: teaching!
  • Pedagogies of learning spaces
      • This group is made up of a range of teachers and leaders working in various learning spaces across the school, some of which are newly refurbished and some of which are well-established. There has so far been vibrant discussion and sharing of the practices, challenges, and benefits of co-teaching and teaching in open or flexible spaces.
  • ICT for teaching and learning
      • Members of this group have a range of expertise and needs surrounding the use of technologies for teaching and learning. They have so far been very interested in one another’s expertise and also in the targets each person is setting for themselves, and challenges each is facing. They have been able to offer one another advice.
  • Post-graduate study
      • My idea for this group came about when I was doing my PhD. Working in a school while moonlighting as a post-graduate student can be incredibly isolating as you rush from work to study. There are often few people with whom teachers and leaders can discuss their study, especially when it involves self-directed research. This group is as much about solidarity, support, recognition and acknowledgement of those engaged in further study as it is about research methods or dissertation writing.

As the recent Gonski 2.0 report surfaced, teachers would like time to talk about and collaborate around teaching. Groups like these can provide this opportunity. While from the outset I had a loose idea of what these groups would do—such engage in scholarly literature, reflect and workshop problems of practice together, share practice, visit one another’s classrooms, collaborate in online spaces—I am facilitating them in a way that allows the group’s interests and needs to lead the way the group operates. This means employing structures for collaboration and coaching-style language, but in a way that is open to the groups operating in ways that are unexpected or taking directions that are surprising. These are not groups at which I am the expert at the helm or the instructor filling colleagues with my knowledge. They are groups of expert practitioners whose value is in the rich expertise around the table, and the potential of professional conversation and collaboration about our daily work.

Each person has come to each group with a particular intention, and we fleshed these out in our first meetings. The opt-in nature of the groups has meant that staff have generally arrived with enthusiasm for being involved; they have chosen this pathway for themselves. As my leadership role is PK-12, and in a previous role I coached classroom teachers across the school around their classroom practice, I get to see the potential symbiosis between disparate areas of the school (like the co-teaching in Year 3 and in Year 11 Physics, literacy approaches from PK-12, common strategies for behaviour management and developing classroom culture or addressing students with particular learning needs), but many staff do not have the opportunity to see the connections between themselves and others in the organisation. How might a Year 12 Design and Technology teacher know that their design thinking process mirrors that of the Pre-Primary classroom? The luxury of spending time with colleagues who share similar interests and challenges cannot be underestimated, especially in the environment of a PK-12 school where so often we can be siloed in our year level or faculty teams. So far there seem real benefits to those from vastly different areas of the school workshopping similar challenges and goals, ones they may not have known they shared with colleagues until coming together.

Teachers and school leaders need professional learning opportunities that are at once self-chosen and self-directed, but also collaborative and supported. Often internal expertise goes unrecognised and untapped in schools. Looking outside and borrowing others’ practice has its benefits, but schools can and should consider the expertise of those within their own walls, rather than looking tirelessly to external ‘experts’. Teachers are experts in their own classrooms. School leaders are experts in their own school contexts. They deserve to be recognised as such, and to be given time and permission to deeply and collectively engage in the core aspects of their work.

Gonski 2.0: Promoting a deficit view of Australian teachers

eroded wall

source: pixabay @aitoff

There are things I like about the Gonski 2.0 report. I have written, for instance, about the promotion in the report of professional collaboration and learning for teachers and school leaders, and the suggestion that teachers need time to focus on teaching, and school leaders need time to focus on instructional leadership over administration. Education Minister Simon Birmingham has previously said that he hoped Gonski 2.0 would be a unifying basis for a focus on evidence-based classroom practice. There is little detail in the report around evidence-based classroom practice, although there is the recommendation for a “national evidence institute to share best-practice and evidence-based innovations faster and more widely.” I would suggest that the report is not a unifying one around which educators can rally.

What has made me uncomfortable is the deficit perspective it provides on Australian schools, teachers and leaders. For example, the statement that Australia has “an industrial model of school education that reflects a 20th century aspiration to deliver mass education to all children” seems a stretch. I know ‘industrial model’ is a favourite term from those wanting to push innovation agendas, but anyone in today’s Australian classrooms, from early learning to late high school, knows that they are hardly factories for unthinking worker bees. In fact, the criticism of Australian education as industrial 20th century factories of mass production sits in opposition to the basis of much of the report on economic imperatives and the need to prepare students for the future of work (or perhaps this is what it means to have a 21st century industrial model of education). The focus on data generation, data tracking and accountabilities, if anything, seems to promote education as more machine than human endeavour.

The report’s deficit narrative about education is based on the problem it poses: that Australian education has widespread “declining performance” and “performance slippage” as measured by PISA testing. This is the basis on which the report argues that “Australian education has failed a generation of Australian school children by not enabling them to reach their full learning potential.” Wow. As a number of scholars have argued—such as Sam Sellar, Greg Thompson and David Rutkowski in their excellent book The Global Education Race—while there are things we can learn from PISA, there is much that we cannot, and using PISA to compare education across different countries is often unhelpful and misleading. Singapore is singled out as an exemplar of PISA achievement, despite the fact that its school cultures, curriculum and education practices are at odds with the Gonski 2 report’s suggestions of learning progressions and individualisation of learning.

The report calls many schools “cruising schools” and explains that these are schools that are maintaining average achievement from year to year, but not improving. The rhetoric of ‘cruising schools’ and ‘one year’s growth per year of schooling’ (also prominent in the report) has been used by Professor John Hattie for some time. Yet it constructs schools whose academic achievement remains steady but not improving as somehow coasting along (lazily or incompetently seems to be the implication) without progress, according to NAPLAN data. Apart from the fact that NAPLAN itself has been often called into question as a measure of student learning, the report surmises that “the explanation might be that Australian teachers, schools systems and schools are not equipped to identify and effectively support cruising students and schools to improve.” Here the teachers, schools and entire education system are posited as the reason for schools whose achievement appears steady but not improving, when NAPLAN data is used as the measure of achievement.

The report proposes that Australian education needs to do a number of things that I would argue most Australian educators are already doing: continuously improve our practice and service to our students; set high expectations for students, educators and schools; adjust our teaching for the needs of our students; and—my favourite—“maximise each student’s learning growth each year, rather than simply supporting each student to attain the minimum proficiency for the year level.” That last one is one I am sure many teachers read with a double-take, because I don’t know a teacher or a school who sees their job as to ‘simply support each student to attain the minimum proficiency for the year level.’

Teachers around the country already focus on student data, formative assessment and responding to student needs, something the report promotes as ways forward. Tailored teaching is given a fairly broad definition in the report. It “involves adapting the way the curriculum and learning activities are presented and adjusting pedagogy to the different needs of students based on evidence about the most effective interventions, gained from an understanding of individual students’ starting points and their growth in learning.” The report is hazy on the details of what ‘individualised learning’ and ‘personalised learning’ look like, how personalised it is expecting teaching and learning to be, and how this dovetails with preparing students with the knowledge, skills and understandings they need to be ethical, empowered and contributing citizens.

There are places where the report acknowledges work that has been and is being done in Australian education. It additionally provides Australian case studies of what it considers to be good practice, and direct quotes from submissions it received from various stakeholders, showing that it has listened to Australian educators. It has a whole chapter entitled ‘Creating, supporting and valuing a profession of expert educators’, but seems to base this on the premise that teachers aren’t currently good enough and need to be improved. It is hard to wade through the Gonski 2 recommendations without feeling like ‘supporting and valuing a profession of expert educators’ isn’t really something in which the review panel believes. On reading the Gonski 2 report, it is hard to move past the distrust of the teaching profession underlying its content and the deficit narrative to which it seems to be contributing. Australia is not Singapore, Shanghai or Canada, all education systems held up as exemplars in the report. Of course we can and should improve Australian education. Of course we should have high expectations of students and educators. Of course we should develop our knowledge of effective teaching, learning and leading. Of course we should continue to develop our engagement with research and evidence. But Australian education is not a factory model of mass education production. It is not a calamitous problem to be solved, a bunch of broken individuals to be fixed, or a commercial opportunity ready to be flooded by corporate solutions. Australian teachers, school leaders and schools deserve trust, respect, support and involvement in policymaking.

The Library of the Future

Stuttgart Library, via mymodernmet.com

Over the last few days I have been watching the Future Schools conference hashtag and wondering about education’s obsession with the imagined future and with constantly attempting to rebadge education to address it. Despite STEM and coding being clear national foci for Australia, yesterday Rob Stokes, NSW Education Minister, put a spanner in the works when he claimed that STEM has become a buzzword and a fad, arguing for a holistic multi-disciplinary approach to education where humanities, arts, philosophy and literature are valued equally to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. There is plenty of money to be made by consultants and corporations, however, when ‘the future’ is marketised and everyone with five minutes in education is encouraged to be a -preneur who disrupts the status quo, reimagines education, and looks with disdain at traditional teaching methods or a focus on knowledge.

The notion of being on the cutting edge and hurtling towards ‘the future’ dovetails with my recent reading and thinking around the current review of our school library. We are reconsidering our library’s purpose, functions, roles, and resources. I am in the process of drafting a review of scholarly literature and current practice around libraries, which are very much caught up in fighting for relevancy through a simultaneous championing of the past and predicting the needs of the future.

‘Library’ is an idea that has been around since the ancient world. Cassidy (2017) points out that the Great Library of Alexandria, built around 300BC, wasn’t great just for its collection of books, but its “intellectual raison d’être: the insatiable pursuit, creation, and dissemination of knowledge as a force to drive civilisation” (p.3). He argues that the Great Library wasn’t about books or architecture, but about knowledge and access to information. The classical library served as an exemplar of the national public and a symbol of imagined community (Delica & Elbeshausen, 2017).

The library throughout time has had in many ways a constancy in its role and function, a commitment to sustaining and creating culture despite, and perhaps because of, social and global change (Wilkin, 2015). Lankes (2011, 2016) points out that the tools of the library change but that those things that remain constant are the why of libraries. They remain a core democratic institution that provides access to and preserves our scientific and cultural heritage (Palfrey, 2015). Over time, libraries have become increasingly localised and community-oriented (Delica & Elbeshausen, 2017).

My review of literature found that libraries are:

  • Neutral and democratising;
  • Participatory and connected locally and globally;
  • Centred around learning, literacy, research, and knowledge; and
  • Facilitators of interdisciplinarity.

The three key areas that have emerged from the literature, for consideration around our school library, are library as community centre, learning support, and digital hub, with those aspects outlined as follows.

interconnecting and intersecting library arenas

While studies reveal that reading books is important for thinking and success (e.g. Djkic, Oatley, & Moldoveanu, 2013, who suggest that reading fictional literature leads to better procedures of processing information generally, including those of creativity), the pressure is on for libraries to cull print resources in favour of electronic and technological ones. People are accessing resources anywhere, anytime, via apps, the cloud, and online repositories. Gesture sensing technology, voice recognition, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and self-publishing are changing the face of information and of libraries. The digitisation of content means that researchers can often access resources without entering the library, a change that I laughed about with my grandfather who did his PhD with paper copies of journals and a typewriter (and my grandmother, who did much of the typing).

School libraries have been called instructional media centres, media centres, information centres, information commons, iCentres, learning labs, learning commons, digital libraries, and cybraries (Farmer, 2017). These terms are in some ways faddish and transitory. ‘Library’, however, has a deep and long tradition associated with it, although the spaces and tools of libraries change over time. Librarians in schools have also had many names, such as teacher librarian, library teacher, library media specialist, library media teacher, cybrarian, information navigator, information specialist, information professional, informationist, and information scientist (Farmer, 2017; Lankes, 2011). Lankes (2011) argues that the terms ‘library’ and ‘librarian’ are entwined with the concept of knowledge and learning. I have said before that those claiming disruption should embrace interrogation of their ideas. Does ‘library’ need to be disrupted, in what ways, and why (or why not)?

Libraries around the world are reinventing themselves. Somerset Libraries call themselves a dynamic, evolving and integral part of the community that open up a world of opportunities for reading, understanding and discovery. Albert Kivits, Head of the Eindhoven public library in the Netherlands outlines the concept of the public library moving towards a House of Data, Information and Wisdom. Pilar Martinez, CEO of the Edmonton Public Library in Canada, calls modern libraries ‘porous’, referring to their multi-way information and the way that the community reaches into them, and they reach out into the community.

As well as print books, e-books, audio books, music, periodicals, and DVDs, many public libraries offer interactive areas, classes, courses, study groups, makerspaces, and technology such as 3D printers, Raspberry Pis, Micro:bits, and the capacity for photography, video-making, podcasting, and coding. Libraries provide ‘lab’ spaces for co-production, exploration, and making new knowledge (Palfrey, 2015). Chicago Public Libraries has the YOUmedia Centre in which teens engage in projects across a variety of core content areas including graphic design, photography, video, music, 2D/3D design, STEM and hands-on making. San Francisco Public Library has The Mix teen centre, which houses a collection of young adult books, a mini-amphitheatre, a state-of-the-art recording studio, a video production space, a bank of high-end computers to aid in the editing process, and a makerspace with leading fabrication technologies. The New Taipei City Library in Taiwan is a ten-story high rise in which each floor features a specialised function with separate zones dedicated to media, video viewing booths, and entertainment spaces. The University of Adelaide Libraries’ ‘Library of the Future’ report (Gregory et al., 2015) is well worth reading. These libraries are inclusive, vibrant, and high-tech, and focused on equity, capabilities like critical thinking, and the needs of the individuals within their communities.

Last year I wrote about my then-thinking about libraries. Even though current libraries look, feel, and sound different, I wonder if I am being old-fashioned and English-teachery by wanting our library to be called Library. Should I be persuaded to call it an Information Science Hub of Preneurism, or an Apptastic iLearning Maker-Thinker-Coder Space, or a House of Knowledge, Innovation, and Disruption? Is it outdated to cling to the concept of ‘library’ as a place of knowledge, access, thinking, equity, and ideas?

Palfrey (2015) challenges us that “dynamism must be the watchword for libraries in the digital age” (p.41). ‘Library’, I think can remain relevant to the user of the future, by keeping its core mission close, and thinking creatively about the tools, spaces, and resources to bring this to life for its community in a changing world.

*Disclaimer: Actual books were read in the preparation of this blog post.

References

Cassidy, K. (2017). This is what a librarian looks like: A celebration of libraries, communities, and access to information. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers.

Delica, K. N., & Elbeshausen, H. (2017). The social library in three contexts: Programmes and perspectives. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 49(3), 237-245.

Djkic, M., Oatley, K., & Moldoveanu, M. C. (2013). Opening the closed mind: The effect of exposure to literature on the need for closure. Creativity Research Journal, 25(2), 149-154.

Farmer, L. S. (2017). Managing the successful school library: Strategic planning and reflective practice. Chicago, Neal-Schuman.

Gregory, M. et al. (2015). Recommendations for a bold and agile University library: Library of the Future. University of Adelaide.

Lankes, R. D. (2011). The Atlas of New Librarianship. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Lankes, R. D. (2016). The new librarianship field guide. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Palfrey, J. (2015). BiblioTECH: Why libraries matter more than ever in the age of Google. New York: Basic Books.

Wilkin, J. P. (2015). Meaning of the library today. In A. Crawford (Ed.) The meaning of the library: A cultural history, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University.