Why Don’t They Want to Play in Our Sandbox? Exploring Why Teachers May Not Use the Media Center

Playing in the Sandbox
Used with permission under Creative Common License from http://www.flickr.com/photos/foreverphoto/2467694199/

A little over a month ago, I read a fascinating blog post by the inimitable Books, Bytes, and Grocery Store Feet. In his post, he argued that we as librarians should be advocating for a significant change or end to the testing tidal wave generated by a little piece of federal legislation known as No Child Left Behind. Why? Read his post and you will see how he outlines the impact of the pressures of standardized testing on classroom instruction and how the testing movement is marginalizing the role of school libraries and librarians in contemporary public schools.

In his post, this fearless librarian asserts:

“Under the present educational paradigm, which worships at the altar of testing with all the zeal of a new convert, school librarians aren’t needed because few teachers have time to come to the library and still “cover” all the standards needed for the almighty AYP garnering or losing TEST (cue ominous music).

Now I know that people out there can bury me in copies of Information Power and the vaunted Colorado Study by Keith Curry Lance and I’m not going to argue. I’m not going to change my point of view, but I’m not going to argue either. See, we all want to believe that libraries are essential to the school. We all want to believe that we librarians can help improve test scores. We want to believe in the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Santa Claus. Unfortunately, belief counts for nothing in education.

Fire will burn you whether you believe it or not. Water will drown you whether you believe it or not. Stand in front of a train and shout “I don’t believe in you” and they will bury what they can find of you in a Ziploc baggie. The hard fact is that, once again, under the present educational regime, testing is king. Specifically, testing in ELA is king and testing in Math is the co-regent. Libraries don’t contribute MEASURABLY to either discipline. Sure, we can teach phenomenal lessons in research skills, information literacy, and comparing information sources. Unfortunately, none of that is on THE TEST (cue the Vader music.)”

This provocative post, which hits a little closer to home than most of us might like to admit, has resonated with me for many weeks. Like BBAGS and other librarians, I have a bird’s eye view of how the emphasis on testing is impacting my library program.

Core area teachers in my school frequently lament in private conversations that they just don’t have time for research or project based learning because of pressures to produce exceptional test scores and to follow curriculum maps and timelines.   That is no news flash to most of you—the ominous cloud of testing that always seems to be on the horizon is everpresent in most public school settings.

I pretty much try anything within my means to lure teachers to the library and lose a lot of sleep over the ones I can’t seem to win over.   I won’t really be content until I see teachers across every subject area, not just English, using the media center on a regular basis.   While we have what I would call “acceptable” usage of the library and collaboration with our teachers, I know more is needed in order for us to be integrated into schoolwide learning.

While I celebrate the many successes of the program and the joys of helping our teachers and students, I often beat myself up and feel like an absolute failure when I look at how many teachers are not taking advantage of the resources I have to offer and feel it is too low, or when teachers don’t respond or even acknowledge my efforts to personally invite them to the library or to show them the cool resources I have to offer them and their students. I wonder, “Why don’t they use the library?” or “Why don’t they use the library more?”

After reading the blog post from Books, Bytes, and Grocery Store Feet, I once again began trying to unravel the mystery of the library world called “collaboration” and wanted to explore barriers to library use and collaboration.   I decided to actually pose this question to our faculty a few weeks ago via an anonymous PollDaddy poll.

What did the surveys say? The first question posed asked, “What is the most significant obstacle to your using the media center more for research projects?” 46 teachers out of 100 faculty members responded to this survey, and here is how they voted:

survey1

Just as I hypothesized, a large number of teachers indicated testing pressure and time constraints were major reasons for not coming to the media center more often.  There were eleven responses marked as “other”; of those eleven, three actually typed comments. One teacher stated there were no obstacles; another stated, “My students do not behave in a manner which lends itself to using the media center”; a third responded, “Just get stuck in habitual lessons in the classroom.”  As I anticipated, the majority indicated that testing and challenges related to testing were barriers to using the media center. It does bother me that three people indicated they did not see research as meaningful to their course; I am also concerned that two teachers do not feel comfortable using the resources in the library. I will  redouble my efforts to help our faculty see the relevance of information fluency in all subject areas, to try and energize them with the excitement I feel to encourage them to step outside of their teaching comfort zone,  and to continue to help our faculty members feel at ease using the technology and materials in our library.

The second poll question asked, “If the pressures of No Child Left Behind and improving test scores were removed, would you use our library more for research and project based learning?” 36 out of 100 teachers responded to this second question; here are the results of that vote.

poll2

The results of this poll were a bit unnerving to me—a total of 16 teachers voted that they either were not sure or were definitely sure that they would not use the media center more if the pressures of testing were removed. I am now wondering why these teachers feel this way—why might they feel reluctant to use the media center if testing pressure is no longer a barrier?   Is this a blip on the radar, or does the feeling that library usage isn’t particularly important a growing trend?

The answers I received in this poll have provided some insightful data that can inform my practice and efforts to cultivate collaborative relationships/partnerships with faculty members. While it would be helpful to know the subject area and degree of experience for the teachers who voted, the polls have provided me enough information to see that testing does impact teacher usage of the library and that many teachers may not see the library as a relevant resource to their curriculum and instruction.    That data alone is enough to let me and my staff know we will need to continue to find creative and nonthreatening ways to reach out to our faculty and help them see that we all have a role in cultivating information fluent learners.

The silence echoing from this poll also speaks volumes—why did nearly half the faculty not vote in either poll? Too busy? Indifferent? Unsure? I have no answers to my questions at this time, but the silence does bothers me since the polls were short and simple—they were not the kind of polls that taken 30 minutes to complete.

What I do know is that Ruth Fleet, my fellow media specialist, and I go all out to promote our media center and our resources. We extend the offer of help; we have a presence all over the web, including multiple blogs, Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, a SharePoint page, and a wiki that houses our pathfinders at http://theunquietlibrary.wikispaces.com ; we provide print copies of our promotional materials to teachers who may not be as “techie” as others. We send personal invitations to teachers with whom we have not collaborated, showing them examples of what we can do for their classes and offering to do as much as we can to support their classroom instruction.  Our Instructional Technology Specialist, Phil Dodge, offers trainings for our faculty in both small group and one on one settings.

My next plan of action is to work with our administration and department heads on action steps for helping our faculty members feel more comfortable using the library and to provide concrete ideas for ways to incorporate research without sacrificing large amounts of time or feeling overwhelmed by research projects.   I will also continue to look to my wonderful personal learning network of colleagues as we all try to figure out more effective ways of collaborating with our teachers and positioning our media center programs right in the heart of all learning in our schools.

As Ruth and I hopefully discover some new and inventive ways of tackling these challenges, we will keep you posted in upcoming blog posts.  In the meantime, please feel free to chime in with any pearls of wisdom you may have to share!

4 thoughts on “Why Don’t They Want to Play in Our Sandbox? Exploring Why Teachers May Not Use the Media Center

  1. The majority of the teachers who use my media center teach English, but many of them do not take advantage of our offers to collaborate or to teach info literacy skills. It all boils down lack of time “to cover” their material.

    In South Carolina, much more pressure exists in the elementary and middle schools due to statewide testing. Only a few of our high school courses have EOC (end of course testing) and once our students have passed the state exit exam (usually in 10th grade), teachers are not burdened with producing results via tests.

    Your poll sounds like an idea I need to try with my faculty. Perhaps a similar one would help me address the reasons teachers are not using the resources we have. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Your question revolves around physical presence in the media center, though you also clearly engage users by numerous online contacts. Your online uses of new tools have impact. (I’ve certainly used and passed-along ideas you’ve presented! You are cited in my blogs and wikis.)

    The out-reach you mentioned all revolves around computer contact. You may want to increase physical delivery and presence with kiosk or carts, out of the center book returns and special promotional stations in other areas. Which reminds me that we can’t do these things because of the pressure to keep students in class and scheduled to the max. We don’t have student assistants anymore. So, you may have to concentrate on band and club performances, etc. inside the center to create additional visits which help people enter the center more often until they transfer to actual use of the center?

    Yet, one media center for many groups means that classes get turned away when they need/desire us most, so teachers soon give up trying to fit into our schedule. Still, they may be using materials from the center in their classrooms.

    Computer applications are not consistent in the different areas of our school. It is difficult to impossible to plan lessons that will work well across the varied platforms of home, public library, classroom and media center workstations.

    Yes, some teachers are uncomfortable with the numerous options and challenges of using various materials; along with the differences between real world computer use for research and the old-fashioned test questions that require different skills.

    Educators also often view skills as an entire process in one huge chunk. They may lack understanding that steps can be broken up across short assignments in various subject areas and carry over between classes: for instance, identifying scholarly journals versus popular magazines.

    Curriculum mapping, getting a snapshot of current practices, can build communication. Yet it is difficult to gather the data. (Years ago I used stealth access to a VP’s file cabinet, so teachers wouldn’t feel like we were “spying” on them. The information did assist us with providing personalized services to meet the teachers at their comfort level. We had adequate staffing and budget when usage of our center doubled in one year! It was one perfect year out of 16, the supportive principal was promoted to a district position.)

    I am also dismayed by the numerous educational sections of websites that neglect to include library or research related skills in their subject categories and directories.

    There’s a lot of discussion regarding library services, assessment and delivery, across the web and we will have the opportunity to consider solutions that other types of libraries identify. Your questions and concerns are not in isolation!

  3. Hi Colleen! Thanks so much for your thoughtful and insightful response! I also want to compliment you on your magnificent wiki—wow! I am honored if I have provided any inspiration. 🙂

    I agree that the physical/human contact is really important. We have had some Trivia days and hosted some musical events; we have also had a couple of author visits. However, I haven’t had much luck getting student and faculty response/collaboration for these kinds of events—I tried a couple of times to build up a Poetry Reading/Coffeehouse event with barely any response; same for my efforts to get people to participate in a READ poster/I Love Reading project I did at a previous high school (which ironically, had much more success). I’m not sure if people are just so busy they don’t have time to participate or if they may not see these kinds of activities and their participation as important to building a participatory culture for our library program.

    It is funny you mentioned going to other areas—I do get into the classrooms from time to time, but not as much as I would like. I am also working on securing some shopping buggies to create “mobile” book drops to reach out to our students; I plan to feature flyers on the buggy with our latest book arrivals and snippets of library news! 🙂

    I would like to see more information literacy standards integrated into the Georgia Performance Standards. I totally support and like the AASL Standards for 21st Century learners and the ISTE Standards for Students, but the reality is that if these standards are not part of the Georgia Performance Standards, teachers and administrators are not going to see those information literacy standards as important as the content area standards. Our district has been great in openly posting the curriculum maps for every course and subject area, but the focus in on standards—how a teacher may approach those standards is different from classroom to classroom. For example, one teacher may do a research project on the Elizabethan period for the Shakespeare unit, but another may go another route and do literary criticism…two very different research projects. I do like that teachers have the freedom to incorporate research and information literacy skills as needed (although I’d like to see more of it!), but it makes it challenging to create a map that could tie in the AASL/ISTE standards to every course and its standards. For now, I am using my monthly reports to show the AASL/ISTE standards and which GPSs I’m correlating those AASL/ISTE standards to (see http://theunquietlibrary.wikispaces.com/monthlyreports2008-09 ).

    Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post and to share your ideas! I would love to collaborate with you and figure out ways we can infuse our library program even more into the curriculum! Please feel free to email me at buffy.hamilton@cherokee.k12.ga.us. 🙂

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