Note: This is the first in a series of reflective posts that form part of a university course that I am taking. I hope that you will find something valuable in my reflections as well. You can find the next post in the series here.
I've been thinking a lot lately about the use of exemplars in the classroom. I remember obsessively hoarding student work as we finished up projects, asking my students if I could keep their piece of work to show next year's students; staying up late colouring and neatly printing out sample posters and typing essays to share with my students if I didn't have any student examples to share. This seemed to be such a key piece of the whole teaching process to me - making sure that students knew what done looked like. When I'm in classrooms these days, this seems to have faded away, often accompanied by the statement "but what if they just copy it?" While I understand this fear, I think that it is, for the most part, unfounded. Kids copy when they feel uncertain about their own understandings or presentation abilities or when they are intrigued by the example and want to know more; either way, this is what we should be recognizing and addressing, not the copying itself. Examples help kids know what quality work looks like and help give them a target to shoot for, an understanding of where they are headed. Examples support kids with diverse learning abilities by removing the barrier of the unknown, which can trip so many kids up, and making the target explicit and clear. Examples are key to student learning and yet they seem to have been abandoned in so many classrooms.
This post isn't actually about examples though. This post is about finding an essential question for my course curation project. So why did I open with my thoughts about examples? Because I'm going to be that kid, you know, the one that teachers worry about, the one that copies the example. You see, my instructor threw out the sample question "How do relationships build a learning commons?" and I couldn't resist. This question intrigued me. It stuck in my head like a song you can't shake, no matter how many times you try to sing a different one. I tried to come up with a different question, I tried to reframe this question, I tried to send myself off if in a different direction but I just kept coming back. So I've decided to treat this as the exemplar and myself as the student who is intrigued by the example; I'm going to let myself run with it and hope that my instructor appreciates my exemplars argument.
The obvious question now is "why does this essential question grab me?" What is it about relationships that is so intriguing to me? To answer that, you need to understand that I am, by nature, a collaborative person. I am at my best when I am bouncing ideas off of others, working together to mould and shape an idea into a final product, whether that's a lesson, a unit or a support plan. I recognize that success in my current role (as a support teacher) is highly predicated upon building successful relationships with classroom teachers, as I cannot possibly make a difference for individual students if their classroom teachers aren't on board. I have worked in environments where I had very close, dynamic relationships with teachers; I have also worked in environments where the relationships were more transactional or limited to surface collegiality, lacking the depth to create a team approach to supporting students. It is always the close, dynamic relationships that fuel true success for students and I'm fascinated by the process of cultivating these relationships. As I look at moving to a teacher-librarian role, I wonder if the process of developing these relationships is the same or if it is different, given the different purposes attached to the roles. I have spoken with TLs who have previously been in some kind of support role and they have all indicated that there is a difference, that the expectations of a TL are very different from those of a support teacher. Initially, I wonder if this isn't because the generally accepted idea is that "A learning commons is a whole school approach to building a participatory learning community. " (Leading Learning, 2020), whereas learning assistance teachers (also known as learning resource teachers or some variation thereof) have the explicit goal of supporting specific students, rather than the whole school.
It is fascinating to me that something as simple as a title and job description could impact how classroom teachers interact with a support teacher. Obviously there are other pieces at play - individual personalities, school culture, etc. - but clearly there is something to the title itself. Examining my current relationship-building processes (that makes it sound very clinical but there are definitely deliberate aspects to it) and what I might keep, shift or change as TL in order to foster a strong LLC program is, I believe, essential to becoming a successful TL. I can see how the Leading Learning website will help me begin to piece together where I need to focus. The standards of practice and growth stages will serve as guideposts (not quite exemplars, but close!) that will help me identify where I'm at and where I'm headed; I'm especially interested in diving more deeply into the sections about collaborative engagement and engaging the learning community. There is clearly a lot to be gleaned from this website!
I'm Bryn, teacher, mom, book lover, athlete. I am passionate about living life with my family, teaching and learning something new all the time. I hope you find something that speaks to you here on my blog and would love to hear from you too!