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Pedagogy for Librarians Day One: Values and Professional Practice

On the first day of the course, after arriving and going over the various admin bits we needed to cover first thing, we started off the course with a “thinking round”. This is based on Nancy Kline’s work on “the Thinking Environment”, and involved us going round the room and each replying in turn to a prompt question. I must admit, when Jill first said that was what we were going to do my heart sank: it reminded me of what usually happens in courses, that I’ve heard referred to as “the creeping death”: where you all have to go round and say something about yourselves, and everyone watches the creeping death approaching them with a sense of dread, and no one really listens to what everyone else has said.

However, it actually worked really well – throughout the course we started and closed every day with a thinking round, and I ended up really looking forward to it! That first day, we started by just saying our names and where we were from, and Jill then started the first thinking round with the question “what’s going well for me” (that might not have been the exact wording, but that was the gist). She left it completely open, so we could interpret for ourselves whether to take that as work-related or otherwise – I think most people said something about our personal lives rather than work (I talked about the potato plants I am somewhat successfully growing in my new garden!).

Afterwards Jill asked us all how we’d felt about it, which led to a really interesting group discussion about sharing in a group environment, fear of embarrassment, fear of “getting it wrong” (Jill hadn’t explained anything about the question or how we were to respond, so we all found it slightly nerve-racking to start with as we didn’t know what was expected) – all of which we linked back to early experiences in education, which gave us a useful framework to start talking about teaching and learning.

As we went throughout the week, the thinking rounds included some slightly more probing questions, and we all opened up a bit more. I think because we’d started with a very low-pressure, innocuous question, and gradually worked up to discussing more personal issues, this helped foster a supportive group dynamic, so it didn’t feel uncomfortable to do. I don’t think this could be made to work in the one-shot sessions most librarians get with our learners – I think you need to be seeing the same group over a period of time, and developing that relationship – but it’s an interesting technique to bear in mind nonetheless.

After this, we went on to discuss our values and how these inform our professional practice. We were each asked to think about what values we held, and an example of a practice principle we embody based on each value we identified. This was surprisingly challenging: I’d never really thought about how my values affect what I actually do at work. However, once we got into it we all came up with quite a lot. Below are some of my own values and related practice principles, plus some that came out of the discussion afterwards that particularly chimed with me:

  • Supportiveness – approach every enquiry with patience and encouragement. There are no silly questions!
  • Inclusion – allow for differences in abilities and experience when planning a session
  • Respect – listen rather than interrupting, turn up on time (or early!) for appointments, thorough planning
  • Equality & fairness – try to treat all enquiries/requests as equal importance, whether student, staff, researcher, etc.
  • Authenticity – being enthusiastic, friendly, e.g. saying hello and goodbye to learners who come along to a session
  • Empowerment – enabling lifelong learning, instilling confidence
  • Empathy – verbal acknowledgement of difficulties, body language
  • Acceptance – setting up ground rules to incorporate inclusivity (e.g. allowing people to exit and come back in if needed)
  • Independence – facilitate learning, don’t just tell!

To close off the day, we watched a great video from the RSA on “Changing Education Paradigms”.

We then had a wide-ranging discussion around the video. We talked about the people that we knew or had worked with who had been harmed by the specific, limiting model of what “intelligence” means, as used by schools – people who have brilliant, creative minds but spent their school years being told they were stupid, and came to believe this. I’ve seen this too many times, and it’s heartbreaking.

We also talked about the changing world we live in, and the point that children and young people (in fact, I would argue people of any age) are being educated for jobs in the future that don’t actually exist yet. This means that the best thing we can do is teach them to learn, rather than teaching them a set of skills that will be out of date by the time they’re working. However, as librarians we’re often expected to just teach the mechanics of searching various databases, rather than teaching “soft skills” such as information literacy – something we discussed a lot more later on in the week.

We got into quite an impassioned discussion about the pressures placed on teachers in the current education system, and how quickly teachers are now burning out and leaving teaching. One large problem seems to be that teachers are expected to spend so much of their time on admin, inspections and meeting the government’s ever-shifting targets, which means less time to spend actually teaching and supporting students. I got a little emotional about this, as it’s a bit of a sore subject to me. I sent a couple of tweets about this later that evening, which I’ll leave here rather than going into further depth on this.

We concluded that it could feel a bit dispiriting, being on a course like this, because all we were really doing was tinkering around the edges of our own teaching, whereas the sense we were getting from the video and from our own discussions was that the whole education system needs a radical re-think. However that’s a little out of our control! We decided though that, although we couldn’t dismantle the whole education system and put it back together by ourselves, we could still do our best for the learners we came into contact with by teaching according to our values.

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