Improving Literacy Education through Professional Study: The Leadership Role of the Teacher-Librarian

By Asselin, Marlene | Teacher Librarian, October 2003 | Go to article overview

Improving Literacy Education through Professional Study: The Leadership Role of the Teacher-Librarian


Asselin, Marlene, Teacher Librarian


Improving literacy is a universal political and educational priority (United Nations International Literacy Decade, 2003-2012). In developed countries, the focus is on reducing inequities in reading abilities between minority and mainstream children (International Reading Association, 2003). Through school library programs and professional leadership initiatives, teacher-librarians have always played important roles in supporting literacy. This column outlines stakeholders' responses to the mandate of improving student achievement, and identifies areas of literacy in which teacher-librarians can take leadership roles in professional development initiatives in their schools.

Stakeholder responses

In this hot climate of literacy education and achievement, stakeholders adapt one of two different stances to the challenge: either a "quick fix" approach focused on materials and one-stop workshops with "experts" or a longer-term view focused on teachers' knowledge.

The first method de-skills teaching by promising results from "foolproof" packages and one-time workshops. Educators are being pressured to purchase expensive commercial reading programs that are marketed to raise test scores (see http://www.reading. org/positions/be_wary.html). Research has shown that the traditional lecture or workshop by a person outside the school culture has limited value, yet it persists. It is interesting that the quick-fix approach appeals most to those stakeholders from outside of classrooms.

The second approach views the teacher as the significant catalyst for students' literacy development. Research is becoming conclusive that "nothing can take the place or importance of having knowledgeable teachers in the front of every classroom" (Harste, n.d.). The question then becomes how to enable teacher knowledge. Based on the fields of teacher research (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1993) and educational reform (Darling-Hammond, 1997), innovative and meaningful professional development models have emerged the last five years. In literacy, these programs aim to change school culture in both intellectual and social ways. Intellectually, they intend "to increase teachers' knowledge and repertoire of instructional practices, to increase their effectiveness with all students, and to increase student achievement" (National Council of Teachers of English Reading Initiative, n.d.). Socially, the programs "promote empowerment and professionalism, create bonds among staff members, and increase mutual respect n all of which translate to a better learning community for children" (IRA, Literacy Study Groups).

Powerful models of professional development around literacy include the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Reading initiative, the Center for Inquiry, IRA Study Groups, and Case Technologies to Enhance Literacy Learning (CTELL) (see references for further information about these programs). Principles of the change process that frame these models are:

* Professional collaboration, at the base of which is collegiality;

* Learning as inquiry, which is relevant to actual students in the school;

* Teacher choice of level of involvement;

* Development of substantive teacher knowledge;

* Use of predictable yet flexible structures in pursuing one's inquiry; and

* Inclusion of teachers and administrators in the learning community.

Teacher-librarians are already adept with several of these principles. In the spirit of the principles, I suggest that teacher-librarians team with the school literacy mentor or leader to facilitate professional development initiatives in their schools (many schools have these positions now n they can be either classroom teachers with additional responsibility or a district-based person responsible to several schools).

What areas of literacy can teacher-librarians lead?

Results and conclusions from the recent PISA study (Topping et al. …

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