Written by Naomi Heyman, Teacher Librarian, South Grafton Public School
I can’t wait to fast-forward a year, when COVID-19 is a distant memory. A ‘Remember when’, a ‘Thank goodness that is over’, a ‘Look how far we’ve come’. I look forward to a time when we will be back to normal, and all the more grateful for everything that we have.
Amid the current climate and uncertainty that COVID-19 brings, there is a sense of calm within me that knows everything will be ok. But, also a sense of calm that comes with my schedule being almost wiped clear — aside from teaching, supporting staff to teach their classes, and running a tech-filled, warm and welcoming, 21st-century library! This small, guilty pleasure comes from the cancellation of our vast array of extra-curricular activities, special events, sports carnivals, training, music practice, and various meetings. It brings with it a sense of serenity — a holistic outlook that enables a more dedicated focus to teaching preparation, practice and reflection.
It’s not a good thing to admit — hence why I call it a guilty pleasure. It’s most definitely not a good reason for these cancellations. But, nonetheless, knowing that after a full day of teaching, I can return to my family — because our meeting has been cancelled, or because there is no sporting practice today — is invigorating. It’s like I have been given permission to put some balls down in the hectic juggle of life. This sense of calm that I have comes from a selfishly personal perspective.
However, through a professional lens, life is becoming more complicated. As the schedule is cleared of meetings, special events, sporting carnivals and networking opportunities, the role of teacher librarian evolves to include an additional dimension of resource provision, an understanding of our students’ home lives, and the stark reality that school is the best part of many children’s worlds. How do we maintain a student’s connection to school, and to the classroom?
The professional implications of an event such as COVID-19 creates a relatively new dimension to teaching preparation and implementation. Digital platforms, such as Google Classroom for remote access learning, are fantastic tools that can be embedded with live broadcast Skype or Zoom sessions and recorded YouTube clips to facilitate the continuation of learning from home. Teacher librarians need to be able to guide teaching and executive staff on the operation of these, and assist in establishing this facility for students.
Resource collation tools such as Del.icio.us, Diigo, Livebinders, Pearltrees, Pinterest, Scoop.it, StumbleUpon, and Google Sites are another great, user-friendly option. Many teacher librarians already use these in some form. I created Library with Mrs Heyman (sites.google.com/a/education.nsw.gov.au/librarywithmrsheyman/home) a few years ago, primarily as a resource collation tool, and a one-stop-shop for students to facilitate and enhance their library learning time. They are all familiar with and well-trained in navigating this site, and accessing the information they need from the numerous options in the side menu. Staff are utilising it as well, and colleagues further afield in my networking groups are also referring to it for inspiration and teaching.
These technology-dependent remote learning options are great for most of our school population with supportive, enthusiastic parents. However, there will always be a percentage who are disadvantaged with regard to access and connectivity. To create an inclusive remote access learning program, a paper and pencil option must also be provided.
In this highly connected, technologically driven era, I wonder if we should ask ourselves: ‘How do we keep children connected to their social world?’ Or do we use this opportunity to look inward — to focus on life skills and home skills that our increasingly busy lives have deprioritised? Encouraging students to learn how to plant a vegetable garden, change a bike tyre, breed chickens, research sustainable power options for their home, sew, cook, fish, play board games, learn a language or a musical instrument, and simply read for pleasure — these are some of the many activities that could beautify the tapestry of our lives. If we dedicate some time to these, we may be able to look back upon this time and say with great pride, ‘Look how far we have come’.