The below quote is the first thing I read this morning. I must admit to feelings of sadness and anger and frustration this past week as I completed my last 7 days in quarantine in home isolation. Received beautiful pictures of my daughter who I haven’t seen for more than a year now. Was subjected to the most invasive nasal covid test I’ve had in the last month. Waited an additional day for my codes to go green to be released. 695 hours in some form of quarantine or another this month. (warning no pictures!)
“The best thing for being sad… is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.” T.H. White The Once and Future King (From James Clear 3-2-1 newsletter)
But, I try not to blog when I’m sad, but turn to learning as suggested in the quote above. And this morning’s learning and a meeting last week got me thinking and inspired again.
As the teacher elected representative of our school board, I was privileged to attend some EARCOS Board Governance training with Marc Frankel and Abigail DeLessio this Saturday and last. In addition last week I attended the Charles Sturt Course Advisory Committee meeting of which I’m also a member. Both touched on the changing nature and environment of education / International education, the latter in particular on the role of educating future librarians in this changing environment.
The last time I’ve felt quite so impassioned about something to do with my profession, is when I wrote the blog post “Advocacy is not enough we need power” to date, still one of the most popular of my posts (save that on online learning not being new shiny things mid Covid) Today I want to talk about the Mega Trends in International Education and what those mean for us in the role of Teacher Librarian and make some suggestions on what potential responses could look like.
DeLessio and Frankel identified 6 shifts:
- from expats to locals
- from Anglophone to everything else
- from West to East
- from Monism to Pluralism
- increasingly diverse student population
- post 2020 new normal (VUCA – volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity)
and as an antidotes to the megatrends “Need for more culturally literate and savvy school leaders and teachers”
I’d suggest that cultural literate and savvy is not nearly enough, we need more diversity in school leaders and teachers, but that’s just part of the solution.
What do these shifts mean for us as teacher-librarians? Our profession, like so much in education is overwhelmingly white, female and English speaking (present company included). If we are to remain relevant generally as a profession and specifically in our own school contexts, where chopping the role of the librarian or combining it with an Edtech, curriculum coordinator or english-teacher role is a familiar pattern, we need to be part of the solution. And an indispensable part at that. I see us doing this in four initial ways
- Language – English
- Language – other
- Center of belonging
- Mentoring & creating the future
Language – English
As an expat parent newly enrolling her offspring into their first international school 15 years ago, one of the most sensible things someone said to me to adjust my expectations was “you’re not paying for the best education for your children, you’re paying for and English language education for your children in a non-English language environment”. It’s something I’ve had to revisit and remind myself – particularly when my eldest decided that wasn’t enough for her aged 16 and 7 international schools later, and found for herself the “best education” suited for her interests and ambitions and set off for boarding school.
How can we pivot that for schools in general and for libraries in particular?
🎓 Well, we have got to prepare to give the first two elements of the shift (more local students and more non-anglophone students) the best possible experience in adjusting, learning and thriving in an English language environment. We need to have the best possible EAL/EAP (English as an additional language; English for academic purposes) programmes and teachers. We also need to make sure that we don’t just pay lip-service to the creed “every teacher is a language teacher”. All our teachers in every subject need to have a game plan for catering for 20-80% of a class who may not be able to follow what they’re saying / writing / asking for. Is our language education philosophy, pedagogy and professional development keeping pace with our admissions policy?
📚 In the library we need to make sure we have very robust book collections that do not in any way patronise language learners. That do not confuse language learners with learners and readers with reading deficits. And in the international context, sensitively purchase collections that suit our populations – I can comfortably say that they are generally not “USA-inner city youth with drug, sex and broken family issues protagonist” that are the trope of the average hi-lo book. We also need to respect the fact that the person in front of us already masters at least one if not more other languages. So we need to have a robust selection of books in languages other than English or ideas on how to access them (LOTE is the term that used to be used – here is my rather old article on building a LOTE collection). We also need to provide access to other resources in a multi-modal (visual, spoken, video, written) and multi-level entry point.
👨👩👧👧 We also need to really educate our parents and guardians from our youngest learners and every year upwards on language acquisition and the importance of home language in the development of additional languages such as English (apologies I could only find a very “beige” family icon for this). You need to help If you search this blog for “language or bilingualism” you will find countless of my posts over the years on this subject. We also need to have them as our collaborators in the library and reading space so that reading for pleasure and research is valued as much as math worksheets.
Language – other
🎓 As the parent of bilingual kids in a bilingual household I have some very big opinions (backed up by both extensive research and personal experience) on support for home or additional languages in International schools. While I respect all languages, and have done my own best effort in learning the language of each of the countries I’ve lived in, I do have to question why Chinese, Spanish and French remain the stalwart of international school’s language offerings when (at least in China, Hong Kong and Singapore where I’ve taught / lived ) Chinese (Putonghua or Cantonese), Korean, Japanese, and Hindi are probably the most common home languages. Yes demographics change – (witness the huge collection of Finnish and Swedish books in my school library) but I wonder three things –
- why don’t we offer the languages of our majority minority students instead of these European languages?
- Why in the IB (except for the host country language) does “self-taught” language start only in the last two years?
- And why does it have to be in Literature and not Language and Literature and taught at a first language level, rather, than, as is the case for many of our students as language acquisition or “heritage” language level? Is anyone giving the IB any pushback on this?
📚 Learning another language is mentally and emotionally draining. Our English language learners need to be able to retreat back into their home languages, and we need to be able to support them. Given budget constraints this may have to occur in creative ways besides having a large collection of books such as
- curating resources such as podcasts, videos, TV shows or movies in that language (bonus you’ll need to engage parents who speak the language to do so, and in so doing will increase community sense of belonging)
- finding and facilitating access to libraries and eBooks in their home country or countries where this is the dominant language
- acting as a bridge between students in different sections of the school who speak that language – role models of older students are incredibly powerful
👨👩👧👧 Showing parents we value their language (particularly “low status” languages – a whole minefield) will hopefully contribute to them having less anxiety about ditching the language at the alter of high status languages such as English. A solid base of home language will support language acquisition.
Center of belonging
🎓 I had several “sense of belonging” conversations in the past 3 days. Mainly from people who felt left-out or not part of larger wholes where they should have been nurtured and made to feel welcome.
We’ve just welcomed a whole cohort of ex-elementary school students into the middle school plus those very special and scarce species – new students and teachers who have run the gamut of international travel and quarantine. But how can we make sure they feel they belong? There are still pockets of monism in the pluralism and diversity of students. And as Danau Tanu explains in her book “Growing up in Transit” belonging is complex and political in International Schools. From what I see, affinity has not yet broken out of language or national boundaries to common interests or passions. That’s a slow process that needs – what? I don’t have any easy answers for that.
📚 In my work with the “Blokes with Books Club” in my previous school, I experienced the huge importance of social belonging in reading and learning. Can we generalise and use what we know about belonging to ensure that’s central to our culture in the library. I’m currently toying with the idea of riffing off the work I did there in primary and creating a “Belonging with Books” club that is non-gender specific. My annotated bibliography from that research can be found here.
👨👩👧👧 Previously one could have parents at school, and in the past I’ve run very popular and successful parent workshops on everything from learning to read, reading to learn, supporting bilingualism, research, information literacy etc. How do we maintain that positive sense of community and belonging when parents are not physically present at school?
Mentoring & creating the future
To misquote Toni Morrison’s “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” If we cannot find, we must create. I don’t think we can continue to hide behind the difficulty in finding diverse faculty and librarians. I think we must proactively create them, and the sooner the better.
🎓 One of the mentioned significant challenges mentioned in the training this morning was recruiting staff and getting them visas. Very often international schools have excellent teaching assistants, often with postgraduate degrees. Considerable barriers stand in the way of them being “allowed” to teach. These include parental perception and bias; dual compensation and benefit structures; recognition of qualifications; language fluency and the lack of any defined pathway. I know of at least two instances of fantastic teachers who left China to work at international schools abroad and then came back to China after a gap of a few years and were snapped up by top tier international schools. This avenue is not one that is easily accessed given the covid situation and perhaps even family circumstances / appetite for travel and risk. So we need to ask ourselves how could we create pathways for local and diverse faculty? What lobbying efforts can occur to make the list of “English speaking countries” include countries such as the Philippines and India?
📚 I’ve had an “interesting” year of prolonged physical absence from my role this year. A lot of the “on the spot” work has been done by my library assistants and technicians under my remote guidance. Personally I benefitted greatly from the initial – during my studies – and continued mentorship of Katie Day. Some library networks have Job-alikes for library assistants. Some have programmes of continuing education. Unfortunately the path to becoming a librarian still is an extremely expensive one, particularly if you’re not in a country that has subsidised places in an accredited library programme. And like all “protected” professions we’d prefer that our jobs are not taken by unaccredited para-professionals. And yet, I still think we need to do our utmost to identify and mentor high potential diverse colleagues of the future. And lobby for affordable accreditation pathways.
What do you think? I’d love to hear some more thoughts on this and to have a real discussion!