25 April 2012

A Reflection on Leaving the Classroom

I recently taught my last class at Champlain College.  As of June 1st, I will be assuming the role of Associate University Librarian at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.  Exciting, for sure.  But that's not what this post is about.  This is a post about leaving the classroom.

I have always enjoyed teaching.  I am one of those people that has a particular gift for standing up in front of students and giving it my all.  And it usually works.  That is not to say that I have not worked on my teaching or tried to develop my craft.  As Ken Bain or Parker Palmer would swear, even the best teachers have to work on teaching.  I believe that quite deeply.  I think that is an area where librarianship, LIS education, and even our professional associations have fallen short.  But again, that's not what this post is about.

My last session at Champlain was very difficult.  It was a nightmare class, actually.  Students who were texting.  Students who refuse, and articulate their refusal, to participate.  Students who put their heads down on the desk.  It was a really hard way to go out of the classroom, especially because I have really developed as a teacher at Champlain, because I love our students, and because the class before this nightmarish one was so successful.  But, as I think more about it, it might have been the best class to go out on.  It was one of those sessions where I am reminded that I don't know what students are bringing into the classroom.  Parker Palmer talks about this extensively: we have no idea what is going on in our students' lives when they walk in.  That is particularly true as librarians who are trying to engage in an instant environment.  We don't know the students we teach, especially if you are not teaching a stand alone course.

I am also reminded that the impact of my session is not the session itself.  This is why asking students to assess a session at the time of the session cannot be the only measure of success.  I didn't actually realize this until two students from the class made follow up appointments with me for help.  They didn't say a word during class but they were listening.

Which brings me to what this post is really about: teaching is hard.  It is hard work to stand up in front of a bunch of students and a professor and show your stuff.  It is hard to prepare for it, to open yourself up to it, to reflect on it, to grow from it.  During LILAC, Megan Oakleaf said that if you walk out of the classroom exhausted, you are doing something wrong.  That is only true if your exhaustion is a result of doing everything for your students.  But, being an authentic, open teacher who welcomes questions, models inquiry, and is passionate about student learning is exhausting.

On second thought, perhaps that class was a great way to end my time in the classroom here.  For now.

17 April 2012

What are you busy about? Post LILAC thoughts.

Coming home from conferences are often frustrating for me because reentry into work is so overwhelming.  Perhaps because I am about to transition to a new position (more on that later), I am taking a bit more time to reflect on LILAC Glasgow.  The thing that keeps coming to mind is that I find myself thinking about a different set of questions than when I come out of ACRL or ALA conferences.  Rather than thinking about what I can try in the classroom, I am thinking about what I can do for information literacy on a broader plane.

I am specifically thinking about Drs. Geoff Walton and Mark Hepworth's presentation, "This house believes that librarians and their services are the barrier to information literacy."  The workshop's provocative title snagged me right off the bat.  But I was glad when the presenters asked the delegates to break up into groups and identify what barriers we see to the success of information literacy. The group responses were excellent but it was actually something small that Geoff said that really stayed with me.  He talked about "marginal gain" and defined that as small differences in small steps that eventually becomes a large step and will change the world.  This has continued to work on me: What are the small steps that I am taking to change the world that I inhabit: the library, information literacy, pedagogy, inquiry, higher education, learning?  Do the questions that I ask and the work that I do consistently propel me further towards change?  This reminds me of a quote by Throeau that I write on my to-do list, my whiteboard, my notebooks, "It is not enough to be busy; what are you busy about."

This is really the crux of my argument when I talk about "Real Deal Information Literacy" or about teaching identity.  There are hard questions that we need to be asking about the work we are doing for our students.  And some of those questions strike a tender chord because they challenge what the role of the librarian is.  The best example I can give, and the one I hope to write more about, is do we want our students to know something about libraries or something about information?  Do we want them to have skills for the information environment, or just our information environment?

So, as we work with our colleagues, our students, our faculty, what steps are we taking and towards what end?  What are we busy about?

12 April 2012

Back where I belong

Sitting in Glasgow, Scotland for this year's LILAC conference.  For anyone interested in information literacy, this is THE conference.  This is my third LILAC and every year, I am impressed and amazed.  UK librarians are having a very different conversation about information literacy than we are in the States. Very few presentations focus on "tips and tricks."  They are evidence-based, in large part.  Or they are presenting on models or ideas about expanding IL's reach and prominence within our institutions and communities.  Even more refreshing is the true IL that is under the microscope here.  The IL that focuses on critical thinking, not libraries.  The IL that serves a broad purpose, not just for an assignment.  It is refreshing, invigorating, exciting, educational, and thought provoking.  This is really my kind of conference.

I will be posting on a few of the talks I attend.  Check out the conference's hashtag at #LILAC12.  And start saving your professional development dollars: every penny is worth it at this conference.