Building a High School Library Program That Meets the Needs of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, or Questioning Students – Part 3

PLEASE NOTE: For a much expanded and updated version of this information, please go to Becoming and Being: Reflections on Teacher-Librarianship, pages 192-205.

On September 22, 2010, eighteen-year-old Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge.  His private encounter with a man in his dorm room had been secretly recorded and broadcast over the Internet by Clementi’s roommate, who boasted about this on his Facebook page.

Tyler’s death inspired an outpouring of shock and grief around the world, and led to the adoption of anti-bullying and safe environment legislation in two American states (Associated Press, 2010).  For many people saddened by this tragedy the spotlight shone on the homophobic bullying and harassment that cause so many youths to live in fear. Most high school teachers know that homophobia is rampant among teenagers.  We teacher-librarians pride ourselves on the fact that our libraries are safe havens that meet the needs of all our students, but would our GLBTQ students agree? If you aren’t sure, the professional and research literature provides many resources to help teacher-librarians make changes. We can better understand the challenges GLBTQ youth face every day at school, and learn about ways to improve our collections, our services, and our support for GLBTQ youth.  These resources can help us answer this question: How can a high school teacher-librarian ensure that the library is a student-centred safe haven that meets the needs of GLBTQ students?
Understand the Challenges GLBTQ Youth Face at School and in the Library

First we need to see the reality of GLBTQ teen life. Fear is a constant for many GLBTQ high school students.  A recent Canadian study (Taylor et al., 2010) commissioned by Egale Canada Human Rights Trust surveyed 1700 high school students and reported that 75% of GLBTQ students (87% of transgender students) felt unsafe in various areas at school (p. 3), even, for some, the school library (p. 24).  Over 25% of GLBTQ students had skipped school because they felt unsafe (p. 5).  Over 75% heard derogatory (homophobic) comments every day, and 60% (90% of transgender students) said they had been verbally harassed about their sexual orientation (p. 3). Many students (40 % of transgender; 25% of GLBTQ) had been physically harassed (p. 4). Where were the adults while all this was happening?  Sadly, 50% of transgender students (34.1% of GLBQ) reported that staff never intervened when homophobic comments were made (p. 4), and 40% did not feel that they could talk to a teacher (Taylor et al., 2010, p. 5). One participant said, “The teachers know it’s going on, but they rarely pipe up and protect me or others. i guess they figure it’s a lost cause. it takes a lot of energy to defend yourself all the time” (Taylor et al., 2010, p. 34). Other research suggests that these numbers may be conservative. A British Columbia survey of 18 high schools found that GLBTQ students were harassed 80% more than their heterosexual peers (Darwich, 2008, as cited in Haskell and Burtch, 2010). The 2009 Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network survey of 7200 students across the United States reported higher percentages of GLBTQ students suffering various types of harassment: 85% were verbally harassed, 40% were physically harassed, and 52% were victims of cyber-bullying. It is shocking to note that 62% of students who were harassed did not report it to authorities, assuming that nothing would be done, or that the harassment would worsen, and 33% of students who did report harassment said that no action had been taken by their school (Kosciw, Greytak, Diaz, &  Bartkiewicz, 2010, p. 3). To what does all this fear lead? According to a study by the organization Advocates for Youth, one-third of gay/lesbian youth say they have attempted suicide at least once, about 30% have dropped out of school, and as many as 40% of homeless youth are gay (Advocates for Youth, 2002, as cited in Curry, 2005, p. 68). Surely school libraries, at least, are safe and welcoming? In addition to looking at overall school experiences, the professional and research literature abounds with accounts of GLBTQ youths’ experiences in the library. A fifteen year-old blogger recalls,

When I set out to find more LGBT titles, I turned to my school’s library. Honestly? It was pathetic. There was not one single LGBT novel. But oh, of course the librarian went out of her way to buy books about gangs, drugs, and teen pregnancy. When I asked her about that, she replied, “This is a school library. If you’re looking to read inappropriate titles, go to a bookstore.” Uhm, how in the hell is LGBT YA lit “inappropriate”? (Limited Shelf Life, 2010)

Students struggling to find GLBTQ resources in libraries report a number of common issues. These include not being able to find resources, not feeling safe to approach library staff for help, and feeling negatively judged by others (including staff) in libraries (Bridge, 2010; Curry, 2005; Hoheb, 1999; Linville, 2004). In addition, school Internet filters often block GLBTQ sites appropriate for teen use, including them with pornography and obscenity as banned sites (Greenblatt, 2003; Hobeb, 1999; Martin & Murdock, 2007; Schrader & Wells, 2007; Whelan, 2006). Given these findings, it is perhaps not surprising that when asked what school staff members they would approach for help with GLBTQ issues, students ranked only the principal and vice-principal less approachable than the school librarian (Kosciw, Greytak, Diaz, &  Bartkiewicz, 2010, p. 60).  Learn What Information LGBTQ Teens Need     A second strategy to help teacher-librarians improve programming is to examine what GLBTQ students need to know. Rauch (2010) states, “An important part of adolescence is the self-searching and identity-forming transition, when teens need to figure out who they are among their friends, family, and society as a whole” (p. 216). Unfortunately GLBTQ youth are often at a disadvantage during this crucial time as they generally do not have GLBTQ role models in their circle of family and friends, and may even be rejected by them (Behara & Maquet, 2006, p. 13). Alexander and Miselis (2007) point out that “Most GLBTQ teens have limited access to information, few positive role models, and tenuous social support systems, making identity formation extremely difficult” (p. 45). So what information is most useful to GLBTQ youth at this critical time in their lives? Behra and Maquet (2006) interviewed 21 GLBTQ individuals in depth to determine their information needs during the coming out process.  Using the participants’ experiences, as well as the findings of related research literature, Behra and Maquet first defined the coming out process as a series of phases. They identified the concerns experienced in each phase, the information youth needed, and then developed useful, practical interventions that librarians can use to support GLBTQ youth at each phase.

These teens needed information about issues such as how to behave around other GLBTQ people, information about where to find GLBTQ individuals and social groups, examples of positive GLBTQ role models, and reliable information sources about GLBTQ issues to share with family and friends (Behara & Maquet, 2006, p. 9).

Linville (2004), a young adult librarian, also surveyed GLBTQ teens to find out what they wanted from the library. The most popular choice was stories about real people, but teens also wanted coming out stories, information on community resources, equal rights for GLBTQ youth, and safe sex; novels, and books about what it means to be gay (p. 184). Linville says, “They [also] want to know that we know that gay people live in every neighborhood, not just in that gay neighborhood over there. And they want to know that we welcome queer people to the library” (p.186). Build a GLBTQ Collection Once teacher-librarians are familiar with students’ information needs, they can use this knowledge to develop their collections. Building a GLBTQ collection is of course very similar to building any collection.  Schrader and Wells offer this advice.  “Above all, build slowly, seek resources, find kindred spirits, form networks, strategize thoughtfully and know that you are not alone” ( 2007, p. 25).  Of course, there are issues specific to the collection. Locating resources Alexander & Miselis (2007) point out that the number of GLBTQ young adult resources available far exceeds actual library holdings (p. 43).  Unfortunately resources can be difficult to find as GLBTQ books represent only 1% of the market (Clyde and Lobban, 2001 as cited in Cook, 2004, p. 43).  Many books are not available from the usual wholesalers or jobbers as they are printed by small presses (Bridge, 2010; Cook, 2004; Gardner, 2006). Happily the professional and research literature (see Gardner, 2006; Martin & Murdock, 2007; Rauch, 2010; Rockefeller, 2009; Schrader & Wells, 2007; and Whelan, 2006) provides many suggestions for finding new titles.  Teacher-librarians can use the Young Adult Library Services Association and American Library Association web sites, the Lambda Awards and Stonewall Awards (GLBTQ themes), online bookstores, and online databases such as NoveList to find titles.  In addition, teacher-librarians can survey students, talk to their peers, and consult staff of local specialty book stores. They can also network with Gay Straight Alliance facilitators, as well as with PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), and other GLBTQ groups Working with local and community groups has added benefits.  As Rauch points out, “If librarians invite GLBTQ groups into the library and encourage the involvement of the entire community, fear and hatred that exists for non-heterosexuals can be overcome” (2010, p. 218). In addition to resources already suggested, professional readers’ advisory and selection guides for GLBTQ literature are available to assist teacher-librarians in selecting resources appropriate to their libraries.  The Schrader and Wells (2007) guide already mentioned includes an extensive annotated bibliography, as does Serving Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, And Questioning Teens: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians (Martin and Murdock, 2007).  In addition, The Heart Has Its Reasons: Young Adult Literature with Gay/Lesbian/Queer Content, 1969-2004 (Cart and Jenkins, 2006) provides a historical overview of the literature as well as extensive annotated lists.  Bosman and Bradford’s Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered literature: A genre guide (2008) provides a broader look at the literature by investigating its various genres, providing annotations (and readers’ advisories) for 1100 titles.  Understanding issues with reviews. Traditionally most teacher-librarians have relied on reviews in professional journals to guide their selection choices, but locating reviews of GLBTQ resources can be problematic.  Boon and Howard (2004) reported that titles with GLBTQ content received 41% fewer reviews than a control group of non-GLBTQ young adult fiction titles (p. 135).  Rockefeller (2009) points out that the major reviewing journals may not review books from small, independent presses (p. 289). Rothbauer and McKechnie (2000) discovered what might be considered biased reviews of GLBTQ literature.  In the reviews they read, “If a book was judged to provide some good life lessons it was always evaluated favourably despite any other perceived failings” (p. 13). Clarifying Cataloguing. Another issue in building a GLBTQ collection is cataloguing.  Because subject headings do not keep up with current culture, teacher-librarians are advised to catalogue and cross-reference these resources in user-friendly terms so as to be easily found by students.  While GLBTQ terms are constantly evolving, teens are more likely to use “gay” or “queer” than they are “homosexual” when searching the catalogue, so cataloguers should use current terminology (Bosman & Bradford, 2008; Cook, 2004; Johnson, 2010; McClary & Howard, 2007; Moss, 2008; Rothbauer, 2004; Rockefeller, 2009). Dealing with challenges. While dealing with challenges to collections is never pleasant, the best way to face one is to be prepared for it. Schrader and Wells (2007) and Martin and Murdock (2007) suggest that teacher-librarians start by developing clear guidelines for selecting library materials, including input from teachers, parents, students, administrators, and other staff.  Martin and Murdock  provide ideas for a red light, green light, yellow light, school zone strategy that allows librarians to ease their libraries gently and appropriately into using and promoting GLBTQ literature (2007, p. 125-135). A number of researchers suggest that teacher-librarians should prepare a collection development policy that defines their practice, as well as a challenge procedure that details each step in the process, and ensure all staff (including senior administration) are familiar with these (Rockefeller, 2009; Martin & Murdock, 2007; Schrader & Wells, 2007; Whelan, 2006). In their survey of librarians in 29 states, Alexander and Miselis found that “challenges to GLBTQ materials are unsuccessful when the library is prepared with a strong policy, good reviews to support the materials, and the support of knowledgeable administrators” (2007, p. 47). There is no question that developing a GLBTQ collection requires a great deal from a teacher-librarian. Brian Kenny, School Library Journal Editor-in-Chief, says, “It takes guts to create libraries that support the needs of all our students. It takes even more guts to support collections that may attract fierce opposition. But that just happens to be our job” (2006, p.11). Provide Library Services Appropriate for LGBTQ Teens Just what kind of library services do GLBTQ teens need? David Levithan, author of young adult gay fiction, editor, and a gay man himself, writes an impassioned article about the importance of supporting GLBTQ literature in libraries. In this excerpt he describes how librarians make a daily difference in teens’ lives.

I have met so many amazing librarians in the past few years, staunch and strong defenders of expression and representation. I can say without a single doubt that many young readers’ lives have been helped and saved by their librarians’ open-mindedness and courage. (I have the e-mails to prove it.) Many people consider librarians to be gatekeepers, usually in terms of keeping things out. I also think of librarians as gatekeepers in terms of the people they help through the gates. . . the amazing number of librarians who support and encourage their openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning students as they strive to live their lives the way they want to live them (2004, p. 45).

What services and support are most helpful? Two resources that provide exceptionally detailed descriptions of programs and services are Serving Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians (Martin & Murdock, 2007), and the Canadian resource, Challenging Silence, Challenging Censorship: Inclusive Resources, Strategies and Policy Directives for Addressing Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Trans-Identified and Two-Spirited Realities in School and Public Libraries (Schrader & Wells, 2007). Strategies suggested here and by other professional and research articles (see Gardes, 2008; Mehra & Braquet, 2006; and Whelan, 2006) include

  • Celebrating Gay Pride Week, Gay History Month, and GLSEN’s Day of Silence, an annual vow of silence to bring attention to harassment in schools;
  • Providing high-quality fiction materials that let GLBTQ students see themselves positively;
  • Putting bibliographies of GLBTQ literature on the library web site, and adding some of these titles to summer reading lists;
  • Helping create and support Gay-Straight Alliances and other student clubs that address GLBTQ issues; host them in the library;
  • Making GLBTQ materials accessible and visible; including them in booktalks, displays, and pathfinders;
  • Encouraging access to appropriate GLBTQ web sites and where possible eliminating Internet filters;
  • Posting Safe Place or similar notices to let everyone know the school library is a GLBTQ-friendly place and that all students will be treated respectfully;
  • Actively discouraging homophobic talk and providing services in a non-judgmental manner to youth seeking “queer” information;
  • Protecting the privacy and dignity of GLBTQ patrons;
  • Treating GLBTQ students as you would any other student;
  • Including GLBTQ materials in regular programming, remembering that straight students can enjoy this quality literature too;
  • Asking GLBTQ students what they like to read.

Committing to the Safe Haven Alvin Schrader (2007, p. 5) asks librarians, “ Do we as a public service profession – and as a society – believe that all young people should be safe and deserve dignity and respect at the library and at school?” Of course all educators will answer yes. But do we all ensure this respect for our GLBTQ students? Bridge observes,

The literature has proved that some librarians are very aware of the inequality of service provided to this user group and have been writing about the issue for more than thirty years. That the same issues are still being raised despite radical changes to equality laws in society confirms that LGBT teenagers remain an invisible minority (2010, p. 20).

For many people the death of Tyler Clementi made homophobia visible. When we understand the needs and experiences of our students, when we build diverse, rich, inclusive and accessible collections, when we provide services that reflect and support our students’ dignity and value, when we reclaim the safety of our spaces, then we truly do offer our GLBTQ students the safe havens they students need. We show them they are no longer invisible.


Alexander, L. B., & Miselis, S. D. (2007). Barriers to GLBTQ collection development and strategies for overcoming them. Young Adult Library Services, 5(3), 43-49. Retrieved from Associated Press. (2010, December 6). Bergen Youth Orchestra to honor former member Tyler Clementi. Retrieved from‌news/‌index.ssf/‌2010/‌12/‌bergen_youth_orchestra_to_hono.html Boon, M, H., & Howard V. (2004). Recent lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender fiction for teens: Are Canadian public libraries providing adequate collections? Collection Building (23)3: 133-8. . Retrieved from Bosman, E., Bradford, J. P. (2008). Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered literature: A genre guide (R. B. Ridinger, Ed.). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited. Bridge, S. (2010). No place on the shelves? Are Northern Ireland’s school libraries addressing the information needs of their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered students? (Master’s thesis, Aberystwyth University, Ceredigion, United Kingdom). Retrieved from‌2160/‌5714 Cook, J. C. (2004). GLBTQ teen literature: Is it out there in Indiana? Indiana Libraries, 23(2), 25-28. Retrieved from Cart, M., & Jenkins, C. (2006). The heart has its reasons: Young adult literature with gay/lesbian/queer content, 1969-2004. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press. Curry, A. (2005). If I ask, will they answer? Reference & User Services Quarterly, 45(1), 65-75. Retrieved from Gardes, T. (2008). Serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning teens in your library media center. CSLA Journal, 32(1), 23-24. Retrieved from Gardner, C. A. (2006). Welcoming our GLBT patrons. Virginia Libraries, 52(2), 45-50. Retrieved from Greenblatt, E. (2003). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender library users: Overcoming the myths. Colorado Libraries, 29, 21-25. Haskell, R., & Burtch, B. E. (2010). Get that freak: Homophobia and transphobia in high schools. Winnipeg, Canada: Fernwood. Hoheb, M. L. (1999). Missing mirrors: Literacy experiences of adolescent lesbians. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text. (AAT 9952918) Johnson, M. (2010). Transgender subject access: History and current practice. Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 48(8), 661-683. doi:10.1080/01639370903534398 Kenney, B. (2006). Do the right thing. School Library Journal, 52(1), 11. Retrieved from Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Diaz, E. M., & Bartkiewicz, M. J. (2010). The 2009 national school climate survey. Retrieved from Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network website:‌binary-data/‌GLSEN_ATTACHMENTS/‌file/‌000/‌001/‌1675-5.PDF Levithan, D. (2004). Supporting gay teen literature. School Library Journal, 50(10), 44-45. Retrieved from Limited shelf life. (2010). School Library Journal, 56(7), 15-15. Retrieved from Linville, D. (2004). Beyond picket fences: What gay/queer/LGBTQ teens want from the library. Voice of Youth Advocates, 27(3), 183-186. Retrieved from Martin, H. J., & Murdock, J. R. (2007). Serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning teens: A how-to-do-it manual for librarians. New York, NY: Neal-Schuman. McClary, C., & Howard, V. (2007). From “homosexuality” to “transvestites”: An analysis of subject headings assigned to works of GLBT fiction in Canadian public libraries. Canadian Journal of Information & Library Sciences, 31(2), 149-162. Retrieved from Mehra, B., & Braquet, D. (2006). A “queer” manifesto of interventions for libraries to “come out” of the closet! A study of “queer” youth experiences during the coming out process. LIBRES: Library & Information Science Research Electronic Journal, 16(1), 1-29. Retrieved from Moss, E. (2008). An inductive evaluation of a public library GLBT collection. Collection Building, 27(4), 149-156. doi:10.1108/01604950810913715 Rauch, E. W. (2010). GLBTQ collections are for every library serving teens! Voice of Youth Advocates, 33(3), 216-218. Retrieved from Rockefeller, E. I. (2009). Selection, inclusion, evaluation and defense of transgender-inclusive fiction for young adults: A resource guide. Journal of LGBT Youth, 6(2), 288-309. doi:10.1080/19361650902962641 Rothbauer, P. (2004). The internet in the reading accounts of lesbian and queer young women: Failed searches and unsanctioned reading. Canadian Journal of Information & Library Sciences, 28(4), 89-110. Retrieved from    Rothbauer, P. M., & Lynne E.F. McKechnie. (2000). The treatment of gay and lesbian fiction for young adults in selected prominent reviewing media. Collection Building, 19(1), 5-16. Retrieved from   Schrader, A. M. (2007). “I thought I’d find myself at the library”: LGBTQ services & collections in public and school libraries. PNLA Quarterly, 72(1), 4-9. Retrieved from Schrader, A. M., & Wells, K. (2007). Challenging silence, challenging censorship: Inclusive resources, strategies and policy directives for addressing bisexual, gay, lesbian, trans-identified and two-spirited realities in s_wpnonce=bf8f1a15de

Professional Development: With a Little Help From My Friends

Stages of PLN adoption -

Stages of PLN adoption -

I laughed out loud when I saw this illustration by Jeff Utecht about professional learning networks. I am one of those people who gets carried away with the excitement of new learning. I can lose hours on the computer, following those “rabbit trails,” as my classmate, Shirley, calls them, as I move from one blog post or RSS feed or tweet to the next. I laughed even more when I read that Jeff, like me, has a spouse who reminds him that “PLNs are very powerful, but they are not all there is to life.”

As we discussed professional development in class this week, our discussion leader, Dawn, asked a challenging and important question: “How do we begin to support teachers’ pedagogical change?” We talked a lot about personal learning networks. I like David Kapuler’s description

A Personal Learning Network or PLN is a dedicated learning environment unique to each individual.  . . . this is a place where people create their own environment which helps them to grow/learn. This can be done in many different ways through collaborating, blogging, social networking, etc.  [The] goal is to learn and share knowledge and to find a passion and follow it to the best of your ability.

I began to think about my own change and growth over a 38 year career. How did I follow my passion? To paraphrase Fulghum, All I really need to know I didn’t learn in school. I learned it from colleagues, mentors, and friends. I had a personal learning network long before I ever heard the term, but of course I’ve been involved in many types of professional development.

Judi Harris wrote a  four-article series (all available online here) published in ISTE‘s Learning & Leading with Technology f(February – June/July, 2008.) She writes

Educational technology-related professional development (ETPD) can take many forms. It varies by:

  • general purposes and goals;
  • the specific learning objectives that ETPD sessions and programs address;
  • the curriculum content areas to which they are related;
  • the student grade levels for which the strategies and tools presented are appropriate;
  • the instructional approaches recommended;
  • the professional development models used to structure the ETPD sessions;
  • and the ways in which the professional development is evaluated and/or teacher learning is assessed.

I first encountered Judi Harris through the Telus Learning Connection, or . Her research and guidance helped shape this Alberta endavour, which is ‘organized in a “cascading” or “train-the-trainer” model, in which teacher-leaders participate, then provide ETPD for their peers’ (Harris, 2008). I remember being elated when I was chosen as a teacher-leader, thinking I would be given training in technology implementation. Turns out I was expected to deliver the training. Fortunately the collegial nature of the participants allowed me to learn on the job as I partnered with various mentors.

Another valuable professional development experience was collaborative learning, which Harris describes as “The most desired—but unfortunately, also one of the least frequently practiced—collaborative learning model is one in which teachers engage in classroom visits.” Our district instituted instructional walkthroughs  like these (thanks, Ruth) as a way of looking at teachers’ best practices in the classroom. Instead of bringing in outside experts who preached about the latest and greatest, we utilized the expertise in our own schools.

Teachers volunteered to be observed and a group of teachers, administrators, and central office staff spent a day at a school. They would visit 6-8 classrooms, observe for 10 minutes in each, and then discuss their observations. Next we began using professional development time to do this in our own school. We set up days where teachers and administrators would visit 6-8 classrooms where teachers would share a best practice.

These were incredibly popular pd days. Later teachers were given release time to do more observations. Lots of teachers volunteered  — the message was that every teacher is an expert in something. This practice built our school of 100 teachers into a pln. It also opened our principal’s eyes about some heretofore unacknowledged great teachers, and encouraged teachers to ask administrators into their classrooms.

Another major pd tool for me was the listservHere Peter Milbury describes how the incredible resource LM_NET (short for Library and Media Network), began in 1992, growing from 60 to over 10,000 members worldwide. Through this resource I was introduced to top library/information professionals, including Joyce Valenza, Doug Johnson, Mike Eisenberg, Alice Yucht, Kathy Shrock, and many more. I felt like this tl commenting on VoiceThread, “Instead of feeling like the “only one” in my building, my PLN . . . reminds me that I’m part of a community.”

I learned more about being a tl from LM_NET than from any other single resource. I still subscribe today, and consider the members an essential part of my pln. A bonus is that, as Cathy Nelson describes, now I can follow their blogs via RSS feeds and keep up with the latest news of them on Twitter.

As teacher librarians we are asked to deliver pd to our staff. Harris reminds us that One Size Doesn’t Fit All. Guhlin advises us to Light the Flame, “to move from professional development as a special event  . . to a continuous flow of learning.” Ketterer (June/July 2008) offers “A Professional Development Menu,” with choices ranging from “whetting the appetite” – “Trainings: Focus on how to use a specific . . . application” to “the fuel to keep going,” a “common scheduled lunch focused around a tech teaching tip.”

 In “Coach, Nurture, or Nudge How Do You Learn Technology Best?” Ketterer (May, 2007) reminds us that teachers learners have a preferred style. You’ll recognize these people in your staff room.

  • Coaching Style learner – willing to take risks at integrating technology into their curriculum with support from a colleague they can trust—a “coach.”
  • Nurturing Style Learners want to be nurtured as they learn new technology skills.
  • Nudging Style Learners – often traditional teachers with big success in the “way things are;” skeptical about “where technology is going today.” They need to be gently pushed, prodded, and cajoled into learning how to integrate technology.

As you develop your own personal learning network (see Sue Waters’ wiki for even more tips), and help build and support the one in your school, I recommend to you this video from  Will Richardson, web 2.0 in schools guru. And I do hope you will make me part of your pln — I am @cjpeterso on Twitter. See you online!

References (Non-hyperlinked)

Ketterer, K. (June/July 2008). A Professional Development Menu. Learning & Leading with Technology, p.11.

Ketterer, K. (May 2007). Coach, nurture, or nudge: How do you learn technology best? Learning and Leading with Technology, p. 21.

So Who ARE These Digital Natives?

In his 2001 article, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants: A New Way to Look at Ourselves and Our Kids, Marc Prensky describes digital natives. He says, ‘Our students today are all “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet.’ Prensky provides some other characteristics:

 Digital Natives are used to receiving information really fast. They like to parallel process and multi-task. They prefer their graphics before their text rather than the opposite. They prefer random access (like hypertext). They function best when networked. They thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards. They prefer games to “serious” work.

This slide show from PEW puts the concept of digital natives, born in 1990, in a historical context.


Prensky labels older people as digital immigrants and states that “our Digital Immigrant instructors, who speak an outdated language (that of the pre-digital age), are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language.” Many people, including Kathy Shrock and Joyce Valenza, take issue with being labelled digital immigrants. Both Kathy and Joyce are “digital pioneers.” As Kathy says, “This group of users grew up as technology grew up. This group of users has mastered both the skills (learned from years of technology risk-taking and experimentation) and the processes (learned from the real world and the online world) of information literacy and choosing the correct tool for the task.”

 Of  course there must be more flavours than just natives and immigrants. In her article Not just digital natives & immigrants! Anne Collier says, “Digital immigrants/natives is a huge generalization: among other things, it fails to acknowledge how very individual media and tech use is for people of all ages.”

 I found some more labels for people in the digital landscape in an article titled Digital Denizens. I like these because they show that we all go through various stages in terms of integrating technology in our lives.

 * Digital recluse: use of technology is a result of the need to function in the current environment, not used by choice; computers are prohibited at home

* Digital refugee, unwillingly forced to use technology; prefers hard copies, does not trust electronic resources; seeks assistance; may have grown up with technology or adopted it as an adult

* Digital explorer, uses technology to push the envelope; seeks new tools that can do more and work both faster and easier

* Digital innovator, adapts and changes old tools for new tasks; creates new tools

* Digital addict, dependent on technology; will go through withdrawal when technology is not available

 So how do we close this gap? In The digital melting pot: Bridging the digital native-immigrant divide, Sharon Stoerger suggests that there are far too many variations, and that instead of focusing on the divide, we should consider a melting pot. “Instead of segregating individuals based on their skills or lack thereof, the digital melting pot is a place where all individuals, including those with low levels of competency, experience technology in a way that fosters opportunities without barriers.”

The whole idea of degrees and styles of involvement in the digital experience of course makes perfect sense, but I like the term “digital multiculturalism” (Collier cites Prof. Henry Jenkins) much better than “digital melting pot.” Melting pot seems to imply to me that we all have to end up one bland mixture. How about “digital tapestry”, where our individual talents, expertise, and creativity are woven together, and each individual strand is worthy in and of itself, but made stronger, more beautiful, and more useful as part of the splendid whole?

 Brain Research

 So are young people’s brain really so different from ours? I gained more insight into digital natives by watching Digital Nationon Frontline. What stood out for me:

a) not enough research has been done to determine the effect/efficacy of new technologies on and for learners and learning ( Dr. Gary Small, author of iBrain),
b) although the digital natives’ brains do seem to be wired differently, older people’s brains change in similar ways when they use technology( Dr. Gary Small, author of iBrain), and
c) students’ routinely over-estimate their skills and abilities to multi-task efficiently (Clifford Nassprofessor at Stanford University, director of the Communication between Humans and Interactive Media (CHIMe) Lab.)

In Digital Natives and Immigrants: What Brain Research Tells Us , Nancy K Herther cites Apostolos Georgopoulos, director of University of Minnesota Center for Cognitive Sciences. “There is absolutely no scientific basis for claiming that young people’s brains have changed in recent times or that there is such a major difference between the brain at different ages. There isn’t a shred of scientific evidence to back up these claims. This is totally unfounded.”

We as teachers see that our students are young people and individuals no matter their level of “digitality,” and who better than trained teachers to work towards meeting their needs right now.

 Now What?

In “Who Are Today’s Learners?” (Learning & Leading with TechnologySeptember/October 2008) Christine Greenhow says, “As good teachers we always want to know who our students are and where they start from so that we can tap into, reinforce, build on, and extend their knowledge and experiences in learning new things.” She suggests we survey our students to find out their “out-of-school technology access, conditions, and use” and use strategies to “engage” (use technologies in creative and innovative ways) and “prepare” our students for the workplace where they will use social networking and other web 2.0 applications.

Certainly we can agree that our schools don’t all meet the needs of 21st century learners, and that we haven’t kept up with web 2.0 innovations. There are changes we can make now to remove the barriers blocking our progress. Some suggestions:

Lobby for changes:

  • Stop blocking access to YouTube and social media and web 2.0 sites
  • Change district-wide filtering so that sites needed by high school students aren’t blocked because they aren’t suitable for elementary students
  • Add appropriate technology and brain-research training for prospective teachers to teacher education programs (see March 2008 Learning & Leading with Technology: Hilary Goldmann – Preparing Teachers for Digital Age Learners)
  • Build in training time for current teachers
  • Fund – including evergreen funding—technology (Doug Johnson demonstrates 1 million+ tech $ saved in his district by moving to Google Apps)
  • Stop using labels that limit public perceptions – like digital immigrant
  • Encourage/enable/lead web 2.0 savvy teachers to mentor their peers
  • Survey students to find out their technology abilities, expertise, and shortfalls
  • Ask students how they think more technology can be integrated into your school/library/classes
  • Give Teens the Chance to Think for Themselves -Allow them opportunities to express themselves and share with a global audience
  • Have tech-savvy students create materials and lobby on your behalf, like Josh Porter 

We need to be vocal, focused leaders in our classrooms, our libraries, our administrators’ offices, our parent-teacher meetings, with our superintendents, and with our legislators to ensure the above are enacted.

If we need further inspiration, I’d like to close with 10 year-old Dalton Sherman. Do you believe?

Moving Web 2.0 Towards School 2.0

Towards School 2.0

Professional Development: What Doesn’t Work

When I began to think about at how I would introduce web 2.0 to the teachers at my school, I immediately thought, “NOT professional development!” Why? Mention the phrase “professional development” to some teachers in my large, urban high school and you will immediately see their eyes begin to glaze over. Not so long ago, mandated, one-shot sessions dealing with the flavour of the month in education were common in my district. Thousands of dollars were spent to import outside “experts” (usually American) to tell large groups of teachers sitting in expensive rented meeting rooms how to create caring schools, reach at-risk students, or use graphic organizers.

My personal favourite? Our school paid a huge speaking fee plus expenses for an American professor to spend two hours telling the 100 teachers on our staff how to improve reading by having students use three colours of sticky notes and highlighters to colour code their textbooks.

Of course our district wasn’t alone in its need to change its ideas about PD. One researcher even wrote an article titled ‘”Professional development: A great way to avoid change” (Cole, 2004)’ (as quoted in Fullan, 2007).

What Does Work: Professional Learning

Building on the work of various researchers, including Michael Fullan, our district has recognized that the experts in teaching our students are already in our schools, and effective teacher learning does not happen with traditional PD. In Change the Terms for Teacher Learning, Fullan identifies key ideas describing the shift in teacher learning practices:

  • Professional development as a term is a major obstacle to progress in teacher learning;
  • We need to deeply appreciate the meaning of noted educator Richard Elmore’s observation (2004) that improvement above all entails “learning to do the right things in the setting where you work” (p. 73);
  • Student learning depends on every teacher learning all the time;
  • The first three components depend on deprivatizing teaching as teachers work together to continuously improve instruction (Fullan, 2007).

Fullan’s ideas clearly echo other findings about professional learning. In “What Makes Professional Development Effective? Results from a National Sample of Teachers,” Garet and his colleagues found that “PD was rated as most effective when it

  • a) was sustained and intensive rather than short-term,
  • b) was focused on academic subject matter with links to standards of learning,
  • c) provided teachers opportunities for active learning,
  • d) afforded opportunities for teachers to engage in leadership roles,
  • e) involved the collective participation of groups of teachers from the same school, and
  • f) was meaningfully integrated into the daily life of the school” (as quoted in Torff and Sessions, Factors Associated with Teachers’ Attitudes about Professional Development, 2008).

All of these ideas are reflected in our new efforts at professional learning in my high school. Instead of pulling teachers out to attend once or twice a year district “professional development” sessions on topics mandated at district level, professional learning is built into the culture of the school. As part of a district cultural change, and working with staff, students, parents, and community our school has selected an instructional focus that reflects our students’ needs. All of the school resources are centred on developing best practices to support our instructional focus: assessment for learning.

As the article Assessment For Learning: Planning for Professional Development explains, “In an assessment for learning environment, rather than something that happens at the end of the learning, assessment is used to support and inform learning, build self-confidence, and capacity for success (Stiggins, 2001). Assessment for learning is ongoing, and requires deep involvement on the part of the learner in clarifying outcomes, monitoring on-going learning, collecting evidence and presenting evidence of learning to others.”

When I think about working with teachers to implement the use of Web 2.0 in our school, I can’t help but think that using the “Read/Reflect/Write/Participate web” (as described by Richardson in Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, 2009, p.137) ties in perfectly with our instructional focus.

Professional Learning at My School

Traditional professional development methods don’t work. What does work in my school is a professional learning model that

  • capitalizes on the expertise found in our school,
  • has teachers learning strategies and applications that work for
    • their curriculum and
    • their level of expertise,
  • encourages teachers to collaborate and lead,
  • is sustainable and long-term,
  • makes teachers active learners,
  • allows teachers to make some choices about
    • topics right for them, and
    • how and when they will learn,
  • Provides flexible release time,
  • Provides technical support.

Based on this model, it is evident to me that I can’t choose which Web 2.0 applications we should be using in our school. Instead, I choose to introduce the Read/Write Web, and then how individual applications support what Richardson (2009, 130-1) calls the New Literacies and Big Shifts of the read/write web classroom.

Plan for Introducing My School to the Read/Reflect/Write/Participate Web

Use the library web site to link to blogs, wikis, podcasts, Flickr photos, SlideShare, VoiceThread presentations, TeacherTube videos appropriate to various content areas.

Look for evidence we already participate – talk to colleagues, students to see who is blogging, podcasting, or otherwise creating content. Highlight this content on the library or the school web site.

Meet with department heads and the technology committee (technology lead teachers) to discover who can help teach about web 2.0 applications

With a small cohort of like-minded teachers, build a presentation to share with leadership staff.

Build a wiki of resources to be used for teaching about each application; e.g., the wiki page on Diigo will have links to

Set up short, varied tutorial sessions to be offered at various times: before or after school, during a spare

Offer longer, in-depth sessions during exam week, during department meeting time, or on a half day with teachers given release time to participate.

Use the cascade model – I teach you, you teach two others, they each two more, etc.

Use the cohort model – start with the interested/committed, establish training. Aim for one or two from each department.

Arrange for release time for the instructors and for interested participants who want to hone their skills.

Have the same session offered by different instructors, so that participants can work with the person they choose.

Partner experienced teacher with newbie when using a technique for the first time with a class (e.g., building a wiki)

Showcase results. Share staff and student work in a presentation at a department meeting and staff meetings, on the web site and at parent nights.

Query staff as to what sessions they want.

Enlist gifted students to help teach.

Enlist non-teaching staff to share what they know (e.g., computer tech has a Facebook page for his hockey team)

Offer a variety of opportunities for learning including online resources, one-on-one instruction, small groups, use more than one instructor. Create a wiki of online tutorials for each application. Pull from sites like 100 Free Library 2.0 Webinars and Tutorials.

Take photos of tutorials and post on Flickr or have participants create slideshows online (Animoto, Slideshare, etc.)

Showcase results. Share staff and student work in a presentation at a department meeting and staff meetings, on the web site and at parent nights.

All departments have photos of staff and students at work, best practices, etc. Give a workshop for Foods on turning these quickly into a presentation with music and text using Animoto.

Have volunteers blog (anonymously if they like) their experiences as they explore web 2.0

Offer particular sessions to particular departments e.g., do a session on VoiceThread for English teachers using a poem they teach, or doing a visual response.

Showcase results. Share staff and student work in a presentation at a department meeting and staff meetings, on the web site and at parent nights.

Do a session on social bookmarking with the science department and have them transfer all their bookmarks to Diigo, and set up and/or join Diigo groups by topic; e.g., global warming, genetics, etc.

Do a session on RSS feeds with the social studies department. Show them Free Technology for Teachers: 34 Ways to Use RSS  and then have them explore the Social Studies Resources listed in the left margin. Have them sign up for a Google Reader account. Walk them through Getting Started with Google Reader.

Look at blogging for math classes (some teachers are already have students keep journals). Explore Darren Kuropatwa’s various blogs for mathematics classes.

Follow Helene Blowers‘s advice and tell staff to HAVE FUN! Look at her blog for reflections on teaching web 2.0 to adult learners.

Showcase results. Share staff and student work in a presentation at a department meeting and staff meetings, on the web site and at parent nights.


I particularly like the last sentence in the article Assessment For Learning: Planning for Professional Development.

“Taking time to incorporate changes in ways that strengthen and support current initiatives makes sense. Beginning quietly, but in inspirational ways, is often the best way to build a climate for sustained efforts that support change.”

Sharing expertise in ways that work with my colleagues, and celebrating the exciting product and learning that I know will result, can’t help but make our school a more vibrant learning environment.  Professional learning – here we come!

Blogs for Professional Development – The Willow

Last week we arrived home late in the afternoon after a brief rain storm, and as we got out of the car we saw our willow tree bathed in gold. My husband dashed in the house to get his camera, and took a dozen shots of it.

This beautiful tree is old, much older than our house, and an arborist with the city recently told us that it has the biggest trunk of any tree in Edmonton. It’s so big that it’s impossible to take a photograph of the whole tree. Its branches have been bent and broken by the wind, and shaped by many human hands over the years.

As I was planning this entry on blogs as professional development, it occurred to me that trying to capture the variety and breadth of blogs useful to teachers and teacher-librarians is like trying to photograph the intricate network of our tree. It’s just not possible to capture it all. What I’ve decided to do is take a few snapshots from different angles to share some of the power of the blog network.

How Blogs are Used

In Towards School Library 2.0: An Introduction to Social Software Tools for Teacher Librarians, Jo-Anne Naslund and Dean Giustini summarize the research on how blogs are being used in schools. Blogs can encourage

  • Online chat, debate and reflective practice.
  • Students to share their personal stories.
  • “Reading about other schools and their challenges, and what students and teachers are thinking, talking about and feeling.”
  • Reaching out to the community
  • Creating gathering places for professional development
  • “Providing a window into teaching”
  • Getting “information out to the public about teachers, and what they do.”
  • Sharing “information about current issues and practices of interest.”

Scott Leslie, an educational technology researcher and emerging technology analyst, and a prolific blogger himself, has created a matrix of uses for Web logs in education. These are divided into instructors and students reading and writing blogs. Among others, instructors’ uses include reading subject-specific blogs to keep up with current practice, and writing blogs as instruction for students or as networking with colleagues.

Tony Lowe has created a Drag and Drop version of the matrix to which you can add your own descriptors, a wonderful tool to use in a workshop on blogging with teachers.

In her eloquent article, Becoming Teacher Librarian 2.0, Anita Brooks Kirkland discusses the responsibility of teacher librarians in ensuring the early adoption of web 2.0 in schools. This includes using blogging.

“We need to learn about this huge movement, where we have access to the knowledge and opinions of anyone and everyone, and where the value of that information is assessed and ranked by the user community. If we are to remain the information specialists in our schools, we need to master this new media and understand where it fits into the broader information landscape. We need to become Teacher-Librarian 2.0 to help provide context for our Web 2.0 students.”

Kirkland goes on to provide four ways to get up-to-date:

  • Explore: Teacher-librarians must “Subscribe to, and follow the blogs of leading thinkers in the school library world and the wider library world to engage in the conversation about these issues.” She provides a list of some of these.
  • Exploit professional learning opportunities: “More and more professional learning opportunities are accessible to us when and where we need them, especially where face-to-face learning is inaccessible.” Many conferences now are offered online and/or are blogged as they occur and afterwards.
  • Consider the implications: “We need to engage in professional conversation about these issues and collaborate on developing the solutions.” Reading, writing, and commenting on blogs are ways to participate in these discussions.
  • Engage: It is essential that t-ls learn about and daily use the new technologies, including blogging, to support their programs.

Finding Blogs for Teachers

There are many ways to find useful blogs, in addition to searching, not including using Google blog search. These include checking the blog rolls, or lists of blogs, on blogs written by people you respect and whose work you follow. You can also find blogs on web sites such as Edutopia and Education World, or on sites for professional journals such as Teacher Magazine. Conferences often have blogs as part of their web sites, such as the recent K-12 Online Conference.

The Edublog Awards provides a wide assortment of blog links, giving 15 awards, including 7 different types of educational blogs.

  • Best individual blog
  • Best group blog
  • Best resource sharing blog
  • Best teacher blog
  • Best librarian / library blog
  • Best educational tech support blog
  • Best elearning / corporate education blog

In addition to the seven listed above, The Edublog Awards are presented in these categories, providing even more possibilities for professional development:

  • Best new blog
  • Most influential blog post
  • Best educational use of audio
  • Best educational use of video / visual
  • Best educational wiki
  • Best educational use of a social networking service
  • Best educational use of a virtual world

While the 2008 winners have not yet been announced, you can view the 2007 winners as well as the top nominees. You can also look back at previous winners. Here is a plethora of educators writing about all aspects of education, from the district administrators’ standpoint to the university academician to the classroom teacher to the teacher librarian, and all areas in between. In addition, in the Awards blog you can find blogs that people think should have been nominated but weren’t.

Finding Blogs for Teacher Librarians

Naslund and Giustini suggest that “A good place for teacher librarians who want to explore blogs is Alice Yucht’s EduBiblioBlog List which identifies over 50 library media-related blogs divided by category: kidlit blogs, young adult lit blogs, school library blogs, infolit blogs, edtech blogs, library land blogs and association blogs. Many of these blogs are created for teacher librarian associations while others are written by teachers who share their views about school library issues, children’s and young adult literature.”

Impact as A 21st-Century Library Media Specialist, by Peggy Milam Creighton, discusses many expert professionals in the field. This article is a superb source of information about how these “exemplary library media specialists” work to improve their practice and share their expertise. Check the many links to find blogs (as well as other resources such as wikis and nings) created by these movers and shakers.

Professional Blogs to Explore, from Becoming Teacher Librarian 2.0, by Anita Brooks Kirkland, provides a good beginner’s list of blogs:

Blogs about school library programs:

Blogs from the wider world of libraries:

Finding My Blogs

The most useful resource for me as a teacher librarian has been the list serv LM_Net, (read Doug Johnson’s post on LM_Net here – he calls it the “original Read/Write web”) which has been graced over the years by postings from Peter Milbury, Mike Eisenberg Joyce Valenza, Doug Johnson, Shonda Brisco, Barbara Braxton, Gary Price, and many, many others. When I began to look for blogs to follow, I started with looking for blogs by these experts I already knew. Then I looked at the blogs they read, and expanded my repertoire.

Of course our instructor, Joyce de Groot, and Will Richardson, author of our textbook, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, have expanded my horizons exponentially. In addition, a major joy of taking the Web 2.0 course is the wealth of new material – and new-to-me blogs – shared by my classmates. Thank you to you all for this! You can see a selected list of the 40+ blogs I follow below, and in the blog roll to the left of this post.