I became certified to teach English and drama after finishing my undergraduate degree (majoring in Speech and Drama, minoring in English) and taking an additional year of graduate courses (mostly focused on educational theory and student teaching experiences). I learned teaching practices, but essentially nothing about the mental processes of learning. I taught middle school and high school English and drama for three years before I became a librarian. I did complete two Master’s degrees in those years – one focusing on Communications and Theatre and the other on Education: Instructional Resources (or school librarianship). With my second Master’s, I had courses on school library management, collection development, and youth literature, but limited coursework on teaching and learning.
To be honest, I never thought about the process of learning when I was an English teacher. I did try to get my students to think, but, as I said in my epistemology [see Epistemology & Learning Memo 1 | Learning to know and understand through inquiry], I did most of the thinking and asked my students to react to my ideas. I started to explore how to teach students to think only after I became a librarian. Two things happened during my years as a high school librarian that led to my focus on a research process initially and then an inquiry process – I took additional graduate education courses to lead to an Educational Specialist degree and I pursued my own in-depth investigations about topics that interested me (like authentic assessment).
The learning that I did during those 16 years as a building-level librarian was powerful because I was able to translate the theory and research into my practice. I figured out a way to implement every educational theory that intrigued me. That’s why Judy Pitts and I developed a research process and a taxonomy of authentic research products. We collaborated with teachers to design instructional lessons and units that allowed us to try out our ideas, improve them, and build on them.
My shift to inquiry and an inquiry model did not occur until I became a library administrator and completed the thesis for my Ed Specialist degree. Inquiry was the focus of my thesis and I studied it in depth. From there, I developed the model that I have continued to explore and refine ever since as a library administrator, doctoral student, and library educator.
What I realize is that my preparation as a school librarian helped me to get a glimpse of my role as a teacher, but I did not actually understand teaching and learning through the library until I pursued learning on my own and had the opportunity to implement the ideas in my practice as a school librarian.
By the time I became a professor in a Master’s of Library Science program, I was convinced of the necessity for teaching school library students about inquiry, teaching for inquiry, collaboration with classroom teachers, and the literacy and inquiry skills that all students need to learn. I know that there is increasing emphasis in graduate programs for school librarians across the United States on teaching and learning, inquiry, and the librarian’s role in integrating process skills with classroom content through collaboration. I suspect that every school library graduate program takes a slightly different approach, emphasizing some aspects more than others. I do not see a strong push toward inquiry-based teaching and learning emanating from most graduate education/school library preparation programs.
As I admitted, I did not really learn about inquiry in my own graduate education. Rather than focusing on pre-service preparation of school librarians, I think we might be better served to focus on supporting continuous and collaborative in-service education. The role of professional organizations, national and international standards, and accessible professional development may be pivotal in bringing the profession of school librarianship to a new level of understanding and implementation of inquiry principles and practice. The conversations facilitated by the FOSIL Group are an example of the collaborative effort that will have an impact.