Monday, August 28, 2006

Article Note: On Lifelong Learning.

Citation for the article:

Helterbran, Valeri R. "Lifelong Learning: A Stratagem for New Teachers." Academic Exchange Quarterly 9.4 (Winter 2005).

I read it online, with a hat tip to Michael Lorenzen's Information Literacy Land of Confusion.

If you replace the word "teachers" for "librarians," the points made in this article are just as valid for our profession. Helterbran begins by stating that "lifelong learning is at the heart of practice for novice teachers." It should be at the heart of practice for librarians, and I mean all librarians. Part of this includes keeping up, which is something I have considered here and there. However, lifelong learning is an attitude, an outlook in life. You can go through the motions of keeping up, but if you don't apply what you learn and continue to grow, you may as well turn off your alert services and aggregators and stop reading. Overall, a lot of the library sector where the librarian bloggers hang out argues or suggests some form of lifelong learning.

Like new teachers, new librarians, particularly in new settings, can easily fall into daily routines without paying attention to their own continuing learning. I get the feeling this may be less extreme for my brethren in the tenure-track wheel of fortune (or tree of woe). After all, they are practically forced to continuously "learn" if they are to attain tenure. That's why they scramble to find article ideas in every thing they do (just read the LIS literature, which is full of "how my library did ____" articles) and why they rush to get into professional organization committees. I am sure there are some out there who serve out of true interest, but I am willing to bet that for many it is just a CV line. At least, that is what some of my brethren on that side of the fence tell me combined with observation from my adjunct days.

Now for those of us not on the tenure-track maze, continuous learning is not easy either. We usually have high workloads. I am not saying my tenure-line brethren don't have highj workloads, but they probably get a bit more support for the research and publishing part. Notice I say "some" support. The point for those in settings like mine is that continuous learning can become an afterthought. It's the thing you do if you ever get the time, which you rarely get. So it becomes important for those like me to take matters into our own hands. In the end, every librarian is responsible for their lifelong learning. So readers in the profession, ask yourselves how you are dealing with this. If need be, make a plan. Write it down and revisit it over time. I like putting things in writing because it reinforces the commitment.

Let me go on and note some points from the article:
  • "Novice teachers need high quality, sustained professional development at the beginning--and throughout--their careers." Just because it's expensive, it does not follow it's high quality. My school district where I had my first teaching job was known for hiring some very expensive consultants to conduct in-service training. Did I get anything out of them? Not really. On the other hand, I got a lot out of activities outside the district. This applies to libraries as well. It does not mean you need expensive hired guns, though an occasional hired speaker may be good. For instance then, if you send someone to a conference or workshop, have them teach the rest of the librarians about it. It benefits the library, and it benefits them since teaching is a great way to reinforce learning. Take my word on this: you can learn a lot about a topic when you have to teach about it. But going back to the point, you need quality professional development. If your workplace does not provide it, go outside and around the system. Do whatever it takes.
  • "Lifelong learning is a way of instruction-- and a way of life."
  • On defining lifelong learning: "In its simplest form that lifelong learning may be defined as a blend of the formal educationof one's youth coupled with a pastiche of self-directed formal or informal educative endeavors thereafter. In similar regard, a lifelong learner is one who typically exhibits a love of learning for its own sake, voluntarily participates in learning activities, demonstrates the ability to be self-directive and reflective, and sustains engagement in learning enterprises-- qualities that are expressed regardless of personal or social circumstances" (R. Barth, qtd. in Helterbran). I don't think I can add much to this since, for me, this is part of my teaching and life philosophies. It's a big reason for me becoming a librarian.
  • Helterbran also reminds us that we need to see learning as a shared experience. She adds that "confusion and frustration on the students' part are often a natural part of learning." I will give a caveat: Making students work and be responsible for their learning is good, but it must be fair. Assigning a big research assignment without guidance and with the assumption they already know how to do research is not fair nor is it constructive.
  • Finally, Helterbran presents three areas to consider in order to sustain lifelong learning.
    • "Examine one's own lifelong learning quotient." The author does not give an exact definition of lifelong learning quotient. If I understood the reading, this means being able to examine your commitment and involvement in lifelong learning. Under this, the author added something that concerned me greatly. She wrote, "however, without a groundswell of likeminded educators and a school community that views the concept of lifelong learning as foundational and models the characteristics of lifelong learning, the crush of external demands may dishearten the most enthusiastic new teacher." All I will say is that it can get lonely if you happen to be that one very enthusiastic teacher or librarian.
    • "Initiate dialogs." The author points out that the topic of lifelong learning has been neglected by many educators for years. I'll say it's been neglected by many librarians and their administrators as well. She suggests that new teachers who are filled with new ideas and enthusiasm can help start these conversations. I say the same for librarians, but I also say if librarians are committed to lifelong learning, and they continue to be active and enthusiastic learners, then they can continue the conversations over time. You don't want to become the deadwood.
    • "Set a plan of action." Helterbran says that doing this may create more questions than answers, and that's just fine by me. The idea behind creating a plan is to strengthen your skills and practices as well as to make new discoveries. I like this example: "The content of an action plan may include making efforts to involve students actively in the learning process, designing instructional activities to be inquiry-based motivated by a goal of critical thinking, and allowing students a voice in the learning process when and where appropriate." The example goes along with some things I learned during Immersion. However, I would also take plan of action to mean your plan for overall professional development and growth.
And if you need more on thinking and learning, Stephen Abrams, of Stephen's Lighthouse, has some ideas on "Playing and Learning." After all, no one said it had to be a shore. This mostly deals with learning about the 2.0 toys, but it is still applicable.

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