Doug: Martha Martin and I have know each other for a long, long time in a number of contexts. We’ll touch on a few of them below. She’s currently a Teacher-Librarian at LaSalle Public School in LaSalle, Ontario. I was delighted when she agreed to talk about things for the blog.
Welcome, Martha. Obviously, from the introduction above, this is more than the first time we’ve interacted. But, can you remember when we first met?
Martha: Hm. I remember working with you at my first school, when email was just starting out, dot matrix printers were a thing, and you had kindly offered to teach me how to use said technology to write to my brother who was currently living in India. I got to know you better once I had your elder daughter in my grade 7 class, though.
Doug: Oh, yes. That doesn’t date us too much.
One of the things that people should know is that you were a teacher of all our children. They’re all fabulous readers and creators of media and attribute it to “Mrs. Martin”. What’s your secret?
Martha: I’d love to take credit for that, but I think parents are most responsible for their children reading (or not reading). I will say I have been blessed to be able to offer kids great books — and the right book at the right time is sometimes all it takes!
Doug: That’s a humble response! Can we at least agree on being partners in literacy?
I walk the dog by your old school daily! One of the things that I often reflect on is the number of principals that have been there. Do you see a regular change of principals as a good thing for a school and its community?
Martha: That’s a hard question. On average our administrators tend to stay for about five years in a school. A new principal can bring new life and a new direction to a school.
Doug: What advice would you give to an incoming principal to a school?
Martha: Don’t walk in preparing to “fix” and “change” everything right away. Get to know the staff — both their strengths and their weaknesses. Get to know the students and their families. Really get to know them. Walk with kids on the yard, pop into classrooms, and be present. The relationships you build will either make you or break you, so get started on those relationships right away.
Doug: Great advice. Success in education is all about the relationships.
That school had one of the more unique library layouts. In a mini-way, it looks like some of those pictures you see of “great libraries” from around the world. Can you describe it for readers and let us know the pluses and minuses of such a layout?
Martha: The school library was essentially a three story space. The bottom floor was below ground level, and had room for perimeter shelving, two offices, and a number of round tables as well as the circulation desk. Around this lower level, but on the “ground” floor, was a half-circle walkway with more shelving on the external wall, and a half wall that looked down into that lowest level. The ceiling continued up past the shelving with high windows to let in light, and amounted to a third story, although it had no flooring in the main library part. There was access to a small third story area where more offices and storage were provided, but it was not through the library. I still dream about that library!
Doug: Professionally, you were the school’s CIESC (Computers in Education School Contact) and we would meet regularly as a result for scheduled bi-monthly sessions and also my school visits. I miss those meetings – you people always pushed me to do something new. I’m sure it’s different now. How?
Martha: Those were great days. You always found us such neat stuff to explore, and left us excited to get back to school and share!
We have had a few versions of that role, but it has changed for good as of this past year. Our board apparently no longer has the funding whereby we were able to hold those meetings, so it was time to become creative. The role is now called the ILT (“Innovation Learning Teacher”) and it’s actually closer to what you envisioned and offered. In recent years the CIESC was the person who sent in repair requests and tried to fix issues — and there were many. Now, sponsored through a different Ministry Innovation grant, the ILTs will be more focused on teaching and supporting the Global Competencies with technology (http://www.edugains.ca/newsite/aer/global_competencies.html), and less on keeping the technology going.
Doug: In my mind, the goal should always be about effective teaching and learning with technology. There are always adopters at different stages.
One of the things that I fondly remember is that so many of the CIESC group were teacher-librarians. In fact, at my old secondary school, our teacher-librarian was always quick to move with technology. What is it about teacher-librarians that make them this way and such quick embracers of technology?
Martha: I think teacher librarians have to be willing to embrace everything, because a true teacher librarian’s role is being all things to all people. It is the ultimate multi-tasking job. You are fielding requests from a teacher, a student, and an administrator at the same time, while trying to fix the data projector and race to the bathroom! A good library program should teach students what they need to know right when they need to know it…and technology is what all of our kids need to know these days. That said, I personally don’t like the trend I see of teacher librarians only teaching technology, any more than I like the trend of them only doing Makerspaces, or only doing read alouds. A good librarian needs to teach a little of everything. And technology certainly helps us to do that.
Doug: Now that I no longer hold those meetings, there must be alternative ways to communicate with schools. Do you buy into the concept of making learning visible so that everyone can enjoy your initiatives?
Martha: I do! I have been a regular on our board’s various incarnations of communication tools, from First Class, to Yammer (I think I was the only one using that!), to Edsby in recent days. Still, those are only board resources, and so I’ve used Wikis and our school webpage to create a more accessible online repository of my resources.
Doug: I remember your involvement and you were among the first to dive in with your personal website and wiki. You do the same thing at your new school. Where do you see the value in this?
Martha: First of all, I have to laugh at you referencing my “new school.” I’ve been there seventeen years now! (Hard to believe, isn’t it?) I have taken my show on the road for chunks of four of those years, though, working in our board as an Instructional Coach or Consultant for Libraries. I tell them they will have to carry me out in a coffin, because after designing it and being there so long, it is my baby!
Now back to your question…
I love using Wikis to teach, and I’ve yet to find other platforms that work as well for me personally, though I’m trying Edsby (which, as I said, our board is using and promoting), and I maintain our school’s website using Sharepoint. As a teacher, a workshop facilitator and a writer, I need a place where I can keep my resources in the cloud and others can access them. Not all platforms are as intuitive as I’d like, but I live in hope Edsby will get there.
Doug: 17 years! Wow! I was in LaSalle recently and did drive by the school. From the outside, it still looks brand new, with a personality that you don’t see in more modern cookie-cutter buildings.
In your mind, what’s the difference between a Librarian and a Teacher-Librarian?
Martha: A huge difference! Because we have a Bachelor of Education degree on top of whatever our university undergraduate degree is, teacher librarians are teachers first and foremost. We can assess and evaluate student work. We know the curricula inside out (and if we don’t, we need to pull up our socks and get learning it! A pet peeve of mine!) I frequently say we are not just “shelvers of books and shushers of children.” The role requires the teacher librarian to be a curriculum leader, and an embedded coach in the school, supporting not just students but all our colleagues as well. Librarians are amazing people and when I retire, I might join their ranks, but they are not able to evaluate student work or teach students. We are specialist teachers, and we are funded as such from the Ministry of Education. We should therefore be staffed and funded according to the Ministry allotment. All boards receive the same library funding in Ontario per student, yet many boards like our co-terminus one have no libraries or librarians, teacher or otherwise. Where is that money going? (Now you have me on my soapbox!)
Doug: Library, Library Commons, Makerspace, Resource Centre – what’s your preferred name for this area and why?
Martha: I prefer what the Canadian School Libraries group (http://www.canadianschoollibraries.ca/) has chosen: “The School Library Learning Commons” (SLLC). A number of administrators in our board quickly got on the bandwagon to change “Library” to “Learning Commons” because they focused on the space itself. They put money into perimeter shelving and comfy chairs, but didn’t staff it or care about the non-technological resources like books. By putting “Library” back into the name, we are putting the books and teacher librarian back into the space.
Doug: At one point in your career, you were a Teacher-Librarian coach. What did that involve?
Martha: The role varied over the four years I did it, but in general it involved our board using a grant from the Ministry to second one or more of us to work with the 55 designated elementary teacher librarians in our board. The focus of the grant was to improve the teaching and learning happening in our elementary school libraries, and our superintendent Dr. Clara Howitt received the Administrator of the Year Award from the Ontario School Library Association for her creative way of using that grant. Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, because the Ministry hasn’t demanded administrators staff the library according to the funding formula, few school boards have teacher librarians working to the staffing allotment they should be, or in their actual role. While my board does insist on designated teacher librarians, some administrators continue to find correctly staffing and scheduling the TL to be a challenge. This made coaching difficult, as I was often doing the TL’s job (e.g., weeding, inventory, selecting resources and collaborating) while the TL was teaching primary dance or drama, or working as the Vice Principal (with their teaching assignment being TL, but not actually being in the SLLC with students.) The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) is lobbying the Ministry to put its money where its mouth is, but with Premier Ford, I’m less hopeful anything will change soon.
Doug: If you were “Queen T-L for a day” and could advise the new Minister of Education, what one change would you make with respect to school libraries?
Martha: Absolutely make all school boards staff and fund school libraries according to the funding formula the Ministry itself put in place, and ensure no elementary school has less than a half time teacher librarian. That TL needs to see all students (not just primary) in the School Library Learning Commons or in classrooms through collaboration periods with classroom teachers.
Doug: You’re a published author. Congratulations! Tell us about “River Traffic” and “Mayan Murder”.
Martha: I’ve always loved to write, and really wanted to try my hand at writing fiction for reluctant readers. I have four nonfiction books out for the school market, and one of those (D-Day, Crabtree Chrome, 2012) was for reluctant readers. As I was recovering from spine surgery, my friend suggested I try to write a hi-lo (high interest, low vocabulary) novel for Orca Book Publishers. They are short…and as I needed to relearn how to use my right hand post-surgery, it seemed like a good project!
These hi-los appear as regular novels for older kids, but in fact tap out at a reading level from grades 2-4 usually. My SLLC has a large collection of them and they are popular with all students, not just struggling readers, because they are quick reads and have current, relevant plots, usually with lots of action.
Doug: What are the novels about, and where can we get them?
Martha: Both are contemporary “ripped from the headlines” mysteries that feature crime, action, history, and a bit of teen romance. River Traffic involves the Detroit River and is set in my hometown of LaSalle, Ontario, made famous for our rumrunning history. Mayan Murder launches in October, 2018 and is set in the Mayan Riviera, with the same protagonists as River Traffic holidaying on Spring Break when bullets start to fly. You can order them online from any bookstore, since most bookstores don’t carry many hi-los in stock on their shelves.
Doug: We have a common friend in Diana Maliszewski. Diana recently gave a presentation at the #ECOOCamp in Owen Sound. Do you have a Martha and Diana story you can share?
Martha: I love that you added, “that you can share.” You know us well!
One of my favourite stories involves Di running around Superconference, the huge library convention in Toronto, wearing fluffy, pale blue boudoir slippers. She had a pedicure and wanted to show it off. Then there was the time she made herself an outfit in honour of Twilight that only Di could (or would) make. (If you ask her nicely, maybe she will share a photo of it!) In the meantime, I will share this one, where our friend Sharon Seslija, Diana, myself and others were having a Winterlicious moment. No idea now what made us so excited, but the expression on Di’s face shows why she’s so much fun!
Doug: Thank you so much for taking the time for this interview, Martha. It’s really appreciated.
Make sure that you’re following Martha and enjoying her online resources.