Assessment as Care

water from watering can falling on small plants - Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

I’m in a weird head space at the moment. I attended the Critical Librarianship and Pedagogy Symposium (CLAPS) last month and am about to attend the Library Assessment Conference (LAC) later this week. Based on what I experienced at CLAPS and what I’ve read about LAC, the two conferences couldn’t feel more different.  I am very curious about how we continue to conceptualize and shape the idea of assessment in libraries.

At CLAPS, I had the pleasure of attending a workshop led by Anne Cong-Huyen, Digital Scholarship Strategist, and Kush Patel, Digital Pedagogy Librarian, at the University of Michigan. Their exploration of critical digital pedagogy in librarianship was a wonderful mix of writing, reflection, and discussion on the ways in which we can build critical and queer feminist communities in our classes. As part of the session, Anne and Kush asked participants to read five different excerpts of selected texts on care, praxis, technologies, design, and assessment, and then write our reflections on these excerpts as they apply to our own teaching and the learning we want to facilitate in our classes. (You can read the excerpts on the slides they’ve graciously shared online). The excerpt that resonated with me the most was from Critical Generosity by Jill Dolan, which illustrates a generous and caring approach to the criticism of dramatic performances and artists. It was presented as a model for assessment in teaching and learning, one that recast–in my mind, anyway–assessment as care and sustenance.

The current narrative of assessment in libraries is that of justification. We prove our value, show our impact, and demonstrate our connection to student learning and student success. I know we are working and teaching at a time when higher education funding and academic jobs are precarious and departments and faculty are constantly being asked to prove their worth. I am sympathetic to our attempts to demonstrate, through assessment, that our work in libraries is important. I’ve done and published this kind of assessment myself! But because our assessment is done with the intent to appease an external audience, we are constantly in a position to validate our own existence, rather than support the learning realities of our students and teaching librarians. Our assessment is an act of survival, in our minds, rather than something that enriches and feeds ourselves and our students. I’ve shared my professional angst about librarianship not having a seat at the academic table and the ways that influences interactions between librarians and faculty. Our library assessment culture reflects this reality, but it also continues the narrative that we need to prove ourselves worthy of trust and acceptance.

Dolan writes about her first encounter with “critical generosity” in David Roman’s book, Acts of Intervention. Roman describes caring for friends who were HIV positive during a showing of the famously long play, Angels in America. Throughout the performance, he conducted frequent interpersonal assessments: Is everyone doing ok? Does someone need to take their medication? Is there enough food and water? Do people need a break/rest? The root and ongoing narrative of this assessment was care, sustenance, and really, love.

I recognize I’m asking for what many may view as a stretch: making a connection between the interpersonal care Roman and Dolan write about and institutional library assessment. But our teaching and learning in higher education and libraries is about the students we teach and the interpersonal connections we make everyday. So many of our attempts at assessment stay away from “messiness.” We want numbers that make good stories, and we want those good stories to make the library look good. But in staying away from messiness we are erasing the people at the center our work–their complications, needs, bodies, etc. In short, we’re staying away from the “gore” of learning. I don’t mean to be graphic, but I do think our proclivity for neatness is in direct conflict with the process of learning. In my own attempts at large-scale, summative, value-focused assessment, the best I’ve been able to show is that learning takes time, and our own work as teaching librarians is never-ending.

Yes, I know we have annual reports to write and numbers to share with our directors, deans, provosts, and presidents. I do too. But we have power within our profession with the papers we write, the kind of assessment we advocate for and practice, and the care that we exhibit within our work. What would it mean to embrace a critical practice of assessment? What could that look like?

 

Trust Me

Reading Annie Downey’s Critical Information Literacy  was like looking into a mirror that only shows your most awkward professional reflection. Her interviews with “critical” librarians (those who adopt a critical approach to information literacy and practice critical pedagogy) are some of the most honest, true-to-life experiences I’ve read from those of us who consider ourselves teaching librarians. Her descriptions of “turf issues” hit particularly close to home:

“it’s a long process to build relationships where the faculty members have some trust in the librarian and respect the librarian’s knowledge, and the librarian has to do it in a graceful way.” –quote from “Linda” (Downey, 2016,  p.133).

Librarians described years of making “gradual changes” to classes and workshops, “tread[ing] lightly when it came to introducing new ideas or using [new] methods” in the classroom, and working hard to “gain the trust of [a] department’s faculty so that she could exercise more freedom in the classroom” (Downey, 2016, p. 132-133). To which I replied in the margins of the text in my special angry orange pen:

REALLY?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

Why Must We “Gain” Trust?

It’s most disturbing to me that academic librarians are not automatically seen as experts in our disciplines of information literacy (critical or otherwise) and information organization. When an Intro to Women and Gender Studies instructor at my institution wants to introduce students to the concept of feminist economics, she calls on a colleague in the economics department to guest lecture. When a literature professor wants to offer students a deeper context for a novel set in France, she might ask a friend in the International Languages & Culture department to sit in and offer commentary during a class discussion. But as an academic librarian we are not necessarily seen as possessing valuable expertise until we prove ourselves worthy, which is virtually impossible to do if we aren’t invited into a class to teach.

Efforts at librarian-faculty collaboration privilege departmental faculty, even when librarians are members of the faculty at their institutions. Librarians work hard to seek out teaching opportunities within the curriculum, then must go the extra step of convincing faculty that they have something to contribute to students’ educational experiences. I have had so many conversations with faculty before, during, and after classes where they demonstrate pleasant surprise that I’ve planned out a lesson, given thought to my teaching, and even created assignments. As I stand there stunned, smiling, I can’t help but think, “What else did you expect? How little did you expect of me? What do you think it is I do?”

No, Really, Why?

The auto-librarian response to faculty who desire us to prove our worth is to work hard to do so. There is this belief within the profession that we are or have been somehow deficient, and now we must work to prove our worth to our colleagues in academia because we either a) didn’t do it before; b) tried, but were really bad at it; or c) are trying to make up for bad professional practice. We look inward and blame ourselves. We blame our graduate school training, internships, professional values, and practices. We blame our library administrators, librarian colleagues, predecessors, and librarians-in-training.

But we never blame academia.

 

We never blame the institutions that force us to beg for seats at the academic table and prove that we belong to be there. I sometimes wonder how my friends in the psychology department would respond if someone asked them, “Why are you on the curriculum committee? What do you possibly teach?” I can’t imagine my colleagues in the history department would respond well to a last minute request to “Come on in and do your history schtick tomorrow in my class, will you?” We can blame ourselves all we want. We can continue to create and attend conference presentations on collaborating with faculty. We can continue to read about ways to demonstrate our worth and our importance to our faculty through outreach. Or we could stop trying to prove ourselves and just assume that chair at the table–the one right in the middle– is our due the same as it is for every other faculty member at our institution.

I recognize that not all librarians are faculty at every institution (although I think we should be), but we are still a profession, despite decades of various work sociologists trying to say otherwise. Yes, relationships, including working and teaching relationships, are built on trust, but there is an implicit understanding that as a fellow faculty member or educator that you are, well, an educator. That understanding should extend to librarians as well. I realize that this sentiment may border on petulant: We are important! You need to think so! But that’s not really my intent with this post. I want us to internalize and embody the expertise we all possess. It is so easy (and so overdone) to denigrate our profession and blame ourselves for our current subclass position in academia. But that’s the power of, well, POWER. We think we’re in this spot–where we have to beg for classroom time and hope that we do well in that one class so that one professor will trust us with their class again–and it dictates our entire professional identity. This belief has created subsets of academic librarianship–liaisons, outreach librarians–that exist because we believe that we need to accept the current educational situation and work within it rather than upend it.

Yes, it’s easy to say, “Down with the hierarchy of academia!” but what would happen if we started to act like it didn’t really exist? What would our education programs look like? How would our jobs change? I think they are questions worth exploring as we perpetually engage in the “library of the future” dialogue and the never-ending back-and-forth of whether or not libraries even have a future. I think we do, and I think the library itself is the educational disruption.

Peer Coaching for Professional Learning

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Marisa Méndez-Brady, Science Librarian, and Jennifer Bonnet, Social Sciences & Humanities Librarian, at the University of Maine.

Finding the time and resources to devote to professional learning can be a challenge, especially at institutions that are less geographically proximate to the broader library community. The University of Maine is a land and sea grant institution in the rural town of Orono, where opportunities to engage with peers at other colleges and universities take a concerted effort and may require additional financial resources to participate. While these constraints limit our ability to go to as many conferences as we would like, one day a year our department attends a gathering of Maine academic librarians where colleagues across the state present ideas that generate excitement and lead to further exploration.

During the 2016 Maine Academic Libraries Day, Bowdoin College librarian Beth Hoppe made a strong case for using the ACRL Framework to embrace non-prescriptive practices in our teaching, as part of a critical pedagogical approach to working with students.

Following this talk, we couldn’t stop thinking: how might we enhance the delivery of information literacy concepts in our own library instruction by more deliberately incorporating critical pedagogy? Motivated to improve our teaching techniques and extend our professional learning, the two of us embarked on a peer coaching project. Over the course of three months we used a study group model to brainstorm, design, and implement a suite of lesson plans that centered the diversity of student voices and experiences in our instruction sessions.

Peer coaching is commonly used in K-12 learning environments, and is a technique lauded by the instructional design community for its broad applicability. It is a non-evaluative, professional learning model in which two or more colleagues work collaboratively to: design curricula, create assessments, develop lesson plans, brainstorm ideas, problem solve, and reflect on current pedagogical practices (Robbins, 2015).

Although peer coaching can be formalized within a department or unit, we participated in an informal method known as the study group model, where two or more people engage in collaborative professional development for learning (PDL) around a subject of interest. We chose this model because it offers flexibility when it comes to constraints on time or finances, providing a sustainable method for professional development during the hectic instruction schedule of a typical semester. The graphic below illustrates different approaches to utilizing peer coaching for professional learning.

From https://www.polk-fl.net/staff/professionaldevelopment/documents/Chapter16-PeerCoaching.pdf

To shape our peer coaching project, we consulted instructional design literature, which (1) emphasizes the importance of creating professional learning that is individualized to the specific learning context and audience for the learning, and (2) focuses on content, pedagogy, or both (Guskey, 2009). We also integrated the three key components of effective peer coaching: a pre-conference to establish the goals for PDL; the learning process; and a post-conference to assess the PDL process.

The pre-conference in the context of peer coaching consists of meeting to establish PDL goals based on participant interest and applicability to one’s praxis. Our pre-conferencing took a two-pronged approach. First, we established an overarching goal to use the ACRL Framework to develop learner-centered teaching outcomes. Then, we held individual pre-conferences focused on the following Frames: (1) research as inquiry, (2) scholarship as conversation, and (3) searching as strategic exploration. We selected three upcoming instruction sessions (i.e., already scheduled in the library) that would be opportune for trying out new pedagogical approaches.

After we set each agenda, we turned from pre-conferencing to the learning process, which involved three study group meetings to design our lesson plans. In advance of each meeting, we selected relevant articles to read and reviewed two to three corresponding lesson plans in the Community of Online Research Assignments. The lesson plans we chose not only engaged with the Framework but revolved around students’ interests and experiences, which helped us consider teaching techniques that were non-prescriptive in practice and drew on critical pedagogical concepts. We then used the scheduled meeting time to adapt these lesson plans to fit the goals of our upcoming instruction sessions.

“When everyone in the classroom, teacher and students, recognizes that they are responsible for creating a learning community together, learning is at its most meaningful and useful.” – bell hooks, Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom

The first lesson plan involved a teach-in that asked students to share their decision-making process when searching for information in both open and licensed resources (ACRL frame: research as inquiry), and was targeted at an upper-level undergraduate communications and marketing course. The second lesson plan focused on deconstructing citations and reverse engineering bibliographies, and was designed for an upper-level undergraduate wildlife policy class (ACRL frame: scholarship as conversation). The third lesson plan used one piece of information from a vaguely-worded news article as a jumping-off point for finding related information across various media, which we co-taught for a student club on campus (ACRL frame: searching as strategic exploration). Although these lesson plans were designed for specific contexts, they are broadly applicable across disciplines and academic levels.

We further engaged with critical pedagogy in a post-conference that succeeded each study group meeting. In the peer coaching context, the post-conference acts as an assessment of the study group experience for us (the learners) and emphasizes the role of self-reflection in gauging our own learning. Building on the work we started in the classroom (via each lesson plan), we took a feminist pedagogical perspective to self reflection that involved open-ended questions about process and practice, and addressed our own PDL outcomes.

“Feminist assessment is inherently reflective, and reflection itself is a feminist act.” Maria Accardi, Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction

We hope to continue using peer coaching in other areas of our praxis. Peer coaching offers a low stakes, low-cost option for professional development that leverages existing resources, draws on the interests and skills of colleagues, and allows for higher frequency contact among participant learners (versus a traditional yearly conference). We also found that the informal structure of the study group model supports flexible implementation and facilitates home-grown continuing education opportunities that are targeted to specific issues we face at our library.

So often, we absorb ideas at conferences, webinars, or through informal conversations. Yet, actualizing these ideas in our own institutional environments can be challenging due to issues like time, motivation, and support. Next time you discover a novel approach or way of thinking about your praxis, we encourage you to try peer coaching! We’d love to hear from you about how you use this professional learning strategy in your own environment.

#libeyrianship: Pop Culture and #critlib in Information Literacy Programs

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Jennifer Ferretti, Digital Initiatives Librarian, and Siân Evans, Instructional Librarian, at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

Beyoncé’s new album ‘Lemonade’ dropped April 23, 2016 as both a traditional album and a “visual album.” The visual album weaves poetry, music, cinematography, fashion, and literary and film references into an hour-long film that follows a woman going through stages of grief. The album was highly anticipated by two librarians at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Jennifer Ferretti, Digital Initiatives Librarian, and Siân Evans, Instructional Librarian. After watching Bey’s Formation music video and her performance at Super Bowl 50, Jenny and Siân realized the topics Beyoncé is exploring in her music provides a perfect opportunity to engage students through a popular point of reference.

In seeking to make research more exciting to undergraduate art students, while also promoting critical thinking skills, Siân developed an instruction session which included a visual analysis of Beyoncé’s Formation, a discussion of Black Lives Matter, and an active learning component in which the students responded to Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance by researching the Black Panther Party in the library catalog, research databases, and special collections. Jenny, also invested in developing critical thinking skills via popular culture, primarily through digital resources, designed a topical LibGuide which provides perspectives, opinions, and ideas referenced or directly address in Lemonade.

In this post, borrowing The New York Times Bits Saturday newsletter’s conversational style, Jenny and Siân discuss #critlib, engaged instruction, and the success of the topical LibGuide “Beyoncé’s Lemonade and Information Resources.”


Jenny: Hi Siân! What are you up to?

Siân: Morning, Jenny! I’m just prepping for a meeting with a faculty member who is teaching a course on Art and Totalitarianism. You?

Jenny: Sounds interesting! I got an email today that has me thinking about my unit of the library, Digital Initiatives, taking on archiving websites.

Siân: Nice! I was having coffee with my dog, Pickle, this morning and I noticed that an article in City Paper came out about the Lemonade LibGuide you made. How many times has that LibGuide been viewed now?

Jenny: Aw, Pickle! Let me check… 39,775 views as of today!

Siân: Dang, girl! How does it feel to be internet librarian famous??

Jenny: <blushing> Honestly, I’m still taking it all in. It feels great to feel supported by so many people who work in libraries, archives, and museums. I love the fact that I can talk about Beyoncé and librarianship in the same conversation. I’m also really enjoying all the other projects that are popping up that are related, like the #LemonadeSyllabus.

Siân: The guide was shared on Twitter by Sherrilyn Ifill, President & Director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, School Library Journal, and Kimberly Drew (aka @museummammy), founder of Black Contemporary Art and Associate Online Community Producer at The Met, among many, many others. It even has its own hashtag: #libeyrianship. That’s pretty epic! So, why did you choose to publish it as a LibGuide? What do you think about them as a means of instruction?

Jenny: The shares have been overwhelming in the best possible way. One of the things I love about Twitter is that you can speak to a certain community, but what you say can also echo out to people you thought wouldn’t find what you do relevant to them. I’m grateful for every share and like!

Honestly, I chose to publish the research guide as a LibGuide because the platform lets you organize information quickly and easily. I didn’t want a list of links. I wanted gifs, book covers, etc. LibGuides can be used for lots of purposes. Decker has been using guides mostly for programs. I find LibGuides to be most successful when they center in on a particular subject or research topic.

After sitting in on your library instruction class based on Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance and Formation video, the idea for a research guide on Lemonade just made sense. In fact, that class went so well and was so different from what I’ve seen here previously, could you tell us a bit more about the idea behind it?

Siân: Sure! I think that was one of the first conversations you and I had about librarianship, because we were both so fascinated by Beyoncé as a means to critical instruction. I had just started working at MICA and I was so thrilled to learn that there are faculty here who are open to creative, critical library instruction.

So, less than a month into my job, I convinced a particularly thoughtful and engaged professor to let me test out my “Beyoncé-based instruction session.” Her class consisted of first year students, mostly fine arts or graphic design majors, who had limited research experience and, in some cases, doubts about the relevance of library research to their work. Our goals were to get them to think about why research is relevant to their practice, to introduce them to different types of library resources, and to think critically about how they read and access information generally. We started with a visual response to the video Formation, mimicking the format of the crits they experience in their studio practice.

Jenny: I have to stop you right there. I loved the visual response part of the session. As MICA alum, I know how important it is to learn effective critique skills, both giving and receiving feedback. I think it’s so interesting that you connected critique to information literacy in this way. It reminds me of Larissa Garcia and Jessica Labatte’s writing on metaliteracy, where multiple literacies such as visual, news, digital, etc. intersect.[1] The session resonated strongly with me, so I can imagine it did a lot for our students.

Siân: Aw, thanks Jenny! I honestly did that kind of on the fly! I’d been thinking about how to engage students who don’t see research as relevant to their practice. So, I used the video and our visual analysis of it as a jumping off point to discuss plagiarism, with the example of Beyoncé’s usage of footage from the Bounce documentary, That B.E.A.T. We looked at some of our Special Collections on related subject matter and, finally, in an active learning session, we had students researching the Black Panthers on Google, in our databases, and online catalogue. In the assessment survey, one student commented that this was the first she’d heard of the Black Panthers! I really feel that starting with a familiar, popular reference helped draw the students into the research process.

I know you have similar thoughts about the ‘Lemonade’ research guide. Can you talk a little bit about your thoughts on the role of popular culture in librarianship?

Jenny: The ‘Lemonade’ guide is the first time I’ve publicly connected a piece of popular culture with librarianship. I started thinking about film and television and librarianship as I watched The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. Sounds weird, I know. There’s a scene in that TV series where a large group of protestors are gathered outside the courthouse. Vendors are also there selling merchandise about O.J. Simpson’s guilt or innocence. My first thought was, “did the producers see this sort of thing in the original news footage?” As an advisory board member on the Preserve the Baltimore Uprising archive project where we collect images, sound, and text from the 2015 Baltimore Uprising, I’m constantly thinking about how people, including librarians and educators, will use the archive now and in the future. Did you see the job posting for the Librarian for Literary and Popular Culture Collections at Brown University Library?

Siân: Yes! I think it’s amazing that more libraries are aware that we need to be #relevant! I think that another one of your LibGuides, Understanding Civic Unrest in Baltimore 1968-2015, is also evidence of this drive to make research relevant to the community in which you work. I feel like the elephant in the fictional room of our conversation is critical librarianship. How do you think #critlib plays into your work as a Digital Initiatives Librarian?

Jenny: Great question. First, I think less about how to stay relevant and more about how searching, analyzing, and disseminating information plays into many situations, including art. As Kenny Garcia wrote, “critical librarianship seeks to be transformative, empowering, and a direct challenge to power and privilege.”[2] #critlib asks us to be self-reflective and conscious of ourselves and our institutions so that we don’t contribute to systems of oppression. This is what I thought librarianship was about, I just didn’t have a way of articulating this before I learned about #critlib.

While at the peaceful protests and gatherings during the 2015 Baltimore Uprising, for some reason I felt like I should be there as a Baltimore resident, a person against police brutality, but also as a librarian. I don’t see a separation between librarianship and social justice. Now that I know more about #critlib, I understand why. Do you ever feel that way?

Siân: Definitely. As librarians, we promote equal access to knowledge and educational resources, so our work shouldn’t be limited to the library, the classroom, or even the campus. I see my work with Art+Feminism, for example, as “information activism” that is an extension of my work as a librarian.

Jenny: I’m so glad you brought up Art+Feminism! I’ve been a fan from afar. Before you arrived at MICA, I read a great ACRLog post about instructional design by Lindsay O’Neill. It was the first time I thought about critical instruction and design and I know we’ve talked about similar ideas. Could you talk a bit about any plans you might have for instructional design and how critical instruction differs from a more traditional take on library instruction?

Siân: That’s a great question and one I feel only .5% qualified to answer! 🙂 In my work with Art+Feminism and in my previous job at Artstor, I’ve had the opportunity to work with lots of designers and UX researchers, as well as librarians. I loved Lindsay’s post! And it brought up a lot of food for thought about the cognitive overload in my current instruction practice. As an art historian and librarian I have perhaps an unproductive love of text. But, I see teaching as an agile, iterative process. I think a lot of critical instruction is based on this principle as well — teaching isn’t top-down, it’s a process of communication between the instructor and the students. So, it has to be ever-evolving.

For anyone who wants an introduction to this, Eamon Tewell just published a literature review on a decade’s worth of critical information literacy and I really recommend Char Booth’s Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning.

Jenny: Wow, ten years worth of critical information literacy! I’m really looking forward to watching (and contributing in some ways to) the evolution of our information literacy program here at Decker Library. And I’m happy that I have someone to talk about Beyoncé with at work. 🙂

Siân: Ditto! It’s amazing to have inspiring colleagues who are doing important work, it’s like a daily reminder of why I became a librarian. And our #dailybey Slack channel is a definite highlight!

beyoncetwitterchat

Decker Library will be hosting a Twitter chat about the LibGuide and instruction on Wednesday, June 8 at 2pm EST. Follow along using #libeyrianship and @deckerlibrary.

[1] Larissa Garcia and Jessica Labatte, “Threshold Concepts as Metaphors for the Creative Process: Adapting the Framework for Information Literacy to Studio Art Classes,” Art Documentation: Journal of the Art Libraries Society of North America 34, no. 2 (Fall 2015): 235-248.

[2] Garcia, K. Keeping Up With… Critical Librarianship. Association of College and Research Libraries, American Library Association. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/acrl/publications/keeping_up_with/critlib

Reflections on the Job Hunt: Writing a Teaching Philosophy

As an LIS student graduating in May 2015, the job search is on my mind a lot these days. One of my more recent applications required a one-page teaching philosophy, in addition to a letter of interest and resume. Like many people that write a teaching philosophy for the first time, I have years of varied instructional experience but I often don’t take the time or space to do intentional, deliberate reflection of my teaching.

I think that ACRL’s recent decision to move forward with the proposed Framework, while simultaneously making a conscious stand not to rescind the Standards is more than relevant to this post. With that being said, I think there has been a multitude of brilliant blog posts on this topic, some of which have taken place on ACRLog. (For some of my personal favorites, see Meredith Farkas’ post, a reflection from Donna Witek, and a resource that Nicole Pagowsky shared).

Instead, I’d like to think more critically about why reflection is important, how it is often integrated into our daily lives (even if we don’t realize it), and what the construction of my teaching philosophy entailed. My hope is that this post might help other LIS students or recent grads in their journey to construct a coherent statement.

One of the reasons I like Twitter is that I am reminded daily about what other people in our field are doing, especially in relation to instruction. Many #critlib discussions have explored critical pedagogy and reflection. Now #moocmooc is exploring some of these topics in more depth while challenging participants to blog and reflect on their professional praxis. I’m personally hoping that these discussions will develop into a longer chapter on critical pedagogy and reflection or teaching assessment in an exciting work that’s still in progress.

One of the more recent #critlib conversations was about critical reference. Somewhat unsurprisingly, a lot of the conversation about how to do good critical reference also applies to instruction. Here’s one of my favorite tweets from that conversation:

critlib conversation

I understand that potential employers want applicants to write a teaching philosophy so that they can make sure the person is well suited for their institution’s teaching culture and set of values. But what I learned is that it does so much more than that. It makes your teaching more intentional and nuanced. When you have to sit down and really ask yourself questions like “Why do I care about or place value on this instructional method?” or “What are the big questions I ask in my classroom?” you become a more thoughtful teacher.

This might seem really obvious but I’m not sure I realized the true value of reflection until I actually did it. As librarians face more and more time constraints, I think that this is something good to keep in mind. Yes, it might take a few hours to hash out how you teach and why, but if it improves your practice and your interactions with students isn’t it worth it?

I’d like to give a tangible—albeit cheesy—example to illustrate what I mean. I try to attend a yoga class at least once a week. It gives me a space to decenter and relax while stretching and improving my posture and strength. One of my favorite yoga classes is a hot yoga session at a swanky yoga center in town. There are a few reasons I like the class. The heat intensifies my stress relief, they let you borrow equipment, and it’s a fairly small, close-knit space. But to be honest, the biggest reason I go out of my way to attend the particular session is because of the instructor. He starts every class by telling students that the session isn’t about replicating the exact pose he is doing. It’s more about how your individual body feels in the pose. In other words, he empowers students to do what they can without feeling shame about not being as flexible as their neighbor. He also solidifies the expectations of the class by saying upfront what the goals are and then he reiterates those expectations by giving modifications for each pose and talking about how your body should feel instead of how it should look.

I am, of course, living on a graduate student budget and I can’t afford to go to this expensive class every week. I decided to compromise by going to a much cheaper yoga session sponsored by the student recreation center every now and then instead. I went to my first session last week and quickly learned that the instructional techniques used there are very different. This instructor scolded students for looking at their neighbors’ pose for guidance instead of looking directly at him. He made students stop the flow they were moving in so that they could move to one side of the room and watch him demonstrate exactly how poses should be done. He never talked about modifications for those with limited flexibility or injuries. In short, he made the practice tedious and maybe even discouraged newcomers from practicing yoga again.

There are many things I learned from these two very different experiences (besides the fact that you get what you pay for):

  • Teachers are not the keepers of knowledge. They are there to facilitate, mentor, and encourage. Being a guide can often be more productive than being an “expert”. And why can’t teachers be both?
  • If both of these instructors would have reflected on not only their respective sessions but also their teaching philosophy and their goals when teaching yoga, there would undoubtedly be some improvement. (Maybe this is me being optimistic or naive, but I don’t think anyone intentionally tries to be discouraging).
  • Teachers reflect on teaching even when we don’t mean to. If that one experience informed my teaching, I know that reflecting more consciously would be even more beneficial.

This brings me to constructing my actual teaching philosophy. I tried to keep all of this in mind while doing so: what is important to me as a student, what good (and poor) experiences I have had with past teachers and why, and how a reflection might inform and represent my teaching. I searched for examples in many different places and asked my mentors to share their teaching philosophies with me. A quick Google search brings up an overwhelming amount of resources. There are many sample philosophies, checklists, and rubrics. If I had to simplify and just give a few pieces of advice, they would be the following:

  • Use examples from fields like rhetoric and composition. Sometimes it’s hard to find good library examples because our field is so diverse. Graduate students writing statements in these areas often have similar goals to our own (facilitating critical thinking, putting information in context, etc.) and I think we can learn a lot from them.
  • Be yourself! More than anything else, your energy should shine through. Think about how your lived experiences have guided your teaching practices and philosophy. Reflect on your role and why you believe in the importance of that role.
  • Give examples. Most of us can write all day about what we want to do in the classroom. But what do we actually do? How do the activities we create embody the concepts we want students to understand? This might seem harsh, but if you can’t give a practical, tangible example of how you teach a particular concept or philosophy, it might not be as important to you as you claim.

My philosophy is in no way perfect. I actually think of it as a living, developing document that I hope will continue to grow and change as I grow and change. Still, I think that sharing parts of it might help others are they are thinking about their own philosophy. Here are a few excerpts:

As an educator, my goal is to foster personal exploration, challenge critical thinking, and frame students’ experiences within larger societal issues. Multiple teaching experiences have taught me that this process only happens if students develop a sense of autonomy and accomplishment. My role, then, is less about being an expert who dictates content and authority and more about being a leader who guides students through learning in the context of their lived experiences.

 I am also an information expert with a tangible agenda for my classroom. The students of today are swimming in information, all of which differs in format, reliability, and means of production. Thus, today’s librarian teachers are facing a very different obstacle than the librarians of even twenty years ago. The challenge is not in teaching students how to find information, but instead in teaching them how to be critical, contextual consumers of the information they already have access to. Therefore, my role as an information expert shapes the way I teach the skills needed to understand the complicated relationship between knowledge, information production, and power.

My greatest calling as an instructor is to help students realize their responsibilities as citizens, consumers, friends, mentors, and ethical human beings. Teaching them not only how to be more information literate but also why it matters is the constant objective behind my instruction.

Have you written a teaching philosophy? How often do you revise it? What advice would you give to new librarians going through this process?