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Posted on Sep 1, 2010

Hired an ICT Technician, an ICT Mentor and a Teacher-Librarian Lately?

by Bill de Jager, SCSBC Director of Learning  ◊  

Now that the school year has started, it’s time to plan for next year, isn’t it?

Are you considering the addition or the increased role of an information and communication technology (ICT) technician, an ICT staff mentor, and a teacher-librarian?

In little more than two decades, schools have transformed from paper to pixels, Dewey Decimal to Google, overhead to interactive white board, and metal file cabinet to My Documents.  It’s the reality in which much of our learning and teaching happen.

Not one of our SCSBC schools is immune from this invasive technological vine that brings both fruit and thorns, both blessings and curses. Increasing our investment in ICT technicians, ICT mentors, and teacher-librarians may produce a greater dividend of blessings, and a protection from thorny curses.

Most of our SCSBC schools utilize the services of an ICT technician in some capacity. Bandwidth needs to be determined; wireless hubs have to be installed; hardware and software must be purchased; computers need to be repaired; student passwords must be assigned.  These are just a few of the myriad of responsibilities of an ICT technician.  Most of us would not dispute the important need for such service and support; our schools have readily increased these workloads and the corresponding budget line.

Now, a new support person is emerging in our schools – the ICT mentor.  Why?  Because administrators, teachers, support staff and students have been inundated with a multitude of new and powerful learning and teaching tools – PowerPoint, Word, Excel, student data systems, Adobe programs, Windows 7, Apple apps, interactive whiteboard software, classroom management software, concept-managing software, multi-touch and multi-user tables for early education students, slates, tablets, Google Earth, Google Docs, wikis, interactive response systems, document cameras, blogs, movie editing software – just to name a few.  Shall we add cell phones and i-Pads?

Each tool comes with its learning curve, productivity dip, and eventual effectiveness.  Each tool creates curiosity for some and fear for others. Each adds to the cumulative weight of the educational toolbox.  They all require a fluency that, for some, is embraced reluctantly.  Cumulatively, they all add to a growing sense of being overwhelmed, which mutates easily into resistance.

An ICT mentor can provide continual in-house professional development to the staff, be available as a resource person for classroom teachers and their students, and offer real-time learning as the needs arise.  Such a learning-on-demand approach respects each staff and student’s learning style and pace.  A mentor’s patient guidance and appropriate suggestions can help foster a culture of curiosity and daring, and can help encourage the endorsement of these powerful learning tools. Such a person can more quickly lead a school through the unavoidable productivity dip and accelerate everyone’s learning curve. Sounds like a necessity rather than a luxury, doesn’t it?

A few of our SCSBC schools have initiated an ICT mentorship on a part-time basis.  Their mentors are thoroughly knowledgeable about these new learning tools, have experience in the educational world, and share a deep passion for leveraging technology that enables even deeper learning, enrichment and differentiation.  Some are current teachers on staff; some from the business world.  For those few schools, it is an acknowledgement that they have an obligation to expedite their support for the effective management of the massive shift in learning and teaching.

That educational shift is fully felt in the school library. To avoid becoming a book museum staffed by volunteer or part-time paid curators, the school library is transforming into an extensive learning centre staffed with the significant learning leadership of a teacher-librarian.

Why the transformation?  Because hardcover reference books can’t compete with online databases (such as World Book, EBSCO, and the Encyclopedia of British Columbia) for current and reliable information available in an interactive format. Because “Wikipedia has killed the encyclopedia” with its growing reliability within a participatory internet culture. Because “Google has made the card catalog obsolete” with the massive power of its search engine.  Because our Kindles and Kobos may be the backpacks for our textbooks and novels.

Learning now is not limited to content delivery in a closed classroom, but it is extending to exploration and tinkering in a learning centre, staffed by educators who provide just-in-time teaching.  The school library as grocery store (a place only to shop for books and learn elsewhere) is enlarging to school library as kitchen (where students now come to shop but stay to do their collaborative cooking with experienced chefs).

With their extensive repertoire of educational credentials, teacher-librarians will be needed to lead both students and staff in the development of information literacy, to lead in the provision of resources for inquiry and project-based learning, and to lead in professional development when learning/teaching and technology intersect.  The teacher-librarian as a member of the admin team, don’t you think?

For such an educational time as this, purchasing the services of an ICT technician, an ICT mentor and a teacher-librarian may be one of those leadership decisions where “not being able to afford it” is not an option.

Not spending may be too costly!

Questions for consideration:

  1. How well is our school handling the invasion of information and communication technology?  Are we strategically investing in its blessings?
  2. As a school leader, does my own level of understanding of and fluency with the new learning and teaching tools help or hinder our school’s implementation of ICT?
  3. Should we be considering the addition or the increased role of an ICT mentor? Is there someone on our staff who could begin that role?
  4. What degree of learning importance do we place in our school library? If we currently don’t have a teacher-librarian, should we soon?

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