For Teacher Librarian Colette Cassinelli, teaching and learning go hand-in-hand. “One of my favorite quotes is, ‘We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself.’” As a Teacher Librarian, researching and helping her students – and colleagues – look for answers is what she does each day. But what makes it worthwhile to Cassinelli are the connections she develops along the way.
After completing her Masters of Educational Technology from Pepperdine University, Cassinelli became immersed in the online educational technology community. “My Pepperdine experience helped me to understand the value of developing a personal learning network for my own professional development, but also compelled me to share how I was engaging students with technology in authentic ways,” she says. “Connecting with educators through Twitter, participating in online webinars, and meeting progressive teachers both online and face-to-face gave me a platform to share my own innovative ideas and learn.”
Cassinelli started blogging about her projects. She then started presenting at local and regional conferences and offered classes and workshops to private school educators in her area. “Working with the Oregon Association of School Librarians broadened my focus, and my online connections helped bring innovative educators to our state Library conference,” she notes. “With some other Portland educators I co-created edcampPDX – an unconference-style day of professional development given by teachers, for teachers. Now I am teaching online technology classes for Portland State University and developing a mobile learning initiative for my school. I couldn’t have been involved in these educational experiences without connecting online with my professional community.”
Here, Cassinelli gives us her perspective on the important role of Teacher Librarians in schools, the role technology can play in life-long learning, and her thoughts on the best opportunities in education today. Enjoy today’s Daily Edventure with Colette Cassinelli.
What has changed as a result of your efforts?
I have developed the role as a “connector.” I connect students with innovative tools to help them learn. I connect teachers with the resources they need to locate and present material in an engaging way. I connect educators with other educators who can collaborate or share new and innovative ideas with each other. The combination of being immersed in the educational technology role both as a teacher and a librarian provides me with many avenues for learning and connecting.
I am very proud of our efforts with edcampPDX. Teaching can often be an isolating career. Oftentimes all we need is the spark of a new idea or the reassurance of another educator who is struggling to engage students the same as you. The unconference format of edcampPDX allows you to suggest topics that you need and cater your own professional development so you will be engaged and learn. This type of learning is grassroots, authentic and meaningful. You don’t just “sit and get”; you come away inspired, connected and feel like your community is there to back you up when you need it.
How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
Frank Smith writes in his book, “The Book of Learning and Forgetting,” that we learn from those around us and from those with whom we identify. Simply put, you learn from the company you keep. This type of learning is natural and long-term. My advice for others facing similar challenges is find your network. Find the educational community that will feed you, challenge you, inspire you and then commit to participate. You can’t grow as an educator if you do the same thing every year over and over again. Our students deserve it. We need to stay on top of what’s happening in education – whether that’s integrating mobile technology into our classrooms or learning new instructional strategies. Your pedagogy will be and should be challenged. Hang out with smart people.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
The role of the Teacher Librarian is constantly changing – which is both exciting and challenging. It’s no longer acceptable to be the “keeper of the books.” Teacher Librarians today are reading champions, information literacy experts, collection developers, fair use advocates, collaborators, web designers, emerging technology promoters, providers of professional development, researchers and so much more. Our profession is challenging and many schools and administrators have cut positions because they have not experienced what a dynamic school library program can be. The Library is the learning commons of the school and should be involved in every aspect of student learning.
Teacher Librarians need each other. They need to be inspired and learn from one another. I remember when I read Joyce Valenza’s, Manifesto for 21st Century School Librarians, I thought to myself, “YEAH!” And then “Gulp. How do we do it all?” We connect. We use social media to find each other online. #tlchat is a hashtag that Teacher Librarians use on Twitter to connect with each other. I will post a resource on Twitter and add #tlchat to the end of my message. Other Librarians follow any post that contains #tlchat and then can access the resource, reply, share their own ideas, ask questions, offer suggestions and connect. We self-organize using http://teacherlibrarian.ning.com/. I often send requests out on Twitter such as, “I am looking for WWII historical fiction novels appropriate for 9th grade” and will receive book suggestions and lists of resources from my network.
I have also cultivated a similar online network of educators around mobile devices for learning, Catholic School Educators, teachers who use collaborative or multimedia tools.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?
Luckily I work in a school environment that focuses on student learning and places a lot of emphasis on professional development. Time to plan and collaborate will always be a huge obstacle for teachers. When a teacher aligns their lessons with learning targets and receives input from professional learning teams, the quality of their lessons improves, which in turn increases student learning. It can be challenging to make time, inspire teachers to try new things, and be willing to change. But a school that creates a safe environment for teachers to take risks and engage students in new and creative ways will always benefit.
What is your country doing well currently to support education?
Schools that are embracing 1:1 mobile devices are finding that students are taking ownership of their own learning and have greater self-efficacy. When implemented with sound pedagogical foundations, using mobile devices engages students and gives them opportunities to demonstrate their learning in a wide variety of ways. Technology doesn’t need to be scheduled in the lab, it’s always available, and the flow of learning is not interrupted. Of course funding is an issue as well as providing effective professional development, but I am inspired by programs that are implementing devices well and look forward to this opportunity at my school.
I am also excited about the edcamp movement. To me this means that teachers are taking charge of their own learning and discovering that by creating a culture of learning among professionals we can share engaging instructional strategies with very little effort.
What conditions must change in your country to better support education?
School administrators need to retain and support certified School Librarians in every school. In this day of 24/7 news and information, it’s a shame that students are being left to their own to figure out how to access high-quality print and digital resources, evaluate them for bias and credibility, and provide appropriate attribution of the authors. Teachers can’t do it alone. They need collaborators who will seek out appropriate resources and assist with the teaching and planning of technology and information literacy skills. They need professionals who will be developing collections that support the learning objectives and move towards meeting the Common Core Standards. Schools need Librarians and funding issues need to be resolved so that students aren’t the one who suffer.
What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?
The best opportunity for innovation in education occurs when students are given authentic learning experiences where they tackle real-world problems and can be engaged in solutions that are meaningful and relevant to their own personal experience. Our students are begging for assignments that inspire them. They want to dive into the research and come up with innovative solutions where they feel they can make a difference or have their voices heard. It’s not enough to just do an assignment for the teacher to correct. Our students want to connect, debate, create and inspire an audience beyond the walls of their own school.
What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?
My advice for a new teacher is to find your community and participate. Whether you are an art teacher, technology teacher or physics teacher, there are other passionate educators out there who want to collaborate and share and learn from your experiences. Find them. It’s worth the time and effort. You will feel like you are part of something bigger and it will impact the way you teach.
What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?
An educational trend that I think is helping students is blended learning. Blended learning is a combination of face-to-face learning that is supported with online learning. The online learning can take the form of a single classroom Edmodo discussion board or a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). Learning can be extended beyond the classroom and students can access resources 24/7. These resources range from teacher or student created videos, online databases, social media, and blogs. Students are networked, connected and they fully participate in their learning.
As I mentioned earlier, the trend that is getting in the way of learning is the trend of eliminating certified School Librarians in schools. The research clearly shows that school libraries help students learn.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
If I could give one educational tool to every child in the world, I would give them a networked device because learning could then happen anytime, anywhere with anyone.
About Colette Cassinelli
- Birthplace: Euclid, Ohio
- Current residence: Portland, Oregon
- Education: B.S. Elementary Education, Oregon State University; MA Educational Technology – Pepperdine University; Library Media Endorsement – Portland State University
- Website I check every day: Twitter
- Person who inspires me most: My students – especially when they work hard to learn something new.
- Favorite childhood memory: Swimming at the lake everyday all summer long.
- Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Hopefully France to see my 50+ first cousins and their families
- When was the last time you laughed? Why? Sitting at the dinner table with my family. The humor of everyday life.
- Favorite book: This is impossible for a Librarian! The Book Thief by Markus Zusak or Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White.
- Favorite music: Anything that’s got a good beat and makes me want to dance.
- Your favorite quote or motto: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt