05 December, 2012

Dundee cake - a Christmas post

In my first concession to the currant (yes, pun intended) festive season I baked a nice fruitcake on the weekend. It was a recipe I cobbled together from several which didn't strike me as quite right, so having been successful I thought I'd share it with you by way of a Festivus gift. Bake one and give it to your school's librarian.


175g butter
175g soft dark-brown sugar
4 tbsp orange (or lime) marmalade
3 or 4 eggs,
225g self-raising flour
40g almond meal (more if you like that marzipanesque flavour)
2 tsp ground mixed spice
200g currants
200g raisins
75g glacé cherries, halved
4 or 5 tbsp whisky (I used 50:50 of Glenfiddich and Jim Beam)
80g blanched almonds to decorate
1 tsp caster sugar, to sprinkle over the top

Preparation method:
  1. Soak currants and raisins in whisky for at least an hour.
    Have a nip yourself while you wait.
  2. Preheat the oven to 150C. Grease and line a 20cm loose-based deep cake tin with kitchen paper.
  3. Beat the butter and sugar in a food processor for 3-4 minutes (until light and fluffy).
  4. Add the marmalade and the eggs, beating well after each egg.
  5. Add the flour, almonds and spices to the batter. Mix slowly until well combined, then stir in the dried fruits.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the cake tin, smooth the surface and arrange the blanched almonds in some sort of fancy pattern on top.
  7. Bake for 2 hours*, or until well risen, firm and golden-brown. (use the skewer test to ensure it is cooked)
  8. Let it cool a little in the tin before turning onto a rack. Sprinkle with sugar and eat with gusto.

*cake took a little over 2 hours in our dodgy oven.

01 August, 2012

Teacher Librarians, Luddites in musty book museums

At the risk of being repetitive...

Teacher Librarian Advocacy is useless, there is no way anyone in government could possibly justify throwing good money after bad by propping up this outdated profession. Why would I say such a thing? Lets take as an example the members of our profession, not the best and brightest (every profession, trade and vocation has superb practitioners) for they are not examples of the whole. No, lets examine the general 'body behind the circ desk' if you will. This person is a moron, trapped behind outdated technology (bitching and moaning about the death of the roneo file) and wishing for the good old days when the library was quiet (wood panelled and probably lit by gas lamps).

Lets think back over the last few months about all the hard work people (many of them on this list) have been putting in. Telling the NSW state government that school principals should NOT be able to take TL money and use it to pay a mere tech specialist. Using the best practice examples of our members to demonstrate all that should (and could) be. How a library can lift a whole school and the TL can drive test scores up, participation up and so much more besides.

Now imagine that Barry O'Farrell (persuaded by this impassioned plea) decided that today was the day he would investigate further. Today he would visit our newsgroup and make sure he was fully up to speed on the issue.

He'd not only allow principals to fire their TLs he'd damn well make it compulsory. And he'd possibly bulldoze all the libraries and sow the ground with salt into the bargain. Then (if he had any sense) he would have us all neutered in order to ensure we didn't reproduce.

Now, I know I have moaned about this sort of thing on here before (and before that). But I can not believe what I have been reading here the last couple of days. How can anyone expect to convince people that our profession should be allowed to be responsible for teaching students to navigate the digital world when it would seem the average member of our profession thinks 'the cloud' is something to yell at. How can anyone tell me that teacher librarians have a role to play in digital citizenship and helping young people navigate the complexity of social media when we as a group are completely unable to deal with a WONDERFUL and SEAMLESS transfer of our discussion list to an updated platform?

Oh, and putting the snark aside for a moment. Thanks to all involved for the upgrade.

So, where was I? Oh yes, people getting their knickers in a bunch about the 'new'. The 'new' is what we do folks. We should not sound like a group of 13 year old girls who have just found out that Facebook has done a redesign. "I liked it better before" This is not the voice I expect from major stakeholders in the knowledge economy.

Don't like it? Don't want to be on the list any more? Then UNSUBSCRIBE YOURSELF! Stop asking the rest of us to do it for you.
Want to complain that there are too many emails? Complain to your spouse or psychiatrist because the reason there are too many emails is because you keep emailing the whole list to complain there are too many emails. I don't care! I can't do anything about it, I am just a member of the list myself. The wonderful free and informative list, which no one forced to to join and, no one is stopping you from leaving.
But please, for the love of all that is sane, shut up and let this list go back to discussing the things that allow me to do my job with a bit more flair than I would if not for this amazing brains trust. Discussions about Olympic copyright, the best picture books, readers advisory methodologies, new books for the national curriculum and even clickview requests (if you must).

Want to complain about the upgrade? Go right ahead. As I librarian I found the link for you http://oztlnet.com/contact-us/ (just like I found the unsubscribe link up above).

Is there some OZTL protocol that says I am not allowed to take the email addresses of the next 5 people who mindlessly ask to be unsubscribed and send them to all the Nigerian scammers whose messages reside in my SPAM folder?
I mean, I know it is unethical, but is it specifically banned? Because at this point in time that seems like perfectly rational behaviour.

02 June, 2012

Wait, how many days in June?

Did I suggest yesterday that I might try to blog EVERY day in June?
Here it is, 15 minutes of the 2nd left, I'm about to go to bed after getting home from the rugby club (yes, we won). I have some Uni work which is probably more vital than this and I am sleepy.
Anyone thinking about joining me in Blog every OTHER day in June?

01 June, 2012

Are we selling buggy whips?

I am not in NSW these days, and when I was I wasn't a school librarian, so this post has the caveat that I possibly don't know what the hell I am talking about. Still, when has that ever stopped me having an opinion?

At the moment when I read the emails that fly around the teacher-librarian world, there is a lot of chatter about the current setup in NSW where the government is moving towards letting school principals have the power to hire and fire. I believe it is being tagged "local schools, local decisions". I am listening to a lot of people who are very upset by this because they believe that this power is putting teacher-librarians and school libraries at risk.
So to that end we are seeing letters to the editor and interviews on the tabloid TV programmes.

My question is, is this advocacy the right tack for this situation? I am happily ensconced in the library of a Catholic school and as such there is no requirement for a librarian. In fact for a lot of time there wasn't one, however the previous principal decided that a neglected library was no good at all and the current one has continued to listen to my cries for more space and more money, so in the space of two an a half school years this library has been transformed.

Why do my NSW public school colleagues not feel that 'local decisions' are likely to free up funds to rebuild their libraries? Why is it an instant fear that the result will instead be giving them the boot and ploughing their stupid outdated old books into the ground as landfill and using the free space to buy a metric arseload of ipads?

There are all sorts of stats to be quoted, the decline in teacher librarian numbers in Victoria under the Kennett government. One paper I read mentions that only 8.6% of NT schools have a teacher librarian. But then, given that there are a lot of very small schools in the NT I am not sure this stat means much. Furthermore, given that in my experience in Darwin and Alice there are a lot of schools which would love a teacher librarian but have been unable to get one, this does not demonstrate any unwillingness on the part of principals. Additionally, there are some remote locations which have joint use libraries staffed and supported by the NT Library, so no teacher-librarians but still well resourced libraries. So, if the NT stats in these papers are representative of how useful the other figures are I would suggest that there is a bit of a problem with what the data is claimed to prove.

That leads me to my post title "Are we selling buggy whips". It is a tired old analogy online but I am now wondering why so many principals are just looking for an opening to toss teacher librarians into the dustbin. I have blogged earlier about the continued episodes on the teacher librarian e-list where members are unable to work out how to unsubscribe. If this is in any way indicative of a percentage of teacher-librarians I can imagine that a principal might be more than happy to give em the ol' heave ho and replace them with someone who is aware of which century this is.

My thought would be, that a better use of our time would be to make sure that all those who wear the badge of teacher librarian are capable of garnering the respect of their principals. Once that is the case, I suspect that principals will see the value in their continued employment. But until that is the case, I suspect no amount of lobbying is going to improve the perception that some of us are frantically hanging onto our buggy whips and demanding some sort of government mandated whip quota.

(this post was whipped of in too little time to think it through properly but because I just realised it was June and I am thinking I might try the blog every day of June thing so missing day 1 would be a bad start).

23 April, 2012

You have exceeded the space for this text box. Some data will be lost.

Or, so I was told by ACER (the Australian Council for Educational Research) when I tried to answer one of their surveys. How can you have an "any additional information you would like to add" box which fits only a paragraph? What if I wish to send you my manifesto? Well....
I have written about it before (I am sure) but here is my latest think on internet safety and security in schools. ACER, you could have had the whole lot if you wanted it. Instead I give it to the world (well, that tiny fraction of the world who will read my blog anyway).

Filtering software gives a false sense of security to school staff, leading to teachers believing they have no role to play in ensuring students are appropriate in their net use. Additionally, legitimate sites are often caught up in the filtering net (ie, a filter which blocks facebook can also block cyber safety sites which reference facebook or newspapers who use a facebook plugin to manage comments). Likewise, the common ban on youtube prevents teachers using a myriad of relevant content and leads to situations where tech-savvy teachers are bypassing set terms of service and copyright restrictions in order to be able to access the most useful resources for their classes.
Cyber bullying is also treated in an disjointed manner as if it is somehow disconnected from bullying in the schoolyard. Responses are also driven by paranoia rather than in a rational, considered way. As such social networks are banned meaning that responsible use can be neither taught nor modelled. A ban on facebook due to cyberbullying is like digging up the football field due to a lunch time fight, yet too often this overreaction is not questioned. Additionally, some schools seem to be taking on an online policing role and assuming responsibility for things which happen out of school hours. This sort of thing oversteps the mark in terms of a schools duty of care and of their sphere of influence. In the same way that a school is not responsible for a fight on a football field on a Saturday morning, nor should they be accepting any responsibility for a Skype chat between 2 students at 7pm on their own computers. While there may be a role in ensuring these students are able to deal with each other the following school day, this should not be by way of playing web detective.
Likewise, bans that exist in some jurisdictions, prohibiting facebook contact between students and teachers, only serve to prevent teachers using new media as a teaching and learning tool. Why this should be prohibited but contact by email (or other social media) is not only permissible but often encouraged is bizarre. Teachers should certainly be aware of their own digital footprint and what information students can find out about them but a blanket ban prevents teachers demonstrating good online citizenship to their classes.
The paranoid manner stranger danger online is spoken about, leads to unwarranted fear amongst some children. A sane view of the facts would demonstrate that (as has always been the case) it is not strangers that our children need to fear. Rather, most abuse is suffered at the hands of those who they know and who should be looking after them.
Any discussion with students on the dangers of abuse, bullying or stalking should not separate the digital world from the rest of the world and act like there is not a solid connection between the two. However, too often this is the way these issues are managed. One cannot be raped nor murdered on facebook. If a student accepts an invitation to meet someone they have met online, this is not a cyber issue it is a real world issue. In Australia this has happened (to the best of my knowledge) once and that did not involve facebook, myspace or any popular platform but on a chat room for people who believe they are vampires. With this in mind the paranoid push to cybersafety is barking up the wrong tree. We would be better focusing our attention on mundane cyber issues such as password security and the potential future damage drunken facebook photos could have on your career (if you don’t learn how to use the privacy controls).

12 April, 2012

Three blind mice, 1 blind society

This question came to me over the interwebs...
I had a question from one of my staff this morning, she was told (by a parent during storytime) that she was not allowed to sing 3 blind mice with the children any more as it was not politically correct to say 'blind' and it was also wrong to scare children with threats of a carving knife. I have not heard of this before and was wondering if it is indeed true. She was also told not to sing Baa Baa Black sheep because of the word 'black'...
I love it when these sort of things come up. And by love I mean get exasperated beyond belief.

I have always used the gruesome versions of stories and had a lot of fun with them. So my red riding hood puppet shows had grandma eaten by the wolf and the wolf in turn killed by an axe-wielding woodsman. That said, I was not always a traditionalist. My Goldilocks often ended with Goldie doing a five year stretch in Long Bay for break and enter (yes, I did read a bit of Dahl when I was younger, why do you ask?).

I would encourage people to do the same because if we all refuse to bow down before idiots then they are less likely to think they are in charge of the world.

To answer this particular case;

It is not politically incorrect to say blind. You can check with the Royal Society for the Blind if you are in doubt. All the blind people I have known have been well aware they are blind and don't need to be protected from this 'awful truth'. Plus, despite their lack of vision, none of them were ever confused about their humanity. They were well aware they were not mice. Yes, the song does not threaten children with knives (again, unless the child has some specific body dysmorphia and believes they are a mouse).

As for the added insanity of a black sheep being a racist issue...

The stupidity it burns.

Black sheep were unwanted because their wool could not be dyed. The expression has no racist connections at all (unless we choose to invent some of our own now). I believe (although I can't find the evidence right now) that this is a case of parody being reinvented as reality. It was one of those stupid ultra right wing chain emails bemoaning a ban on the rhyme which had in fact never happened. But somewhere along the lines people started to believe it and now you actually have morons who are too scared to use the rhyme.

My advice would be, keep singing it and if anyone complains ridicule them remorselessly. If we all manage to do this perhaps (being as we work with children) we may have a hand in making sure that this stupid lack of critical thinking is not passed onto the next generation?

16 March, 2012

A teacher librarian social conversation

OZTL was having a nice chat about Social Media the other day and, as I often find, there were some nicely hidebound folk who were happy to shout out about why we shouldn't. (oh, and sic. In fact, fully sic).
Teachers "befriending" students on-line is a bumpy road leading to a crash. A treacher should be friendly and approachable but never friends or approached. This has always been the case, no matter what the method of cxommunication. "Social Networking" still contains the word "Social"...
...I personally have reservations about invading students' personal and
social spaces. It has always smacked of the business or marketing push
that is prevalent in education today - ie get at them 24/7 in as many
spaces/ways as you can...
...ensure that any communications with students outside the school environment must be totally open and observed. Was it not Caesar who said,"Caersar's wife must not only be fault, she must be seen to be without fault."...

So I wrote a reply (less snarky than some I send to the list, but really guys. I snark because I love). Following my reply I got...
Love your recent post on OZ_TL net on social media policy. If it was a blog post I could share it with my students...
Oh, you could? Well, I am nothing if not a servant of the people. So here it is.

Social media is a tool being used by the current generation of students. They will talk homework (amongst other things) online of an evening. It seems to me therefore that there are many benefits to teachers (and librarians) being linked in to this network.
Certainly when I was a uni librarian I didn't mind being friends with students and I would occasionally have a question pop up of an evening when I was online (sometimes I would ignore it, hell it was my time, other times I would take the moment to pass on an appropriate link or a research suggestion).

In a school, yes there is the possibility that things might get a bit fraught. But, how can we promote the idea of responsible digital citizenship if we isolate ourselves from that world? So...
where you are not prevented by rules and regulations from doing so, I would say...
go for it! Be a fb friend, but... keep your personal and professional separate. Lock down your personal page so students can not see you sleeping face down in your own vomit during uni O-Week (not a hard task). Then, create a 'fan' style page. https://www.facebook.com/pages/create.php
A fan style page, will let you connect online with your students while creating a level of buffer between you and their full online life.

There are several ways you could do this. Market yourself as a public figure or perhaps create a page for each class (or year) so you link your students together. That way they can (if they wish) do some of their after school "what were we doing with the French verbs" discussions in this public space. That allows you to watch (and spot the areas where you are not giving adequate instruction. Well, if none of the kids knew what you meant, whose fault is it?). It also allows you to pop in and redirect the discussion a bit (if you, like me are online much too often and have a surfeit of opinions).

Being online and visible should also make it easier for a school to monitor the "St Mujer Barbuda Preparitory Scool Sux" or "Ms Pfaffernaff is the wurst english teacher ever" groups which may spring up from time to time. It could make students less likely to create those groups (fb is suddenly somewhere there may be teachers) and it certainly makes it more likely students may let you know such groups exist.

For those of you who feel facebook is automatically 'fraught' let me ask you to imagine being a teacher in a country town. Population, mmm, lets say 1300 people. In this environment, do we expect the teacher to avoid social interaction with students? No, we don't, we accept (often hope) that the teacher will be playing on the same football team as the older year 12 boys. We know that the teachers will see the students out and about, attend the same churches and sometimes the same dinners. Down at the pub, the teachers will be drinking in the front bar, while the students are playing pool in the back bar and from time to time, they may even talk to each other. To some degree, fb is forcing us all to move into a modern version of that country town.

For centuries, teachers and students have managed to live like this, it is really a very recent thing to have teachers and students living completely apart other than during the school day (and, to my mind, it is a bit of a symptom of a modernist malaise). As a student, I am glad I grew up in a town where I saw my teachers down the pub of an evening (and sometimes for a counter lunch). I am glad I was friends with their kids (and went to parties in their houses). Now I work in a school, I am glad that when I am at rugby training there are kids from my school training with our juniors. I am not exactly glad, but in a strange way thankful for the rugby game when I kicked our school captain in the face (he was diving for the ball as I was trying to kick it). Not just because I kicked the opposition halfback in the face, but because it was an amusing way to meet his father. Only recently I attended the funeral of that same father, a sad occasion but I was one of about 15 current and former staff there all of whom would tell you that it is possible to be a friend without degrading the student/teacher relationship.

An online relationship is not even a small percentage of the interaction you have with students if you live in a small town (or even a small city). But, to dismiss it out of hand because of some notion that we should not be friends with our students seems bizarre to me. Especially when, with a few digital twists of the wrist, we can make sure that our online interaction is "totally open and observed".

And, to finish off...
a nice infographic on what your staff should know about social media (from a corporate perspective, but still worth some consideration).

21 February, 2012

Are all Education faculties insane?

In my academic librarian life I had a great relationship with the head of our Education faculty. He was insane (but in a good way, you know, like I am). But, now that I am actually working towards my own dip ed (actually a graduate diploma of teaching and learning) I am coming to realise that many people working educating our educators are the less happy kind of insane. The, brain damaged from breathing the rarefied air high in my ivory tower, kind of insane.

I mentioned in my last post, that I had a textbook tell me that ALL aboriginal parents wanted their children to learn. ALL? Seriously, you couldn't say ALL about any group of parents. Some parents have been known to chain their kids in basements, some parents have been known to leave their kids in hot cars outside Casinos. It strikes me as a bizarre form of racism (with a heavy helping of white guilt?) to suggest that indigenous Australians are immune from being shitty parents.

The other wonderful quote that really set my head to spinning was on the subject of 'socio-economic differences'. To paraphrase, our textbook explained that; at one time people thought they could judge the outcomes of schools based on their socio-economic mix, but now we no longer blame the victim. Seriously? Lets look at NAPLAN scores (if we may). Now, if we overlay a graph of median income over a graph of school NAPLAN scores, what will we find?
We will find that they are damned close to identical! Why do we need to deny the bleeding obvious? How is acknowledging that the kids of Doctors and Barristers living in Woollahra will perform better by many measures than the kids of truck drivers and factory workers from Elizabeth 'blaming the victim'?
Surely, what it is doing is showing us where additional resources need to be provided? The Gonski Report (put out in the last day or two) certainly seems to think that school funding should be higher in areas of social disadvantage.

Seriously, this seems like political correctness for the sake of political correctness. No one is being protected by this view, so why not admit the truth? And, how is acknowledging facts in any fashion laying blame?

If I was only dealing with ivory tower idiots who have wonderful 'theories' about education, well I would ignore their silly diagrams (which claim to represent education) and just get on with acting like the echo chamber they want to hear, but it is not just that
(as further blog introspection may reveal).

29 January, 2012

A new rambling diatribe (and a new reason to blog?)

Where have I been? Well...
I have been being a librarian, working out how a school library works and how I think I could make one work better. I have been finding out about the variations on office politics you get in an environment where post-grad qualifications are the norm and everyone values their independence. Not to mention, the fact that schools are one of the last bastions of management by seniority (not that I am a fan of management as a separate discipline - as I have mentioned before (and some time later I may search for it and link to it here)).

But, that isn't the point of this post. This post is to announce the resumption of posting (I hope) because, work is paying for me to get a Dip Ed. Yep, my old management masters is still on the back burner (no need for that in this role) . And, while I have no real intention of being a classroom teacher, I think the Dip Ed will improve my skills for this job.

I am half way through subject one (summer school) and as such I decided it was time to be medicated again. ADHD meds do not cross state lines, nor do Psychiatrist reports, prescriptions, or government authority numbers. So, when I got to Darwin (two years ago) I sought out a doctor with authority to prescribe and a psychiatrist to oversee the process. I failed. I saw several doctors and a psychiatrist but...
no one was willing. The psychiatrist said he didn't like ADHD meds, the doctors all said they didn't want the government authority as it was too much work (and once word got out they were inundated by druggies with dodgy diagnosis). So, for two years I have been unmedicated, it has certainly affected me at work. I am still good at my job, but (ignoring false humility) when I am properly focused I am brilliant. It hasn't been too bad though, exercise really helps and I have been keeping up the rugby. I was managing to train all year, first 15s, then 7s, then back to 15s. This year however I managed to destroy my knee in our grand final win. So, no 7s in the off season (in fact no exercise since August)
Well, having started the study, I decided to pop in and see educational support. They told me (what I already knew), being unmedicated at this point was not the best plan. They gave me a lead to the one psychiatrist in Darwin who deals with us adult ADHD folks, so I popped into the medical centre across the road at work and got an appointment for a random medico. I was only looking for a referral but, as luck would have it, stumbled upon a doctor who was willing to prescribe (and had the required government authority to do so).
Wow, right?

Anyway, it was all good timing. Admittedly by the time I got to see the psych I had already had to do 50% of my assessments but I just used the traditional ADHD hyperfocused last minute (all nighter) writing method and I pulled it off. Not great marks, but hey I am not looking for anything better than a pass. The real good timing though, is that we have a new senior staff this year. New principal and 3 new assistant principals, so as of today I am on day 3 of remedication and feeling great. When I started at the school, I wrote a 3 year plan for the library, began a collection development policy, wrote a budget bid, gathered all the stats I could find on the system and started keeping records of library usage. No one looked at it, no one cared. No one wanted a budged bid, they told me what I was getting. No one cared how I spent it, there was only one budget line.

The new principal, seems to be interested in my plans and ideas. I have been asked for budget bids, I have been asked for a business plan, I have been asked how he can improve the library, I have been told "if the library works the school will work"
So, day 1 of my new meds I was up until 4am writing a business plan. A very detailed one, giving him background information, my vision, my ethos, my ideas for building the library, for improving space, building new collections.

So, it may be time to blog again to:
  • give me a way to focus my ideas (I do that better with an audience)
  • give me somewhere to express my frustration with the academic world of school education. The jargon (which hides reality from parents)
    The political correctness (one text was so politically correct it said "all Aboriginal parents want their children to learn" really? All? I am aware some people dismiss Aboriginal parents and student too easily, but NOT ALL parents give a shit about their kids' education be they aboriginal or otherwise).
But, now it is time to get back to uni texts before printing and re-reading my business plan (after all, I was writing it at 4am so I may have been hallucinating and writing complete dross.