Online PD — an 'anchor' during a pandemic

School librarian sitting at her desk at home doing online PD with Services to Schools.

Image: Kura Rutherford doing online learning at home. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Read how Services to Schools' online professional development (PD) courses and webinars helped support participants' professional practice and wellbeing during a stressful period brought on by COVID-19 lockdowns.

Online PD during uncertain times

We all are aware of what unusual times COVID-19 Alert Levels 4 and 3 were in Aotearoa in 2020. Uncertainty and an abrupt slowing down of life for many of us meant we suddenly had more time on our hands. During this period, some people chose to embark on online learning with Services to Schools.

Supporting wellbeing

Kura Rutherford, the School Librarian at Taikura Rudolf Steiner School in the Hawke's Bay, describes how our online learning helped her during the lockdown.

She says:

The Services to Schools courses and webinars became an anchor for me during lockdown and the weeks that followed. With so much uncertainty in our everyday lives during lockdown, it was invaluable to have something to focus on.

Amanda Cotterell, Discovery Hub Assistant at Red Beach School on the Hibiscus Coast, describes how Alert Level 4 made a huge change to her circumstances that many of us will be able to identify with:

Learning while we were in lockdown was great as I had more time to focus on the course as I wasn't working, and then being a taxi service for sports and sports practices.

Pamela McKirdy, the Assistant Librarian at Wellington East Girls' College, compared her expectations for 2019 and 2020:

Last year was challenging as we moved into a new open-plan building and had a lot of adjusting to do in our new library, but 2020 has turned out even more interesting!

She also described the uncertainty that is reflected in everyone's memories of the time:

I wondered what I would do during lockdown, at home with no students and no library. I had a school laptop and settled into my sewing room in the attic because my husband had commandeered the study. I indexed our old yearbooks, tidied up authority files in the catalogue, and then signed up for a course on collection development offered by Services to Schools.

Inspiring action

Our aim is to help build capability of school library staff and teachers with PD that is useful and, most importantly, actionable. Participants create an action plan so they can apply their learning to their real-life situation. This means they can hit the ground running when the course is over.

We were pleased to read Kura's feedback:

Your courses offer really clear and useful frameworks for developing library initiatives, from the small to the large scale, and these action plans can be applied across all areas of school library services.

That is exactly what we are aiming for!

So far, Kura's been inspired to implement several new projects. Some of her activities include:

  • setting up a te reo and mātauranga Māori collection
  • encouraging students in developing their ‘reading identity'
  • promoting resources for emerging readers
  • supporting classroom inquiry
  • looking at ways to enhance her school’s reading culture.

It's pleasing to see Kura trialling so many new initiatives after participating in our online learning!

Pamela also found the courses useful:

The structured progression through each module and the short readings were prompts to think about our current practice and what we could do differently. The best part was the forums where school librarians from all over New Zealand discussed how they do things. I was introduced to digital curation tools I didn't know about.

And she is already planning for 2021:

Our next step will be to create a digital literacy plan for the whole school, ready for next year. The course provided me with a good background for how to proceed, and I was reminded that the Services to Schools website has a lot of helpful information. Roll on 2021!

Amanda is also using her action plan as a guide.

I have an action plan to work towards. I haven't managed to get it off the ground this term, however, over the holiday break, I will look it over, reflect, and come back ready to start making changes. I want to improve what is being offered in regards to library services and I will work towards curating content and updating our WebOPAC. It will be a slow process, but one I am excited to undertake.

Although participants can't always make immediate changes to their libraries, they come away from a course inspired and full of new ideas.

Removing barriers

The decision to offer our 2020 online courses free of charge resulted in an immediate increase in demand. While course fees themselves are not always a barrier — we know that time is the biggest factor for most of our learners — getting approval to do courses is a big challenge for some.

Pamela told us:

It was great that the course was free because then there was no need to worry about our budget or seek approval from the Finance Officer at school who had a whole lot to deal with at that time.

Amanda told us:

Zero fees allowed me to participate in more than one of your online courses this year. With the first lockdown, a freeze was put on spending and budgets were slashed. However, your zero fees meant I could still have some PLD.

Kura told us:

The zero fees offer was the golden ticket for me. As a new school librarian, I just didn’t feel like I could justify the time and money needed to do the courses, with so much immediate work and learning in front of me.

Online learning with support

Our online courses are fully facilitated and an often-mentioned benefit is the individualised support they offer.

There are also connections and shared learning from other participants doing the same course.

Have a look at our PD and support — online courses and more

The learning stories shared by Kura, Amanda, and Pamela are a small sample of some of the inspiring ways school library staff and teachers made use of the support from Services to Schools during 2020.

We hope that their stories inspire other staff to consider professional development with Services to Schools in 2021.

Our professional learning and support

Watch our term 3 webinar: 'A focus on reading'

Read about our lockdown webinars

About our online learning participants

Participants of our online professional development come from many different places and roles.

Huge thanks to Kura, Amanda, and Pamela for helping contribute to this story. Read more about them and their roles below.

Kura Rutherford

I am from Hokianga, Northland (Te Rarawa, Ngāpuhi), but live in Hawke’s Bay where I work as a school librarian at Taikura Rudolf Steiner School. I am in the third year in my role and came to the job after 8 years working in public libraries and a stint in an academic library. I also checked in for the Services to Schools' support for school library staff webinar series, which was amazing!

Kura completed 3 courses:

  • Building a responsive collection
  • Inquiry learning — resources to inspire and inform
  • Developing your school library services.

Amanda Cotterell

I work at Red Beach School on the Hibiscus Coast. I started here at the end of 2016.
I am the only person working in the library and work 15 hours per week there doing everything that needs to be done, from ordering, accessioning, weeding, and running some basic lessons with students. I also work a few hours as a teacher aid on specific programs and run our Reading Club which is for students who need a bit of a boost in reading. I manage our pool of volunteers that come and listen to the students at Reading Club.
Our library was rebuilt in 2015/2016 as it was a leaky building. It is a lovely space and the students enjoy spending time in it.

Amanda took part in 3 courses:

  • Developing digital literacy in your school
  • Building a responsive school library collection
  • Developing your school library services.

Pamela McKirdy

I am the assistant librarian at Wellington East Girls' College. I help with cataloguing and all the other daily tasks in the library. My passions are science fiction and family history, and I love a good research challenge. I've been here for nearly 15 years, working part-time.

Pamela completed 2 courses:

  • Building a responsive collection
  • Developing digital literacy in your school.