Empowering Librarians: Building Reflective Instruction Communities

Yesterday marked our annual instruction retreat here at Duke University Libraries. We gathered with colleagues from NC Central, North Carolina State University, and UNC Chapel Hill to focus on reflective teaching. David Carr opened the day by encouraging us all to think about how reflective teaching can empower users. David posed the question “at what point does the tool control the user, or shape the experience?” He advocates for restoring control to the user. This concept is especially useful for those of us interested in user centered design. As we think about how to restructure webpage content and as we select tools (reference books, citation managers) for use by students it is important to ask ourselves, “does this tool and my approach to teaching the tool empower the user?” David provided a list of several books that have inspired him:
A Paradise Built in Hell: Rebecca Solnit
To Think: Frank Smith
Blackout: Connie Willis

Rachael Clemens then led attendees in quick writing exercises designed to help us consider our motivations for teaching. As a starting point for reflective teaching you may want to consider some of the below prompts that Rachael provided during our session:

  1. What motivates me to be an instruction librarian?
  2. What do I expect to be the outcomes of my teaching?
  3. What standards or code of ethics guide me?
  4. What themes pervade my teaching?
  5. How do I know when I have taught successfully?

She then posed a second set of questions focused on actionable items and measurable deliverables:

  1. What are my objectives as an instruction librarian?
  2. What methods should I use to achieve those objectives?
  3. How shall I measure my effectiveness?
  4. How do I justify my value?

Following our writing exercises we were provided with tools for on the ground reflection by Sarah Bankston and Hannah Rozear. This session emphasized post-class reflection and was a good reminder of the value of immediate reflection for those of us who may not be naturally inclined to record our classroom experiences on a daily basis. You can access their handout here.

We wrapped up the day with sessions by Hugh Crumley and Doug James. Hugh and Doug discussed preparing future faculty to be reflective teachers, the support you as a librarian can offer those students while they are in graduate school, as well as the power of peer observation and teaching triangles in strengthening classroom delivery.

Doug suggested several titles, including:
Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher: Stephen Brookfield
The Courage to Teach: Parker Palmer
To Know as we are Known: Parker Palmer

Several of our colleagues expressed a desire to incorporate teaching triangles methodology into their workflow over the next year. Here in Instruction & Outreach we will help them begin that process by re-articulating the methodologies proposed by Doug and Hugh to distill them into library-centric exercises. We have recently been creating case studies to profile the way our librarians are working with new technologies in the classroom. By triangulating our case studies (often tool and technology focused) with teaching triangles, peer observation, and reflective teaching methodology we will certainly challenge ourselves to continue to incorporate reflection into our library instruction sessions and consider the role of reflective teaching in the academic library environment.

I know I left the day feeling rejuvenated by the small group exercises, and challenged to think about my own presence in the classroom. I think the most enjoyable part of the annual retreat is reconnecting with our instruction colleagues from area TRLN institutions. We are so fortunate to have such a thoughtful group of librarians that make the trip to Duke each year for the instruction retreat. I’ll look forward to seeing many of these faces again soon at the TRLN Annual Meeting on July 13!

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