The Da Vinci Centre Story

By Debra Nugent, Teacher Librarian  

I first started as a teacher. After I left school I went to teachers’ college and I was a teacher for 10 years and then I got married and had two children. But then I studied to become a teacher librarian during the years when I worked part-time when my children were small. I’ve always felt it was important to be around as much as you can in those years, so I did some CRT work, I worked a lot with my children’s school, I ran the before and after school care program but I also studied. I did my librarianship course as a part-time course.

It was just the beginning of universities providing online courses, so I took the opportunity for me to be able to study at home.  I’d go for the odd day down to Gippsland to meet up with other people in the course. Later, it transferred to Monash and it became information technology. It was a great course and, as I had majored in children’s literature at university,  it was an area in which I had a big interest in, anyway.

I was here at Wooranna Park just before I got married for two years in the late ’80s and then,  before all the changes happened and it was traditional school with single classrooms. I taught Grade one, two, three and four composite, I think. I left halfway through a year to have my first son and then I came back 10 years later when transformation had begun.  I had been in contact with the school on and off over that time, but I didn’t take part at the start of the big changes. 

So when I came back, luckily, no one had been in the library…well, luckily for me, but sadly for the school… so it was basically just a space with a lot of books. I spent my first six months working two days a week just computerizing it all and setting up library a system. More than that, I wanted to make it a place where kids wanted to be. This is my 18th year back at Wooranna Park.

Transforming the library into the Da Vinci Centre 

Before the redesign with Mary Featherstone, the library used to be where the Grade ones are now. It was separate to the school. There was a little passageway joining us to the rest of the school. And then during the building phase, we moved to where the grade fours are now for a short time and then we moved down here to Da Vinci space. By that stage, it was recognise that it was really vital to have the library in the middle of the school, at the heart of the school if you like, the centre. 

With the creation of the raison d’etre and things came an added recognition that we needed to have a ‘reason for being’. Esme [Capp] originally wrote the document as part of her postgraduate studies. But then it kind of just weeped [inaudible 00:04:21] became part of the way that we worked. You know, to have as our ‘Bible’. The ‘reason for being’ came out of a staff meeting when someone said, “Well, that’s what it is. It’s why we’re here.”

In those days, we had a couple of two-day conferences where we just sat and pulled it to pieces and. Thinking back, it must’ve been very hard for Esme because the document was her baby. She’d done all this work on it and here were we saying, “Well, no. That doesn’t quite work” and “we should add more to this and we have to change that.” The process gave everyone a lot more ownership of the document. And we made it the school’s raison d’etre rather than Esme trying to explain what was happening from her point of view.  

I’m lucky that I was here for that process because it really helped all of us get a really good idea of direction for the school and have a shared vision of where we were going rather than, “Here’s this document.” I don’t think we spend enough time explaining it all to those who came after,  giving them a sense of how it is a live document and how it’s going through another transformation now, influenced in the last few years by the deep learning project.

We’ve realized there are deficiencies in it or we’ve changed the way we’re doing things and all there are now new theorists and people that we’re getting help and ideas from. And so it has to keep changing as…that’s just a part of everyday life, and education especially. It’s always changing and you want to make it a document that still reflects our original ideas about change and not standing still.

Supporting our raison d’etre

When I first came here, many of my friends in education would say to me “Oh, you’re at that weird school who lets the kids play all day.” And I’d say emphatically, “Well, no.” But I still think there are people who think about us in that way. They’ve got this idea that because it’s supposedly a negotiated curriculum, the kids can just do what they want. 

The message that’s getting out is not the one that we should be sending in some ways. I think, you know, we have many visitors who come to see for themselves or  who’ve heard of us and we’re well-known in pockets in Victoria. But I’d say we’re not as well known as we should be. I went to a PD amongst learning specialists recently. No one said “Oh, Wooranna Park. Oh, I’ve heard of Wooranna Park. You do this…”

There’s this big disparity between people coming from Spain to see us and people down the road not even knowing we exist.  If we passionate about changing the way things are taught then we need people to know what we’re doing.

On the other hand, I think in the last four or five years you can see that the language is starting to change. You know, student voice is suddenly talked about everywhere. Suddenly it is in official things, rather than just a few people talking about it in a few schools saying, “We’re not happy with what’s going on.” And it’s not just few people in a few schools. There are whole regions saying so. You hear it from the Minister and read it in official documents from the Department. People are starting to talk about individualized learning and the inquiry process and all of those things that we’ve been talking about for a long time.  You can slowly see the wheels starting to turn, but still, you know, I can think of other primary schools that people see heading in the right direction rather than acknowledging us.

Making a space for vital stories

I  think books are precious:  they’re precious to our history, to our well-being, to everything that goes on. Today, a book doesn’t have to be pages in a cover on a shelf. It can now be on an iPad or in a computer or wherever you can access it. Personally, I like to have something in my hands, the feel of it is important to me. But, I’m not precious about the physical form.  It’s reading stories and sharing stories that is vital for us as humans. The messages that you can get across with stories are so much more effective than when we dictate information to people. Stories explore feelings and how someone can think differently to you and the reasons why they think in a particular way.

Being surrounded by stories is a nice way to live your life.  Children respond to stories and they start thinking about their story in relation to other people.  They consider how others affect their story and how they affect someone else’s story. It just gives them so much more power if they have that understanding. Having knowledge of what’s gone before and how we came to be and why we do the things we do can be done through stories. My son is a very academic person.  He’s very bright and he works at the Reserve Bank. He didn’t do literature at school. Instead, he read nonfiction but when he did English language, his teacher just gave him a list one day and said, “You want to be in the Western world. Here are some books that will help you know it.”

The language that we use comes from stories.  The way we deal with things comes from stories. I know that children love knowing that the stories they write and that we publish to put in our library will stay in our school forever. They come and look back at their photos and what they said in their books. 

The grade sixes have the books they made in prep and grade one and grade two in their classroom that they can laugh over them and just talk about, “Oh, remember? Those kids have left…” The pleasure of listening to themselves. But I most value the fact that when you make their story into a book and you put it on a shelf,  you place a sticker on it and put the barcode, you see children realise that “I’m an author.” You’re in the catalogue. You are someone who has importance in this world. They are given something to hold on to, “Can I borrow my book? Can I borrow my friend’s book?” It’s just a bit more special than if it’s on the shelf in your classroom or you copy it to take home and give to grandma. What we’re allow children to say of themselves is, “What I think and say has a value,” and it can be shared with people and they can get something from it as well.

There’s a process to making our books at Wooranna Park. We’ve got the templates and children use them to do their drafts. Here’s the part for the writing, here’s the part for the picture. I’m particularly in favour of having children write and illustrate their books in their own hand rather than too much typing.  I mean, depending on your purpose and your audience, of course, and whether or not you’re gonna be sending it out to a wide audience. Then maybe you would want it typed.

I like to remind children that part of being an author is send books off to an editor and getting feedback like “It’s thousands of words too long. Cut that out. Get rid of that character.” Wide circulating books have the purpose of needing to be ‘sold’ and authors making a living. It’s important to let children know that the editing process is often as important as the writing process. 

I really make an effort every year, if not each child, but each class to have a book that is made by them that’s done in the library for the library to add to our collection. I’ve got a book writing group on Monday afternoons made up of children who are interested in writing a book. Some are writing manuals for how to play computer games. Some are creating little graphic novels. There’s a group of girls doing a sort of sci-fi dive, in through a portal kind of story.  And another group of girls who are writing a serial. I’ve said to them that if their work is of a high enough quality, we’ll get the book professionally published. 

Currently, I know Barbara in Grade four in literature studies is getting her students to write a book and her plan is to have it as an end of year Christmas present which she will be to give them, “Here’s your book as a published hardcover book!”

But all across the school, we’re trying to show that we value of writing and by valuing it, you’re giving it an audience. We’re putting our children’s writing on websites and we’re sharing it and motivating students to work out ways to write for an audience. Let’s see if we can get them to read it!

Current challenges

I don’t think the digital disruption has hit primary school libraries as much as secondaries.  iBooks and other ebook formats are difficult unless a school has a one-to-one device policy. It’s really difficult to work with the publishers to get the licenses to borrow and that sort of thing. And Wooranna Park is too small really to warrant the cost of such licenses because, you know, the publishers have still got to make their money. SLAV [School Library Association of Victoria] provides a lot of their professional development on the issue. 

As for etextbooks, they’re fantastic because children are no longer having to carry huge books home from school every night. They’re mostly all digital now. And so they just log on and they’ve got the pages there. That’s been wonderful for education. But fiction, and even some categories of nonfiction are another matter.  

In any case, children go to Google Search or to Wikipedia, and honestly, they’re quicker. Publishing a book takes months there’s a process that happens. On the other hand, for primary school children, who want images of sharks and dinosaurs, trucks and cars and dancing, a nice nonfiction book is still viable.

Yes, it’s hard to get Australian content because cost-wise it’s phenomenally expensive to produce nonfiction books if there’s not a big enough market. Nonfiction is an area where there are quite a lot of good online books that you weigh up paying a license. We’ve done that a little bit, but our small budget dictates what we do.  I also don’t have teachers barreling up and saying, “Oh, look, I’ve seen this great thing. My students would use it all the time. Can we access that?” It hasn’t really happened. As a result, I’m still be buying some nonfiction books for the library.

School history and school stories

We have an archive area. It’s a room with many boxes. There are old photo albums and there are bits and pieces from all over the place in archive boxes. And at some stage, when I retire I’ll come in a couple of days and go, “Let’s start putting all this together and keeping…”

We have started documenting school projects more fully with photobooks and we’re trying to work out ways of keeping records of classroom work. That’s become a yearly event. There are two or three books produced each year that we can use as archives of classroom practices which is lovely. But as for, “Yes, here’s a spot where everything’s being put.” Not really.

Everyone would have work on their computer, historical things and even the first, second and third iteration of the raison d’etre. Ray would have a heap of stuff, so would Esme, who’s at another school now. It’s a huge job to draw bits together and then work out how does this fit in with a continuum. A few of us all started at Wooranna Park at the same time, so we have a collective memory of its innovations. But Ray is the only person who has been here before 2000. It’s interesting to think, “There’s no one else around who knows about that.” The fact that there are four or five of us here at the moment who have had a long association with the school means we can flesh out the meaning of our practices from different perspectives. But all organisations move on and they all face the challenge of keep its history and memory alive. Should it be documented? When time and funds are limited, it is not the priority. The here and the now has to be the priority, and the future has to be faced. We need to know where are we heading rather than worry about where we’ve been.

On the other hand, I think what we’ve been doing here at Wooranna Park is really important for lots of other schools. Ray’ has had an amazing career and he’s not a person who sells himself or his educational influence. So, yes, it would be lovely to ensure that we say, “Look at this journey and look at how it’s changed a whole lot of people and a whole lot of thinking in education.” 

It’s not neat and it’s not easy. There are many perspectives to consider. It will be fragmented. We haven’t had a film crew here the whole time, documenting the last two decades. Who would want it? No one would because it would be different. It wouldn’t be as natural or as organic as it has been.

Da Vinci Provocations

I always like to have some sort of display up that reflects what the children are doing in the library but I did for a while start putting up quotes of the day. I would love to have a board where we display this week’s question and devise a way in which the children could interact with the question.

I don’t know how much our school community uses our website as a place for information if I put provocations and notices on the school website. I know for some schools, the school website is the go to place.  I think our school community uses Seesaw and Flexibuzz to get the most recent information.

Making hard choices about  the purpose and placing of displays and provocation brings me to face up to a challenge with school libraries that seems to be going, for me, in the wrong direction. The fact is there are just not many full-time trained primary school librarians around in Government schools. I am one of two in my Southern Metropolitan SLAV. Everyone else is working in a private or secondary school.

My sister-in-law who is a school nurse at a primary school now, acts also as its library technician. A great person but she has no training as a librarian. She rings to ask, “What should I be buying this week?” She’s at least got me to help. But there are a lot of people who have no help. They know how to run a computer system for libraries but they don’t know about fiction and nonfiction matters or questions of literature. 

I don’t know who would take my place once I retire. I can’t understand how this has happened in an information age. It’s not about just teaching kids how to access information. In any case, as Ray keeps saying, what are we doing about teaching children to deal with the the amount of information that’s currently available. For students to be able to navigate through that and work out what is true, or at least what is reasonable or important is something we face today which no other generation has had to do. 

The point is that the process of finding information you need requires skills.  Yes, teachers have many of the skills but working out how to comprehensively deal with information sources IS why we have librarians.  I understand budgets and money are a big fact.  But all those people who wrongly predicted that the, “Book is dead. We’re all gonna be reading computers,” clearly weren’t looking at children. Our school book club thing this week is excited by putting in their request for a Scholastic book, “Oh, I’m gonna buy this one and mom said I could have that one and…”

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