Sense of Wonder and Possibility

giant water bug


As another school year takes shape, with teachers organizing classrooms and lessons, I remember the anticipation for welcoming new and returning students to my library learning space.  I couldn’t wait to share new books and other resources with my fresh faced learners.  From the first day, I welcomed their questions, and made sure that they knew that the media center was their space for learning.  It belonged to them, not me!  I said, “Think of it as a candy store for your brain, a space for tinkering with new ideas, and exploring the world.  My job is to help you develop a passion for learning, whatever your interests.”

A few years ago, not long after the first week of school, my commitment to a sense of wonder and curiosity was put to the test by an eager third grader who rushed in at 8 AM with several of his friends.  He was carrying a plastic container and inside it was the largest, ugliest, most monstrous dead (fortunately for me anyway) insect I had ever seen.   The questions came at me fast and furious. “What is it? What does is eat? Is it poisonous?  What killed it? Why did I find it in a parking lot? Does it live around here, or how did it get here? “

Talk about your teachable moment!  This was the start of something big-a chance to capitalize on student centered motivation for learning.  The student and his friends were encouraged by the classroom teacher to spend some class time discovering the answers to their questions.  For the next few days, the small group met with me in the media center, and the inquiry took off.  The questions that they answered led to more questions and more inquiry.  We contacted entomologists, did internet searches, consulted field guides, and encyclopedias.  Their interest exceeded their reading levels, but that did not hold them back from learning.  It was amazing to observe their natural collaboration. They divided up tasks, reported back to each other, kept track of their findings, and then did a short presentation to their classmates.  All I did was to guide them a bit to resources and to facilitate questions that required some reflection about their learning.

If we promote the school library space as a learning environment, not just a room with four walls and print resources, we also have to promote inquiry.  The two go hand in hand.  Students need opportunities to follow their interests and passions, and professional teacher librarians are trained as information and literacy specialists who can accommodate both planned and just in time learning.  With increased emphasis on teaching to standards, many schools have less time in the daily schedule for individual inquiry projects, so here is an opportunity for those of us in the field.   Providing space, resources, and guidance for inquiry, teacher librarians can collaborate with colleagues to assure that students have the chance to activate their sense of wonder.

Recently, educational websites and bloggers have been focusing on excellent tips for teachers in a new school year.  There are many wonderful and powerful ideas that we can find through social media. I really appreciate that Kristin Fontichiaro is willing to share her presentations and professional development work through her blog, Active Learning.  She has given access to the slides and support materials on inquiry based learning (with Debbie Abliock) for a school district in Texas.  Even if you did not attend, you can get some ideas for adapting inquiry to your own curriculum, and it is a great resource. I am including the link here.  Be sure to check out her past posts, too!


Meanwhile, what do you see, think, and wonder about that big scary bug?



Fontichiaro, Kristin.   Hello, Denton ISD!    Active Learning. (Aug. 20, 2014). Weblog.

Image: giant water bug.jpg







A Hodgepodge of Resources


As I have been exploring different sites and articles for my classes this fall I have run across several interesting readings I thought I would share!

I know I am always looking for great news ideas and resources to try – especially here during the exciting back to school time. What great resources have you stumbled across?


Advice to a New School Librarian

library photoI just heard from a student who is preparing to start her first year as an elementary school librarian.  She’s been working all summer to create a welcoming space for her students and she wanted to know if there were any resource books I might recommend for library lessons.  I remember wanting that book when I started out as well.  But I never found it because ultimately the best lessons are those that you create yourself for your unique context with your unique stamp of creativity.  And they are created in response to the needs of your students and teachers and discovered in a collaboration with the school community.

But where do you start?

Try to find out what’s happening in classrooms/grade levels so you aren’t teaching skills in a vacuum.  For example, I did a reading interest survey every year with 3rd grade but then presented the findings as large graphs that I used for lessons related to their math curriculum and then posted outside the library for everyone to see.  I usually asked teachers what they were doing in science or social studies because those were easy content to grab on to.  Then I might ask what they were teaching in reading or writing and find a way to integrate those with library resources/skills.  So when I learned that second grade was studying voting in social studies and using literature for writing models I introduced the  Jane Yolen, How Do Dinosaurs... series and we wrote a class book about “How Do Dinosaurs Vote?”

It helps if you have some theme that you pull through the lessons and the year.  So one year I was asked to focus on integrating math; another year the focus was science – in these cases the principal or the school improvement plan allowed me to see what was a schoolwide focus that I could work with.  Or decide that you will make this the year of poetry or the year of working with video and find ways to integrate those with as much content and lessons as possible.  Then you can stand up in a faculty meeting and say “This year the library focus will be on poetry and I invite you to plan lessons with me that integrate poetry.  I’m sure I can find a poem for anything you are teaching: math, science, social studies.  And you can expect to find poetry popping up in unusual places like the morning announcements, the cafeteria or the bus line.”  You’ve provided an invitation and a challenge.

What are teachers being told they need to do more of this year? — find out how you can help or even lead any initiative.  One year teachers were introduced to thinking maps so I was modeling those with every library lesson.  I attended any staff development required of my teachers and then tried to integrate what they were told to do in their classrooms with what I was doing in the library. When I was planning with teachers this willingness to support them in new initiatives was greatly appreciated.

Use what you have – this may seem obvious – but look around to see what kinds of resources are unique and underutilized – online databases, ebooks, whiteboard, old sewing machines, puppets, a collection of magazines…

One year I built my lessons around my state’s children’s book award list.  I noticed that a lot of the books had some relationship to math concepts and I was able to integrate literature with mathematics in collaborative lessons.  Then we were able to participate in voting for the award.

Today I would be looking around for lesson ideas on Pinterest or Livebinder and curating my own collection of ideas.  Find colleagues who are willing to share ideas and don’t be afraid, as one of my mentors told me to “beg, borrow and steal” ideas but combine them with local needs and resources to spin your own particular kind of magic.

Yolen, Jane (2000).  How do dinosaurs say goodnight?  Scholastic.    Find this book and others in the series at

Photo courtesy of Jessica Thompson (2014).

People Create Change

Deep_Change_cropEdSurge is an organization that connects “the emerging community of edtech entrepreneurs and educators.” They recently published a graphic called “How Teachers Are Learning: Professional Development Remix.”

The graphic shows “old school” professional development, including all-day workshops, observations, and professional learning communities. (Personally, I wish they hadn’t included PLCs in the old school model…)  In their new model, technology tools provide linkages to personalized professional development that meets the “just-in-time” needs of adult learners (teachers).

Lest we lose sight of the importance of the whole school culture, I believe this new model must be placed alongside an article published on EdSurge in April by Ben Wilkoff: “People Create Change Not Products.” Ben Wilkoff, who is the Director of Personalized Professional Learning for the Denver Public Schools, reminds us that it is the “people implementing tools that make or break it [professional development].”

I couldn’t agree more and encourage everyone to read his article. I know that while I have learned a great deal through technology tools, I have learned the most from coplanning and coteaching with colleagues in the same room, at the same time, working through challenges and sharing successes with real students in real time.

Technology-facilitated learning has a starring role in 21st-century education, but it can keep preK-12 students isolated from one another and educators isolated from colleagues. An individual learner, child or adult, simply cannot make the lasting changes we want to see in education and in the world that a collective of students or educators can.

If you believe that building a culture of collaboration can support people in making change, consider Ben Wilkoff’s current manifesto for professional development as you plan for the new school year:
•    Community over Content
•    Friends over Features
•    Conversation over Credit
•    People over Products

Works Cited

Edsurge. “How Teachers Are Learning: Professional Development Remix.” Edsurge. Web. 7 Aug. 2014. <>.

Quinn, Robert E. Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1996. Print. (Image created with Microsoft PowerPoint)

Wilkoff, Ben. “People Create Change Not Products.” 16 Apr. 2014. EdSurge. Web. 7 Aug. 2014. <>.

Celebrating the Beginning of our Third Year of Co-Blogging

photo-1Judy Kaplan, Melissa Johnston, Sue Kimmel, and I began co-blogging on this site in August of 2012. We are pleased to begin our third year sharing ideas, information, research, and musings related to building a culture of collaboration in schools.

In the spring semester 2014, graduate students in the School of Library and Information Studies at Texas Woman’s University were required to use social media for professional development. Following this blog was one of their choices. When they shared their learning, the students cited specific posts that influenced their thinking about the various roles school librarians play in their learning communities.

One of my favorite comments was this one: “One of the most obvious things that struck me when I began reading the blog ‘Building a Culture of Collaboration’ is the fact that the contributors/writers of this blog are truly professionals. They all are former school librarians who are now professors, and have practiced what they preach in terms of providing professional development, guidance, and information for collaborating educators.” This school librarian candidate went on to say that she appreciated the varying experiences, perspectives, and styles of the co-bloggers.

Another preservice school librarian noted that on this blog the co-bloggers are “preaching to the choir” and wished that teachers, principals, parents, and other educational decision-makers would read our posts. We concur with this feedback and will continue to make concerted efforts to reach beyond the school library community. We hope that our school librarian readership will share our posts more widely and yes! we invite, welcome, and encourage your responses to any of our postings. Please help us make this blog a conversation; please help us reach a wider readership.

Finally, I want to take this opportunity to thank my co-bloggers for their on-going contributions to my learning as well as my students’ learning. I appreciate your experience, your expertise, and your commitment to our profession. Co-blogging with you is like having three outstanding guest speakers—Sue, Melissa, and Judy—in my professional life and in the Librarians as Instructional Partners course I teach every spring.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Image Credit:
Building a Culture of Collaboration Bloggers. Digital Image. November 2013. From the Collection of Judy Kaplan.

Time for Collaboration

clocks_1490The National Center on Time & Learning (NCTL)  conducts research, helps guide public policy, and provides technical assistance for “national, state and local initiatives that add significantly more school time for academic and enrichment opportunities to help children meet the demands of the 21st century.” In May, 2014, they published a report called “Time for Teachers: Leveraging Time to Strengthen Instruction and Empower Teachers.” You can access the executive summary or the full report.

The study involved 17 high-performing and rapidly improving schools across the U.S. that are involved in a movement to expand learning time. “The expanded school days and/or years also increase learning opportunities for teachers, who have more time to collaborate with their peers, master new content, plan for and reflect on lessons, and hone instructional practices.”

Three themes emerged from their study of teacher development: professional culture matters; teachers are leaders; and the school is the locus of learning.  If the school climate promotes professional growth, if teachers are empowered to lead through peer mentoring, coaching, and sharing expertise, and professional learning is embedded in practice, instructional practices will improve. “A successful teaching force spends time not only teaching, but also collaborating, planning, leading, and learning.”

Yes! To teacher leadership and job-embedded professional development as best practices to improve student learning.

Side Note: If you are looking for more real-world evidence, check out the article “Lessons from a school that scrapped a longer student day and made time for teachers.”  After experimenting with a longer school day for students, the principal of a Brennan-Rogers School in New Haven, Connecticut, found that extending collaboration time for teachers was more effective.

Works Cited

National Center on Time and Learning. “Time for Teachers: Leveraging Time to Strengthen Instruction and Empower Teachers.” Web. 1 Aug. 2014. <>

Peralta, Paola. Social Media Marketing. Digital Image. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. Web. 1 Aug. 2014. <>.

RoganJosh. Clocks_1490. Digital Image. Morguefile. Web. 1 Aug. 2014. <>.