Reciprocal Technology Mentorship

As noted in the “Reciprocal Mentorship” blog post for Chapter 2: Job-embedded Professional Development learning with and from colleagues is a way to honor the principles of andragogy (adult learning theory) and for educators to provide and receive personalized, differentiated professional development (see Differentiated Professional Development). Learning with and from empowered students in also a way to strengthen our knowledge and skills and diffuse exciting future ready uses of resources, tools, devices, and skills throughout the school building and into families’ homes as well.

Learning with and from Colleagues
Sometimes school librarians are called upon to help colleagues understand the critical importance of digital learning and the benefit of collaborating for students’ digital learning success. To that end, pointing out that the Google News Initiative is taking off and showing educators how they and their students can benefit is a way to launch a digital learning conversation and build background and shared values for coplanning and coteaching.

These are two outstanding resources that may help classroom teachers understand the critical importance of digital learning and give school librarians an entrée into collaboration.

Crash Course has partnered with MediaWise and the Stanford History Education Group to make this series on Navigating Digital Information. “Let’s learn the facts about facts!”

Here’s the “Introduction to Crash Course Navigating Digital Information #1 with Author John Green.”

Also, on the MediaWise website, you will find a link to “Media News” with categories such as “fact-checking” that provide articles to stimulate classroom discussion and collaborative planning and coteaching. There are also links to events and training that educators may want to attend together to ensure the information they learn will make a greater impact on their instruction. MediaWise’s YouTube Channel is likewise a treasure trove.

Miranda Fitzgerald who strategically selected tools and tasks for (elementary) students provides these recommendations for selecting digital tools, which can apply to educators at all instructional levels:

  1. Do not settle for educational technologies designed for drill and rote memorization.
  2. Choose tools that promote discussion and collaboration during reading and writing.
  3. Pair digital tools with rich reading and writing tasks guided by meaningful questions.
  4. Select tools that challenge students to interpret and communicate information using multiple modes.
  5. Seek tools that level the playing field for students with a range of reading and writing skills (2018, 35).

Share these wise tips with colleagues or post them on your office wall.

Learning with and from Students
Speaking of wisdom, it is also wise for school librarians to make an intentional practice of learning with and from students. In any area where students know more than the adults in their lives, young people experience empowerment – increased strength and confidence. Since working with empowered students is our goal, educators must be eager to learn from students (as well as with them).

Student geek squads and school library aides can be mentors for other students, school librarians, and other educators who must be continually upgrading their technology knowledge and skills. Cross-age student technology mentors can be especially effective in K-6 or K-8 schools. Younger students enjoy learning from older and more savvy students in schools that span the grades. We may not reflexively think of these partnerships as “instructional,” but indeed they are, and school librarians can formalize some of these partnerships for the benefit of all.

In this month’s Digital Learning podcast, Jefferson Elementary school library media specialist Louis Lauer in the Fargo Public Schools shared an example of collaborative project with fifth-grade teachers. The project focused on developing materials that educators could use to teach students about the district’s Responsible Use Policy. Not only did fifth-grade students collaboratively develop these materials, they also shared them with 2nd-grade students. Win-win-win in terms of classroom-library collaboration, inviting students to serve digital citizenship leaders, and cross-age learning with younger students.

Internet of Stings, Digital Savvy, and Citizenship
Jennifer Howard published a provocative article in The Times Literary Supplement in 2016: The Internet of Stings. It includes brief book reviews of titles that address the potholes on the Internet superhighway. This cautionary article has haunted me since I first read it and has furthered my belief that school librarians can be problem-solvers alongside classroom teachers and families in order to prepare students for learning, working, and living in the technological age.

Ms. Howard asks this, “How much privacy are we willing to give up to reap the benefits of a networked world? To live digitally is a more complex and ambivalent process than any of these books captures, and there are risks that the authors do not acknowledge – for instance, how to archive and access the public data and cultural knowledge being created in quantities never seen before. At this moment in our digital evolution, though, what worries me most is whether we can find the collective will and the technological capacity to reclaim the internet from those who use it to exploit, control and abuse, whether they are criminals, governments, or white supremacists. It would be a disaster to let this decade spiral into a tech-enriched replay of the 1930s. Fear technology if you must, but fear the people who control it more.”

Clearly, it will take all students, educators, and families working together in order to help each other develop digital savvy and citizenship. Reciprocal mentorship among all stakeholders is required.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. Why is it important to learn with and from students and colleagues and share information with families in the area of technology tools use and integration?
  2. How are you currently teaching/coteaching digital savvy and citizenship?

Work Cited

Fitzgerald, Miranda. 2018. “Multimodal Knowledge Building: Meaningfully Using Digital Tools to Foster Disciplinary Learning.” Literacy Today 36 (1): 34-35.

Howard, Jennifer. 2016. “The Internet of Stings.” The Times Literary Supplement. https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/internet-of-stings/

Differentiated Digital Professional Development

There is no doubt in my mind that when classroom teachers, specialists, and school librarians coteach they offer each other reciprocal mentorship; they learn with and from one another. In the context of digital learning, this results in differentiated digital professional development for all educators and improved outcomes for students.

Rose Else-Mitchell, who is currently the Chief Learning Officer at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, conducted a study in 2017 in which she found that 2/3rds of classroom teachers are using technology in instruction but feel they need more support and training (cited in Wolf 2018, 182). When educators are coplanning and coteaching as equal partners, their combined digital teaching and learning expertise enhances experiences and ensures that instructional innovations, including students’ use and mastery of technology resources and tools, are diffused throughout the learning environment.

Research Related to Adult Learning
Andragogy comprises principles of adult learning. As mentioned in the “Professional Development is Key” blog post last September, these principles should be adhered to in formal professional development as well as in informal coteaching/reciprocal mentoring. Adults learners:

  1. are self-directed and take responsibility for their own learning;
  2. have prior experiences that can be a positive or negative influence on learning;
  3. are motivated by an internal need to know;
  4. and have a problem-solving orientation to learning (Knowles 1990).

School librarians are wise to approach collaboration from the perspective of helping a colleague solve her/his instructional challenge. With regard to school librarians’ role as technology mentors, this can come from a place of sharing what we know, learning from what the other educator(s) knows, or taking a risk together to attempt something new in order to engage, motivate, or challenge students.

In my experience as a school librarian educator, I found many graduate students who were learning new technology tools felt supported by taking a risk with a university classmate or building-level colleague. Educators found that identifying resources and tools, troubleshooting tools with students in mind, and providing students with choices and a menu of resource and tool options can be more successful with two or more designer-facilitators of learning.

Exemplary Practice from the Field
Laura Long is the school library media specialist at Highland School of Technology in Gastonia, North Carolina. In her January 10, 2019 Knowledge Quest blog post “The School Library, Makey, Makey, and Learning,” Laura shared an exemplary example.

Laura’s colleague Jamee P. Webb teaches English III (11th grade). This is how Laura describes Jamee, “She is a frequent collaborator with me in the school library, and she is a lifelong learner. It is fun to watch her discover new strategies, apps, and products that she can use with her students.” (This description says as much about Laura who wrote it as it does about Jamee.)

When Jamee earned a grant for “Makey, Makey STEM kits,” Laura, Jamee, and instructional technology facilitator Katherine Leatherman explored the Makey kits with Jamee’s classes. The two-day project culminated with student-created poetry using the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights as background information. (Please read Laura’s entire post.)

Also, on March 6, 2019, school librarian Harry Oslund from William J. Brennan High School in Northside ISD (Texas) and the school’s academic technology instructional support specialist Ryan Fontanella are offering a webinar titled “Using Makerspaces to Build Teacher/Librarian Collaboration” via AASL’s eCollab. I am excited to hear their presentation and learn how they are collaborating to maximize the impact of their school’s makerspace on students’ classroom-based learning. You can sign up here: http://www.ala.org/aasl/ecollab/makerspaces

Embracing Tasks Before Apps Mindset
When I read Laura’s post, I was reminded of an article that was written by Monica Burns (ClassTechTips.com) that appeared last September in the Association for Curriculum and Development’s Education Update. Dr. Burns offered four tips for keeping the focus on tasks rather than on the technology tools themselves. These tips support classroom-library coplanning and coteaching in the context of digital learning.

  1. Review curriculum goals.
  2. Reflect on creation opportunities.
  3. Take stock of student interest.
  4. Find your partner in technology (Burns 2018, 4-5).

Unfortunately, Dr. Burns didn’t mention school librarians as natural partners for classroom teachers when it comes to curating and integrating apps and other technology tools and devices into classroom instruction.

As Laura Long’s experience shows, when classroom teachers, school librarians, and technology instructional coaches pool their expertise and resources exciting, successful, and digitally rich learning experiences happen for students.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. How do you currently practice technology-focused differentiated professional development with and for your colleagues?
  2. What ideas do you have for improving technology-focused differentiated professional development with and for your colleagues?

Works Cited

Burns, Monica. 2018. “Embracing a Tasks Before Apps Mindset.” ASCD: Education Update: 1, 4-5.

Knowles, Malcolm. 1990. The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species. 4th ed. Houston: Gulf.

Long, Laura. 2019. “The School Library, Makey, Makey, and Learning.” Knowledge Quest Blog. https://knowledgequest.aasl.org/the-school-library-makey-makey-and-learning

Wolf, Maryanne. 2018. Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World. New York: Harper.

Digital Learning Instructional Partnerships

Podcast Episode 6: Digital Learning Interview with Amy Soma and Louis Lauer

Initiating, developing, and sustaining instructional partnerships for digital learning is a win-win-win proposition for future ready learning. School librarians can be leaders in developing shared digital learning values, vocabulary, instructional practices, and expectations.

Collaborating educators have knowledge of students’ home and school access to digital resources and technology tools. This may be particularly important for school librarians who are well-aware of students’ school-based access but may lack knowledge of students’ home and community access. However, access alone is not enough to ensure that students are able to maximize the promised benefits digital information, devices, and tools.

In a 2016 survey, Victoria Rideout and Vikki Katz found that “the quality of families’ Internet connections, and the kinds and capabilities of devices they can access, have considerable consequences for parents and children” (7). Through collaboration, educators must deepen their knowledge and understanding of students’ opportunities to learn digitally. They must create a school- and community-based context in which digital learning can achieve its promise.

Shared Values
While access to technology resources is a prerequisite for digital learning, shared values are just as important. Educators who have similar teaching experiences working with students in their neighborhood schools are perfectly positioned to think, plan, and teach together to meet students’ needs. During collaborative planning, astute school librarians will be mindful of how their colleagues’ values and their own align and when those values are misaligned. During the coplanning process, collaborators may nudge each other to expand students’ choice and voice when it comes to digital tools.

When educators read and share research and practitioner articles focused on technology tools integration, they can collectively strategize the most effective approaches to engaging students in digital learning. Wrestling with questions such as the ones that follow posed by Dr. Maryanne Wolf can lead instructional partners or whole school teaching teams to think and rethink how to successfully frame digital learning.

“Will the early-developing cognitive components of the reading circuit be altered by digital media before, while, and after children learn to read? In particular, what will happen to the development of their attention, memory, and background knowledge—processes known to be affected in adults by multitasking, rapidity, and distraction?” (Wolf 2018, 107).

“What are the specific developmental relationships among continuous partial attention, working memory, and the formation and the deployment of deep-reading processes in children?” (Wolf 2018, 117).

Shared Vocabulary
When educators have shared vocabulary for instruction in any content area or for use in any process, such as inquiry learning, students benefit. The glossary in Maximizing School Librarian Leadership is an important aspect of the book. While all readers may not agree 100% with my definitions, they offer a starting place for discussion and clarification.

The International Literacy Association (ILA) offers an online literacy glossary. “New literacies” is one important term related to digital learning that educators may discuss and tweak.

New literacies. A term used to signal a shift from literacy to literacies, especially in relation to how people view texts as being situated in different contexts that in turn support different kinds of reading and writing. New, not in the sense of a replacement metaphor, but new in the sense that social, economic, cultural, intellectual, and institutional changes are continually at work. This term is preferred over 21st-century literacies. (See also 21st-century literacy(ies)) [Rev., 10/2018]

Collaborating for digital learning does require an understanding of how students view, read, learn with, and write digital texts.  For me, ILA’s definition is especially useful because it notes the term “new” relates to  contexts for literacy learning rather than a replacement for traditional literacies.

Shared Contexts
Students and adults today have become habituated to ever faster access to information and multitasking. We also communicate more frequently in briefer units of thought; Twitter and email are examples. “90% of youth say they are multitasking when they are reading online; only 1% multitask when reading in print” (Wolf 2018, 114).

Faster access to information does not necessarily result in faster knowledge acquisition. Modeling slower and deeper engagement with texts helps students see the benefits of taking time. In addition, relevant learning experiences can help students remain engaged, develop intrinsic motivation, and persist when learning is challenging. With two or more coteachers monitoring student learning, educators can more easily identify students who have lost their momentum or lost their way and need guidance to get back on track.

Instructional Practices
What school librarians have traditionally termed information literacy are what Dr. Wolf calls “pragmatic tools” for online reading. School librarians are adept and experienced at teaching students how to select and use search engines and databases. We help students be deliberate when choosing search terms and evaluating search results. We model and give them repeated opportunities to practice determining perspective and bias and to dig deep in order to recognize misinformation, propaganda, and lies. Taking these strategies to media sources, further expands students’ ability to be astute users of data, ideas, and information.

Separating truth from fiction takes time for both youth and adults. Applying information and media literacy strategies and approaching texts with alternately open and skeptical minds will require practice. The International Society for Technology in Education has published a number of resources to support school librarians in teaching information/media literacy, most recently Fact versus Fiction: Teaching Thinking Skills in the Age of Fake News (LaGarde and Hudgins 2018).

The Challenge
School librarians must focus on access first and address the gaps. The future ready librarian also “invests strategically in digital resources,” “cultivates community partnerships,” and “leads beyond the library” (Future Ready Librarians).  School librarians can take a leadership role in writing grants to obtain funding for technologies that address equity of access. Building digital age capacity through forming partnerships with public librarians and other community-based organizations is important in order to provide digital networks that are essential to students’ success. School librarians must join with others in advocating for students’ access to tools and devices in their homes and communities as well as in their schools.

Through leadership, we can help our schools develop shared values, vocabulary, instructional practices, and expectations for student learning with digital information and tools in order to address this challenge: “technology increasingly provides easy access to answers, but if we focus only on the answers and not on the thinking, questioning, and solving, we deny students powerful learning experiences. Perhaps even more significant, we fail to develop the new literacies that will empower them to solve complex problems and be lifelong learners” (Martin 2018, 22).

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. How would you describe the technology environment, including equity of access, in your school, district, or community?
  2. In what kinds of conversations have you engaged with colleagues related to shared values, practices, and challenges with technology tools use and integration?

Works Cited

Future Ready Librarians Framework: Empowering Leadership for School Librarians through Innovative Professional Practice. https://tinyurl.com/frlflyer

LaGarde, Jennifer, and Darren Hudgins. 2018. Fact versus Fiction: Teaching Thinking Skills in the Age of Fake News. Washington, DC: International Society for Technology in Education.

Martin, Katie. 2018. “Learning in a Changing World: What It Means to be a Literacy Learning—and Teacher—in the 21st Century.” Literacy Today 36 (3): 21-23.

Rideout, Victoria, and Vikki S. Katz. 2016. “Opportunity for All? Technology and Learning in Lower-Income Families.” Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop. ERIC ED574416.

Wolf, Maryanne. 2018. Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World. New York: Harper.

Inquiry-Empowered Learning Culture

In the three previous Chapter 3: Inquiry Learning posts, I have shared ideas about developing a school-wide inquiry process, using inquiry learning as a way to engage students’ curiosity, experimentation, and creativity, and diverse creative expressions of learning. What would be the result if students, educators, and administrators enacted these three big ideas of inquiry learning?Shared Processes
A shared process provides a guaranteed, viable framework for student success. Students can master an information-seeking process and then adapt and expand upon it as they advance through grade levels and in various aspects of the curriculum. A common process leads to shared vocabulary and understandings that help every educator in the building communicate with and support all students in the building in achieving their learning goals.

A shared process can only be realized in a positive school climate and a collaborative learning culture. A framework that promotes in-depth learning will by necessity require changes in other aspects of the learning environment. Bell schedules may need to change. Student and educator responsibilities may need to change. Assessment and evaluation may need to change. Trusting relationships, professional respect, and the ability to navigate challenges and change are essential features of such a learning community.

Student-led Questioning and Diverse Expressions
Trust is also essential if educators support the agency of empowered students who guide their own learning process. Student-led questioning is one of the essential differences between inquiry and traditional research. When educators guide inquiry by providing students with sufficient background and helping them build connections between prior and new knowledge, they create a space in which students’ curiosity, experimentation, and creativity can thrive.

Trust is also necessary in an inquiry environment that supports students as creators. Educators who give up control and share power with students in the classroom and library provide an essential piece of the inquiry learning puzzle. They support students with menus of options or give students free rein to create new knowledge in diverse and unique ways. These expressions of learning are meaningful to students and cement their ownership in both the process and products of their discoveries.

School-wide Philosophy
Inquire is one of the shared foundations in the new AASL standards (2018). When students AND educators inquire, they practice a growth/innovator’s/inquiry mindset. They open their minds to new information, ideas, and perspectives. They use formative assessments to grow and develop as curious, creative, experimenting learners. Educators support students with timely, specific feedback to propel students forward on their learning journey, giving them encouragement to take missteps and to learn from them. The same is true for inquiring educators. They seek, give, and receive real-time feedback from one another through coteaching; they expect to be engaged as learners who are in a constant quest to improve instruction.

When a school or district adopts an inquiry learning framework they are also adopting a philosophy. If you haven’t yet tuned in or want to be inspired again, please listen to Priscille Dando’s podcast interview Episode 3: Inquiry Learning, in which she shares how school librarians are leading and guiding inquiry learning to achieve district goals for students and educators.

A Recipe for Inquiry Learning
Figure 3.1 on page 38 in Maximizing School Librarian Leadership offers a “Recipe for Inquiry Learning.” It is “taken out of the book” of future ready educators and students. The ingredients are curiosity, connections, motivation, content knowledge, literacies, skills, and dispositions. The directions can be applied to any inquiry process, but all steps require sufficient time for maximum results. You can download the recipe from the ALA Editions Web Extras.

Inquiry learning is student ready/future ready learning. It is the pathway to helping students develop literacies, skills, and dispositions that will serve them throughout their lives.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. What behaviors indicate to you that students and educators are empowered in your school?
  2. How can inquiry learning lead to empowerment for the entire school community?

Works Cited

American Association of School Librarians. 2018. National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries. Chicago: ALA.

Moreillon, Judi. 2018. Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy. Chicago: ALA.

Curiosity, Experimentation, Creativity

“Explore” is one of the shared foundations in AASL’s National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries (2018). When learners explore, they engage with the learning community by “expressing curiosity about a topic of personal interest or curricular relevance” (38).Curiosity
In their book. A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life, Brian Grazer and Charles Fishman (2015) emphasize the importance of curiosity as a springboard to creativity and innovation. Educators who create learning environments and opportunities that stimulate students’ curiosity help them on a path to lifelong learning.

For far too many students, schooling has stunted their innate curiosity. Over time, they have come to think of school as the place where the educators ask the questions, and students’ job is to respond to those questions with answers the educators already know. When students are given opportunities to revive their sense of wonder, they can take charge of their learning in ways that will support them throughout their academic, professional, civic, and personal lives.

Experimentation
Experimentation was once reserved for science and art courses, with chemistry labs and art classes the most often offered opportunities. The STEM/STEAM/STREAM focus in recent years has added technology, robotics, and engineering to the mix. Many school librarians have turned to makerspaces as strategies for engaging students and classroom teachers in experimentation. The opportunity to risk, fall short, and learn from missteps is a foundational tenet of makerspaces.

Although a makerspace may be housed in the library, hands-on, minds-on learning can be strengthened when the “maker” philosophy is diffused throughout the school. When classroom teachers, specialists, and school librarians collaborate, students have the opportunity to experiment and explore in all content areas and develop a growth/inquiry/innovator mindset. School librarians who coplan and coteach with their colleagues help spread the benefits of makerspaces in the learning community.

Creativity
Creativity was once associated with the fine and industrial arts more than any other areas of the curriculum. Students signed up for art, music, shop, and home economics classes with an understanding that the curriculum in those courses would allow them free rein to explore, experiment, and “fail forward.” In these courses, students and educators expected students to access and enact creativity in their thinking and in the final products they created.

Creativity is one of the Partnership for 21st Century Learning’s 4Cs. When students are encouraged to imagine and “think outside the box,” they may pursue and express their questions, knowledge, and learning in unexpected ways. For some youth, personalized learning can be a pathway to unleashing students’ creativity. For others, small group exploration may be the path to connecting their own creativity with that of their peers.

Coleading School Librarians
An effective school library program involves students and educators in exploring the curriculum, resources, information, and ideas in creative ways. School librarians can spotlight the ways students use library resources and tools to create. They can work with colleagues and administrators to ensure that curiosity, experimentation, and creativity are cornerstones of students’ learning experiences.

Taking the attitude and enacting the behaviors of “explorers,” students can stretch themselves beyond their own expectations. Through codesigning and coteaching with classroom teachers and specialists, school librarian can also stretch themselves and advocate for engaging learning experiences for students.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. What are your school’s considerations in determining the location of a makerspace in your school building?
  2. What are the benefits to students when school librarians share responsibility for facilitating making?

Works Cited

American Association of School Librarians. 2018. National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries. Chicago: ALA.

Grazer, Brian, and Charles Fishman. 2015. A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Reciprocal Mentorship

October Podcast Episode 2: Job-Embedded Professional Development: An Interview with Misti Werle, Library Systems Innovator, Bismarck (North Dakota) Public Schools

One challenge school librarians have faced in collaborative work is being acknowledged as equal partners with classroom teacher colleagues. In states where school librarians are required to hold classroom teacher certification and have classroom teaching experience, this may not be as much of a challenge. If, on the other hand, teaching certification and experience is not required, classroom teachers may need to be convinced that the school librarian is indeed an “equal.”The reverse may also have been true. I may be that when professionals serving in school libraries are perceived of as “coaches” or “mentors,” their classroom teacher colleagues may feel “less than” in terms of knowledge and expertise. A hierarchy—whether or not it is intentional—is implied. If school librarians position themselves as professionals who know more than their colleagues—in all areas of teaching and learning—classroom teachers may perceive that the school librarian is trying to “fix” a classroom teacher’s instructional or other practices.

In either case, relationships will suffer and collaboration may not be successful in the long run.

Reciprocal Mentorship
If, on the other hand, school librarians and classroom teachers collaborate as equal partners who learn with and from one another, then relationships have a better chance of thriving and collaboration is more likely to be on-going. Educators are adults who need to be respected for their knowledge and experience. Collaboration needs to be experienced by both/all parties as a problem-solving activity that benefits both/all educators and subsequently, all students.

In the best of instructional partnerships, mentorship goes both ways. It is reciprocal. There will be areas of the curriculum in which school librarians may lack knowledge or lack teaching experience. Classroom teachers may have little or no knowledge of or experience teaching the inquiry process or reading comprehension strategies. One or the other educator may be stronger in integrating technology tools and devices. One or the other may have better student observation skills or classroom management skills.

School librarians who approach collaborative work as educators with both strengths and areas for growth and who communicate the dispositions (character traits) of lifelong learners will have more success as coteachers. School librarians’ opportunities for professional development in their daily practice are truly limitless!

Job-Embedded Professional Development
In a learning commons library model, adult learning is as important as student learning. It is, after all, the adults who organize the learning environment and create learning opportunities for students. If adults do not engage in on-going professional development and continue growing their practice, then future ready students will be short-changed.

“Collaboration” involves “working with a member of the teaching team to plan, implement, and evaluate a specialized instructional plan” (AASL 2016). Collaboration requires effective on-going communication, joint planning, individual and collective action, and commitment to a shared outcome.

While coplanning, coimplementing, and co-assessing a lesson or unit of instruction, school librarians and classroom teachers are engaged in a just-in-time opportunity to learn with and from one another. Most educators do not have the golden opportunity school librarians have; they are not positioned to learn with and from colleagues who teach in all content areas. Due to that fact, it’s my experience that collaborating school librarians can accelerate their instructional expertise at a faster rate than most classroom teachers. And still, school librarians have more to learn from every educator and student they have the good fortune to serve.

One of the Future Ready Librarians™ gears is personalized professional development. When school librarians and classroom teachers engage in reciprocal membership, they are indeed providing and receiving personalized professional development. And students are receiving a higher quality of instruction. Win. Win. Win.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. What is your definition of a learning commons, and how does your current library measure up to that description?
  2. How do you ensure that the colleagues with whom you collaborate perceive classroom-library collaboration as the work of equal partners?

Work Cited

American Association of School Librarians. 2016 “Position Statements: Definition for an Effective School Library Program.” www.ala.org/aasl/advocacy/resources/statements

Building Connections

Welcome to the official launch of the Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy (MSLL) 2018-2019 Book Study. I invite you to read one chapter each month and participate in weekly blog discussions throughout this school year.

Podcast – Episode 1: Building Connections for Learning

Maximizing School Librarian Leadership Facebook Group

Each chapter in the book opens with an invitation to connect your background knowledge and experience with the content of the chapter. The prompt in Chapter 1: Building Connections for Learning asks you to consider how the current culture in your school supports your personal growth and how does it support individual and collective risk-taking, problem solving, and innovation.

These may or may not be easy questions to answer. You may be new to a school, or you may be serving in a new role this year and have yet to realize the affordances of your current school culture. If that is the case, think about your previous school or work environment.

Have you served, or do you serve in a culture that supports your professional growth?

School Culture
According to the glossary in MSLL, culture is “a way of life. It is comprised of shared beliefs, values, knowledge, attitudes, language, behaviors, social interactions, and more. Cultures are created by people over time. Cultures are dynamic; they are not fixed. Cultures change as people’s needs and norms change” (Moreillon 2018, 170). For me the keywords in this definition are “people” and “dynamic.”

Building Relationships
When building a culture of learning in your school, your relationships with people are THE place to start. People who know, like, and respect each other are more likely to invest in the success of the entire learning community. As a school librarian, you make sure that the strongest relationship you form and nurture is with your principal. You will build relationships with library staff, volunteers, and student aides. You will build relationships with individual classroom teachers and specialists and with grade-level or disciplinary teams. You will build relationships with the Parent-Teacher Association/Organization leaders and students’ family members.

Simply put, you must build relationships in order to position your work and the library program at the center of the learning community.

There are many ways to build connections via relationships. With your principal(s), it may be through regular face-to-face meetings, via email or other electronic communication, by sharing lesson plans, monthly newsletters, and quarterly reports. It may be through professional development opportunities you are facilitating for faculty. Wise school librarians regularly leave invitations to see what’s happening in the library and other positive notes in their principal’s mailbox. All of these communication venues will focus on sharing how you assist your principals in meeting their goals for faculty, students, and the school.

The teachers’ lounge in any school can be a positive point of contact, or it can be a place for airing complaints. If it is the former, be sure to get out of the library and into the lounge whenever you can. Get to know about classroom teachers’ own children (grandchildren) as well as their students. Listen and learn as they share the successful happenings in their classrooms. Be on the alert for problems they might share that you can help them solve. Share yourself as well as the resources and learning experiences centered in the library. If you cannot change the teachers’ lounge into a positive place for developing relationships, steer clear of it.

Forming advisory committees that include administrators, classroom teachers, students, and families is one sure way to build relationships. Make sure these committees have a defined purpose, such as setting library procedures, overseeing the library’s Web presence, or planning a literacy event. Library student aides can become the school librarians “own kids.” Not only do they help manage the library, they also further develop literacies and give school librarians insights into possible challenges other students may be having in using and creating with information.

Building Connections
Effective school librarians build connections between professional development and practice; resources and curriculum; libraries and classrooms; inquiry and the disciplines; and future ready learning and college, career, and community readiness (see figure 1.5).  Building these connections can best be achieved in a learning commons model. This model “for the use of the library’s physical and virtual spaces, its resources, and the school librarian focuses the library program on knowledge-building by students and educators alike” (Moreillon 2018, 173).

Cultural Transformation
“Advancing progressive learning approaches requires cultural transformation. Schools must be structured to promote the exchange of fresh ideas and identify successful models with a lens toward sustainability — especially in light of inevitable leadership changes” (NMC/CoSN 2017, 4). I believe that school librarians can play a pivotal role in initiating, maintaining, and sustaining cultural transformation in their schools.

If the school library is known as a place for the open exchange of ideas, school librarians can help ensure that the school culture is a dynamic one. This open exchange will happen when there is trust among educators, students, and community members. With an exploratory and risk-taking approach, school librarians who have co-created a “learning commons” in the library will be on the forefront of identifying, testing, and developing successful strategies for transforming teaching and learning.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. What are your go-to strategies for building connections in your school learning community?
  2. How does your school library program reflect a “learning commons” model, and how can you capitalize on this model to transform learning and teaching in your school?

Works Cited

Moreillon, Judi. 2018. Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy. Chicago: American Library Association.

New Media Consortium and Consortium for School Networking. 2017. The NMC/CoSN Horizon Report: 2017 K-12 Edition. https://cdn.nmc.org/media/2017-nmc-cosn-horizon-report-k12-EN.pdf

Co-Creating a Community of Readers

“Supporting Middle School Reading: Using a Data Dashboard to Create a Community of Readers” by school librarian Kelsey Cohen appeared in the June, 2018, issue of American Libraries. Kelsey’s article is about how she engaged in a professional inquiry with assistant principal Rob Andrews, literacy coach Lisa Ramos-Hillegers, and instructional technology coach Mike Sammartano to support striving readers at Hommocks Middle School (Larchmont, New York). Their goal was to explore ways to use digital reading logs to motivate and engage more readers and further develop a reading culture in their school.

When educators engage in inquiry, they take risks together. They analyze a challenge they are facing, design, and test solutions that can help students succeed. Sometimes when they examine the outcomes, they find their solution needs to be tweaked and retested before they can achieve their goals.

In the American Libraries article, Kelsey describes an inquiry conducted by Hommocks educators. In this example, assistant principal Rob Andrews suggested the literacy team institute electronic reading logs in order to collect and use student data to improve students’ engagement and motivation. In the first year of testing the logs, the collaborators learned that the digital reading log forms were too detailed and therefore, not completed by enough students. When they revised the form, they involved the expertise of their instructional technology coach. Together, they created a data dashboard where students could access colorful graphs, charts, and lists based on their reading log data. They increased students’ and classroom teachers’ buy-in.

Kelsey displayed the data on a large monitor in the library. Readers used this information to self-assess their reading and classroom teachers used it with students during reading conferences. Along with literacy coach Lisa, Kelsey used the data specifically to reach out to striving readers. Kelsey and Lisa made sure that these students had “first dibs on new book arrivals” and they “created personalized book bins” that struggling readers could browse in their classrooms (Cohen 2018, 19).

These educators’ use of the inquiry process parallels the process that students take when they engage in inquiry learning. This strategy for learning can increase their own ability to guide students (and classrooms teachers) in inquiry learning. Kelsey and Lisa contributed voices from the field in the “Literacy Leadership and the School Librarian: Reading and Writing—Foundational Skills for Multiple Literacies” chapter of The Many Faces of School Library Leadership (2017). In that example, they collaborated with science teachers in creating classroom “wonder walls” as springboards for student-led inquiry (Moreillon 2017, 104).

As the quote from above from Kelsey attests, hers is not a “neutral” stance with regard to library services. Along with her colleagues, she creatively reached out to students who were not frequent library users. The literacy team created a tool that could be used by all Hommocks students. In addition, they targeted specific services to the readers who were most in need and helped them monitor their own reading and develop internal motivation to pursue learning. Rather than simply serve those who came to the library on their own, Kelsey and her team reached out to those who could benefit the most from the resources and expertise of the library and librarian in order to reach their potential as readers.

You can read Kelsey’s article in the magazine or online and reach her via Twitter @KelseyLCohen: “Supporting Middle School Reading: Using a Data Dashboard to Create a Community of Readers.”

With the culture of reading inquiry described in the American Libraries article, Kelsey. Lisa, and their collaborators are clearly continuing on their journey to create a culture of learning in their school. And they are using an inquiry approach to pursue their goals. Bravo to the collaborating educators at Hommocks Middle School and to Kelsey Cohen for her school librarian leadership.

Works Cited

Cohen, Kelsey. 2018. “Supporting Middle School Reading: Using a Data Dashboard to Create a Community of Readers.” American Libraries 49 (6): 28-19.

Moreillon, Judi. 2017. “Literacy Leadership and the School Librarian: Reading and Writing—Foundational Skills for Multiple Literacies.” In The Many Faces of School Library Leadership, 2nd ed., edited by Sharon Coatney and Violet H. Harada, 86-108. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Image credits:
Quote from Kelsey Cohen used with permission

Youngson, Nick. “Decision-making Highway Sign.” http://www.creative-commons-images.com/highway-signs/d/decision-making.html

Maximizing Leadership: Chapter 1

If you have been following my blog for the past year, you are aware that I have a professional book that is currently in the publication process. Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy will be published by ALA Editions in June, 2018. As a preview to the book, I am using one blog post a month to share a one-page summary of each of the nine chapters in the book.

Chapter 1: Building Connections for Learning

“In a school that learns, people… recognize their common stake in each other’s future and the future of the community” (Senge et al. 2012, 5).

Taking a systems thinking approach helps school leaders effectively connect the pieces of the teaching and learning puzzle. Systems thinking involves taking stock of the whole system before attempting to change any part of it (Senge et al. 2012, 8). Systems thinkers closely examine the interdependent relationships among people and practices. They identify what is working and where they can improve in order for their school to reach full capacity. In collaborative culture schools, systems thinkers use their shared commitment and individual talents to collectively solve the dilemmas that hinder students from achieving success.

Systems thinking has the potential to revolutionize the way school librarians interact with administrators and classroom teacher colleagues. School librarians who seek to be leaders in their schools, districts, and beyond benefit from taking the education ecosystem into account. They understand how their work aligns with the beliefs of education thought-leaders and leading education organizations, and education transformation initiatives. When school librarians have a deep understanding of the education ecosystem, they can make connections to the priorities of their administrators, classroom teacher colleagues, and decision-makers in their district and state.

What you will find in this chapter:

1. A Rationale for Taking a Systems Thinking Approach to School Transformation;
2. The Components of Future Ready Learning: Literacies, Skills, and Dispositions;
3. Visions for Schooling by Notable Education Thought-Leaders and Organizations;
4. The Components of a Collaborative School Culture;
5. Responsibilities of School Librarians; and
6. Strategies for School Librarians to Build Connections for Learning and Leading.

As the blog logo illustrates, principals, school librarians, and classroom teachers collaborate in order to build a culture of learning in their schools. School librarians have a unique role to play in supporting the success of administrators who are leading their schools through a transformation process. Classroom-library collaboration for instruction is one central strategy that helps school librarians position their work and the library program as the hub of academic and personal learning in the school. As instructional partners, school librarians codesign effective instruction, provide professional learning opportunities for colleagues, and improve their own teaching practice in the process.

Chapter 1 frames the entire book by situating school librarian leadership and classroom-library collaboration for instruction within a collaborative school culture. School librarians help their schools by building capacity through classroom-library coteaching future ready learning: literacies, skills, and dispositions. In this empowered learning culture, school librarians, principals, and other educators colead to optimize student success.

At the end of each chapter in the book, readers will find three discussion questions, three group activities, and three sample reflection prompts. This study guide approach is intended to support cadres of school librarians, school faculties, and others in using this book as a professional book study selection.

Work Cited

Senge, Peter, Nelda Cambron-McCabe, Timothy Lucas, Bryan Smith, Janis Dutton, and Art Kleiner. 2012. Schools That Learn: A Fifth Discipline Fieldbook for Educators, Parents, and Everyone Who Cares About Education. New York: Crown Business.

Image Credit: Word Cloud created at Wordle.net

Teach Like Finland, Part 1

While authoring my forthcoming book, I have read many professional books. This is the first in a series of professional book reviews–possible titles for your summer reading. The reviews are in no particular order.

Since 2001, many educators in the U. S., including yours truly, and around the world have wondered why Finnish students continually rank as top scorers on the international PISA exam. I recently read Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms. This is some of what I learned.

Before I even opened the book, I reflected on the use of the word “joyful” in the subtitle. In my work as a school librarian which included thirteen years at all three instructional levels between 1992 – 2009, I cotaught with classroom teachers in their classrooms as well as in the library, computer labs, and out in the field. I had the pleasure of working in many “joyful” classrooms, libraries, and even one very joyful school!

I agree with Teach Like Finland author Timothy Walker that joy is one of the too-oft missing ingredients in schooling today. Walker organizes his book into the four elements of happiness — belonging, autonomy, master, and mind-set — identified by Rag Raghunathan author of If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? To these Walker adds “well-being.”

There were many other aspects of the Finnish education culture that “spoke to me.” Children start formal schooling at age seven. Elementary schools, in particularly, strive for a holistic, child-focused curriculum that addresses all subjects evenly. All subjects including art and music as well as what U. S. schools consider “core” subjects get equal time. Finnish schools apply the research that has shown art contributes to innovative thinking and music knowledge can help learners grasp mathematical patterns. The holistic model gives children opportunities to cultivate multiple aspects of their personalities and talents.

The average time that Finnish educators spend in actual instruction is also shorter than U. S. teachers per week (18 hours versus 26.5 hours). Finnish students and teachers have 15-minute breaks after every 45-minutes of instructional time. Collaborating with colleagues is one way that educators use that “free” time every day. (See below.)

Walker identified six strategies Finnish educators use to approach their work: seek flow, have a thicker skin, collaborate over coffee, welcome the experts, vacate on vacation, and don’t forget the joy. All of these are well worth considering.

Seek Flow
As a writer and educator, I know and strive for that feeling of flow when my mind and body are totally focused and I do my best work. Walker writes: “Being teachers who seek flow, not superiority, is something that’s not just good for us; it’s also good for our students. Our students are watching us, and if they see that we’re seeking to do our best work, free of comparing ourselves to others, I’m confident that this kind of example will foster a noncompetitive culture in our classrooms… This positive change we want to see—as is so often the case in teaching—starts with us” (Walker 173).

Have a Thicker Skin
Having a “thicker skin” that allows us to give, receive, and respond to constructive criticism is another important strategy. Principal leader and author of The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity George Couros just last week posted “It’s Okay to Be the ‘Boss’” to his blog. The thicker skin strategy totally aligns with Couros’s idea about providing adults with feedback.

Couros writes: “As long as people know that you are both on the same page (that you want them to be successful), they will accept the feedback. For some, it is harder than others, but when they know it is because you want them to be better, it is a much easier pill to swallow.”

Walker goes on to write about how he uses journaling to work through anxieties and challenges in teaching. He also writes about how noting “gratitudes” can boost happiness and giving thanks can strengthen relationships.

Collaborate Over Coffee
Of course, the aspect of daily life in Finnish schools that jumped off the page at me was educator collaboration. Walker interviewed several Finnish teachers and asked: “What brings you joy as a teacher, and what brings your students joy?”

One of the most popular answers was collaboration! He noted that nearly 50% of the lessons he taught during his time in Finland were cotaught.

“Teachers in my school were not just collaborating in the traditional sense, by planning and teaching lessons together—they were truly laboring together, sharing the burdens of teaching with each other. They were helping each other track down the resources they’d need for an upcoming lesson. They were discussing better ways to support needy students. They were analyzing curriculum together. They were talking about how to improve recess for the kids. They were grading tests together. They were offering tech support to each other. To my surprise, this work often happened in between sips of coffee, during those fifteen-minute breaks throughout the day” (Walker 178-179).

His comment made me think about what I mean when I write about collaborating in the “traditional sense.” I believe coteaching involves all of the aspects that Walker describes, but maybe others, who have not experienced classroom-library coteaching between equal partners, do not perceive the same depth of partnership that I have experienced.

In the course of coplanning and coteaching, classroom teachers and school librarians are analyzing curriculum together. They are sharing resources and providing technology support to one another. They are strategizing how to differentiate to meet the needs of all students. And in the most effective partnerships, they are assessing students’ work together and using assessment to adjust their instruction.

Walker writes: “More than anything, I think collaboration is all about mind-set. If you truly believe that you are a better teacher when you are working in concert with others, then I think you will naturally find small, simple ways of collaborating… Their work together seemed like a by-product of their teaching mind-set” (181).

Bravo! And yes! To a mind-set that believes collaboration is the key to better teaching.

I will reflect on the other three strategies next week: welcome the experts, vacate on vacation, and don’t forget the joy.

Works Cited

Couros, George. “It’s Okay to Be the ‘Boss.’” The Principal of Change blog. 18 May 2017, http://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/7360 Accessed 20 May 2017.

Raghunathan, Rag. If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? New York: Penguin, 2016.

Walker, Timothy D. Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms. New York: W. W. Norton, 2016.