Deeper Learning Opportunities

The quote that frames the “Deeper Learning” chapter can serve as educators’ guidepost for inquiry, traditional literacies, and digital literacy as well. Right Question Institute leaders Dan Rothstein, Luz Santana, and Andrews P Minigan proclaim: “Having students create their own questions is a short-cut to deeper learning” (2015, 71). I agree… and I also agree with these authors that students need guides to help them dig deep to find their most personally meaningful questions that will motivate them to pursue answers, even when the going gets rough.

More than One Answer
For far too long, many K-12 students have experienced school as the place where educators ask the questions and students supply the answers (answers that educators already know). While this paradigm has been changing, factors that can set up barriers, such as an over-emphasis on standardized tests or students’ grade point averages, have been impeded change in many school environments.

Linda F. Nathan who wrote a book called The Hardest Questions Aren’t on the Test: Lessons from an Innovative Urban School and contributed to the “Principals Know: School Librarians Are the Heart of the School” video, wrote this deceptively simple statement in a recent Educational Leadership article: “Problems can have more than one solution and questions can have more than one answer” (Nathan 2018-2019, 62).

For many students (and educators) that fact can be a welcome (or disconcerting) surprise. Student-led inquiry, fine arts projects, science experiments for which the outcome is truly unknown, various projects involving real-world data collection—these are some types of opportunities educators can design and guide in which students can experience more than one solution to self-generated questions—where they can experience deeper learning.

“Traditional” Deeper Learning Project
The “senior research project” has long been a staple of the high school curriculum. The goal of this project is to integrate skills (such as communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking), academic concepts from multiple disciplines, and data from the students’ courses into one summative project. In most cases, these projects are individual. Students may be “assigned” the project is a particular course, and it is then facilitated by that classroom teacher or another adult mentor.

School librarians are positioned to support students and classroom teachers as students pursue senior research projects. This may be accomplished on an individual basis, or classroom teachers may determine that small groups or entire classes of students need interventions. School librarians can collaborate with the teacher to provide interventions such as effective uses of databases, technology tools and resources, credible Web searching, bibliographic instruction, and more.

Genius Hour
In K-12 schools, Genius Hour is a movement that allows students to explore their own passions in order to capitalize on intrinsic motivation and encourage creativity.  It provides students a choice in what they learn during a set period of time during school. Although I am a firm believer in designing and organizing standards-based inquiry learning such that students ARE pursuing their passions, anecdotal data suggest that “genius hour” can be a win for students and their learning. The GeniusHour.com website provides professional development, resources, videos, suggested professional reading, and more.

Genius Hour is an idea adapted from Google. At one time, Google provided its engineers with “a genius hour” consisting of 20% of their work time during which they could pursue a pet project. In his book, Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, author Dan Pink also promotes the idea that passion projects are a way to tap into our motivation to learn and create. I appreciate Pink for this blog post, in which he describes an Innovation Day (2011) in a suburban Chicago classroom. All educators could design learning such that students experience such enthusiasm for learning every school day!

Academic Flex Time
Mark Dzula is the Director of Teaching and Learning Resources at The Webb Schools in Claremont, California. He is also a frequent contributor to the Knowledge Quest blog. In two recent posts, Mark described the learning experiences of students pursuing independent topics, questions, and knowledge during academic flex time.

AASL Standards and Multiple Literacies during Academic Flex Time (9/26/18)

Research, Information Literacy, and Independent Study (12/17/18)

Creating the Conditions
Educators create the conditions for deeper learning when they fully integrate learning and doing. “We diminish teaching and learning when we make students study history or biology or math or literature without consistently and simultaneously having them do the work of and as practitioners in the field” (Tomlinson 2018, 92). As emphasized in last week’s post, personally meaningful questions and time are two essential ingredients in empowered deeper learning. Hands-on, minds-on doing is another.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. What kinds of deeper learning do students in your school experience?
  2. What kinds of deeper learning do educators in your school experience?

Works Cited

Nathan, Linda F. 2018-2019. “Hitting the Right Note.” Educational Leadership 76 (4); 62-67.

Rothstein, Dan, Luz Santana, and Andrews P Minigan. 2015. “Making Questions Flow.” Educational Leadership 73 (1): 70-75.

Tomlinson, Carol Ann. 2018-2019. “Sparking Students’ ‘Uncommon Genius:’ All Educators Can Learn Valuable Lessons from the Way the Arts Are Taught.” Educational Leadership 76 (4); 91-93.

Common Beliefs about Literacy Learning

Way back in 1999 when I was a doctoral student in the Department of Language, Reading, and Culture at the University of Arizona, I devoured a book about helping secondary students read for understanding. (This was a well-timed read because two years later I transferred from an elementary school librarian position to serve as the second librarian at a comprehensive high school.)

The quote that follows from that book has informed my beliefs about literacy practices.

“What is reading?

  1. Reading is not just a basic skill.
  2. Reading is problem solving.
  3. Fluent reading is not the same as decoding.
  4. Reading is situationally bounded.
  5. Proficient readers share some key characteristics” (Schoenbach, Greenleaf, Cziko, and Hurwitz 1999, 17-19).

These beliefs have also informed my teaching and focus on teaching/coteaching reading comprehension strategies at all levels, from kindergarten through graduate school. When school librarians and classroom teachers codevelop common beliefs about literacy they will draw from many sources, including the beliefs that inform non-library associations’ understandings of literacy learning.

International Literacy Association
English language arts associations are where school librarians can begin their search for common beliefs. I am a long-time member of the International Literacy Association (ILA). Formerly the International Reading Association, ILA offers research-based position statements, white papers, research advisories, literacy leadership briefs, and reports reflecting the association’s perspective on current topics and trends.

As a member, I receive the bimonthly Literacy Today magazine. The “What’s Hot in Literacy Report” is an annual must-read! I recently read and found the “Exploring the 2017 NAEP Reading Results: Systemic Reforms Beat Simplistic Solutions” report very helpful in further developing my understanding of NAEP.

In 2017, I had the opportunity to publish on the ILA blog: “Closing the Gaps: School Librarians and the What’s Hot Report.” I appreciated this opportunity to reach out to the ILA online community. I would love to see more articles like this and more collaborative activities with ILA, particularly around their latest initiative: Children’s #RightstoRead

In my career, I have copresented at two ILA conferences. One was a day-long preconference workshop that included Nick Glass from TeachingBooks.net and children’s book authors talking about their work; my piece was to bring in the school librarian’s role in promoting literature and coteaching reading comprehension strategies. The other was a panel of school librarians and classroom teachers sharing their collaborative teaching.

National Council of Teachers of English
When I taught secondary students and YA literature at the university, I maintained my membership in the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). NCTE also has a page of position statements on their website.

In 2005, I had the opportunity to work with NCTE colleagues to draft the “Resolution on Supporting School and Community Libraries.” Wouldn’t it get great to work with NCTE again to ask them to renew their pledge to support school libraries and the work of school librarians?

ILA and NCTE are partners on the Read Write Think website. Through my association with ILA, I published two collaborative classroom-library unit plans on the site. I appreciate these two organizations for their collaborative efforts.

Traditional Literacies in Other Content Areas
What do we know about non-English language arts associations’ core beliefs about literacy? Our librarian and classroom teacher colleagues are associated with educational initiatives and organizations that understand that traditional literacies are the foundation for their efforts. School librarians are wise to investigate the beliefs of Future Ready Schools and Librarians, International Society for Technology in Education, National Council for the Social Studies, National Science Teachers Association, and more.

An Effective Collaborative Strategy
In the best of all possible worlds, school librarians would all be rich enough and have the necessary time to join and be actively involved in the work of our school librarian associations and other literacy- and education-focused organizations. Whether or not we can participate in the activities of other organizations, we can learn from our colleagues who are members and who are up to date with the standards, positions papers, and initiatives of those organizations.

“Professional conversations about the vision of the excellent reader become the starting point for building the school-wide professional learning community, dedicated to achieving this vision for all students. From there, grade levels collaborate to build the staircase curriculum leading to the vision, with each grade level committing to specific student outcomes related to the vision” (International Literacy Association 2018, 8).

When we are working with colleagues to develop common beliefs about literacy, we must search for alignment with the values of all of these organizations. When we invest in collaborative conversations, listen to one another, and reach common understandings, we strengthen our school culture while improving our teaching. When all educators and administrators have common beliefs about literacy, school librarians can serve as effective coteachers who can best support students, educators, and administrators, and enlist the support of families in literacy learning as well.

Using common beliefs about literacy learning as a framework for classroom-library coplanning and coteaching works!

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. How do you stay up to date with common beliefs about literacy learning and teaching in all realms of education?
  2. How can you be a leader in codeveloping common beliefs about literacy in your school or district?

Work Cited

Schoenbach, Ruth, Cynthia Greenleaf, Christine Cziko, and Lori Hurwitz. 1999. Reading for Understanding: A Guide to Improving Reading in Middle and High School Classrooms. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Diverse, Creative Expressions of Learning

In addition to advocating for learning experiences that involve stimulating students’ creativity, engaging them in experimentation, and activating their creativity (see last week’s blog post), coplanning and coteaching inquiry learning are also ways to increase students’ opportunities for diverse final products. If our message to students is that all roads lead to the same outcome, many will not see the relevance of their learning experiences to their lives. They will not experience learning as a complex activity that results in diverse creative expressions of learning. Too many will disengage or simply be lost or derailed along the way.

Supporting Classroom Teachers and Specialists
During coplanning, classroom teachers and specialists may express reservations about students taking curriculum into individual or unexpected pathways. Secondary educators, in particular, who may be responsible for learning outcomes for 75 middle school or as many as 150 high school students may shudder to think that they alone will be responsible for guiding and assessing students’ learning.

School librarians who coplan, coimplement, AND coassess student learning outcomes can ease classroom teachers’ and specialists’ concerns about giving students “free rein” to explore in many different directions and in producing many different final products. Collaboration can also ensure that educators create flexible assessment tools that accurately reflect students’ achievement in terms of learning objectives as well as their creativity.

Supporting Students
Two (or more) educators working as a team can better monitor and guide individual student’s learning as well as small group work. Inquiry circles as described in the guided inquiry require check-ins from educators (Kuhlthau, Maniotes, and Caspari 2015, 32–36). It is through check-ins that educators push students’ thinking, offer resource support, identify stumbling blocks, and opportunities for reteaching specific subskills to the students who need them to move forward.

One of my all-time favorite teaching memories involved working with a second-grade teacher (in the late 1990s) who structured her classroom around inquiry. Students identified areas of interest, pitched their ideas to the class, and formed small groups to pursue meaningful questions. As their school librarian, I often worked with more or more groups as they sought information through the library’s resources.

One of the questions for the “frog and other amphibians” group was about dissecting frogs to learn more about their body parts and functions. I helped the group contact a biology professor at the University of Arizona. The students posed their questions to him and organized a field trip to his lab where he led them in dissecting and learning about frogs. I had the distinct pleasure of accompanying them on their adventure. Years later, two students from that group remembered that learning experience as one of the most powerful in their elementary education.

The Underlying Message
Learning is complex and expressions of knowledge can (and should?) be unique. When classmates share their learning processes and final products, students (and educators) should be amazed at the divergent thinking and variety of expressions of learning. When students are given the opportunity to pursue learning that is personally meaningful, use resources they have discovered on their own, selected and employed tools that helped them meet their individual (or their group’s) goals for sharing, they are enacting the skills and dispositions of lifelong learners.

Inquiry Learning = Preparation for Life!

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. What strategies have you used for supporting students’ diverse creative expressions of their learning?
  2. Describe the assessment tools you have used to guide students’ learning while giving them opportunities to express their learning in diverse and creative ways?

Work Cited

Kuhlthau, Carol C., Leslie K. Maniotes, and Ann K. Caspari. 2015. Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century. 2nd ed. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

 

 

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.

Coleading Alongside Principals

Earlier this month there was a discussion on the AASL Forum about the perceptions of education decision-makers regarding school librarians’ skill sets and contributions to student learning and classroom teachers’ teaching. (In addition, Rebecca Moore also published an article in VOYA magazine called “Beyond Mysterious Stain Removal: Top Skills for School Librarians.”)

Several people have commented on the Forum that school librarians must listen to principals, in particular, and help them solve the challenges they face. By helping principals and other district-level administrators solve problems and serving as coleaders alongside their administrators, school librarians can help others successfully implement change.

I invite you to revisit Misti Werle’s virtual podcast interview for Chapter 2: Job-Embedded Professional Development to note how she is leading coteaching practices among Bismarck (North Dakota) Public Schools as a way of addressing school administrators’ priorities.

In 2014, my former Texas Woman’s University colleague Teresa Starrett, who teaches school administration courses, and I crowdsourced a video titled “Principals Know: School Librarians Are the Heart of the School.” We put out a nationwide request to school librarians who had experience collaborating with their principals and with classroom teachers. These testimonials, from across the country, document what these school administrators know are the reasons all schools should have a professional school librarian on the faculty who leads a collaborative school library program.

The following are transcript excerpts from the videos we received. They were used to create the composite video.  From my perspective, these testimonials clearly indicate what all administrators should value and what all school librarians should contribute to their learning communities. I have highlighted some of the keywords in their testimonials. (Note: The administrators’ positions and titles listed were accurate at the time the video was published in 2014).

Paula Godfrey, Elementary School Principal (Retired), Tucson, Arizona
“Principals should stand for what’s important in schools, and having teacher librarians in elementary schools is essential. When you have a teacher librarian in an elementary school, they teach teachers how to be better at their craft, how to help children evaluate sites so that the research they do is meaningful and allows student voices to come out because they truly understand the research that they’re doing. When you work with the teacher librarian, you’re able to grow professionally in a way that’s very non-threatening, very supportive, but accomplishes that raise of rigor in the classroom, and their confidence in being able to complete a research project with their students. There is the opportunity on a day-to-day basis for the teacher librarian to use the skills that she has to improve teaching in classroom teachers. That professional development doesn’t happen on Wednesday afternoons from 1:45 to 2:45. Professional development happens as teacher librarians and classroom teachers collaborate together on projects for their students.

Teacher librarians are the heart of the school. And without a teacher librarian there is no central focus on literature. There is no support for families, for students, for teachers, for staff, on literature, on professional development, on research. Teacher librarians are the heart of the school.”

Dr. Neil Stamm, Assistant Principal, Crittenden Middle School, Newport News, Virginia
“The school librarian has become more of a resource for students, rather than the keeper of books. Librarians now work with students and teachers as an information agent.”

Felicia Barnett, Principal, Crittenden Middle School, Newport News, Virginia
“The true indication of the value of our school librarian is found in the excitement that our students experience when visiting our library. It’s an obvious result of the librarian’s passion: making literacy a priority for all content areas in our building and all students and families.”

Regina Stafford, Assistant Administrator, Crittenden Middle School, Newport News, Virginia
“School libraries and school librarians contribute in rich and diverse ways to the intellectual life of a school. They help develop students to function in a complex and increasingly digital environment. The school librarian really is a co-teacher who undertakes an active role by engaging in shared instruction to produce literate and informed learners who can thrive in a digital knowledge-based world.”

Linda Nathan, Founding Headmaster, Boston Arts Academy, Boston, Massachusetts
“I’m a huge advocate for bringing librarians into the forefront and bringing libraries into the forefront of thinking about urban school reform.”

Dr. Lourenco Garcia, Principal, Revere High School, Revere, Massachusetts
“The learning commons is a place where the librarian, the person that’s running it, can really program, plan activities in a more engaging and interactive way, where teachers and students feel good because technically they are not entrenched in an area that’s cold like the traditional library, but in a place that is very engaging, very interactive, where the work can be done in a more relaxing environment.”

Dr. Nadene Stein, Northeast Elementary School, Waltham, Massachusetts
“We are blessed to have a vibrant library and a great librarian who can connect with the teachers and the students and really make learning come alive for kids. And I’m not really sure what we would do without that resource. I can’t imagine not having a library teacher. I’ve worked in other systems where that’s one of the first things that gets cut, and I would be holding on to the library teacher kicking and screaming if they told me that we had to lose that out of the budget. The resource is invaluable, and it is something that just enhances the curriculum of every grade level in this building.”

Priscila Dilley, Director of Elementary Leadership, Principal Supervisor, Fort Worth, Texas
“We like to really push for a coteaching approach, where the librarian and the teacher are there side by side and they know the skills that students need to review or, you know, spiral back in, whatever it might be. We like for the librarians to be heavily involved with that so that they can support the student achievement in their libraries as well.”

Rebecca Beidelman, (Former) Principal, Kutztown Area High School, Kutztown, Pennsylvania
“They (school librarians) are teachers. They are information specialists. And they sit down and they help with writing curriculum. And helping to design assessment. Because a lot of assessment is also project based and process based – you’re evaluating the process as opposed to just the process outcome. And that process, of course, in terms of Common Core, has to include all of the research components that are required. The technology components that are required. The higher-level thinking and the depth of knowledge that’s required. I cannot imagine not having an information literacy specialist in my building to bounce things off of.”

Shenequa Coles, Principal, Columbia High School, Columbia, South Carolina
“Our librarian is a member of our leadership team, she assists with the decision-making that the team has to do, and that includes department chairs and administrators. The bottom line is, our librarian assists with projects for students with teachers, research, she provides professional development through our Technology Tuesday sessions and other sessions that we have professional development sessions throughout the school year. This school could not function without our school librarian, and she helps to provide a rich culture that is filled with inviting and new learning opportunities.”

For me, all of these testimonials suggest that school librarians’ roles as curriculum developers (#1 on Rebecca Moore’s list) and leaders in job-embedded professional development can be pathways for school librarians to help principals and district-level administrators solve the challenges they face in our schools.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. How does your principal engage in distributed leadership?
  2. What roles do leaders play in your school?

Work Cited

Moreillon, Judi, and Teresa Starrett, eds. 2014. “Principals Know: School Librarians Are the Heart of the School.”  YouTube. https://youtu.be/bihGT7LoBP0

All quotes used with permission

More Engaging Curricula

Why and how does working with another person or a team help educators think more deeply about learning and teaching? How does it help them step out of the box? The adage “two (or more) heads are better than one” is simply… true. When educators bounce ideas off one another, they stimulate each other’s thinking. They clarify curriculum standards and goals. They explore ideas for making connections to students’ interests. They discover multiple ways to link those ideas to student learning objectives.

Collaboration with the goal of designing more engaging learning experiences for students works.

More Engaging Curricula
Some MSLL blog readers may believe that the best way to educate students for their future is simply to turn them lose to explore whatever interests them, whenever it interests them. I am not one of those readers. I believe that learning objectives have a central role to play in guiding a guaranteed and viable curriculum (Marzano 2003). In his book What Works in Schools: Translating Research into Action, Robert Marzano shares thirty-five years of research related to improving student achievement. While I do make a distinction between “learning” and “achievement,” student achievement in terms of courses completed successfully, high school graduation rates, and scores on standardized tests are still factors that can support or limit a student’s life choices.

Marzano organized this research into three buckets: the school level, the teacher level, and the student level. At the school level, a guaranteed and viable curriculum, challenging goals and feedback, parent and community involvement, a safe and orderly environment, and collegiality and professionalism all had have positive impacts on student outcomes. At the teacher level, instructional strategies, classroom management, and classroom curriculum design improved student achievement. At the student level, the home atmosphere, learned intelligence and background knowledge, and motivation all affected students’ learning.

Many of the school-, teacher-, and student-level factors, including collegiality, instructional strategies, curriculum design, and student motivation are addressed in Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy.

School-Level Factors
In a “school that learns” (Senge et al. 2012), everyone is invested in everyone else’s success. When school learning communities are collegial, they have the foundation to work as a team to enact their professional responsibilities. They can lead—together. It is through their understanding of the strength that comes from collaboration that allows the actions of the collective to far outstrip those of individuals.

Teacher-Level Factors
Curriculum is a guide. Educators can use that guide in traditional or innovative ways. When working collaboratively, school librarians and classroom teachers can inspire one another to design learning experiences that are both “new and better” than those taught in the past. (See 10/8 blog post Classroom-Library Coplanning.) While it should be the goal of every educator to ready students for self-directed learning, many students need the effective instructional strategies and interventions that educators provide through modeling, monitoring, timely and specific feedback, and assessing student progress.

(In my thirteen-year experience as a coteaching school librarian at all three instructional levels, classroom management was very rarely an issue in the library. With more space, exciting resources, including technology, and well-designed learning opportunities, students were engaged and enthusiastic about learning through the library program.)

Student-Level Factors
Students benefit from coteaching because they have the support of two (or more educators). Coteaching reduces the chances that any student or group of students will lack the personalized attention of an educator. Student-led inquiry puts students in the driver’s seat as they negotiate the space between their interests and the curriculum. Educators support students in finding that sweet spot that connects in-school learning with students out-of-school lives and real-world issues. Motivated students develop literacies, practice skills, grow their dispositions, and deepen their knowledge through the inquiry process.

Connection
In his book What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers Across America, Ted Dintersmith (2018) proposes using the PEAK concept when transforming schools. PEAK stands for purpose, essentials, agency, and knowledge.

Purpose: Students must have opportunities to wrestle with problems that are important to students and the community. Problems and student learning must have a real-world impact. It must also be publicly displayed so that students (and their audiences) learn young people can indeed make a difference in the world.

Essentials: The essentials are skill sets and mindsets, such as creative problem solving, communication, collaboration, critical analysis, citizenship, and aspects of character (dispositions).

Agency: Agency involves students in setting their goals, managing their efforts, assessing their progress, and persevering to completion. This process supports students as they “learn how to learn.”

Knowledge: Finally, they must have deep and retained knowledge they can access, teach others, apply, and showcase in the quality of what they create, build, make, and design (Dintersmith 2018, 38-39).

For me, PEAK and effectively applied inquiry and problem-based learning are one and the same. Purpose, essential skills and mindsets, agency, and knowledge are the goals and objectives of inquiry learning. School librarians can be coleaders who, through coplanning and coteaching, guide more engaging and relevant curricula to best support and prepare students for their current academic success as well as for their future lives.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. How did you learn to serve as a curriculum developer?
  2. How free do you feel and act as a curriculum developer in your school?

Works Cited

Dintersmith, Ted. 2018. What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers Across America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Marzano, Robert. 2003. What Works in Schools: Translating Research into Action. Alexandria, VA: Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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.

 

 

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

Professional Development Is Key

One of the long-term trends (five or more years) in the 2017 K-12 Horizon Report is advancing cultures of innovation. As noted in last week’s post, collaboration and leadership are both essential aspects of innovation and change. As innovators and change-makers, school librarians working alongside their administrators and colleagues can be at the forefront in a distributed leadership culture.

If innovation is a process of thinking that involves creating something new and better (George Couros paraphrase), then school librarians, as professional developers, will always be seeking improvement. As Senge and his colleagues suggest: schools that learn are “… places where everyone, young and old, would continuously develop and grow in each other’s company; they would be incubation sites for continuous change and growth. If we want the world to improve, in other words, then we need schools that learn” (cited in Moreillon 2018, 10).

Formal and Informal Staff Development

Formal staff development and informal professional learning (coteaching) are ways that school librarians lead in their schools. In recent years and in many quarters, the term “professional development” applied to adult learning has been replaced with “professional learning.” For me, development implies improvement. If we agree that all learning requires change, then I, for one, welcome “professional development” as a term that indicates an upward continuum of growth. I do not perceive of “development” as contrary to the autonomous aspect of andragogy, adult learning. (In my book, I use both terms: “professional development” and “professional learning.”)

There are many examples in editors Debbie Abilock, Kristin Fontichiaro, and Violet H. Harada’s book Growing Schools: School Librarians as Professional Developers. I highly recommend Maximizing School Librarian Leadership (MSLL) readers return to that book for examples of the many pathways school librarians have taken in leading professional development. (I would contend that all the examples in Growing Schools required collaboration in order to achieve success!) My chapter in that book provided the foundation for MSLL Chapter 2: Job-Embedded Professional Development.

Banned Books Week: Professional Development Opportunity
The American Librarian Association is part of a coalition of organizations that focuses a spotlight on Banned Books Week September 23rd – September 29th. School librarians can lead by coteaching and providing professional development focused on “Call Out Censorship.”  For inspiration read Jacqueline Higginbotham’s post “What? I am not allowed to read that” and comments on the TxASL Talks: Advocacy for All blog.

Then, ask yourself how you can offer your school community an opportunity to consider the ramifications of censorship. Follow up and ollaborate with classroom teachers to invite students to consider issues of censorship in light of the “Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2017.”

MSLL Book Study Support
The discussion questions, activities, and reflection prompts at the end of each chapter in MSLL are designed to position school librarians as professional development leaders. The majority of the questions, activities, and prompts are focused at the building level but can be adapted for other contexts. By guiding MSLL co-readers through these activities, school librarians demonstrate leadership and their impact on adult learning in their schools and districts.

For example, one of the activities offered at the end of Chapter One is a job description writing exercise. It starts with the end in mind—the job description of a future ready student. From that foundation, MSLL readers are invited to write job descriptions for any stakeholder in that endeavor. School librarians facilitate these kinds of adult learning activities in order to build trust with and among colleagues, to develop shared values and priorities, and to improve instructional practices in their buildings or at the district level.

Brain research confirms that metacognition—thinking about our thinking/learning—is the way we modify our understandings and integrate new knowledge into our schema. I have included reflections prompts at the end of every chapter. I offer one prompt especially for school librarians. In this question in Chapter One, I encourage school librarians to think about how they make connections and contribute to a culture of learning in their schools or districts. (This will be one of the questions #txlchat participants will discuss on Twitter focused on Maximizing School Librarian Leadership tomorrow, Tuesday, September 25th. Join us!)

MSLL readers are encouraged to adapt the book study components of each chapter to their unique learning environments. Developing site-specific or district-level discussion questions is recommended as appropriate. Activities and reflection prompts can also be modified.

There are no shortcuts to culture building. Educators must develop trust and invest in their own and each other’s continuous learning. Shared professional development is the way.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. How do you currently lead professional development in your school?
  2. What are your plans for increasing your contributions to your own and to colleagues professional learning this academic year?

References

Abilock, Debbie, Kristin Fontichiaro, and Violet Harada, Eds. 2012. Growing Schools: School Librarians as Professional Developers. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited.

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

New Media Consortium and Consortium for School Networking. 2017. The NMC/CoSN Horizon Report: 2017 K-12 Edition.

 

Collaboration and Leadership Are Essential

Working in isolation from other educators simply does not work. It doesn’t work for classroom teachers and specialists, and it doesn’t work for school librarians. In fact, while other educators in the building may “get by” with working alone, school librarians simply cannot maximize the capacity of library resources and the school library program unless they work in collaboration with administrators and colleagues. Most school librarians are the only person in their buildings who perform their roles and job functions. This position on the faculty also requires that school librarians develop leadership skills as well.

The Collaboration Challenge
Collaborating with other adults can be challenging. Many educators, including school librarians, enter the profession with a solo orientation to teaching. We think of the classroom or library as a “my” space. Classroom teachers refer to students as “their students” and school librarians refer to the library as “my library.” Moving toward an “our” orientation requires a culture shift that includes a commitment to continuous outreach to colleagues and (fearless) risk-taking with other adults.

School librarians have been “advised” to engage in classroom-library collaboration for more than fifty years. The Standards for School Library Programs published in 1960 recommended that instruction in “library skills” be a cooperative endeavor between school librarians and classroom teachers. However, many of the preservice school librarians in the courses I taught (1995-2016) believed that collaboration was a “new” way for school librarians to practice their teaching role. Their own experience as K-12 students, as classroom teachers, or even as school librarian interns may have contributed to their perception that working in isolation from other faculty members and classroom curriculum was an option.

Simply put, collaboration is not an option.

Literacies, Skills, and Dispositions
School librarians are responsible for helping students develop literacies, skills, and dispositions that cross disciplinary boundaries. To be effective in terms of student learning, they must teach literacies and skills and model dispositions in the context of the classroom curriculum. Coteaching with classroom teachers and specialists allows school librarians to fulfill their charge to integrate the resources of the library and their own expertise into the academic program of the school. If they do not collaborate, school librarians will be unable to help students, other educators, and administrators reach their capacity.

The literacies, skills, and dispositions students practice through an integrated school library program facilitated by a collaborative school librarian are transferable to every discipline and to lifelong learning. School librarian leaders feel a responsibility to ensure that students have multiple opportunities in many, if not all, content areas to learn and practice these aspects of future ready learning (see MSLL figure 1.1). This opportunity and responsibility is a call to leadership.

The Leadership Challenge
Before publishing the National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries (2018), the American Association of School Librarians hired KRC Research to conduct a study of the profession. Participants in AASL focus groups were asked about the core values of school librarianship. According to the summary, participants tended to agree on these core values (from more often mentioned to least often mentioned):

  • Inquiry
  • Equitable access to information
  • Commitment to lifelong learning (in oneself, one’s students, and one’s colleagues)
  • Empower student through literacy
  • Modeling and mentoring
  • Develop critical/skeptical thinking
  • Inclusiveness: diversity of beliefs, ideas, cultures and lifestyles
  • Intellectual freedom
  • Foster leadership and collaboration
  • Ethical use of information (AASL 2016, 9)

The fact that “foster leadership and collaboration” was one of the least often mentioned core values was a red flag for me. In my experience, enacting leadership and collaboration and fostering these two essential skills in others must be core values for school librarians. The preservice school librarians I taught over a twenty-one-year period may have come into their graduate coursework without such an understanding, but by the time they entered practice, I would hope they felt prepared to enact and foster these skills.

Simply put, leadership is not an option.

Collaboration and Leadership Are Essential
Research has shown that school librarian candidates can learn and embrace collaboration and leadership skills (Mardis 2013; Moreillon 2013; Smith 2011) and that school administrators view school librarians as leaders in technology, research, and information (Johnston et al. 2012). As Marcia Mardis (2013) notes the fact that “leadership [is] essential at all levels in schools has been described as an essential condition of innovation and change” (41).

If school librarians are to serve as key contributors to transforming learning and teaching in their schools then the abilities to collaborate and lead are essential skills to learn, practice, continually develop, refine, and sustain.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. How do you enact collaboration in your school?
  2. How do you enact leadership in your school?

Works Cited

American Association of School Librarians and KRC Research. 2016. AASL Member and Stakeholder Consultation Process and the Learning Standards and Program Guidelines. https://standards.aasl.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/AASL_SG_ResearchFindings_ExecSummary_FINAL_101116.pdf

Mardis, Marcia. 2013. “Transfer, Lead, Look Forward.: Further Study of Preservice School Librarians’ Development.” Journal of Education for Library and Information Science 54 (1): 37-54.

Additional Reading

Johnston, Melissa P., Jeffrey Huber, Jennifer Dupuis, Dan O’Hair, Mary John O’Hair, and Rosetta Sandidge. 2012. “Revitalization of the School Library Media Specialist Certification Program at the University of Kentucky: Preparing 21st Century School Library Technology Leaders.” Journal of Education for Library and Information Science 53 (3): 200-207.

Moreillon, Judi. 2013. “Educating for School Library Leadership: Developing the Instructional Partnership Role.” Journal of Education for Library and Information Science 54 (1): 55-66.

Smith, Daniella. 2011. “Educating Preservice School Librarians to Lead: A Study of Self-Perceived Transformational Leadership Behaviors.” School Library Media Research 14.

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