Canadian School Libraries Journal features papers from past Treasure Mountain Canada Symposia. This paper was part of the proceedings for TMC3, held in Victoria, British Columbia in June 2014.
By Judith Sykes
NOTE: This article was foundational to Judith’s fifth book for Libraries Unlimited, The Whole School Library Learning Commons – An Educator’s Guide.
I have had the privilege of examining and celebrating over 140 examples (and counting) of innovative, student empowering learning experiences occurring in effective school library learning commons (SLLC) throughout Canada as coordinator of Leading Learning: Standards Of Practice For School Library Learning Commons In Canada. Along with such joyful pedagogy occurring in SLLC development and transformation, I hope for a sustainable future for SLLCs to continue to grow, thrive and become normative school culture for all Canadian students. Rather than the wearing down of SLLC champions through continual advocacy for SLLC survival, I hope that schools will look at what is happening in their own SLLC practice and employ the standards and tools of Leading Learning: Standards Of Practice For School Library Learning Commons In Canada to implement and sustain whole school SLLC.
How can Canadian schools mitigate the forces of change over time and implement Leading Learning: Standards Of Practice For School Library Learning Commons In Canada? What happens as key members and/or champions of SLLC leave schools? What about school leaders who think that SLLC standard implementation isn’t “in the budget” or is an “add on”? Why do thriving SLLC’s wither away?
Being a keen action researcher, I find that these types of questions probe my thinking as that “nudge” or worry that needs to be studied and attended to. I know that these questions are similar to that of other SLLC personnel as they too celebrate the standards of practice and want to move forward as well. The answers to these questions warrant study within each school, in each district and province or territory. In this paper I am going to suggest that some of the answers begin to reside within the posing of questions such as the ones above within all schools.
Schools need proactive, sustainable, cost effective strategies for SLLC standards of practice implementation and sustainability. The “Moving Forward” section of Leading Learning: Standards Of Practice For School Library Learning Commons In Canada includes many options to consider and tools for schools to use, summarized in the visual to the left, founded on a cycle of ongoing reflective practice.
When faced with continually struggling through the headwaters of educational change, political decisions, and the everyday demands of work in schools and the SLLC, a way SLLC teams could think about addressing SLLC implementation and sustainability is through remembering MARC – Mentoring, Accountability, Research, and Community. How do these MARC concepts work in SLLC transformation? Those in librarianship know MARC as machine readable cataloging but I challenge those in school librarianship to look at MARC as concepts at work in SLLC transformation.
M – Mentoring
Ensure key leadership roles in the school and SLLC have been mentored by the departing leaders or at least have had quality transitional time together.
The most successful businesses provide mentorship and sustainability processes when transitioning a new CEO or other staff members, and although new individuals will bring their own talents and fresh ideas, a wise transition ensures easy flow into what a community has built and is developing. True mentorship is an art that takes patience, aptitude and proficiency, as its objective is to guide others in thinking and facilitate shared understandings or approaches. In relation to implementing SLLC standards of practice, mentorship needs to be established in an ongoing cycle of learning and leading to move beyond advocacy for items outside of school development (SLLC as noun) to building shared meaning and implementation of an inclusive whole-school philosophy and way of learning (SLLC as verb).
How often do we hear that the SLLC is thriving because the principal is so “supportive”? This principal has likely worked closely with SLLC pedagogy, teachers and teams over time, and they have all learned from each other in a spirit of collaborative coaching. Extensive international research demonstrates that implementing and sustaining SLLC standards is highly dependent on the principal (Henri, Hay and Oberg 2002) and the approach they take. Many principals are taking on the role of mentoring their teachers, colleagues and districts in an integrative approach to SLLC development. In Ignoring the Evidence: Another Decade of Decline for School Libraries, Oberg (2014) wonders why educational leaders continue to ignore the evidence of student success achieved through effective SLLCs. We know that the complex work of the principal involves balancing many agendas, policies and roles in striving to meet the learning needs of all of the students; yet principals want all of the students to succeed, the school to be focused on learning and teaching best practice, and they advocate for this on many levels with available resources. Many principals are not aware of how implementing and sustaining SLLC standards of practice will significantly work towards their achievement of these wants and continue to think in terms of a traditional school library as a “luxury item” or “add on”.
Mentorship “supports the importance of job-embedded, relevant, point-of-need instruction for professional development…include book studies, critical-friends groups, partnerships with universities…” (Brown, Dotson, & Yontz, 2011).
Former principal Greg Miller, Grande Prairie, Alberta, now an Assistant Superintendent of Schools, has set a goal to bring “principals, librarians and teachers on board in such a way that they see the shift to a Learning Commons not as an add on, but rather as a way to support the initiatives that are already underway in our district”. The blog Education Leadership in the 21st Century (2013) demonstrates how Miller organized an SLLC specialist to speak to principals then invited interested principals to pilot effective SLLC implementation. He arranged three SLLC webinars for the pilot schools, and visited each school to engage in conversation about moving SLLC forward. Principals such as Derek Rakowski, Calgary, Alberta, in the blog UNFURL, and Gino Bondi, District Principal of Specialty Programs in Vancouver, British Columbia, on the blog, Learning the Now, provide online mentorship where other principals can learn about the why and the how of SLLC implementation and growth.
Principals, teacher-librarians or learning commons teachers the teacher who has responsibilities for management and program in the SLLC when there is no teacher-librarian on site (Canadian Library Association, 2014) – need to create nurtured communities of learning with and for their students and share Leading Learning: Standards Of Practice For School Library Learning Commons In Canada as well as other key resources specifically written for school leaders such as Building a Learning Commons: A Guide for School Administrators and Learning Leadership Teams (Koechlin, Loertscher, and Zwaan, 2010). A teacher-librarian or learning commons teacher often mentors like-minded others such as technology teachers and library technicians. They introduce like-minded colleagues to explore SLLC teacher-librarianship and programs such as the Teacher-librarian by Distance Learning from the University of Alberta. (TLDL). Principal Shelia Morrisette, Surrey, British Columbia, in the blog viewfrommyschool (2014) shares how the teacher-librarian and technology teacher work together to mentor teachers in a secondary school. Important professional development elements key to effective mentorship include “relevancy, personal interaction with colleagues, and job embedded activities”. (Brown, Dotson, & Yontz, 2011).
A – Accountability
Ensure that school library learning commons plans, goals and strategies (actions) are included within school development planning to meet the needs of each student through student data analysis. How will the SLLC support each student’s learning?
Accountability in its truest sense makes us responsible to each other for our actions. Douglas Reeves (2004) writes about accountability for learning as a positive mantra for helping students in Accountability for Learning: How Teachers and School Leaders Can Take Charge. The best kind of accountability is founded on at least three sources of reliable data or evidence and by exploring this information together schools can make the most effective action plans for moving forward. In schools, the school development plan or growth plan is most likely the vehicle where data is examined and goals are set. SLLC standards implementation and sustainability must be embedded within these planning structures and reviewed/reflected in an annual and continual process. An example of this process in relation to SLLC development as a school principle is documented by Sykes (2012, p 104) in Growing Schools: Librarians as Professional Developers. How can the SLLC best support what the students need right now and improve going into the future? What do the report cards, tests, and broad-based assessment strategies tell us about each student’s learning needs? Which SLLC standard indicators are established and supportive of these needs? Which are emerging? Leading? Can the standards push strategies beyond leading into the future further in supporting the learners?
Schools are ultimately accountable for implementing the provincial or territorial curriculum. Often resistance has been encountered when moving forward to a whole school SLLC pedagogy because “we have to cover the curriculum”. However, curriculum is rapidly changing to meet today’s learner’s needs throughout the country into holistic, inquiry-based frameworks. For example in Alberta, Alberta Education’s newly developing framework for student learning Framework for Student Learning – Competencies for Engaged Thinkers and Ethical Citizens with an Entrepreneurial Spirit, demonstrates convergence with Leading Learning: Standards Of Practice For School Library Learning Commons In Canada (CLA, 2014). These competencies, outlined in the diagram below, reflect the nature of becoming a literate individual in an increasingly complex global society.
Alberta Education Competencies CLA SLLC Standards of Practice
Critical Thinking, Problem Solving and Decision Making, Collaboration and Leadership Facilitating collaborative engagement to cultivate and empower a community of learners.
Lifelong Learning, Personal Management and Well-being Designing Learning Environments to Support Participatory Learning
Critical Thinking, Problem Solving and Decision Making, Collaboration and Leadership Cultivating Effective Instructional Design to Co-plan, Teach and Assess Learning
Critical Thinking, Problem Solving and Decision Making, Social, Cultural, Global and Environmental Responsibility Advancing the Learning Community to Achieve School Goals
Communication, Digital and Technological Fluency Fostering Literacies to Empower Life-Long Learners
Critical Thinking, Problem Solving and Decision Making Cultivating Effective Instructional Design to Co-plan, Teach and Assess Learning
Lifelong Learning, Personal Management and Well-being Fostering Literacies to Empower Life-Long Learners
Creativity and Innovation, Communication, Digital and Technological Fluency Designing Learning Environments to Support Participatory Learning
District response to curriculum development changes as well. In Calgary, Alberta, the Calgary Board of Education Learning Commons Implementation Guide, clearly maps out the student learning benefits and stages of implementation for the SLLC connected to the outcomes of their three-year education plan. At the school level, Killarney Secondary School, in Vancouver, British Columbia, supports school goals with SLLC strategies to foster reading and technology engagement within their school plan.
Now is the time to collectively examine the school plan and data to include implementation and sustainability of SLLC standards of practice. If not already there, begin with setting goals and actions to explore the SLLC vision and how it could unfold at the school. The important thing is to begin and develop systems of accountability.
R – Research
Ensure on-site action research documenting SLLC evidence is encouraged, enabled and shared. What is working? What isn’t? What will we do next? What insights can others offer us?
“Studying one’s own school” provides evidence for sustainability and goal setting for implementation of SLLC standards of effective practice. “School librarians should exemplify the vision for being life-long learners…Who better to facilitate book studies and action research projects leading to professional development for teachers than the media specialist?” (Brown, Dotson, & Yontz, 2011).
In the book, Conducting Action Research to Evaluate Your School Library, (Sykes, 2013) I explored how teacher librarians or learning commons teachers need to get directly involved with the action research process in their own schools in order to create actions and strategies to impact student learning and benefit their own professional development as well as demonstrate accountability through their research efforts. Gathering evidence does not need to be time consuming or “yet another thing to do” but needs to become a way of thinking about teaching and learning in a reflective, strategic, data based fashion. There are many tools available to help with action research – for documenting, analysis, action planning and so forth. The diagram below provides a model of the action research cycle.
Douglas Reeves writes about “action research at the center of school improvement”. (Reframing Teacher Leadership to Improve Your School, 2008) School principals can and should be a key support in this important professional process. Along with using the process in one’s own practice and school, much can be learned from and often replicated in examining the action research of others. A growing body of sources makes this possible and available. Papers shared at the Treasure Mountain Canada retreats provide extensive samples of school-based action research. These research retreats grew out of the Treasure Mountain Research Retreats in the United States created in1989 to provide researchers in the field of school library media studies an opportunity to share their research, gather ideas, and interact with practitioners “in the field.” In the Peel School District, Ontario, project, teacher-librarians in the district engaged in a number of collaborative research projects with English as a Second Language (ESL) and teacher-librarian collaboration in their schools over several years. (Collaborative Teacher Inquiry and the School Learning Commons. Conte, 2012).
Part of any action research cycle, formal or informal, includes familiarizing oneself with the key literature/research in the field. Knowing this key research will serve as a filter for one’s own research and as a way to dialogue with others in mentorship regarding SLLC standards of practice implementation. Extensive research over the past 20 years in 21 American states, Ontario, and recently British Columbia supports a correlation between student achievement and effective SLLCs, ideally guided by teacher-librarian leadership. Although extensive, as mentioned earlier (Oberg 2014), most educators are unaware of this research so it is recommended to have it at hand for timely sharing. An overview of this foundational research, along with other research and resources, can be found on School Libraries Impact Studies, established by and including the research of Keith Curry Lance, founding and long-time Director of the Library Research Service of the Colorado State Library and the University of Denver. A summary of this research is compiled in the fourth edition of Research Foundation Paper: School Libraries Work!.
The foundational research has led to the emergence of SLLC. Know and share the work of SLLC visionaries Carol Koechlin and David Loertscher – both of these leaders in the SLLC field continually update SLLC resources, research and innovation through their books such as the second edition of The New Learning Commons where Learners Win: Reinventing School Libraries and Computer Labs and website Virtual Learning Commons Home and Information Center.
C – Community
Ensure that all members of the learning community are part of SLLC development by creating an SLLC team to lead, implement, and sustain the effort.
The fourth concept of “MARC” is probably the most vital; without it, implementing – and especially sustaining – SLLC standards of practice is virtually impossible. The SLLC is a whole learning community responsibility needing a dedicated steering team. The Ontario Library Association provides a collaborative web space for the purpose of implementing the vision of the SLLC document Together for Learning. Indeed, collaborative professional learning teams in “professional learning communities” (Eaker et al. 2002, DuFour 2004) has shown to be one of the most successful sustainable school improvement initiatives in the past few decades. Dufour recommends that teams:
- establish a solid foundation with collaboratively developed and widely shared mission, vision, values, short term and long term SMART goals (strategic and specific, measurable, attainable, results oriented, time-bound)
- develop high performing, collaborative teams that work interdependently to achieve common goals, taking an effective solution to a better one by drawing on collective opinion and research into the most effective practice and co-creating data-driven action plans (list of steps, focus of steps, and funding for steps)
- develop a results-oriented culture focusing on learning (students, pre- and post-graduates, adults) with commitment to continuous improvement based on measurable performance standards.
These steps are vital for “Moving Forward” SLLC standards implementation. One person cannot do it all, nor should they; as pointed out earlier, often, if that person departs the SLLC suffers. For the SLLC to thrive everyone in the school must play their part to attain implementation and sustainability as the SLLC team leads, steers and guides. Ideally the SLLC team is the principal, teacher-librarian or learning commons teacher, library technician and/or other support staff, a teacher, parent and student(s). Many schools include the librarian from a nearby public library. Teamwork and partnerships can lead to many great learning experiences such as the Durham District, Ontario family literacy program involving the community, SLLC, and a ministry grant.
The SLLC is designed for collaboration. Well-functioning teams educate, mentor and replace members as they come and go. They facilitate and welcome participation in design and experiences from all of the students and staff on an ongoing basis, focusing on the collaboration and knowledge building to wisdom that they can achieve together. They provide regular home and school updates showing the evolution of SLLC on each child’s learning. The students themselves can report as high school students do in Upper Grand District School Board, Ontario, producing Paper & Ink, an online magazine of writing and art. These teams focus on impacting each student’s learning through physical and virtual spaces, resources and teaching techniques targeted to build knowledge and wisdom.
Implementing and sustaining Leading Learning: Standards Of Practice For School Library Learning Commons In Canada will require each school to pose many questions and collaborate for strategic solutions to move through and beyond its phases.
Schools can do this by charting where they collectively believe themselves to be on the standards growth continuum in the various standards. Schools will find themselves in different places in different parts of the continuum so can develop “road maps” that suit their own context for SLLC implementation and sustainability. By following the steps to implementation and using strategic tools to provide direction and sustenance, students in every part of the country will receive the best possible preparation for their future. Teach them to mentor, to be accountable, to become adept researchers, and to be engaged in their communities. Remember MARC – mentorship, accountability, research, and community – and keep the SLLC moving forward for student success.
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Judith Sykes has served as a teacher-librarian, school library specialist, principal and provincial school library manager; leading Alberta Education’s School Library Services Initiative 2008-2012. She has led associations, published and presented extensively including acting as co-chair/principal writer of Achieving Information Literacy Through Quality School Library Programs: The Vision and Standards for School Library Programs in Canada. Judith is currently serving as project coordinator/writer for the Canadian Library Association (CLA) Leading Learning: Standards Of Practice For School Library Learning Commons In Canada. She is the author of four books with Libraries Unlimited: Library Centers: Teaching Information Literacy, Skills, and Processes K-6, Action Research: Practical Tips for Transforming Your School Library, Brain-Friendly School Libraries and most recently Conducting Action Research to Evaluate Your School Library.
NOTE: This article was foundational to Judith’s fifth book for Libraries Unlimited, The Whole School Library Learning Commons – An Educator’s Guide.