Thursday, 11 February 2016

Leading Learning Together

By Jeanne Conte

Nothing says learning like a group of focused like minded educators who are led by strong focused like minded leaders.  Carol Koechlin and David Loertscher are bullish about ensuring that school libraries remain current in todays ever evolving educational landscape.  Treasure Mountain Canada 4, that took place as part of the 2016 OLA Super Conference, focused on the growing impact of the new Canadian standards of practice for school library learning commons in Canada.  Papers were sorted according to three key areas: co-teaching for deeper learning, innovation for learning, and building a learning community.  Contributors came through in spades!

For the first round I attended Lisa Ainsworth's mini session where she described her experience with co-teaching.  Lisa experimented with co-teaching models that bring the whole notion of co-teaching beyond what we normally think of as co-teaching in a school library learning commons.  Imagine the power of co-teaching across an entire unit of study, where two teachers plan and execute all aspects of student learning, co-planning, co-teaching, co-assessing, and most importantly, co-reflecting.  Co-reflecting is a key practice that is often glossed over, yet it is likely one of the most important aspects of collaborative practice.  After all, when teachers have the opportunity to reflect and apply new learning to future practice they have gone beyond using reflection as "the autopsy" and moved into the rich territory of true reflective practice.

It was also great to see the varied entry points of participants.  Everything from maker spaces in the library learning commons (LLC) to analysis of progress with LLC implementation over time was highlighted. As I flitted from presentation to presentation, I was caught up in the enthusiasm of presenters and their audiences.

Treasure Mountain Canada is, in my opinion, aptly named.  It is indeed a treasure to have this trove of research conducted by educators and teacher-librarians at the front line.  I absolutely loved Linda Hill's leadership pyramid that places the impetus for leadership, not with senior leaders, managers, or supervisors, but at the front line where the real action is.  The action is all about learning for ALL involved.  The role of higher management then becomes one of sparking creativity by unleashing potential and offering educators the space and support they need to get the hard work of leading and learning done.

Hopefully Treasure Mountain Canada will continue to inspire library leaders as the school library community moves forward with realizing the vision of Together for Learning and Leading Learning, or as the TMC button says Leading Learning Together!

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Some Musings About Technology...

Last month my husband and I were making the trek to Bobcaygeon for perhaps sixth or seventh time in as many months.  Along the way I pulled out my BlackBerry to check the digital map to ensure we were on the correct path.  It occurred to me that years ago, I would never have been unfolding the big cumbersome map to check the route after this many trips to one location.  Certainly by now the route would have been committed to memory.  So, what changed?  It made for some interesting discussion on the way up.  We ultimately concluded that over-reliance on the Map Ap was turning us into zombies.  We resolved that on our way back, there would be no use of the GPS.  Boy, was it strange! Not only did we suffer from a lack of confidence in our ability to stick to the route,  second guessing ourselves all the way, it was like fighting an addiction to keep ourselves from reaching for the darned BlackBerry.  It only took one more trip to have the route down pat, but the experience made me think.  As wonderful as technology is, is there a point that it can go from becoming a useful tool to a crutch?

For the record I don't see myself as a "Luddite"; in fact, I absolutely appreciate the richness that technology brings to teaching and learning in today's educational landscape.  When used properly, technology engages students in authentic learning experiences that prompt them to think deeply and creatively.  I've seen it, and when it happens, it's magic.  I've also seen the opposite, where technology serves merely to distract students from the task at hand.  Much seems to depend on teachers understanding when to utilize technology and which technology tool is best suited to the expected learning outcomes, so purpose matters.

Technology has become part of our everyday lives.  Great educators understand that it can also be an excellent teaching tool.  Not only is it engaging for students, but it also offers all kinds of pedagogical benefits to teachers.  An often overlooked example is how technology can be used as an assessment tool, by having students make their learning visible through recordings, videos, blogs, vlogs.  And that's the tip of the proverbial iceberg. So yes, technology is awesome!  Let's use it, not abuse it.  All it takes is for us to be thoughtful about the why, when and how.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

State of School Libraries A Mixed Bag

Although I hesitate to invoke Frank Sinatra, the lyrics "riding high in April, shot down in May" are fitting in light of news released earlier this week about cuts to school libraries in the London Catholic School Board.  Just a few weeks ago, those of us in the school library world were indeed riding high with the advent of the launch of Leading Learning Standards of Practice for School Library Learning Commons in Canada at the Canadian Library Association Conference 2014.  School library advocates were further buoyed by the success of Treasure Mountain Canada 3 (TMC3) a Canadian school library program that runs every two years as part of the CLA Conference and is led by Carol Koechlin and David Loertscher.

As participants of TMC3 discussed, both online and face to face, the papers that had been submitted for publication on the Treasure Mountain 3 website, it became evident that school libraries are striving to meet the changing needs of today's learners.  Passionate educators, teacher-librarians across the country are pushing the envelope to delve into new technologies to meet the demands of an evolving educational landscape.  How can iPads be used effectively in school libraries?  What is transliteracy and how does it play out in the library learning commons?  How might teacher-librarians embed student inquiry in the library learning commons?  These and more were provocative topics that engendered rich discussion around current pedagogical practice.

Another theme that emerged from the day was that although diverse, Canadian school libraries share more commonalities than differences.  The strongest of these is the movement toward a library learning commons.  For example, in Ontario, Together for Learning School Libraries and The Emergence of the Learning Commons A Vision for the 21st Century has been around since 2010. At TMC3, school Library leaders from British Columbia shared From School Library to Learning Commons, a rich document that sets out a vision that is strongly aligned with that of Together for Learning.  And now, we have new Canadian standards for school library learning commons that provide a sense of unity and legitimacy to the concept and the vision inherent in the learning commons.

A further observation was how closely aligned the TMC3 publications were to their respective provincial educational standards.  This alignment demonstrates that school library program is not superfluous or a frill.  Instead, the library learning commons offers all learners, teachers, administrators, parents and students alike a fresh perspective where flexible physical and virtual learning spaces respond to the complex needs of today's learners in ways that align closely with provincial ministry priorities.

So yes, following the CLA 2014 Conference and TMC3 in Victoria B.C., the school library community was indeed "riding high" as the lyrics go. With so much evidence that school libraries across the nation are demonstrating their relevance in today's educational landscape, the announcement of cuts to school libraries in the London CDSB was a bitter pill.  At TMC3, David Loertscher shared preliminary findings resulting from a study he is conducting that measures student achievement when teacher-librarians and classroom teachers engage in fulsome collaborative practice that includes co-planning, co-teaching and co-assessing.  The study is not yet completed, but early indications are that student achievement increases from 80 to 100% when these collaborative relationships are in practice. In addition, "Ontario research shows that where enthusiastic leadership in a library exists, learners enjoy reading and a school enjoys higher levels of student achievement" (Klinger et al, Queen's University). There are mountains of research that corroborate this positive correlation between effective school libraries and student achievement.  Yet, when school boards are faced with budget shortfalls, they often opt to balance their books at the expense of school libraries!

In The Six Secrets of Change: What the best leaders do to help their organizations survive and thrive, Michael Fullan coined the term that "learning is the work." (Fullan, 2008)  The school library community remains a vibrant force of passionate educators who understand that the key to success is to simply do the work that needs to be done, top down and bottom up.  The school library learning commons is a place where educators can leverage the power of working and learning collaboratively, a place where stakeholders truly are "together for learning!"

For more information about school library advocacy, please visit the School Advocacy Page of the  Ontario School Library Website

Monday, 19 May 2014

The Buzz in Ontario School Libraries

Ontario is a-buzz these days with young readers declaring their love of reading in classrooms, school libraries, gymnasiums, auditoriums and even sports arenas across the province!  Over the course of the past several months, students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 have been reading books selected for the Forest of Reading Program run by the Ontario Library Association.  Based on their grade level, they are invited by school and public libraries to vote for their favourite among a set of ten books in each of the categories that include Blue Spruce, Silver Birch, Silver Birch Express, Red Maple and White Pine.  The winner for each category is then announced, often to loud cheers of approval from student audiences.

What impresses me the most about this program that has been gaining momentum in Ontario for the past number of years is the level of engagement demonstrated by students who participate in the reading clubs.  Students commit to reading a minimum of five books in order to be eligible to vote for their top choice.  Many read all ten and in some cases go on to devour books in other categories as well.  This year the Peel District School Board will be putting on their 9th Annual Forest of Reading Celebration where 4,200 students and staff will celebrate their love of reading.  This number only accounts for a percentage of total students involved in the reading program in the Board.

So, what might account for the popularity of this program?  For one, the Ontario Library Association (OLA) does an excellent job of creating selection committees who read and recommend books based on richness of text as well as potential for capturing student interest at each of the grade levels.  In addition, students are invited to read for pleasure!  How often do we value our students reading for the love of it, rather than for the purpose of assessment and evaluation or meeting curriculum expectations?  Not very often!  It may also be that students enjoy having the opportunity to express how they feel about what they are reading.  We often hear about the importance of student voice, well, in this reading program, student voice really counts!  It's their vote that accounts for the winners.

The Peel District School Board is looking forward to their upcoming 9th Annual Forest of Reading Celebration.  Ultimately, we have much to celebrate when we see our kids engaged in reading because they want to, loving it and cheering for books they love.  A big shout out to the OLA, to teacher-librarians and public librarians, library technicians, classroom teachers, administrators, volunteers and, most of all, the kids who choose to participate in this valuable reading program.