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