Sunday, February 27, 2011

Librarians as Learning Specialists

If you want to hone your "21st Century" understandings about schools and begin to transform the teaching and learning capacity of your school library into a Learning Commons, you must go immediately to Amazon and order Librarians as Learning Specialists: Meeting the Learning Imperative for the 21st Century (A. Zmuda & V.H. Harada, Libraries Unlimited, 2008).  Regularly $40 USD, you will see that there is a discounted price and also a less expensive Kindle version.  Maybe now is the time to treat yourself to an e-reader device to enter the e-reading environment as well.  (Think of this as a direction for library improvement and use your own or school-based Pro D funds or your library's "slush" account; you can share the device and this book with your administrator and others as a collaborative Pro D tool and experience.)



In realizing that Vancouver has no clear blueprint for schools and teacher-librarians to design and construct Learning Commons for new and existing schools here in 21st-century Vancouver, I am in the process of gathering the building blocks, plans, evidence of the value, and any "blue sky" thinking to add compelling depth and colour to the design and to compile the definitive website. 

It is in this on-going context that I have begun to read Zmuda and Harada, supported with a Foreword from Wiggins.  I have finished Chapter 1 and want to share the following snippets with you:

I am a big believer in the importance of libraries with windows.  Writes Wiggins in his Foreword,

The [school library resource centre, or LRC] is more than just a space or resource .... It is a window into how well the entire staff understands learning and honors best practice.  If the staff understands how people learn, then the [LRC] is a hub of core activity.  If the school is committed to long-term mission-related goals, teachers and learning specialists constantly work together. (xi)
Zmuda and Harada make the powerful case that the advent of 21st century learning is also the time for learning specialists to move from the margins to the centre of learning, to leadership roles that move schools forward.  They believe that "what happens in the library is at the heart of the work of the school because it brings the world to the local community, inspires the curiosity and imagination of students, and brings people together to explore and communicate ideas." (xiii)

The words of Dr Ross Todd invite TLs, administrators, and teachers to re-vision the role of the school library in the educational community and in the learning opportunities we all create to engage our students in learning:

The hallmark of a school library in the 21st century is not its collections, its system, its technology, its staffing, its buildings, but its actions and evidences that show that it makes a real difference to student learning, that it contributes in tangible and significant ways to the development of meaning making and constructing knowledge. (xii)
I have finished Chapter 1 on creating whole-school commitment to a common purpose and to instructional adjustment to achieve the common goal.  I have reviewed Todd's 10 Learning Principles for School Libraries(2007), "Working for Knowledge Construction: Transformational Leadership" and have reconsidered the underpinning views of such leading educators as John Dewey, Michael Fullan, and Mel Levine.  I am firmly hooked on this book.

But just imagine my surprise when I looked at sample school library mission statements from Canada, the US, and Australia.  The only example from Canada reads, "Gladstone School Library Resource Centre is dedicated to creating a safe atmosphere that fosters self-esteem, creativity, and enthusiasm for reading and lifelong learning."  Whoo-hoo!  I remember the call to give permission for its use but I hadn't thought about this since. 

This Gladstone statement, by the way, derived from the exercise of creating the school's Mission Statement that the principal had undertaken with the staff.  A search of the school's website shows a nuts-and-bolts approach has overtaken its messages now.  I remember how galvanizing it was for us to all be on the same page in relation to our students, kind of like the thesis statement in an essay that keeps your writing on track. As I read the next three chapters on the role of the TL, instructional design, and robust assessment, I am sure you can understand that I have wholly connected on a quite personal level as well as a professional one and will read for deep understanding, with the key idea that a mission-based approach that works requires a school's staff, including its TL, to:

... know how students learn and how different students learn differently, how children acquire language and how to support language development, how to organize a curriculum that builds on students' prior knowledge and experiences, how to assess what students know and how they are learning, how to diagnose and meet the needs of struggling students, how to use a range of teaching strategies, how to motivate students and how to work collaboratively with parents and peers to reinforce learning at home and school.

No comments: