The ‘go-to-place’ for learning

Libraries should be more like kitchens than grocery stores. They should be creation spaces, instead of pulling-things-off-the-shelf spaces.
                                                                                                                                      Ira Socol

How can libraries become the ‘go to place’ for learning for all staff and students?  Is this a place where students, and staff, can experiment with their learning? How can we create libraries that marry both the virtual and the real—creating access to knowledge along with the opportunities to manipulate it in meaningful ways? The Learning Commons grant program was designed to provide an opportunity for educators to work together to create a physical and virtual space to provide optimal teaching and learning experiences for their students.

In Surrey, Teacher-Librarians are exploring the notion of the Learning Commons. We have seven secondary schools and seven elementary schools transforming their libraries into a Learning Commons as part of a district grant initiative. These schools were required to submit a proposal in response to some guiding principles provided by the district. The guiding principles were intentionally loose but grounded in what we hold to be central in our professional learning: enlisting a collaborative school team engaged in an inquiry process. For example, at Clayton Heights Secondary School the team is asking the question: How will moving to a Learning/Making Commons support transformative teaching and learning at Clayton Heights?  Their second question is: What happens when you take a place that has traditionally been about learning and transform it into a place of doing and making?” (source: Lisa Carlucci). Schools were asked to consider: What instructional innovations have the greatest impact on student engagement and learning? What conditions allow students to gain a greater sense of ownership of their learning? How might learning activities that integrate technology engage and sustain students in their learning?

Schools in the project are given a variety of supports. Many of the Teacher-Librarians attended a two-day summer conference on the Learning Commons. They will also be granted release time with others in the project to engage in professional development and document their learning journey together. In addition, they receive support from the district’s Helping Teachers. Schools were given a starter pack of technology, including an iPad cart with a class set of iPads, a projector with Apple TV, a Mac Book Pro, 10 digital cameras, and a $1,000 grant for infrastructure (to be matched by school funds). Secondary schools receive additional supports to create a photography green room.  The schools also agreed to create a collaborative school team, develop some project goals, outline an action plan, plan ways of working together, evaluate their progress and share out to a wider audience. All of this is predicated on the belief that Teacher-Librarians, the experts in the field, are the best ones to determine what a Learning Commons looks like in their particular school community.  They are charting their own path.

Charting one’s path must be understood in the context, however, of highly skilled professionals—Teacher-Librarians. These are the experts that know how to research, how to find curated information and how to make decisions based on the wisdom of specialists in the field. The project lends itself to Teacher-Librarians triangulating “best practices” research with their own context and comparing it with the other Teacher-Librarians in the project that are on the same journey. Moreover, this is a collaborative project embedded in their own schoolhouse experience. The schoolhouse partners play a key role in helping shape the Learning Commons purpose, design and function. For more on the Learning Commons you may want to read Together for Learning, watch the great Learning Commons in B.C. video, read about Alberta’s province wide initiative or peruse many of the learning commons websites available, one sample here.

The schools were also required to consider a structural redesign of their existing library space. The criteria was simply for the Teacher-Librarians to consider how they might optimize the physical space of the Learning Commons to promote transformative teaching and learning; create virtual spaces which encourage a range of teaching and learning activities; and, provide for anticipating future needs. It was really about creating your dream library (within the limits of space and financial resources). For the Clayton Heights team, they used the work of Ira Socol and Pam Moran to “employ the metaphor of creating caves, watering holes and campfires to transform libraries into a Learning Commons. Campfires are teaching spaces, watering holes are gathering spots and caves offer privacy….the campfire is the table area with a projector/AppleTV and at lunch this space transforms into a watering hole of collaboration as students hang out to do homework, collaborate on projects and use the whiteboard to work through math problems.” In addition, at Clayton Heights they are creating a DigitalMakerSpace where students can use the equipment necessary to engage in digital story-telling.

You can see the journey of Johnston Heights in the wonderful post by Teacher-Librarian Michelle Hall in her blog The Librarian’s Locker. As Lisa Domeier de Suarez explains, the goal for all of us is to create a place “where students construct knowledge and share their ideas with their school community and the world. We want a space where students have the digital tools and the opportunity to do innovative, productive and messy work.” As Suarez would describe it, transforming libraries is really about “being in the eye of the learning hurricane.”


Special thanks to former Helping Teacher Lisa Domeier de Suarez (now Teacher-Librarian at Clayton Heights Secondary, @librarymall) and Teacher-Librarian Helping Teacher Sarah Guilmant-Smith for providing the research, the background information and preparing this grant opportunity for their colleagues in Surrey. This blog post is based on their work. And, if you would like to learn more about Teacher-Librarians, take a look at this post From Teacher-Librarian to Digital Literacy Impresarios that has received the most hits of any post on my blog. Thanks as well to Ontario Teacher-Librarian Alanna King (@banana29) who provided me with many great resources.

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