In A Relationship: It’s Complicated

What should learners hold us as school librarians accountable for? Clearly one area would be categorized as information literacy.  I’ve been pondering what this means and have begun to think of it as developing a relationship with information that includes understanding how to locate, evaluate, apply, create, and share information.  But beyond these skills and actions, our Standards for the 21st Century Learner also point toward important dispositions or habits of mind including recognizing a need for information, possessing the curiosity, persistence and judgment to seek out, evaluate, and select information, and the creativity and persistence (again) to apply information in new ways to new problems and new solutions.  We want learners who will not only consume, but produce new knowledge and information.  Learners need to reflect and assess their own products and process in order to continuously improve.  We want learners who will push their own boundaries and the boundaries of their communities.

Community adds another layer of complexity to our relationships with information and knowledge.  Because we believe that learning is social and information is a social good, we want learners to seek and draw on the expertise of others at every step in the information seeking and knowledge creation process.  How do we as school librarians promote this social aspect of information literacy when it comes to dispositions?  How do we teach students to seek and provide support for each other when it comes to persistence, curiosity, reflection, and self-assessment?  One way is to actively seek and provide feedback and evaluation to each other.  We can model support, encouragement, and sharing the work as collaborative partners.

But it also occurs to me that these social aspects of our relationship with information are not always easy.  Conflict and challenge may be necessary to push ourselves and our communities into new directions and toward new knowledge.   Students need honest critique and are likely to experience disagreement, friction, disappointments and failure.  Our relationship with information is complicated and not always gentle, particularly as we seek to become producers not just consumers.  We can help our students as well as ourselves and the professionals we work with to learn to let go and push through a sense of loss toward new learning and knowledge.  It’s complicated but it’s a living and growing endeavor.

Remodeling Literacy Together, Part 2

KQwMeg_Kilker_sizedTo continue responding to the results of NCLE’s “Remodeling Literacy Together: Paths to Standards Implementation” survey findings:

•    Teachers feeling most comfortable tend to be those more frequently working with others to analyze student work, design curriculum, and create assessments (NCLE).

Change involves risk-taking. It is essential to have respected and trusted partners when taking professional risks.

Who can help? A 21st-century school librarian must have the dispositions and skills to work with all her/his colleagues in the building. Everyone deserves support, especially when expectations change, and school librarians, who are required to work with all of our colleagues, are perfectly positioned to supply that support. When classroom teachers and school librarians coplan and coimplement lessons, and coassess student learning outcomes, librarians are providing the support teachers need and improve their own practice in the process. This is a win-win-win-win situation for all students, teachers, librarians, and administrators.

•    Teachers engaged in cross-discipline conversation about literacy are making greater shifts in their instruction (NCLE).

In many secondary schools, in particular, the disciplines have been working in silos: language arts teachers talking with language arts teachers, social studies with social students, science with science, and so on. Some schools have made strides in breaking down the institutional barriers between the disciplines because they know our brains do not learn or function in discrete-discipline-based ways.

Who can help? The work of school librarians has always been and will always be interdisciplinary. Reading and language arts are integrated into every aspect of the processes in which students engage while learning through the library program. Whether teaching reading comprehension strategies or inquiry-based research, school librarians must be knowledgeable about how students employ multiple skills and strategies to interact with ideas and information.

School librarians also have a global view of the learning community and can bring educators in different disciplines together to coplan, coteach, and coassess interdisciplinary units of instruction. This is a strength that school librarians bring to the table that can increase rigor and alignment in the academic program in any school.

•    When given the opportunity, teachers are owning the change by innovating and designing appropriate lessons and materials (NCLE).

Again it is no surprise that when teachers “own” the changes in their work environment, they bring their creativity, expertise, and experience to bear and design lessons and integrate resources that are more engaging and effective for learners.

How can school librarians contribute? School librarians must be experts in instructional design. They have experience working with students at various grade levels and in all content areas. School librarians keep abreast of the latest resources, print, digital, and human, and should always be seeking innovative ways to integrate resources into the curriculum for the benefit of students and teachers.

As a poster from the national Dewitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Library Power initiative of the 1990s noted: “Teaching is too difficult to do alone. Collaborate with your school librarian!” I hope the results of the NCLE report will bring all the members of your school’s academic program together to coplan, coteach, and coassess student learning and that your school librarian will be among the leaders at your table.

Thank you to NCTE Executive Director Kent Williamson for being the catalyst to form the NCLE literacy coalition. This is survey is just one example of the power of organizations joining forces and working together to improve literacy learning and teaching for all.

Works Cited

“Remodeling Literacy Learning Together: Paths to Standards Implementation.” Literacy in Learning Exchange. 18 Feb. 2014. Web. 29 Mar. 2014. <>.

Coteaching Photograph of Librarian Jean Kilker and her Colleague from the Personal Collection of Judi Moreillon – Used with Permission

Remodeling Literacy Together, Part 1

Cameron_collabplanning2The National Center for Literacy Education (NCLE)  recently published a report called “Remodeling Literacy Together: Paths to Standards Implementation.”

NCLE, which is a coalition of literacy organizations that includes the American Association of School Librarians, the International Reading Association, National Council of Teachers of English, and others, conducted a national survey of over 3,000 teachers to learn about their preparation and confidence related to implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

Whether or not you teach in a CCSS state, the findings of this survey should be of interest to everyone in the field of education. Every state, district, and school in the U.S. is placing an increased emphasis on raising the rigor in literacy teaching and learning. There are many leadership opportunities for school librarians in these findings.

•    Nationwide, teachers feel ill-prepared to help their students achieve the new literacy standards (NCLE).

I believe that all educators feel challenged to teach literacy skills. We know students need to master traditional literacy skills as well as 21st-century skills. This is a tall order when many children do not arrive at school with rich literacy backgrounds, need on-going support for applying reading comprehension strategies across genres, content areas, and grade levels and need to learn how to effectively use technology tools to interact with information and produce knowledge. This is a tall order.

Who can help? A 21st-century school librarian!

•    Working with peers is the most valued support for standards implementation (NCLE).

As a long-time collaborating librarian, this finding does not surprise me. I know that my colleagues and I have benefited tremendously through coteaching. The extra challenge for classroom teachers is that it is difficult for them to work with one another during the school day in order to achieve true job-embedded professional development. If educators combine classes, they have twice as many students whose needs they must meet. And few administrators have the flexibility to release teachers from their primary teaching responsibility so they can coteach with their peers.

Who can help? A 21st-century school librarian who can coplan and coteach with classroom teachers in real-time, with real students, real curriculum, real resources, real supports, and constraints of the actual teaching environment can be the peer with whom classroom teachers work. Through coteaching, we can help classroom teachers meet their need for standard-based lesson implementation and improve our literacy teaching practices together.

•    Time for working together in schools is decreasing (NCLE).

This is an ill-advised situation that school-level and district-level administrators should pay attention to and address. When new standards or initiatives are introduced into a learning community, educators need to break out of the isolation of their classrooms, labs, and libraries in order to ensure that innovations spread throughout the learning community.

Who can help? A 21st-century school librarian has expertise in using technology tools for asynchronous collaboration. Using Google Drive docs, wikis, and other Web 2.0 tools to conduct collaborative planning can provide effective venues for working together when face-to-face time is short or not readily available.

On Thursday, I will respond to some of the additional findings of this important data from the field.

Works Cited

“Remodeling Literacy Learning Together: Paths to Standards Implementation.” Literacy in Learning Exchange. 18 Feb. 2014. Web. 31 Mar. 2014. <>.

Coplanning Photograph of Librarian Stacy Cameron and her Colleagues – Used with Permission

Swiss Army Knives: Teacher Librarians

Looking for some cool tools in your classroom?  Think about the utilitarian roles of the teacher librarian-think Swiss army knife.  That’s how one teacher describes the impact of the teacher librarian in schools.  In a recent blog post on Edutopia, Josh Work, a middle school teacher from Maryland, shares his take on collaboration that is at the heart of his daily practice in his school.  That collaboration in teaching and learning is with the teacher librarian. This blog is a must read for all of us who strive every day to become embedded in the educational fabric of schools as teacher librarians/media specialists.

From Josh’s experience, he sees the teacher librarian as a leader in the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and technology integration.

“I have found the most valuable school-based resource for brainstorming, discussing, planning and implementing anything to do with technology has been my school’s media specialist.”

“…Media specialists are an amazing building-level resource for anyone that takes the time to collaborate with them.”


As in many cases, the collaboration began in simple ways, with a quick face to face conversation that grew over time to brief meetings, and then later to include co-planning and co-teaching curriculum. He also goes on to give some advice to other teachers about enlisting help from the building media specialist/teacher librarian.

Whether or not the Swiss army knife is an image you have of yourself, it’s great to learn about successful collaborations with teachers from another perspective. In fact, the metaphor does represent the multiple facets of our morphing role, so let’s embrace it.

Hearing from colleagues such as Josh who understand and appreciate the expertise and knowledge that we provide, is refreshing, and affirms the work that we do. It also gives us incentive to try harder, even in the face of budget cuts and increasing demands on teachers’ time.  Together, we all can make the shift in instructional design and practice if we continue to embrace partnerships to meet the challenges of teaching and learning in today’s world.

Thank you, Josh, from the bottom of our hearts.  We think you are sharp, too!



Work, Josh. (2014)  “The Shift: Media Specialists and the Common Core.” Edutopia  (weblog) March 18, 2014.

Image: Swiss army knife









Forging Partnerships With Teen Tech Week

Last week I followed along on my own PLN with the great things that school librarians were doing for Teen Tech Week 2014. The theme of DIY @your library promoted the library as place to extend learning beyond the classroom for teens. It was great to see was how it facilitated differing partnerships between school librarians and teachers, students, parents, community, and the public library.

One example that really struck home with me was Norcross High School, where Buffy Hamilton and her colleagues provided a week of digital delights, both low and high tech, to engage many types of teens. You only have to watch a minute of the videos she posted to see students engaged in creative play to learn. They were there during their lunchtime to enjoy collaborative time with their peers, as well as learn along with their excellent school librarians.

As a finale for Teen Tech Week and a kickoff for their partnership with Gwinnett Public Library, members of the public library team brought over a 3D printer to share with the students. It was amazing to see the excitement and awe on these students’ faces and the thoughtful reflections they shared. Not only did the group of students coming to the library for Teen Tech week activities increase throughout the week, but also I am guessing that the word is getting out about the cool things going on in the library. This is going to be a partnership to watch in the future for great things to come.

Often school librarians question how to enact the technology leadership role in practice – this is a great example!

Partnering for Possibilities_ NHS Media Center, Gwinnett County Public Library, 3D Printing, and More | The Unquiet Librarian

One Principal’s 4 Cs

scrabble_collaboration_sized2To follow up on Judy Kaplan’s post “We are not alone,” I want to spotlight a blog post by Principal Jan Iwase. Ms. Iwase is the principal at Hale Kula Elementary School in Wahiawa, Oahu, Hawaii. Last year on her Collaborating, Communicating, Critical Thinking, and Creativity Blog she posted “It’s more than a place to borrow books.”

There are so many kernels of wisdom in Jan’s understanding of how a state-certified professional school librarian makes a positive impact on the academic program in her school. Here’s a brief summary:

• Planning with the principal for a library vision • Instituting a flexible schedule in order to provide resources and serve students and teachers at the point of need • Modeling the use and integration of technology into the curriculum • Changing the mindset of classroom teachers for how the library and librarian should be used

And what I especially appreciate about this post is Jan’s summary of what a school librarian contributes in terms of helping students navigate electronic resources:

“Just because information is readily available electronically does not mean that students know how to choose the right resource, how to skim and scan to find answers, how to take notes and organize them in a meaningful way, and how to summarize and share that information with others. That is why the librarian is an important resource in the school.”

This list of information literacy strategies is also a list of reading comprehension strategies. It is not surprising, then, that when school librarians and classroom teachers collaborate for instruction, students’ reading proficiency improves. When classroom teachers, school librarians, and principals work together, students benefit. Classroom-library collaboration for instruction is a win-win-win-win opportunity – Collaborating, Communicating, Critical Thinking, and Creativity – for all.


Collaboration Scrabble Tiles Photo by Judi Moreillon


We are Not Alone!


Eifel Tower


A recurring theme that we have explored in this blog has to do with establishing an environment for collaboration within a school community.  Who should be the leader?  What should it look like?  What is our role?  How do we define collaboration?  Who does it benefit?

We are not alone.  These are not questions that are unique to the teacher librarian perspective, but are being asked again and again by others who are trying to shift the paradigm in teaching and learning.   Moving from an isolated classroom to co-teaching in a variety of learning spaces requires rethinking possibilities for instruction.   Derek Hatch, a contributor to the Connected Principals Blog, posted on Feb. 7, 2014, “True collaboration is a very important skill and it is something that I believe we need to teach our students…both directly and by example.”  As an administrator, he lays out his vision of nine components present in true collaboration, and they all sound very familiar. Adults lead by modeling, shared vision, trust, time, flexibility, understanding roles, commitment, shared leadership, and risk taking. For teachers to teach students to collaborate, they need to talk the talk, and walk the walk.

One of the most important things that an administrator can do to improve collaborative practice within a school is to establish a shared vision, and secondly, to allow time and flexibility for all teachers, not just classroom teachers, to explore and refine ideas about collaboration. Without the time to really delve into collaborative teaching, and the flexibility in schedules and expectations, teachers will find it hard to move forward on the other components that Hatch lists. That is a real challenge, and the commitment needs to be there to build and continue collaborative relationships over time, not just one year.

As Melissa suggested last week, the 7 Spaces for Learning should also be part of that vision. Let’s get out of the classroom and into the world, physically and virtually.  In this day and age, we are not confined by four walls, learning happens in multiple places and dimensions.  There are many exemplars to guide the way.  Just look for successful collaborative teaching projects that are shared through school websites, Youtube videos, Twitter and other social media.

Here’s an example of a school where collaboration is valued and celebrated.  Find out how a whole school in rural Vermont took a trip to Paris, France.  Enjoy the tour!



Hatch, Derek. (2014). “More on Collaboration: Essential Ingredients.”  Connected Principals (weblog) Feb 7, 2014.  

Kelly, Julie. “Welcome to Paris.” (2014).  WCAX News. Feb 20, 2014 

Image: Classroom Clipart c.2011




Collaborative Spaces

This past weekend as I was preparing to teach my students about facilities and designing a school library learning environment I revisited the 7 Spaces of Learning and how these apply to the school library. These include: Secret Spaces, Group Spaces, Watching Spaces, Performing Spaces, Participation Spaces, Publishing Spaces, and Data Spaces.

Matt Locke first came up with the concept of the Six Spaces of Social Media and then Ewan McIntosh, a European expert in digital media for public services, and his team team added a seventh, Data Spaces. They have taken this idea of digital spaces -where we interact and with whom we interact with in each space and have defined what that would look like in a physical environment. Here is a 15 minute video explaining these thoughts:

The Seven Spaces of Technology in School Environments from NoTosh on Vimeo.

They have explored how education can harness these spaces to not only meet the needs if their current students and existing practices but as “influencers of future practice” by providing spaces for projects and learning in the future.

In class this week as we discussed meeting the needs of our learners it was interesting to see how the various modalities of learning including, independent study, peer tutoring, team collaborative work, one on one learning, lecture format/teacher centered, hands on project based learning, technology based learning, distance learning, research, presentation, performance, social, and emotional, seem to align with the 7 Spaces of Learning.

Collaborative and social learning are important aspects of 21st education and are prominent in the AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner as well.  School libraries are becoming more and more places for teams to work together formally and informally, but the question  arises – are we providing students with the right environment where they can work and learn collaboratively?

And are we asking students for their input? See what happens when a third grade teachers asks her students to design their Secret Space.

Before We Throw Out the Bathwater

rubber duckJudi’s questions about linking individual teacher evaluation to individual student achievement highlights a real conundrum in educational research and best practices. I almost have the sense that we are holding onto the baby and throwing out the bathwater without acknowledging the role the soapy bathwater played in getting the baby clean. In trying to tease out the particular interventions, instructional materials, or teacher practices that improve student learning, we have often neglected the cultural context surrounding both teacher and learner.  In particular, we might attend more to the culture of collaboration in a school and how that allows teachers to locally adapt and sustain educational reforms.

Contrary to the current focus on individual teachers and their impact on student learning, we recognize that complex problems like student achievement require complex solutions. They require diverse perspectives, knowledge, and skills.  A team of teachers is more likely to offer the kinds of diversity needed to address the achievement gaps that continue to challenge our schools.  How can administrators promote the collaborative culture needed to sustain such teamwork? One way is to provide time in the schedule for teams to meet. Principals can also make participation in collaborative teams a part of the expectation and evaluation of teachers.  Another strategy might be to enlist the school librarian, whose professional training has included collaboration, as an important member of every team.

While we as a profession have championed collaboration and instructional partnerships, we seem to have failed to articulate our role in those partnerships and more importantly, our role in student achievement to our stakeholders.  This clearly, as Melissa, referencing Elizabeth Burns, has suggested is a problem of advocacy.  But perhaps it’s also a problem of articulating for ourselves what it is that we do, or offer to educational practice, that might be unique to libraries and librarianship.  Is it our knowledge of diverse resources and how to identify, select and evaluate them? Is it a particular pedagogical or even a philosophical approach to learning needed to meet today’s technological and economic challenges? Is it the physical or virtual spaces we provide for exploration, access, and innovation? Are we an important gear turning the wheels of collaboration in a school? How does the school librarian support innovation in instructional practice? Let’s find out before we throw out the bathwater, or get thrown out with the bathwater.

Clip art from Microsoft.



Educator Evaluation: A Messy Construct

a-trphy2I follow the posts on the MiddleWeb blog. On January 27th, Elizabeth Stein posted “Co-Teachers: What a Tangled Web We’re In.”  In her post, Elizabeth focuses on serving the needs of special education students through coteaching and poses thoughtful questions about how educators should or can be evaluated in coteaching situations in terms of student learning outcomes. Her concerns and questions remind me of several conversations I participated in at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia last month.

One of the challenges in determining a causal relationship between teachers’ teaching and students’ learning outcomes is a false assumption that there can be a valid, undisputable cause and effect relationship between individual teacher’s teaching and individual student’s learning. In middle and high schools, interdisciplinary learning and teaching must be considered. For example, a student’s ability to comprehend a narrative math problem may be the result of her learning in English language arts as much as her learning in math class.

Other educators in the building such as librarians, reading and literacy coaches, music, art, P.E., special education teachers, and more (to say nothing of the home and community influencers) all contribute in varying degrees to students’ learning outcomes on any particular assignment or standardized test question for that matter. Even in a self-contained elementary school classroom, other educators in the building may make a measurable difference in student learning.

How then can students’ standardized test question results be ascribed to the teaching efficacy of one teacher and one teacher only? This may be especially problematic for school librarians whose work focuses on teaching students processes that are transferrable to all content areas and contribute to their ability to be effective lifelong learners.

Is it possible to drill down into test results and determine a causal relationship? Do you agree that teacher evaluation tied to students’ standardized test scores is a messy construct? What are your ideas about how to address this issue from the perspective of coteachers – and school librarians or special education teachers, in particular?

Clip Art from Discovery Education