Serving up a Learning Commons recipe …

A blog post by Chris Kennedy of West Vancouver, recently inspired me to add my own spices to what is cooking in the learning commons kitchen. I couldn’t agree more when he writes, “While the physical spaces are exciting, the changes to our mindsets are far more powerful. “( Kennedy)

As an experienced teacher-librarian and kitchen hacker, I believe that an exemplary school library is a dynamic learning process not just a nice space. A learning commons model is more than a new space that people congregate in but a cultural, social hub of learning. My librarian mentors knew this for years-some time before David Loetscher or Watters started promoting it. (Loetscher ) The collective wisdom of teacher-librarians has been cooking up innovation in schools for years. (Kuhn) It’s refreshing nevertheless to see revitalization of school library programs and perhaps this will ebb the tide of reductions or library closures. Libraries aren’t simply replaced by the mechanics of web2.0 but rather the new capacity can teach us how librarianship supports learning.

Wikipedia entry defines a LC …

Learning commons, also known as scholars’ commons, information commons or digital commons, are educational spaces, similar to libraries and classrooms that share space for information technology, remote or online education, tutoring, collaboration, content creation, meetings and reading or study. or study.( Wikipedia)

Like a great classroom, it should be an experience as much as a room.  Like cooking a five star meal, it takes more than a set of instructions. A school learning commons needs a team of chefs, great ingredients, effective execution and a creative spirit. Like a great restaurant, a learning commons needs a welcoming environment, great service and a comprehensive menu that prides itself on the experience of building a culture of scholarship.

The school’s hub of learning also needs to cater to diverse demographics.  It needs to be well prepared for the multiple needs that demand support. A school library cannot transition into a learning commons(LC) model overnight.  A LC can be a very exciting and powerful ‘learning’ asset because a progressive program addresses diverse student opportunities that nurture school goals and promote achievement.

Student achievement is a complex matter. If it was easy, we all could do it. A simple recipe for education innovation is seldom effective or enduring.  The new ‘learning commons’ if not built organically will also be doomed and a 2015 footnote. A successful school library is a cultural reality not simply a physical space regardless of how modern it may appear.  It takes experience, expertise and vision by many educators to develop a program that serves the needs of each unique school.

As a teacher-librarian in a large senior high school, our library program has demands and patrons quite different than a small middle school. It tales a team of people to assess, design and implement a sustainable service. An effective library program needs to evolve not revolutionize. Innovation can take time.

When I reflect on our successes and failures, it was planning and people that was the driver. It is my opinion that a library program that effectively serves its clientele is a dynamic social experience not just a physical asset. .  When learners/patrons are engaged with quality resources and services there are substantial costs. The physical space needs attributes that allow the community to thrive. Resources need to be acquired, updated and managed by trained personnel.  The teacher-librarian may be the chef but the entity needs many others to truly create delicacies.

A learning commons is the natural evolution of an exemplary school library program. A school cannot create a LC by simply borrowing a recipe. To build something meaningful from scratch is a major hurdle. A school with a tradition that recognized the diverse contributions of its library has the roots to grow.

The development a great ‘learning commons’ takes more than a nice presentation or directive. It takes a difficult execution of a plan that finds inspiration from the gifts of each school. An effective learning commons demands a school culture that always places learning and scholarship as a priority over appearances or expediency. It takes a culture of trust and collaboration. Teachers need to respect and value the library staff and students need to believe it benefits them collectively. It is not just a holding area. Not unlike a superior restaurant, a library needs a restauranteur, chefs, servers, etc all working effectively toward inspiration.

A beautiful restaurant that serves uninspiring food is a waste. Delivering great services and opportunities without a great space is almost impossible. Unlike the old ‘book truck’ , a modern library now needs to be more than just a great ‘eat street’ sandwich truck. Schools need a library that can provide a large nutritious and creative menu 24/7.

Much like a chef starts with quality ingredients , an inspiring menu and trained staff, a LC needs a great space, appropriate resources and a qualified teacher-librarian. Like superb waiters, that deliver the best dining experience, an LC also needs library clerical expertise. ( my mother would say – tables don’t get cleared and dishes don’t get washed by themselves. ) The learning commons model demands even more social interaction, resource management and instructional design than the ‘library’ before it. Like good food, one cannot rush the preparation or cooking. It needs to be an institutional designed process not simply an experiment. Without these conditions the LC will not be sustainable. I believe this because I know teaching and learning is a complex social endeavour not just an exercise in handing out books.

With many misconceptions around the library’s transformation into a ‘learning commons’ the Kelowna Secondary School LC is derived from an excellent traditional of fine dining. The teacher-librarians, has worked with admin, teachers, and students to develop a culture of inquiry not just trendy fast food. We collectively desire a library that’s provides quality
main courses that match the school’s positive cuisine.

IMG_3147
We don’t remove books ( we buy more) and replace them with comfy chairs( we’ve had those for a decade) We remind ourselves that a common area that includes measurable student learning must also require some careful planning and slow cooking. One cannot just buy ingredients and throw them in small space and hope it tastes delicious!

Starter Recipe for Learning Commons:
1. Add a quest for knowing and finding meaning
2. Mix with spaces that provide a variety of activities
3. Frequent stirring by a teacher-librarian
3. Add scholarship to taste and
4. Cook well with heaps of love.
Yield: happy people that grow

Also Read: http://cultureofyes.ca/2015/02/12/the-learning-commons-mindset/ “I like the library metaphor from Joan Frye Williams (shared in this blog from Joyce Valenza):

“Our libraries should transition to places to do stuff, not simply places to get stuff. The library will become a laboratory in which community members tinker, build, learn, and communicate. We need to stop being the grocery store or candy store and become the kitchen. We should emphasize hospitality, comfort, convenience and create work environments that invite exploration and creativity both virtually and physically.” ( Valenza)

-Al Smith

@kssreads

IMG_3061

IMG_3134

IMG_2576

IMG_2640

IMG_2644

IMG_3002

IMG_2751

IMG_3010

______________

Kennedy, Chris. “The Learning Commons Mindset.” The Culture of Yes. 12 Feb. 2015. Web. 16 Feb. 2015.

Kuhn, Nicola. ‘ Evidence Based Inquiry of the Role of teacher-librarians’, The Bookmark. BCTLA. Web. 2011.

Loertscher, D (2014). “Makers, Self-Directed Learners, and the Library Learning Commons”. Teacher Librarian 41 (5): 35–38.

Watters, Audrey (23 November 2011). “Libraries and Museums Become Hands-On Learning Labs”. KQED MindShift. Retrieved 1 August 2013.

2 Comments

Filed under Editorial, Library Events, Personal Learning Network, Professional Development, Reflective Learning, School Library, Teacher Professional

2 responses to “Serving up a Learning Commons recipe …

  1. Yes, this is it exactly!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s