Learning Commons (Part 3): After the Dust Settles, Communication is the Key

by Heather Kindschy

This is Heather Kindschy’s fourth article in a series on the Learning Commons Model. Be sure to take a look at the other articles in the series.

Heather Kindschy teaching

And when the evening comes, we smile

So much of life ahead

We’ll find a place where there’s room to grow

And yes, we’ve just begun

-Nichols & Williams.

My first exposure to the Learning Commons model was just a little over a year ago.  I saw immediately the potential benefits, and I saw that my school had a unique set of circumstances that would allow rapid transformation. I fully committed to the process of change, and I haven’t regretted my decision once. We have made lots of tangible progress, but in order to realize the full benefits of our new learning commons, we have to continue actively communicating.

 We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

Our physical space looks nearly complete. The high-tech components of our maker space have been pouring in as a result of the grant money we received from our district. The furniture is in place (although it has been configured and re-configured numerous times). It is a busy place with a lot of activity. Books are checked in and out. Readers’ theater and presentations take place on the stage. Kids are creating new content, sharing what they’ve learned through blogging, and composing historical, standards-based raps. They are rearranging the furniture to meet their needs. There is a buzz and an excitement, but our transformation is far from over.

Our virtual presence in place and fully operational. Our blog is updated on a regular basis. We have rearranged, added and deleted content based on the changing needs of our users. Our databases are available to our students, faculty, and parents 24/7. When students are researching for a project, I emphasize that this quality collection of materials is available wherever they have access to the Internet. Special groupings and collections are cultivated by me and their teachers for ease of access. The blog has become a place the students, teachers and parents check regularly for access to information as well as upcoming club meetings.

Our policies have been reviewed and revised as needed. We continue to look at and talk with our users about what is working and what is not. So far, our self-checkout initiative has worked remarkably well. We set an artificial limit on the number of books students can check out at one time; however, more often than not if a student needs more than five books out at one time, we can override the limit set by our circulation system. On the other hand, we have struggled with self-check in. We noticed that many of our books that were ending up back on our shelves had not been checked in first. Some of our students’ books hadn’t been checked in for one reason or another, so we revamped our check in procedure. In the near future, we will look at going back to self-check in.

Hear Ye, Hear Ye!

In her book, Seven Simple Steps to Transforming Your Library, Pamela Harland stresses that even when the dust settles from your physical transformation, your job is far from over. Promotion is the key to your taking advantage of your fancy new facilities. If you build it, they will most likely come, but only if they know it’s there. Shout it from the rooftops:

  • You have transformed your space to make it more user-centered!
  • You want students in your library!
  • You collaborate with teachers to make standards and units of study come alive and mean something!
  • You are an expert in project-based learning, learning that will stick with these students long after they moved on from your four walls!

OK, maybe the rooftop-shouting is more figurative than literal, but promotion should employ every communication tool you have at your disposal. I have used my blog to share student work. I have harnessed the power of social media, more specifically Facebook and Twitter. I have written articles for my PTA’s monthly newsletter. I have daily conversations with parents and volunteers. I have meetings with my administration. I talk to teachers as we’re walking down the hall —Hey! Did you hear what I did with Mrs. Curry’s class yesterday?

How Do You Like Me Now?

Gathering feedback is another essential tool for progress. I conduct a survey at the end of each school year; although my results last year weren’t negative, they reflected a need. More than half our teachers did not know that I was available not only as a resource librarian but also as an instructional partner. I hadn’t promoted the program or myself as well as I should have. As a result of the changes we have made and the promotion we have done, my teaching schedule is constantly booked. Teachers who never darkened my doorway the year before are some of my most regular partners this year. It will be interesting to see the results of the survey this year in comparison last year. I’m confident the results will be better, but I hope it will point the way to further improvements.

In addition to surveys, I plan to use social media and face-to-face conversations to give meaning to the statistics we gather. I want to have more formal conversations with our students. Our Library Helpers are a great sample group of second through fifth graders who are consistently using and maintaining the physical space of the library, so they provide a sort of built-in focus group. I am also part of a school-based Professional Learning Network or PLN. Our PLN looks at technology and instruction, two elements of our school that are inextricably linked. This passionate group of educators, representing each grade level and department, offer me candid and honest opinions about the learning commons. (This group also provides a great platform for promotion. I can share news and exciting plans with each and every grade level at once, then these representatives convey this information to their fellow team members. Bonus!)

 A Final Word

Keep talking; we’ve only just begun. I continue to have conversations about our transformation with as many people as I can. I’ve shared with my colleagues, with education leaders, with strangers at professional conferences, and with readers here. My friends and family have probably heard all they care to hear, but I’m excited! This has been the most demanding year of my career, but I feel like I am finally having an impact on students’ lives. I feel like I am making a difference, and my personal transformation mirrors that of my program. School libraries are often built as the physical heart of each school; using the Learning Commons model to transform your library physically, virtually, and most importantly, philosophically will bring the students and teachers back to this “heart” with purpose and intention. They will use the library and its resources, including you, in profound and exciting ways. Get your megaphones ready!

This is Heather Kindschy’s fourth article in a series on the Learning Commons Model. Be sure to take a look at the other articles in the series.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Read & Shine