Imagine being hired for a new job in which you were tasked not only with transforming an old library space and collection but also with changing the whole school’s perception of the philosophy of how the space would be used. Shannon Robinson was given just this opportunity as she took on the teacher librarian job at The Morgan School, a public high school in Southeastern Connecticut. As we continue to celebrate the year of the Learning Commons, find out how she has approached the job, proactively and effectively bringing the library into the 21st century.
Give us an overview of the school and how the Learning Commons came about:
The Morgan school serves approx. 600 students in grades 9-12.
Last time the 16,000 square foot space library was renovated was in the early 90’s. In 2011 I was hired after the previous LMS had retired. The district decided that along with a new face, they wanted to evolve into an updated philosophy in regards to how and why this particular space in the building was being used. That is where I came into play. I was provided a $40,000 budget to help transform and update the library into a Learning Commons.
What worked well in planning the space? What would you have done differently?
Research, research, research. I reached out to a lot of schools that had already made the change and asked them what did or didn’t work for them. I also included students in many of my decisions from paint colors, to furniture choices. I’m not sure that there is a ton that I would have done differently. Everything has held up nicely in the few years that it has been in the making, and we can’t keep up with the numbers of students that want to spend their free time in here. The one thing I might say is that the wooden chairs are on the heavier side and can be bothersome to move and rearrange easily.
What kinds of technology do you have in the space & how is it used?
We have a cart of 20 PC laptops that are available to sign out and use in classrooms.
We also have two carts of 25 Chromebooks that are shared among classrooms.
We have a cart of 25 iPads in the Learning Commons that are available for sign out as well as a travel cart of five that can be used for group work.
Although they are not housed in the LC, there are also two additional carts of iPads that are shared among classrooms.
Do you have a Virtual Learning Commons?
I do have a Virtual Learning Commons that was designed with the help and guidance of David Loertscher. My philosophy for the site was to create a “one stop shopping” site that students would be able to access 24/7 in order to be successful with anything they may be working on for school. We have students that help keep the site updated
How has a transition to a learning commons changed teaching and learning in your school? Perceptions of the space and your role?
The physical transformation was easy. I used other successful Learning Commons as models and worked with an excellent sales representative at DEMCO to fulfill my exact image. I spoke to many teachers from these schools who had already made the transformation, and they shared with me what did and/or didn’t work.
The philosophy side was a bit more of a challenge. Not only was I filling the shoes of a very well liked and respected Librarian, I was coming in and challenging the past with my visions of the future. This did put up a guard with many faculty members, and I had to spend many hours defending and “selling” my new role within the building. I created fliers and tutorials and offered my help. My catch phrase became, “ What can I do to help you?” I wanted teachers to know that I was there to help their teaching and not add to their teaching.
Are you included at the curriculum mapping table at your school? How have you integrated library and information literacy skills into the curriculum?
We have a separate Curriculum plan that was designed by Library Media Specialists across the district and is weaved into content-specific disciplines. Much of our information literacy work is delivered to students through collaborative lessons with content-specific teachers. The digital citizenship lessons that I provide are done in conjunction with our Freshman course classes.
What are your frustrations/challenges?
The biggest challenge for me is students understanding and following the new philosophy of the space. With the addition of new styles of furniture comes the students that are looking for a comfortable space to “hang” out with. It has taken patience and persistence along with support from administration to ensure that students follow the new expectations and understand the way the space is expected to be used.
What’s your best advice for getting teachers on board with using the LC’s resources?
Lots of communication. I created trifold brochures that laid out new procedures and materials available. I asked for 10 minutes a month to speak toward some new tools during faculty meetings. I also got students invested and excited about what we had to offer, and in return they brought that excitement to the teachers.
To read in more depth about Shannon’s process in creating this Learning Commons space and philosophy, see the article she wrote for Teacher Librarian magazine.
Author: Cassy Lee
Cassy Lee is a middle school Teacher Librarian focused on education equity, empathy, and empowerment. She is the recipient of the 2020 AASL Roald Dahl’s Miss Honey Social Justice Award and the 2018 SLJ Champion of Student Voice. She lives in San Francisco with her husband, son, and a steady stream of foster dogs. You can find her on Twitter at @MrsLibrarianLee and at CSLA in February!