Trust the Process and Accept the Messiness

Shhhh!! is NOT something I hear in the school libraries in my district. I am more likely to hear learners excitedly talking to one another about cool information they found; a school librarian, a classroom educator, or other professional conferencing with learners as they wrestle with finding answers to their own questions; or a group of classroom educators planning a guided inquiry unit with the librarian. You see, collaboration is a value in our district, and it is best modeled by our school librarians. In the real world we work together, rarely accomplishing anything singlehandedly, and our district believes that learners should have opportunities for voice and choice and to learn and grow with others, not working in isolation.

Today, I was in professional development with classroom educators, school librarians, and gifted resource coordinators as they learned about Guided Inquiry Design (Kuhlthau, Maniotes, and Caspari 2012) and making. They attended in teams and had the opportunity to experience inquiry and making as learners. Our school librarians were critical members of these teams, and having already been trained in Guided Inquiry Design, they were able to help their colleagues understand the process. They had fun and saw the value in the work, but classroom educators had questions about taking the time for “playing and tinkering” in the makerspace when they feel the pressure of improving test scores. School librarians were able to help classroom educators to plan units that allow for deep learning where critical thinking and problem solving are the norm. The mind shift that has to occur for deep learning to happen is being facilitated by our school librarians.

In June I received the AASL Distinguished School Administrator Award in Washington, D.C. I believe that I share that award with the school librarians with whom I’ve worked with and learned from!  I feel that I’ve been more impacted by them than the other way around. A great deal of my work with school librarians in the last four years has been around the area of Guided Inquiry Design and making. Norman Public Schools received an Institute of Museum and Library Services National Leadership Grant for Libraries for a three-year research project. The grant, titled “Learning in Libraries: Guided Inquiry Making (Kuhlthau, Maniotes, and Caspari 2012) and Learning,” was funded in 2016 for over $540,000. This research is extending our knowledge about participatory learning in K–12 school libraries by investigating learning by making and the Guided Inquiry Design (Kuhlthau, Maniotes, and Caspari 2012) process within the regular K–12 curriculum.

This grant has given me the opportunity to work more closely with several school librarians in our district as they collaborate with classroom educators to plan Guided Inquiry units that incorporate making. The involvement of the school librarian, an information specialist, as part of the teacher planning team, as well as being actively engaged in the process with learners, has been critical. Our school librarians are conferencing with learners to help them identify key search terms, build deeper inquiry questions, use makerspace equipment, guide them through the create phase of the process, and much more. This work cannot happen without school librarians who are willing and equipped to trust the process, accept the messiness, and wonder at the amazing creativity of our learners.

The role of school libraries has exceeded merely supporting the school’s curriculum and now includes guiding learners as they learn to inquire and explore their world. School libraries are no longer quiet places, but rather places where learners can collaborate and truly engage in their learning. School libraries connect learners to their immediate learning needs but also to their passions and futures.

Work Cited:

Kuhlthau, Carol, Leslie Maniotes, and Ann Caspari. 2012. Guided Inquiry Design: A Framework for Inquiry in Your School. Santa Barbara. CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Author: Shirley Simmons, PhD

Categories: Awards Spotlight, Community

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