by Traci Chun, Rob Harsch, Wayne Johnston, Bobbie Lowe, and Mark Ray (Vancouver Public Schools, WA)

Referring to teacher librarians (TLs), this 2016 Tweet by Vancouver School District superintendent Dr. Steve Webb speaks to the theory and practice of linking school librarians and libraries to innovation in VPS. With the belief that increased making, coding, and student design are an essential part of preparing future ready graduates, Vancouver has recognized librarians’ interest in these innovative practices. In addition to encouraging libraries to incorporate making and design into their programs, there is a belief that teacher librarians can also promote these instructional practices within schools. By building capacity and extending permission to play, VPS school libraries are offering both students and teachers exciting first opportunities to make, design, and learn.

Building Capacity through Professional Learning Networks

Inside the district

Librarian interest in making at Vancouver Public Schools began at the grassroots level, largely through social media and word of mouth. VPS began supporting librarians interested in making with the formation of a community of practice focused on the topic.

Outside the district

VPS’s connections and professional learning networks also extend regionally and nationally.

  • Professional networks: teacher librarians, instructional coaches, and administrators are regularly in conversation with others around the country to share and to learn.
  • Site visits: having the chance to see how other school districts are innovating in person can be an important step in implementing new approaches at home.
  • Publishing: we document and publish our work — both to challenge ourselves and to forge new connections with other educators outside of our district.
  • Social media: when you are the only one in your building who does one job, social media allows you to reach out worldwide for support, ideas, inspiration, and collaboration.

Tip for building capacity through professional learning networks

Support people who are at different places on their learning journeys — people who are running, walking, jogging, and even the ones who do somersaults.  Allow the group/yourself the ability to change and evolve as needs arise.  For example, our first makerspace community of practice struggled when it added new members in the second year. We found that having two internal cohorts within the community of practice helped to support the unique needs of everyone in the group.

Permission to play

If we wanted teacher librarians to introduce making to their libraries and their students, we had to start by introducing it to them. We all know a great way to learn is to jump right in and participate. We wanted teacher librarians to know exactly how powerful making could be and why libraries are a great place to start. Our goal was to make sure that teacher librarians felt empowered and prepared to introduce making in their space.

How did we do it?

  • Time: administrators at the building- and district-level helped teacher librarians set aside time to play, experiment, reflect, and meet with each other regularly.
  • Materials: administrators also supported teacher librarians by purchasing resources (e.g., building supplies, robotics kits, articles and books) to build understanding and expertise.
  • Permission: permission from school leadership — permission to be brave and to learn from mistakes — played a critical role in empowering teacher librarians to take risks and explore this new concept.

“Bravery was our motto this past year. My community of practice giving me the strength to know that I was allowed to fail and that I was supported was irreplaceable.” – Bobbie Lowe, Teacher Librarian

What does tinkering look like at our regular district teacher librarian meetings?

  • Bringing maker ‘starter kits’ to our monthly teacher librarian meetings.
  • Setting up simple making stations.
  • Inviting principals to build and learn alongside teacher librarians and instructional technology facilitators.
  • Launching playful design challenges, e.g.:
    • Model elements of the Future Ready Librarians Framework using LEGOs;
    • Create a Pac Man-in-a-library game with a MaKey MaKey controller;
    • Solve an everyday challenge you face in the library using a robotics kit.

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