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What the Librarian Read- Part 1

I have been a voracious reader my whole life. Almost every childhood memory can be tied back to book that I was reading as in coincides with other important memories.

I remember reading a Richard Scary book at the cottage at a very young age and sounding out the word "prefer" and my mom and her friends being so shocked and excited that I could read it.

I remember the many, many, many visits to the public library in my hometown with my mom. She would get these HUGE stacks of big books. I'm talking 500+ pages and there would be 10 of them. I couldn't wait to read the same books as her.

I remember starting the Harry Potter series. I remember being at camp when the newest one would be released and everyone would be clamouring to get to the tuck shop to see if their copy had arrived from the city in a care package yet. I remember reading in the dark after everyone else had fallen asleep and Dumbledore dying. I remember trying so hard not to cry too loudly but feeling like I had lost a friend.

When my first daughter was born eight years ago and then my second daughter three years later my reading time took a serious hit. A serious hit. It's only been in the past year and a bit that I've really felt like I've been able to delve back into books and read as much and as often as I want to. It's so wonderful.

So this year I decided to track my reading using Goodreads. I set a goal of 50 books for the year and am on track so far to make it for sure. I also thought it might be interesting to look back at my reading every now and then and talk about the books I've read, loved and learned from as the year progresses.

So here are the first eleven books of 2019.

1. Becoming- Michelle Obama

2. Awkward- Svetlana Chmakova

3. Britt-Marie Was Here- Fredrik Backman

4. Women Talking- Miriam Toews

5. We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls Around the World- Malala Yousafzai

6. The Sisters of the Winter Wood- Rena Rossner

7. Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood- Trevor Noah

8. Girl of the Southern Sea- Michelle Kadarusman

9. The Library Book- Susan Orlean

10. 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality- Bob Joseph

11. On the Come Up- Angie Thomas

Thoughts on these books? Well to be honest I don't like giving book reviews and I don't like reading them. I want to decide for myself if a book sounds interesting. And yes, I do judge a book based on the cover! And the title. A good title and cover art will get me almost every time.

But here are some brief thoughts on some of the books for what it's worth....

I read Becoming over the winter break because my husband gave it to me for Christmas (so technically I started it in 2018...) and I felt like I had travelled back in time the Obama White House when intelligence and the pursuit of learning was celebrated. When moving forward to improve the lives of all people was the aim of society and I really didn't want to finish the book. I have tickets to see Michelle Obama speak in May and I'm over the moon excited.

Women Talking was recommended to me by several people and had been on my TBR list for quite awhile. I was very interested to read it and delve into such a troubling topic but I did not enjoy the ending. I felt it came too fast and left me wanting more.

I read We Are Displaced in a single day after a colleague read it and recommended it. LOVE.

The Sisters of the Winter Wood had everything I love in a guilty pleasure read- magic, mystery, set in the past and it was nice thick book! (I read very fast so I like my books big and juicy.) I also loved that the author and main characters (the sisters) in this story were Jewish and it was based on historical events. I'm hoping Rena Rossner has more books to come.

I am a huge fan of Trevor Noah and The Daily Show. This book did not disappoint and I've heard from multiple sources that the audiobook version is outstanding. It was an interesting look into apartheid and trying to learn more about why and how people treat each other in such horrible ways around the world.

The Library Book is a book that will stick with me for a long time to come. I could not put this book down. It's a look into the history of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Public Library, the place of libraries in our society and our fascination with stories. This is a book I will re-read at some point.

What have you read so far this year? What should I add to my TBR list?

School Libraries: Breathe In the Change Together

I love when my reading, listening and learning all converge on each other in a natural and organic way. 
It's my own little happy place. 
My serendipity.

On Friday night I was listening to a OnEd Mentors podcast episode on VoicEd Radio called Thinking About Change as I was making dinner for my children and waiting for my husband to come home for the weekend.

There were many good questions posed and ideas expressed throughout the conversation and I recommend that all educators take some time to listen to it as we are indeed heading into times of change. There is a lot of uncertainty and worry in the air these days. 

What will the cuts to education look like?
What will they mean for the future of our students?
How will we support the needs of our students with less?

And these are all valid worries because without a doubt there will be cuts to the education system and we will have less. 

The only unknown question is-

How will we breathe in these changes and come out the other side stronger?

I have also been working my way through The Library Book by Susan Orlean which details the history of the Los Angeles Public Library and the devastating fire that took place at the Central Branch. I really enjoyed this book as it weaves the history of the library in Los Angeles, the history and role of libraries in our society overall, a look into the mindsets of various city librarians, and how libraries continue to adapt to change as society needs. Libraries have become more that a storehouse of books. Libraries are open and welcoming gathering places. Libraries offer support to new immigrants. Libraries offer a refuge to the homeless. Libraries are places to take risks and learn about new and developing technologies. Libraries are a glimpse into the best of what a society can be.

As I listened to Noa, Mark, and Stephen discuss how we navigate the turbulent waters of change and use the metaphor of remaining below the surface of the water where it's calmer and being able to gaze up at the choppy waves and know we will be okay, I was really struck by how profound and important a belief this is for all of us moving forward. We will be okay. We have what we need to continue honing our best practices, to continue to innovate for our students, to deepen our capacity and empower our students. We can do all of these because we have each other.

Yes, I know that sounds corny but hear me out.

In the summer when the Truth and Reconciliation sessions were cancelled and the Health curriculum was repealed back to the 1998 version people were angry and upset but that didn't stop anyone from continuing their journey to honour the calls to action. If anything I think more people have committed to reading books, having discussions and learning more about Indigenous history and culture to fill in the gaps. The recent #21Things book chat on Twitter is an excellent example of that. In regards to the Health curriculum, by repealing the curriculum and the subsequent "consultation", it has only brought a deeper awareness to the public's commitment to support the  LGBTQ+ community within our schools and society at large. 

If we continue to lean into each other, to talk together, to breathe in the change together, we can remain below the turbulent waves of the unknown.

School libraries are also open and welcoming gathering places. As cuts to professional development opportunities happen we can work together to build our own capacity. After all, teachers are experts in education. We can seek out and lead our own learning opportunities. Right now there are two different book chats happening with the staff at my school- In This Together: Fifteen Stories of Reconciliation and Making Math Meaningful. These books chats are happening in the LLC which then also leads to co-planning and co-teaching opportunities. Our Professional Learning Networks (PLNs) are a vast repository of knowledge. Working together to move everyone's learning forward will not stop because of any cuts to education. We can lean into the change and support each other to innovate for our students. 

Our school libraries offer a place of refuge, a place to build self-regulation skills, to develop a growth mindset, to calm ourselves when needed. School libraries promote risk taking, a maker mindset and innovation. Our school libraries can be places of change. 

We just need to gather and breathe it in together. 

Playing the Long Game: Teaching from an Inquiry Stance

Teaching and learning from an inquiry stance and the benefits it provides has long been an interest of mine, long before I was a teacher-librarian. As a classroom teacher I looked for ways to have my students co-creating their own learning through questioning, researching, problem-solving, design thinking and developing our success criteria. But unless you loop with your class (move with an entire group of students from one year to the next) you don't always get to see the progress the students make as they move on to the next grade.

As this is my second year in the Library Learning Commons and we have reached just about the halfway point (yeah for 100th Day of School!) I feel that I can start to make some observations about the students that I interact with frequently, either when their class comes to the LLC for collaboratively inquiry, those students who have joined the Silver Birch book club, those student who are starting to make frequent use of the Genius Cart and even just casual encounters with students tinkering and playing with the provocations in the LLC.

So far the biggest takeaway from teaching and learning from an inquiry stance is that it involves playing the long game. That is, the rewards come down the road and you have to be willing to be an active participant in the achieving the goals necessary for student success (e.g., 21st Century Competencies) which will take some time and some effort. Ensuring our students are prepared and able to be active participants in their society and to tackle the problems of our world is a long game. It's going take some time. It's not a "one and done" proposition. One can't "do inquiry" and then move on, that's just not how it works. If we expect our students to exhibit a growth mindset, to reiterate when they are solving problems, to be reflective and communicate about their struggles with achieving their goals, then we must also do these things.

Teaching from an inquiry stance is the ultimate iterative practice. 

This year I have had the opportunity to co-teach with a Grade 5 educator on two different occasions and for both of those we have been actively working with the students to co-create the inquiries and use their passions and curiosities to guide the learning. Which makes this co-teaching/co-learning situation unique is that she did loop with her class this year (most of her Grade 5 class were with her for Grade 4 last year when we also co-taught and collaborated together often) AND even more unique is that 5 of her students were in my class in Grade 3 the year before I moved into the teacher-librarian role. This means that these students are well practiced in the art of inquiry learning and have started to teach us a thing or two!

We are currently working on a guided inquiry of Black Canadian History. I say guided because I am also a big fan of Inquiry Mindset: Nurturing the Dreams, Wonders, and Curiosities of Our Youngest Learners by Trevor MacKenzie and Rebecca Bathurst-Hunt and in particular this sketchnote:

Trevor MacKenzie and Rebecca Bathurst-Hunt

We choose the topic- Black History but the students really took off with the inquiry. If you are interested in following along with our inquiry (and believe me, it's awesome!) just click here and visit the "Artifacts from Our Inquiry Process" page.

So what caused all this reflection on "nurturing an inquiry mindset" in students? Well, if I do say so myself I had just about the perfect day in the LLC. I had a class in this morning to read a Blue Spruce book and begin to explore a #makewriting activity that will branch into an art piece. Then the Grade 5 class I mentioned above visited to go deeper with our Canadian Black History inquiry. We are at the stage of starting to narrow down our focus after researching, asking questions, viewing videos as provocations, discussing, asking more questions, reading more articles, watching more videos... (you get the idea!) and after an amazing discussion last week where we asked the students what the end goal of our inquiry might be today we posed this question-

How might we share our learning?

And as well-prepared educators we had a small list (on a post it!) of ideas that the students might be interested in exploring to share their learning with world... however, the students had other plans. In a short 20 minute popcorn session of ideas here's what they thought-

Isn't it just incredible to see?

Finally, the day ended with open making at our new maker space endeavour- the Genius Cart! Student are able to come and explore making with various materials and challenges. Today there were students from Grades 3-5 exploring K'Nex, building tinfoil boats, and building constellations on the light table. And there was a hum. A hum of thinking, a hum of questions, a hum of discussion. Was it a little noisy? Yes. Was it a little messy? Yes. Was it purposeful? YES.

Each student there launched themselves into their own mini-inquiry cycle. They developed a question about how they might construct an object/a boat/a constellation and then tried their first design which in most cases didn't work or they didn't like. But they tried again. We discussed solutions. We discussed failing forward. We discussed, and tried, and discussed and tried. 

We were playing the long game of inquiry and the students knew the game. 

And they liked it.

On Being a "Teacher-Librarian"

It's the night before the Ontario Library Association Super Conference for 2019 and I have been thinking about how this year's experience differs from last year. At this time last year I was only 5 months into working in the library learning commons at my school and while we had under gone a huge transitional period (e.g., introducing free flow book exchange, implementing new collaborative inquiry methods and starting to use more hands-on materials- such as loose parts) everything was still the first time. Including my trip to OLASC.

The experience at OLASC last year was amazing. I felt that I learned and absorbed so much new information that I was able to take back to my school community and to the library. I felt renewed and invigorated after being able to meet so many fellow librarians from across the various library panels and locations.

Now that we are on the eve of this year's OLASC I am excited to return and to be re-energized again for the months to come working with the educators and students in the school library learning commons. I also feel that I have a much better understanding of the role that a teacher-librarian can play within the school community.

Being a teacher-librarian is a special subset within the world of education. We are small in number (when compared to the rest of our fellow educators) but our role is mighty. We bring our past experiences as educators with us into the library learning commons which provides us with a deep understanding of pedagogy, curriculum, and assessment. In my case I taught for 13 years (every Grade from 3-8) before taking on the role of Teacher-Librarian last fall. This means we view the space, the collection, the maker-ed opportunities, the inquiry process, the technological integration through the lens of an educator. Because first and foremost, we are educators. We are teachers of children and in may cases, we are teachers of teachers. This is a privilege that I do not take lightly.

As I have grown with this role I have made a few observations about how we are educators first:

1) It all starts with the books. This is the basis of our role- to curate the library collection for the school community. This means purchasing texts with an eye towards the curriculum across all the the grade levels in our school buildings, with the reading levels of our English Language Learners in mind, to provoke an interest and passion in important social justice topics, to provide texts that will spark a love of reading and educate our learners in equal measure, to push readers beyond what they may already enjoy, to seek out books that educators can use as a provocation for a maker-ed opportunity, to provide rich texts that enable readers to formulate questions and to keep in mind the most important ideas of- "what is needed for this learner at this time".

2) We have time to delve deeper and wider into the new and unfamiliar areas of pedagogical research and bring it to our fellow educators. One of the most rewarding experiences of the past year is to connect with an educator who is willing and open to trying something new with their class but due to the every day demands of their job may not have had an opportunity to fully plan or formulate their ideas. By providing opportunities to co-plan and co-teach with the educators in our schools we are able to say "Yes, and..." on almost a daily basis. I find that so many educators are very interested in trying new modes of teaching and learning with their students. They want to provide maker opportunities. They want to explore coding. They want to teach from an inquiry stance and they want to promote an inquiry mindset. They want to empower their students. Collaborating with the teacher-librarian provides an opportunity to have a fellow educator as a sounding board, to have a second set of eyes to observe students, a second set of guiding questions that can be asked and a second set of reflections to move everyone's learning, the educators' included, forward.

3) We use our space and resources to help drive the understanding of using our time with students- our observations, our conversations, photos of products-as assessment for learning. The bulk of an educators time with students is spent working to move each student forward along their personal continuum of learning. Teacher-Librarians help to promote an understanding of "uncovering the curriculum". By intentionally curating the collection, creating makerspaces, promoting a maker culture, and sparking inquiry we are consistently providing opportunities for our fellow educators and students to learn from and with each other. To use their learning time together to grow as a community of learners. So that everyone benefits.

Being a teacher-librarian is one of the most rewarding and exciting roles of my career. It is a gift. And one I do not take lightly.

I hope you don't either.

Three Year Plan for Creating a 21st Century Learning Commons

In the spring of 2017, my admin approached me about being part of the transition from a traditional library space to a Library Learning Commons by taking on the role of teacher-librarian for our K-5 school. I was a Grade 3 teacher at that time. I will be completely honest and say that while I had always hoped to one day be a TL, at that exact moment in my teaching career I had been doing some exciting work with guided math and math spiralling and wasn't sure that I was ready to leave the classroom. After some serious though and discussion with my husband I decided to agree to the transition and haven't looked back since.

In preparation for this transition I created an action plan to share with my administration at my school. One of my wonderful friends and inspiring teacher-librarians, Jenn Brown, helped me to create the action plan and pointed me towards a number or resources that would help with the creation. I also enrolled in a Librarianship Part 1 AQ and began to read any number of PD books I could get my hands on!

The big goals for the transition to a Library Learning Commons were:

-increased student access to the library collection and an updated collection that was more culturally relevant for our community
-a shift in the physical design of the LLC space to accommodate a variety of learning opportunities
- introducing a maker mindset to the stakeholders within our community and using maker learning to promote an inquiry mindset
-working with educators to develop our understanding of collaboration (e.g. co-planning, co-teaching, co-assessing, teaching from an inquiry stance)

With all this in mind I sat down with Jenn's example of a Three Year Plan for Creating a 21st Centure Learning Commons and began to adapt it to the needs of my school community. Jenn and I had many conversations about the direction in which to head first and we both felt that shift to a "free flow book exchange" model was the biggest priority in order for many other pieces to fall into place. This also meant the physical layout and signage of library needed to be addresses so that students could be self-sufficient when in the LLC for book exchange.

Once the free flow book exchange model was introduced to our school community, orientation periods for the classes were scheduled, time for students to practice using the self-serve checkout system was given and slowly but surely, everyone began to  feel more comfortable with the new vision for our LLC.

Now that we are a few months into our second year of the transition plan I have gone back over Year 1 to see what we have accomplished and where we still need to grow. I updated the Year 2 section of our plan using Leading Learning and the Peel document- Empowering Modern Learners to guide our vision. As a school community we are currently developing goals for further exploration and understanding of maker ed learning and using documentation strategies to promote student learning. Both of these goals will be reflected in our future vision for the LLC.

If you are interested in seeing the Three Year Plan for Creating a 21st Century Learning Commons that I have been working from, please click the link below and don't hestate to contact me with any questions.

Sparking Inquiry with Loose Parts: MakerEd TO 2018

Earlier in the summer I had the privilege of sharing my love for using loose parts and inquiry in the Library Learning Commons with a group of maker educators and to learn from the maker endeavours of other educators at MakerEd TO
It was a whirlwind of a day... in the best way possible!!

Over the course of my first year in the LLC I came to love loose parts for the 
learning opportunities they provided to so many students in the space. 

I would see students from grades 4-5 come just to play and tinker with the available pieces. They would use the time to reset, to calm themselves, to re-center and then perhaps return to their class better prepared to tackle their learning endeavours.

I would see students from all the grades come with a purpose and a plan for using the materials. They knew what they wanted to create and what materials they would need. As I often rotate the materials students soon learned to advocate for a material that might have been stored away. They also began to advocate for documentation- "Mrs. Lyons, will you take a picture of my.... I want my teacher to see what I did." They were proud of their creations, their tinkering, and wanted to show it off.

I would see students who came eager to see what new provocations might be set up. During the Winter Olympics I set up a light table with a variety of materials and the simple prompt- "How might you create a sport from the Olympics using these materials?". Along side the provocation were books about the winter sports and updated articles as Team Canada began to compete. Student created hockey games, curling rinks, snowboard half pipes... and so much more. Where the real excitement came in was when we tweeted out our pics to Team Canada and the responded! An authentic audience appreciating the student's creations with loose parts.

The Library Learning Commons offers a safe space for all learners, students and educators alike, to take risks on their learning journey. In the Library Learning Commons we have been exploring how loose parts can be used beyond the Kindergarten program to spark an inquiry mindset and inviting learners to try new models of learning as their natural curiosity is stimulated and imagination is given free rein. Loose parts help learners to develop critical thinking skills, creativity and problem solving as they manipulate the pieces to communicate their reasoning and thought processes. 

They also allow for multiple entry points for learners and encourage voice and choice on their learning journey. Learners are able to create representations of their ideas and exhibit flexible design thinking.

Here's a slide deck with a few examples of how I used loose parts in collaboration with educators in the LLC last year. 

Projects? Inquiry? Inquiry-Based Learning? Does the term matter?

I'm going to start right off the bat and let you know that I most like the term "inquiry" for exploring new ideas and experiences with learners. I think it evokes the mindset of wondering, of questioning, of striving for new knowledge. 

It doesn't lend itself to immediately thinking of a product, an end, a finish line. 

The learning is the doing.

Where is all coming from? Well, back in the spring I read Inquiry Mindset by Trevor Mackenzie and Rebecca Bathurst-Hunt (and then I immediately read it again in the summer for their Flipgrid book chat) and I quite literally felt as though my kindred spirits were speaking to me through this book. But even before that I had been using the term inquiry in the Library Learning Commons with educators and students. Currently I am reading Engaging Children's Minds: The Project Approach and this question about terms came up as part of a book chat at Twitter. 

Dictionary.com defines "inquire" as-

This to me is what learning is all about. Seeking information. Gaining knowledge. Asking questions.

It's not about a product but rather the process.

I want the learners I engage with to love the process of learning, whether they create something at the end or not. 

Does that mean that I think learners don't need to create a product, or complete a project? 


The sharing of our learning through the creation of a product to share to an authentic audience is a valuable experience. I am a huge believer of the maker movement, maker culture and makerspaces in education. Learning through making is an essential part of a balanced education program and a necessary component for our 21st century learners.

But I do think the term we use matters.