Toward the end of this year, I realized one very important fact about the innovative work at my school – much of the successful inquiry and project based learning that goes on is a direct result of the work of our teacher-librarians. Their ETTC courses, their partnerships with teachers, and their willingness to share their incredible knowledge is vital to the progress toward our school’s vision. As Margaret Wheatley would say, they are “willing to be disturbed,” and, even more impressive and valuable, they are willing to help others through the most uncomfortable aspects of learner-driven, formative practice.
Every professional risk I have taken has been with the guidance of Heather Hersey and Marci Zane our school librarians. As inquiry and research experts, they are invaluable resources to my students, but they are equally integral to my growth as an educator. Inspired by Meg Donhauser’s incredible work with her Brit Lit classes, Heather and I team-taught two sections of American Lit, working to transform the class into a completely individualized, student-driven learning experience. Truly making American Lit our class, she was there with me to introduce the Information Search Process, conference with the students about their work, provide formative feedback to the students, and assess their learning plans and final products. Heather even came to Back-to-School Night to discuss her work with our class! By co-planning, co-teaching, and co-assessing, we were able to create systems for feedback that helped students improve their thinking and questioning but to also help them develop methods to display their learning.
This year was the richest professional learning experience of my career, but it was also one of the most challenging. I had to become a different kind of teacher. I was no longer a dispenser of information. Instead, Heather taught me how to ask really good questions and how to help students ask really good questions. She helped us all understand how to look for answers and carve paths for learning. Were it not for Heather’s guidance, support, and expertise, I would have thrown in the towel several times. But, because she helped me stick it out through the toughest times, I can say that we were able to provide a truly unique and meaningful learning experience for our students.
After these incredible experiences, I have only stronger assurance that the library’s role is critical in every school. The AASL standards for information literacy should be an integral building block in every subject area. Focusing on them will enhance our students’ ability to question and their ability to find, evaluate, and use information in any circumstance – the first steps toward life-long learning. And, most important, we need to invite partnerships with the teacher-librarians, the experts in those skills, to make it happen.