TMC6 King

Getting on the Train: A Decade of Shifting Culture in the School Library

By Alanna King

This paper outlines the successful journey of teacher-librarian as pedagogical leader in developing a dynamic participatory library learning commons in the re-development of a secondary school library.

Read the Paper 

Alanna King is an agent of change in Ontario's Upper Grand District School Board. A shameless promoter of her own professional development, she tirelessly spends her time learning and tracking its impact. She can best be reached on Twitter @banana29


  1. Hi Alanna,

    Thank you for sharing the 5 concepts that you believe make for a transformation of your secondary school library. Of the 5 concepts you outline - transliteracy, design thinking, participatory culture, change cycle theory, and triangulation of assessment, which ones would be most relevant for applying to an elementary school library? If all of them, would there be any ranking, or prioritizing, or order of application (i.e. do A 1st, then B 2nd, etc.)?

    My only regret with your paper is that it does not include photographic evidence of your "before" and "after" with your library redesign. What a fortunate opportunity! I bet the transformation was significant and stunning.

    Thank you for representing Ontario and Canada so well in Buenos Aires and for sharing your insights so freely.

    Diana M

    1. Hi Diana,
      I think as elementary teachers you already have a great handle on triangulation of assessment, above your secondary colleagues. I think it would also most matter on the strengths of the teacher-librarian to select which of the concepts plays to their strengths. For me, change cycle theory was the most challenging as I needed to constantly adjust my expectations and remember to find evidence either qualitatively or quantitatively that I was having an effect. I guess the key would be to not stagnate in one area and keep leveling up by adding in the other areas.

  2. Thanks for this Alanna,

    Someone has to start the action, and getting others to see and join your vision (even though it takes time) is what creates the movement.
    Too much desire for collaboration is a fantastic problem to have created. Your design to adapt and have others again join in developing the new systems truly builds a great environment for learning and working.

    This is a grand story. I admire how all the decisions and actions reflect that it is our students and their learning that matters.

    Greg Harris

  3. I enjoyed reading about your journey, Alanna. In particular, I was interested in the Triangulation of Assessment, which is a concept that I will have to delve into further. Thank you for sharing your insights.

    1. Hopefully we’ll get some time in person to discuss this more. The big shift in my teaching now is to give more balanced weight to observation and conversation during process and reflection, rather than relying on the final product. This has fundamentally changed 5he culture of my classroom admit makes feedback so much more valuable to the students than a numerical value.

  4. Alanna,

    I really enjoyed reading about your journey as I am 2.5 years into a transformation of our library space. It was especially helpful to see that it was at least 3 years before you saw a true shift in the culture of your school.

    At the beginning of your paper when you spoke about "learning to teach with the success of the students in mind [having] the greatest impact on [your] trajectory as a teacher-librarian" really spoke to me. I feel like I have learned more about instruction and assessment in this role than in my years as a classroom teacher in the year previously. In terms of my own wonderings as I read your paper, I began to question how I might start to examine how my elementary students access the interplay of text and devices and how we as primary educators might help them to navigate transliteracy?

    1. Beth:
      I really appreciated your questioning at the end of your response here. If you haven't yet, you need to have Diana Maliszewski do her "what is text?" intro for you. I'm working really hard with my grade 7 students to help them realize that everything is text, and they are immersed in it far more than ever have been before. I think it's critically important that we start that conversation as early as possible, so primary educators are hugely important.

    2. In a sense I think we often get trapped into thinking that students have to pre learn content before they’re ready for Application. However I would argue that students have a deeper understanding of the form of ‘text’ when they are trying to design anything that has a particular, and unfamiliar user/client in mind. If we begin all of our design challenges with an authentic audience in mind, then the idea of constructing this text can transfer to all sorts of mediums quite easily. With my grade 12 media students I will pick a particular audience and add 2 concepts like interactivity and perspective and ask the students to design a piece of media involving all 3. Kate McGregor and I designed a mapping challenge where students had to capture examples of the concept sustainability. The concept allowed for interpretation and various media types (photos, videos, map drop points , web links etc.) were used to communicate understanding of sustainability. I hope that gives you some ideas.

  5. This is so wonderful to see your work in action and the results you have witnessed. Reflecting on one's work really helps us see what we have achieved and I agree, assessment is something teacher librarians are trained to do so well. It is an inherent feature of listening, reinforcing keywords, brainstorming and collaborating on the student's choice of platform to see how transliteracy can play a role. Well done!

    Kind regards,
    Pippa Davies

    1. Thank you Pippa! My task now is to have a ready-made template to collaborate at any point in the inquiry,process. I think once students see the same templates over and over in multiple scenarios, they will appreciate the iterative nature of inquiry. I still dream of having a whole school/district continuum for inquiry.

  6. Alanna - I cannot tell you how thrilled I was to read your paper. This joy is multifaceted, of course. One is just pure selfishness that as your friend I am always happy to see your smiling face and hear your passionate ideas. Another, is the window into the international experience you had in Buenos Aires . Yet another is the incredible detail with which you document your understanding of student learning and assessment practices.

    But this time the most joyful part of reading and re-reading your work was the “elementary teacher” aspect of it all. I have said to many Grade 1 to 12 educators that highly skilled K educators have it right. They triangulate, document, share and analyze student learning in powerful, yet attainable ways. They understand the varied developmental needs of each little human in the room - and if they don’t - they strive to figure them out. Then they somehow program for each child along the way and meet them wherever is necessary to move forward each day. They see every student as competent and capable.

    “All children are competent, capable of complex thinking, curious, and rich in potential and experience. They grow up in families with diverse social, cultural, and linguistic perspectives. Every child should feel that he or she belongs, is a valuable contributor to his or her surroundings, and deserves the opportunity to succeed. When we recognize children as competent, capable, and curious, we are more likely to deliver programs that value and build on their strengths and abilities.”

    This mindset was not taught in most J/I/S teacher education programs in the past. As you identified - curriculum content tends to be the focus. What you have figured out so beautifully is how to be an expert in your content area but also how to differentiate that expertise for each of the secondary learners (and staff members) you serve.

    This is a gift that will serve everyone you teach, mentor and support.

    Thank you again,

    1. Such high praise, Jenn. Thank you. Yes, I agree FDK and also our arts and tech teachers really get it. It has something to do with achieving a personal best in a portfolio way, although I have yet to write/read the whole book on the topic. We definitely need to reform education faculties to look at the whole learner. Thank you for the book recommendation!

  7. Hi Alana
    As a former English teacher, you really nailed creating a hook for the reader. How do you top being the keynote at a school library conference in Buenos Aires. I had to keep reading to find out more. Bravo to educators in Buenos Aires for recognizing school libraries as the vehicle for developing future ready schools. Your story is a wonderful example of how its possible to make changes on a limited budget.

    The first thing I did after reading your paper was look up your reference to The Rogers Adoption Curve. This has certainly been my experience as a teacher-librarian. There will always be those quite to adopt and those that take more time. Just like we make accommodations for students who develop at different rates, we need to be more accepting of this as educators (as long as everyone is moving forward).
    My school division has done extensive work with the SAMR model. It has certainly helped us think more deeply about how technology is being used in our schools. We have paired it with Bloom's digital taxonomy and Hattie's work on surface and deep knowledge. These additions are more familiar to teachers so they help them grasp the SAMR concept a little quicker.

    In Manitoba, we use the term multi-literacies as opposed to transliteracies. Is there a difference? We are also highly focused on multi-modalities given 21st century tools allow students to express themselves and demonstrate their learning in a variety of mediums in the same piece. Diana, if you're reading this, I want your presentation on "What is Text." It's one of my main teaching points with my school library teams in February.

    Thanks for saying a librarian's job is to be responsive to student learning needs rather than as managers of the libraries. I leave the management to our technicians which leaves me free to teach and help teach assess students using the triangulation of data model.

  8. Hi Alanna -

    Thanks for sharing your learning journey with us. It is reassuring to see that other people are travelling the same long road to transition to library learning commons, and recognize the importance of process. It's funny, because we are constantly encouraging our students to appreciate process, but I know I certainly struggle: I want to see the final product! lol! I think the choice of a train metaphor is appropriate for this - it's a Mystery Train: there are many stops and points of interest on the journey - and the destination is unknown. Your experiences and dedication to innovation in teaching and learning are inspirational. I look forward to chatting with you about this at TMC6.

  9. The Mystery Train ... YES! But understanding deeply means we are ready for (well, at least open to) the surprises that come our way (like a keynote address in Argentina)! Congratulations, Alanna. Dianne O

  10. “Change the perception of your role from the keeper of resources to someone who redefines resources” I love this! Thank you for sharing your journey. So many elements resonate with TLs everywhere. It is the tiny small steps that make the big changes.

  11. I really enjoyed your paper and am having the same journey in my learning commons. I hope to meet you on Saturday.


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