School Libraries as Constant Learning Organizations

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I was recently appointed as School Library Media Specialist at New Milford High School, in New Milford, New Jersey.  As a former graduate of the school myself, it feels just right to be back here, on my home turf, making a contribution to the school I loved so much as a student.  Thanks to the leadership of principal Eric Sheninger, this is a school that is already well ahead of the curve in so many ways, and, importantly for me, is recognized nationally as a leader in education technology.  

I am excited to be on board and looking forward to helping Eric and his team to leverage advances in various areas, for instance in the use of multimedia and the application of virtual learning in its various forms.  It is my hope that New Milford High School teachers, students and parents, as well as anyone in the wider global education community who is interested, will be able to learn how to use new tools and methods to teach, learn, participate and share their skills and information.  My long term goal is to help the school to improve student performance by working to create an exciting and engaging learning environment for all.  My vision is to create a student-centered space, part-physical, part-virtual, where students and teachers will have access to various technologies, digital and print resources, and productive spaces that offer scope for collaboration and creativity.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been in the habit for many years of looking outside of education to see what works elsewhere in the hope of applying lessons from these other spheres to education.  As I work through the process of developing my vision for this new position, I have been inspired both by Pixar Animation Studios and by a highly innovative company called Threadless.  

Pixar has become known as a constant learning organization and some of this is attributed to a combination of their flexible, creative and collaborative office space and a willingness to proactively seek out answers to new problems by using the collective knowledge of the whole organization, recognizing that no one, at any level, knows all the answers.   As Winston Churchill said, “We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.” Of particular interest to me is how we can broaden the concept of a ‘building’ to extent the physical attributes and the physical space into a virtual space, or a series of virtual spaces, that contribute to learning success. I will be exploring how 21st century libraries can use the virtual terrain for face-to-face collaboration, and how we can embed collaboration into the planning and the outcomes of instructional design and the learning process.

The t-shirt company, Threadless, ‘puts everyone in charge’ and defines company as community, and the whole community of customers are able to submit art-work and designs, for large prizes, that can then become big selling t-shirt designs. Much like their customers, our students and staff are interested and passionate about what they do, bursting with ideas, skills and knowledge. The prize for us will be finding fun, appealing, engaging new ways to learn effectively. I am eager to provide opportunities that will help to harness the power of the collective here at our school and allow our school community to demonstrate their creativity in myriad ways, and share their ideas across the whole learning community.  

For me, the success of Threadless demonstrates what happens when you allow your company to become what your customers want it to be.  In a school library, allowing students to contribute to creating a dynamic community in which they themselves can feel empowered and can learn together and from each other has such promising potential, I believe.   

Together, the philosophy and principles I am borrowing from Pixar and Threadless, adapted as we go along to the needs of the school community, will help me lay out a blueprint for transforming our library into a ‘constant learning organization’, all to the collective benefit of New Milford High School.