Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Journey from Library to Learning Commons

The library, at one time, was the center of the school building. It's where knowledge was held, books were shared, and ideas were generated. It was quiet, to the point that mini-lessens were taught about the edict required while in the confines of this environment. A library in 1980 could look very similar to one today - Why is this? Nothing else has stayed the same...our students are different, technology has changed the way we gain information, and brain research has restructured our approach to the way students gain and understand information. At Christie, we were ready to transform our library to a Leaning Commons, and to once again make our library the center for learning.

Before I begin it is important to note that everything we have done, all that was created, was due to Christie’s amazing teachers and supportive parents. Our teachers take risks, embrace technology, implement new ideas, and embrace change daily. I am so lucky and blessed to work with a wonderful assistant principal in De’Cole Kelly and such remarkable teachers and leaders…to them I say thank you…

One of the things I love most about education is our willingness, and even love, of sharing information. We share our trade secrets – and while in business that would be a foolish thing to do, it is one of the most important driving factors of our educational system. Sharing ideas builds success, and together we can do anything.

A colleague of mine, @matthew_arend, recently wrote a great blog post about his creation of a makerspace. As I was reading his well-written post I realized I needed to follow in his footsteps; I too needed to share our process of moving from Library to Learning Commons.

I wish I could take credit for the beginning idea of changing the way we use our library, but I can’t, it all started with @LorraineShimizu. As a principal, and attendee of a phenomenal visioning institute in Texas, Lorraine asked one question…How can we change our library from a quiet place where kids get books, to a heavily used and exciting place where kids learn? She visited several campuses across the Dallas metroplex, and decided she wanted to move in the Learning Commons (LC) direction. As life sometimes does, things changed, Lorraine was promoted, and I was given an opportunity of a lifetime…to become the new principal of Christie Elementary.

As a new principal I was ready to move forward with our LC. But where to start? Our library was large, space wasn’t a problem, but the white walls and old murals (which were nicely done I might add) didn’t paint an image of active learning…

So here is what I knew: I wanted to create a Learning Commons for ALL kids. A place where it didn’t matter what students had, where they came from, how many parents were at home, or what they did or didn’t have for breakfast. A place where the playing field is leveled, where every idea is valued, and any student can be successful. Here is what I didn’t know: What I wanted from the environment, what the teachers wanted from the environment, what our community and students wanted from the environment, what it could look like, how I would pay for it, and where to even start.

My first step was a good one, I started with someone who was already passionate about STEM, makerspace, Problem Based Learning (PBL), and technology integration in the classroom. That person was @jess_malloy, Christie’s science specialist. Together, Jessica and I painted a mental picture, a broad vision really, of what the space could look like.

Once the base for a vision was created – I had many conversations with my team leaders, teachers, students, PTA, parents, local businesses, churches, and other schools. Conversations about what we wanted in our LC – In essence: What activities/experiences would be most beneficial for our students? This list included: Makerspace, green screen video, Lego robotics, Makey Makey, collaboration center, Little Bits, Hexbugs, question board, research lab, cardboard creation, reverse engineering, iPad tech-bar, coding, iMovie center, drama/puppet area, and more…

We knew what we wanted, the dream was set, our PTA was on board, but we needed money and community support. So what did we do? I worked with @jess_malloy, @kristinransom, and @mike_svatek to make a video introducing our LC…yup, and NOTHING was actually done. Big risk to say the least.

Fundraising. Big challenge. At this point I should probably mention that my campus is a Title One campus…So like many campuses we were going to need to work hard to raise money. With the PTA’s support...our teachers, community, and parents rose to the occasion, and raised enough money to redesign and furnish our Learning Commons. Not only that, but Chase Oaks Church worked with the city to help collect used iPads and smart phones to be donated to our school.

With money designated for the Learning Commons, it was time to design, plan, and achieve. Much of this fell on the shoulders of @jess_malloy –

Step One: Paint. A significant change from white to purple, orange, yellow and turquoise took place.

Step Two: Order furniture and find temporary furniture. Mary Hewitt (@mkhewett), Executive Director of Instructional Technology, spent time researching, designing, and ordering amazing furniture for our LC. So while we waited for our furniture to arrive, we used temporary folding tables.

Step Three: Makerspace – @mike_svatek donated his time and energy to build four amazing tables/workbenches. The movable tables come together and separate to create a perfect building environment. A parent donated toolbox, PTA provided tools, and a ton of cardboard makes for an amazing learning environment.

Step Four: Stations and Green Screen – Enter @jess_malloy once again. She created station cards, think tanks, and activities so our students could fully utilize the space.

Step Five: Alphabet Wall. Enter teachers and their creativity. Christie teachers looked for and found some very cool letters to make this wall.

Step Six: Lego Wall. At 14 feet long our Lego wall is pretty amazing. We wanted to create a wall large enough to show an entire class’s designs and final products.

Step Seven: Explore Sign and Four C’s. Big thank you to Susan Dykes for making the Explore sign, and @mike_svatek for putting it up. Also, the PTA for paying for our painting’s to go up.

Step Eight: Our Learning Commons sign and entrance sign. Once again thank you to our PTA for paying for this and @jess_malloy for designing it.

Step Nine-Step ?: We just keep adding with more to come… Much of our furniture arrived, a Giving Tree (@LillyJensby idea) where parents can pick a leaf with a LC need written down, Keva Planks, Lego Table, and whatever the future holds.

To see the whole picture without new furniture: http://goo.gl/lEUuBP

While we still have a long way to go, this has been an amazing six months. I look forward to many more months of risks taken and changes made for our students. Thank you @modisette214, @dantzlersusan, @lorraineshimizu, and @reneegodi for your support and leadership.

I need to thank @swintonmary, @belindakinney, @danpbutler, @matthew_arend, @EdleadS, @skimbriel, @nancywtech, @bishopeducate, @zhpruett, @techclara, @leahpendleton, @brittainka, @mathneil, and @shiftparadigm for all your ideas - I have also learned so much from Twitter EdChats like #TXeduchat, #PISDEdChat, #IAEdChat, #FLEdChat and #aussieED.

Also, thank you teachers for all you do and bring to Christie! @ArmstrongTeach, @jess_malloy, @kristinransom, @mike_svatek, @bilingual_coach, @csander15, @kayleypults, @lillyjensby, @firstteacher23, @lindahigbee1, @twingmom, @jenniferr053, @beadles56, @christinekallm1, @hrobertsfirst, @karafields8, @mrs_paopao, @carriecormack, @fifthgradebrown, @rebomgardner, @kabownds, @morganramsey03, @stephy703, @kpattonmusic, @spechyacularinK, @bauchummusic, @mccallender1, @cmassey723, @bellbeuerlein, @kglewis7171, @sassykj5, @sassydoss, @chitownteacher1, @aparsonsfourth, @rticeart, @tmalbracht, @aharveymitchell, @batoolabbaas3, @scgben, #christielearns @christiecubs


  1. Excellent job to the folks and leaders at Christie Elementary! You have served as a inspiration to many who choose to follow in your footsteps! Myself included!

    The sky is the limit!

  2. This is an incredible learning space for your students! Thank you for sharing!

  3. Outstanding! Thank you for continuing to reinforce and promote creativity and original thinking. Your efforts will yield tremendous dividends in students for years to come.

  4. Thanks for documenting the evolution! I just shared this with local Supt looking for an example! :)
    -Paige Jaeger infolit4U@twitter

  5. Wonderful! Hope to share your site and some of you pics with our #OLASC15 if that's OK http://www.olasuperconference.ca/sessions/1701r/

  6. fantastic! I love the vision and the forward momentum!

  7. I am so jealous of the amount of space you have to work with! I can see using some of these ideas in my much smaller area.

  8. Ryan,
    Thank you so much for meeting with MISD today. I appreciate your visionary leadership so much.
    Lynda Swanner

  9. What a great space and inspiration. Now, a year and half later, is there anything you would change! Would love visit this space!

  10. Looks fantastic! Where did your furniture come from? Especially the armless chairs with backs, the round ottomans and the pod chairs.

    1. I am wondering the same thing

  11. Looks like a wonderful space -- but no mention was made of how your school library media specialist figured into the planning and implementation?? I'm puzzled.

  12. Also, how does literacy fit in?

  13. YES! I have the same literacy integration question. Do you have an on-site qualified librarian? If so, what is his/her main purpose?

  14. This Is An Excellent Post I Seen. I Have To Thanks To You To Share It It Is Really What I Wanted To See Hope In Future You Will Continue For Sharing
    Workbench Education

  15. We are currently rethinking our library and this was inspiring! Thanks