Sunday, 19 May 2013

The Learning Commons: In Times of Budget Cuts

Times are tough in Alberta! With major provincial cuts to the funding of education, our district has had to make some drastic changes for the next school year. In the end, the changes will make a difference in the classroom, one way or another.

With what looks like a bleak year ahead, one has to wonder if their position is valued enough to remain in place. In times of cuts schools need to look at staffing and prioritize what is crucial and not-so crucial. For schools beginning the journey of transitioning their school library to a learning commons, there will be some tough decisions to be made.

  • Will they commit to continuing on this journey?
  • Can they afford to put a teacher full time (or in any capacity) in the learning commons?
  • How will they possibly put money into the space when that money is being cut?

In my building, we decided to go the learning commons route 3 years ago. In that time, we have learned a lot. For me, the biggest thing to come from it is the fact that when teachers collaborate on projects they are able to share ideas, challenge each other, help each other and generally reflect more often and more easily. When teachers work by themselves, within the 4 walls of their classroom they are confined to their own space and sharing and collaborating becomes much more challenging - It's so easy for teachers to just keep doing what they've always done and are comfortable with and not move their own practice forward.

The learning commons is place that knocks down one of the walls of the classroom, or extends the classroom to have an extra wall, or corner. When we first started the transition we used the analogy that the learning commons would be the 'fifth corner of the classroom'.

In times of cuts, having extra support for teachers will be crucial! With the axing of AISI (Alberta Initiative for School Improvement) this year, schools will not have the expertise and support that AISI provides. It makes me wonder how much pressure the rest of our area and system specialists will be under next year and how easy, or hard, it will be for schools to reach out for extra support. It makes sense to me that if all these supports are cut, then administrators need to make sure there is sufficient support within their own school. The learning commons can provide that support. Having the right person in the learning commons will enable support for both teachers and students which will, in turn, help move the learning forward.

The big question for a lot of administrators would be whether or not the learning commons would actually work without a full time teacher working in the space. I would love to hear of a learning commons space that has a learning commons working well without having a dedicated teacher in the space. In my experience, to maximise the learning that happens, not only in the learning commons but in the entire school, having a teacher that works in a coaching kind of roll builds capacity amongst staff and students alike.

Will our school continue on our mission of developing and focusing on this space? I'm sure we will in some kind of way. Will it be a full time position? I hope so! At one point. I have worked in our learning commons 0.5 of the time (during the last school year) and it was very hard to focus on really utilizing and pushing that space. It may work better now that our staff have a better understanding of what learning looks like in the learning commons.

Time will tell, I guess. Let's see what happens in the learning commons during these tough times and then reflect back. I hope for everyone's sake it works out well and we can make the most of what we have.

The following ideas are my beliefs of what some of the important rolls of the learning commons teacher(s). There are definitely more but these ones will be affected in these tough times: The learning commons teacher...

  • works in a learning coach role who is there to support both teachers and students.
  • works with teachers to design worthwhile and authentic tasks?
  • supports teachers in finding engaging resources that encourage 21st century thinking.
  • helps manage and maintain the technology in the school. This proves to be a big time commitment and without someone that can focus on it, the technology could continually prove to be nothing but a problem in the building.
  • helps create an environment that provides students with the resources, time, and space they need to follow their passions? 
  • allows teachers to be able to personalize learning for their students in ways that may not be possible in the classroom.
  • helps enhance the community of the school. Being someone that sees what is happening in each and every classroom, the LC teacher is able to mesh projects together and make connections to help make experiences and learning more authentic and exciting.
What do you think about the learning commons teacher? Is is worthwhile position to create/maintain in times of cuts?

Please comment if you can relate to this post.

1 comment:

  1. I absolutely believe in the power of the Learning Commons Model and the need for it to persevere through restrictive budgetary issues... I am happy to have seen more than a couple schools posting jobs for learning leaders that work within the Learning Commons environment... It is wonderful that they are able to see and understand the value of a Learning Commons teacher!!