Sheninger and Murray ’s (2017) Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools Today is a useful resource for librarians, especially in the Library 2.0 trajectory. Sheninger and Murray (2017) focus on how schools can implement learning beyond the classroom walls, create a creative and connected culture of learning, and enrich schools with new and hyperlinked 21st Century approaches to learning and engagement. As such, librarians can benefit from this book by gaining insight into the challenges that schools face (which are similar to library challenges), so that they can better support schools. Librarians and administrators can also consider similar strategies towards resolution and innovation for the future. Consequently, replacing the concept of “school” with “library” when reading this book makes for a fascinating and relatable read. The “8 Keys” that Sheninger and Murray (2017) present can be aligned with where libraries are heading, especially concerning youth and the mission of Library 2.0’s life-long learning.
Before jumping into the 8 keys, it is essential to lay the purpose for such radical change in education (and libraries as support systems in the educational world of K-12 education). Sheninger and Murray (2017) claim that learning needs transformation because of the “American Education Crisis” (p. 1). While dismal to read, framing education in “crisis” really illuminates the need for revolutionary approaches. Librarians can find a plethora of similar scholarly work regarding the crises of libraries (Just look at Matthew’s (2012) inscription on his “Think Like a Startup” article: “Facing the Future: We don’t just need change, we need breakthrough, paradigm-shifting, transformative, disruptive ideas”). Clearly, analyzing why we need change is essential for both educators and librarians.
Some of the failures relate to a decrease in student interest and engagement. One of the most discouraging insights Sheninger and Murray (2017) find is that “…the longer that students are in the K-12 educational system, the less they feel interested in what they learn, the less fun they have, and the less they feel they get to tap into their own skills and abilities” (p. 10). Current focus of many schools in their study focuses on getting students “’…across the stage with a diploma in hand as opposed to getting them the knowledge and skills they need to set them up for success’” (qtd. in Sheninger and Murray, 2017, p. 11). Pair this with the idea that Casey and Savastinuk (2007) admit that librarians “…have done better with some age groups and demographics than others. Teens, especially, seem to be our weak point” (p. 62). It is vital that we regroup to focus on the needs of young adults, and the foundational learning for children, so that high school graduation is a successful launch point into what Sheninger and Murray (2017) call “Industry 4.0: The Next Industrial Revolution” (p. 13), which indicates we are currently preparing students for jobs that will exist in the future because of advances in technology.
Change must be made because Sheninger and Murray (2017) explain: “This isn’t simply and educational issue to debate but an economic issue that will have lasting impact on generations to come” (p. 24). Educators and librarians should also be concerned about establishing creative innovation and life-long learning into the lives of young people. Weinberger’s (2001) manifesto claims that hyperlinking is a means to longevity in our constantly changing organizations, and the “economy of voice” will help fund our civic success as a connected, community of learners (p. 25). Finally, low-income, students of color, and underserved students suffer the worst at the hands of systemic inequality and lack of cultural competency in our education and library systems. Sheninger and Murray (2017) highlight sweeping statistics regarding lower rates of graduation, test scores, budget restrictions, attendance, performance, infrastructure, presence in AP testing, STEM programs, and digital access, yet higher rates of suspension, expulsion, and drop-outs. To be culturally competent, any transformation needs to prioritize all students, and focus on needs especially to be implemented for those who are historically and presently underserved, or not served at all, for that matter.
Key #1: Leadership and school [library] culture lay the foundation (Sheninger and Murray, 2017)
Flattening leadership and focusing on building community through collaboration is the key to transformation in schools and libraries alike. Sheninger and Murray assert that “True leaders know that their success is intimately tied to the work of the collective” (p. 29), which aligns with Weinberger’s (2001) manifesto to “subvert hierarchy” (p. 6), and Casey and Savastinuk’s (2007) suggestion to implement “vertical teams” in order to “… flatten the organization, reinforce the sense of worth of staff from all levels of the library, and instill a sense of responsibility that everyone feels toward everyone else” (p. 45). If schools are to follow this approach to collective leadership, then librarians can and should be involved with supporting students and patrons in hyperlinked ways. Likewise, libraries can and should also invigorate their leadership by including the collective community in order to implement powerful learning transformation.
Key #2: The learning experience must be redesigned and made personal (Sheninger and Murray, 2017)
In order to address the decline in student engagement as they reach adulthood. Sheninger and Murray (2017) claim that:
Intentionally designed schools develop and implement various adaptive and dynamic interventions to meet individual needs and see student agency (voice, choice, advocacy) as a valuable component of the instructional process” (p. 55).
Where schools and libraries get this wrong is when technology implementation is used as a crutch, so to speak, to increase engagement. It is important to acknowledge that research in schools has shown that technology investment alone does not increase engagement without good teaching. Teachers must be supported in pedagogical approaches in using technology as a means to foster “student agency.” Librarians need to focus on teaching pedagogy as they help engage their communities and are essential in supporting the teaching methodology needs of teachers. Sheninger and Murray concur: “The teacher, not the technology, is the key variable to this equation” (p. 63).
Key #3: Decisions must be grounded in evidence and drive by a Return on Instruction (ROI) (Sheninger and Murray, 2017)
Focusing on the Return on Instruction helps schools iteratively align with the mission of education. The same can be said for the effectiveness of librarians, in which focusing on goals should help us to drive the returns the community is gaining. Ensuring that students are engaged, and technology is a tool for good pedagogy, Sheninger and Murray (2017) offer 10 strategies for school leaders to identify what that return looks like, keeping the following mission in mind:
A primary goal of education should be to have students empowered to own their learning, create artifacts and demonstrate conceptual mastery, use their voice, be responsible in online spaces, and connect with the world in meaningful and authentic ways (p. 86).
This illumination of the goal of education aligns with Library 2.0 objectives, especially involving information literacy. Library leaders can also create strategies to “leverage a true Return on Instruction [librarian effectiveness],” as Sheninger and Murray explore like improving feedback, modeling, and co-observing to name a few (p. 97).
Key #4: Learning spaces must become learner-centered (Sheninger and Murray, 2017)
Moving away from 20th century notions of “cells and bells” models of educational spaces, students can become better engaged and learn when schools are designed with innovation in mind (Sheninger et al., 2017, p. 104). This extremely important key includes suggestions that even concern noise, temperature, wall design, and furniture. Sheninger and Murray (2017) reason that “If we desire creativity, collaboration, ingenuity, authenticity, and multifaceted approaches to learning, then the spaces in which these experiences occur must be relative” (p. 111). With a similar approach, Mattern (2014) challenges library infrastructure in order to consider the library as “platform.” Mattern (2014) asks essential questions to focus on the learner-centered approach; for example: “What programs and services are consistent with an institution dedicated to lifelong learning? Should libraries be reconceived as hubs for civic engagement, where communities can discuss local issues, create media, and archive community history?” Considering these questions, design of space matters in all learning environments, from making sure rooms are meeting human needs (i.e. heating and cooling), to putting a reference desk on wheels for better engagement.
Key #5: Professional learning must be relevant, engaging, ongoing, and made personal (Sheninger and Murray, 2017)
Refraining from using the term “professional development,” “professional learning” implies that educators are always learning to teach students more effectively (Sheninger and Murray, 2017, p. 140). According to Sheninger and Murray (2017): Professional learning ensures that “When teachers feel as if they are a vital part of the professional learning cycle, then increased ownership for learning occurs—creating a culture shift in responsibility and passion” (156). Clearly, this reasoning can be applied to librarians and their professional learning pathways. In order to spur engagement in “professional development and learning,” for librarians, Stephens (2016) suggests tapping into “curiosity and creativity” to embrace change (p. 34). The idea being that school and libraries can develop a “personalized” and “empowering” “culture of learning” (to use terminology that Stephen’s (2016) and Sheninger and Murray (2017) often use). The days of pyramid leaders forcing training are over, if we want librarians and teachers to as Stephen’s suggest “embrace constant change” (p. 17). Additionally, if we believe in Weinberger’s (2001) “Bottom Up” approach to hyperlinked organizations, then Sheninger and Murray’s guide to professional learning is vital.
Key #6: Technology must be leveraged and used as an accelerant for student learning (Sheninger and Murray, 2017)
Diving deeper into Key #2, Sheninger and Murray (2017) focus on strategies to create connected (hyperlinked), safe, and effective learning. Though Sheninger and Murray (2017) reiterate that “pedagogy should determine learning,” technology is a “great delivery vehicle” (p. 173). Connectivity is so vital that Sheninger and Murray (2017) imply that every student deserves as a human right access to technology as a means to learning and engagement, which will therefore level the playing field for student achievement. Libraries surely have this going for them, since connectivity to the internet is a major reason that many walk in the door, but priority on life-long learning is foundational. Furthermore, Sheninger and Murray (2017) provide advice on privacy, efficiency security, viability, and sustainability to implement technology in honor of learning.
Key #7: Community collaboration and engagement must be woven into the fabric of a school’s [library’s] culture (Sheninger and Murray, 2017)
To conclude, Sheninger and Murray (2017) make a case for the need for all stakeholders to work together collectively in order to support student learning. This sentiment is expressed across the board in our course readings, that our revolutionary focus today is to embrace communal, collaborative approaches to flattening educational organizations for the sake of life-long learning. Librarians and administrators can see this book as a strong resource to create a hyperlinked library for the people, and one that supports K-12 education and educators. I recommend taking a look, especially for the sake of our youth.
Casey, M. E. and Laura, C. S. (2007) Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service. Medford, N. J.: Information Today, Inc.
Mattern, S. 2017. Library as infrastructure. Places Journal, June 2012. Retrieved on 4 February, from https://doi.org/10.22269/140609.
Matthews, B. (2012, April). Think like a startup. Ubiquitous Librarian. Chronical of Higher Education. Retrieved from https://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/bitstream/handle/10919/18649/Think%20like%20a%20STARTUP.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
Sheninger, E. C. and Murray T. C. (2017). Learning transformed: 8 keys to designing tomorrow’s schools, today. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Stephens, M. (2016). The heart of librarianship: attentive, positive, and purposeful change. Chicago: ALA Editions.
Weinberger, D. 2001. The hyperlinked organization. The Cluetrain Manifesto. Retrieved from https://cluetrain.com/book/hyperorg.html. pp 1-26.