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TL v63n2: Sarah Culp Searles
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Viewpoint: School Libraries



Shifting Instruction for Personalized Learning


Sarah Culp Searles

My district is beginning a “pilot” implementation of 1:1 computing in ten of its schools. For the schools selected, every student will be issued a laptop, which they are expected to have in class every day but are also allowed to take home with them. Teachers will then be able to use these laptops to support a technology-integrated personalized learning environment (PLE). While this is to some degree less cutting-edge and more a matter of catching up with the 21st century—the state of Maine started rolling out 1:1 in 2002, more than ten years ago!—it is still very exciting for us, and in some respects spooky as we adapt to this new way of teaching. My school was not selected as one of the pilot schools (to my intense disappointment), but last week, I had the pleasure of getting involved with the initiative by serving as one of the trainers for the teachers in the pilot schools.

Before I share a few lessons learned from the training week, I need to say two things up front: 1) yes, if you’ve been reading about them, 1:1 programs have a high rate of failure; but 2) our district is doing it right. These programs fail when computers are dumped into classrooms, with little attention paid to supporting teachers in effective use of them as instructional tools. If we don’t match our hardware dollars with professional development dollars, we shouldn’t be surprised when technology initiatives fall flat. How can a new tool revolutionize a classroom if no one knows what to do with it? (How many SMART Boards do we see used as extremely expensive projection screens, for instance?) Our district is investing heavily in training and infrastructure, though, with two full weeks of professional development this summer and full-time TPaCK coaches (Technology, Pedagogy, and Content Knowledge) employed at each pilot school to support the implementation. 

So I’ve just finished the first of those two weeks of training, and I wanted to share a few of my takeaways with you all:

  • The idea behind this initiative is not just to infuse technology into the school, but to use the tools to personalize learning for every child. This is something that librarians already excel at; every time we support a kid in choosing their own pleasure reading, answering a question borne out of their own curiosity, or researching a topic they got to choose, we are contributing to a personalized learning environment.  The new computers will just give us more ways to support that.
  • We studied “Our Iceberg Is Melting,” a fable to illustrate John Kotter’s steps for leading change. If you’re looking to implement change in your library, you should go look at it in more detail, but here’s the main point: Sometimes we have to go find a new iceberg, not try desperately to plug the cracks in the one we’re on. Sometimes to get to the level of service we want to provide, we have to completely reimagine our programs and policies, not tweak what we’re currently doing.
  • Some of the librarians in these schools are nervous about what the abundance of laptops will mean to their programs, since the computers in their libraries will no longer be such a draw to bring students in. I see that as an issue of needing to go find a new iceberg, though. We’ll have to deemphasize the idea of the library as a facility providing access to limited resources, and instead embrace the idea of embedded librarianship in the school. What a wonderful opportunity to lessen the time we spend doing “stuff” inside our library walls, and increase the time we can spend taking our message directly into classrooms, collaborating with teachers and infusing information literacy skills directly into the curriculum!
  • Since the district is emphasizing that this is an instructional initiative, not a technology initiative, we looked at both connectivist and constructivist learning theories. The goal is to shift instruction based on these ideals, and then use the computers to support the transformed instruction. I am excited about exploring ways to implement these instructional changes even without 1:1 computing at my own school; for instance, even if I can’t use social media to infuse connectivism into my lessons, I can still have students harness the power of their classmates as a face-to-face social network.
  • Twitter is an amazing tool for professional learning! I’ve “known” that for a long time, but it really came together for me in a practical way this week, with trainers and attendees all tweeting about the sessions in real time. It made for wonderful rich conversations outside the bounds of the physical meetings. If you’re just getting started, try picking one person you like (I recommend Buffy Hamilton!) and follow some of the people they follow. You have to get a fair-sized network going before you can really see its benefit. 
  • Pinterest, which I’ve never looked at for work purposes before, is also pretty amazing. We had people plan their entire presentations from information and graphics they got from Pinterest! It has tons of posters, lesson plans, book display/promotional ideas, and more.
  • Many of the hot-button issues worrying the teachers who attended this training—digital citizenship, safety online, technical knowledge as a barrier to learning, lack of Internet access at home, the need for skills like evaluating sources and navigating through information overload—are issues that librarians tackle head-on every day. We are positioned to be leaders and crucial resources to support the shift to 21st-century learning and teaching.

The best part of the week, by far, was the opportunity to meet passionate educators and have great conversations about teaching our kids. As with TLA conferences, not only was this an outstanding opportunity to learn about new tools and practices, it was a chance to recharge and remember that we do the best job on earth. I feel so inspired to go learn and try new things to help my kids become better researchers and lifelong learners!


Sarah Culp Searles is a librarian at West High School in Knoxville, TN.  She can be reached at
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