Today Josh Stumpenhorst @stumpteacher is directing a library revolution and evolution to Learning Commons at his school. And yes, they’ll be flying drones in the library! Let’s talk about the focus groups and critical questions driving this transformation from a place where students “have to go” to a place where they “want to be.” He also discusses the importance of literature and creativity in the library. Let’s do this!
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Below is a transcript modified for your reading pleasure. For information on the guests and items mentioned in this show, scroll down to the bottom of this post.
Josh Stumpenhorst’s Learning Commons: Drones, Literature, and Creativity
Why Reinvent the Library?
Vicki: Oh, I’m so excited! Today we have Josh Stumpenhorst with us, and he is just one of the most motivating, exciting teachers, and he has a new learning space in his library. So, Josh, tell us what excites you about what you’ve done.
Josh: Yeah, I’m super excited about the new space. I was in there the other day, and they had quite literally gutted the entire space and are re-doing everything from the flooring to the colors, the lighting, the furniture. I’m just beyond excited to be able to see what students are going to be able to do in this new space coming up in the fall here.
Vicki: So, what’s the purpose?
Josh: The purpose was… we ‘ve kind of as a district have been rebranding our libraries. In fact we’re not even calling them libraries, we’re calling them learning commons. And the goal here is to have these spaces be more flexible, more design thinking, more maker space kind of oriented so that literacy is still going to be such an important part for bringing all these other things in to really create a truly enriching space for kids and for teachers.
What Kinds of Changes are Happening in the Library?
Vicki: So what kind of things are you bringing in?
Josh: We’re going to be starting a coding academy, so we have a little space, a little creative lab where we’re going to have all of these different tiered activities for kids to work through to code, with the pinnacle being we’ve got these brand new Parrot Drones, which I’m super excited to get kids playing with. They’re going to fly drones through obstacle courses that they’ve coded. It’s just with Spheros, with drones. We’ve just got all these great activities that are going to allow kids to learn about coding, but also for some of our more sophisticated kids to really develop that skill set and that digital literacy.
Vicki: Josh, you’re going to be flying drones in what used to be called a library, but now is a Learning Commons? You’re literally going to be flying drones in there?
Josh: Yes. That is the honest to God truth, and I cannot wait. We had a couple. We got them the end of this last school year, and the kids… I was flying them through, just to tease them for this coming year, and they’re just, as you can imagine… the kids are beyond excited.
How Do Librarians Feel About These Changes?
Vicki: OK, some librarians listening to this are sick to their stomach right now. How do you tell them why you’re doing this?
Josh: Yeah, and I’ve already heard the bellyaching and the groaning, and the, “Why would you need a drone in the library?” And of course my initial reaction is, “Well, why NOT?” And it’s really taking these spaces and some people think, “Well, we need to get rid of the books.” And that’s not true. We need a combination of all of these things because we know that kids are going to go into a world or are living in a world where all of these things are there. And the way in which they interact with technology is going to be a huge part of their futures. And so anytime we can bring these kind of learning opportunities into the school, then we should. That’s what we’re doing. Any time that you can get kids excited about interacting with technology, to me that’s a huge win.
Josh’s “Stump Speech” About Why We Need Changes in the Library
Vicki: You’re known as “Stump Teacher.” I want you to give me your “Stump Speech.” Take us inside, for when you pitched this kind of thing to your administration. Why this shift? What do you tell people when you’re selling, or you’re trying to pitch this so you can have this in your library?
Josh: The nice thing is that I have a fantastic administrator who supports and pushes me to do these things. We had the conversation, and the end goal of this is that there are a lot of library spaces that are underutilized. They’re places where kids go to check out a book, and are yelled at if they talk too loud or make too much noise. Kids don’t generally WANT to be there. One of the first things I did when I took over this job was that I started having focus groups with kids, and I said, “Tell me what you love about this space, and tell me what you hate about this space.” And those conversations are what have driven our huge shift, in not only just the physical space, but also the pedagogical thought behind why we’re doing these things and making this space a place that kids want to be and are engaged in learning all the time, all the kids, and the teachers. That’s kind of the end goal, to make this a space that is useful, empowering, and – you know what – a little bit of fun, too.
The Results of Student Focus Groups About the Library
Vicki: So Josh, what shocked you the most about what the kids said in these focus groups?
Josh: What shocked me was how so many of the vast majority of them saw the library as a place they HAD to go. It was someplace they went with their English teacher when they needed to check out a novel. Or it was a place that they HAD to go with their history or science teacher when they needed to check out a nonfiction book for research. It wasn’t a place they WANTED to be, and I was kind of a little hurt by that, thinking, “Well, you know, why wouldn’t you want to be in the library?” But then, you know, as we started these conversations, they were asking me, “Well, why would we want to come here?” And I think that anytime you can take that question to heart as an educator, “Well, why would a kid want to be in your class, in your school, in your library?” If we don’t have a good answer to that, then we do need to relook at what we’re doing.
Why Would Students Want to Go to the New Learning Commons?
Vicki: So why do they want to come there? They’re obviously going to be driving drones, and you’ve got full color and lighting and that sort of thing. But what are your “why”s now?
Josh: Well the “why”s are that it’s going to be a space that’s all about learning and in the broadest sense of the word. And we’ve got these collaborative spaces for kids to work together when they’re working on their group projects. Yes, we have the technology and the cool toys they’re going to be able to play with. But it’s also a place where they can come and have a conversation about a book. One of my big things that I have been pushing is this whole idea of literacy growth – because it is still a library, and I believe in this day and age and our political and social landscape in this country – having those conversations around some really tough topics that literature can allow us to, is a great space. So just having kids want to come and have conversations about what they’re building, what they’re reading, what they’re doing, and what they’re learning – and just have them WANT to be there. That’s the goal.
The Biggest Mistake Librarians Make When Moving to the Learning Commons
Vicki: What do you think is the biggest mistake many librarians or Learning Commons leaders make these days?
Josh: I think one of the biggest problems they have is that people think that this shift to a Learning Commons is about innovation and creativity… and that’s true. But they still want to hold onto the old bard of compliance and the standardization of the space. When you do that you can’t have innovation and creativity if you’re still obsessing with compliance, you’re still obsessing with the rules of noise or the rules of managing the resources – which are a critical part of what we do — but sometimes our librarians focus so much on the management piece of the library that they miss out on the just incredibly powerful learning component and connections that you can make with kids in those spaces.
What About Keeping Up with the “Stuff?”
Vicki: But do you feel like some librarians feel overwhelmed? I mean, they’re supposed to keep track of everything, right? I mean, there’s all this STUFF… and now you’re adding more STUFF. I mean, you’re adding little pieces of LEGOs and it’ just… For those talented librarians, and librarians are very talented, and do many things that I know I couldn’t do. But is it asking too much? Are they going to be overwhelmed? Can they do this?
Josh: I think, you know, it’s one of those questions where it’s a double-edged sword for sure. All of those things are important. It’s important that I keep track of my STUFF, as you put it. But I often say this to some of my colleagues, “It’s just a book. And if a kid doesn’t return a book, I’m not going to spend hours tracking a kid down, harassing the kid, and obsessing over it. We’re going to move on to the next day and the next activity, because it’s just a book.” And I don’t mean that to be any sort of negative thing, but I think sometimes we shift our focus, and it’s no different than a classroom teacher obsessing over missing work or missing papers when the real value of what a teacher does is making that connection with a kid. So as a librarian, yeah, it’s a lot of stuff. And I think that’s OK, because I don’t sit down very much. That’s what makes the job exciting and fun.
Libraries are Still About the Students
Vicki: I think the contrast is, “It’s just a book,” and again we’re not meaning that disrespectfully. But when you look at those kids… It’s a child.
Josh: Yeah, and you’re exactly right. And so I could spend my time running my reports of how many books I have out, how many fines I’ve got to find, you know, to track the kids down. But I’d rather go up and have a conversation with a kid about something they’re reading, or working them through the problem they’re trying to figure out with their Sphero and the maze on the ground, or something like that. To me, that’s going to pay dividends in that child’s life way more than tracking down a missing book.
30-second Pep Talk for Teacher-Leader-Librarians and Media Specialists
Vicki: OK. Josh, give us a 30-second pep talk on why we need to level up our libraries.
Josh: I think we need to level up our libraries because while a lot of us like to say that the library is the center of innovation and creativity, sometimes it’s just talk. We need to actually back that up with some action because the library should and can be and will be the hub of learning in a truly — to use a kind of a catchy term — the “future ready school.” The schools of the future and the hub of learning, of technology, of literacy, and personal growth. That’s where our libraries need to be. And I’m really, really excited about ours going there – and so many other ones that are already there.
Vicki: The biggest thing I want to come back to is, “Is your library a place that kids HAVE to go, or is it a place they WANT to be?” And that question really tells a lot about your library.
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Full Bio As Submitted
Josh is a junior high learning commons director in Naperville Community School District 203. He’s author of The New Teacher Revolution.