To Benefit Student Learning: Facilitating New Opportunities for Collaborative Inquiry, Action Research, Innovation

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Today, it is imperative that we make changes to our traditional school paradigms to meet the learning needs of our students for today and their futures.

We need to reimagine how we structure our schools to promote ongoing daily collaboration opportunities for teachers for the purposes of planning, with the explicit goal of improving student learning.

I think we can take steps toward this by restructuring and reimagining the spaces and roles of our Teacher-Librarians and Planning Time Teachers.

In the spirit of

  • sharing ideas,
  • innovating,
  • integrative thinking
  • collaborative inquiries
  • being better together
  • new pedagogies 
  • making school different
  • Teachers Throwing out Grades
  • Cultivating Growth Mindsets
  • New Literacies

This is what I think we should try to promote more contextualized and skills-based learning for students and teachers alike.

We need to re-think the roles that operate within our schools to make change. We really need to think ‘outside the box’. How can schools and mindsets change when we continually find ourselves in situations where set roles, believes, and physical structures of our schools promote the status quo.

I wanted to share an idea I have had for quite some time now. 

It is important to share ideas. If I am unable to make this change, then perhaps others will be inspired and have the opportunity! What I know, is that it is very difficult to be integrative, innovative and implement new pedagogies, especially when the roles that operate within the school are as set as the building itself.

Public Libraries are successful because they work in teams running fixed and flexible schedules all the time! This is a great benefit to the communities they service. What if our schools did the same thing?

First, I believe that we are not harnessing the true potential and power of the Planning Time Teacher. We know that we need to integrate learning among subjects. What value is there in a planning time teacher going into a classroom for 2 or 3 short blocks of time a week?

Second, teachers do not have enough time to meet with others in the school to collaborate with inquiry teams.

Next, Equitable Access to the Learning Commons is not possible with one Teacher-Librarian. Resources need to be accessible to all students, and wouldn’t it be great if we could make the Learning Commons open at all times of the day, including recesses, lunch hours and after school?

What if all classes in the school had access to iPads, computers, to drop in and work on projects at any time, in addition to the ability to engage in activities and learning including coding, makerspaces and genius hour and collaborative inquiries? What if the resources were there, and could be utilized on a flexible AND fixed schedule at the SAME time?

So many libraries do not have computers for students to drop in and use, and flexible times are not available when students could be working on projects and gaining equal access to technology ie., before school, recesses, and after school. What can we do to provide more access to students working before school, at recesses, and after school?

Finally, what if planning time teachers and teacher librarians merged to become ‘Library Teams’ with all of the resources at your finger tips, multiple classes, multiple schedules making the library ‘hub’ what it is supposed to be according to our OLA and CLA documents?


Here are some of my driving questions:

  1. What if we did not have traditional planning time teachers?
  2. What if the role of the TL evolved?
  3. What if the 2 roles of planning time and TL were not separate, but integrated?
  4. What if we had library teams instead of separate planning time and TL roles. I realise that many TL’s also do planning time, but that is not what I am talking about.
  5. If the expertise of the planning time teacher was integrated with that of the Librarian, would we then have a situation where we could have the library open all day, every day?
  6. Could we engage in and cultivate integrative, creative, innovative, collaborative inquiries and action research across students and staff?
  7. If the space of the library was shared among teams of Librarians, much like a Public Library, could free up significant chunks of time each week for teachers to engage in collaborative inquiries, action research and innovative and effective instructional design?

A New Model of the Learning Commons & Planning Time to Benefit the whole School:

What I would love to see is the Learning Commons open to all students all day long, and with multiple people being responsible for collaborating and providing cool programs for everyone in the school.

I envision classes coming down to the Learning commons to engage in anything from makerspaces, genius hour, and learning key literacy skills that are essential for students in our age of information. This can happen because the planning time teachers and Librarian are now ‘Library Teams’. Students could be actively involved in their own collaborative inquiries and actively involved in self-reflection and feedback processes.

With multiple teachers on the library team, this would also free up longer blocks for teacher teams to meet and collaborate – which is necessary to run collaborative inquiries, engage in action research, enhance professional development and promote & sustain innovative practices. The comments, feedback and expectations covered would be based on needs and interests of students, which requires skill from the teachers, and drives collaborative inquiries for the students and parents.

The enormous jobs of the Learning Commons could all be managed by the team, instead of one person. This could lead to more inclusion of more staff and students, in addition to allowing for all of the enormous jobs of the Learning Commons to be taken care of.

In conclusion, the Library Learning Commons would never have to close. Equitable access to technology including iPads and laptops whenever students needed them for work, whether it is before school, at recess time or after school. This is a key element of bridging the digital divide. Everyone on the team would know how to run, manage and provide support for information literacy skills at all times of the day.


If I could, this would be my new Collaborative Inquiry.This is how I would Make School Different! This would be part of my New Pedagogies for Deep Learning! This is how I would Innovate, put more emphasis on feedback vs grades, and promote growth mindsets!

I would love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks to Brian Aspinall for asking this great question in his post: How Can You Assess My Creativity? Here is his question: How do we stimulate creative inquiry with prescribed makerspace activities?

Deborah McCallum

c 2015


  1. Hi Deborah, a great read – on par with what we are struggling with too!

    I made a few connections as I read this:

    1) Technology is not an event – per se. We need to redefine the notion of students going to a lab (or makerspace, or learning commons) to all do the same task at the same time. Why do we do this? When I went to high school and university, I accessed the library and lab on a needed basis, not a schedule. Having said that, I understand that this frees up time for teacher PD like you stated. However, I don’t see the inquiry in prescribed “makerspaces”. What do you think?

    2) By removing the schedule, we will have students of all ages interacting in these spaces at any given time. Is this OK? What are the Pros and Cons of this?

    These are a few questions I have pondered over lately.

    Thanks for sharing!


    1. Love your thoughts! I think I should draw up some specific ‘blueprints’ and really cultivate this a lot more. If we have a team of TL’s/Planning time teachers, then multiple things really can happen at once.

      Just like at a Public Library, there are teams of people – some running scheduled activities and others facilitating flexible schedules – it is not one or the other, or contingent upon one persons schedule. With a whole team, the opportunities for the students and the rest of the school really opens up. Planning time becomes a lot more meaningful. Equitable Access to resources becomes attainable.

      Here is what I am thinking:
      1) There could be fixed and flexible activities happening at any time of day! This allows for controlled and self-directed learning opportunities. The options would include makerspaces, literacy corners, genius hour, coding, among other options.

      2) The Library team would be feedback experts! Harnessing technology in a database to share feedback each day with students and teachers.

      3) Because multiple classes can join, teachers can have more flexibility to run their own collaborative inquiries.

      What if because of this kind of a set up, teachers got 100 minutes a day for self-directed and led PD, collaborative inquiries; all students had regular self-directed and scheduled opportunities, and students had equitable flexible access to technology and resources at all times, whenever it was needed?

      Thank you for your amazing thoughts and inspiring me to think deeper!



  2. I run a learning commons type space (though not a former library) with a planning time schedule – see classes once a week for 40 minutes. I often wonder how it might be more effective if “the mould” of traditional scheduling could be broken. Thanks for your thoughts.


  3. I wonder how much you can actually accompish in 40 mins! I find it tough to even do a Science lab in that amount of time.

    We considered this model, and I’d love to know how it works for you. Our biggest concern is that we want homeroom teachers to be involved to tie in numeracy and literacy. Does your position cover teacher’s prep time?

    Thanks for sharing.


  4. I love this idea Deborah. Recently a colleague who is starting as a planning time teacher in the fall and I discussed team teaching in the library. Your thoughts have given us excellent food for thought! Thank you for you insightful thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I really appreciate this blog post and the comments. I agree that accessing high quality information and tools for consuming and creating should not be an event (read: access to technology).

    Re: Learning Commons: This model was proposed by the OLA in the 2010 (5 YEARS AGO PEOPLE – Deb – I know YOU know this…) for learning commons (See Together for Learning Flexible scheduling, collaboration, ongoing and job embedded professional development. Yes, yes and yes some more.

    And, what to do about prep time. You’ve hit on something here Deborah…

    You have proposed some very interesting ideas. I think teacher’s assessment, data collection and sharing of that data/feedback/assessment with other teachers would have to be totally on point. Teachers would need to be open and rigorous about assessment and conversations about student growth to ensure that the cognitive aspects were developing along with social, physical, emotional.

    What would it take to achieve these ideas you have proposed? Well, I think people would have to back off a little on the importance of EQAO data. Taking a page from Annie Kidder and People for Education, we would need to shift some of our data collection to measuring other indicators such as well-being. The good news is that there is tremendous commitment and appetite for this from everyone, including the Ministry of Education as evidenced in the Achieving Excellence document.


    1. Thank you very much Michelle! I completely agree that to achieve this, teachers would need to be open and rigorous about assessment and conversations about student growth. I can’t see us moving too far ahead unless we have regular opportunities to facilitate this kind of growth. I think we need solutions to help make action research a key part of our roles.
      I also really appreciate you reminding me of the work of Annie Kidder and People for Education – I would really hope that everyone would be open to considering new models in our schools to facilitate collaborative inquiries and action research to propel student learning and professional learning forward.

      Thanks Michelle!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for such an interesting read, Deborah. By most standards, this is a big move, I suspect. And yet, if you think about it, it could happen tomorrow with the appropriate thinking and implementation.

    I think you’d need a tonne of bravery to pull it off.

    1) You’d need an administrative team that’s brave enough to say “We’re going to change our priorities.” There’s plenty of comment about EQAO above. Could the focus be “We’re going to put our energies into better school growth capacity instead of putting our time on preparation for a test?”

    2) You’d need a teacher-librarian brave enough to say that there’s a better way of using our Learning Commons. We need to stop doing what we’ve been doing all along and open this up to a less structured environment. And, that teacher-librarian would have to be brave enough to say “I don’t know everything but I can put together a team that does.”

    3) You’d need a staff that would be brave enough to recognize that there will be a great deal of give and take of the school tradition in order for this to work. Can we change the focus from “my students” to “our students” and be prepared to grow and learn as it becomes necessary?

    4) You’d need a community or parents and students brave enough to accept and understand that learning isn’t going to follow schedules and strict timelines. I would also push your vision to recognize that this community may well be the experts on call at times. Imagine how rich a community learning team could be if you’re prepared to embrace everyone’s strengths.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Doug,
      I agree with you about needing a tonne of bravery! I often think that instead of making changes to existing models and systems, that I would love to just start from the ground up in a new pilot school 😉

      In terms of EQAO, wouldn’t it be great if for example, the library team was able to work with all of the grade 3’s and 6’s each week for 100 minute blocks for the library team to do collaborative inquiry for EQAO – linking the value of the library to EQAO. And the Grade 3 and 6 teachers got to have this time to question, plan, design and moderate their own collaborative inquiries about student learning in their classes?

      I appreciate you clearly articulating what we would need to move forward. Bravery, trust, courage, support and buy-in would definitely be necessities!

      I just don’t see how we can continue with our school models remaining where they are. The physical set up, the set roles, the funding models only support key ministry initiatives including collaborative inquiry, accountability, math communication etc,. only so far. The push and pull in provincial negotiations are difficult. At what point do we employ Integrative Thinking practices to come up with new models, vs arguing over the ‘old ones’?

      Thanks Doug!


  7. As an experienced teacher who has been in many roles including classroom teacher K-8, Planning Time Teacher, and now as a first year Teacher-Librarian this article has further supported my vision for how I would like to see our Library transformed. You provided key points to consider and some direction for us moving forward. I love to jump in and go with new ideas and often others around me are not quite as eager. Where do you suggest we start in our first year? Our school is also involved in the New Pedagogies for Deeper Learning Project as well. I would appreciate you feedback. Thanks, Gayle

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Gayle, I am involved with the NPDL Tech-Hub too:) I also love to jump in with new ideas. I have been thinking about this for sometime. I think we tend to think from a deficit model when it comes to librarianship, with many boards already having removed the TL’s in the school. But what if we didn’t need to worry about that because we created library teams, with the TL as the head of the team. All working together toward common goals with the students – our own unified collaborative inquiries, that also freed up students in classes for teams of teachers to engage in collaborative inquiries each week!

      I think that you have a great question of where to start in first year! I think that a specific blueprint and plan of action would need to be drawn up. Perhaps by looking at the model for collaborative inquiry from the Ministry as a start. I would also perhaps suggest creating a mind-map looking at all of the needs of students, and how this would support the many Ministry Initiatives including supporting Collaborative Inquiries, BIPSA, SIPSA, School effectiveness frameworks, and Together for Learning document. In addition, providing rationale to stakeholders who would be affected and how to address each one with supporting research for the inquiry.
      Perhaps going through the steps of the Integrative Thinking Model could be valuable too – I am just starting to learn more about this model from the Rotman School of Management at U of T.

      I would also start by curating any resources and information I possibly can! I have started to do this already with related topics.

      I also love Doug Pete’s post above – he has added a lot to think about!
      I will be adding more as I go too:)

      Thanks for helping me think of the next step!


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