Program Highlight: How the Oakland Library Leadership Team Brought Inquiry District Wide

  • What would it look like to use our monthly professional development time to support our librarian community to grow as professionals?
  • How can we be less reactive and operational and more proactive and adaptive?
  • How can we return from distance learning and best support our students to love reading and the library?

These were some of the questions that the Oakland Unified School District Library Leadership Team were grappling with as they kicked off the 2021-22 school year and began their partnership with Lead by Learning. In the absence of a district librarian, 5 Oakland librarians led district wide professional development for their librarian colleagues. Like many, during the 2020-21 school year their meetings, out of necessity, centered around surviving as librarians during distance learning and were full of operational “to-dos.” With schools reopening they were inspired to try something new: cycles of inquiry. 

Working with Lead by Learning facilitator, Nina Portugal, and supported by District Secondary Literacy Coordinator Jeannie Bruland, the Library Leadership Team (LLT), Samantha Solomon, Samia Khattab, Maggie Rogers, and Rebecca Edwards used inquiry themselves as leaders of adult learners, to support their colleagues to engage in inquiry about their students’ experience in their libraries. Focused on their three library priorities (support free and independent reading, curriculum and instruction, and special events), the LLT supported their colleagues to get curious, gather data, try something new, and repeat the cycle again.

The Library Leadership Team began their year with Lead by Learning with a visioning retreat to surface and name their professional development vision and goals.

Leading with vulnerability, the LLT members modeled Public Learning at each meeting to support their colleagues to share with one another what they were curious about in their libraries and what they were trying. Each session, colleagues were encouraged to bring in student data ranging from book displays, focal student interviews, and student work during library mini lessons to understand their practice more, engage students, and promote free and independent reading. 

Then with their Lead by Learning facilitator, they reviewed adult learning data together. They paid close attention to what their colleagues were saying in the chat and their small groups to understand the quality of conversation and to ensure that this “new” style of professional development was meeting their needs. Each LLT member conducted a learning partnership conversation with an adult learner to understand the experience of their colleagues, especially those who weren’t on board with cycles of inquiry or attending meetings, to best support each colleague’s professional learning. And of course, using learning stances as leaders, they saw each inevitable bump in the road as data to learn and adapt their design as leaders of adult learners and connect deeper to the vision and purpose of the work to move forward.

For example, for colleagues who couldn’t attend the meetings they tried recording the Public Learning moments. For colleagues who had missed meetings, they began to take notes and share them afterwards. They created a learning table for colleagues to capture their thinking and shared that widely to build collective efficacy. For colleagues, who had to join the virtual professional development on their phones or while commuting, they made sure there were opportunities for them to listen and contribute even if they couldn’t type or participate in the more traditional sense. And for everyone, they did their best to make sure “inquiry” didn’t feel like something extra but instead a way to deepen and collaborate around what they were already doing. 

At their final library professional development of the school year, they all virtually put on their party hats to celebrate one another and share their learning around the three library priorities. At the previous meeting, library staff was supported to synthesize their learning in a collaborative slide deck. Sharing in small groups the feeling of joy and professionalism resounded. 

  • Lisa shared about her inquiry around rereading; how and why students reread and check out the same book, especially graphic novels. 
  • Maggie shared about her inquiry on class visits and how she learned about making them more engaging and student centered.
  • Cindy shared about her goals of supporting students as researchers.
  • Sam shared how she explored the use of advisory as an opportunity to build a culture of learning at the two middle schools and one high school she supported.
  • Stephanie shared about the creation of special events to support students to get excited about reading.

In their final survey to their staff, the impact of cycles of inquiry on students was also highlighted. 91.7% of library staff reported that the work positively impacted their students to be more engaged in the library and 83.3% reported that is supported students’ free and independent reading.

Library Professional Development End of Year Jamboard.

Not only did the librarian community learn about themselves, their students, and their individual library practice through cycles of inquiry, but they most importantly learned from each other. To make visible the professional collaboration, the final session ended with a Jamboard where they lifted up the nuggets of discovery that they gathered from one another. 

What is next for the LLT and the Oakland Unified School District librarians? So much. Using data collected from their colleagues at the last meeting about their professional learning experience, the LLT reflected on this school year to name what worked and what they want to adapt for the following year to continue to collaborate together to build literacy skills and the love of free and independent reading across the district.