One of the biggest challenges facing librarians is how to get teachers to collaborate or cooperate (for those on fixed schedules) with them. How can you break through that barrier and show teachers what you can do for them and their students? Unless teachers are forced by the administration to work with you, they probably won’t – unless you change the playing field. To make that happen, remember we are in the relationship business.
Too frequently when you are at a middle or high school the teachers are too busy to collaborate with you. They bring their classes to the library to do a project they haven’t discussed with you and often don’t want you input. At the elementary level it’s even more difficult. Teachers drop students at the library door and pick them up at the end of the period. Many don’t care what you did with their kids as long as they had time to grab a cup of coffee and catch up with their work on their duty free period. To them, that’s what the library period means.
Build your relationships first, and keep building them. You probably already get along better with some teachers rather than others. Consider how that relationship developed. You might be able to use that knowledge to reach out to other teachers.
Email communications don’t build relationships. Personal contact does. It gives you the opportunity to look the other person in the eye. To smile at them. To give them your full attention. To wait to respond until you are sure they are finished. In the process, you learn something about them. What they like. What they do in their free time. All the things that make them who they are.
When you reach out to them to propose a collaborative unit, you speak to that whole person. Offer your support and encouragement. Ask what the next research project will be about and when it will occur. Let the teacher know you would like to support her and her students by showing them how the library can make it a more successful experience. Promise any extra work will fall on your shoulders.
Conduct a careful reference interview. Was this project done before? If so what were the results? Was there anything that disappointed the teacher or was particularly successful? If it’s new, what does she hope to see in the students’ products? What are her concerns? From there you can find out if there are any Essential Questions for it. If not, get back to her with some suggestions and ideas for how the project might be altered and what parts you will take on. Find tech resources that will showcase what students do and be shareable on your website and any places where parents and others can see it. Be sure to offer to check students’ works cited information.
Show the teacher your ideas and be open to any changes. You are there to help, and while you can carefully guide, don’t overpower. You are building trust. Since you have a relationship it’s already there to some extent but you are now expanding it.
When the project is complete, in a brief meeting – or an email at this point – review what worked and what didn’t. Would the teacher want to do this again next year? What changes would she like? What would you suggest?
End with acknowledgement. Send a handwritten note to the teacher, and perhaps one to the principal, thanking the teacher for taking the risk and giving you and the students this opportunity. In this day of texting and emailing, handwritten notes get attention.
To create a cooperative unit at the elementary level, use much the same techniques. Find out what is being studied and offer to do a complementary project. See if the teacher would like to see the results.
How are you building relationships? Is it helping you to increase your collaboration/cooperation with teachers? What help do you need?