ON LIBRARIES: Regarding Teachers

Students are our first priority, but teachers come in at a close second.  For the most part, they are the gateway to the students. If we don’t find ways to reach them, we lose much of our access to students.

Why don’t we collaborate more – or at least cooperate?  We are on the same team?  Aren’t we?  The answer is not simple.  Yes, we should be on the same team, but do you feel and act as if the teachers are on your team?  Do the teachers feel you are on theirs?

Too many librarians believe the teachers don’t recognize what they bring to students, and this is often the case. If they are not working with you, they have no idea what you are doing.  And they certainly can’t imagine what you could do.

The situation can be exacerbated by your reaction.  If you feel undervalued and even disrespected, your attitude creeps into your interactions with the teachers. They sense it and respond in kind, further setting up a “we/they” feeling.

It’s too important to let things continue if they are not working.  Your job responsibility requires you to at least have a professional relationship with every teacher. You don’t have to be BFFs, but you must be able to regard all of them in a friendly manner. The library is a “safe, welcoming environment for ALL.” That includes teachers, even if they never set foot in it.

Your challenge is to move from we/they to us.  If they don’t come in the library, you are going to have to meet them elsewhere. School and district committees are a good place to start.  Despite your heavy schedule, you need to make time for this because you automatically meet as equals on these committees.   As you bring your expertise to the discussions, teachers begin to realize how you can contribute to what they do.

Next, make your library an inviting space for teachers.  Food is always the perfect lure.  Have coffee (and tea) available if you can.  Bring in snacks both healthy and not-so-healthy that don’t need refrigeration.  Let teachers know you have this available. There are other ways to lure teachers in.  Having a color printer or a laminator are a draw. Even better, if your library has the space, create a “teachers only” area.

If you build this – they will come. You don’t have to stop what you are doing to greet them. Your students and classes come first. Leave a little welcoming note and/or any needed directions where you have the food.  You can leave some new additions nearby with a note saying these books are about to be put into the collection and to let you know if they want one of them first.  You can also put out magazines you think they would like.

On those occasions when teachers come in and you aren’t involved with students, don’t pounce on them with suggestions of books and websites and other resources.  Just focus on bringing them in. If they feek as though you are offering a sales pitch, they will stay away. Instead, use the time to get to know them as people.  What are their hobbies, interests?  Do they have kids?  Do whatever it takes to begin building a relationship. Reach out to them as people.  Personal before professional lays the groundwork.

You will know you are succeeding when some teachers bring in food as thanks or come to use some of the special resources you have available.  That’s your cue to take the next step with them.  Move from the personal to the professional. (Sounds backwards but it’s really the best way to create collaboration or cooperation.) Ask about what they are working on with their classes. Listen carefully to find out what the culminating project is or any difficulties they are having with the unit.

After the conversation, demonstrate your curation skills by gathering books and/or web resources.  Don’t wait for the teacher to come back in.  Deliver it in person if possible.  Otherwise, put it in their mailbox with a note saying, “Based on our conversation, I thought you would find this helpful.”

Teachers are as overwhelmed and feel as unappreciated and undervalued as you do.  The last thing they want is to take on more work.  Cooperating or collaborating with you sounds like it is just that.  You need to show them that being an Instructional Partner can and will make their life easier.

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ON LIBRARIES: The Myth of the Lonely Librarian

I have written about the stories we tell ourselves that hold us back from being the leaders we need to be, but there is one other that too many librarians believe.  They see themselves as isolated.  As the only librarian in the building, there is no one who understands what they do and what their challenges are.

As with the other stories, there is a surface truth but it is far from the whole story.  What’s more, believing it turns you into a complainer.  Even if you don’t express your thoughts to your colleagues, you unwittingly communicate your attitude and it sends them a negative message.

Yes, you are likely the only librarian in your school.  Perhaps you have multiple schools for which you are responsible. Possibly you are the only librarian in your district. But you are alone only if you choose to be.

There are others who are “alone” in their jobs.  The school nurse is one.  At the elementary level, the art, music, and physical education teachers have no else doing their job. Then there is the computer teacher—and the principal.  Have you ever considered reaching out to them and seeing if you can collaborate on a unit?

Years ago, I worked in an elementary school where the “specials” selected a theme and each of us worked with all the grades, bringing our area of specialization to having students explore the topic in great depth.  One of the projects was on marine life.  While I had classes research different aspects of the subject, the art teacher had them making murals and paintings of underwater life, the music teacher taught sea chanties and other sea songs, and our very creative physical education teacher devised a series of game and activities dealing with the underwater realm.

We had fun planning together.  It was a great opportunity to find out more about my colleagues as people as well as their individual knowledge and discover how it could all be brought together. The complete project culminated in an evening presentation that utilized the halls and gym.  The walls were covered with student art and along the way, students performed and shared their new-found knowledge of marine life. In the gym, there were exhibitions of the activities they had learned. Parents were enchanted and the students loved it. I met a number of them later when I was transferred to the high school and invariably mentioned the “special projects” they had been involved in over the year. I am sure they remembered these far more clearly than any class assignment they had.

You don’t have to do something on this scale although perhaps you can build toward it. Choose one of these teachers whom you think would most probably want to take on this type of project.  See if the nurse has a health-related project he or she would like to do. It could include decorating the nurse’s office.

The same is true with the computer teacher.  What specific applications is he or she is teaching students.  Can you come up with a real-life project where students would have to use those applications to present or track their findings?

And then there is the principal.  Granted it’s harder, but administrators in small schools are likely to be the “only” one doing the job, and it’s a tough one.  Could you help?  You both see the big picture, knowing all the students and teachers and the curriculum. Perhaps you can offer to do any research he or she needs. If you read Educational Leadership, the journal of ASCD (the high school should have a subscription or check your periodical databases), you can keep current with the trends in education.  Then share any information you get on those topics.

But what about how you do your job?  Nobody in your building gets that.  But your librarian colleagues do.  Social media has made it simple to connect to them.  There are a host of school library-related Facebook groups from LM_NET to Future Ready Librarians, to my own School Librarian’s Workshop.

Your state association is likely to have a Facebook group as well as a listserv.  Be part of it. Ask for help when you need it. Your state association’s conference is another important way to connect with colleagues. And if you venture out further there is the AASL biennial conference and ALA Annual. If you haven’t reached out before you will be amazed by how willing librarians, including the leaders, are to help others in the profession.

If you feel lonely in your job, it’s because you aren’t making use of all the potential connections.  What are you doing to connect and show you are part of your educational and library communities?

ON LIBRARIES: Doing It Together

fishAre you a loner?  I don’t mean someone who doesn’t like to socialize. I am referring to the type of person who prefers getting a job done alone, without help from others. Since you are a librarian, you want to work collaboratively or, if you are on a fixed schedule, cooperatively with teachers. Doing it together would be the way to go.

For most teachers, their classroom is their kingdom and they run it the way they like.  Once they close the doors they are in charge. They are loners and they like it – and if they become librarians, they carry this outlook with them. Although librarians bemoan the difficulty they have in getting teachers to collaborate, the truth is, many teachers don’t like to collaborate with any one.

This is a generalization, of course. It doesn’t apply to all teachers, and with the formation of Professional Learning Communities (PLC) in schools, more of them are sharing their lesson plans and experiences with their colleagues, even if they don’t do so willingly.

I can remember when students hated to do a group project but today’s students by nature prefer to work with others.  They discover the latest app from their friends, game in partnership, and share information is their preferred learning style.  They are comfortable in the participatory culture.

I honestly believe most librarians are now this way as well but we need to recognize the presence of the secret loner within ourselves and the not-so-secret loner inside teachers. We often blame teacher reluctance to work with us on NCLB and the Common Core, but in reality it has always been this way.  The pressures have just made it more noticeable.together

How can you convince teachers that doing it together is better? (And convince some of you as well.).  Long before NCLB and the presence of computers in our lives, I struggled to get a science teacher to bring her students to the library.  She taught a special course called The Human Experience (THE) which connected science to everyday life.

THE was exciting and relevant. Among other things, kids learned about heart transplants and how they worked.  The course content was solidly packed and the teacher felt she had no time to “waste” in the library.  Sound familiar?

Because we had a good relationship, (you might remember how I have stressed the importance of building relationships), she grudging gave me one class period to work with her students on their current research assignment.  I discussed research strategies with them and showed them the resources (all print at the time) that would best meet their needs.

When the assignment was complete the teacher was extremely pleased. The kids had done a much better job than in the past.  What amazed her even more, was that the one day in the library had a positive effect on the rest of their projects during the year.  The next year, she sought me out to begin collaborating often.

together-2Not only did the students learn something valuable, the teacher did as well.  As a side note, the teacher went on to become a principal.  Her views on the value of the library and the librarian came with her on the administrative level.  It’s amazing how we affect our future positively and negatively by small actions.

I understand the inner resistance to working together.  Time is precious.  You know what has to get done.  Someone else might not bring the same commitment to the task.  It won’t come out the way you intended.  But that’s not all bad.

copyright Leo Lionni

In getting over my own “loner’ tendencies, I discovered some basic truths I think our students already know. No matter how smart you are, you don’t know everything.  And while someone else might not have as much knowledge as you on a given subject, the differing perspectives very often brings about a richer final product.  And like the teacher, we all learn and grow in the process.

Are you a loner or a natural collaborator?  How can you get passed any loner tendencies you have?  What have you learned as a result of collaborating?

ON LIBRARIES: The Challenge of Collaboration – Part Three

collaboration 2For the past two weeks I have been blogging about meeting the challenge of collaboration.  So many librarians are unable to make the connections which combine the expertise of all participants and create a larger result than if the librarian worked alone.  On a more subtle, but no less vital, level these collaborations build a deeper understanding of the library program and develop the advocates who fight to retain librarians and their programs.

You must find and use the assets that are within your reach.

Once again here is the first Guideline under “Teaching for Learning” in AASL’s Empowering Learners which focuses on collaboration:

The school library program promotes collaboration among members of the learning community and encourages learners to be independent, lifelong users and producers of ideas and information. (p. 20)

The actions supporting the Guideline expect the librarian to:

  • “collaborate with a core team of classroom teachers and specialists to design, implement, and evaluate inquiry lessons and units
  • collaborate with an extended team including parents, community members, … museums, academic and public libraries… to include their expertise and assistance in inquiry lessons and units
  • work with administrators to actively promote, support, and implement collaboration
  • seek input from students on the learning process.”

The one most librarians feel is beyond their reach is the second bullet point. As with the others, the best way to incorporate this is by starting small and building on it. The Makerspace movement is an excellent way to begin collaborating with parents and community members. start small

Once you have launched your Makerspace, use your website, Twitter account, or however you reach parents and invite them to share their expertise with students.  Whether it’s building an app or knitting, you will find volunteers who will be glad to teach and help students.  You provide the materials along with print and online resources.  Take pictures and do a video of your “expert” and students at work and their final products.

If the students are willing, see if the public librarian will let you set up a display to showcase what occurred. Add an “advertisement” for community members to lead a Makerspace. Find out in advance from your administrator what needs to be done to permit this.

High school librarians can contact academic librarians if there is a community or four-year college in the area.  With some planning, set up a field trip for a class beginning a research project. The college librarian can teach students how to access and choose the extensive databases available, letting them see and experience what research will be like once they graduate. The local media outlet can be invited to cover the event and record student reactions.

at the libraryMost towns have some sort of historical society or other museum area.  Find out what they are, what they have on exhibit, and any special ones that are upcoming.  Look to see if this matches with curricular units.  Either arrange for a field visit or have the curator bring the items to your library to share with students, giving them a deeper understanding of what they will be exploring.  Again invite the media – and your administrator.

Educators have been stressing authentic learning, and our national standards enjoin us to develop inquiry-base units. The two combine when you develop a large network of people with whom you collaborate. Each project spreads the word on what a 21st century library program is. The groups you collaborate with, the more people are invested in continuing the success of your program.

Advocacy is an on-going, never stopping campaign.  It’s not about begging people for our jobs. It’s about everyone recognizing that what we do is invaluable for our school community and the success now and in the future of our students.

How are you reaching out and building collaborative partnerships?

ON LIBRARIES: The Challenge of Collaboration – Part One

NOTE: This is the first of a several week series on collaboration

collaboration 2“School librarians transform student learning.”  Easy to say.  Important to do.  Accomplishing it… is more complicated.  While we can do much when dealing with students one-to-one, and certainly work toward that end when we have a scheduled class, the transformation is best achieved when working in collaboration with teachers. Some of you are doing so on a regular basis, but from my contacts with school librarians coping with day-to-day pressures, fixed schedules, and unwilling teachers, collaboration is at best a distant goal.

The first Guideline under “Teaching for Learning” in AASL’s Empowering Learners states:

The school library program promotes collaboration among members of the learning community and encourages learners to be independent, lifelong users and producers of ideas and information. (p. 20)

The actions supporting the Guideline expect the librarian to:

  • “collaborate with a core team of classroom teachers and specialists to design, implement, and evaluate inquiry lessons and units
  • collaborate with an extended team including parents, community members, … museums, academic and public libraries… to include their expertise and assistance in inquiry lessons and units
  • work with administrators to actively promote, support, and implement collaboration
  • seek input from students on the learning process.”

That’s a tall order and very few are doing all of this. The Guidelines offer no direction on how you are to develop this level of collaboration and instructional partnership.  Where do you start?Hello

You can’t focus on all four actions at once.  The last is the easiest to accomplish by way of formative assessments during a class and regular brief surveys or exit tickets at the end of a unit. The first action is your main target to implement the Guideline into your program.

At the middle and high school levels, you normally have a flex schedule which means some teachers bring their classes frequently, some do it rarely, and others you never see.  Work initially with those accustomed to using their library as part of their instruction.  At what point do you enter the process right now?  Is the teacher using only your facility but not your expertise or does h/she expect you to do an introduction to the resources to be used? You want to reach the stage where you are develop the unit together, each making a design contribution.

If the teacher is only using your facility, observe what students are working on.  Come up with one or two resources that would improve their results and share with the teacher.  If you are thanked, suggest the teacher give you a heads-up in the future so you can provide relevant sources.  If your recommendatiknockingon is ignored, repeat the process the next time.

In the case where you informed in advance what students will be doing and can offer recommended direction, add possibilities for making the project inquiry-based, one where the end product has meaning beyond the due date.  You want to create learning opportunities for students to be producers of information and not just regurgitating existing facts they collect and turn into a pretty presentation.

In all cases, follow up with a brief assessment with the teacher.  Did this help?  What would work better next time?  Frame your questions so teachers are willing to make negative comments. If you only hear positives you can’t improve what you are doing.

Elementary librarians who mostly have fixed schedules have a greater challenge. If you are in that situation, your first aim is to cooperate with teachers. To do that you need to find out what they are working on in class to give students a deeper connection with the topic by working with you when they come in at their scheduled time.collaborative learning

Start with the teachers with whom you have a good relationship.  When they give tell you what they are doing (or you have a curriculum map to guide you), let them know what you are doing with their students.  As with flex time librarians, follow up when the unit is complete to find out what the teacher thought. What if anything did he/she not like?  What worked? Was there anything you can do differently next time?

Next week, meeting the challenges of other Actions in the Guidline.

 

 

 

 

ON LIBRARIES – Creating Collaboration

pieces fittingOne 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 relationships

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.

working togetherConduct 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?thank you

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?