The Power of Partnership

Getting teachers to collaborate with you can be a challenge. At the elementary level, you are their prep period, and they are perfectly happy to let you work with their students however you choose. At the high school level, you may never see them. And if they do come into the library, they know what they want and look to you for assistance, not collaboration. They don’t always see how your vision supports their goals.

If there is to be a change, chances are good that you must be the one to initiate it. It will take time and multiple steps to achieve your goal, but it will be worth it to everyone—especially the students. As you develop these partnerships, keep in mind your Mission and Vision. Look toward the relationships you have already built and focus on those who are most likely to be open to an overture from you. New relationships take longer but are just as worthwhile.

How you approach your teachers to begin the process is critical to your eventual success. Jim Knight offers Seven Principles for True Partnership. Although written to address to the business world, they are powerful reminders for us as well.

Equality – Although you are the one doing the initial heavy lifting, both parties must feel heard. No matter the teacher or what you see you bring to the project, it’s important that we “recognize the value and dignity of others.” This means listening without interrupting and correcting, which will likely cause them to withdraw. Be sure you show you recognize and value their interest in their students’ learning and the part they play in the success of your collaboration.

Choice – Rather than trying to find ways to impose your plan, look for ways to incorporate their ideas into the process as well as the final design. A partnership means there are contributions from both sides. Identify what you see as good ideas in what they proposed. Rather than thinking of it as selling your idea, approach it as how can you create something good together. It will be stronger for having input from both sides.

Voice – Give them room to react to your ideas. As with creating Equality, listen attentively. Make sure they know you hear and value their ideas. Sometimes a teacher’s idea of resources, essential questions, and other components seem off base. This may be a matter of newness, not ignorance. Are they concerned the scope is too large? Do they think it will be more work than they can handle? Pay attention to what they are saying and any other silent communication that suggests some resistance. If you spot that, ask about it. Don’t override any issues they have.

Dialogue – Knight talks about recognizing the other’s strengths. This is one of the best ways to build a partnership and collaboration. Each of you has something unique to bring to the project. Dialogue is a back-and-forth process where both sides want to be heard and understood. How can you leverage this?

Reflection – Look inwardly to see how you behave and react as the partnership develops. We tend to jump in and fix things rather than allow the other person to find their way and learn. Telling someone what they should do doesn’t work unless they have asked for advice. Make certain that each step in the process strengthens the partnership you’re working to build because you want this to last beyond the one project.

Praxis – As Knight uses it, this is about the learning that occurs while a project is happening. Plans rarely go exactly as designed. Both of you need to be prepared to make changes and adjustments. Mistakes and successes will happen. Learn from both. And do this in partnership so that you each feel supported.

Reciprocity – Each partnership is an opportunity to learn and grow. Go into this collaboration knowing that you are likely to learn as much (or more) from them as they will from you. That is one of the gifts of partnership – it speeds our learning because we do it together. What have you learned from each other? Be sure to share how you benefitted from the other person. Hopefully, you will hear what they learned from you.

Librarians and teachers have days that are filled with tasks and deadlines. Both have goals that are difficult to achieve alone. Building and nurturing collaborations take time, but the benefits to students and to our own lives are worth it. With whom will you partner?

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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?