Building Common Ground • Specialists & Staff

Remember the specialists and staff in your school when establishing partnerships to support student learning through the school library program. Here, we'll talk about school counselors, paraprofessionals, special area teachers, and technology professionals and staff.

I start with school counselors because when I was a school librarian, the school counselor was one of my best and most supportive collaborators. We worked together mostly through the school's anti-bullying program and then the resource correlated with this lesson. I've included for you ideas and lesson topics for counselor-library collaborations. It's a natural collaboration when you think about it because we're working with student needs, both academically but also in their child and adolescent development.

Some other topics where you might connect with your school counselor are either programs, lessons, or resources related to choosing a college or post-secondary path, study skills, diversity, school and community spirit, safety, talking to your parents or your caregiver, or community service. If you think about the expertise of the school counselor and the information specialty of the school librarian in instruction, collaboration on building resources, and talking to students, it's really a great partnership.

Another important partnership that sometimes we forget about is working with the paraprofessionals in the building. These are the teacher aids or instructional aids that work closely with individual students often on homework or inquiry projects, so it makes sense to help these people, the paraprofessionals, get to know what the library program is about and especially some of the practices that you like to advocate in helping students maybe choose resources for an inquiry project, find materials for independent reading or other activities related to reading and information. You might consider offering profession development workshops or modules. You can coordinate with your school principal and perhaps the special education director to plan these.

When I was a school librarian, I did do some workshops after school for the paraprofessionals particularly those who worked with students doing social studies projects, helping these paraprofessionals learn about the school's reference databases was really key in getting the students to use those for their projects as well. Get to know the paraprofessionals by name, offer to introduce them to library resources even informally, and this tip may be good for not only paraprofessionals but all of the staff in your building. Consider hosting a staff book exchange just on a shelf, maybe in an extra corner of the library office where you use an honors system. Bring a book, take a book; so you're promoting and modeling reading and you're also showing a different way of interacting with the professionals and staff in your building.

Speaking of the other professionals, the special area teachers are really important group to reach out for collaborations either with small groups of students or maybe connecting to a project with a general education classroom setting. For instance, reading specialists, they co-teach close reading strategies or help you to give students strategies for how to read for information. Speech therapist or special education teachers may offer you instructional suggestions for interacting with students, supporting auditory and visual needs in your instruction, in your library space, and in you collection development.

Here's a couple examples of collaboration with special area teachers in my work as a school librarian. First, as middle school librarian, we had an alternative education program and these students rarely got to visit the library. They're mostly in their alternative headroom throughout the day. But with an okay from the principal, they would come in with their teachers on Friday afternoons and give me some help with book shelving and returns and they got to browse the books and use the internet for the remainder of the period. It was supervised, but it was a nice opportunity for me to get to know these students and for them to have a positive experience with the library.

Another good example was working with special education teachers on student inquiry projects. We found that students needed low-reading level, high-interest science materials for a particular project. And this partnership really helps me to get to know the students and their needs as well as identify areas where the collection needed to be developed further.

Finally, technology professionals and staff are an important partnership for school librarians. When we're thinking of instructional faculty, whether these are technology coaches, technology teachers or whatever the role might be, we really have to be collaborative, not competitive. Connect to learn about one another's expertise whether it's your information literacy or the digital literacy of your technology colleagues. Be flexible, share what you know, and learn from each other. I've included in the resources for this lesson an article by Melissa Johnston on making the most of this partnership as well as a book called School Librarians and the Technology Department: A Practical Guide for Successful Collaboration.

It's a really important partnership to make. Here's one example. A few weeks ago, I offered a professional development at a school district in North Carolina, working with a few university colleagues. It was the district level technology officer who was our main contact for these four days of professional development. He spent the whole time with us and learned a lot about the school library program and the needs of the school librarians in that district. It was a great way for him to see what was going on in the program, where things needed to go, and what some of the strengths and needs of their programs were.

One other document that I'll draw your attention to is the ISTE School Library Media SIG statement called "the Role of School Librarians in Promoting the Use of Educational Technologies." There's some key language in this document about how you can express your role in educational technology and perhaps assess the needs and strengths of your program. Whether you're working with technology professionals, special area teachers, paraprofessionals, and the school counselors, remember the specialist and staff when establishing common ground with the teachers and faculty and staff in your school.

MLA Citation Morris, Rebecca J. "Building Common Ground: Specialists & Staff ." School Library Connection, September 2015,

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Entry ID: 1980851

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