Designing a Collaboration with a Focus on Mental Health

Kathleen Stoker is an English teacher with 22 years of experience and Anita Cellucci is a school librarian with more than 20 years in libraries. In Kathleen's course, students analyze literature using a psychological lens to better understand characters' behaviors. Students also explore factors influencing the authors' writing. This study, which includes relevant psychological research, encourages students to better understand themselves and society.

I was interested in why Kathleen and Anita thought it was important to consciously address mental health in the curriculum. Kathleen said, "We need to continue to destigmatize mental health in our schools. We want to continue to create safe spaces in our classrooms and school libraries for our students to access resources that support students' social emotional learning in a variety of ways."

Anita added, "Typically, when we think of education regarding mental health, we realize that it will be helpful for students and teachers to learn about mental health so that they develop awareness and empathy. I think that it is also imperative that we offer tools for students to think about mental health in the same way that we think of our physical health. Providing tools, education, and programming throughout school ages will help teachers, parents, and peers recognize the warnings signs and seek treatment." This is powerful thinking.

Initially, their collaboration took a traditional approach: the librarian in charge of resources and search strategies and the teacher handling the rest of the project. This changed after they both attended the Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries (CiSSL) Summer Institute at Rutgers University. At the same time, the WHS Library received a Library Services and Technology Act Grant to focus on mental health education and programming. The timing was perfect to dig deeper into their collaboration.

Anita described how Guided Inquiry Design® (GID) influenced their work together: "The GID process is meant to be a team approach with roles for the content teacher and the librarian that help to divide the workload. I think that focusing on these roles and strengths that we each bring to the collaboration make it invaluable and something that wouldn't have the same outcomes if tried individually."

Speaking of these different strengths, Anita shared, "We each take on the role of co-teacher with our voices having equal strength in offering insights, suggestions, and ideas…I truly enjoy contributing to the process of learning through the lens of students and teachers learning together. I also believe that the formal training that I've completed in relation to mental health makes the collaboration more powerful."

Kathleen added, "We hear from students that they are much more comfortable with the research process having two educators working with them. They have shared that they feel more prepared for life after high school. I know I have achieved greater success as an educator teaching my students because I have learned so much from Anita."

The process of learning from each other is one of the key joys of collaborative work—a thought further emphasized by Kathleen, who said, "Our collaboration has enabled me to become a more effective teacher as I am able to focus on my strengths, improve upon my challenges, and rely on Anita's expertise on research and up-to-date knowledge on state databases. Anita has also taught me a lot about the importance of destigmatizing mental health in the individual classroom through my use of language, literature, and literacy."

Anita chimed in to say, "Whenever I collaborate with a teacher, I am struck by the sheer amount of work that is asked of classroom teachers and the fact that the mental health of educators is not part of the equation. I see the value in the co-taught model that allows teachers to bring their strengths and make learning more impactful for students while placing value on their own awareness of self."

Finally, Kathleen said what we all wish our teachers would, "I would encourage more classroom teachers to collaborate with their librarian educators. Librarians have a wealth of knowledge, resources, and experience that will add to the classroom teacher's expertise and experience. Because of our collaboration with Psychology in Literature, Anita and I now collaborate in my other classes."

I hope you'll draw inspiration from Kathleen and Anita and think of a collaboration around mental health or social emotional learning that can tap into the strengths of a teacher in your school—don't be shy to broach the subject: you never know when a years-long collaboration will be sparked!

Suggested Resources

Anita's LibGuide on Mental Health

Cooper, Janice. "Guided Inquiry by Design: The Story of Student Learning." School Library Monthly, 30, no. 4, January 2014. School Library Connection,

Kuhlthau, Carol C., Leslie K. Maniotes, and Ann K. Caspari. Guided Inquiry Design: A Framework for Inquiry in Your School. Libraries Unlimited, 2012.

NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness

NAMI Mental Health Facts: Children & Teens

About the Author

Liz Deskins, MA, currently serves as an instructor in the School of Information at Kent State University and has been a teacher-librarian for more than 25 years. She earned her master's degree from the Ohio State University and is coauthor of the books LGBTQAI+ Books for Children and Teens: Providing a Window for All (ALA Editions, 2018) and Linking Picture Book Biographies to National Content Standards: 200+ Lives to Explore (Libraries Unlimited, 2015). She has served in numerous leadership roles within both the Ohio Educational Library Media Association and the American Association of School Librarians.

MLA Citation Deskins, Liz. "Designing a Collaboration with a Focus on Mental Health." School Library Connection, May 2018,

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Entry ID: 2148407

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