One of the most challenging concepts for many teachers is the idea of collaborating with others. Many of these teaching soloists have either worked by themselves in their classrooms for years or they don't see the value of teaming up with others. In addition, the school librarian might be last individual that some teachers would consider teaming with for any teaching partnerships. In this article, we would like to share some ideas that have worked for us in our school library programs. This includes a K–6 elementary and a secondary program consisting of grades 8–12. While there are many ways to encourage and grow collaboration in your learning environment, we know that one size doesn't fit all. We hope you find these practices will work for you even if it is necessary to make modifications to your particular situation.
One of the most powerful ways to entice teachers to collaborate in the library space is to give them a new vision for how the library can be used as an extension of the classroom. Many teachers still visualize the library as a storehouse for books and the quietest place in the school. This stereotype is one of the first hurdles to jump over on the path to initiating collaboration with teachers. If we can share some possible ways the library can be used as an extension to the classroom, it can open the door to collaboration. This can be done through professional development sessions or just casual conversations with teachers about what they are doing in the classroom, with suggested possibilities to help bring some fresh, engaging approaches for instruction.
A couple of weeks after presenting a session to a group of elementary teachers about the role that the school library could play in their instruction, a sixth grade teacher came to the library with an idea. She was having difficulty engaging students in narrative writing, especially in giving descriptive details of the setting. After about fifteen minutes of brainstorming and discussion, a plan was formed to utilize the library space in a unique way. She wanted to immerse the students in an ominous setting. In order to create this, we worked together to totally darken the library by covering the multiple windows with black paper. Battery-operated tea lights were purchased and scattered across the tables. The only media used during this collaboration was a YouTube video of a thunderstorm with flashing lightning.On the day of "Writing in the Dark," the students entered the library and immediately began their writing. When the teacher said that time was up, no one was ready to stop. The teacher even mentioned how some of her more distracted or talkative students were totally quiet and focused during their time in this immersive setting in the library. When she looked at their narrative writing, she was amazed at the quality of detail that the students gave. The success of this simple first collaboration made the students and the teacher want to come back to the library for more learning opportunities. This led to more frequent and elaborate collaborations with this teacher.
One day in a casual conversation with a teacher, another collaborative opportunity was born. The teacher was excited that his fifth grade students were writing letters to pen pals in another state. I asked him what he thought about actually letting the students meet face to face. He looked at me perplexed because he knew the location was too far away for students to travel. Then I explained to him about how Google Hangouts could connect from distant locations. I arranged and set up a hangout with the other school. The teacher and his students came to the library media center. It was just priceless to see the reactions on the students' faces as they introduced themselves. The faces from both locations lit up as they heard the name of their pen pals and saw their faces. This collaboration led to other hangouts with great learning opportunities shared with the pen pals throughout the school year.
The key to each of these collaborations was building a relationship with the teachers and allowing them to take what they were already doing in the classroom and adding additional elements to use the library media center as an extension to the classroom. In both instances the students and teachers wanted to return to the school library for similar experiences.
Making classroom visits has been a great way to recruit teachers for possible collaboration activities. We simply cannot wait for educators to visit us in the library. Teachers are under an amazing amount of stress within their own curriculum expectations. Take your show on the road by leaving the confines of the library and knocking on classroom doors whenever teachers may be available.
A visit to a science teacher revealed that she was open to trying some new technology in her classroom. Upon hearing about the Skype a Scientist program (https://www.skypeascientist.com), she was eager to collaborate to find an astronomer for one of her classes. The teacher indicated she was very nervous to try a live webcam connection with her students. It was obvious the technology intimidated her: What if the webcam didn't work? What if the Internet connection dropped? This is where the librarian can assure the teacher that we "have their back." Many times a teacher who is unsure about new technologies may have a different attitude if they know they will have assistance. This is a great opportunity to invite the teacher to bring their class to the library so that the teacher librarian can take the lead with the technology. After a teacher observes how easy and effective a Skype activity can be, they will feel more confident about trying it again and perhaps on their own.
There are always opportunities to lead teachers to engaging activities in the library. One math teacher wanted to participate in a library collaboration so we suggested BreakoutEDU. Many teachers are very unsure about breakout experiences because of the complicated puzzles and locks. Teachers often make comments and ask questions like: I have no idea how to setup a box. How do the puzzles and locks work together? Can you help me come up with engaging puzzles? This is a great occasion for the school librarian to meet with a teacher to quickly explain how the activity is designed and staged. Additionally, the librarian can easily offer to manage setting up the locks and assist the teacher in creating puzzles or providing resources for pre-made puzzles.
When you work together to create an activity like this, professional relationships are strengthened. This also paves the path for additional collaborations because good news travels fast. As a result of having BreakoutEDU sessions with one math teacher, another one from the same department asked to do similar sessions with his class. Both math teachers invited the principal to visit for their professional observation and evaluation. This not only changed the view of the library by several members of the mathematics department, it also opened up our principal's mind to additional possibilities for the library program, its personnel, and its spaces. When we help teachers, it may lead others to collaborate!
Through our experiences in developing collaborations, a few key tips have risen to the surface. While these won't work for every situation and/or every teacher in the learning community, they lend themselves to encouraging rich collaborative possibilities in the library.
- Seek out lead teachers since they tend to be risk takers in the classroom.
- Invite other teachers to attend collaborative sessions to open their minds to the possibilities.
- Make classroom visits, when possible, to listen to teachers' instructional needs.
- Present library collaboration tools and ideas during faculty meetings.
- After a collaboration, post photos and information on library social media so other teachers will see them.
Because of these collaborative experiences, we have gained lasting partnerships with teachers in our buildings. Collaboration allows everyone to bring their strengths to the table. It is an opportunity to grow together through team planning and teaching. Students will view the library as an extension of the classroom whenever these events happen. A culture of collaboration never stops; it will continue to grow and manifest itself through meaningful learning experiences. Our library spaces are now viewed as much more than storage places for print materials. Our school leaders continually encourage teachers to collaborate in the library. Students get a chance to experience immersive learning through events they may never forget. Try collaborating with the teachers you serve. Don't be afraid to start taking the lead from the school library.