Collaboration: Ten Important Reasons to Take It Seriously
Ten Important Reasons to Take It Seriously
School library media specialist (SLMS) collaboration with teachers, especially when making use of computer-based technology, is a very powerful tool. The most important consequence is that it helps increase student achievement, and it also helps assure that the library is an integral component of the school’s curriculum, as shown by the Lance and Ohio studies 1. These studies emphasize the matrix of collaboration, technology and leadership as major factors in increasing student achievement.
Unfortunately, many SLMS’s who tend to only recall the point that “librarians improve student achievement”, do not always understand the full meaning of the Colorado Studies. Two key factors emphasized in the Studies are collaboration and the use of technology. Collaboration most frequently occurs when the librarian is perceived by their teachers to be an educational leader. Given that collaboration can be time-consuming and difficult to accomplish, it is easy to overlook opportunities for collaboration with teachers. It’s often not easy to “hook” some teachers into a collaboration mode of teaching, especially at the elementary level, but with diplomacy and modeling, it can happen. It is worth your making a deliberate campaign to learn all you can about the best techniques for collaboration, the school’s formal curriculum and goals and the “informal” curriculum-driven by teachers’ own scholastic interests. If you are an effective user of technology, librarian-teacher collaboration is easier than you might think because librarians are trained to search, organize, display and present faster and more effectively
Inspired by articles by Doug Johnson 2 and Joyce Valenza 3 that touch on the importance of collaboration and technology use I’ve developed a list of ten important reasons for collaborating. So, why collaborate? Because it:
1. Increases student achievement.
When you collaborate with teachers, you are involved with the integration, organization and demonstration of in-context, effective use of online and traditional resources. As proved in the studies mentioned above, students are thus more likely to become effective users of information and ideas.
2. Allows you to model successful and desirable practices.
Unless you are seen by your staff and administrators to be engaged in collaboration, they are less likely to know that this is an important service that you provide. As you are observed meeting with teachers, demonstrating effective use of information technology to them and their students, and appearing in a supportive role, this image will be embedded in their minds. It will seem normal. It will seem necessary.
3. Reinforces your important and pivotal role as an educational leader.
In order to make them comfortable with you as a collaborator, it is essential that your teachers look to you as an educational leader—. Working with teachers automatically puts you in a leadership role. The fact that your faculty sees you as a leader instills confidence, especially when it involves making effective use of technology. Many teachers are unable to fully integrate technology use into their classrooms. They are subject-matter experts, and they have oven (often?) overloaded in that role. They need your technology expertise as a means to integrate the effective use technology into their teaching.
4. Allows you to work in a non-clerical, non-stereotypical role.
One of the most frustrating LMT stereotypes is that we are often seen as glorified (and overpaid) clerks. One way to avoid giving that impression is to limit your participation in clerical activities. If you are collaborating, you are not serving in a clerical role - you are being professional colleague!
5. Contributes to the quality of teacher training experience through working with student teachers, demonstrating the power of the SLMS.
Collaborating with teachers often leads to working with their student teachers to design effective instruction. Once you have successfully collaborated with a student teacher, you have demonstrated and proven your value to a new teacher. It is not uncommon for student teachers to tell other (perhaps less-fortunate) student teachers of their collaboration with you. Your efforts may have a ripple effect on the student teacher’s classmates, not to mention on their colleagues once they are employed. They will expect the professional services of an LMT in their first teaching position.
6. Guarantees that ethical use of information is integrated into instruction.
Teachers’ collaboration with a school library media specialist for curricular design can ensure that students are ethical users of information. Teachers are often not skilled at designing assignments that are plagiarism-proof; too many assignments allow students to “cut and paste” their projects, often not attributing their sources. SLMS’s are skilled at collaborating with teachers to require critical thinking and synthesis of information.
7. Allows you to practice and hone important skills related to collaboration.
No one can improve without practice. Unless you collaborate regularly, you will be unable to improve your skills. This includes forcing yourself to learn about the location and use of new information resources and tools, demonstrating how to use equipment such as LCD projectors, cameras and scanners and production software as productivity tools for students to make more effective presentations. Higher order information literacy skills include organization and presentation of information; here is a chance to demonstrate and teach some important skills that the teacher may not be aware of or able to teach.
8. Allows you to showcase your important collaboration skills to other teachers.
Teachers who may be coming into the library for any number of reasons will observe you engaged and collaborating with their colleagues. They may have been unaware of your ability and skill to collaborate. Perhaps they have been reluctant to ask you for support in the use of the library. Seeing you modeling this important professional role will leave a positive impression, and may encourage them to collaborate with you. At the very least they will appreciate you as a teaching colleague.
9. Provides you with opportunities to search for, discover and make use of online information resources in context.
One of the most enjoyable and exciting skills that we SLMS’s have to offer is our ability to search effectively for appropriate information. In most cases, we are the on-site “information expert”. In this time of tight budgets, it is exceedingly beneficial to be able to find high quality information resources on the Web. This is one of my personal favorite activities, because it is often the means of helping a student or colleague find the right information at the right time.
10. Allows you to expand and organize your online collections.
It is essential for all SLMS’s to be able to locate and organize Web information resources on their own school library Web sites. These are no longer optional skills and services that we offer. We must to be able to bring Web information resources into the library and make them available to our students and staff in the same way that we do with books and other educational media. Web based information is a fact of life; it’s the way students are most likely to gather and use information. If you don’t have a budget for books and media, the free, high quality information resources of the Web will be your salvation! Make certain that you can locate, select and then organize them for your school. There are a number of free or low-cost ways to provide a virtual, Web collection by making use of off-site hosting services. Take advantage of them.
In this article I have used the word “collaboration” quite loosely. Collaboration includes many levels of helpful activities and services that SLMS’s are trained to provide to teachers. These range from providing answers to reference questions, to brainstorming ideas for library research projects, to acting as a full-fledged partner in lesson planning, implementation and evaluation. Any way you look at it, collaboration with teachers is a powerful experience and service that school library media specialists have to offer.
There are undoubtedly many more reasons why we SLMS’s should seek every opportunity to collaborate with teachers. In addition to perking up our professional sense of accomplishment, it makes us feel more valued, and provides for a more exciting time at school. It allows us to work with enthusiastic and skillful professionals who can inspire and invigorate us as well as contribute to authentic learning. Our teachers and we librarians are revitalized—and your students achieve at a higher level.
Professional development workshops such as those offered at the AASL conference can help you reflect on all of the possibilities that collaboration with your teachers has to offer. You’ll find new techniques to make certain collaboration with teachers happens in your school library and will be inspired and equipped to start that deliberate, diplomatic campaign to expand collaboration and increase student achievement.
Keith Curry Lance, Christine Hamilton-Pennell, and Marcia J. Rodney. “ How School Librarians Help Kids Achieve Standards: The Second Colorado Study (April 2000),” Colorado State Library, Colorado Department of Education, Denver, Colorado. Accessed 16 Jul. 2004.
Doug Johnson, “ Top Ten Things Baby Teachers Should Know About School Libraries.” Library Media Connection, April/May 2003. Accessed 16 Jul. 2004.
Joyce Kasman Valenza. “ Virtual Library: Top Ten Things Teachers Should Know to Better Understand Network Behavior and the Web.” Springfield Township High School. Accessed 16 Jul. 2004.
Peter Milbury is the Library Media Teacher at Chico High School in California and co-founder/moderator of LM_NET school library listserv. He is co-author with Michael Eisenberg of Best of LM_NET 2001(Linworth, 2002).