We hear a lot about collaboration in the school library. Collaboration really is the key to creating a dynamic library program at your school. You may be asking yourself: how can I find time to collaborate with teachers when I have a fixed schedule? I'll let you in on a little secret. It's not as hard as it seems.
Are you kidding me? I don't even have time to go to the restroom.
I'm right there with you. I promise. My schedule is crazy! There are days I have to beg the classroom teachers to give up 2 minutes of their planning time so I can literally run to the restroom (they're actually very nice about it) because my classes are scheduled back to back until the very end of the day.
Collaboration can still work in these situations. Granted, it's not the ideal kind of collaboration where you schedule a meeting during common planning times and create a written plan, but you would be surprised what a little extra communication with classroom teachers can do for your library program.
So what am I supposed to do? Meet after school?
Meeting after school could work... if we lived in a perfect world. In the real world, people have children to pick up by a certain time, appointments, and other commitments. If you can get people to meet with you after school and you're willing, go for it. If not, you'll have to be a little more creative. Meeting after school is not an option for me, since I'm essentially a single mom during football season.
So if you don't have formal meetings, how do you collaborate?
This is the beauty of collaboration - it doesn't have to be formal or complicated. I usually start by asking teachers if they'd like me to fill a basket with books to take to their classroom. Yes, it creates extra work for me, but in the grand scheme of things, it encourages reading outside of the library. Therefore, I'm all for it. If you look through the checked in books (that you haven't had time to put up), you can usually fill a basket pretty quickly.
Next, strike up conversations with teachers when they pick up their classes (if you're on a fixed schedule). You can ask them things like, "Are you reading a book aloud right now? Let me know if you'd like some suggestions for what to read next!" If they're not reading a book aloud, I often say something like, "Do you have about 10 minutes in your schedule where you could read to the students? I have a new series that I'd love to introduce them to, but it's hard for me to finish a book when I only see them once a week." Usually, they are more than happy to help.
Get to Know Teachers
Another way to break collaboration barriers is to eat lunch with classroom teachers. Get to know them personally. I can't stress this enough. When I started in the library, I'd use my lunch break to catch up on emails, make phone calls, or just breathe. I totally get it - we all need that sometimes. The past couple of years, I've left the library doors just to talk to my colleagues and I've noticed a huge difference in the willingness of people to collaborate. Find out what interests your fellow teachers, what they're having trouble teaching, and most importantly, ask them how you can help! Suggest books that might be helpful, or offer to order videos or other resources for them to use. Sometimes I'll just find books about topics the students are struggling with and drop them off in their room; checked out in their name, of course. I've even created LiveBinders with online resources for some of my technology challenged classroom teachers, just to help them out.
Finally, think outside the box. If you've been reading my posts, you know I like to color outside the lines a little when it comes to my library program. For instance, the art teacher and I often collaborate at book fair time. She works with me to come up with ideas for student generated artwork that I use to decorate the library during book fairs. I work with the music teacher to integrate drama content, which I'm responsible for teaching at my school. Collaborate with community members, too! Get to know someone at the local newspaper and send school library news from time to time. Ask community leaders to come in and read to students. They love to do it and the students love it as well. Be creative!
What do you do when people won't get on board?
I've had varying degrees of success with collaboration. You'll always have a handful of people who don't want to get on board (even though this type of collaboration is proven to be beneficial for students). I always focus on the people who are most willing to work with me. I try not to get hung up on the others. Keep offering, though. They may just see the benefits and take you up on it one day.
Collaboration will not look the same in every school library. I've been in education for several years now, and I've seen many different types of library-classroom collaboration. If you aren't doing any collaboration yet, start small, and then watch it take off as others catch on. One of my goals is to make my school library's services so integral that my principal and teachers couldn't imagine not having them. As I often say when it comes to library advocacy, actions speak louder than words.
How do you collaborate with classroom teachers? If you don't, what could you try? Share your ideas in the comments!
I forgot to mention that I regularly collaborate with a lead 2nd grd. teacher. She tells me what unit or topic they are studying, inquires if I have related books to share or to read when the class comes in. We have done "topical book buffets" so when story time is over, related books are laid out on the tables and kids are able to sample and choose from those books.
Who can share research on the ideal number of students in the library at one time? Is it considered old-school for upper elementary students to visit the library as a class? Help! I've been trying to find information on-line without success.
Julie D. says
I look at the curriculum for each grade and try to create ideas from there that I can take to the teachers and ask if it's something that would enhance what they're doing. Just got done doing a unit on nonfiction text features with my 3/4 graders that totally worked with what they were doing in their classes. I even ventured into using centers for the last couple of sessions! I also email fairly often, asking what's coming up that I can support. Some teachers respond all the time, some respond here or there, but I usually get some hits from the email requests. (I know this is very belated commenting but maybe someone else will see it.)
I'm seeing it in 2021!! Thank you!
I agree with you that collaboration is a very important part of connecting with your school staff, as well as being great for kids. Over the years I've been able to collaborate in different ways, but this year I'm trying something new. One of our 4th grade teachers has a large group of very low readers and a few very high readers. To keep the high readers from getting bored, I take them twice a week and we do a little more advanced work. The students and I brainstormed topics to research and came up with "Spiders." Then we further narrowed it down to "How spiders catch and eat their food." The plan is to produce a 90 second video to show the rest of the class. After a month or so I'll bring in another group and start again. We'll see how this works.
Great! Keep us updated on how it's going. I love to do stuff like this, and usually the students totally surprise me by what they're able to do without my help.
Time is my biggest issue for being able to collaborate, but I still make an effort to make it happen. Even the teachers that didn't want any type of assistance when I first started at my school now, 4 years later, have come to me from time to time. I have found that the more I know about the classrooms, it is much easier to decide what to use in my library lessons as well as what to order for the library. I have certain teachers who have figured out that they can get great materials if I know what they are doing!
Kim, I totally agree. It is hard, but if you make the extra effort, everyone wins. Keep up the good work!