Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Collaborative Planning Tips for School Librarians

Congratulations!  You land your dream job as a school librarian.  Once you learn your way around the school and who your frequent library visitors are, some difficult realities start to set in.  You work in a school where the library is on a flexible schedule.  It soon becomes apparent that this scheduling model can make it difficult to ensure that all students are receiving vital library instruction.

How do you cover library standards when staff members view their time in the library as optional?  How do you reach those staff members who appear reluctant to utilize library services?  These questions can be daunting for even the most seasoned professional.  You are faced with two choices: you can either view your situation as an impassable roadblock, or you can choose to embrace the significant challenge in front of you.

Within this post, I will outline some strategies I have used at Pioneer Middle School in order to further collaborative efforts between myself (the school’s sole librarian) and teachers.  Although I do not claim to have all the answers, I have been fortunate enough to be met with some success when it comes to collaboration.

Tip 1: View each interaction as a building block for collaboration.
The ability to facilitate collaborative lessons hinges upon the school librarian’s knowledge of what is happening within the school building.  Informal meetings around the photocopier can be a wealth of information as to where classroom teachers are in their curriculum.  The successful execution of this tip requires a little precision – you do not want to be perceived as overbearing or pushy.  Instead, offering help in a polite way is probably the best strategy.

Informal conversations can lead to opportunities for collaboration.

Tip 2: Stay on the forefront of curriculum changes, then swoop in to assist.
Changes to curriculum can cause stress for classroom teachers.  Collaborating with librarians to address the new standards is a helpful way to meet new demands.  As a school librarian, it is necessary to be aware of the changing standards and offer assistance.  

At an ELA department meeting earlier this year, I mentioned that ELA and social studies standards mesh nicely for collaborative lessons in the library.  A fifth grade teacher later approached me because she was looking for creative ways to address new standards within her social studies curriculum.  We discussed the standard in question:

View the entire K-12 Social Studies framework here: https://www.engageny.org/resource/new-york-state-k-12-social-studies-framework

We then planned a unit of study about Native American culture groups.  Students first colored in a map depicting the three separate culture areas they were interested in researching.  Using information compiled from online encyclopedias and databases, students completed graphic organizers on each of their three areas.  After completion of the research, students were then challenged to create a news report comparing and contrasting the culture areas they researched.  Students enjoyed the ability to show their knowledge in a creative way.

Students enjoyed being newscasters during their Native American culture study.

Not only did this project fulfill the requirements of the updated social studies standards, it also touched upon many of the guidelines of AASL’s Standards for the 21st-Century Learner and the Empire State Information Fluency Continuum.  A collaboration of this nature ensures that students are receiving classroom content in addition to building their information literacy skills.

Tip 3: Be a resource in the successful implementation of technology.
Educators have varying levels of comfort when it comes to implementing technology in the classroom.  Because library standards are rich in technology, school librarians are poised to assist teachers with their efforts to include technology.

School librarians can take the lead on teaching computer science and coding concepts.  Teachers might recognize the usefulness of these skills, but may not know where to start.  One of Pioneer Middle’s Family and Consumer Science (FACS) teachers wanted to include computer coding in her fifth grade career exploration unit.  Her students came to the library and received background about the 21st Century Skills required for career success.  Then, students immersed themselves in learning the basics of coding through use of the Kodable app and a Bee Bot challenge.  Students then completed a reflection where they discussed the 21st Century Skills they used to work through the coding activities.

A collaborative effort between library and FACS exposes fifth grade students to 21st Century Skills.

Coding activities were also the center of a series of collaborative lessons involving a seventh grade Spanish teacher.  This teacher wanted her students to see the parallels and benefits associated with learning languages, particularly Spanish and coding languages.  During these library visits, students used Bee Bots to code to specific points on a grid and then created sentences in Spanish.

Spanish classes visited the library to incorporate coding into their language studies.

Tip 4: Don’t forget any of your students.
Many schools host BOCES or other self-contained classroom settings.  A particular challenge facing the teachers in these classrooms is finding ways to assimilate their students into the larger school community.  These teachers may be prime candidates for collaborative efforts involving the library.

Although I operate on a flexible schedule, I have scheduled weekly library visits with a special education class in our school.  The teacher in this room wanted her students to have the opportunity to frequent the library, so these visits have become a stronghold in our schedule.  Often, the weekly visits help to reinforce content that was introduced in the classroom.  Students in this class also serve as library volunteers, which adds to their greater sense of belonging at Pioneer Middle.  Their visit is always my favorite part of every week!

Weekly special education classes are a highlight at Pioneer Middle!

Tip 5: Advertise your ability to help with inquiry projects.
With changes to curriculum, the “sage on the stage” model of teaching is no longer adequate.  Instead, students must have the opportunity to complete student-led inquiry projects which lead to greater understanding of both content and the research process.  Librarians are a natural partner when it comes to inquiry work; however, teachers may need to be reminded of this fact.  

Great examples of collaborative inquiry work occurred in both sixth grade science and social studies.  A sixth grade science teacher was looking for ways to make a unit on outer space more interactive and student-driven.  When she approached me for ideas, I suggested an inquiry project.  After dividing students into small groups, they chose a planet to research.  Students brainstormed potential questions they had about their planet.  They then selected the questions they wanted to answer and organized the topics into groups.  The students used library resources, including streaming audio and video, to create lessons about their planet.  These lessons were delivered to their classmates.  Students loved the ability to answer their own questions, and especially loved assigning homework to their peers!  The success of this project spread by word of mouth, which led the sixth grade social studies teachers to team up for a library inquiry project about Ancient Rome.

Sixth grade social studies classes working on a Rome inquiry project in the library.

Tip 6: Be the go-to person for creative, out of the box ideas.
Sometimes teachers may feel as though they are stuck in a rut with their content.  A school librarian could be a great resource for finding new ways to deliver curriculum.

The seventh and eighth grade World Languages teachers are a particularly creative group.  They are always looking for ways to approach learning languages in a new light.  I’m lucky that they include me in this exciting work!  Examples of our past collaborations include a community and neighborhood project featuring building paper models of a town (many of the supplies in our library’s makerspace were used), a virtual walking tour of Paris using Aurasma (an augmented reality app), and a Mystery Skype visit with a Spanish class in North Carolina.  These projects were able to pair learning languages with the acquisition of many of the technology-related standards emphasized through school library learning.

A creative approach to a French vocabulary unit on community.

Tip 7: Use social media and technology to publicize collaborative efforts.
I was a little hesitant to get into blogging and Twitter, but I now view these tools as crucial to the success of school libraries.  Through blogging, I am able to draw attention to what students are learning in the library and to the teachers bringing their students in for collaborative lessons.  If I create a blog post for a lesson, I am sure to share the post with the teacher.  Sometimes, the teachers share the blog post with their students.  Students love to see their work displayed on the Internet.  The teachers may also use the blog posts as evidence to use during their APPR meetings with administrators.  

My professional Twitter account is used in a few different ways.  I use Twitter to publicize library collaborations.  Sometimes I will post pictures of the day’s activities or I will include a link to a recent library blog post.  Since I follow the other professional accounts of teachers in my building, these posts may entice them to visit the library.  I also use Twitter in order to gather new ideas to use within the library setting.

An example of a tweet publicizing a library/classroom collaboration.

Tip 8: Take your show on the road.
Educators are often not the best at celebrating their own successes.  However, presenting at conferences can be a wonderful way to share what is working within schools.  Instead of presenting by yourself, it is more powerful to work together with classroom teachers to create great conference presentations or other professional learning opportunities.  In the recent past, I was able to present at various conferences with Pioneer Middle School teachers who collaborated with me during different lessons or units. 

These presentations have many benefits.  First, the administrators in your district who approved leave for the conference understand that you are presenting something successful that emerged from teachers and librarians working together.  This generates great publicity for the school and also alerts administrators to the vital role played by school library programs.  Next, presenting at a conference is empowering both for the librarian and teachers because it is uplifting to share positive experiences with others.  Attending conferences can also help to build an educator’s professional learning community.  Lastly, presenting at conferences may help conference attendees build upon their own collaborative efforts.  Your presentation might be just the spark that other librarians need to reach out to other educators!

Presenting with colleagues at the NYSCATE 2015 Conference.

Collaboration can be a difficult component of a school librarian’s job, but it is not impossible.  With some flexibility, creativity, and a willingness to step out of your comfort zone, it is possible to create meaningful collaborative experiences that will benefit the learners in your school.

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