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Collaboration: Getting Ready for a New School Year

By: Meagan Fowler, Instructional Librarian at Saint Joesph Academy 

As summer winds down, I am beginning to think about the upcoming school year. For many of us, our “New Year” does not begin in January, but rather when classes return in the Fall. In preparation for my “New Year” I am creating plans for how I can make this year even better than last.

One of my goals for this year is to increase and improve collaboration among our library and our teachers. It is often difficult to implement a plan when it is dependent on others, but collaboration is a cornerstone of a vibrant library programme. This is a goal that I work toward every year, but I have never gone about it in an intentional and deliberate manner. Typically, I just work in the moment, approaching teachers with whom I have worked before, or waiting for others to seek me out. This year, however, I have a plan of action. Here are some of the ideas I have come up with (or adapted from the experts in our library community) that will hopefully not only increase collaboration between the library and the school community, but also make that collaboration more meaningful and effective:

1. New teachers: For me, it has been a great asset to make connections with new faculty as soon as possible. When teachers come to a new school, they are often overwhelmed with their new surroundings and responsibilities; I try to be a friendly face that offers them assistance. Once you develop a relationship with someone (even if it is as innocuous as helping them figure out how the copy machine works) they remember you and feel more comfortable with you. This then allows you to offer assistance in their classrooms, paving the way for opportunities for meaningful, ongoing collaboration.

This year, I have taken a new step in my plan to win over the new teachers; I sent each of the new teachers a welcoming email with a quick introduction to what services and resources our library can provide them, tailored to their discipline or the classes they are teaching. In addition to a simple email, I am also “popping in” on their orientation day to introduce myself in person. I arranged with my administration for a few minutes of time on this day and they were quite pleased to accommodate me.

Sometimes it is easier to get new teachers on board than it is to change the behaviour of those who are veterans in your building.

2. New relationships: I sometimes feel like I work with the same teachers and same departments every year. I think that this is important; after all, it is evidence that what our library programme is doing is effective. And while it is important that we foster these existing relationships, we cannot forget to continue to develop new relationships with others in our building. This year, I hope to approach a few teachers with whom I have not had the opportunity to work and offer my assistance. I have worked with both the social studies and English departments extensively, but I feel like there is great potential for me to work with our Science department. Last year, I worked with one of the Science teachers on a research project. I came to this project late, after it had been planned and was ready to be implemented. I look forward to this year, approaching this teacher (and a different teacher who is also teaching the same class) and offering to help further develop the existing assignment. I will also plan on offering to help grade portions of the assessment that naturally fit with my expertise, namely the bibliography and evaluation of the sources. Offering to help grade has often helped me to get teachers who may otherwise be hesitant to work with me on board.

3. Old friends: It is not just important for librarians to build up the new — we also have to make sure that we nurture the relationships that we already have. I feel like sometimes this is the hardest step for me. It is so easy for me to get bogged down by the everyday demands of our profession; every time I turn around there is something new that I must do. It is so easy for tasks like following up or checking in with teachers to get lost in the shuffle. I will often work with a teacher, but fail to check in with them as the school year progresses to see how whatever we had worked on together played out. Or, I do not have the opportunity to see the final product that the students created. This leads to a disconnect between librarian and students and teachers.

I feel that successful collaboration should not stop once you have delivered a lesson to a class or created a stellar assessment with a teacher. Successful collaboration, ideally, should be more developed than that, and while we cannot force collaboration on teachers, we should ensure that whenever the opportunity does arise, we make it as fruitful as possible. Two ways this can be achieved are by checking in and following up with teachers. It is my goal to check in more with my teachers as they implement a research project. I may initially help them create an assessment or deliver a lesson, but ideally I should also make sure that I am available to brainstorm with them as problems arise, and offer my assistance as they and their students traverse the murky waters of a research project. I also feel like I need to ensure that I follow up with them after we collaborate on something. Following up will allow both the teacher and librarian the opportunity to reflect on what worked and what could be improved upon for next time, and also will hopefully allow the librarian to see the fruits of their labour, i.e. finished student work.

Three easy steps to better collaboration, right? Nothing about collaboration is easy. And while I hope that approaching the school year with a well thought-out plan will make my efforts of collaborating with my colleagues more effective, I have no illusions that this will be simple or easy. I will probably drop the ball many times throughout the year, but if by the end of the year I have a new connection with a teacher or an improved relationship with an old friend, I will be satisfied. Baby steps, right?