Reeling in the Reluctant Fish

Several weeks ago, Sue Kimmel blogged about working with reluctant teachers, the ones who are not coming to the collaboration table.  She offered some ideas for making sure that students in those classrooms still had school library learning opportunities in different settings.  I would like to explore ways to reel some of those reluctant fish into collaborative relationships.

First, cast the line with some intriguing bait:

From my experience, many teachers who are reluctant collaborators are often leery of new ideas or trends.  They may not want to jump on the latest bandwagon, or to take a risk in looking foolish in front of colleagues or students.  Mostly, they like to play it safe, not venture into the unknown.  Respect that view, be generous, and don’t give up.  Cultivate a person to person relationship.  Watch, listen, and ask probing, but friendly questions about what’s happening in their classrooms.  Tease out the challenges that they have encountered around curriculum units, or student engagement.  Ask to visit or help out in the classroom.  Listen to students who come in from those classes with projects that have been assigned.  Get the big picture, and just wait.

Get acquainted with any school reform initiatives, or curriculum revisions that might impact that teacher.  Implementation of Common Core Standards and the new testing format are certainly hot topics right now.  Be part of that conversation, and immerse yourself in the documents, so that you understand the implications for the educational community. Embrace emerging technologies. Have some hotlinks in your PLN for other standards, too-AASL, ISTE, and so on.

Gather up a few “lures,” such as online resources, web 2.0 apps, blogs, rss feeds, and best practices in pedagogy and brain-based learning.  Fill your tackle box with information about Universal Design for Learning, flipped classroom, backward design, differentiated instruction, inquiry based learning, and so on.

Be ready with one small lure to offer that reluctant teacher, when you have the conversation that opens an opportunity to take the first step.

I know, I know… you don’t have time or patience to wait for that fish to bite, but as long as you have the line out, and the fish is circling, you may get a big one in the end!

Caught one!

In years past, I had a fish, oops, I mean colleague, who was in a self-contained classroom, and I tried to extend a collaborative hand without a lot of success.  Then, the administration required every teacher to collaborate in a team to develop and co-teach a standards based unit.  Since this person was not part of a team, she had to team up with someone.  Guess who she chose?  Needless to say, it was the beginning of a creative and stimulating collaboration that benefited both of us and the students in her classroom.  Our collaboration continued to grow throughout the years, and we had so much fun! (BTW-that’s not me in the photo.  All photos from Microsoft Clipart)

More hooks:

Looking for other entry points for collaboration?  Be sure to check out the Teacher Resource pages within Debbie Abilock’s fabulous NoodleTools website.  There are wonderful ideas and links to web tools and resources.  Every school needs to have this resource for information literacy.  Some of the material is gratis, but the advanced product is well worth the cost.


NoodleTools Curriculum Collaboration Toolkit.  NoodleTools, 2007. Web. 25 Feb. 2013. <>

Little Red Wagon

Who doesn’t love a red wagon?  I guess I just wanted one for my library, but it became an important collaborative tool.  Along with the red wagon, I created a “Red Wagon Request Form” copied on bright red paper.  Forms were kept at the circulation desk and near teacher’s mailboxes.  The form included a line for teachers to share the unit they were planning and a check list of possible resources they needed including fiction, poetry, informational, but also websites, videos, and “other.”   There was also a place to check “I would like to plan a collaborative lesson related to this topic.”   This was one, but certainly not the only way, that teachers alerted me to upcoming units of study. For some teachers it was a comfortable and convenient way to initiate collaboration.

The form was often re-purposed by teachers.  If a team planned without me, they would collaboratively fill out the form to let me know what they were thinking about.  One teacher used the form monthly to re-fill the book baskets in her classroom.  The list would include a selection of genres, a balance of reading levels, and often a variety of formats (e.g. magazines or graphic novels).  This teacher promoted a community of reading in her classroom and was likely to booktalk and promote the titles that filled the wagon. Classrooms also had an “author of the month” and this would be a reminder to update those selections.

Someone observed that it didn’t matter what they asked for on the form, I always managed to fill the wagon.  The red wagon was a vehicle for flooding classrooms with library books and materials, pushing the collection out the door and closer to students, and providing a range of materials related to curriculum goals.

The bright red form could not be overlooked in my mailbox or on my desk.  The form got my attention and was generally filled within a day.  Completed forms served as one type of documentation for the services provided by the library.  The fat file of completed forms provided evidence of the integration of library materials and library services with classroom instruction.

The red wagon always seems to garner attention whenever I share it.  Thanks to Amy Sweetapple for her comment on my earlier post.  Maybe there will be other red wagons rolling around out there!

Finding Partners

Some of my most rewarding instructional partnerships were with first year teachers. Remember what it was like to juggle planning lessons, teaching, classroom management, and the general expectations of a new workplace that first year?  As the school librarian, I always made it a point to visit new teachers as they were setting up their classrooms (so exciting!).  I often appeared in their door with a wagon-full of books to use for displays and read-alouds during those first days of school.  I let them know what the library had to offer both in terms of resources and collaboration.  In many ways these first encounters were simple offers of friendship.  “You know where to find me if you need something.” These were small but important beginnings.

While the school year generally starts in August or September, it’s not unusual for new teachers to enter classrooms throughout the year as long-term substitutes or to fill other unexpected vacancies.  These new teachers may have considerable work to do entering classrooms midstream and joining a well-established school culture.  As the school librarian, you can become their best friend!  Reach out to these new staff members with general offers of resources and information.  Some of these new teachers will be fortunate to join established teams of teachers and find mentors who are already engaged as instructional partners with you as the school librarian. But others may not be as lucky and a few welcoming words from you with offers of assistance will go a long way toward building a strong future partnership.

I was fortunate to work in a school with a strong collaborative culture and principal support for grade level planning with the librarian.  Yet, I was constantly reminded that the work of building instructional partnerships is ongoing.  Many, if not most schools experience staff turnover and not just at the beginning of the year.  Step in early to introduce yourself and go out of your way to say hello in the hallway or teacher’s lounge.  Ask how it’s going and offer your ideas, energy and time.  Especially in the middle of the school year, you may get busy with those teachers and teams with whom you have developed collaborative relationships.  But you can’t afford to overlook these new teachers, and they will be grateful for your attention.  This gratitude will likely return to you for months and years to come.

So if you are reading this and someone new has joined your staff, stop now to reach out to them.



Teaching Teachers Technology

To further this concept of leadership in technology integration, I hope that Building a Culture of Collaboration Blog school librarian readers will consider the importance of their approaches to teaching teachers technology. While our ultimate goal is to get digital tools in the hands of students so they can use them for accessing information and planning presentations, and producing knowledge, working with classroom teachers and specialists is the way to ensure school-wide technology integration.

On Thursday, February 6th, I will deliver the Library/Media Specialist Academy Keynote at the Texas Computer Education Association Conference in Austin. You can access the online support for my presentation “Teaching Teachers Technology: The School Librarian’s Starring Role.”

When we consider that every time a school librarian or technology integrator facilitates a classroom teacher’s integration of technology tools, we are impacting the learning of every student in that educator’s classroom this year and most likely for years to come. It is important then that we learn effective strategies for teaching teachers. Theories related to andragogy, the science of teaching adult learners, were brought to the U.S. by Malcolm Knowles. This is my summary of his ideas about adult learners.

Adult learners:
1.    are self-directed and take responsibility for their own learning.
2.    have prior experience that can be a positive or negative influence on learning.
3.    are motivated by an internal need to know.
4.    have a problem-solving orientation to learning.

What instructional problems can we help classroom teachers solve in order to effectively integrate technology tools into learning and teaching in our schools?


Knowles, M. The adult  learner: A neglected species. (2nd ed.). Boston: Gulf.

Word Cloud created at

Leadership in Technology Integration

As many know, Wednesday, February 6, 2013 is the second annual Digital Learning Day. Educators from around the country will be sharing and celebrating effective strategies for integrating technology tools into 21st-century learning and teaching.

In light of this national conversation, I would like to recommend a research article by our co-blogger Melissa P. Johnston: “School Librarians as Technology Integration Leaders: Enablers and Barriers to Leadership Enactment.”

In the conclusion of her study report, Dr. Johnston summarizes the enablers and the barriers to technology integration identified by the participants in her study who were teacher leaders and school librarians:

Enablers for all participants:

  • supportive principal,
  • opportunities for a leadership role and responsibilities,
  • the desire to make a difference for students and teachers,
  • professional development opportunities,
  • and a sense of obligation to get involved.


  • time,
  • exclusion from a leadership role and responsibilities,
  • lack of funding,
  • and inadequate staffing.

Enablers unique to school librarians included:

  • support from professional organizations,
  • support from district library administrators,
  • serving in a dual role as school librarian and technology specialist,
  • and technology expertise.

Barriers identified by school librarians included:

  • competitive relationships with instructional technologists,
  • lack of support at the district level from a library administrator,
  • and lack of technology expertise (Johnston, 2012, p. 27).

In light of this research, educators can use Digital Learning Day to rededicate ourselves to working collaboratively with each other and with professional organizations to create dynamic learning opportunities for students that effectively integrate 21st-century tools. Let’s break down the barriers and shore up the enablers for the benefit of learners!


Johnston, M. P. (2012). School librarians as technology integration leaders: Enablers and barriers to leadership enactment. School Library Research, 15(1). Retrieved from

Word Cloud created at

Professional Collaboration

In returning from Seattle after attending the Association for Library Science Education (ALISE) and the American Library Association (ALA) conferences I have been reflecting on collaboration and wondered if we practice what we preach. At both conferences I observed various types of collaborations taking place ranging from the very formal meeting type to the very informal chat over coffee type. I find these collaboration oppotunities one of the best aspects about conferences – sure there are some great sessions to learn from, but more importantly I think it is about connecting with colleagues. I think it is through these types of collaborations that we can grow and learn as professionals.

I have found in my career that being active in professional organizations is one of the best ways to meet potential collaborators and as a formal way to engage in collaboration. It is this professional collaboration with other school librarians that can grow our PLN, expand our thinking, expose us to new ideas, provide critical friends, and inspire us. As school librarians we are often in a building by ourselves as the sole librarian and we must look to professional organizations, whether it be at the state or national level, as a useful places to make connections. An indeed research shows that school librarians are enabled in their leadership efforts through the relationships they develop in and through professional organizations (Johnston, 2012). Yet, it is also what you make of it – get actively involved in your professional organizations and start making those collaborative connections!


Johnston, M. P. (2012). School librarians as technology integration leaders: Enablers and barriers to leadership enactment. School Library Research, 15(1). Retrieved from