Leadership and Collaboration


As co-teachers and instructional partners, school librarians focus on collaborative opportunities with individual or teams of educators within a school community.  Many school districts have been providing professional development for educators by establishing Professional Learning Communities (PLC).   The PLC is a vehicle for collaborative planning and decision making that focuses on improving student learning.  To be successful participants, educators need training to understand the process for and commitment to collaboration that builds the collective capacity of a school system.  An effective PLC can change attitudes and transform teaching and learning in a powerful way.

School librarians are positioned to take leadership roles in PLCs, and should advocate for a place at the table.  Having honed a variety of collaboration skills of various levels, school librarians are familiar with setting goals, timelines, assessments, formulating projects, and are adept at analyzing data.  There are many configurations for PLC teams, and the school librarian should have a pivotal role in content areas.  Unfortunately, in many districts, the PLC teams may not integrate the school librarian into content or grade level groups.  Many times the PLCs are set to meet during the scheduled time for a class visit to the library/media center when the librarian is expected to supervise the class.  That prevents meaningful participation, and limits the expertise and knowledge that the librarian can share with the group.

Stepping into a leadership role means that the school librarian needs to be proactive and stay ahead of the curve.  Find out what is happening in your district or school.  What are the initiatives?  What are the goals for educators and student learning?  What curriculum changes are proposed?  Be ready to explain to administrators, teachers, parents, community members, and students how the school library program and resources will benefit the transformation of learning.  You are the expert, the information specialist, and can facilitate learning for all stakeholders.

If you want to realize your own capacity as an educational leader, I recommend two readings that have influenced my thinking recently.  One was an article in May/June 2013 issue of Knowledge Quest, “The Make-Good Mission.”  Michael Edson, the Smithsonian’s director of web and new media strategy, talks about the possibilities for the school library as a place for meeting the challenges of “scope, scale, and speed” presented by information in present day.  We simply can’t continue to do things the way we have done them in the past.  Organizations have to change from within, not top down.  We all have the capacity to contribute, not just receive information.

Change from within is one of the messages also in Leaders of Learning: How District, School, and Classroom Leaders Improve Student Achievement (DuFour and Marzano, 2011).  Two leaders in organizational systems and education explore how change and transformation can come about using the collective expertise of all stakeholders.  DuFour shares how PLC teams that are created and supported by district administrators and principals, can bring about improvements in student learning.  The training and support is imperative to make a successful outcome for all.  Collaboration skills have to be learned and the authors offer a blueprint.  Marzano clarifies how to establish what is important for students to learn and how to assess their learning.

At the AASL Conference in November 2013,  there will be sessions that focus on leadership roles and require specific collaboration skills.  Come to conference and gather more ideas to add to your leadership/advocacy tool kit!


DuFour, Richard and Robert Marzano. 2011. Leaders of learning: How district, school, and classroom leaders improve student achievement. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Edson, Michael.  2013. The Make-good mission: Evaluating and embracing new possibilities for discovery and innovation in school libraries.  Knowledge Quest 41 (5): 12-18.

Photo: Microsoft clipart


International Collaboration

This summer has been all about travel and collaboration for me. A few years ago I develop an interest in school librarianship on an international basis and began to question if there were similarities and differences in the experiences and practices of school librarians in different countries. These questions have evolved into a research stream that has taken me from Europe to South America and allowed me to develop new partnerships too.

In my observations in Germany I did find that school librarians there are struggling with many of the same issues as we are here in the U.S., including some related to collaboration. The absence of collaboration practices was noted and many of the school librarians interviewed spoke of struggles with convincing teachers to collaborate and the importance of principal support for collaboration. Additionally, many of the school librarians interviewed talked about trying to institute “media literacy programs to teach their students how to be safe online,” but a lack of time was a problem because teachers would not dedicate time for this. Many commented that teachers only see the library “as a book place” and not as a “teaching place.” Also several of the school librarians interviewed commented that most people who are school librarians in Germany think this same way and do not recognize their own teaching role as a school librarian (Johnston, 2013).

I spent last week in Florianópolis, SC Brazil, attending the Brazilian Congress of Biblioteconomia (which is like the Brazilian equivalent of our ALA Annual Conference) with Dr. Lucy Santos Green from Georgia Southern University. As I listened to various presentations, I again heard many of these similar struggles with collaboration. In the days following the conference Dr. Santos Green and I visited several local schools to observe and interview the school librarians and yet again we heard the same issues related to collaboration.

Collaboration was definitely a theme that ran throughout the conference beginning with IFLA President Ingrid Parent speaking in the opening keynote address. Several of her comments resonated with me as she emphasized that collaboration must be a focus of librarianship and that by “working together at the national and international level we can be smarter, stronger, and louder.” I strongly believe that as school librarians around the world struggle with similar challenges, it is important to examine the work of school librarians on an international level and collaborate as professionals to develop strategies and a course of action for addressing our common problems.

IMG_6757Me, Carol Becker – our new Brazilian collaborator and friend, and Dr. Santos Green

Johnston, M. P. (2013). Investigating an international exchange of best practices between German and American teacher librarians. School Libraries Worldwide, 19(1).

The Art of Working Within Constraints

step one

This summer students in two sections of our course Production of Instructional Materials, used a free IPad App, Videolicious to create quick video commercials on topics that ranged from how to use interlibrary loan to an introduction to the horror genre.  We were excited to see this app on the AASL Best Apps For Teaching and Learning list just released at ALA but we also knew first hand the limitations of the free app that we learned took lots of trial and error to realize a plan for combining video, still images, text, voice over and music.  Students collaborated ahead of time with a partner to create a storyboard for their video and then only had  a few hours on campus to pull it all together.  And wow! they did pull it together? Their videos were amazing and so much fun to view.  We talked about showing families how to use this free app on their devices or cell phones: think about the creative possibilities for students to share their learning!

The app clearly had its constraints and we had to remind students that this is a lot of what you deal with in the school library: learning to create something despite the constraints of time, money, and other resources.  This is what all artists have to work through: realizing an artistic vision despite the limitations of the materials or media chosen for the work.  As I think about this related to collaboration, I realize that we are also working with an idealistic vision of everyone working together to create learning opportunities for students.  We are also constrained by limited time and resources.  We have trouble finding enough time to plan together, or finding time in busy classroom schedules to provide adequate time for true student inquiry and creativity.  We find ourselves teaching students to use free apps on shared devices with filtered internet access.  And yet we believe in the vision and we persevere and some amazing things happen.

Finding a way to use the materials at hand to realize a vision doesn’t just apply to a two minute video assigned as coursework.  It’s a necessary frame of mind needed by those of us who hope to create a collaborative school culture.  The students who came to campus that afternoon with a plan knew where they wanted to go with their video.  They persisted through multiple trial and error attempts.  They worked together to find solutions that leveraged the materials they found around them. They learned from each other.  As school librarians, we hope they will have a vision, create plans in collaboration with others, persevere despite setbacks and limited resources, and continue to learn from their peers.

School librarians can create a culture of support, collaboration, and creativity with the teachers and students in their schools.  We are artists with access to a pretty cool palette of resources including those recently highlighted by the AASL Best Websites for Teaching and Learning 2013 and Best Apps for Teaching and Learning lists.  Give some of these resources a quick spin and be prepared to share them with your school communities.

Building a Culture of Caring

ReadyAndWaitingForYou_Cover_Web_sizedI am reading 2013 AASA National Superintendent of the Year Mark A. Edwards’ book Every Child, Every Day: A Digital Conversion Model for Student Achievement (2014) which I received courtesy of the publisher at last week’s ALA Conference in Chicago. With Dr. Edwards’ leadership, Mooresville (NC) Graded School District educators and staff have embraced a “culture of caring” to guarantee that all members of the district, young people and adults alike, experience a loving community that works hard to ensure their success.

In his book, Dr. Edwards lists several factors that contribute to the cultural conditions for caring:

  • A commitment to every individual;
  • Committed leadership at all levels;
  • Communication of caring expectations in meetings and professional goals;
  • Ongoing appreciation of individuals and teams;
  • Involvement of every employee in the mission of learning;
  • Management of negative elements;
  • Participatory decision making at all levels to ensure buy-in;
  • And laughter and fun as cultural norms (29-30).

One aspect of this culture is honoring teachers. In a day and age when educators are frequently identified as “the problem” in education and blamed for the low achievement that can result from poverty and other factors, it is encouraging to know there are enlightened administrators who are honoring teachers’ work daily and show care and concern for their well-being as well as expecting positive results in terms of student learning.

While reading this section of Dr. Edwards’ book, I cannot help but make the connection to our soon-to-be released children’s picture book Ready and Waiting for You (Moreillon/Stock, Eerdmans, 2013). I dedicated this book to the “caring educators around the world who joyfully open the doors to learning” for children. Just as every individual in the Mooresville Graded School District experiences the socio-emotional and cognitive conditions for success, illustrator Catherine Stock and I hope that every child entering kindergarten or every young child moving to a new school will be welcomed into the world of schooling by caring educators. Our book will be available in August.

You can view Eerdmans’ book trailer for Ready and Waiting for You at: http://tinyurl.com/btrandw4u


Edwards, Mark A. 2014. Every Child, Every Day: A Digital Conversion Model for Student Achievement. Boston: Pearson.

Moreillon, Judi. 2013. Ready and Waiting for You. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.