We are Not Alone!


Eifel Tower


A recurring theme that we have explored in this blog has to do with establishing an environment for collaboration within a school community.  Who should be the leader?  What should it look like?  What is our role?  How do we define collaboration?  Who does it benefit?

We are not alone.  These are not questions that are unique to the teacher librarian perspective, but are being asked again and again by others who are trying to shift the paradigm in teaching and learning.   Moving from an isolated classroom to co-teaching in a variety of learning spaces requires rethinking possibilities for instruction.   Derek Hatch, a contributor to the Connected Principals Blog, posted on Feb. 7, 2014, “True collaboration is a very important skill and it is something that I believe we need to teach our students…both directly and by example.”  As an administrator, he lays out his vision of nine components present in true collaboration, and they all sound very familiar. Adults lead by modeling, shared vision, trust, time, flexibility, understanding roles, commitment, shared leadership, and risk taking. For teachers to teach students to collaborate, they need to talk the talk, and walk the walk.

One of the most important things that an administrator can do to improve collaborative practice within a school is to establish a shared vision, and secondly, to allow time and flexibility for all teachers, not just classroom teachers, to explore and refine ideas about collaboration. Without the time to really delve into collaborative teaching, and the flexibility in schedules and expectations, teachers will find it hard to move forward on the other components that Hatch lists. That is a real challenge, and the commitment needs to be there to build and continue collaborative relationships over time, not just one year.

As Melissa suggested last week, the 7 Spaces for Learning should also be part of that vision. Let’s get out of the classroom and into the world, physically and virtually.  In this day and age, we are not confined by four walls, learning happens in multiple places and dimensions.  There are many exemplars to guide the way.  Just look for successful collaborative teaching projects that are shared through school websites, Youtube videos, Twitter and other social media.

Here’s an example of a school where collaboration is valued and celebrated.  Find out how a whole school in rural Vermont took a trip to Paris, France.  Enjoy the tour!



Hatch, Derek. (2014). “More on Collaboration: Essential Ingredients.”  Connected Principals (weblog) Feb 7, 2014.  http://connectedprincipals.com/archives/10189  

Kelly, Julie. “Welcome to Paris.” (2014).  WCAX News. Feb 20, 2014 http://www.wcax.com/story/24778900/welcome-to-paris 

Image: Classroom Clipart c.2011




Collaborative Spaces

This past weekend as I was preparing to teach my students about facilities and designing a school library learning environment I revisited the 7 Spaces of Learning and how these apply to the school library. These include: Secret Spaces, Group Spaces, Watching Spaces, Performing Spaces, Participation Spaces, Publishing Spaces, and Data Spaces.

Matt Locke first came up with the concept of the Six Spaces of Social Media and then Ewan McIntosh, a European expert in digital media for public services, and his team team added a seventh, Data Spaces. They have taken this idea of digital spaces -where we interact and with whom we interact with in each space and have defined what that would look like in a physical environment. Here is a 15 minute video explaining these thoughts:

The Seven Spaces of Technology in School Environments from NoTosh on Vimeo.

They have explored how education can harness these spaces to not only meet the needs if their current students and existing practices but as “influencers of future practice” by providing spaces for projects and learning in the future.

In class this week as we discussed meeting the needs of our learners it was interesting to see how the various modalities of learning including, independent study, peer tutoring, team collaborative work, one on one learning, lecture format/teacher centered, hands on project based learning, technology based learning, distance learning, research, presentation, performance, social, and emotional, seem to align with the 7 Spaces of Learning.

Collaborative and social learning are important aspects of 21st education and are prominent in the AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner as well.  School libraries are becoming more and more places for teams to work together formally and informally, but the question  arises – are we providing students with the right environment where they can work and learn collaboratively?

And are we asking students for their input? See what happens when a third grade teachers asks her students to design their Secret Space.

Before We Throw Out the Bathwater

rubber duckJudi’s questions about linking individual teacher evaluation to individual student achievement highlights a real conundrum in educational research and best practices. I almost have the sense that we are holding onto the baby and throwing out the bathwater without acknowledging the role the soapy bathwater played in getting the baby clean. In trying to tease out the particular interventions, instructional materials, or teacher practices that improve student learning, we have often neglected the cultural context surrounding both teacher and learner.  In particular, we might attend more to the culture of collaboration in a school and how that allows teachers to locally adapt and sustain educational reforms.

Contrary to the current focus on individual teachers and their impact on student learning, we recognize that complex problems like student achievement require complex solutions. They require diverse perspectives, knowledge, and skills.  A team of teachers is more likely to offer the kinds of diversity needed to address the achievement gaps that continue to challenge our schools.  How can administrators promote the collaborative culture needed to sustain such teamwork? One way is to provide time in the schedule for teams to meet. Principals can also make participation in collaborative teams a part of the expectation and evaluation of teachers.  Another strategy might be to enlist the school librarian, whose professional training has included collaboration, as an important member of every team.

While we as a profession have championed collaboration and instructional partnerships, we seem to have failed to articulate our role in those partnerships and more importantly, our role in student achievement to our stakeholders.  This clearly, as Melissa, referencing Elizabeth Burns, has suggested is a problem of advocacy.  But perhaps it’s also a problem of articulating for ourselves what it is that we do, or offer to educational practice, that might be unique to libraries and librarianship.  Is it our knowledge of diverse resources and how to identify, select and evaluate them? Is it a particular pedagogical or even a philosophical approach to learning needed to meet today’s technological and economic challenges? Is it the physical or virtual spaces we provide for exploration, access, and innovation? Are we an important gear turning the wheels of collaboration in a school? How does the school librarian support innovation in instructional practice? Let’s find out before we throw out the bathwater, or get thrown out with the bathwater.

Clip art from Microsoft.



Educator Evaluation: A Messy Construct

a-trphy2I follow the posts on the MiddleWeb blog. On January 27th, Elizabeth Stein posted “Co-Teachers: What a Tangled Web We’re In.”  In her post, Elizabeth focuses on serving the needs of special education students through coteaching and poses thoughtful questions about how educators should or can be evaluated in coteaching situations in terms of student learning outcomes. Her concerns and questions remind me of several conversations I participated in at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia last month.

One of the challenges in determining a causal relationship between teachers’ teaching and students’ learning outcomes is a false assumption that there can be a valid, undisputable cause and effect relationship between individual teacher’s teaching and individual student’s learning. In middle and high schools, interdisciplinary learning and teaching must be considered. For example, a student’s ability to comprehend a narrative math problem may be the result of her learning in English language arts as much as her learning in math class.

Other educators in the building such as librarians, reading and literacy coaches, music, art, P.E., special education teachers, and more (to say nothing of the home and community influencers) all contribute in varying degrees to students’ learning outcomes on any particular assignment or standardized test question for that matter. Even in a self-contained elementary school classroom, other educators in the building may make a measurable difference in student learning.

How then can students’ standardized test question results be ascribed to the teaching efficacy of one teacher and one teacher only? This may be especially problematic for school librarians whose work focuses on teaching students processes that are transferrable to all content areas and contribute to their ability to be effective lifelong learners.

Is it possible to drill down into test results and determine a causal relationship? Do you agree that teacher evaluation tied to students’ standardized test scores is a messy construct? What are your ideas about how to address this issue from the perspective of coteachers — and school librarians or special education teachers, in particular?

Clip Art from Discovery Education