From Where Does Your Authority Come?

The authority of an author is one of the first pieces of background knowledge we ask students to consider as they weigh the value, reliability, perspective, or bias in information. The importance of researching the author’s or authors’ credentials, knowledge, experience, and prior contributions to the conversation on any given topic is equally important for educators who are considering reading a professional book.

To add to what you can learn about me from this blog, my previous writing, or a Google search, I would like to share three of the defining experiences of my professional life. These experiences have charted my practice, scholarship, and service. It may come as a surprise to School Librarian Leadership blog readers who were children or who weren’t yet born in the mid-1990s, but resource-based learning, flexible library schedules, and classroom-library collaboration for instruction have been part of our school librarianship and education history for decades.Resource-based Learning
As a preservice classroom teacher in the 1980s, I was schooled in literature-based teaching. This involved developing units of instruction in all content areas based on literature text sets. These topical or thematic text sets included fiction and informational texts in all genres at a variety of reading proficiency levels. Those text sets even included media (!), which in those days focused on films (and yes, filmstrips), cassette tapes and other recordings, artifact kits, computer-based programs, and more. The goal of developing text sets was to give students choice in exploring resources to develop their literacy and increase their content knowledge.

At that time, we conducted “research.” Most often classroom teachers gave students a set of questions or tasks to complete using the text set for resources. (We did not have a school librarian in our California school.) Most often, students produced traditional reports and presented their learning orally with some type of visual aide. In my classroom, students often had choices in how they presented their learning. Some chose to write traditional reports; others wrote poems or stories, performed skits, or created highly illustrated work. (We had only one Apple IIe computer in our classroom. Its primary instructional use was our student-published class newsletter, The Hang-Ten News.)

Library Power
It wasn’t until my early years as a school librarian that I was introduced to inquiry learning. In my third year of practice, I transferred school districts and secured a position in a high-needs elementary school in a district that had received a Library Power grant. The National Library Power Project was funded with a grant from the Dewitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund. Over the course of ten years, the fund provided $45 million 700 schools in 19 school districts across the United States.

I led the team at Corbett Elementary in writing our school’s successful Library Power application. This grant likely changed the course of my career in school librarianship. All Library Power school library programs in the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) were required to operate with flexible scheduling based on classroom-library collaboration for instruction. The grants included funds for purchasing new print and electronic resources and renovating the physical spaces of our libraries. Perhaps, most importantly, Library Power districts provided professional development (PD) for classroom teachers, school librarians, and principals.

Classroom-Library Coteaching
School librarians involved with TUSD’s project participated in “Cooperative Program Planning,” a week-long training provided by Ken Haycock. This training was focused on classroom-library collaboration for instruction. In TUSD, we launched a follow-up PD series for which Library Power school librarians were required to bring a classroom teacher colleague to learn and practice coplanning strategies, and prepared to coteach in the classroom or library.

I was hooked. To be honest, I had felt inadequate as a classroom teacher working solo in my classroom. As an isolated educator, I never felt I could simultaneously address the needs of English language learners as well as the students reading and writing far above their grade level. As a school librarian coteacher, I experienced the benefits of two heads for planning, four heads and four hands for coimplementing instruction and coassessing student learning outcomes.

I achieved more satisfaction as a coteacher because I experienced the power of two educators offering students more personalized learning than one educator working alone could provide. Students were able to succeed with individual and small group inquiry projects. And my collaborators and I shared a sense of achievement in meeting students’ needs and developing our instructional expertise alongside one another.

Classroom-Library Collaboration Testimonials
It wasn’t until I transferred to another Library Power elementary school and began regularly teaching a graduate-level course in school librarianship at the University of Arizona that I realized I could be recording classsroom-library ollaboration testimonials from classroom teachers, specialists, and administrators. I began recording in 2001, and other school librarians have since contributed to this page.  The most recent video was crowdsourced and includes testimonials from principals and district-level leaders from across the U.S. regarding their experiences working with professional school librarians: “Principals Know: School Librarians Are the Heart of the School” (2014).

My goal in capturing these testimonials was to inspire preservice school librarians to help them understand the benefits of classroom-library collaboration from the perspectives of classroom teachers, specialists, and administrators. Rather than “taking time away” from classroom teachers (losing or taking planning time or classroom instructional time), I wanted to show future school librarians that other educators would welcome their instructional partnership invitations. These testimonials show that educators and administrators value what school librarians bring to the collaboration table and know how our teaching increases student learning.

Questions for Discussion

  1. What are your defining professional experiences and how have the influenced the way you teach?
  2. Whose work has guided your instructional practices, and how do you currently apply their thinking and strategies in your teaching?

Reference

Haycock, Ken. 2007. “Collaboration: Critical Success Factors for Student Learning.” School Libraries Worldwide 13 (1): 25–35.

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