Reciprocal Mentorship

October Podcast Episode 2: Job-Embedded Professional Development: An Interview with Misti Werle, Library Systems Innovator, Bismarck (North Dakota) Public Schools

One challenge school librarians have faced in collaborative work is being acknowledged as equal partners with classroom teacher colleagues. In states where school librarians are required to hold classroom teacher certification and have classroom teaching experience, this may not be as much of a challenge. If, on the other hand, teaching certification and experience is not required, classroom teachers may need to be convinced that the school librarian is indeed an “equal.”The reverse may also have been true. I may be that when professionals serving in school libraries are perceived of as “coaches” or “mentors,” their classroom teacher colleagues may feel “less than” in terms of knowledge and expertise. A hierarchy—whether or not it is intentional—is implied. If school librarians position themselves as professionals who know more than their colleagues—in all areas of teaching and learning—classroom teachers may perceive that the school librarian is trying to “fix” a classroom teacher’s instructional or other practices.

In either case, relationships will suffer and collaboration may not be successful in the long run.

Reciprocal Mentorship
If, on the other hand, school librarians and classroom teachers collaborate as equal partners who learn with and from one another, then relationships have a better chance of thriving and collaboration is more likely to be on-going. Educators are adults who need to be respected for their knowledge and experience. Collaboration needs to be experienced by both/all parties as a problem-solving activity that benefits both/all educators and subsequently, all students.

In the best of instructional partnerships, mentorship goes both ways. It is reciprocal. There will be areas of the curriculum in which school librarians may lack knowledge or lack teaching experience. Classroom teachers may have little or no knowledge of or experience teaching the inquiry process or reading comprehension strategies. One or the other educator may be stronger in integrating technology tools and devices. One or the other may have better student observation skills or classroom management skills.

School librarians who approach collaborative work as educators with both strengths and areas for growth and who communicate the dispositions (character traits) of lifelong learners will have more success as coteachers. School librarians’ opportunities for professional development in their daily practice are truly limitless!

Job-Embedded Professional Development
In a learning commons library model, adult learning is as important as student learning. It is, after all, the adults who organize the learning environment and create learning opportunities for students. If adults do not engage in on-going professional development and continue growing their practice, then future ready students will be short-changed.

“Collaboration” involves “working with a member of the teaching team to plan, implement, and evaluate a specialized instructional plan” (AASL 2016). Collaboration requires effective on-going communication, joint planning, individual and collective action, and commitment to a shared outcome.

While coplanning, coimplementing, and co-assessing a lesson or unit of instruction, school librarians and classroom teachers are engaged in a just-in-time opportunity to learn with and from one another. Most educators do not have the golden opportunity school librarians have; they are not positioned to learn with and from colleagues who teach in all content areas. Due to that fact, it’s my experience that collaborating school librarians can accelerate their instructional expertise at a faster rate than most classroom teachers. And still, school librarians have more to learn from every educator and student they have the good fortune to serve.

One of the Future Ready Librarians™ gears is personalized professional development. When school librarians and classroom teachers engage in reciprocal membership, they are indeed providing and receiving personalized professional development. And students are receiving a higher quality of instruction. Win. Win. Win.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. What is your definition of a learning commons, and how does your current library measure up to that description?
  2. How do you ensure that the colleagues with whom you collaborate perceive classroom-library collaboration as the work of equal partners?

Work Cited

American Association of School Librarians. 2016 “Position Statements: Definition for an Effective School Library Program.” www.ala.org/aasl/advocacy/resources/statements

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