Advocating for Instructional Partnerships

Teaching_too_difficultI am a passionate advocate for school librarians’ instructional partner role. Research and my own experience suggest that classroom-library collaboration is a best practice and results in improved student learning outcomes.

While building relationships with classroom teachers, it is critical for school librarians to build relationships with influencers and decision-makers. Principals and school superintendents who understand the impact of coteaching on student learning can help create the ideal environment for this practice: a state-certified professional school librarian, a flexibly scheduled libraries with sufficient support staff and a budget that affords engaging resources and technology tools.

Principals and superintendents can advocate for vibrant school library programs. School librarians can collect and share stories designed to meet these decision-makers’ priorities as well as touch their emotions. There is a growing consensus about the importance of educators’ expertise to impact student learning. School librarians can collect advocacy stories from classroom teachers who can tell the stories of improvements in both their teaching and students’ learning as the result of classroom-library collaboration for instruction. Here are some examples.

I appreciated the three things we were told to consider when “Communicating the Story”: What libraries and librarians really do that’s unique and valuable; why it matters in terms of their values and their priorities; and why it is urgent. Classroom-library coteaching answers all three of these questions for the administrators we seek to influence.

School librarians are in a unique position. Similar to principals, we have a global view of the learning community. We know the entire curriculum; we work with all students and teachers in all disciplines. We know the resources that can help our teachers and students succeed. This global perspective is valuable to the learning community in determining what students must know and be able to do. We can help teachers plan across grade levels and content areas because we see the big picture.

Principals and superintendents are focused on teacher improvement. When two educators—a classroom teacher and a school librarian—coplan, coteach, and coassess a lesson or unit of instruction, they learn from one another. This kind of job-embedded professional development can be part of the daily work of educators; it doesn’t cost anything (except as noted above in terms of scheduling, staffing, and resources). Coteaching happens in real time with real students. The results are observable by these decision-makers; the results in terms of student learning can be tangible. A culture of collaboration can transform a school or district.

The urgency of improving teachers’ teaching and students’ learning will be clear to these administrators who are held accountable for student achievement by parents, school boards, and state- and federal-level education agencies. We cannot let students fall behind in reading comprehension, applying information-seeking processes, or using technology tools. These are basic and recognized 21st-century skills that can help our students be competitive in a global society and economy. Teachers must be up to date with strategies to meet these objectives.

Finally, I want to borrow a slogan from a national school library advocacy campaign from the Dewitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Library Power Project from 1990s. I believe it frames the message school librarians want/need to share in order to influence today’s decision-makers. “Teaching is too difficult to do alone. Collaborate with your school librarian.” This was true at the dawn of the Information Age and it is even truer now. Framing our message in terms of what teachers need is a way to show principals and superintendents that they have a partner in the school librarian—a partner who can help them meet their goal of an effective teaching force in our schools.

Image: Remix of Library Power Slogan. Dewitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Library Power Project

Elevator Speech: Reflections on What I Teach

ElevatorThis month the BACC co-bloggers will reflect on the “what” and the “why” of our roles as educators of future school librarians.

Any educator at any level can benefit from reflecting on what and why she or he teaches. Last Saturday, I participated in the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) Leadership Meeting at the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting in Chicago. One of the activities we engaged in during the meeting was writing elevator speeches. Over the years, I have written many of these speeches from the perspective of a practicing school librarian…

But before last weekend and although I have been teaching at the university level for two decades (!), I had not written an elevator speech from the perspective of a school librarian educator. Although it is a work-in-progress, I share it here as a starting point for a discussion of the purpose of library science graduate education.

I, Judi Moreillon, prepare future school librarians to be 21st-century literacy experts and leaders who coteach with classroom teachers to help children and youth from all backgrounds and with various abilities to become critical, creative thinkers and lifelong learners who contribute to and thrive in a global society.

In my role as a school librarian educator, I am grateful for the opportunity to learn alongside enthusiastic graduate students. These educators have chosen to expand their classroom teacher toolkits to add the knowledge and skills of school librarians to their repertoires—including the information-seeking process, reading comprehension strategies, and digital tools for motivating, learning, and creating new knowledge. School librarian candidates learn to design instruction and teach these skills and strategies as coteachers along with classroom teachers and specialists.

Over the course of their graduate program, these librarian candidates learn to embrace a global view of the school learning community and have the opportunity to consider their potential to serve as leaders in their schools. Using professional standards and guidelines I aspire to enculturate school librarians into a profession or community of practice (Wenger 1998). To that end, I also model professional practice to show candidates how to serve.

Works Cited

d3designs. “pb210160.jpg.” Digital Image. Morguefile. Web. 01 Feb. 2015. <http://mrg.bz/iqhhRc>.

Wenger, Etienne. Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Print.

The “L” Team

super-hero-red-cape-hi 

Are you a member?  Do you have your flashing cape and shiny literacy toolbox ready to come to the aid of your local classroom teachers and learners? What’s in your toolbox to help teachers personalize literacy for all their learners?

Resources for literacy should not be an either/or choice for investing in schoolwide literacy programs. In some schools, classroom collections are funded at the expense of school library collections. In some schools there is zero, or limited budget for both, so classroom teachers and teacher librarians are scrambling to find donations or write grants to provide needed materials for students. Some school rely on textbook programs.  Some schools have robust resources for classrooms and libraries. What’s it like at your school? In order to address the individual challenges of each school, literacy leadership teams should represent a cross section of educators in a school. The teacher librarian needs to be at the table and on the team.

Classroom collections are an important resource for literacy instruction. School library collections provide a breadth of materials in multiple formats that extend and support reader choice for information and enjoyment in and beyond  the classroom.  A selection of current and relevant resources chosen by a knowledgeable teacher librarian, benefits all the members of the school community, and provides a great return on investment.  Both of these resource collections are important components of a dynamic and nimble literacy program.  Teachers and teacher librarians are natural partners for the literacy team.

Working with classroom teachers in the classroom as co-teachers, or in the library space, teacher librarians have opportunities to guide emerging, developing, or passionate readers and writers to discover literacy as a joy, not a chore in life. What do you bring to the literacy table?

Here a few ideas for the “L” team toolbox-either for face to face collaboration or on your virtual website or blog:

  • A chart that compares reading-grade level systems: Lexile Levels, DRA, Fountas & Pinnell, Ready Recovery, etc. (Talk the talk, walk the walk)

  • In person or with a screencast, demonstrate the power of the digital library catalog. Reveal the hidden secrets to searching for and discovering reviews, awards, formats, or reading levels in the display record. (Train the trainer)

  • Updates for new books, materials, or author websites on your blog/website. Tweet it out to teachers at your local school #. (Be social)

  • Book talks, book trailers, book discussions with teachers. Set up a Goodreads share site. Select a new outstanding book for a small group or whole school discussion.  Feature a CH/YA author, or a title to inspire discussion, such as The Book Whisperer (Miller, 2009), or Reading in the Wild (Miller and Kelley, 2013.)

  • Book clubs for students, and invite teachers, parents, or community members to take part. Choose themes or genres to begin, and then let others do the choosing and leading.

  • Extend literacy lessons for the classroom into the library. For those on a fixed schedule, coordinate with the classroom teacher around themes, genres, or skills.  Or flip it-introduce them in the library classroom and send selections back to the classroom.

  • Help teachers set up routines to supplement their classroom collections with library resources. Let students take responsibility to curate materials that they think the class would enjoy.  (Small book trucks with wheels work well for rotating physical collections.)

  • Skype/Hangout with authors or other experts in literacy.  (Share ideas, and generate new ones.)

  • Listen to the concerns and challenges of classroom teachers, and be ready to problem solve solutions to help them transform literacy learning in the classroom and the whole school.

 

These are just a few of the ideas that I have tried with success, and I’m sure you have many more.  So grab your cape and toolbox and join the team!


References:

Miller, Donalyn. The Book Whisperer.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2009. print.

Miller, Donalyn and Susan Kelley.  Reading in the Wild. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2013.

Image:

http://www.clker.com/cliparts/k/2/V/1/s/j/super-hero-red-cape-hi.png

School Library Advisory Committees: The Key = 4 Cs

key2What are the keys to an effective school library advisory committee? I propose these: Communication-Connection-Commitment-Collaboration.

Communication:
If classroom teachers have not had positive input into school library collection decision-making, then they may refer to the library collection as the property of the librarian. When a classroom teacher tells students to be careful with “Ms. Jones’s books” (the librarian’s books), the wise school librarian will make it clear that the library collection belongs to all of the library stakeholders: students, teachers, administrators, and families.

Once collective ownership is established, the librarian can invite classroom teacher colleagues to join the school library advisory committee in order to participate in decision-making regarding library purchases and initiatives, such as grant writing and literacy events.

Connection:
The wise school librarian will ensure that the resources of the library are aligned with the curricular needs of classroom teachers and students. While the Common Core State Standards may make this a library goal in many states, the school library has always been charged with providing resources and technology tools to support teaching and learning the required curriculum.

Commitment:
In most schools, the school library advisory committee will meet during before or after school hours. It will be important for the school librarian to honor the extra commitment it will take for classroom teachers to participate in developing the library collection as a shared resource for the school community. Likewise, the school librarian’s commitment to shared decision-making must be genuine and clear to all advisory committee members.

Collaboration:
One of the most outstanding benefits of a library advisory committee is increased collaborative teaching between classroom teachers and school librarians. When advisory committee members have shared responsibility for selecting resources, they will have a shared commitment to using those resources for standards-based instruction. While classroom-library collaboration ensures that valuable resources will be integrated into instruction, it can also improve educators’ teaching and students’ learning.

School library advisory committees that achieve the four keys, communication-connection-commitment-collaboration = win-win-win-win for all library stakeholders.

Word cloud created at Tagxedo.com

 

Inquiry Summit II

Inquiry_SummitAlong with school librarian leaders Liz Deskins, Violet Harada, La Dawna Harrington, Paige Jaegar, Mary Keeling, Annette Lamb, Rebecca Morris, Olga Nesi, Rachel Wadham, and Joyce Valenza, I had the privilege of participating in the second annual Inquiry Summit sponsored by ABC-CLIO/Libraries Unlimited. Sharon Coatney, senior acquisitions editor, facilitated the meeting, and her colleagues Marlene Woo-Lun, Kathryn Suarez, and Jen Psau provided support.

One of the activities in which we engaged was small group brainstorming to respond to three questions: 1. What are the best strategies for implementing inquiry learning in schools? 2. How do we train K-12 educators/administrators? What materials do we need? 3. How are the Common Core State Standards changing the need/intent to implement inquiry learning?

For me, the responses to the first question were the most relevant to the topics we discuss here on the Culture of Collaboration blog. Those in the room seemed to agree that working within a coteaching structure provided the best support for inquiry learning. This structure allows educators to model the process with and for each other as well as for students. All educators involved must have a shared inquiry learning vocabulary that can best be taught, learned, and reinforced in coteaching situations. Educators must also share a value for the time that inquiry learning takes. Educators and students must have permission to experiment, fail or succeed, and try again with new evidence or in new contexts.

Our colleagues, be they librarians, educators serving in other roles, or administrators, must see inquiry in action in order to understand it and experience the value of this process. As school librarians, we must demonstrate the need for inquiry learning as a lifelong learning process that students can and will transfer to other learning environments and apply in their careers, family, and civic life. We must also help others value the lifeskills and dispositions that students learn and practice as they engage in the deep learning afforded by inquiry.

In Thursday’s post, I will share an example of an effective professional development opportunity facilitated by Dr. Leslie Maniotes earlier this month for the Denton Inquiry 4 Lifelong Learning Initiative. Please stay tuned.

Professional Learning: Where Are the New Models? Part I

09_Advanced_jm_rt_writing_conferences_ssI believe that educators, school librarians in particular, should maintain a membership in the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), read ASCD publications, and be as involved as possible in this organization. The target audience for ASCD’s journal Educational Leadership is “leaders in elementary, middle, and secondary education but it is also for anyone interested in curriculum, instruction, supervision, and leadership in schools” (quoted from the masthead of the journal).

In addition to the fact that school librarians should be leaders in curriculum and instruction in their schools, many principals are ASCD members and read Educational Leadership during the academic year. Since a principal’s understanding of the role of the school librarian in the learning community is essential to our success, school librarians should be able to talk with their principals on topics that ASCD identifies as important for their readership.

Last week when this month’s issue arrived in my mailbox, I was thrilled to see the title “Professional Learning: Reimagined.” I saved it to read until I could immerse myself in the content, which I did over this past weekend. Just to mention the foci of a few articles… The opening feature by Dr. Guskey, from the University of Kentucky, focuses on professional learning designed with backward planning from the desired student learning outcomes and evidence-based practice. Check. Articles on video capture of teaching, coaching, teacher-taught tech camps, and the failure of top-down approaches… Check. Dr. Richard DuFour, Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) expert, provides successful PLCs case studies. Check. While I don’t disagree with any of the articles in this issue, this issue fell short for me in terms of “reimagining” professional learning.

There were two articles in the issue that had the potential to delve deep into the growing understanding of the value of job-embedded professional development—one by Dr. DuFour and one by Emily Dolci Grimm, Trent Kaufman, and Dave Doty. I want to share some of Dr. DuFour’s ideas and build on those for a discussion of the Grimm, Kaufman, and Doty article on Thursday. I hope you have read this issue and will join in and make this a conversation.

In his article “Harnessing the Power of PLCs,” Dr. DuFour shares four case studies where PLCs using different strategies have been effective in supporting teachers to collectively improve student learning outcomes. He bases his article and scholarly work on research-based evidence that effective professional development is:

• Ongoing, with sustained, rather than episodic and fragmented, focus.

• Collective, rather than individualistic.

• Job-embedded, with teachers learning as they engage in their daily work.

• Results-oriented, with activities directly links to higher levels in student learning.

• Most effective in schools and districts that function as professional learning communities (31).

This research in consistent with my own experience as an educator and school librarian. The first four keywords italicized by Dr. DuFour are the very reason PLCs can be effective. However, in the four case studies discussed none of them mentions real-time job-embedded professional development where educators learn as they engage in their daily activities teaching students. While there is a collective focus on student learning outcomes and face-to-face or virtual observations of successful practices in other classrooms with other teachers’ students in the same school or across the district, none of these educators were learning while coteaching during the school day with a peer (one another educator) in the same classroom with their own students, resources, supports, and constraints.

Clearly, the PLC strategies offered in the article were successful for these schools but could they have been even more successful if educators’ professional learning happened in their own classrooms in the company of a coteacher who was equally invested in the students’ learning outcomes? My answer is an enthusiastic “yes!”

In DuFour’s article, Regina Owens, the first principal, at The Virtual School of Springfield ISD, noted: “In a traditional school, you hoped teachers implement the new strategy, but it was difficult to be certain” (35).

But there is a way to be certain in schools with a 21st-century school librarian. When classroom teachers and school librarians coplan for standards-based, data-driven instruction targeted to specific student learning outcomes, administrators can be assured that best practices are being implemented in the classroom and in the library. Two or more educators who coplan, coimplement, and coassess student learning outcomes can develop their instructional proficiency in job-embedded professional development learning with and from each other in real time.

What has been your experience of classroom-library collaboration that has led to improved student learning? How is this low-threat, organic strategy conducive to educator learning?

On Thursday, I will continue my response to this issue of Educational Leadership.

Works Cited

DuFour, Richard. “Harnessing the Power of PLCs.” Educational Leadership 71.8 (2014): 30-35. Print.

Judi Moreillon (librarian) and Rochelle Thompson (5th-grade teacher), cofacilitating writing conferences in Rochelle’s classroom, from the Personal Collection of Judi Moreillon – Used with Permission

Remodeling Literacy Together, Part 2

KQwMeg_Kilker_sizedTo continue responding to the results of NCLE’s “Remodeling Literacy Together: Paths to Standards Implementation” survey findings:

•    Teachers feeling most comfortable tend to be those more frequently working with others to analyze student work, design curriculum, and create assessments (NCLE).

Change involves risk-taking. It is essential to have respected and trusted partners when taking professional risks.

Who can help? A 21st-century school librarian must have the dispositions and skills to work with all her/his colleagues in the building. Everyone deserves support, especially when expectations change, and school librarians, who are required to work with all of our colleagues, are perfectly positioned to supply that support. When classroom teachers and school librarians coplan and coimplement lessons, and coassess student learning outcomes, librarians are providing the support teachers need and improve their own practice in the process. This is a win-win-win-win situation for all students, teachers, librarians, and administrators.

•    Teachers engaged in cross-discipline conversation about literacy are making greater shifts in their instruction (NCLE).

In many secondary schools, in particular, the disciplines have been working in silos: language arts teachers talking with language arts teachers, social studies with social students, science with science, and so on. Some schools have made strides in breaking down the institutional barriers between the disciplines because they know our brains do not learn or function in discrete-discipline-based ways.

Who can help? The work of school librarians has always been and will always be interdisciplinary. Reading and language arts are integrated into every aspect of the processes in which students engage while learning through the library program. Whether teaching reading comprehension strategies or inquiry-based research, school librarians must be knowledgeable about how students employ multiple skills and strategies to interact with ideas and information.

School librarians also have a global view of the learning community and can bring educators in different disciplines together to coplan, coteach, and coassess interdisciplinary units of instruction. This is a strength that school librarians bring to the table that can increase rigor and alignment in the academic program in any school.

•    When given the opportunity, teachers are owning the change by innovating and designing appropriate lessons and materials (NCLE).

Again it is no surprise that when teachers “own” the changes in their work environment, they bring their creativity, expertise, and experience to bear and design lessons and integrate resources that are more engaging and effective for learners.

How can school librarians contribute? School librarians must be experts in instructional design. They have experience working with students at various grade levels and in all content areas. School librarians keep abreast of the latest resources, print, digital, and human, and should always be seeking innovative ways to integrate resources into the curriculum for the benefit of students and teachers.

As a poster from the national Dewitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Library Power initiative of the 1990s noted: “Teaching is too difficult to do alone. Collaborate with your school librarian!” I hope the results of the NCLE report will bring all the members of your school’s academic program together to coplan, coteach, and coassess student learning and that your school librarian will be among the leaders at your table.

Thank you to NCTE Executive Director Kent Williamson for being the catalyst to form the NCLE literacy coalition. This is survey is just one example of the power of organizations joining forces and working together to improve literacy learning and teaching for all.

Works Cited

“Remodeling Literacy Learning Together: Paths to Standards Implementation.” Literacy in Learning Exchange. 18 Feb. 2014. Web. 29 Mar. 2014. <http://www.literacyinlearningexchange.org/remodeling-together>.

Coteaching Photograph of Librarian Jean Kilker and her Colleague from the Personal Collection of Judi Moreillon – Used with Permission

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!

 

References:

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

 

 

 

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

Questions to Guide Practice in 2014

ani_superteacherThe “T” stands for “Terrific Teacher-Librarian.”

The school librarian blogosphere is alive with questions rather than resolutions for the new year. In her January 3, 2014 Neverending Search blog post “Tackling the Questions in 2014,”  Joyce Valenza cited both The Adventures of Library Girl blogger Jennifer LaGuarde’s and Blue Skunk blogger Doug Johnson’s questions for the new year.

In the spirit of collaboration and since several concepts connected with our focus here at the Building a Culture of Collaboration blog were not mentioned by Jennifer or Doug, I would like to add a few questions of my own to their lists.

Judi’s Questions:

  1. How can I continue to serve as a leader alongside my principal in order to build a culture of collaboration in our school?
  2. How can I ensure that every member of our school community understands that our library is a shared learning and teaching space for all?
  3. How can I effectively communicate that I am a learner (as well as a teacher) as I coplan and coteach with classroom teachers and specialist colleagues?
  4. How can I further develop my interpersonal skills and improve my practice of instructional partnerships to achieve effective job-embedded professional development?
  5. How can I help maximize the impact of our collaborative teaching in order to make a difference in the learning outcomes for every student in our school?

Adding these five questions to those posted by Jennifer and Doug, terrific teacher-librarians can demonstrate to students, colleagues, administrators, families, and communities that ours is an essential role in 21st-century education.

Here’s to answering these questions in our daily practice throughout the new year!

Digital image by Mark Hicks for Discovery Education