Working with the Reluctant

One issue that often arises in discussions about collaboration and instructional partnerships are those teachers who simply don’t want to “step out of the box,” as Judi puts it.  Often our advice to school librarians is to move on and work with the willing.  I’ve never been comfortable with that advice because it’s their students who will suffer.  Particularly in an elementary school, I recognized that students with a teacher who didn’t want to collaborate with the librarian might potentially go through an entire school year with little opportunity to use the resources of the library in the deep, meaningful ways enabled through collaboratively planned learning activities.  We have to be careful not to box ourselves in with teachers won’t come in to work with us.  Here’s a few ways I have tried.
Plan with other members of that teacher’s team and simply offer to do similar lessons or activities with the reluctant teacher. “Hi, I know you’re getting ready to teach genres to your students, could I share the lesson and rubric Mrs. M. and I developed?” I did find that a pitfall of this approach was that the reluctant teacher did not have the same sense of ownership of this lesson and did not provide the same level of preparation or follow-up.
Plan with other staff members who work with the same students.  Maybe you can do an integrated lesson with the art or physical education teacher.  Or perhaps, the same students go to another teacher for science and you can plan a lesson with that teacher.  At least, the students will have some meaningful lessons integrated with 21st Century Standards and enriched through the resources and teaching of the school librarian.  Student teachers are often enthusiastic instructional partners and you may be able to draw them in even without the full participation of the cooperating teacher.
Offer extension activities for students before or after school, or during lunch.  These might include competitive activities like Battle of the Books or clubs to share and discuss books or graphic novels or the availability of technology and library resources for media productions.  Ask for a few minutes in the teacher’s classroom to introduce and promote these activities; these students may be particularly eager to spend choice time in the library.
Continue to offer services that are lower on the collaborative ladder such as providing resources or even providing stand-alone lessons on occasion.  While we strive to promote instructional partnerships and to protect our time for those teachers willing to plan with us, we need to maintain connections with all of our students.
Be involved and take initiative in school-wide activities.  Plan a poetry day, author visit, or assembly that engages the entire school.  The more ubiquitous the library is throughout the school, the more likely that all students, even those with reluctant teachers will glean some benefit from your perspective and will maintain a relationship with the library and librarian that will carry them through the “lean” years.
I realized there were a few teachers who were never going to “step out of the box” with me, but I also realized the ones who were really punished in those cases were the students.

2 thoughts on “Working with the Reluctant

  1. I so miss working with you. My media specialist had a willing heart and thanks to our work together I’m able to help her put her services out to teachers to benefit students. Even after two and a half years it is slow going to change the mindset of teachers of the role of the media specialist in the school. As the principal I have to provide time for the media specialist to be involved in grade level planning and encouraging teachers to collaborate with the media specialist. I know from our years of working together how valuable the teacher-media specialist collaboration is for students.

    • Thank you so much! Again and again we are reminded of the research that says how important the role of the principal is in making this all work! And school librarians should remember that some of those teachers they work with may go on to be principals! Our work has so many ripples.

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