Practicing What We Preach

Each semester I teach my students the importance of collaborating and co-teaching with teachers, but now as a school library educator I miss that daily collaboration and exhilaration of co-teaching I experienced as a school librarian. So that I got to have two valuable collaboration experiences this past month was very exciting!

First was a meeting with the other school library educators across the state of Alabama. As being one of the newest educators in the state, this was especially valuable for me! This meeting allowed time to get to talk about issues that we all face such as certifications and state standards, but also to exchange teaching ideas and share how we are designing our courses and internship experiences. In order to stay in touch and continue to share we now have a Google Group and space to share. I have shared this with some of my students and they have embraced this idea as one they could implement with various grade levels to foster that anytime anywhere collaboration that today’s technology makes possible.

Second was working with the amazing Buffy Hamilton to teach my class. We chatted about what I was currently teaching in my class and how she thought she could contribute to their learning. It was a new experience for me being more in the teacher role in this collaborative relationship. What a great learning opportunity this was for my students too! They were engaged and excited as they learned about things from a different perspective – just as classes are when the school librarian steps into that co-teacher role.

These two experiences and end of the year reflection have made me think about how I can work to incorporate more collaboration and co-teaching into my own practices. As the end of the school year draws closer it is that time for self-reflection and to look back on your practices this past year and ask yourself “How have I done this year?” – no matter what level you teach.

In A Relationship: It’s Complicated

What should learners hold us as school librarians accountable for? Clearly one area would be categorized as information literacy.  I’ve been pondering what this means and have begun to think of it as developing a relationship with information that includes understanding how to locate, evaluate, apply, create, and share information.  But beyond these skills and actions, our Standards for the 21st Century Learner also point toward important dispositions or habits of mind including recognizing a need for information, possessing the curiosity, persistence and judgment to seek out, evaluate, and select information, and the creativity and persistence (again) to apply information in new ways to new problems and new solutions.  We want learners who will not only consume, but produce new knowledge and information.  Learners need to reflect and assess their own products and process in order to continuously improve.  We want learners who will push their own boundaries and the boundaries of their communities.

Community adds another layer of complexity to our relationships with information and knowledge.  Because we believe that learning is social and information is a social good, we want learners to seek and draw on the expertise of others at every step in the information seeking and knowledge creation process.  How do we as school librarians promote this social aspect of information literacy when it comes to dispositions?  How do we teach students to seek and provide support for each other when it comes to persistence, curiosity, reflection, and self-assessment?  One way is to actively seek and provide feedback and evaluation to each other.  We can model support, encouragement, and sharing the work as collaborative partners.

But it also occurs to me that these social aspects of our relationship with information are not always easy.  Conflict and challenge may be necessary to push ourselves and our communities into new directions and toward new knowledge.   Students need honest critique and are likely to experience disagreement, friction, disappointments and failure.  Our relationship with information is complicated and not always gentle, particularly as we seek to become producers not just consumers.  We can help our students as well as ourselves and the professionals we work with to learn to let go and push through a sense of loss toward new learning and knowledge.  It’s complicated but it’s a living and growing endeavor.

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. <>.

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