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Collaboration for Inquiry

Collaboration, leadership, and technology are woven into every element of the library media program. Media specialists have different approaches to collaboration for inquiry. Some jump right in and see themselves as an integral part of the teaching staff while others see themselves in the role of supporting individual student inquiry.

In her article Why Isn't Information Literacy Catching On?, Debra Lau Whelan stresses the importance of collaboration in addressing the information needs of young people. Citing recent students, she explains that many teachers aren't aware of the importance of information skills and many don't realize that they could be collaborating with their school media specialist.

eye means readRead Building Guided Inquiry Teams for 21st Century Learners by Carol Kuhlthau and Leslie Maniotes in School Library Monthly (January 2010). IUPUI login required. Choose PDF Full Text and read pages 18-21.

A Culture of Collaboration

The skills of the classroom teacher and the teacher library complement each other. It makes sense to combine your areas of expertise and resources to design a rich learning environment for students. Rather than teaching skills in isolation seek out ways to bring your teachers together for interdisciplinary, inquiry-based experiences.

Collaboration is a partnership that involves shared responsibility for designing and developing instructional materials as well as implementing instruction. This partnership extends to teaching, supervision, and assessment. Planning and teaching activities often occur along a spectrum from support and cooperation to interdependence and collaboration. In some cases, teachers are immediately receptive to the idea of collaboration. However in other situations it may take years of cooperation before a collaborative relationship develops.

Virginia Rankin (1999, p. 4) stresses the difference between the ideal and real world.

"In the best of all possible worlds, every teacher would approach me well before the start of an assignment. Together we would identify instructional goals and assessment criteria to reinforce those goals. We would discern prerequisite skills and knowledge and divide instructional responsibilities. At the completion of the assignment we would review what went well and what went poorly, and make plans for what we might do differently new time.

In my less-than-ideal world, I have often considered myself lucky to receive any prior notice at all of an upcoming assignment. For a while, I found consolation in the few partners who did ask for my help when their research projects were nothing more than vague ideas just beginning to gel. One day I realized I would make more progress if I relaxed a bit about my ideal for collaboration. I did not expect my students to master a new skill instantly or to progress at the same speeds. Why should I expect this of teachers? I began to see teachers as ranged along a continuum of collaboration and I began to believe I could move them along that continuum."

Before jumping into a collaborative project, consider ways to build a culture of collaboration in your school. This involves opening communication, building trust, allowing time, and becoming proactive.

try itExamine the Making a Video Critique of an Information Source assignment. How do these activities reflect collaborative planning?

A Positive Atmosphere for Learning

The media specialist is smiling, the teachers are confident, the students are excited to learn, and the entire building is energized. According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a professor of psychology from the University of Chicago, this total immersion in learning can be described as a flow state. The entire learning community is fully absorbed in engaging activity.

A positive atmosphere starts with both teachers and students being satisfied in the following areas: competence, belonging, usefulness, potency, and optimism (Sagor, Motivating Students and Teachers in an Era of Standards). According to Martin Seligman, director of the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center, three distinct routes to happiness have been identified: positive emotion and pleasure, engagement, and meaning. He stresses that it’s possible to be happier, more satisfied, and more engaged in life regardless of one’s circumstances

Promote Signature Strengths. Use an online inventory (http://www.authentichappiness.org/) to identify character strengths. Help students and teachers apply these strengths to classroom activities.

Support Each Other. Support each other through thanking peers for their work, encouraging each other, and sharing ideas. Use of blogs and online threaded discussions as well as face-to-face interactions to share "warm fuzzies".

Focus on the Positive. Share successes using tools such as electronic newsletters and classroom blogs.

Building Collaborative Relationships

Research Finding: Collaborative planning requires a knowledgeable and flexible teacher-librarian, with good interpersonal skills and a commitment to integrated information literacy instruction, and the active support of the principal. - Ken Haycock, Collaborative Programme Planning and Teaching, October 1999

Collaboration starts with making contact. This connection may start with smiles in the hall or simple information gathering activities.

Personalities can have a tremendous impact on the ability of the media specialist and teacher to work together. Differences in teaching styles, approaches to education, and even personal interests provide challenges for collaboration. Knowing how your teachers think and plan is essential in facilitating collaborative activities.

Carol Ann Tomlinson is best-known for her work in the area of differentiated instruction to meet the individual needs of students. She has recently begun stressing the need to consider how teachers differ in readiness, interest, and learning profile. In other words, just as each child is unique, each teacher has a unique set of interests and needs. As you begin creating collaborative relationships, keep in mind the principles of differentiation.

Optimizing collaborative relationships involves identifying eclectic opportunities that reach the varied planning and teaching style of each educator while still addressing the primary goal of impacting student achievement.

In addition to knowing your teachers. Paula Montgomery found the the cognitive style of the media specialist also makes a difference in collaboration. In her study, Cognitive Style and Level of Cooperation between the Library Media Specialist and Classroom Teacher, Montgomery concluded that "Knowledge and awareness of cognitive style may be useful to individuals for purposes of self-management. By knowing one's own style, one can expand on its strengths and learn techniques for mitigating the negative aspects or weaknesses. If one knows that one has a tendency toward extreme field dependence, one can learn methods for structuring one's environment with such devices as outlines, time lines, and questioning techniques."

In her article Understanding How Teachers Plan: Strategies for Successful Instructional Partnerships, Linda Lachance Wolcott (1994) states that "library media specialists must assume a more proactive and involved role in planning curriculum and instruction; they must work in partnership with teachers. A successful instructional partnership hinges on the library media specialist's understanding of the planning process as teachers see and practice it. Collaborative planning is the library media specialist's survival skill—a skill that becomes even more important as the concepts of information literacy, lifelong learning, and resource-based learning propel us into a third revolution." Based on research, she drew the following conclusions:

Wolcott suggests the following strategies as a guide to working in partnerships with teachers:

In her article How to Pester Your Teachers, Debra Logan (2000) stresses strategies for developing teacher contacts such as listening for openings, expanding low-level "pull a collection" into skills-based projects, anticipating projects, and surveying teachers. She also suggests sharing materials and links with the suggestion of expanding these ideas into projects.

video clipView Collaboration (1:17).

This video explores the importance of collaboration of the library media specialist with teachers, students, parents, and the community - Excerpt from “Information Library Media Services” from Nassau School Library System, NY

Use of this video clip complies with the TEACH act and US copyright law. You should be a registered student to view the video.

eye means readRead Key Word: Collaboration in THE BLUE BOOK by Callison and Preddy, 322-327.

eye means readRead Collaboration Works --- When It Happens! by Keith Curry Lance, Marcia Rodney, and Bill Schwarz in Teacher Librarian, June 2010, Vol 37, Issue 5, p30-36). (IUPUI password required)

Read Connecting Writing and Research through the I-Search Paper: A Teaching Partnership Between the Library Program and Classroom by Julie Tallman in Emergency Librarian, Sept/Oct 1995, Vol. 23, Issue 1, p20,4p). (IUPUI password required).

Read Why Isn't Information Literacy Catching On? (From EBSCOhost, requires IUPUI login) by Debra Lau Whelan (School Library Journal, 9/1/2003). Explore issues in collaboration.

LambLamb's Latitudes
Collaboration takes lots of work. Positive relationships start slowly and build over time. Partnerships require trust and caring. You can't wait around the media center hoping for teachers to come visit. You must go to them in their classrooms, lounges, and offices. Start with simple, motivating activities and projects. My first year as a media specialist I used a two-pronged approach. I looked for one friendly teacher at each grade level and began building a relationship. At the same time, I sought out teacher teams who already worked well together and asked if I could join them. Once these teachers saw the benefits of collaboration it was easy to get to the rest of the teachers on board. They even started coming to me.

Key Words

Learn More

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997) Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life. Basic Books.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990) Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Basic Books.

Haycock, Ken (October 1999). Collaborative Programme Planning and Teaching. Teacher Librarian. 27(1).

Montgomery, Paula Kay (1991). Cognitive Style and Level of Cooperation between the Library Media Specialist and Classroom Teacher. SLMQ, 19(3).

Rankin, Virginia (1999, p. 4). The Thoughtful Researcher.

Sagor, Richard (2003). Motivating Students and Teachers in an Era of Standards. ASCD. 2003

Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (Eds.). Handbook of Positive Psychology. Oxford University Press.

Seligman, Martin E. P (2002). Authentic Happiness. Free Press.

Seligman, Martin E. P. & Steen, Tracy A. (July/August 2005). Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions (PDF). American Psychologist, 60(5), 410-421.

Tomlinson, Carol Ann (Fall 2005). Traveling the Road to Differentiation in Staff Development. Journal of Staff Development. 26(4).

Whelan, Debra Lau (September 1, 2003). Why Isn't Information Literacy Catching On? School Library Jounal. (From EBSCOhost, requires IUPUI login)

Wolcott, Linda Lachance (1994). Understanding How Teachers Plan: Strategies for Successful Instructional Partnerships. SLMQ, 22(3).

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