Perfect is the enemy of the good.

If you are reading this, you believe that collaborations between teachers and librarians make a difference and are worthwhile. Whenever librarians come together, we invariably end up discussing collaborations – our successes and our frustrations.

“Making Co-teaching Stick” at AISL Boston

My AP Language students are just finishing a unit on Rogerian argumentation, making me think about the shared ground for collaboration between teachers and librarians. The best collaborations need shared time (for planning and for implantation), shared goals, shared vocabulary and shared respect.

We all have our *gold* standard of collaboration, that project that looks like it was designed to ace our MLIS Research Methods class. And we all have our practical “yay we collaborated because we talked” standard. Getting the foot in the door and setting the tone for research might be enough for some projects because it shows that the library skills are being integrated across the curriculum even if students don’t set foot in the library. For the purpose of this post, teachers fall into three categories:

  1. Eager Beaver collaborators look for any opportunity to co-teach. Students are used to seeing me in their classes and the teacher and I can finish each other’s sentences. This is where I spend most of my time, designing curriculum, in the classroom, and meeting with students.
  2. I Appreciate Libraries collaborators believe in school libraries. They tell their students to use the library and incorporate research but don’t necessarily include the librarian in their planning or scheduled library time.  
  3. Someday Maybe collaborators is the optimistic term for teachers who don’t fit into the above categories. These individuals don’t tend to see any connection between their curriculum and the library program. It’s (hopefully!) not that they dislike the library, just that they don’t see a place for it in their classrooms.

Recognize that teachers also feel the time crunch familiar to all of us. Many conversations with my Physics teacher husband led to my thoughts on how to best reach the I Appreciate Libraries contingent. Eager Beavers don’t need more encouragement, and Someday Maybes are, well, someday maybe when the time is right. But for I Appreciate Libraries; I can offer support in a way that enhances their projects while preventing me from trying to find a way to schedule three different classes during the same period.

Offer virtual help. The library webpage, libguides, slideshows, and help videos are available on demand for students in the midst of researching. Not as personal as a class session, but they can be accessed anytime students are researching. They also have the advantage of being available for multiple classes and shared between department members. 

“Some of the students were asking how to get to History Reference Center, so here’s a visual help sheet with arrows they can follow if you want to post to SSESonline.”

Offer in-person help at surprising times. Office hours, popping by classes, and having teachers recommend students meet with me during study hall have led to conversations and research consultations with individual students. I know I’m not the only librarian whose desk is next to a printer. A friendly question when students pick up work is a great opening for project assistance.

“I heard the outline is due Friday and it’s supposed to be at least two pages. How much do you have so far?”

Offer suggestions for next year. It’s hard to fix a project that isn’t working mid-stream. Personally, I’ve never been successful at it. Students are already working towards their goal, and the class as a whole gets a bit of tunnel vision. By taking notes on what’s not working and approaching the teacher afterwards, you can set the tone for a more successful project next year.

“I noticed those MLA bibliographies seemed to be in a new format that I’d call untraditional at best. If you want me to work on that before they turn them in next year when you do this, just let me know.”

Teach the teacher. I was surprised in a chance conversation in the faculty room earlier this year to learn that a teacher wasn’t bringing his classes to the library because he “knows how busy I am.” True, but my passion is teaching. I will put off cataloging and user analytics for any time with students. But also, sometimes teachers don’t plan ahead as much as would be ideal or our schedules don’t work. (Might I mention that you can all think of me next Friday when I’ll have 8 classes in 5 periods?!?) Many of my teachers know how to use JSTOR or evaluate websites after seeing me work with their classes before. It’s been really hard for me to think that it might be a sign of a successful program that teachers feel empowered to conquer these subjects on their own and that it’s really an endorsement of what the library offers, even though it feels like a rejection in the moment.

“I heard you’re evaluating health sites tomorrow. That’s awesome! Let me know if you want me to pop by or if your students have any questions you weren’t anticipating that we can work on in the future.”

Much as I want to collaborate with every teacher, I know that amongst all the classes, I’m reaching all the students in my Middle and Upper School in at least one of their courses. Instead of spending my energy worrying about teachers who aren’t looking to collaborate, I’m working on providing the skills that my students need for college and career readiness in a format that works for more of my teachers.

It’s time to think creatively. Please leave any suggestions or recommendations below.

6 thoughts on “Perfect is the enemy of the good.

  1. Thank you for this excellent post! It is really helpful to see how you categorize and think about outreach in different situations.

    It also reminded me that – back in my very first year – Jole and I decided to outline the various ways that teachers could collaborate instructionally with the library.
    -Have us in/bring students to the library to teach
    -Send students to the library for 1-on-1 meetings with a librarian (this has been quite successful and brings us a chance to work with four of our seven grades in personal instruction one or more times a year, also trains students to come to us for help. Also, starts with 15-minute meetings and usually ends up also getting us a period of instruction to set them up for the meetings.)
    -Have us look over assignments and give them feedback on wording/instructions wrt research.
    -Use vocabulary consistent with what students learn from us.

    By framing each of these actions as collaborating with the library, we’ve been able to get people started working with us who would not have considered doing so otherwise. Some of those have grown, and some have not quite — but it does keep us front-of-mind and mentioned in the classroom.

    • Thank you! I just finished a conversation a few minutes ago where I was brainstorming a way to change the vocabulary for next year so the assignment would make more sense to students and would bring the results the teacher expected. And that led to an invitation to join the class tomorrow, but I’m already booked both times requested. You are very lucky to have a team!

      • I feel incredibly grateful every day for being part of a team, and also being on Team Librarian — thank you for all your hard work to help build and support that team!

  2. I feel incredibly grateful every day for being part of a team, and also being on Team Librarian — thank you for all your hard work to help build and support that team!

  3. Thanks for a great post, Christina. Yes, as much as we would like to work with the maybe someday teachers, I think our time is better spent cultivating those we collaborate with on a regular basis and those who just need that little nudge. The pull though with the maybe someday teachers is knowing the opportunities that their students are missing. Let’s hope they have another teacher that falls in one of the first two categories. And agreed, some of my most productive work is in those one-on-one sessions with students.

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