Collaboration between teachers and library staff is essential as libraries strive to support student learning more effectively, and transform their practice.
Twenty-first century school library teams continue to investigate ways to form new partnerships with school management, teachers, and wider school communities.
'Collectively, teachers and specialists (including library staff) have been able to achieve better results than if they had taught separately. By combining their creativity and expertise, they have rediscovered the joy of teaching. Together, they have had more success reaching every learner.' (Loertscher et al, 2008)
Collaboration as a continuum
Collaborations and Learning Commons
Opportunities and scope for collaboration
Positive outcomes of successful collaborations
Ingredients for successful collaboration
The role of school leaders
Tips for building collaborative relationships
Planning for, and sharing, success
Collaborative teaching models
Examples of successful collaborations
There are many different types and levels of collaboration. By starting simply and looking for collaborative opportunities, you can work towards being a regular partner in collaborative projects.
There is a continuum of collaboration. This ranges from providing resources that supplement / complement a teacher’s instruction, to library staff and teachers jointly designing, teaching and assessing units of work.
It is important to include an ongoing cycle of continuous improvement in the collaboration process. Review learning outcomes based on sound evidence and modify the collaborative process as required.
A school library that is a Learning Commons - a physical and virtual environment where students, library staff and teachers work and learn together - is a great environment for collaboration.
A Learning Commons is designed to encourage cross-curricular participation, promote curiosity and support inquiry teaching and learning.
As the school’s central information hub, the Library / Learning Commons provides services, resources, and technology for its learning community so that learning takes place anywhere, any time.
Technology gives us greater flexibility in our collaborative work. Instructional activities developed collaboratively do not need to take place in the same physical space or at the same time.
A shared vocabulary is important and helps collaborating staff to reinforce student learning more effectively by using terminology that is understood by all.
Read more about Modern library learning environments (MLLEs).
- working together on specific learning outcomes for students
- working towards a common goal with a shared vision and shared objectives
- jointly planning, teaching, reflecting and reviewing
- gathering, analysing and reporting combined evidence of student learning outcomes
- collectively assessing student work
Library staff and teachers collaborate to:
- boost student achievement by sharing knowledge, expertise and resources
- add an extra dimension to student learning by co-creating opportunities to build deeper knowledge and understanding
- model the development of personal learning networks
- experience the benefits of teamwork, shared responsibilities, exchange of ideas and be able to model these to students
- actively participate in a professional learning community
Students are set up for success when:
- authentic learning becomes more ‘vibrant, relevant and meaningful’ through the combined strengths and skills of collaborating partners
- students with different learning styles benefit from having concepts presented in a variety of ways by educators with different personalities and approaches to teaching
- library staff help with individual needs and allow for greater interaction
- their engagement and motivation for learning is increased through exposure to information in a range of formats and diverse points of view when technology is integrated into the research process
- library services and programmes are aligned with classroom programmes
- they practice skills and make connections between different content areas in an authentic and relevant learning context.
Teachers tap into a valuable resource when:
- they are able to gain vital support from library staff with skills, resources, tools and strategies to help share responsibilities and reinforce messages to students
- synergy, innovation, inspiration and creativity increase through the sharing and exchange of ideas from different perspectives with planning and teaching
- they have targeted access to a time-saving link through the library to the most appropriate print and online resources, strategies and new technologies
- library staff assist them by connecting curriculum and content across all levels
- library staff offer broad perspectives about students’ interests and their approach to learning.
Library staff expertise and services are used fully when:
- library staff grow a deeper professional understanding of the curriculum, what is important to teachers and how best to support learning
- the services of the library as a learning hub are promoted extensively with each collaboration and are extended in depth and quality
- library staff demonstrate leadership in the use of technology, information skills and problem solving
- opportunities arise for library staff to develop, extend and implement new skills in, for example, instructional design, team teaching and assessment
the role and perception of the library staff as essential partners in the teaching team and “knowledgeable ally” is strengthened. (Frazier)
Collaboration provides evidence of student achievement and staff collegiality when results show that:
- measurable outcomes of student achievement show an increase in levels of achievement, helping to meet the school’s goals and objectives
- a culture of collaboration and collegiality develops among new and experienced staff
- there is increased awareness of what the library and library staff can do to boost student achievement and strengthen instructional programmes
- library staff demonstrate their ability to take on leadership roles
- professional learning and development becomes embedded in practice
- library staff and teachers implement and model skills such as critical thinking and problem solving
- the student - teacher ratio is improved for instruction
- student learning is maximised.
Successful collaborations need:
- library staff involvement in syndicate, departmental and full-staff meetings, especially when curriculum, resources and units of study are planned.
- scheduled planning time
- evidence-based practice to inform decision-making and continuous improvement
- library staff and teachers who are:
- enthusiastic about the benefits of collaboration
- adaptive - integrating appropriate technology to improve teaching and learning
- positive about change and sharing new ideas
- effective communicators
- respectful and trusting of other styles of working, learning and teaching
- supportive school leadership committed to collaborative teaching; building an inclusive and collegial school culture
- job descriptions
- performance appraisals recognising the role of all library staff as collaborating partners
- ongoing staff professional learning and development.
School leaders play a vital role in establishing and supporting collaborations and partnerships when they:
- provide vision and commitment, encourage and support collaboration in their learning community
- create an inclusive school culture with staff modelling collaboration to students
- provide financial and administrative support of the school library and its staff
- expect an evidence-based practice approach in library and other collaborations
- include collaboration in library job descriptions
- recognise the role of the library team as a collaborating partner in the school teaching and learning environment
- promote teacher - librarian collaboration
- expect teaching staff to use library resources and library staff expertise
- expect library staff to work collaboratively with teachers
- ensure library staff receive relevant professional development
- highlight / celebrate successful collaborations with the wider school community
- includecollaborative teaching in performance evaluations
- advocate for the library.
Initiate collaboration by offering help and ideas both informally and formally. Move from: What can I do for you? to What can I do with you? Look for partners who are able to initiate change, have skills, strengths and influence that are complementary to your own and and are active users of the library. Other tips include:
- Attend briefing / planning / curriculum meetings to listen, learn and share ideas.
- Take small steps - a successful collaboration with one teacher can lead to others. Start with a small collaboration and build up to major projects involving developed relationships and commitments. See Senga White’s Collaborative Strategies, which include:
- conversational starters
- regular, day-to-day strategies
- big picture or political strategies.
- Participate in teams / committees and become involved in decision making and school planning.
- Find opportune times to approach teachers, for example, when they take their class into the library, make a library booking, over coffee or during lunch breaks. Or create opportunities by developing short, fun library-based activities involving both students and teachers.
- Take advantage of any opportunity to share ideas face-to-face (staff briefings and meetings) or online (email, blogs, wikis, intranet, learning management systems).
- Make use of online collaborative tools such as wikis, Google Docs and Livebinders to share ideas and for planning in addition to meeting face-to-face.
- Keep senior management apprised of plans, developments, successes and issues.
- Invite staff to the library and share tools, resources and ideas for supporting learning and multiple literacies. Follow up with offers to promote or demonstrate them to students.
- Provide teachers with targeted information on the curriculum and their areas of interest through a current awareness / selective dissemination service.
- Suggest ways in which you can collaborate with key colleagues.
- Seek opportunities to talk to staff during syndicate, departmental, whole staff and other meetings: show new resources, technologies and programmes and offer the library’s spaces and services.
- Build involvement by asking teachers to discuss lesson plans, purpose of their library visit and their resource needs when they book the library.
- Find out what teachers and students need - ask them, conduct surveys, look at data from tests, assessments, library management systems, observations - and use data to plan a collaborative unit to meet their needs.
For successful collaborations, planning is essential, for example:
- work with teachers to define the learning outcomes for units or projects
- carefully consider the ways that you / the library can support the intended outcomes
- brainstorm ideas for activities, effective use of resources, building creative, critical thinking skills
- include assessment mechanisms for the library-led parts of the unit
- evaluate the effectiveness of the learning outcomes
- identify areas for improvement for the next jointly planned unit.
Share your success
- Publicise effective collaborations and where relevant, display work arising from the collaboration.
- Collect evidence of your success and use this to promote and continuously improve your practice.
- Keep samples of planning and student work to show others. For inspiration, see Buffy Hamilton’s media 21 pages where she shares her collaborative planning and reflects on her collaborations.
Supportive instruction - one educator teaches the material while the other provides follow-up activities / support.
Parallel instruction - a class is divided into two groups and each educator teaches a group. The groups might swap over or regroup as a class to share ideas and reflect on their learning.
Differentiated split class - a class is divided into two groups, with each educator providing instruction appropriate to the needs of their group.
Station / centre teaching - a class is divided multiple 'learning stations / centres' with each educator working with a different group at any one time while some groups are working independently.
Team teaching - both educators are actively involved at all times in the same room but may assume different roles during instruction.
- White, S. (2011) Collaboration: The key link between librarians and teachers. In Fontichiaro, K. & Hamilton, B. (Eds), School Libraries: what's now, what's next, what's yet to come.
- White, S. Senga’s space
- School Spotlight: New Milford High. In: The Glogster Education Blog. Library Media Specialist collaborates with History teacher on a project designed to engage 9th grade students.
- Frazier, D. (2010) School library media collaborations: Benefits and barriers. Library Media Connection 29 (3), 34-36.
- Loertscher, D. V, Koechlin, C. & Zwaan, Si. (2008). The new learning commons where learners win: Reinventing school libraries and computer labs. Salt Lake City, UT:Hi Willow.
- Marshall, G. (2012) Team teaching engages learners and teachers. New Zealand Education Gazette 91(1), 6-7.
- Signorelli, P., Reed, L. (2011) Professional growth through learning communities. American Libraries 42 (5/6). 57-59.