It has been a challenge, I confess, preparing a class of preservice school librarians for the teacher and instructional partner responsibilities of a school librarian. I have in one class students who are already experienced, accomplished classroom teachers alongside students who have no teaching experience or education background whatsoever.
Much of the course focuses on inquiry-based learning, assessment, and evidence-based practice, which helps to equalize the experience for all students. While our AASL Standards push us to “model and promote … inquiry-based learning…,” and emphasize that, “Candidates implement the principles of effective teaching and learning that contribute to an active, inquiry-based approach to learning,” this is typically new ground for even veteran classroom teachers.
Another equalizer is the need to assess our K-12 students. Many classroom teachers are unfamiliar with the expectations of our profession and our need to provide evidence of our value and impact on student learning to the school community. Some of the strategies we propose for formative assessments and student self-assessments expose them to our teacher/instructional partner roles from a different perspective.
Where the division between students is greatest is in the design of lesson plans. The classroom-teachers-turning-school-librarians generally have this down and handle the lesson plan assignments with relative ease. They cut their preservice teacher teeth doing lesson plans so they already understand the basics. They know how to pull student learning outcomes from the standards. They are familiar with Bloom, with Hunter, with Marzano, and with Wiggins and McTighe. They just need to figure out this “inquiry-based” learning thing and they are pretty good to go.
So, when I insist that the lesson plans students do for my class need to be exaggerated and overly detailed, I’m sure the veteran teachers must roll their eyes. I explain that I need, like a math teacher, for them to show their work. I’m not looking solely for the product but more so for the process they will undertake to guide their K-12 students to achieve. I expect their lesson plans to demonstrate clearly and specifically how they are, as the standards state, “effective and knowledgeable teachers.”
In justifying to my students why their lesson plans at this stage need to be so detailed, I want them to understand that this is how they learn about, practice, and model what it means to be an effective and knowledgeable teacher. So, they should take pains to show where in the lesson they are inserting the phases of inquiry. They should acknowledge in the lesson how they are considering learner needs and diverse learning styles. They need to prove they can apply best practice and connect what they expect students to learn to actual student achievement. They must demonstrate strategies for supporting reading comprehension. The hope is that with more experience, it will become second nature for them to consider these extra components in their lesson design.
In the meantime, while their exaggerated lesson plans are a way for me to assess their proficiency, it occurred to me that they could also work as a type of subtle advocacy. Sharing a detailed plan with a classroom teacher could be a prompt to collaboration. It could serve to introduce inquiry learning in a non-threatening way. It could be a blueprint for how coteaching could work. It would clearly indicate how we are also effective and knowledgeable teachers. For classroom teachers to see the commonalities in what we do with students in the library with what they do in the classroom can only earn us credibility as teaching peers and instructional partners. And … think about the way our lesson plans might also serve as tools of advocacy when we share them with our principals? What better way to help them see that we are well-prepared and competent teacher librarians?