It is such an honor to be awarded the AASL School Collaboration of the Year Award. What I am most proud of is that our project, Dot Day: How do we work together as collaborators to make our mark?, truly was a collaboration between the teachers and also focused on developing collaborative skills in our students as well. School librarianship seems to be at a crossroads as we grapple with what our role is in an evolving educational landscape. Collaboration and project-based learning that connects literacy, critical thinking skills, 21st-century skills, and connections to classroom curriculum are key to the future of school libraries.
The Dot Day project connected all of those dots. Students were challenged to make deeper connections to the book and their lives. They brainstormed and sorted ideas to define what good collaboration looks like to them. First-graders then put their ideas to the test to design and build something while learning new skills like 3D design and Scratch coding. As Sara Weitz, one of the first-grade teachers, said about collaboration:
“I have seen a huge change in many of my students. The students who often wanted to take charge, I found, were starting to ask their group members what they thought. The students who struggled with changing their idea, I started to hear agreeing with their group members and wanting to try other ideas. The students who would often sit back and go along with their group began to speak up about their ideas. Not only have the students learned how to collaborate, I as a teacher have also been reminded how much can be gained when teachers collaborate.”
This project went beyond what our students learned and gained from the experience; it also encouraged all of us to look at our own work and collaboration. When teachers across grade levels and disciplines collaborate and work together our students win and we as teachers win too. This project came together and worked because we worked together, listened to each other, developed a plan, re-evaluated that plan, and made changes together. Everyone involved brought an idea, edit, and reflection to this project that made it work and made it such an amazing experience for our students. In addition, everyone who came to the table brought a new perspective. Bev Greenberg, Sara Weitz, and Tisha Johnson brought the first-grade curriculum and the perspective of the developmental stage that first-graders are at during the beginning of the school year. Sarah Beebe brought the technology tools including Scratch Jr., building on skills they had developed in kindergarten. Beebe described how the experience helped developed the students’ technology skills and thinking about design:
“In first grade, students are using various technology applications to develop design and basic coding skills. This project allowed us to explore a way for both of these to be combined simultaneously. The students loved it and developed artistic designs that moved through their coding efforts. In addition to creating beautiful digital renderings of their Artbots in Scratch Jr., students did this while working with their new collaborative quality guidelines. This gave them great strategies to create their Scratch Jr. projects while truly making sure all voices were heard, and every student was able to contribute in a meaningful way.”
I was able to bring the literacy and reading component and the design thinking process to the table. When we all brought our strengths and areas of expertise into the planning of this project we were able to do so much more and our students were able to expand in so many new ways. This is what the heart of collaboration is to me as a teacher and librarian: professionals coming together to create unique and exciting learning experiences for our students.
This collaboration helped me grow as a school librarian and has encouraged me to challenge myself to find more areas of collaboration with all of the grade levels and teachers I work with. Librarians over history have always been skilled at research and seeking out information; collaboration with teachers is an extension of these great skills. Curating groups of teachers and professionals to create meaningful, student-driven projects that enhance learning is part of the DNA of librarianship.