An Invitation to Collaborate – Part 1

By Ellen McNair, AASL Standards Implementation Task Force member

This is a two-part post addressing strategies for implementing the Shared Foundation of Collaborate. Part 1, below, looks at making connections with Learners and Educators. Part 2 will publish on April 30; it outlines strategies for implementing Collaborate in the Community and through Global Connections. 

The ability to work in a team to create and produce is one of the most important traits desired in today’s world. Jen Isbell, Getting Smart

The JOY in learning, discovering, thinking, and problem solving is especially memorable when students are engaged in making strong connections with others. In their book The Power of Moments, Chip Heath and Dan Heath discuss the amazing power of defining moments—that is, moments that are deeply meaningful and memorable experiences, often including a social/communication/collaborative aspect. These moments connect us with each other. Defining moments also rewire our understanding of ourselves and our world. That is, they inspire us!

If this is so (and I believe it is), then collaborative experiences, when designed purposefully to inspire and connect, are defining moments for everyone impacted by our work: school librarians, learners, educators, and families throughout the school community and on a global scale. When designed to spark and maintain a high level of interest, collaborative experiences foster new thinking and lasting connections with others. Interactive learning experiences act as fertilizer for our ideas and wonderings, enriching our thinking in all of the work we do whether we are designing instruction, creating professional development for adult learners, reaching out to the community, or building understanding through global partnerships. All of these school library elements are impacted when we integrate collaborative practices. Each small change we make in our practice to foster connections provides another opportunity for learning, elevating relationships, and stimulating productive communication.

Learner Connections

Collaboration cultivates impactful changes for learners, including learning to work as a team to navigate differences, to offer thoughtful feedback, and to integrate other’s ideas and observations into new thinking. Whether mining others’ ideas to improve existing work, brainstorming ideas for future work, or developing solutions as a team, collaborative efforts have great long-term payoffs. Learners benefit from practicing these skills long after projects are finished. I’m excited about the variety of ways that collaboration can be integrated into instructional practices for our learners! I’d like to share a few:

  • There are a number of protocols designed to foster idea sharing. One of these, the Consultancy Model, is designed to be used after the initial stages of a project, when learners (students or adults) will benefit from feedback prior to moving forward or when they have hit a roadblock and a different perspective might effectively invigorate new ideas or solutions. Consider using this model after they have started digging into resources, designing a solution to a problem, creating a new idea, or toward the end of a learning experience when they are looking to improve their writing or presentation skills. School librarians can apply the model in groups of three (Consultancy Trios*) for the purpose of positioning learners to follow a feedback protocol. Each member of the trio brings a different dilemma to the conversation and their teammates provide unique, genuine, and valuable feedback.
  • Collaborative experiences don’t have to be face-to-face or highly structured. Learners can use virtual spaces to speculate, express wonderings, and dig into ideas. By providing rich prompts (or questions) in virtual spaces related to images, text, primary sources, or novels, learners who might not readily participate in classroom conversation will make valuable contributions. This can be done in discussion forums or comments in a Google document. FYI: framing rich online discussions also affords the opportunity for all learners to engage in writing. Whether virtual or small face-to-face groups, the work isn’t finished when each learner responds to the prompt. Learner contributions transition to a collaborative virtual environment when they respond to each others’ comments. Let’s be brave and step out of the conversation while encouraging learners to have more dialogue with each other so they are generating their own ideas and expanding their perspectives.
  • Virtual back channels also provide a platform for learners who might not ordinarily ask questions or participate in a classroom conversation, to open up about their thinking in real time. is a viable online backchannel. It’s both wise and productive for one work group or partnership to monitor the backchannel conversation.
  • Structuring opportunities for learners to pair-share in small groups or with partners before sharing out with the larger group scaffolds learners’ formulation of ideas in a less threatening, smaller conversation. This kind of strategy also provides opportunities to build trust and start processing other’s thinking.
  • Redefine group work! Instead of using a silo approach to group work (learners focusing on the same topic) consider assigning learners to a work group in which each has a different essential question to explore or a different design challenge to solve. When they return to their work group, it is for the purpose of asking questions and getting feedback on next steps.

  • When learners work together to create norms for an upcoming project, ask each learner to reflect on their strengths to increase their confidence, suggests Jennifer Isbell, the Central Coast New Tech High School PBL facilitator for redefining group work.
  • In the spirit of inquiry, prompt learners to explore resources for the purpose of discovering a topic of interest, and then return to their work group to share their topics of interest and invite questions from the group to further their learning.
  • As learners approach the end of their inquiry, often during the SHARE stage of the Guiding Inquiry Design process, encourage them to share their new ideas with each other during “practice” presentations. As a class collaborative, learners share positive feedback and opportunities for growth with each presenter. This feedback can be used to retool ideas and presentations before the final exhibition.

Educator Connections: Librarian-Librarian

Conversations with my school librarian colleagues are deeply and personally satisfying. Our school librarian peers have unique and insightful perspectives on the opportunities and challenges in school librarianship. These conversations often set the stage for professional changes that can be challenging and extremely satisfying. The exchange of ideas is a catalyst for change! With that said, I rarely implement an activity or project that I hear about from colleagues; however, other’s perspectives provide me with rich, new ideas of my own–how to tweak or overhaul my instructional practice.

As an educational specialist for school library programs, I observed the dramatic differences between the instructional practice of school librarians who intentionally shared ideas and those who insulated themselves. Librarians who share and collaborate with each other are well-positioned to create vibrant instructional practices and grow dynamic, inviting programs. Here are a few ideas for increasing professional collaborative conversations with colleagues:

  • In a medium-sized or large district, reach out to other school librarians. Identify those who have similar interests and concerns. Plan to meet on a regular basis. Don’t let distance be a deterrent; Skype, Google Hangouts, and Zoom are a few platforms that work well for virtual conversations. Discuss these questions: What are the logistics involved to form a collaborative group and meet regularly? What are your common priorities? Then, let the fun begin! Showcase great work, highlight interests, brainstorm, and work backwards—that is, share student work! Treat failures as learning experiences and most importantly, encourage everyone to participate. Everyone has a voice in a strong collaborative team.
  • If you are isolated in a rural area or small district, reach out! Explore neighboring or distant districts’ school library web pages for potential learning partners. Write to other school librarians and invite them to a virtual meeting, attend regional gatherings, participate (or lurk) on a Twitter chat, become familiar with school librarian Twitter hashtags (look for the “Hashtag Bank”), tag your tweets with hashtags that are relevant to your interests and then follow them.

Educator Connections: Teacher-Librarian

The connections we initiate and nurture with other educators is the mainstay of our work! Here are some ideas for fostering these partnerships:

  • Consider initiating a conversation about literacy and cultural diversity with an academic or grade-level team. Use Kiera Parrot’s School Library Journal resource A Diversity & Cultural Literacy Toolkit to tip off and nourish your discussion.
  • Think Outside the Box is one of many articles about teacher-librarian collaborative practices included in the BubbleUp Classroom blog by Corey Thornblad, Fairfax County Public Schools Teacher of the Year, and Gretchen Hazlin, Virginia Association of School Librarians Librarian of the Year. Their collaborative blog is amazing! (I’ve highlighted a second lesson of theirs in the Discussion Forum, Lesson Plan Examples.)
  • Identify and learn about an inquiry model, then bring it into the conversation during team or 1:1 conversations with teachers.
  • Offer to learn about an inquiry model together! Attend a workshop or initiate one in your state, school, or district. Visit the Guided Inquiry Design workshop page to learn more.

In my travels talking about AASL’s National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries, I am asked about best practices for implementing the Competencies and Alignments. How do I implement Curate? or Inquire? My colleagues often hear me say, “the answer is in the room!!” Please! Share in your collaborative work groups and make contributions to the AASL Standards Discussion Forums! Read what others are doing. I’ve started posting lessons and resources in forum on lesson plan examples to get us started. Check it out, ask questions, and add your own ideas and wonderings. With your input, this will be a rich resource.

The excitement around this new learning is palpable. I know you’ll feel it when you share your ideas. Harnessing valuable resources and ideas through collaboration with your colleagues will elevate your personal and professional experience as a school librarian, and it will be a memorable experience. Collaboration breathes new life into ideas! I’m looking forward to hearing about your defining moments in the Shared Foundation, Collaborate!

Watch for Part 2, where I’ll be making Community and Global Connections with the Shared Foundation of Collaborate.

*The format for the Consultancy Trio Model is included in the Discussion Forum, Lesson Plan Examples.

Ellen McNair
Consultant/Library Programs
Wilmington, NC

Author: AASL Standards and Guidelines Implementation Task Force

Categories: Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Professional Development, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models


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