The Collaboration Comfort Zone


This month I have several professional development opportunities for you to choose from. I also want to tell you about a project I have been working on. I had the pleasure of collaborating with a fourth-grade teacher to develop information literacy lessons. As we worked, I was reminded that collaboration can be a very complicated process. It is not just about what the teacher and librarian want. We also must consider what our students need. There are many learning styles and individual education plans to consider. The teacher and I chose to develop a series of flipped lessons that were interactive and did not require a lot of technical skills.

Every collaborative experience is different. This one was particularly informative for me because I was learning more about using flipped lessons with elementary students. The process forced me outside of my comfort zone because I had to learn new techniques for implementing lessons. This month, I will briefly reflect on the collaborative process and some things that I recognized about myself.

Student-Centered vs. Teacher-Centered Strategies

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I have to move away from using teacher-centered teaching strategies. Quite frankly, teaching-centered strategies are the easiest for me to implement. However, they don’t always offer the best options for our students. I found myself reviewing strategies to make the lessons more engaging. Using creative teaching methods helps to keep students engaged and provides them with lessons that they will remember. Look at the chart below to review some ways to mix up your instruction.

Setting the Tone for Instruction

During the collaborative process, I incorporated cues that reminded my collaborative partner and the students that I am an expert. What do I mean? It is essential for us to think of ourselves as equals during the instructional process. It is easy for students and colleagues to think of us as the library lady or guy. As a result, we need to exude confidence in our personal knowledge and the importance of the skills we teach. One way to reinforce the significance of our work is to set the tone for instruction by introducing the lesson with the classroom teacher. This will help students to understand the instructional role of the librarian.

Sometimes Safe Means Sorry

We have all heard the saying, “Better safe than sorry.” Yet, there are times when being safe can make you sorry. As the teacher outlined her needs for the project, I kept thinking that her needs were quite in-depth. Then I recognized that if I did not meet her needs, I would be dismissing the opportunity to collaborate and teach her students. I took risks by learning and implementing new technology for the lessons. In the end, the experience was rewarding. In this situation, being safe would not have been the appropriate choice for me.

Preparation Is the Key

Collaboration is a shared process that teachers should find inviting rather than tedious. Many of us have the gift of remembering what it was like to teach in the classroom. When I collaborate, I try to think of any question that a teacher might ask about the collaborative project. I anticipate reasons why the teacher might not want to collaborate. For example, time and the need to teach standards for test preparation often make collaboration less desirable for teachers. I plan how I am going to save the teacher time and address specific standards before scheduling the meeting to discuss the collaborative project. This preparation helps to eliminate obstacles. Here are some questions that I ask myself before proposing a collaborative project:

  1. Is this type of collaborative project feasible for the teacher?
  2. Does the teacher know the technology that will be used during the collaborative process?
  3. Is the technology easy to use?
  4. Is there a backup for the technology that has been chosen?
  5. Have I prepared a list of electronic and print resources to support the proposed collaborative project?
  6. What is the timeline for the project?
  7. What is the benefit of collaborating on this project?
  8. How will the project make the teacher’s work easier?
  9. How does the project support the school curriculum?
  10. How will the project be assessed?

This concludes my reflection on my last collaborative experience. I learned that sometimes it is good to step outside of your comfort zone to explore new techniques. I recommend that school librarians think of ways to vary instruction using student-centered strategies, set the tone for instruction, and create an action plan before approaching teachers with collaborative ideas. These steps are more likely to yield positive outcomes. Please see the professional development opportunities below.


Smaldino, S., Lowther, D., Mims, C., & Russell, J. (2015). Instructional technology and media for learning (11th ed). Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

March 2017 Professional Development

Title:  Loud Libraries Pt. 2 with Shannon Miller

  • Organization: Cantata Learning webinar presented by Capstone
  • Date: Wednesday, March 01, 2017 @ 03:30 pm – 04:00 pm CST
  • Description: Do you agree the stereotype of the “shushing librarian” is utterly outdated? Join Shannon Miller for a free, 30-minute webinar on Wednesday, March 1, showcasing easy ways to incorporate music into your instruction and collection. Music is an affordable, effective, and fun way to transcend traditional barriers to student understanding and engagement. Shannon’s tips help make it easy to try!
  • Link:

 Title:  Series Nonfiction Must-Haves for the School Library

  • Organization: Booklist
  • Date: Tuesday, March 07, 2017 @ 01:00 pm – 02:00 pm CST
  • Description: Join Booklist for a free, hour-long webinar where attendees will get an overview of must haves and what’s new for Spring 2017 from series nonfiction publishing stars: Cavendish Square Publishing, Enslow Publishing, Gareth Stevens Publishing, and Rosen Publishing. Moderated by BooklistBooks for Youth Editor Julia Smith. 
  • Link:

 Title:  3 Cool Tools for Timelines

  • Organization: TeachersFirst
  • Date: Tuesday, March 07, 2017 @ 06:00 pm – 07:30 pm CST
  • Description: Explore, compare, and contrast 3 free online tools for creating timelines in the classroom. Participants will learn about the features of these three free tools and then explore ways to use them in the classroom. A question/answer period will be available to help with individual questions. As a result of this session teachers will:
    • Explore 3 timeline tools to use in the classroom;
    • Start a project using one of the given tools; and
    • Collaborate with other participants on ways to use the given tools in the classroom.
  • Link:

Title:  Literacy = Language Production: Going Beyond the Text & Embracing the Talk

  • Organization:
  • Date: Monday, March 13, 2017 @ 03:00 pm – 04:00 pm EDT
  • Description: Too many use the term “literacy” interchangeably with “reading,” but the reality is that literacy is more encompassing: it is reading, writing, and speaking. Ensuring all students have mastered these capacities is perhaps the greatest challenge facing schools today – and it touches all disciplines, from language arts to social studies to science. How can we overcome this challenge and ensure our students are mastering all aspects of literacy? The answer is simple, although not easy: the production of language. It’s time to get students talking! Join Kevin Baird, Chairman of the Board at the nonprofit Center for College and Career Readiness, for an interactive webinar about the critical role of discussion and debate in building strong literacy skills. Kevin will delve into the latest research to outline priority steps and pragmatic strategies for leveraging the power of student talk in accelerating literacy growth. Topics he will cover include:
    • Using real-world topics to jump-start discussions and debates in the classroom
    • Encouraging students to incorporate text-based evidence in their oral arguments
    • Learning and mastering academic vocabulary through first-person use
    • Empowering students of all ability levels to participate in grade-level discussions
  • Link: 

Title:  Panel Discussion: New Graphic Novels for Your Library

  • Organization: Booklist
  • Date: Tuesday, March 07, 2017 @ 01:00 pm – 02:00 pm CST
  • Description: Get the scoop on the latest youth and adult graphic novels and comics in this free, hour-long webinar. Representatives from DC, Macmillan, and IPG share upcoming titles from their catalogs, perfect for refreshing this high-circulating section. Moderated by Graphic Novels Editor, Sarah Hunter. 
  • Link:

Title:  WE Are One: Accessibility – It’s Up To Us

  • Organization: Simple K12
  • Date: Tuesday, March 14, 2017 @ 02:00 pm – 02:30 pm EDT
  • Description: When it comes to people, there’s no such thing as “normal.” All humans grow and adapt to the world around them. We want our schools and communities to reflect that diversity and make everyone feel welcome. In this webinar, you will learn about the experiences of people with disabilities, and then discover technology to help you imagine and plan how you can make your school or community more inclusive. Join Jackie Novak as she explores a wonderful “It’s Up To All of Us Together” classroom resource for inclusion and diversity. In addition to providing links to U.S. Common Core expectations, it also includes a series of engaging lessons applicable to English Language Arts programs, as well as strategies for assessment and evaluation – all using Microsoft technology that brings it to life.
  • Link:

Title:  10 Free Microsoft Tools to Energize Your Classroom!

  • Organization: Simple K12
  • Date: Tuesday, March 14, 2017 @ 03:00 pm – 03:30 pm EDT
  • Description: Who doesn’t love free tools – especially teachers? Come join Robyn Hrivnatz as she takes a look at some of Microsoft’s top free tools for energizing your classroom and empowering both teachers and students. She will share how these tools can be used across the curriculum to increase productivity and student engagement.
  • Link: 

Title:  Motivating the Gifted but Reluctant Learner

  • Organization:
  • Date: Tuesday, March 14, 2017 @ 03:00 pm – 04:00 pm EDT
  • Description:  In this webinar Dr. Diane Heacox, Ed.D. will explore well-documented research on underlying causes of low performance and create distinctions between non-producers, selective producers, and underachievers among the gifted populations. Teachers often struggle to reach students who actively or passively resist engagement in learning. This session will identify behaviors that distinguish students who are having motivational issues. Dr. Heacox will consider which behaviors are necessary for success in the classroom and how to remove barriers to learning, giving students more opportunities for autonomy. Participants will be guided through a process for diagnosing specific performance issues and Dr. Heacox will suggest specific and targeted courses of action.
  • Link: 

Title:  Make Magic with Mix

  • Organization: TeachersFirst
  • Date: Tuesday, March 14, 2017 @ 06:00 pm – 07:30 pm CDT
  • Description: Learn to create powerful, engaging, and interactive presentations using Office Mix, the latest Microsoft Office add-in for PowerPoint. Create powerful, engaging, and interactive presentations using the latest Microsoft Office add-in for PowerPoint — Office Mix. Learn to use Office Mix for recording video, screen capturing, adding annotations, making interactive questions and assessments, sharing online and data analytics. You can easily Flip your classroom with Mix while tracking students’ understanding. This session is for teachers at INTERMEDIATE technology comfort levels. You must attend this session on a laptop or desktop computer that has a full version of Microsoft PowerPoint installed. Additionally, participants MUST download and install the free Office Mix add-in before the session. You will not be able to CREATE Office Mix learning objects on an Android or Apple tablet or via Office 365. You can access and use them on those devices, but not create them. TeachersFirst are hands-on exploratory workshops, not sit & gets. We highly recommend that you attend using a computer with an updated browser (Chrome or Edge). Those attending on mobile devices may not be able to fully participate and therefore may not receive a certificate. You are welcome to join on a mobile device, but this may jeopardize your ability to receive CEUs.
  • Link:

Title:  Teaching Young Gifted Children: The Whats, Whys, and How-Tos for Supporting Their Needs

  • Organization: Early Childhood Investigations
  • Date: Wednesday, March 15, 2017 @ 01:00 pm – 02:30 pm CDT
  • Description: Whether you work in a preschool program, childcare center, kindergarten, or primary-grade classroom, you have gifted children in your group right along with children who have a broad range of abilities. Why is it important to recognize and support the needs of young gifted children? What are the best ways to identify these children? How do you ensure that the learning environment meets their needs developmentally, socially, emotionally, and educationally? What are the best practices for fostering an environment where learning is interactive, process oriented, and nurturing to all children, including those who are gifted?
  • Link: 

Title:  Create a Culture of Acceptance and Kindness in a Challenging World: It all starts in Your Early Childhood Program

  • Organization: Early Childhood Investigations
  • Date: Wednesday, March 22, 2017 @ 01:00 pm – 02:30 pm CDT
  • Description: In a time where there seems to be many negative messages in the media and beyond, we in early childhood programs experience the effects on young children. This webinar will share a variety of ideas and strategies to use in your programs that embrace a culture of acceptance and kindness.
  • Link: 

Title:  Teaching Digital Literacy

  • Organization:
  • Date: Wednesday, March 22, 2017 @ 05:00 pm – 06:00 pm EDT
  • Description: This webinar will focus on instructional strategies that help students increase their digital literacy. Michelle Luhtala, Library Department Chair, New Canaan High School, CT will outline distinctions between media literacy and digital literacy, and highlight how each can be addressed in the classroom and through the library program. The program will also focus on digital collection development and how using library resources can promote critical thinking, improve reading skills, and help learners better understand the research process. This webinar will benefit librarians, and is a follow-up to Emerging Tech’s session, Media Literacy: A Crash Course in 60 Minutes.
  • Link: 

Author: Daniella Smith

Daniella Smith, PhD. is a former school and public librarian. She is currently the Hazel Harvey Peace Professor in Children’s Library Services at the University of North Texas.

Categories: Blog Topics, Professional Development

Tags: , , , ,

2 replies

  1. Thank you for sharing your reflection, Daniella.

    This line in your last paragraph jumped out at me: “I learned that sometimes it is good to step outside of your comfort zone to explore new techniques.”

    For many classroom teachers, collaboration and coteaching require that they step outside their comfort zones. It is important for school librarians to remember and honor the risks that coteachers take when they step out of their comfort zones.

    Taking the risks together is what instructional partners do!


  2. Hi Judi,

    You are absolutely correct. Being in the classroom and collaborating is high-stakes. Whenever someone came to my class, I always wondered why they were there. I also wanted to make sure that I was using all of my time in the most proactive way. Allowing someone into your “teaching space” and your routines is a risk and can upset the balance of a classroom. This is why it is important for us (school librarians) to have a “game plan” when we approach classroom teachers. We do indeed need to consider the risks they are taking by collaborating with us. Thank you for sharing your comment.


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