At end of the school year educators often hear the age-old comment, “You are lucky to have summers off.” Assumed is that educators walk out of school, on the last day, disengaged from the practice of teaching children until they return for the new year. The truth is far from this assumption. Summer actually is a season of collaboration. For school librarians, collaborating with content educators and administrators during the summer is important. Collaboration has been well documented as a primary factor influencing student achievement (Rinio, 2018). Yet, even with early planning efforts, the results of school librarian collaborations differ from district to district, school to school, and teacher to teacher.
Successful collaboration results can depend on school and district expectations, learning environments, approach, direction, and leadership investment. Ensuring a successful collaboration between the school librarian, content educators, and administrative leadership begins when there is an agreed upon set of understandings to guide the way. Collaboration understandings establish expectations and consistencies allowing all participants to be cognizant of their role and dedication within the process. When school librarians, content educators, and administrative leadership are collaborative partners and utilize a set of established understandings, student learning is positively influenced.
Yet the larger question is, “How do school librarians, content educators, and administrative leadership arrive at a common set of collaboration understandings?” Arriving at common understandings requires a deep dive into how each group considers collaboration. School librarians value collaboration. The AASL Standards place a firm commitment on building collaboration understandings within student learners, as well as school and district efforts (AASL, 2018). School librarians are expected to move collaboration beyond the student and into the ways education professionals work together (AASL, 2018). Deborah Rinio (2018) asks us to consider trust as part of our collaboration efforts through three distinct understandings: effective communications, setting knowledge awareness and boundaries, and fulfilling commitments (p. 46). School library researcher Patricia Montiel-Overall (2005) found that effort is a necessary component of collaboration. Levels of collaborative effort can be established through five constructs:
- Understanding each other’s interest,
- Intensity and dedication,
- Commitment to improved student learning,
- Innovation and mutual creative thinking, and
- Holistic integration (p. 41).
Both the effort constructs and trust understandings offer school librarians a way to construct collaboration understandings in preparation for working with content educators.
Collaboration through the content educator’s point of view is a bit more complicated, as they often have a variety of collaboration perspectives. In fact, many content educators do not realize the benefits of collaborating specifically with a school librarian. Further complicating how collaboration is understood is the concept of cooperation. A pioneer in the understanding of professional learning communities, Shirley M. Hord (1986) suggests there is great potential for conflicts when participants are engaged in cooperation with the expectation of collaboration. Hord’s (1986) list of ten characteristics of collaboration is a resource that unites content educators. Separating collaboration from cooperation, the list defines collaboration through the characteristics of a significant investment toward a mutual gain; allowing time for mutual experiences and sharing; investing energy to maintain and sustain the collaborative spirit; conducting frequent large and small communications to mutually share; sharing resources; organizing and conducting the work; respectfully sharing control; the perceptions of participants are consistently sought; leadership is an example of enthusiastic and encouraging collaboration; and the personal traits of patience, persistence, and a willingness to share (p. 26). These ten characteristics offer content educators a common language to rally around in preparation for working with a school librarian.
Hord, Rinio, and Montiel-Overall’s note similar themes. All themes speak to attitude, dedication, value, and support grounded in the respectful work between colleagues. The themes also seek to establish an environment where collaboration is an expected professional behavior. Emerging from these similar points are common collaboration understandings that school and district educator and school librarians can use to develop expected courses of action until objectives are met. In addition, a set of common collaboration understandings becomes a useful reflective tool when variations or changes are needed.
It goes without saying that a supportive administration is necessary to develop successful collaboration experiences. School and district administrators must be grounded in the belief that collaboration is a necessary professional behavior. Both must be dedicated to building a collaborative culture knowing that leadership influences collaborative work (Goddard et al., 2015). Therefore, when school and district leadership believe in collaboration and build the capacity for it to flourish, both school librarians and content educators generate a collective efficacy toward improving student achievement.
While the resources offered are in no way a complete reflection of collaboration considerations, they do offer that those invested in student achievement should be committed to building a set of collaboration understandings. When school librarians, content educators, and administrators collaborate together they become an unstoppable collaborative team all year long.
Goddard et al. 2015. “A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis of the Roles of Instructional Leadership, Teacher Collaboration, and Collective Beliefs in Support of Student Learning.” American Journal of Education 121: 501-530.
Hord, S. M. 1986. “A Synthesis of Research on Organizational Collaboration.” Educational Leadership 43(5): 22.
Montiel-Overall, P. 2005. “A Theoretical Understanding of Teacher and Librarian Collaboration (TLC).” School Libraries Worldwide, 11(2): 24-48.
Rinio, D. N. 2018. “How Understanding the Nature of Trust Can Help Address the Standards.” Knowledge Quest 46(3): 44-48.
Author: Georgina Trebbe
Georgina Trebbe, Ed.D. is the school librarian at Minnechaug Regional High School in Massachusetts. She is also an adjunct instructor for Simmons University’s SLT program. Georgina’s interests include information literacy, collaboration, and school librarians as researchers.