Digging Deeper by Connecting Understandings of Collaboration

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.

Categories: Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration

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4 replies

  1. Great post Georgina! I’m looking forward to reading the resources you’ve shared. This thought rings especially true for me, “there is great potential for conflicts when participants are engaged in cooperation with the expectation of collaboration”, because it’s how I’m feeling at this very moment! Our foundation is rooted in collaboration; it’s something we value and understand. However, we can’t expect that our building and district colleagues have like aspirations. I do agree that it is something that needs to be reinforced from the top. I’m eager to see what that looks like!

  2. Georgina, Your post provides a great deal of food for thought. Yes, when school librarians have the support of their principals, they can work together to lead the faculty into a collaborative culture of coteaching and learning.

    Misti Werle, school librarian supervisor in Bismarck, North Dakota, and I created a “Levels of Library Services and Instructional Partnerships” matrix. School librarians and classroom teachers in her district are using it to self-assess and chart their understanding of cooperation, coordination, and collaboration and their development as coteachers: http://www.alaeditions.org/files/MoreillonWE/Moreillon_Figure_2.2.pdf

    We hope it will be useful to others.

  3. Dear Georgina,

    Thank you for providing me with some further insight into the different understandings of what collaboration is. I have only recently begun my journey as a prospective teacher librarian and one of the biggest questions that has been on my mind is: “What exactly does successful collaboration between a teacher-librarian and teaching colleagues look like?”

    This question was inspired by the teacher librarian at my current school. She admitted that there have been times in her career where collaboration was a challenging and frustrating affair because administrators’ and classroom teachers’ understandings of what collaboration is were far different than her own understandings of it. Consequently, successful collaboration, in which student learning and achievement benefited, was often a vain effort.

    In some recent feedback, the instructor in my current Teacher Librarian course alluded to there being three levels of collaboration. According to him, the first and most basic level of collaboration is the integration of library services or programs. A prime example of this would be a classroom teacher asking the teacher librarian to pull some books or create a list of websites to support classroom lessons and units. The second level of collaboration is coordinated cooperative activities such as having a class for prep and connecting your library prep lessons to what they are doing in the classroom. The third and final stage of collaboration is co-planning, where teacher librarian and classroom teacher are equal partners in planning, instructing, and assessing. This is the ideal that teacher librarians strive for.

    My instructor also mentioned that support from the school administrator is vital in creating the time, space, and environment for true collaboration. I found it comforting to know that this blog shared those sentiments. A true collaborative environment in which administrators, teacher librarians, and classroom teachers are supportive of one another and work towards the shared goal of improving student learning and achievement cannot exist with a professional behavior that encompasses commitment, dedication, effort, trust, and respect.

    There is still much for me to understand when it comes to knowing exactly what successful collaboration between a teacher-librarian and his or her fellow teaching colleagues looks like in practice. Nevertheless, your blog has certainly shed some light on a topic that has perplexed me since beginning to explore the role of the teacher librarian and, for that, I am ever grateful.



  4. Georgina,

    Thanks for a great and thought provoking post. Without a doubt, student achievement is always positively impacted with teacher librarian and core teacher collaboration. I also agree that there is a marked difference in cooperation and true collaboration, however when you find that level of true partnership (add the extra layer of administration buy in): Watch out! Great things are bound to happen!

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