Growing Capacity through Collaboration

I have always considered myself fortunate to work in an evolving profession where no two days, classes, or units of study are the same. The needs of the students are constantly changing and so am I. My growth is compounded when I am surrounded by dedicated colleagues who inspire me to reach beyond my comfort zone to a place of new possibilities. The AASL Induction Program has been one such venue. This cohort has given me the opportunity to think about my practice, share, and stretch it beyond my previous expectations. The past eight months have been a period of great inspiration and personal growth.

My work throughout the cohort has varied, but a question presented during our collaboration module resonated with me and has been the driving force behind much of my thinking: “How does collaboration provide an opportunity to grow leadership skills?” This idea challenged me to think about the joint work I do with students, teachers, and our community. It challenged me to grow our capacity in a variety of roles including readers, thinkers, and leaders. From this inspiration, I created several programs and units.

Our #MakersOnAMission was an opportunity for students to work together and be in charge of their learning. Inspired by this year’s Global Read Aloud, my third-grade students read several picture books about helping others and chose projects to improve an aspect or condition of life. I charged the group with deciding where the needs were and what they could “actually do” to positively contribute to the situation.

  • One group of boys decided to use humor as their vehicle to lift our school up. They composed a letter to our principal proposing to read a joke weekly over the loudspeaker. Every Monday this team starts our day with a bit of laughter.
  • Several groups targeted recess time. One group filled a bin with blank mini books they created and markers to hand out at recess for those who might prefer to quietly write or draw.
  • An anti-bullying campaign got off the ground, complete with posters throughout our school reminding students to be a friend, not a bully.

Students were invested in their projects because they were student-centered and student-led. As we wrapped these up, one third-grader said to me, “I am pretty sure this is the best thing we have done in the library. Ever.” This was a special project because of the collaboration that happened between students as they directed their learning and worked together. It was exciting to step back and let the students lead.

The creation of a team of Reader Leaders is providing another opportunity for students to be creative and use their skills to serve our school as reading ambassadors. A small group of 4th- and 5th-grade students is actively participating in literacy-related activities throughout the school. Thus far, they have been charged with spending the money our PTO donated to the library. They created a survey to ask our students about what they think we should buy for the library. Next, they created a humorous video to explain their mission. This next shipment of books for our students will come from our students. This month the Reader Leaders will begin their work in developing relationships with our preschool students. They will choose books to read to them and share these with them in small groups. It brings me great pride and joy to see these students developing their leadership skills and giving back to our school community.

On a professional level, I see the impact of collaborative leadership on my state’s school library association awards committee. I am co-chairing this team and we spent the better part of the fall reimagining what a campaign for nominations for school library awards could look like. We used our varying sets of strengths and areas of expertise to devise and execute a plan to promote awards as a form of advocacy. Giving awards a fresh new look and feel adds to the vitality of our profession.

As I think about the work that has emerged from the cohort, I think about the many ways collaboration has impacted growth–of my students,’ colleagues, and myself. Collaboration is a conversation and provides an opportunity to learn from one another. It is a relationship and it can be a vulnerable place, letting people into your ideas and process. What is lost is independence and autonomy, but what is gained is something beautiful, bigger than the sum of the parts. What grows is trust and capacity, and I am energized by this group and the work that has emerged from the Induction Program.

Author: Wendy Garland

Wendy Garland is an Elementary School Librarian at the Avery School in Dedham, MA. She is currently participating in the AASL Induction Program. She was awarded the Goldin Foundation for Excellence in Education Award in 2016 and the 2017 Super Librarian Award by the Massachusetts School Library Association. She tweets at @dancelibrarian, blogs at and is a proud member of the Nerdy Book Club.

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

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