Recently, I was chatting with another school librarian and they asked about our schedule. At one time the school library used a fixed schedule for all classes but switched to a hybrid model several years ago. I realized that it has been five years since we made the switch. That got me thinking about the things that were still working and what had changed along the way.
The process began during the 2016 – 2017 school year with a year of momentum. Then I highlighted the change in two posts called Journey to a Flexible Schedule in Part 1 and Part 2. Now, here are some thoughts five years in the making!
When my administrator and I first discussed this change during the 2017 – 2018 school year, we talked about it being a flexible schedule. However, what it has really evolved into is a hybrid model. Preschool and kindergarten have a 30-minute scheduled class each week. First through third grade has a fixed checkout time each week that is 20 minutes in length. All other instruction is scheduled with first, second, and third grade based on need and curriculum alignment. Preschool and kindergarten teachers are encouraged to reach out if they would like to collaborate on a project in addition to their normally scheduled class.
Starting the year off with a meeting really sets things up for success. I usually have an opportunity to join each grade level during their meetings in August. This allows us to arrange a checkout time that works for them as well as plan activities for September. Additionally, if there are any new teachers, I am able to share the goals of the school library with them. These meetings can be time-consuming for me, but really help lay the foundation for the year.
Every lesson I teach, fixed or flexible, is placed in a Google Calendar. Any additional meetings or other duties are added in too. This allows me to easily see when time is available.
I offer up any and all available time. Some days that makes it so I do not have any prep time at all. On other days it means I have significant chunks of time for collection management and planning. It depends on the day, the week, or what is happening in our school community.
When a lesson is scheduled with a teacher I send them a calendar invite. This usually has the grade level, teacher’s name, and lesson title listed. This is an easy way for everyone involved to keep track of what we have planned.
When a lesson or project is scheduled I add the details in Canvas (our learning management system). This allows me to organize the lesson or unit. It also shows how my curriculum progresses through the year in connection with the classroom curriculum. All of the teachers have been added to the Library Canvas pages so that they have access to the information and resources too.
I still use a monthly menu! At times this has been an important part of starting a conversation with teachers about what the library can offer. It highlights how we can collaborate and what type of connections we can make. There have been many times that we do not do anything on the menu, but it leads to us working on other projects together.
When I first started this transition I originally did not want to have a fixed checkout time. I wanted students to come as needed to get a book. What I have found is that I need this time with learners. This is an opportunity for them to understand that the school library is a place of exploration and joy. When students come for checkout there are library stations that allow them to play, build, and create. It also gives me an opportunity to conference with students about what they are reading and make recommendations. Without this scheduled time, I would not have the opportunity to get to know all of my learners as readers. It gives them access that they might not otherwise have.
Things to Remember:
Over the last five years, these are pieces that I have learned are important to making this type of schedule work best for my learners. Usually, if there is an issue related to the schedule it is because I have forgotten one of these things.
Collecting data was key to showing the success and the areas of improvement. Data has been my lifeboat to showing others the value of the library to student learning. It is how I am able to communicate the what and why of the school library program. Each year, I create an annual report to share with my administrator. This allows me to show what our schedule allows us to do together.
As many have said before, “If you don’t tell your story, someone else will.” Sharing with others makes what we do relatable. Honestly, I believe that it is one of the few ways to change a mindset. Sharing, without being pushy, takes work and time. To do this, I started sharing in a bi-monthly newsletter with stakeholders. I share at faculty meetings, on social media, and through email. I share with just about anyone who will listen so that they will understand the impact the library has on student learning.
Sharing stories, not just data is what helps people connect. If a funny thing happens I find someone to tell. If a child does something amazing I make sure to explain it to their teacher. This not only lets them see the value of our program but allows us to build a personal relationship with each other.
Some people will take longer to understand the benefits of a collaborative partnership. Some people have difficulty giving up control of a lesson or unit. Change is hard for everyone! Sometimes a lesson just does not work with what is happening in the classroom. So, I cannot take it personally when someone does not want to complete a project, unit, or lesson with me. I can reflect on my approach and improve how to make the partnership a positive one, but sometimes it is just not about me. I just have to keep showing others the benefit a library partnership can have.
This is about being flexible with teaching styles, change of plans, last-minute ideas, and an ever-changing schedule. Having a plan and knowing how things are going to go is something I prefer. Yet, a flexible schedule does not allow you to plan ahead. It is more about finding the opportunities and working to mold them into collaborative lessons.
Listening is not always my strength. It is something I have to actively think about, but I have found when I take a minute to really listen to what a teacher is saying I can usually catch an opportunity to collaborate. Some of the best collaborative lessons have been developed at the lunch table or the copy machine because I have taken a minute to listen to what the teacher is working on and how I can support it.
Still working on:
There are always places to improve and some things are just beyond our control. Here are some things we are still working on.
It seems as if this will be a problem that never goes away. There is never enough of it! This has been especially true in the past two years with the increasing demands the pandemic has created. For me, the goal is to prioritize what is most important. Instruction and support for educators and learners always trump cataloging and shelving. I try to make a list or outline for the day so that I can be as productive as possible. Using the technology tools that I have available to me also helps when the time to meet together is not possible. Learning to say “no” is something that the last five years have taught me too!
What I have realized is that not all of the library skills merge perfectly with classroom concepts. Sure literacy and research skills easily translate, but teaching students to use the library catalog is not really one that connects directly to the classroom curriculum. To help with this, we have added in “bonus” library times throughout the school year. This is an extra prep for the classroom teacher (which they love) and gives me the chance to teach some of the skills that are really just related to the library.
Making it Truly Collaborative:
This one goes along with time and listening. One of the things that I do well is jumping in and creating a plan! However, there are times when this leaves little room for the classroom teacher’s input. We are all so busy! Sometimes it is easier for me to say, “I have got you covered.” However, this leads to little ownership from the teacher and really makes the lesson one I am leading instead of being the co-taught, collaborative model we had hoped for. Taking a step back, instead of taking over, is something that I am working on. In addition, I have been focused on asking more questions so I can find out what the teacher wants instead of just what I had in mind.
It has taken time and a lot of sharing, but most of the teachers and administrators in my school community understand the role the school library can play and see the advantages this type of schedule can offer. I work with students more often with this type of schedule than I would in a fixed model. The school library is infused in a variety of subject areas and many educators include me in project planning when appropriate. It is not all sunshine and rainbows, but considering where we started to where we are now I cannot imagine going back.
My biggest take-away from the past five years is that there is no perfect plan. You have to figure out how the library can best meet the needs of the school community you are in. Maybe that is a flexible schedule, maybe it is fixed, or a combination of the two, but having a vision for how to move the school library forward and being able to communicate that vision is what I have found to be the most important! I look forward to what the next five years will bring!
Author: Kelly Hincks
I am the librarian at Detroit Country Day Lower School in Bloomfield Hills, MI. I have worked as a school librarian for the past eleven years. I was a classroom teacher for four years prior to that. I have worked in charter, public, and private schools. My favorite thing about being a school librarian is the opportunities I have to work both with students and teachers. I love the co-teaching opportunities and connections I have been able to make! I have served on AASL committees as a member and chair. I currently serve as secretary of my state association, Michigan Association of School Librarians (MASL).