Are Effective School Librarians Coteachers Who Serve Their School Communities in Flexibly Scheduled Libraries?
By Judi Moreillon
In their article Kristin Fontichiaro and Buffy Hamilton raised many questions about what makes a “good” librarian. In response to their perspective, I propose we think together to answer this question instead: What does it mean to be an “effective” school librarian? While there is no “final” or “complete” answer to this question, I appreciate KQ for giving me this opportunity to respond to the “Undercurrents” article.
I believe coteaching with classroom teachers and specialists in a flexibly scheduled school library is the ideal practice of effective school librarians. I cannot be shaken from this belief. In my own practice of school librarianship, I have experienced and documented coteaching benefits for students, teachers, and librarians. Coplanning, coteaching, and coassessing student learning outcomes and the lesson/unit has the potential to improve instruction and improve student learning. Research supports my experience (Kachel, 2011; Loertscher, 2014; Todd, Gordon, and Lu, 2011).
School librarians are generalists who are required to know all of the curricula in their schools—the published curriculum as well as the taught curriculum. School librarians purchase and curate resources to serve the academic and personal interests of all students and teachers. School librarians also have skill sets that may fill in gaps in classroom teachers’ toolkits, such as knowledge of resources in multiple formats, genres, and reading levels, technology tools and integration expertise, and teaching the information-seeking process or reading comprehension strategies.
Given this leadership potential, should the expertise of school librarians and the resources of the library be marginalized by librarians providing planning time for classroom teachers? Should school librarians serve in a fixed rotation where they see every student every week for a brief lesson and book checkout and not see a teacher’s class until the same time next week? Should they teach in isolation from the classroom teacher?
Research tells us effective instruction involves students learning and applying skills and strategies in authentic experiences at the point of need, not isolated from the classroom curriculum. Research also shows that learners need practice, feedback, more practice, more feedback, and sustained engagement in order to crystalize their learning (Marzano 2003). When school librarians interact with a class of students once a week with no contact in between and no coteaching, neither classroom teachers nor school librarians are providing students with the essential feedback loop or opportunity to engage in deep learning with the potential to become flexible, persistent learners and problem solvers.
Does this mean that an “effective” school librarian co-teaches with every teacher in the building every week? Absolutely not. In fact, unless a school is extremely small, that is simply impossible. Letting go of providing instruction to every student every week can be one of the most difficult changes school librarians must accept when they move from the classroom to the library. However, keeping a focus on the quality and depth of learning and teaching rather than on the frequency of superficial interactions is a key to embracing a more effective way of serving students and teachers.
School librarians must be strategic. This is where collaboration with the principal and the school leadership team will be essential for the effective school librarian. Where can the support of two educators coplanning and coteaching make the most impact? In an elementary school, one grade level may be targeted because those students and/or teachers would receive the most benefit. Secondary librarians may increase student learning by working with one content area, particularly if there is a course or courses or assignment or project in which all students participate. Or if the district has launched new curriculum for a particular content area, then that may be the most logical place for the librarian to focus her/his work.
Working with these educators and students should be a priority for school librarians who will continue to serve other students on an as needed basis and work with teachers who engage in cooperative planning and schedule the library in open times that are not being used for in-depth learning. (If the library is large enough, multiple classes can use the library space at one time, but only those teachers who have planned with the librarian and scheduled the librarian’s time as well will have the benefit of her/his expertise.)
What if a school librarian works in a school where collaboration or coteaching are not practiced or valued? Should she/he be held accountable to competencies that seem beyond her/his reach?
In my opinion, the answer to that question is “yes” if that librarian intends to be an “effective” educator. Her/his teaching must be integrated into the academic program of the school. Period. This librarian should make efforts to reach out to teachers who may be open to collaborative planning and teaching. She/he must continue to work toward a flexible schedule that allows for deep learning to take place. The librarian should continually work to build a program that is central to students’ learning and teachers’ teaching so that the library program is worthy of advocacy. A library program that exists on the periphery of the taught and tested curriculum may ultimately make the professional school librarian’s position vulnerable to cuts. (See Ewbank 2008. Author’s note: The K-8 Mesa USD school librarians who were eliminated were in the rotation and served as planning time for classroom teachers.)
Bottom line: Our national association promotes flexible scheduling and instructional partnerships as best practices (American Association of School Librarians 2009). AASL sets the bar high because the stakes are so high for students and teachers. If you are a school librarian who aspires to position your work at the center of your school’s learning community, if you are willing and able to take that essential step toward leadership, then I would encourage you to persevere on this path to achieve this worthwhile goal. Don’t settle for ineffective teaching or ineffective librarianship. To echo Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see.”
American Association of School Librarians. 2009. Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Programs. Chicago: American Association of School Librarians.
Ewbank, Ann Dutton. 2008. “The Elimination of Teacher-Librarians in Mesa: A Need of Advocacy.” Teacher Librarian 36 (3): 8-9.
Kachel, Debra E. et al. 2011. School Library Research Summarized: A Graduate Class Project. Mansfield, PA: School of Library & Information Technologies Department, Mansfield University. Revised Edition http://sl-it.mansfield.edu/upload/MU-LibAdvoBklt2013.pdf (accessed February 8, 2015).
Loertscher, David V. 2014. “Collaboration and Coteaching.” Teacher Librarian 42 (2): 8-19.
Marzano, Robert J. 2003. What Works in Schools: Translating Research into Action. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Todd, Ross J., Carol A. Gordon, and Ya-Ling Lu. 2011. “One Common Goal: Student Learning Report of Findings and Recommendations of the New Jersey Library Survey, Phase 2.” New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries. http://cissl.rutgers.edu/images/stories/docs/njasl_phase%20_2_final.pdf (accessed February 8, 2015).
Author: Meg Featheringham, KQ Editor
Meg Featheringham is responsible for the development and production of the AASL journal, Knowledge Quest. When not working at AASL, Meg enjoys playing euchre, attending concerts and plays, spending time with family and friends, and reading (of course).
Categories: KQ Content