How many of us have gotten that sinking feeling during a lesson or presentation that we’ve lost some participants? The dazed or bored look, side conversations, and of course, looking at the phone. You stand there explaining some idea or resource knowing your words are falling to the floor with a portion of the room. The sad part of this situation is feeling like a failure; the good part is failure causes you to reflect on what went wrong that you can improve.
Too Big Picture
As I considered where the disconnect lay in my presentations, I realized it was most often with classroom teachers. My usual audience is school librarians, so content and practice often remain big picture (unless it’s on a specific skill or program). We tend to think on a macro level because we work with multiple grades and content areas. Our approach can leave classroom teachers frustrated because they’re thinking about day-to-day instruction, assessment, testing, report cards, and classroom management. Hearing about the wonderful features of Encyclopedia Britannica or the fantastic new books on climate change is met with a nod and silence, no follow-up questions or invitations to schedule a meeting to collaborate. Teachers don’t want or have the time to translate these resources into classroom instruction. We need to do the cognitive lift for them if we want the resources to be used to boost student learning.
Imagine if someone told you to see results from running, you have to do intervals. Unless you’re an avid runner, it’s unlikely you will look up what intervals are, much less how to incorporate them into your practice.
Articulate the Instructional Possibilities
So instead of overwhelming tired educator brains with content overload, we should select an opinion/op-ed article from a database on climate change and demonstrate how to add text-dependent questions and highlight key phrases to support student understanding of the author’s intent. By knowing an author’s purpose and authority, students are better able to evaluate their claims and evidence. And now that we’ve hooked teachers because they see how this database can support their instruction, we can show them a few more features to whet their appetite for all it has to offer! We can use the same process with a book: point to the text features, reading level, and images/primary sources to show how it can support students to:
- Understand multiple perspectives
- Build prior knowledge
- Support vocabulary development
- Understand fact versus opinion
In my case, my workshop was on early childhood. I focused on collections, programs, and partnerships. I did not mention instruction except for a few stray sentences. Now I know when I offer the workshop again, I will add an activity about selecting a picture book with an instructional purpose for a read-aloud. Yes, we need to build strong library collections to promote independent reading and choice, but our collections also serve the micro level of instruction: how a picture book can help students develop questions, explore new ideas, and build vocabulary and cultural knowledge.
Educators Want to Collaborate
Most educators want to collaborate if they see the relevance to their practice. We just need to articulate how we impact instruction to connect with our classroom colleagues to plan lessons from inception to delivery to assessment.
Author: Leanne Ellis
I am a School Library Coordinator for the New York City Department of Education’s Department of Library Services. I plan and deliver workshops, provide on-site instructional and program support to school librarians, coordinate programs, administer grants, and am program coordinator for MyLibraryNYC, a program administered with our three public library systems.
Categories: Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models
Thank you for your sharing your learning, Leanne. Yes! to meeting classroom teachers’ needs and responding to their perspective.This is an essential understanding for all school librarian leaders. I highly recommend my coteaching reading comprehension strategies books with lesson plans that connect to classroom curriculum and classroom teachers’ needs/perspectives..
Leanne, I really appreciated how you considered the different perspectives of the educators involved. I second your suggestions, and would suggest another important component is for librarians to be proactive about contacting teachers to communicate ways they can provide services and assistance. I find this such an important topic, I wrote a post for School Library Connection about it! (Tetreault, Steven. “Virtuous Cycles and Death Spirals: The Importance of Being an Active Collaborator.” School Library Connection, April 2019, schoollibraryconnection.com/Home/Display/2187124.)
As one example: this year, I am teaching English part of the day in the high school of my district for the first time in twenty years, and I’ve been spending a lot of time meeting students in the library. This has led to some discussions with the school librarian, which in turn has led that librarian to offer classes on tools helpful to topics we are covering. If we hadn’t happened to run into each other and strike up a conversation, I would never have known about the great classes the librarian was ready and willing to teach.
School librarians are rightfully also called “teacher librarians”, and collaboration with classroom teachers is vital to the success of a school library program. Thank you for providing advice on ways to improve that collaboration and ensure smooth sailing!