I have recently written an article for the SLANZA Collected magazine on the topic of Teacher/Librarian Collaboration from a teacher perspective. As part of that process, I asked my teaching colleagues for some feedback on their experience of our collaborative efforts and this essay was part of that feedback. Needless to say, I was blown away with her efforts. A big thank you to my wonderful “partner in crime” English teacher Kerri Sullivan for her permission to share it with you in full here.
The library is one of most the perfect places for “beyond the classroom learning.” It is the place where students are, or should be encouraged to explore other worlds, to develop their imagination, to think about the impossible. This process of inquiry is what makes learning a beautiful thing and this crucial step, “the jewel,” is something commonly missed when teachers plan a new unit of work. Sometimes we fail to go back to the basics. We replace simple words such as “finding out” and “enjoyment” with “success” and “assessment.” Often teachers can forget about the process and cast their eyes only to the outcome.
Successful learning is all about individual inquiry and the library is the ideal environment for this to take place. It is through books that children and adolescents can learn about the necessary skills and ideologies that enhance their adult perception of life without being exposed to anything that will scar them. It is a place where students can derive knowledge and cultivate ideas without being judged or assessed on their academic merit. It is the place where finding out and thinking are more powerful than assessment, and that in turn redefines what we mean by “successful learning.”
Our school library is a very important organ to the way in which the body of our school operates. Students and their older counter-parts are encouraged to research and explore new ideas. Most importantly, teachers of all subjects are encouraged to use the library and the librarians, particularly during the planning of their units. Aside from having subject-specific knowledge about a unit of work or text, our librarians have up-to-date knowledge about what is happening in all facets of school life. Therefore, working collaboratively with the librarians contributes to our ability to teach cross-curricular units of work. Librarians are also very useful for providing tips on ways in which to avoid doubling up on teaching skills or texts that have previously been developed in other subject areas. Libraries and their librarians provide opportunities for constant inquiry- based teaching and learning.
Working with a librarian to create a year nine research-literacy based unit for junior students enabled me to ensure the resources selected were the most up to date, the most relevant to the curriculum, and the most engaging for students. Whilst engaging in a discussion-based and reflective work environment, we were able to work to produce a unit of work that used the teacher’s understanding of the students’ ability together with the librarian’s knowledge of texts and their content to provide the most beneficial learning environment for students. We ended up having a student-centred unit of work which focused on understanding contextual information, selecting information, note-taking and refining analytical reading of texts. The librarian’s knowledge of the reading levels of the texts we used, combined with my knowledge of student ability allowed for us to provide texts that were differentiated according to the students in the class, therefore maximising the potential for student engagement and in turn, success.
According to surveys completed by students in my class after working through this unit, most students felt confident in their ability to successfully source relevant information and to process it. In their surveys many of the students described the method they used to acquire information for their project. It was evident through these surveys that the process of learning was as important to them as the outcome.
Aside from being able to create units of work with the librarians at school, there have been multiple opportunities for me, as the teacher, to work collaboratively with them on a day-to-day basis. This often happens via email or by way of a passing discussion. This form of ‘quick collaboration’ often provides me with richer, more specific knowledge about texts, new research on literature, research mythologies, text selection for teenagers, links to contextual information on a text and research- based teaching pedagogies. The collaboration methods we use throughout the year often only take a matter of minutes but are incredibly beneficial to the careful development of our units of work.
When I was asked whether librarians should be acknowledged for their collaborative efforts, it was within a heartbeat that I thought “of course!” However, the small bites of help and often very brief conversations we have with our librarians are very likely to go unnoticed. I suppose like the books in the libraries, we as professionals in a teaching environment are considered “resources” in ourselves. I suppose true acknowledgement comes with the learning outcome that each student experiences. The careful structuring, differentiating and thoughtfulness of unit planning provides the foundation for students to feel a sense of achievement in schools. It is important that we do acknowledge the thoughtful and very specific advice that our librarians offer us. After all, that feeling a student gets when he or she learns how to learn could not be done without our school libraries or the librarians who put so much of their time into them.