Saturday, May 14, 2011

Collaboration as an expectation

Image from Dmitry Rostovtsev

The irony of change being one the reliable constants in one's life (along with death, taxes and procrastination when it comes to something you don't want to do) is not lost on this teacher-librarian in training.

So change is constant and it is a vital part of the educational context in the 21st century and thus impacts on the TL's role within schools. And so too is COLLABORATION. I have been mulling over the research of Patricia Montiel-Overall (2008) A qualitative study of teacher and librarian collaboration: a preliminary report SCAN 27(3), 25-31. What stood out to me is that Monteil-Overall states that collaboration is an EXPECTATION which has been outlined in various published guidelines such as the American Association of School Librarians (AASL)'s Information Power and in Australia in ALIA/ASLA's Statement on TL in Australia and of course, there in black and white in standard 2.2 of the Standards of Professional Excellence for Teacher Librarians.

So collaboration is foundational, a given, a core function - it is expected. And there is very little reason to disagree with this expectation as the body of research for the past 25 years has supported the finding that if the TL takes on the role of being a collaborator within their school setting then improvement in student achievement and information literacy follows.

Montiel-Overall seems to suggest that there needs to be an individual or individuals who have the force of personality, vibrancy and/or energy to drive the collaboration train. She describes them as the ones "who becomes a catalyst of the collaborative process". This seems to be a little hit or miss to me. The characteristics listed which are exhibited by these specific individuals sounds like the cliched list of attributes one put on the resume in order to get short listed for an interview

  • flexibility

  • openness

  • accommodation

  • able to develop interpersonal relationships

  • able to built trust and confidence in colleagues.

And the process or structure conditions are

  • time (of which those in education are extremely time poor)

  • planning

  • knowledge sharing (these next two are cultural aspects and may or may not exist in the particular school)

  • principal support (a raft of literature on this topic alone in aiding the TL)

AND if any of the above elements are missing collaboration will be inhibited.

Tickety-boo. Sounds like a walk in the park. Please excuse my cynicism but it seems to me that there are so many reasons why collaboration SHOULD take place and then there are so many BARRIERS to it taking place. And it isn't just confined to the conditions within the individual TL or the structure. It also has problems when you start to talk about those with whom you are supposed to collaborating.!!! (It bit like the above image of the brick wall and the blank poster - the wall may not move but you can write your message on the poster.)

The lack of understanding within the classroom practitioners as to the importance of collaborating with the TL in their school means that the CT (classroom teacher) is often blissfully unaware of the information literacy responsibilities of the TL or the infinite potential which could be unleashed in their students if they took the time to collaborate. Montiel-Overall points out that CTs and TLs often have different ways in which they "conceptualise and define collaboration".

CT see the core business or role of the TL in a traditional manner as TLs being "resource agents and instructional adjuncts". Hence they will send students to the library to "research" a topic - quite often without discussing with the TL that one, they are coming, or two, what it is exactly they need to do with the information they are seeking.

"Such differences and limitations in conceptions, if not discussed and brought to a common understanding, may be an ongoing stumbling block in implementation of effective collaborations which result in students meeting defined curriculum outcomes." (page 30)

So picture in the heads of CTs need to change from the traditional image of TLs just being there to gather resources to aid the CT to one of "high-end collaborative endeavours" between the two professional where (time-consuming and organisational intensive) joint-planning and integration of information literacy into the subject content of the classroom.

Montiel-Overall also challenge TLs to change their traditional practices to incorporate the standards for 21st century learner into their library program and collaborative practice.
Ultimately, a TL in the 21st century can find all the reasons as to why collaboration is not possible. But it must be something that is valued by the individual TL because of its inherent worth to the students and their educational outcomes. And because it is so vital - then instead of finding reasons why you can't, find the time to make it happen. And even though it may sound like you are interviewing for your job, everyday - a TL needs to harness that cliched list of attributes to advocate to the CTs and the school community why collaboration is essential and convince them to get on board that collaboration train - no tickets required - just faith to get on board! Apologies to Curtis Mayfield and his great gospel song - but you do feel like you have to proselytise and convert the disbelievers to see that collaboration is the way!!


  1. I really enjoy your posts. You display a healthy dose of critique and it aids the thinking of me as the reader!

  2. Thank you preprints - I am glad that you find them useful - I really didn't expect anyone else to be reading them - feel a little bit chuffed that some is!