School librarians are quite specific about the difference between cooperation and collaboration. In the first case, the librarian and the teacher work independently from each other but share a common direction with each contributing content or process based on what there are of expertise is. The second involves a much closer connection. While the teacher is likely to be the architect of the unit in question in a cooperative arrangement with librarian adding pieces unique to the library program, in a collaborative relationship both discuss the unit together, determine the Essential Questions and the desired Learning Outcomes. Together they create the structure of the students’ learning experience and often are together in presenting concepts, injecting information as needed, and working simultaneously with students.
Obviously, the second model is the better one for transforming student learning, but for most elementary school librarians and many middle school ones, the constraints of a fixed schedule make collaboration challenging. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen. You just need to choose your partners in a different way. A post on the AASLForum electronic discussion list reminded me of how collaboration can be achieved within a fixed schedule day.
Many years ago, I worked in an elementary school modeled on the British infant school. All first and second graders were in one large room with 5 feet high dividers separating six classrooms for five teachers with the last being used for group gatherings. Each teacher had a class composed of first and second graders, allowing for a more ungraded environment. Third and fourth graders also had a large room with pairs of team teachers – one for math and science and the other for social studies and language arts. Fifth and sixth graders were “departmentalized” and moved as a homeroom to the different subject areas. With a principal open to innovation, all the teachers had room to experiment.
One of the great concepts we created were school-wide events occurring several times a year. I along with the art, music, and gym teacher would develop a theme designed to culminate in an evening showcase to which parents were invited. Among the memorable ones was the one entitled “Under the Sea.” In music, the students learned sea chanties and other relevant songs. In art they designed murals. In gym, the teacher created games simulating underwater environments, and in the library I worked with students researching marine animals and plants so their murals and oral presentations were accurate. We had a dress rehearsal by day and a grand presentation in the evening. The halls were decorated with student murals. In the gym they cavorted in “underwater games.” At various locations in the corridors, students sang songs or talked about marine life.
Many years later, when I moved to the high school of the same school district, those who had been my students would talk to me about those presentations. It was what they remembered most of their elementary days. Where fixed schedules are present, all the special teachers have the common challenge of making their weekly (or less) meeting with students meaningful. When you collaborate on a project of this scope you can make a huge difference in student learning and spotlight the value of what each of you bring to the educational community.
Those with a flex schedule often have their own difficulties in getting teachers to collaborate. Instead of focusing on the English, History, Math, and Science, consider making connections with art, music, and computer teachers. Also look for possibilities working with world language teachers. If you can develop a large, visible culminating activity, preferably one which the parents can see, you will lay the foundation for many more collaborative projects – including some with the more difficult-to-reach teachers.
Have you had any success working with those teaching special subjects? Share your projects here or on the School Librarian’s Workshop Facebook group.