Proactivity and Reflection: Tools to Improve Collaborative Experiences
Minnesota Media, 2004
Collaboration is the Holy Grail of librarianship.
It’s how we become indispensable to others, but it is arguably the most challenging part of our jobs. There never seems to be enough time. Many teachers are very independent. Scheduling works against team efforts. “It’s not the way we’ve done it in the past.” Yada, yada, yada. You know the difficulties better than I do.
Library media specialists can and should add genuine value to the educational process through collaborative planning and teaching. But this can only be done by being both proactive and reflective. While proactivity is widely touted by our professional organizations and many of us have become quite good at it, the art of being a reflective practitioner has not been well explored.
A book worth reading is Reflective Practice to Improve Schools. In it, the authors suggest that in order for us to truly improve our individual professional effectiveness, we should each deliberately and systematically analyze our experiences to determine why a practice worked – or did not. Being a reflective practitioner means trying to look at something you’ve done as though you were an outside, impartial observer.
Below are a few suggestions drawn from professional reading (see appended bibliography), from watching really good library media specialists at work, and from reflecting on my own successful collaborative efforts.
Please don’t just read the suggestions. Do this simple activity, alone or with a group, as well:
1. Read each suggestion about initiating or improving collaborative experiences.
2. Think of an example of this suggestion from your personal experience.
3. Jot down notes about the factors that may have contributed to the success or failure of the experience.
4. Re-read your notes to see if there are commonalities or trends within them.
I. Recognize what keeps others awake at night.
1. Use student mastery of content area objectives as the goal of the planning and activity.
2. Know your school’s curricula and how students will be assessed.
3. Know expected mastery of skills on high stakes tests.
4. Know the research on effective practices in the content areas.
5. Survey the teaching staff on instructional needs.
6. Ask to be placed on the departmental communications mailing list.
7. Become a member and attend curriculum committees at both the building and district level.
II. Recognize your vital areas of expertise.
1. Master and use teaching techniques, methods and resources that the classroom teacher doesn’t know
2. Clarify your role as library media specialist so as not to seem threatening to the classroom teacher.
3. Continue learning teaching techniques, methods and resources as classroom teachers master the old ones.
4. Be a co-learner with your students and other faculty members.
5. Teach skills, don’t just provide resources. Look for areas where YOU are the resource, not necessarily the materials you control, such as projects that require primary resources.
6. Keep track of past successes and communicate those success to others on the staff.
7. Help create and participate in building-wide efforts such Writing Across the Curriculum.
III. Look for win/win situations
1. Practice Covey’s philosophy of win/win or no deal when collaborating. (from The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People)
2. Look for a shared passion or interest in a topic with other teachers.
3. Co-author and implement grants that support both the classroom and library media center.
4. Help teachers improve areas of their curriculum with which they are currently dissatisfied.
5. Look for unusual areas of collaboration (PE teacher, math teacher, special education teacher, custodian, secretary, parent organizations).
6. Recognize that there is no “one-size-fits-all” and that early adopters and traditionalists both need services.
7. Don’t let others take advantage of you – does the role you are asked to play have educational value?
IV. Brush up on your interpersonal skills.
1. Seek out training and books on interpersonal skill building and effective communication techniques.
2. Understand “difficult people” and learn techniques to work with them such as working in teams instead of one-on-one.
3. Suggest mini-lessons for teachers who have “too much to teach.”
4. Be likeable. Cialdini in his boolk Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion suggests these traits help make us likeable:
• Being physically attractive (well-groomed)
• Being similar
• Paying others compliments
• Being familiar to others through contact, cooperation and getting out of the library.
• Being associated with positive happenings
5. Respond quickly to requests (or at least acknowledge that you have heard the request.
6. Send “thank-you” notes and create public statements of appreciation such as an award.
7. Don’t expect others to understand your problems – no whining.
V. Build slowly, but meaningfully.
1. Don’t try to work with everyone at once, but cumulatively do a few new things well each year.
2. Start with friends, but don’t let it end with friends.
3. Build collaborative relationships by building personal trust.
4. Build administrative support of your program by jointly creating program goals that support building goals.
5. Spend time working with others on critical problems, not just nice extras.
6. Work with beginning teachers early and be a mentor to them.
7. The program will always be a road, not a destination - never give up and never be satisfied.
Too often we do not take the time to deliberately evaluate what we do and why it has been successful or unsuccessful. We need to purposely take time to evaluate and modify and REFLECT!
And remember, reflection, from a distance, looks a lot like napping. Take advantage of it!