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Collaboration: More than “working together”

In my 15 years as a teacher, I’ve collaborated with colleagues to build interdisciplinary curricula and to create several authentic assessments, including a mock trial in the San Francisco Superior Court and a Youth Symposium at Stanford University. But this semester’s challenge was to consider how teacher librarians and teachers can collaborate to transform learning experiences, especially to encourage 21st century skills.

My peers — in class as well as in our transformations — emphasized that teachers and teacher librarians must work together from the beginning of unit creation, rather than resting on their expertise and taking turns facilitating student learning. In other words, the teacher librarian should not teach research skills while the teacher handles writing skills. For the best product, both professionals should work together throughout the process.

This conclusion is supported by my reading this semester. Montiel-Overall (2006) argues that collaboration comes from learning theory, including Vygotsky’s ideas that we learn from people through dialogue. Therefore, rather than merely breaking down a task into smaller parts, collaboration is “the process of shared creation” that leads to an authentic product that participants would not be able to conceive independently. Montiel-Overall suggests four models of collaboration — coordination, cooperation, integrated instruction, and integrated curriculum — that serve as a continuum for teachers and teacher librarians to use as a rubric for their shared work.

To make this theory of collaboration more concrete, I looked for examples of rubrics that school districts use. Although coming from a 2006 website, the Saskatchewan schools (http://goo.gl/8jjpe) offer an easy-to-use guide that I, as a beginning teacher librarian, can immediately use with my colleagues. The resource outlines the differences between an “emergent” and “expert” collaborative experience between the teacher librarian and teacher.

In addition to learning about the different levels of collaboration, I also investigated the ingredients necessary to build a strong collaborative relationships. Russell (2000) cites Muronago and Harada (1999) in concluding that shared goals, a shared vision, and a climate of trust and respect are the most important characteristics. Furthermore, time is critical: Teacher librarians with flexible schedules, Russell writes, spend an average of 30 minutes per collaborative session, while those with fixed schedules spend significantly less time — just five minutes, on average. This article made me think about the importance of maintaining a schedule that balances administrative tasks, collection development, student contacts, and collaboration with teachers.

Finally, my reading on collaboration spurred me to improve my Personal Learning Environment and Personal Learning Network. Professor Loertscher provided us an article from Richard Byrne’s blog, Free Technology for Teachers, in which Byrne emphasizes that teacher librarians should build online professional relationships with other teacher librarians. I am proud to report that I have cultivated several new relationships on Twitter, most notably with Buffy Hamilton, a teacher librarian in Georgia, who blogs at http://theunquietlibrarian.wordpress.com. As a result, I am hopeful that my knowledge and understanding of collaboration will continue to grow.

Please share your brilliant insights!