Back to School Week: Collaboration is a Thing You Do NOT a Learning Outcome!

For years and years and years (I’ve worked in libraries for a long-time) I’ve talked about and heard about the importance of school and public library collaboration. And, over the years, I’ve talked about and heard about how hard it is to be successful in this area. It actually seems to me that the challenges and barriers that I’ve been talking about and hearing about for a couple of decades haven’t really changed. And, they certainly haven’t gone away.

image by George Couros on the best ways for leaders to use technologyThe fact that conversations remain the same over a long period of time, got me thinking – Maybe we are going about this the wrong way. Maybe, instead of the focus being on what we regularly call school and public library collaboration (the thing we do), what we really need to focus on is what is required in order to have positive lasting outcomes/impacts for students and teachers (what we want to achieve). This was brought home to me this week when I read the post Building Relationships Through the Use of Technology by George Couros. The ideas embedded in the image he included in that post (shown on the left) really resonated with me.

What if as the new school year starts you didn’t talk about or focus on the act of collaborating with your school or public library, but instead talked about and worked towards answering the question, What should the outcome of public library school library collaboration be for students, teachers, parents, and school staff? What would be different and would you be more successful by the end of the school year? Taking the Couros post image as a model would you go from “Good Answers” like:

  • Making sure that library staff know about assignments
  • Being able to teach school staff (teachers and administrators) about library resources
  • Making sure to purchase materials that support teacher/student needs
  • Being able to add website links that support teacher/student needs
  • Having the chance to work on lessons with teachers

To Better Answers like:

  • Build relationships for long-lasting success within the public/school library community
  • Change cultures
  • Learn from each other – students, teachers, parents, administrators and other school and public library staff
  • Develop outcomes and stories that can be used in advocacy efforts
  • Drive change
  • Lead
  • Support learning of students no matter what.

Of course, as with many things in life, this is often easier said than done. But, it’s doable, I’m certain. For example, this year instead of going into classrooms or talking with your counterpart colleagues about the resources you have for students and teachers, what if you had conversations that focused on what teachers, students, administrators, staff are:

  • Working on
  • What are they successful in/at
  • What they are finding difficult to accomplish
  • What would they like to be able to do more easily
  • What would they like to change

Would that lead to stronger relationships with everyone and as a result a better chance to bring about positive outcomes? As you think about the outcomes and the conversations you can have with your library counterpart and school personnel and parents and students remember, the outcomes are what the students, teachers, staff, and parents gain. While through these gains library staff might find that their resources and expertise and time are used successfully – the focus of the outcomes you work towards in this area should be about the people you serve, not about you and your library. The outcome is in what changes in the academic and formal and informal learning lives of those you work with.  For more information and resources about outcomes, visit YALSA’s wiki.

I don’t think the idea of collaboration is a bad thing. But, I do think that we spend a lot of time talking about the thing – collaboration – and not what the impact of the work needs to be for students and teachers and families. Change the conversation, listen to those you want to serve before you tell them what you can do for them, build relationships, focus on the goal for the user, and see what happens.

About Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President, the YALSA CE Consultant, and a learning consultant/project management coordinator at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online.
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