The Librarian as an Instructional Partner

From Guest Blogger and Future Ready Librarian Kristen Mattson

When I first saw the Alliance for Excellent Education’s Future Ready Librarians Framework, I was excited to note the inclusion of “Collaborative Leadership” and “Builds Instructional Partnerships” as descriptors of an excellent school librarian. These are two areas of the job that I enjoy the most, so their inclusion only seemed natural to me. I do recognize, however, that some librarians’ strength may lie in other areas of the Framework, like “Budgets and Resources” or “Community Partnerships,” and that coming alongside teachers in an instructional partner role might feel a little intimidating. I also recognize that there are many classroom teachers who have never, for whatever reason, been exposed to the power of a collaborative relationship with the school librarian and may not naturally seek him or her out. In this post, I would like to speak to both the classroom teacher and the teacher librarian — giving both groups some ideas for how to form rockstar collaborative relationships that will have a huge impact on student learning.

Classroom teachers: You may be asking yourself what the benefit of partnering with a school librarian for instructional design or lesson delivery might be. While each librarian has his or her own strengths, I think it is pretty safe to say that we are all equipped to help you with:

  1. Curation — Librarians are trained to collect, organize, and manage content that is both physical and digital. Have you ever wished you could offer more choice in the classroom but just don’t have the time to find relevant, reliable, and on-level articles, websites, or books for your students to choose from? Your school librarian would be an excellent person to approach with your ideas and ask if he/she could help you curate some content for your classroom.
  2. Inquiry — Librarians are trained in the research process and practice it daily as they search for materials to support learning. Whether you ask your kids to complete in-depth inquiry tasks that you’ve created or you find yourself saying things like “just Google it!” in response to student developed inquiries, odds are that your teacher librarian has ideas, resources, and lessons that can help you and your students develop quality research questions, locate information that is relevant, and then synthesize findings to help answer the research question and communicate learning to a specified audience.
  3. Information Literacy — Not all information is created equal. Your teacher librarian can show you and your students ways to evaluate the accuracy, relevancy, reliability, authority and validity of the websites you and your students use for information and learning.
  4. Digital Literacy — The teacher librarian used to focus on skills like locating books on a shelf, utilizing tables of contents, indexes, and card catalogues. As most of our information has moved into digital formats, however, there are a whole new set of skills that students must possess to access content. Your teacher librarian can help your students master basic and advanced web searches, navigation of academic databases, show them how to download eBooks, and model ways to work with the various file types content is delivered in.
  5. Ethical Use of Information — It is increasingly easier to create and share content digitally. As students cut, paste, borrow, remix, remake, and integrate media together into their own creations, they need to understand the legal and ethical issues around the use of other people’s multimedia content. In the same regard, students should be educated on ways to protect their own creative works before sharing them. Your teacher librarian can be an excellent source of information on both traditional copyright and Creative Commons Licensing.

Teacher librarians: Once you decide you are ready to start building, or increasing the number of instructional partnerships you have in your building, there are some ways to go about drumming up interest:

  1. Visit PLC’s and Other Gathering Places — My goal is to visit at least one team’s PLC meeting each month, and I usually have to invite myself! The easiest way to do that is just after working with a teacher in their classroom. Ask if you can join the next PLC meeting to engage in a reflective discussion on the unit. This opens up opportunities for you to meet more teachers in the building and for those teachers to hear about the partnerships their colleague has formed with you. If you do not have a formal PLC format in your building, make sure to put yourself where the teachers are — in the staff cafeteria, in department offices, or even in places like the cafeteria or bus line during duty times. The teacher librarian does not make instructional partnerships by sitting behind the circulation desk and waiting to be approached. Get out, make friends, and be willing to jump in when a need arises!
  2. Listen with Intent — Whenever I am in whole staff meetings, small group PLCs, or in casual conversations with teachers, I am intently listening for ways to help. While we’ve all been guilty of tuning out during meetings not directly related to our role, making a deliberate choice to pay close attention is a great way to increase instructional partnerships. When I am in these meetings, I am listening closely for opportunities to share my skills with individuals or teams. Follow up the meeting with a personal conversation or an email detailing the work that needs to be done and the skillsets you can bring to the project. Many hands make for light work, so I am rarely turned down when people realize that I am willing and able to contribute.
  3. Volunteer for Committee Work — Some of my best instructional partnerships have been forged through building and district level committee work. If your administrator approaches you with an opportunity to serve on a curriculum or technology team, do your best to clear your calendar and say yes! If you have never been invited into these teams, make sure your administrator knows you are interested in growing this area of professional responsibility.
  4. Be An Extra Set of Hands — Oftentimes a teacher does not need assistance in gathering information, learning about a new technology tool, or developing a cool lesson. Sometimes a teacher knows exactly what they want the instruction to look like, but could really use an extra person in the room to help make the magic happen. Serving teachers through your willingness to help in any capacity goes a long way in forging instructional partnerships that will allow you to help integrate library skills and standards into the classroom down the road.
  5. Make Your Goals Clear — Whether or not you are in a formal evaluation cycle, there is value in professional goal setting. To say that you want to grow in your instructional partnerships during the next school year is a start, but unless your goals are specific and action oriented, it can be easy to let them slip to the bottom of your priority list. Write a clear goal with a deadline and action steps. For example, “During the month of November, I will work with at least one English teacher on a lesson. To help me achieve this goal, I will visit the English PLC during the month of October to look for opportunities to serve.” Then, share this goal with someone at work — your administrator, your library assistant, the secretary you eat lunch with each day. Regardless of who you tell, sharing your goal with someone else adds a layer of accountability and increases the chances of you meeting it. Finally, keep your goal in a place you will see it each day — on the corner of your computer, taped to the wall above your desk, maybe even set a phone reminder to go off once a week and remind you of the work to be done.

Whether you are a new librarian, have recently moved buildings, or just a bit shy and introverted, it can be difficult to form instructional partnerships that will positively impact student learning. But by reflecting on your strengths as a practitioner, and purposefully seeking avenues for professional relationships to form, you will be well on your way to the title “Future Ready Librarian.”


Dr. Kristen Mattson is a high school library media specialist at Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora, Illinois. In addition to serving her school community, Dr. Mattson enjoys writing for and speaking to librarians across the country. You can find her on Twitter @DrKMattson and read more about her work at DrKMattson.wordpress.com. Dr. Mattson also manages the Future Ready Librarians Facebook Group — search for it and join today!


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