Initiating Collaboration for Guided Inquiry

In this post, I explore some of the challenges new school librarians face in collaborating with educators who are already strapped for time and stressed out about the pressures of their ongoing transition to implement the Common Core Standards. Collaboration takes time, and if teacher librarians want to be included in learning partnerships with classroom teachers, they will need to find ways to meet teachers on their own turf, to provide teachers and students with meaningful planning and instruction, and to communicate clearly what we have to offer.

The semester of Fall 2013 has been my Fieldwork semester. In addition to my regular courses, I spent over fifty hours each in an elementary school library and a high school library–observing, learning, teaching, and creating. During both fieldwork experiences, I observed teachers working harder than ever as they transition to the curriculum changes necessitated by the Common Core. Bright-eyed student that I am, I asked teachers (during our fifteen minute lunches and quick hallway chats) what type of collaboration they would like to engage in with their librarian. Most teachers expressed to me that they were frazzled and didn’t feel they had time to collaborate. They said they saw the library as a great resource for certain projects for their students, but they did not view it as a resource for their own learning. We should change that.

“Change that” is easy to say, but years of debate about effective advocacy indicate that it is easier said than done. That’s okay, I like a challenge. I’ve come up with one or two ideas, based on Carol Kuhlthau’s suggestions for collaborating in school libraries. Kulthau emphasizes in Chapter 7 of her book Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century that guided inquiry, which is well suited to the library learning environment, supports national standards and can provide a valuable model for collaboration in the information age school. Guided inquiry provides opportunities to offer students personally meaningful approaches to investigate questions and to go beyond merely answering questions about a topic to pursue deeper understanding of the topic and to pursue new questions related to the topic.

One way librarians could begin to build a strong foundation for collaboration is to regularly communicate with teachers where they are–to not wait for them to come to us. Librarians, who I realize are as “strapped for time” as most teachers, must make it a priority to get out of the library both physically and by other means. One idea for reaching beyond the library walls is to send out a weekly “what’s hot” message that can be quickly read and that will provide teachers with links to find more information about topics that are of interest to them. Asking teachers what they want to know more about will ensure we provide relevant information. Keeping the message short will mean our weekly missive has a better chance of being read. Providing useful, timely, and annotated information will make it a good investment of everyone’s time.

We can further advocate for an active role in collaboration by providing teachers with proof that we can aid their regular classroom activities in meaningful ways. And, by reminding them that we offer so much more than just netbooks, print materials, and databases. We can demonstrate the potential of partnerships by preparing and presenting teachers with specific strategies and ideas that support their new curriculum maps.

One strategy for meeting the collaboration challenge head-on is to create and distribute a Ways Your Librarian Can Ease Your Transition to the Common Core document (electronic or print, depending on your audience) highlighting the five kinds of learning that Kuhlthau describes in her article Guided Inquiry: School Libraries in the 21st Century (p. 22).

• Information Literacy

• Learning how to learn

• Curriculum content

• Literacy competence

• Social skills

The document could include examples of collaborative lesson ideas and links to useful planning and assessment generator sites. The communication would also make clear that the ideas included were to generate thoughts and to spark conversation to begin a collaborative effort that was customized for the teacher or teaching team. The one caveat that goes with this outreach effort is that the librarian will have to remain open to suggestion and be willing to adapt to teacher and student needs while maintaining focus on the information skills that support the learning at hand.

These suggestions all take an investment of time and effort, but it is an investment from which teachers, librarians, and students all stand to benefit.

Kuhlthau, C. C., Caspari, A. K., & Maniotes, L. K. (2007). Guided inquiry: Learning in the 21st century. Westport, Conn: Libraries Unlimited.

Kuhlthau, C. C. (January 2010). Guided inquiry: School libraries in the 21st century. School Libraries Worldwide, 16(1), 17-28. Retrieved from

Original Post: Monday, March 25, 2013 4:18:58 PM EDT