What's the key to success in our buildings? Collaboration! Keitha Hernandez, middle school librarian in Lockhart ISD in Texas, believes that magic happens when ICs work with staff outside of their normal circle and shares some of the extraordinary work that she and two ICs have done together through their collaborative partnership. 🙏
hile my official title is school librarian, I've also been an elementary teacher, a gifted and talented facilitator and an English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) instructional coach. I still feel like a coach at heart, and I work hard to make my daily interactions with teachers a coaching experience. In fact, I prefer to call myself a "Librarian Coach" and firmly believe this role helps me make the best of both worlds.
Last year our middle school was at capacity. Every available space was needed for classes, so there was no longer any office space for instructional leaders. As a result, I got to share my library office with the three instructional coaches on my campus. This might seem like a burden for some, but in reality this created a dynamic team of educators working together on a daily basis which led to great instructional gains for both our teachers and students. It really was magic!
The ELAR coach and I were able to put our brains together and come up with solid ideas to support our teachers. As we continued working together throughout the school year, I started wondering, "Do the librarian and ELAR coach work together in such a powerful way anywhere else?" If not, they should be! Here are some of the many ways we’ve worked together.
Establishing our partnership
When the ELAR coach and I began our work together, we wanted people to know we were a team. To do so, we presented a united front whether we were running professional development sessions, attending team meetings or advocating for teachers and students at leadership meetings.
Often the team and individual meetings for planning took place in the library, which allowed us to assist teachers while they were creating lessons. We would collect and provide resources for learning standards, order books as needed, and field requests.
Beyond providing resources, we also offered technology assistance to teachers in need. In fact, we worked together to create a Teacher Resources page on the library website. This resource became an easy way for teachers to manage sites and lessons they frequently need. We took the time to create a folder of videos explaining how to use all of the programs available to teachers and students, along with how teachers can use the data provided by the programs. It was a hit!
Learning in action
After establishing our partnership, the ELAR coach and I took things to the next level by modeling lessons in the library when teachers brought classes in. This created opportunities to support both student and teacher learning. Outside of the library, we would take the time to visit classrooms and model co-teaching with teachers in their own spaces.
Modeling lessons wasn't our only way of assisting teachers in their classroom efforts. We offered technology assistance—something that's often seen as outside of the coach's role. If we spotted that the tech wasn’t working correctly, we jumped in to help remedy the problem. (With the tech closet located inside the library, the solution was almost always at our fingertips). We even helped prep lessons! When we asked teachers what we could take off their plate and teach through the library, one of the first responses we heard was Digital Literacy and Citizenship so we worked together to create lessons to teach it.
Pro tip: Teachers are often overwhelmed with their work. By asking how you can help—and taking action on it—you're providing valuable support and building trust at the same time.
While the lack of capacity in our building was what brought us together, you don't have to rely on chance to make new connections on campus! Lunch and Learns are one way to create those opportunities. Once a month on Fridays we invite teachers to the library after dropping students off for lunch to learn something new and eat their lunch together. The topics are suggested by the teachers themselves and the coaches, librarian, and Technology Instructional Mentor work together to find and deliver content on that topic. It's not a requirement, however, we do reward attendance with snacks and jeans passes.
Another idea is to choose a book for the entire campus to read. We chose a book for the entire campus to read, beginning a few years ago with Ghost, by Jason Reynolds and it was a hit with the kids. It gave every teacher the opportunity to connect with kids on a different level and they had something to talk about with any student in the school.
As humans we often comprehend and learn better when we reflect on what's working and what isn't. As ICs, we must create opportunities to do so. Once a month, after school, we invite teachers across different campuses, grade levels, and teams to come together to share and celebrate their successes. We host them in the library and supply the snacks.
Pro tip: It's worth remembering that this format doesn't suit everyone: Sometimes teachers are more comfortable sharing their feelings or needs in a survey.
We try to make a point to debrief with teachers after lessons in the library, or lessons where we've done some modeling or co-teaching. That immediate feedback can make a world of difference. We also stay connected by checking in routinely and asking how things are going and to find out if there is anything they need. This personal connection goes a long way to gaining trust and keeping communication open.
There's magic that happens when educators collaborate with one another! Seek out ways to connect with colleagues outside of your normal circle. We’re all in this together.
About our Guest Blogger
Keitha Hernandez is a middle school librarian in Lockhart ISD in Texas who loves literature. The only thing she enjoys more than reading literature is talking about it with other professionals and students. Prior to her current position, Keitha spent six years teaching 3rd and 4th grade, 9 years as a Gifted and Talented Facilitator, and 5 years as an ELAR Instructional Coach.
Outside of her career in education, you can find Keitha shopping around the small town square, eating the best BBQ in Texas, and enjoying her sweet family.
Be sure to follow Keitha on Twitter @khernandezLJHS!
Illustration by Icons 8.