Schools are generally thought to be institutions of learning. From the days of Aristotle, young people were sent to learn about the mysteries of life from their revered elders. Today’s schools are very different from their ancient counterparts but the essential core is the same. Schools are learning organisations with their primary purpose to educate the new generations and prepare them for their future. Kools & Stoll (2016) identify seven dimensions that characterise a school as an organisation of learning. These include; a shared vision; staff learning opportunities; promotion of collaboration among staff; establishing a culture of inquiry and innovation; information collection and knowledge exchange; partnerships with community and modelling positive leadership (Kools & Stoll, 2016, p11). All these dimensions serve to build a positive teaching and learning environment for both students and staff.
Humans are social in nature and learning is a social construct. When individuals learn in a social context, the knowledge is constructed as a group has more significant learning outcomes than when knowledge is constructed individually. Most educators agree that the efficacy of learning is improved in collaborative groups, but they rarely extend that principle to themselves collaborating with their peers. Kools & Stoll (2016) even go as far as to argue that the practice of teaching is larger than an isolated teacher in their classroom. They surmise that collaborative practice encourages a professional growth experience in which teachers learn and teach simultaneously with each other. It is in the sharing of expertise and knowledge that has the greatest potential.
Unfortunately true collaboration is often missing in a school dynamic. Team activity is commonly confused as collaboration (Kools & Stoll, 2016, p40). Ezard (2019) points out that co-existence and coordination are often mistaken for collaboration as well. Rather, it is in the co-creation and collective capacity that is the basis of true collaborative practice. For a partnership to be symbiotic, there must be a willingness to think and act together. Ezard (2019) highlights three main requirements of a collaborative relationship including, a growth mindset, a compelling environment and authentic dialogue. Lack o these will only inhibit teaching and learning practices.
The reality is that many classroom teachers are reluctant to work in partnership with their teacher librarians and or any other staff members outside their department for a variety of reasons. One reason is that teachers are often pigeon holed into subject silos or year level cohorts. Their level of expertise is viewed at only applicable to that year level and subject. The other major reason is fear. Fear of failing, fear of judgement and shame. Many teachers reject a culture of observation as they fear they will be deemed as falling short of an ideal practitioner. This is especially true in a world where many teachers are on contracts and wish to still have employment in the next teaching cycle. There is a true sense of fear that any mistakes or miss-steps could result in unemployment. So these teachers often hide themselves away in their isolated silos and inadvertently distance themselves away from collegian relationships as a protective mechanism. This distance, and lack of connection further exacerbates the inability to collaborate. After all, collaboration without connection is just compliance (Ezard, 2019).
Time is another most common reason why staff do not collaborate. It seems futile to ask staff to work together constructively but not actually give them release time to do so. This is especially true for primary schools where teachers rarely get any time off during the day to co-create units of work. Another aspect that executive can assist with collaborative practice is to create a safety net for staff thus allowing them to try new pedagogical practices. Teachers who have job security are more likely to be willing to take risks and try new teaching and learning programs as they do not fear unemployment. Heads of department and senior teachers can encourage the try a variety of teaching styles and thus enable, enourage and motivate them into trying new ventures. Staff that know that they will have a safety net if they fail are more likely to attempt big and wonderful things.
Teacher librarians can affect a collaborative change in other ways. Firstly they can use their position in the centre of the school and as a curriculum leader to create multidisciplinary units of with in collusion with their peers. Due to their access and knowledge of resourcing, TL are able to obtain resources that require teachers to co-create their units of work. TL are also able to create productive learning environments, by promoting learning in an environment that embraces opportunities. They can also be curious rather than defensive when assumptions are challenged. TL can co create a vision that appeals the the whole school, by modelling best practice. Due to the nature of the position, TL can set an example of classroom observation and encourage staff to face their fears of judgement and shame. Ezrard (2019) suggests changing the dynamics of shame and failing to compassion and learning. Afterall, it has been proven that regular classroom observation only seeks to improve the increased professional learning of the teacher.
Whilst teacher librarians can affect some level of change, the biggest influence of collaborative practice within schools is in leadership. Executive teachers can influence teaching and learning practices a great deal as they are the ones that control a great deal of the factors that affect staff, for example, collaboration time for teachers. Teachers get to meet each other and have a dynamic productive relationship.
Ezard, T., (2019) Leading the Buzz in your school. ASLA 50th Conference. Canberra
Kools, M. and Stoll L. (2016), “What Makes a School a Learning Organisation?”, OECD Education Working Papers. No. 137, OECD Publishing, Paris. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/5jlwm62b3bvh-en