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Collaboration - try, try again

If at first you don't succeed, try, try, and try again. Then give up. There's no use being a damned fool about it. - W. C. Fields

I really do know there are times when it is just better to keep my big mouth shut (or fingers still). One of those times is when "collaboration" is being discussed by librarians, as was the case over on the LM_Net listserv this past week. Collaboration, flexible scheduling and an integrated curriculum are sort of the three big sacred cows of the established school library world. And ascollaboration.jpg Gail Dickinson once commented, I tend to commit indecent acts with sacred cows - in public. (Gail, if you are reading this, that was still one of the nicest introductions I've ever received.)

Let me say right off that I have no problem with collaboration. I endorse it heartily when it comes to planning and budgeting and policy-making. Sometimes it makes sense in the classroom. (See Collaboration and Reflection.) But my button is pushed when librarians start sounding like collaboration itself is the goal, not simply a means of achieving one - a sentiment I shared in a column published about a year ago, "Caution with Collaboration."

The following comes from Judi Moreillon, a highly-respected member of the school library profession. I hate getting criticism from people like Judi since she is smart, experienced, well-educated, caring, selfless, and definitely has her heart in the right place. Damn. Here goes:

You don't need to apologize, Doug. You are entitled to your opinion. Clearly, many of us, who have spent a significant number of years in classrooms and libraries teaching students, disagree with you. [For the record, I was a school librarian for 12 years and library supervision has been a part of my job for the past 15 years.]

1. I don't know anyone who views collaboration as a goal. As far as I know, no one has taken their eyes off the prize - student learning and achievement. My experience, the research, and common sense tell me that collaborating with a student's classroom teacher helps the teacher-librarian make a greater different in that student's learning. [Check the studies, like Library Power, that emphasize that a positive result of a library improvement effort is that it contributes to "more collaboration" as though it were a goal.]

It's math. In a school of 350, 750, or 1600, who spends more time with individual students, the classroom teacher or the teacher-librarian? [If the argument here is that when there is one librarian for 1600 kids, I will agree that the only way s/he can have a school-wide impact is primarily by doing staff development. If that collaboration, so be it.]

2. As part of a learning community, we should be interdependent. Non-collaboration assures isolation. Providing poor examples of collaboration does not make your case.

Like all educators, teacher-librarians should be constantly improving their technology skills and teaching practices and helping others improve theirs. We do not want to make students dependent on us. Why would we want to make teachers dependent on us? Learning is social. It's done best in the company of peers. [The last section of my column made this very point - that we need to be interdependent, not co-dependent. I would disagree that all learning is social for all people. A big mistake we make as teachers is assuming everyone learns in the same way we ourselves do.]

3. No, collaboration doesn't make us indispensable. My own career history is testimony to that. What collaboration does is make our work significant and meaningful. I would take that over security any day. [I know you walk the talk on this one and I sincerely admire your conviction. My own career has always been a balancing act between idealism and paying the mortgage. For many librarians I hope that collaboration is just one of things that make their work significant and meaningful, not the only thing.]

But I am concerned for the future of our profession. In Arizona, we have been steadily losing library positions. Being viewed as a critical part of the instructional team - as educators who get results - is the best way I know to reverse this trend. [Here's where my pragmatism kicks in. I always ask myself is it better to have a librarian working with kids in less than ideal circumstances or to not have a librarian at all. And I always come down on the side of having a librarian regardless of the circumstances. When budget cuts come, it is the person with specific mandated responsibilities that survives. It is the math teacher teaching math skills; the reading teacher teaching reading skills, etc. Why should the library teacher not be teaching library (technology and information literacy) skills? We know that best practices show both reading and math should be integrated/practiced/applied throughout the curriculum, but we still retain those teaching positions that have genuine accountability for seeing that the skills are mastered. One way of looking at a "team" is two people doing the job that could be done by one. Collaboration is NOT making us indispensable, as you agree, and after 3o years in this direction we as a profession must try something different or will no longer exist. As Mr. Field says in the opening quote, "No sense being a damned fool about it."]

I wish you would post this to your blog where people can comment in a public forum. Perhaps you have and I missed it. [Judi, if you would like a chance to respond to my comments, I will promise to publish them here sans my editorial comments next time.]

Thank you.

Judi Moreillon, Ph.D.
Literacies and Libraries Consultant

OK, adding my replies probably isn't fair. I WILL give Judi the last word if she replies.

Blue Skunk readers??? Weigh in! 


Wm Spady on NCLB

Well worth reading -

The Paradigm Trap: Getting beyond No Child Left Behind will mean changing our 19th-century, closed-system mind-set.
By William Spady

If you don’t like the federal No Child Left Behind Act, don’t blame President Bush, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Rep. George Miller, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, or her predecessor, Rod Paige. Well, not entirely anyway. And if you’re a supporter of the legislation, which the president signed into law five years ago this week, this is an opportunity to rethink your assumptions about its nature, purpose, and potential impact. As the nation’s premier education law heads toward its scheduled reauthorization this year, here are some thoughts on its history and impact to consider.

Continued at:

Spady writes about the "Great Regression" that has lead us to NCLB, comprised of four phases:

  1. Endorsing A Nation at Risk
  2. Encouraging the Standards Bandwagon
  3. Endorsing the Testing-and-Accouintability Juggernaut
  4. Ignoring the Evidence on the Ground

 And you have to love his conclusion:

From intellectual embarrassment, to operational travesty, to national tragedy in 20 short years—quite remarkable for something we’ve seen as a reform movement. But the ability of the No Child Left Behind law’s chief advocates to ignore all this is even more remarkable. They wrap themselves in the patriotic mantle of educentric excellence and standards; pursue their goal of imposing a narrow, standardized, assembly-line, one-size-fits-all system of testing and accountability on every child, educator, and school in the country; and relentlessly move America and its education system toward the greatest box of all: the total-control box.
And if they succeed, we really will be a nation at risk.


Transparent budgets


It's budget time for 2007-08 in my district and I am making the rounds. This week and next I will be taking my eight page draft budget proposal to the elementary principals' meeting, the secondary principals' meeting, the district media/technology advisory committee, the media specialists' meeting and the district curriculum council - almost every meeting at which stale coffee and  rolls are served and I can get people to listen.

 Actually it is not difficult to get people's attention when money is involved, and as sums go, a fairly hefty amount at that. Add the mystery of technology to intrigue that always surrounds budgeting and  most groups become rapt and often confused.

You also have the players whose motto is: "Never pay for something out of your budget you can get somebody else to pay for." I'm not bad at that game myself. My (unexpressed) belief is that it morally reprehensible to let others spend money I could bettter spend myself.

Though with the support and encouragement of our ex-business manager superintendent, I've always worked for transparency when it comes to technology funding in the district. No secret funds. No special deals. No off-shore bank accounts. I take pride in knowing how every dollar is spent every year in my department, on what and why. If anyone wants to go through all the purchase orders, I have copies and, given half a day or so, I would be happy to explain what each and every expenditure was about. This is a habit I picked up as a school library media specialist. I quickly realized that I was one of the very, very few people in my building who actually had discretionary funds (and discretionary time) and therefore need to be uber-accountable if I was not to be viewed with suspicion.

The transparent budget requires that one listen to others as well. At one meeting this week I heard that there may be a greater need for tech training for new staff than I had been aware of, so a budget adjustment will be in order, mostly likely shifting some money from hardware to staff development.  It's why the proposal clearly says "draft" and shows a committment to shared goal setting, shared planning, and shared decision-making. I don't really expect huge changes in this proposal, but the ones that will be made will make it better. I'm convinced.

Transparent budgts also go a long way in helping people be more understanding when certain tech needs can't be met. "But remember, we shifted money from line x to line y last spring." Oh, yeah, I forgot. 

Too often we in technology use the wizard mentality to get or keep power - knowing those mysterious things no one else does in otder to keep others dependent on us. Problem is that it is sort of lonely in the wizard's cave. Demystifying technology - including technology budgets - is the smarter move - for both the school and the tech director.