INFO Alumna Sheri Massey: “7 Ways School Librarians Can Build Partnerships With Content Teachers”

Sheri A. Massey - March 21, 2023

How school librarians can collaborate with teachers on content development to advance students' critical thinking skills.

Librarian and teacher looking at a computer screen together in a library.

Many years ago, my school library professor, Ann Carlson Weeks, Ph.D., explained that school librarians should be “aggressively helpful,” meaning they should take a proactive approach to building instructional partnerships with content teachers and actively seek opportunities to provide support and resources that go beyond what is expected.

Collaborating with teachers to integrate information skills and technology into content areas can help students develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills that will serve them well throughout their academic and professional careers. I’ve outlined seven specific ways that secondary school librarians can increase collaboration with content teachers. By following these steps, librarians can build instructional partnerships that support student learning in meaningful ways.

1. Attend department and leadership team meetings

Attending department meetings is a great way to stay up to date with content teachers’ needs and interests. As a librarian, you can use this time to share your expertise in technology and suggest specific tools or databases that could be useful for lessons and projects. You might also offer guidance on incorporating research and information literacy skills into their lessons and assessments.

Also, consider becoming part of your school’s leadership team. You can make valuable contributions by analyzing data related to library and technology use to identify trends and patterns that can inform the development of goals related to student achievement. You can also advocate for library resources that can help achieve these goals and work to ensure that these resources are integrated into content-area instruction in meaningful ways.

Finally, you can collaborate with other leaders and stakeholders in developing school-wide initiatives that support student learning and success.

2. Connect with content teachers

Connecting with content teachers in person or electronically is another way to establish relationships and build partnerships. Reach out to content teachers individually and schedule a one-on-one meeting to learn more about the teacher’s goals and needs and offer guidance and support. Let teachers know that you’re available to support them, and make an effort to be visible and present in the school community. Attend school events, participate in extracurricular activities, and regularly inform the school community of what the library program has to offer.

3. Identify common goals

You have a birds-eye view of the school. Use that unique vantage point to make connections between grades and subjects. Develop a strong understanding of the ISTE Standards and AASL Standards. Review curriculum standards for each grade level and content area to identify opportunities for collaboration. Understanding content area learning standards will help you support student learning and success by helping you better align library resources and technology tools with content area instruction, collaborate more effectively with teachers in developing and implementing lessons, and assess students’ application of knowledge from one subject to another. Furthermore, understanding content area learning standards allows school librarians to provide targeted support to students in developing research skills, information literacy and critical thinking skills that align with content area learning standards.

You can also build connections with students and content teachers by surveying them about their interests and needs so you can develop resources and lessons that align with their passions. Ultimately, this understanding allows school librarians to demonstrate their value as partners in student learning and achievement.

Librarians, help your school community thrive in the digital age with this book, Leading from the Library.

4. Provide professional development

You might offer workshops or training sessions on specific technology tools, research skills, information literacy, digital citizenship, curriculum alignment and reading promotion. Demonstrate the value of technology in education, promote effective and ethical use of technology, and help educators create engaging and interactive learning experiences that leverage the latest digital tools and resources. School librarians can provide training to educators and students on how to use information ethically, including proper citation and referencing of sources, avoiding plagiarism, and respecting intellectual property rights.

5. Co-teach lessons

Co-teaching lessons with teachers is an effective way to integrate technology into content areas and provide students with a more comprehensive and engaging learning experience. You can work with teachers to design lessons incorporating technology tools or multimedia resources and provide support during the implementation of these lessons. Co-teaching also allows you to model effective research skills and information literacy practices and provides opportunities for formative assessment and feedback.

6. Use online databases and other resources

Using online databases and other resources that align with content areas is another way to integrate technology into instruction. You can work with content teachers to identify resources that support their curriculum and provide access to them through the school library.

School librarians can train educators to effectively search and navigate databases, access e-books,and other digital resources, and evaluate the credibility and accuracy of information.

7. Collect and analyze data

Data helps school librarians make informed decisions about library services and resources and demonstrates the impact of these resources on student learning and achievement. You can collect data on library usage, circulation statistics, and technology use, as well as evaluate instructional data to identify trends and patterns that can inform the development of library services and resources. Additionally, school librarians can collaborate with content teachers to collect data on the value and impact of library resources and technology integration on student learning and use this data to advocate for library resources to stakeholders and educators.

By adopting an “aggressively helpful” approach, school librarians can demonstrate their commitment to supporting student learning and success and build stronger partnerships with content teachers that are focused on achieving common goals. Remember, building instructional partnerships takes time and effort, but the rewards are worth it. Good luck, and happy partnering!

Sheri A. Massey, Ph.D., is co-instructor of the ISTEU course Exploring Future Ready Librarianship. She earned her B.S. in elementary education from the University of Pittsburgh, and her M.L.S. and doctorate from the College of Information Studies, the iSchool at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is passionate about the development, implementation and evaluation of school library programs to support student learning. Massey’s research interests also include digital libraries, the information-seeking and use behaviors of urban youth, and diversity in libraries and education.

Blog originally published March 21, 2023 by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).