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A teacher has asked for your help: Now what do you do?

Updated: Jun 15, 2021

It is all well and good school librarians talking about working alongside teachers and teaching research skills in the classroom, but what if this is something that you have never had the opportunity to do? You have given up trying to engage teachers after spending years getting nowhere or it was never an expectation from your school or teachers. The problem is that now a teacher has asked for help and although you are delighted you really don't have a clue where to start.

Let me remind you that none of us were experts at the beginning, and even now I question my own skills! If I look back at my first attempts at teaching I believe that they were woeful but with each experience I learnt more about myself as a teacher and the skill of co-teaching. Even now after nearly 10 years of trying to get it right it does not always go as planned.

I am also aware that every teacher is different too. Their understanding of co-teaching can vary greatly, from being fully engaged with me and their students, helping them understand the importance of what I am teaching and on some occasions even learning something from me too. To sitting at the back of the class marking their books or worse swapping with a supply teacher because they have better things to do.

The other thing I have realised over the years is that even teachers, with all their training, also had to learn on the job. No training course is ever going to give you enough to manage every eventuality. The wonderful thing about co-teaching is that the teacher still does their job, teaching the knowledge and managing the class whilst you bring your skills into the mix and when it works well it is amazing to see the students learn from you.

This post is about what you do if you are approached by a teacher and not the other way around. We are going to assume that the teacher does understand that there is something for you to bring to their class and they really do want you to support their student learning.

This can be very scary! You will have many many questions. What can I teach them? How can I teach a class? or even 'How can do this!' You must not give up this opportunity. Believe me that doing something badly with the best of intentions is not a fail. It is a good learning tool and a starting point. So what can you, a school librarian, bring to a teacher and their students?

Expertise in research, knowledge and understanding of how to find resources from a database and knowing where to go to find the answer. Remember you don't have to have all the answers just the ability to know where to go to ask for help. It is ok to say I don't know but I will find out for you or let's find out together. Finally, you will be teaching a skill that will enable students to become independent learners. So how can you achieve this?

What do you do now?

  1. Check out The FOSIL website for inquiry journals and the Empire State Information Fluency Continuum for graphic organisers. Knowing what is available to help you will make you feel more confident.

  2. Planning: When a teacher approaches you, find out what their expectations are. Check out the FOSIL planning form to guide you. What subject and topic are they teaching? How much time will you have? What are their expectations of you? Do they want a full Inquiry (most teachers don't know that this is even on offer!) or are they just looking for you to show their students how to access the library books, online resources and referencing?

  3. Preparation: Once you know what is required then decide what you are capable of, if you are not ready for a full inquiry make sure you tell them that this is something to work towards. At this point stick with what you know and feel comfortable with.

What can you start with easily?

  1. You know how to search your online catalogue using keywords. A keyword search is something that all students need and really don't know about or use. They are so used to searching Google with a question they really struggle to search databases by keyword. If this is all you achieve with your first attempt at co-teaching then this is a great start. Find a graphic organiser from FOSIL to guide your students through creating keywords. Using your library catalogue as a digital literacy tool is a perfect way to support your teachers who are looking to work with you.

  2. Make sure you have enough books to allow this lesson to work well. You don't need a book for every child! 4 or 6 children can use one book. If you find you haven't enough then speak to the teacher. Many times they have resources in their classrooms. They may allow you to add them to your library system for the purposes of supporting this lesson. If this is still not enough find out if you have access to a local SLS they may be able to loan you a set of books or your local public library.

  3. Talk them through finding the online resources and then how to use keywords to find something useful is a straightforward lesson. Make sure you link to the topic the teacher is teaching through those keywords, so it is then easy for the teacher to make a link to what you are showing the students. Always leave a step by step guide on how to access the online resources and again use graphic organisers to guide them.

These were only a couple of simple ideas to get you started. Don't forget to create a lesson plan (ask the teacher for the template they use) or use the FOSIL planning form to start a conversation with the teacher. Don't forget to ask for help. The FOSIL forum is a great place to start. Never say no to a request because you are frightened. The only way to get over that is to do it and the people who will benefit the most are your students. Good luck!

Update June 2021: I now provide training for school librarians. Helping them take the first steps to collaborate with teachers. For more information on what is currently available please click here.

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