Bravery in Collaboration

Working in libraries we must be brave. Bravery can come in many forms – the socially conscious books we add to our collection, the advocacy we do for our yearly funding, the new and innovative initiatives we bring to our communities and so much more.

Of late I have come to the conclusion that collaboration with our fellow educators is one of these acts of bravery. A successful school library learning commons can only thrive if we build trusting, open relationships with our colleagues. Fostering love of reading, meaningful technology use, effective literacy instruction, makerspace learning opportunities and everything else we do in our role, are only possible if we connect with the classroom teachers and other educators within our buildings.

Recently a group of 10 educators on our staff met to discuss a book they had read over the summer. The book was the small yet powerful 2014 Silver Birch Express Nominee,  Jason’s Why by Beth Goodie. They gave their lunch hour on a professional learning day to gather in a collaborative, safe, trusting environment to share their thoughts about the book.  

As the initiator of the inaugural staff “book club”, I was nervous and unsure:

  • Would anyone join?
  • Would they read the book?
  • Could we figure out a time to actually meet?
  • Would the discussion feel natural?
  • Would we be brave enough to have an authentic dialogue?

The answer is yes! The details of the dialogue belong to those who were in the library space but, I can attest to the bravery. This came through personal stories of childhood experiences, in reflections about our own choices as educators in our past and current practice, our lives as parents and caregivers and so, so much more. Every educator in the room was brave. And maybe more importantly we were brave together.

This brief moment of total trust and openness reminds us to be optimistic in our belief that teacher librarians and school library learning commons can truly reach everyone. On those days when we feel like we have yet to connect with culture of each classroom in our building, or get every staff member on board with our chosen method of book exchange or that we have much more to offer to support student learning, we can remember this type of collaborative bravery.

It can also offer us the opportunity to recognize the brave leap of faith it takes our fellow educators to step outside of their own classroom, grade team or department. They are exposing their practice to our scrutiny and potential judgement.  They are modelling risk-taking and healthy, collaborative relationships for their students. They are entering a physical space that is open to anyone walking in at any point throughout the day. This all adds up to a brave act.

In our current system which values inquiry, creativity, growth mindset and risk-taking in our students, we must expect the same of ourselves.  Collaboration between teacher librarians and their colleagues offers an obvious access point for these values. That is why we must be brave and nurture this bravery in others. We can create the most appealing, intentional and accessible space in our school but, if we don’t build trusting relationships with our colleagues our space is just another space.

So the struggle for many of us is our desire to make all educators comfortable with this brave collaboration.

  • What new ways can we reach out to those in our building who do not feel ready to work outside the walls of their classroom?
  • How can we share the successful collaboration that is already occurring in our library space in a non-threatening and inviting manner?
  • What can we do to help empower fellow educators to feel brave enough to take that first step in working together?

The simplest answer can often be found in asking ourselves to determine what is best for kids. And maybe putting them before our own fears and doubts is the bravest act of all.

Jennifer Brown is a teacher librarian with the Peel District School Board at Castle Oaks Public School in the Brampton.  You can read more of her thoughts about issues in education, social justice, school libraries and more by following her Twitter account @JennMacBrown or her blog “Finding The Magic”.