My main academic goal during the first year was to establish some collaboration with the history teachers. Our district had a brand new research model but no one was using it in the social studies department. I focused on building relationships and that seemed to pay off. Teachers eat in their departments in our school so I started eating lunch with the social studies department. I chose a 9th grade World History teacher whom I had befriended at New Teacher Orientation as my first collaboration “target” and ended up doing three research projects with him that year. I also ambushed a 10th grade Modern World History teacher who booked my classroom to “use the computers.” We chatted a bit and basically co-planned a lesson on the fly that turned into the basis of very successful collaborative relationship. They each told a few friends, who told a few friends and my network grew.
In my second and third years, I worked on expanding the network and deepening collaborative relationships. There were some setbacks when assignments and curriculum were changed without any communication. As the social studies department reorganized their writing curriculum and changed some learning benchmarks, it felt as if the library was being phased out of the conversation. I made a decision to swallow my frustration and wounded ego at one point and that proved to be the right decision. In March of my third year, the social studies department head tapped me and one of my collaboration buddies (the man I ambushed in my first year) to run a 3-day Curriculum & Instruction workshop over the summer to build a “multi-year research program” that would create grade level benchmarks and align social studies and library research instruction.
Heading into the summer workshop, I researched Research Models and my collaborator surveyed all his colleagues to determine what skills were explicitly taught at each course level and what knowledge and skills were desired at each grade level. Predictably, there were gaps. During the workshop, we worked with four other colleagues and the department head to establish both a big picture and specific research skill benchmarks for 9th-11th grades. The work is still ongoing, with classroom teachers sharing research project ideas in order to align more library resources with particular assignments. We decided to stay with the research model that already existed but added a supporting graphic and instruction on how break the process into smaller, more manageable opportunities. Each student will be required to go through the full research process once per year but will have many smaller opportunities to interact with the skills involved in parts of the process.
Changing a culture is a long game requiring perseverance and patience. As my current principal once said, “every year, you change ¼ of your population.” This is the key to the change. As each new freshman class arrives, they experience the library as a more academic space. As each senior class graduates, the number of students with memories of library chaos is dramatically reduced. Three years later, the difference is rather dramatic. We still have about 100 kids in the library during peak times. The students are working on their own and in groups. Conversation is allowed but tones are quiet and the talking is a lot more work-related and less social. We have rearranged furniture, established firm student expectations, and consistently managed student behavior. Some students are not happy with the changes and have decamped to the cafeteria, where they can eat and be social. But other students thank us for providing an academic space where they can get work done. It has been a slow, somewhat thankless process but we now have an academic space of which we are very proud.