Guest Blog: Author, academic researcher and librarian at Abingdon School, Graham Gardner was a keynote speaker at the JCS 2018 Conference where he outlined how school librarians can play a leading role in creating a culture of critical information literacy. Graham argued that school librarians need to reframe and redirect their thinking and practice in terms of three key mindsets: those of ‘teacher’, ‘marketer’, and ‘technologist’. Here he discusses cultivating a ‘teacher’ mindset…

Most school librarians want a closer working relationship with teachers, knowing it to be vital in our efforts to help nurture independent learners and critical literacy. Unfortunately, collaboration happens more easily in theory than in practice.

Some teachers want to collaborate, but struggle to find the time necessary for realising it. Other teachers are extremely territorial, resisting attempts by librarians to venture into ‘their’ domain of expertise. The attitudes of senior leaders and managers can also be problematic, with librarians being regarded as administrative or clerical staff rather than as educational professionals.

When we face such obstacles, change must start with us. If we wait for others to recognise our value, we risk waiting for ever. Like it or not, it’s up to school librarians to demonstrate their capacity to serve as full partners in teaching and learning. In turn, this requires us to cultivate a mindset  which is sympathetic to the teachers with whom we want to collaborate.

Mindsets are clusters of mental models, beliefs and assumptions that structure how we perceive ourselves and our world. Typically, the mindsets of librarians and teachers are divergent. Our concern with information literacy means that we tend to prioritise process over content, and we focus on skills that and knowledge that can be transferred between contexts.

The core concern of teachers, in contrast, is that their students master the ideas, concepts and terminology of a distinct discipline of thought: English, Geography, History, Physics, Science, or something else. To the extent that teachers are interested in students being able to find, evaluate and use information, their interest is framed in terms of subject literacy.

Our priority is to help bridge this gap by cultivating a teacher mindset.

The more we can identify and focus on the ideas, concepts and terminology of subject literacy, the more we can demonstrate to teachers that our ultimate goals are aligned – and more we can tailor our resources and services to their interests. This will make most teachers more open to suggestions of collaboration – and increase our ability to support them.

Cultivating a teacher mindset is neither easy nor simple; for an outline of the process, see the slides from my recent presentation on the subject. Some subjects and key stages will be more accessible and more appealing to you than others. Some teachers will remain indifferent to your efforts. You will never be able to entirely adopt a teacher mindset, and that’s fine – inevitable, in fact, because the only way to truly adopt a teacher mindset is to become one.

But anything and everything you can do to work out what it is that the teachers you want to work with are trying to achieve for their students will increase your opportunities for collaborating with them and the chances that your collaboration will be successful.

The more we can address teachers on their terms, the more likely – and effective – collaboration becomes. When we cultivate a teacher mindset, we remove critical barriers to collaboration at one stroke.

View all of the presentations from the JCS 2018 conference and find out more about the topics covered here