On Carrot Dangling and Collaboration

Photo used under CC license from http://www.flickr.com/photos/mahalie/2747428771/sizes/m/

In the pasture that is about 100 yards from my house live two handsome horses whom I see on my daily run/walks.   They live a solitary life for the most part grazing in a pasture that is nutritionally sufficient but not rich.  From what I have observed, they don’t get much human interaction in terms of anyone riding, grooming, or fussing over them.   Although I know very little of horses, I have developed a deep affection for these two magnificent animals over the last eighteen months.

Original photo by Buffy Hamilton

When I first started bringing them carrots in an effort to befriend them, the horses exhibited  extreme caution and were reluctant to take the treats from my nervous hands (I was wary of being bitten).  Initially, they would take the carrot and run to the center of the pasture to enjoy their treats while I stood dejected at the fence.   I tried to mitigate their fear by talking to them in soothing tones and smiling; I knew this worked with my dogs, so I thought perhaps these simple strategies might work with the horses, too.  After a couple of months, the horses trusted me enough to allow me to pet their velvety noses and to photograph them.  Even now, I still feel a sense of awe and reverence for these beautiful animals as they tower over my 5″1 frame.

I will never forget the day in early autumn of this year in which I approached the fence and did my normal greeting, “Hey babies!” in a cooing, baby-talk voice.  Normally, the horses would trot over slowly and some additional coaxing would be needed to get them over to the fence for their daucus carota. On this particular day, they were standing at the top end of the pasture and were a fair distance away as I called them.  They looked up and startled me by breaking into a full gallop—the sound of their thundering hooves vibrated in my ears as they raced to me at fence’s edge for their tasty treat.   A thrill ran through me as they snorted and leaned their muzzles over the fence, hungry for their carrots.  Something changed that day as they not only now trusted me but actually seemed to look forward to my delivery of the carrots.   Most days now, they come racing toward me as soon as they catch glimpse of me; the sight and sound of these horses in motion still astonishes me to some degree.  They linger after eating their carrot, wanting to be petted and maybe even hope for a second carrot.

I think establishing collaborative relationships with teachers and other educational partners in our building is a lot like the carrot dangling I have engaged in with these horses.  Teachers are sometimes wary of the carrots we dangle and maybe don’t even have a hunger for it because they’ve never tasted it.  We often appear as a stranger on the horizon, on the other side of the educational pasture, because they may not know us very well.    It takes time and repeated efforts with our carrot dangling to establish trust and a relationship with our teachers.  Like the horses, many are used to a solitary classroom life—they rarely get a chance to let another being in their “pasture” or classroom, another person who can offer help and “food” to enrich life in the pasture or who can even open the fence and lead them gently to a greener pasture.  Patience and a willingness to keep offering our carrots are essential if we want to cultivate lasting relationships with our teachers.

As I met with our ninth grade English teachers this past Wednesday to do some team collaborative planning, brainstorming, and idea dreaming, I thought about what carrots could I offer them.    How could I make my carrots of inquiry, metacognition, an expansion of the notion of authority, and use of web 2.o tools by students for information management and content creation appealing?  Were they hungry for these carrots, and if not, could I help them acquire a taste for these carrots?  Even though we have worked together in the past, I tried to put myself in their shoes and remember what it was like to be a classroom teacher.  What must the carrots look like from their perspective and why  might my carrots I offered appear less than educationally delicious?  The culture of testing has left a bad taste in the mouths of teachers and may make the carrots we offer as school librarians seem tempting but off their menus.

I realized that when I approach teachers with ideas for collaboration, what I am asking them to do is nothing less than to give up, to some extent, control of their pasture.    While the idea of collaboration  seems incredibly logical to us through the eyes of school librarianship, we may not realize that our efforts to engage collaboration involve a leap of faith of some degree from teachers.  I am asking them to let me enter their world and that of their students in their charge and to trust that I can offer them something that will be worth a disruption of their existing practice.   The enormity of this request becomes less abstract when I think about it in relation to my story of the horses because it all comes back to a matter of trust and building relationships.    I have to be able to convince them the carrots are worth tasting.

As I met with my ninth grade English teachers on Wednesday, I thought about what I might need to cultivate more trust and how to make the carrots I was offering more appealing and worth putting on their menu.  We started off with a conversation about what they wanted students to get out of a research experience, and then I shared what I was looking for students to gain from this experience.  We talked about what students would want out of the research experience as well.  We discussed challenges we might face and ways to address those obstacles.  I offered examples of student work from the Media 21 project this fall, student testimonials, and teacher testimonial from Susan Lester, my Media21 co-teacher (who also teaches 9th English).  In short, I tried to offer them a concrete vision of possibilities.

Was it enough to make them hungry for the carrots of collaboration?  Were the carrots I offered Wednesday tempting enough to encourage the teachers to change their diet and try something new, to trust me enough to further remove the fences between their classroom pasture and the pasture of my library program?  I don’t know just yet, but I do know I will not stop trying to cultivate relationships and trust with my teachers.  Sometimes this may mean I have to give them time and space to contemplate the carrots; honoring those needs supports the trust building process.  I realize that I must be patient and persistent just as I was with the horses if I want the day to come in which they come galloping at full speed to the library for the carrots we can offer them and their students.

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7 thoughts on “On Carrot Dangling and Collaboration

  1. What an apt and beautifully written metaphor! I have loved horses as long as I can remember and reading your description of earning their trust touched me. Just as the time and effort it took for you to earn the horses’ trust was well worth it, so will the time and effort you devote to earning your teachers’ trust and collaboration. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I appreciate the ideas you mention as ways to build collaboration. I wonder if often, teachers are just too busy to take the time to learn what the library may have to offer. There is a tendency in modern western culture to push schedules to the maximum in terms of filling up every bit of available time. If teachers lived on a breezy tropical island with slower paced island time, they might have more time and emotional energy for exploration. Innovations available from the library might be of great interest. Often it takes a certain investment of time to learn about innovations as well as additional time to learn how to actually use these innovations. In the long haul, many innovations can be great time savers. Librarians need to know how to market their library’s innovations so that teachers will be willing to make the time investment. Concise appearances at professional development days could be good opportunities to market new developments available at the school library.

    Wayne A.

  3. How true! I have found it easiest to collaborate with teachers I know well and consider friends. Many teachers are self-reliant and independent, but when I know someone on a more personal basis they are more likely to ask questions, ask for support, and accept my offers of assistance. I have to work harder to connect to more teachers. Very like the horses!

  4. How true. I can appreciate your comments about how I see things from the media/library viewpoint and educators, teachers and administration, aren’t there yet. It makes so much sense to me that they should utilize the media resources more, but your right in saying that they probably feel they have to give up something(control) to get something(collaboration).

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