When you’re a school librarian, there are a few people in your building that you need to ally with immediately. First, befriend the bookkeeper who will make spending your limited budget stress-free. Keep the custodians on your side so they’ll still be smiling after your classes make 3-D cloud models with cotton balls and a lot of glue. And, of course, you want your administrator to be a prominent member of the “Our Library Rocks” club. Smiles, properly submitted quotes for purchase orders, and a batch of “I’m sorry” chocolate chip cookies go a long way to cement some alliances, but it takes something different to create a productive partnership with your principal.
I’ve been fortunate to work with very supportive administrators throughout my teaching career. When I moved from the classroom to the school library, I found that my relationship with my principal had changed because my job had changed. I wanted to prove myself in my new position, but was overwhelmed by the scope of my duties. Focusing on just a few areas with my principal helped us build a solid foundation that benefited the whole school.
Find a Shared Purpose
Before I interviewed for my current teacher librarian job, I asked the principal if there was anything specific I should be prepared to discuss about programs or curriculum. She responded instantly, “Reading. We have to increase their reading.” Knowing the school’s priorities helped me prepare for the interview, and after getting the job, helped me concentrate my initial efforts to meet the students’ needs. Creating a culture of readers was my personal goal and it meshed well with my principal’s vision. The library’s mission statement mirrors the school’s mission statement, and we’re clearly working toward the same outcomes. With my reading promotions in full swing and literacy lessons in place, my principal sees me as someone who is on board to help the school move forward.
Even though my principal gives me a lot of autonomy, I still make a point of providing regular updates, not just when a purchase order needed approval or I wanted to have my student library advisory team meet during homeroom. I schedule an official monthly meeting and email a brief list of topics and questions I wanted to discuss. These meetings don’t run much more than fifteen minutes, but they keep both of us on the same page. Circulation and patron visit statistics and the library calendar show how the library is being used. Additional metrics like participation in the 25 Book Challenge and other programs and professional development sessions provided to teachers are also useful data. These abbreviated meetings serve as progress checks of our mutual goals. They are also a great time to garner administrative support and involvement for upcoming programs. My principal has committed to helping cook breakfast for our first quarter reading celebration next month after our recent meeting.
Promote the Positive
One way my principal and I support each other is sharing the literacy successes we experience with others. Some successes are smaller, like a kid coming back to check out the second book in a series. Some successes are more significant, like an entire grade level of teachers committing to reading aloud to their students on a regular basis. The library celebrates all of these strides forward, and my principal celebrates the library’s celebrations—it’s a regular mutual admiration society. At the end of the day, it’s our staff and community (and everyone else who follows us on social media) that see the positive work we are doing as we transform our school into a literacy focused learning environment.
No, I haven’t gotten the extra $10,000 I wanted for the school library budget (yet), but I know that my ideas are valued by my administrator. My principal understands and respects what I do in our library, and together we are making a difference for our students’ learning.
Author: Christine James
I am the teacher librarian at Northwoods Middle School in North Charleston, South Carolina. This is my twentieth year in education, all of them working with middle school students. When I’m not trying out crazy ideas in the library, I like to read on the beach, play with my puppy, and try new restaurants with my husband.