Congrats on your new position! Whether you are just starting in this awesome profession…or starting over in a school that is new to you, you may be wondering: “What now?” And “How do I prioritize the one million things I could possibly be doing with my time?”
We’ve been there! When we first started our library careers we were bursting with ideas from library school and best practices from books that we devoured the moment we were hired! And still, we weren’t actually sure what the most important things were to do on Day 1, the Teacher Workday. Sure, there are things like setting up the circulation system to ensure that all patrons can check out materials, but that’s not really what we are writing about here. Instead, we focus on the “big picture” ideas that will take you the distance.
To help you in your transition, we’ve outlined what we find to be the 12 most important things to do in the first week on the job. There is no prioritized order, here. We trust that you’ll know exactly what comes first in your location.
- Meet as many teachers as possible. The school librarian’s job is difficult, approaching impossible, without the support and buy-in of teachers. You depend on them to collaborate with you and bring their classes to the library. Begin the process of forging these relationships as soon as possible. Introduce yourself by email, give a presentation about what you and the library have to offer at a staff meeting, and/or invite yourself to department meetings. Walk the hallways before and after school to introduce yourself to other teachers. Be curious about their passions in and outside the classroom. Listen. And share what you can do for them when opportunities arise. Many teachers may not ask for anything of you or be willing to collaborate with you right off the bat, but don’t be discouraged–focus on the teachers who seem innovative and receptive… and word of your awesomeness will spread.
- While you are out meeting the teacher community, take inventory and find at least one trustworthy, wise colleague. You know, the one who is honest, while also being discreet. Acknowledge that person’s inner Yoda, and ask him/her to mentor you–even if you’ve been in the profession long enough that you yourself are a mentor.
- Explore the collection. You can’t move forward until you know what you have. Take a few hours (or a few days) to peruse the collection, see what’s there, and figure out how it’s organized/disorganized. This will give you a sense of what types of resources former school librarians have deemed important and where your collection is lacking. Is your fiction current and high-interest? Does the non-fiction align with the curricula? What about graphic novels? Then dream. Dream big about what you can do now and dream about what you’d do if you had $10k or $100k more in your budget.
- Put books on display that tell about who you are and what you care about. Do you care about social justice? Do you care about sustainability? Do you care about elevating graphic novels to their rightful place in the literature canon? Make your space vibrant and alive with outstanding things to read from multiple perspectives… before the students even show up for their first day of school. People will notice that there’s something new going on in your space.
- This is also a good time to look at signage and general organization. Is it easy to find what you’re looking for? When the library is new to you it’s the best time to see it through the eyes of a student. If you’re confused about how the space is organized, chances are they are, too.
- Plan library orientation lessons. As you get to know your teachers, students, and collection you can begin to plan your library orientation lesson(s). Prepare this/these lesson(s) to teach like it’s your last day on Earth. Capture the attention of your students with a read-aloud or an image analysis. Follow that with a progressive thinking/inquiry routine like the see, think, wonder or the think, feel, care or the parts, purposes, and complexities. During your orientation, spend more time going over agreements (what students and librarian agree to do/be in the library) instead of rules. This sends a different feel about the democratic space the library is and how the community decides what the space is and how we can/should work/play alongside each other.
- Contact other school librarians in your district. Being a school librarian can be very lonely. You’re (almost always) the only one in your building and you need colleagues to commiserate with, celebrate your successes with, and get ideas from. Reach out to the other school librarians in your district and set up times to meet with them regularly. They’ll be able to give you insight into the inner workings of the district and give you support as you navigate your new school.
- Learn about the school culture. You’ll feel pressure from those around you to adopt the school’s culture. As you breathe it in, pick and choose what aspects of the culture you will embrace. And as change agents in your school, remember you are part of making the culture better: be more than what the current culture demands. Be more responsive to students’ needs; be more hopeful about the future of the young people you teach; be more democratic about decision-making and sharing power.
- Evaluate the library’s existing web presence. Take a look at your library’s website. Is it well organized? Can you find the information teachers and students need most often? Look at the analytics–how many people are visiting? Which pages are the most popular? Is the page easily accessible from the school’s or district’s websites? What about social media? Does the library have existing Facebook/Twitter/Instagram etc. accounts? If so, what kinds of posts were published in the past and how popular were they? This should give you a sense of the needs and expectations of the school community.
Create positive vibes. Contribute to the school’s morale right from the get-go. Maybe offer to place a delivery order for lunch. Or do an act of kindness for all teachers anonymously. Perhaps express your gratitude, and the spirit of Ubuntu–namely “I am because we are…”–to at least five people who work at the school through the written word. Maybe it’s to the interview team for hiring you. Maybe it’s to the superintendent for having a corporation that values librarians. Maybe it’s to your janitor for making sure your desk was cleaned off and cleaned out before you arrived. Maybe it’s to your principal for putting you on the assessment or school leaders’ committee. You will find that embracing Ubuntu not only gives positive energy to those around you, it also fills your spirit with good vibes as well.
- Adopt a “yes” mentality. Librarians who say “no” will be extinct soon. Or they should be.
- Keep students front and center in all of your preparations, conversations, and deliberations.
Enjoy your year and know that it gets easier. Successful library programs take years to fully develop, but soon you’ll be the resident expert on everything that you know you can be.
Have we missed something? We hope you’ll add to our list by posting other priorities for our first week of school.