What does it mean to be backable? You know the person who seems to convince others with ease. The person who can get up and share an idea and show others exactly what needs to be done. When becoming a school librarian, learning to advocate for my program effectively has been one of my biggest challenges. Sharing my work and tooting my own horn so to speak is something I had to get comfortable with. I wanted to do this without being boastful or rubbing people the wrong way. I have learned the importance of telling others what is happening in the library. However, I am still working on how to do this in the best way possible.
Recently, I was given a book called Backable: The Surprising Truth Behind What Makes People Take a Chance on You by Suneel Gupta with Carlye Adler. Now, if I am being honest, this is not a book I usually would have picked up to read. Children’s literature tends to be more my thing, but since it was a gift I thought I would give it a try. It turns out it was a great decision!
After reading it, I now feel that this book is one that every school librarian should read! Now, I should tell you, that the author wrote from his experience, which is from the business point of view. Yet, there are so many ways that this book speaks to how librarians need to advocate for our programs, our students, and ourselves. We need to be backable!
In the book, Gupta shares that there are seven steps to being backable. Although I made connections to all the steps there were five that stood out to me.
Convince Yourself First
I am a person who questions herself a lot. This is great for reflection and thinking through a problem, but not so good when you have to convince others of your idea. I have to remember to convince myself first!
Gupta shares all the steps through stories. This begins with the idea that no one is going to support you if you do not believe it yourself. “What moves people isn’t charisma, but conviction” (Gupta 2021, 16). I love this quote because it shows that no matter what your personality, as long as you believe in your vision you can still move your school library forward.
In this section, he also shares the importance of steering into objections. This is not something that I usually do. Really, I try to make it a habit of avoiding objections most of the time. However, he points out that stating what you know someone is going to question about your plan helps your stakeholders move beyond the problems and focus on the benefits.
Cast a Central Character
The idea here is that you tell your story with more than just the facts and figures, but with emotions and feelings too. Choosing one student that your program, lesson, or plan is for and sharing the benefits from their point of view. Then you need to keep that student in mind as you move forward.
This is the one that I have found so helpful when I am sharing what is happening in my library. If I can pick a specific student’s project or statement to highlight it goes so much further. It creates a connection! As I work to create my end-of-the-year report I am going to keep this idea in mind. The story can begin with one student and then show how it affects the rest of the students I teach.
Find an Earned Secret
This one fits with figuring out what keeps your administrator up at night and then showing how the school library can help. It is learning to speak administrator by “…going beyond basic research and finding an insight you can genuinely call your own” (Gupta 2021, 49).
Gupta gave examples of the importance of sharing the effort that went into the idea. The work behind it! Since we are often the only librarians in a school, we know that many people do not realize the work that is involved in running a successful school library. So it is important to share what goes into this work because people don’t know what they don’t know. The idea of being backable is to “…let your effort shine through” (Gupta 2021, 56).
Flip Outsiders to Insiders
This idea spoke to me because it is about convincing those who are not supporters and turning them into your advocates. “[W]e’re not just looking for a backer, we’re looking for an advocate. Someone who can represent your idea with the same enthusiasm as you” (Gupta 2021, 76). This can be about the importance of the school library as a whole or just an individual lesson or idea.
Collaboration and co-teaching are a big part of the work I do. However, I have found that although I can get teachers to work with me, sometimes it becomes more about what I have created for the lesson than what they have envisioned. When this happens I become more of a guest teacher than a co-teacher. After reading this section, I have realized that I need to share what a lesson could be, but not how it has to be. Gupta shares that “…we tend to fight the hardest for ideas for which we feel some sense of ownership” (2021, 76). If my colleague feels ownership over a lesson, co-teaching will happen more naturally.
Let Go of Your Ego
So often in schools, there is a much bigger picture that the library is a part of. This is a reminder that it is not about you! It is about what is best for your students and the school library as a whole. Sometimes it can be hard not to take criticism or challenges personally, but often there is an underlying cause. Our role is to figure out the reason and bring solutions. The need is “…to turn that spotlight away from you and toward your message” (Gupta 2021, 116).
I am grateful for this gift. It will be exciting to see if I can successfully apply all seven steps and what advocacy can look like for the library and my students. I guess the only question left is how backable are you?
Gupta, Suneel, and Carlye Adler. 2021. Backable: The Surprising Truth behind What Makes People Take a Chance on You. Little, Brown and Company.
Author: Kelly Hincks
I am the librarian at Detroit Country Day Lower School in Bloomfield Hills, MI. I have worked as a school librarian for the past eleven years. I was a classroom teacher for four years prior to that. I have worked in charter, public, and private schools. My favorite thing about being a school librarian is the opportunities I have to work both with students and teachers. I love the co-teaching opportunities and connections I have been able to make! I have served on AASL committees as a member and chair. I currently serve as secretary of my state association, MAME.