Building Relationships is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

One piece of advice that I give to my school library graduate students and anyone who is taking on a new school librarian role is that in our profession, we need to remember that it is a marathon, not a sprint. Some goals can be reached immediately, but some take time.

I changed schools and districts during the 2020-21 school year, and I had to remind myself frequently of that same piece of advice. All of the things I hoped to accomplish didn’t need to happen during my 1st year, especially not during that 1st year when we were all figuring out how to teach hybrid during a global pandemic. Instead, I did what my mentor, Dr. Becky Pasco, always advised us when we took on a new role – make friends, not changes. 

While I did spend quite a bit of time updating the physical space and the collection, I spent much of the rest of my time getting to know our staff and my fellow school librarians. Over the last few years, I have focused on getting to know people through conversations in the hallway or at staff meetings. I connected with people who brought their classes to check out books or to use the library space. Through district school librarian PLC work, I was able to not only learn more about how curricular area goals fit with our school library goals so I could knowledgeably offer support to teachers, but I was also able to build relationships with my fellow secondary school librarians. 

As I begin my fourth year at my school and in this district, I am starting to see how the relationship building is paying off in so many wonderful ways that will help our learners think, grow, share, and create. It’s not just that my calendar is filling up with requests for partnerships in a way it hasn’t the past three years. That’s the tangible evidence that can be documented easily as a data point on my end of year report.

It’s the intangibles that mean the most to me, though. It’s the English teacher who came to me at the end of the last school year with the exciting news that she’d be teaching a new English elective class focused on Fantasy literature and how she followed up this year with a request to collaborate on lessons. 

(Picture books I borrowed from elementary libraries in our district that our students read in small groups and then compared to the traditional Disney version of the story using fantasy elements.)

It’s the person who was new as chair of one of our departments who reached out last year and wanted to collaborate with me to see what the school library could offer her teachers. AND, that same person is coming back again this year to already ask about how we could incorporate those same resources with her classes even earlier this year AND has invited me to share at their department meeting about the ways the school library can support all their learners.

(She was the first person to try using Adobe Express & Breakout Boxes with me. We learned so much, and I think the students did too. I was able to take that experience and transfer it into a Breakout experience for students getting to know how to use the Gale Databases)

(Learning about spiders & webs with a class reading Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White; creating toys to give to the local animal shelter & learning about animals looking for homes with a class reading Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo; and making cereal bird feeders to hang outside their classroom window in winter so they see any birds visiting.)

It’s the Family & Consumer Science teacher who has classes where students learn about working with infants/toddlers and preschool/school age children who is always excited to collaborate on fun projects involving literacy and books. I also  always appreciate the opportunity to talk about how to become a school librarian with potential future educators.

(We recently read The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds. Not only did students create their own dots to be added to our display in the library, but we talked about strategies I used when reading the book to their class and how they would benefit young readers.)

It’s the collective group of high school librarians who ask each other for support on lessons they are teaching who are so willing to share what they’ve created with each other and are always there to provide advice or camaraderie when someone is seeking recommendations.

It’s the custodial staff and office staff who are always willing to answer questions and help out when needed with a smile, especially when asked last-minute because sometimes that’s how life rolls in the school library.

I am incredibly fortunate to be in a school and a district that values school librarians. I am thankful for that every single day. I also know that you get out what you put in. If I don’t put in the time and the energy to build these relationships, then I will not be as effective as I could be.

It does take time, and it does take work, but the reward is getting to be a true collaborator and colleague which allows me to better support the needs of all our learners.

No matter if you are in your first year in a new building or position or in your twentieth, there are always new ways to build relationships in your school community. Each year new teachers are added to your staff. New administrators join your team. And, new support staff fill some of the most important roles in the building.

Relationship building never ends. Relationships are the marathon that keeps us moving throughout our careers, and the memories we will hold tight as we look back from the finish line. 

Author: Courtney Pentland, AASL President 2023-2024

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Community/Teacher Collaboration


1 reply

  1. Courtney, thank you for such an insightful article! I have found that coming back after COVID, I needed to rebuild a lot of relationships while establishing new ones. I bet your students certainly loved the projects created in collaboration with their teachers. I admire you, my friend!

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