This August, I’ll be the new media specialist at Tampa Preparatory, an independent 6-12 school in downtown Tampa. This will be my first time in seven years at a new (to-me) school. Needless to say, I’m both excited and anxious at the same time. What programs should I plan? How will the culture of the library shift? What can I do to build relationships with my new teachers and students? Planning helps me focus and calm down, so I’ve been spending some time lately thinking about what my priorities are for the first half of the year.
How to Get Ready for a New Year at Your New School
Starting at a new school can be overwhelming, so it’s good to have a plan. Here are five tips to help you prepare if you’re starting at a new-to-you school this year:
Go in Early
Especially when you’re going to be at a new-to-you school, I think it’s helpful to go in a few times over the summer and get your bearings. This gives you a chance to settle in, take a lay of the land, and meet some people. Set up your desk and bring in your tchotchkes. Look over the collection and familiarize yourself with it. Learn the locations of things like the faculty lunch room, the office, the mail room, etc. If there are faculty members who work over the summer, you can potentially set up some meetings to plan for the year and get to know them. At the start of pre-planning, I plan on putting out a physical letter to my new colleagues a la Kelly Hincks.
Clean House (but Not Too Much)
If you’re lucky, the previous librarian cleaned out things before leaving. But more than likely, there will be drawers full of files, folders full of bulletin board materials, and other things you probably won’t use. Spend some time cleaning house, but don’t go overboard. If someone was there a long time, there could be piles of things to go through, and that can become overwhelming and distracting. Set a timer for twenty minutes, or focus on one small pile at a time, until you get things under control. If you come across something that you aren’t sure if you’ll need or not, put it in a bin to re-evaluate halfway through the year. Also, while it’s okay to go in and do some weeding, don’t get too drastic at the beginning. There might be certain books that would never get checked out at your old school but are heavily used in your new one.
Get to Know Your Students and Teachers
Being that it’s a new school for you, there will be a lot of new people to meet. Spend some time getting to know your students and teachers. I’m starting off my new school year with surveys for my school community. I want to get to know what their perception of the library is, how they use it, and what they would like for it to become. I plan on hosting lots of lunchtime book clubs and makerspace workshops so that I can get to know students in smaller groups as well. I’m also planning on forming a student library leadership team that can help give me feedback and plan library programs. Don’t forget to go to school sporting and special events on a regular basis too.
Don’t Overplan the First Year
It’s really tempting to plan to do ALL THE THINGS your first year. But you don’t know the school culture yet. You don’t know what works and what doesn’t. Think of your first year as a beta test. Try out new programs. See if you want to continue previous programs the school had. But don’t go overkill. If you plan too much, it might be completely out of sync with the culture and environment of the school. Focus on a specific set of goals for your first year. My current plans are lunchtime book clubs once a month, maker workshops at least once a quarter, a bookfair, and Teen Tech Week.
Reflect and Evaluate Half-Way through the Year
Once it gets to January, you’ll have a much better grasp of what your new school is like and where you want to go in your program. This is a good time to start thinking about weeding and re-evaluating the collection. Meet up with your leadership team (or a student focus group if you don’t have one). Check in with them on how things are going. I don’t recommend making huge sweeping changes in the first half of your first year (unless you were brought in specifically to do that). Gradual, organic changes will have less of a shock on your school and will feel less invasive.
Are you starting at a new school this year? What are your plans?
Author: Diana Rendina
Diana Rendina, MLIS, is the media specialist at Tampa Preparatory, an independent 6-12 school. She was previously the media specialist at Stewart Middle Magnet School for seven years, where she founded their library makerspace. She is the creator of the blog RenovatedLearning.com & is also a monthly contributor to AASL Knowledge Quest. Diana is the winner of the 2016 ISTE Outstanding Young Educator Award, the 2015 ISTE Librarians Network Award, the 2015 AASL Frances Henne Award & the 2015 SLJ Build Something Bold Award. She is an international speaker on the Maker Movement and learning space design and has presented at conferences including AASL, FETC & ISTE. Diana co-authored Challenge-Based Learning in the School Library Makerspace and is the author of Reimagining Library Spaces: Transform Your Space on Any Budget.