I love projects! As president of AASL, I have the privilege of observing and participating in many projects. I love noticing what makes them successful. I believe the use of process is an essential ingredient for achieving a project’s end goal. A process can be used for developing a plan to advocate for school library positions, secure funding for collections, introduce a new service, or secure school community support for any action you’d like to take to improve your school library. I’d like to share a process I observed recently.
Identify and describe a problem.
What do you observe in your environment? Is there a problem to solve? What is the gap between the existing state of affairs and your desired outcome? Here are some sample problem statements:
- In ______________, the statutes recommend school librarians, but librarians are not required.
- Primary children have trouble browsing for books on tall shelves.
Talk about your idea with a few colleagues.
In these conversations, your goal is to find out if others share your concern to begin developing some support for moving forward and to connect with others who may have similar concerns or experiences.
Describe your vision or desired result.
Leaders frequently have a general idea of a future desired result. However, leaders rarely effect change working alone. The purpose of a vision is to motivate colleagues to work with you. It helps them to see your imagined future. Here are some sample vision statements:
- “Every school librarian is a leader; every learner has a school librarian” (AASL 2019).
- Every picture book is at eye-level to invite young readers to browse.
Invite partners to work with you.
As you develop a team, consider the attributes of potential partners. Who has knowledge of the issue? What are some differing perspectives? Has anyone done this before? Who has an interest in your project’s success? Choose expert-partners carefully, and be sure to have enough voices at the table but not too many. If you are working on a legislative plan, for example, search for expertise within ALA, at the state level, and locally. If you are working on a project that involves changing built-in structures like shelving, include someone from the building maintenance department of your school or district as well as the building principal.
Hold a conversation about the issue.
The conversation should have a logical structure. Depending on the size of the project, the conversation can take a couple of hours or a day. The shelving project mentioned above was discussed in ad-hoc conversations over several years. We saw browsing bins used for picture books in a presentation at ALA Annual in 2012. School librarians studied their use at a neighboring public library system during the 2012-2013 school year. In 2015-2016, we had the district’s carpentry shop build several for an early childhood center. Within two years, the browsing bins had become a central feature of elementary library renovations.
Outlined below are the steps facilitators followed in a recent one-and-a-half-day advocacy workshop:
- Gather background information about the problem. Hear from people who have expertise. What has been done in the past? What barriers were faced? How long did it take to achieve the desired change? What factors should be considered? What strategies worked or didn’t work?
- Develop a shared vision of the desired result. This shared vision will most likely be more nuanced than the original vision statement, because the discussions held up to this point will have uncovered details of which you may not have been aware It is important to develop a shared vision so each partner in the project has ownership.
As part of the conversation, get formal endorsements for the effort from every stakeholder represented. This buy-in is essential to gain commitment for the work ahead.
Create an action plan.
In this stage of the process, it may be useful to break a large group into smaller teams. In any event, expect ideas to overlap and circle back.
- Consider opportunities. Many potential opportunities will have surfaced as your group gathered background information.
- Determine goals. In the advocacy workshop, the broad goals were 1) collect data; 2) build coalitions; 3) develop a structure to sustain action; and 4) develop a communications and marketing plan.
- Determine action steps to achieve goals.
- Prioritize action steps and develop an initial timeline. Choose actions based on available manpower, expertise, and resources.
- Secure commitment from a core group to assume leadership. This core group should include every stakeholder group represented in the project meeting.
Almost any project will require effort above and beyond one’s normal daily work obligations. Most likely, it is a passion project. It gets started because of a desire to improve the world in one important way, and it depends on the good will, energy, and commitment of many people. In addition to following a process, it is imperative to care for the people who do the work. Throughout the workshop, several ideas resonated with me:
- Never pick a fight. Remember that most people want good.
- Plan for the 18th mile. The 18th mile is when long-distance runners cramp up and the body wants to give up. Push past it!
- Be idealistic and keep working.
- Celebrate milestones and opportunities.
- Know when to say no. Timing is important.
Projects are essential. Organizing them effectively, delegating tasks, celebrating milestones, and taking care of people will ensure their success.
American Association of School Librarians. “Strategic Plan.” 2019. http://www.ala.org/aasl/sites/ala.org.aasl/files/content/about/govern/docs/AASL_Strategic_Plan.pdf (accessed 8/6/2019).