Often, when we talk about building collaborative cultures for school librarians, we talk about the importance of being seen as a teacher peer. But this week, let’s talk about being seen as a collaborative member of a campus leadership team. I argue that as valuable as our teaching roles are to our campuses, what sets us apart is that we are more than teachers, and those additional roles we play are critical to the evolution of our profession.
New librarians are often caught off guard by the level of responsibility and decision-making that is expected of us. We are used to our classroom responsibilities like daily lesson planning and assessing student learning. But we immediately have budgetary decisions, management of sizable campus assets in the resources our libraries’ house, programing and scheduling concerns, and a need to see the big picture in ways we aren’t used to needing to do.
Other librarians may have been at their campuses for a while and have fallen into a rut of low expectations or outdated practices, and find it difficult to break out of these, and implement new approaches more aligned with empowering students to learn in a digital setting.
What can you do to develop your administrator voice and be seen as a peer of administrators? How can you build your confidence when you’ve been beaten down and need to pull yourself up?
First, be informed and confident about what current practice looks like–develop a personal learning network and follow innovative librarians; read blogs, articles, and research about student behaviors; and participate in professional learning about how others are transforming their practice. You also must have a vision in mind and be able to draw from current research to support it. If you want to be seen as a valued member of the leadership team, you must be able to speak knowledgeably about how school libraries are more crucial than ever. If you can’t articulate this, then be prepared to have those who aren’t experts in libraries dictate your program. Knowledge is power, or at least, confidence-building.
Second, strike a balance between being responsive and being proactive. We are librarians, which means for the most part, we’re service-oriented people who enjoy being what people need us to be. That is a good thing, for many reasons, but if we’re only that, we can’t ever advance our cause toward bigger and better things. That said, if you’re only ever doing your own thing, and not looking for ways to support and participate in bigger campus initiatives, you’re not making the difference you could be, besides not being seen as a team player. I know many of us dread department meetings, faculty meetings, whole campus professional development–things that in many ways, aren’t about us. Take those opportunities to listen and look for opportunities–those are the places where you see how your puzzle piece fits into the campus’ design and isn’t a stand-alone (and easily eliminated) side puzzle.
Third, value yourself. It’s the time of year when registration is open for our annual state library conference. I cannot tell you how sad it makes me to hear librarians say, “I know the principal won’t let me go. I’m not even going to ask.” Let’s face it, there are those years when that does seem to be the landscape of the school. But if you don’t ask and make a case for why you need to attend professional development, you’re devaluing yourself as a professional. All professions must participate in continuing education. In Texas, in fact, our certification depends on it. If you don’t ask for time, financial support, and approval from your principal to attend these events, you are saying that you’re not worth it. Make your case, attend, and then show your principal why sending a librarian to a conference or professional learning event is a great return on his or her investment by implementing what you learned and teaching it to others.
Fourth, be a problem solver. Administrators are constantly bombarded with problems. When you interact with your administrator, don’t ever come to him or her with a problem to solve when it comes to your library. You are the administrator of your library program. You need to evaluate the problem, determine possible solutions, choose the one that best protects the interest of the students, and then present it to your administrator, if he or she even needs to weigh in. Your principal needs to know that you can make those decisions for yourself, or he or she will make them for you. The principal most likely doesn’t tell the football coach how to run plays, because the coach doesn’t ask. If you don’t make good, informed decisions about your library, you are declaring yourself open to micromanaging. A principal will not value you as a member of campus leadership if you can’t manage your own day-to-day library program.
Finally, as one of my bosses says, “fake it ’til you make it.” It takes some time to grow into your role as a member of a leadership team and to develop the trust of the administration. Don’t try to be the expert on everything, but when your campus begins a new initiative–even those that are not directly related to libraries–share some recent research pieces with your principal. Admit when you don’t know the answer to something, but offer to find out. Don’t make a hasty decision when you’re put on the spot either. You can always say, “I need to gather the data to make an informed recommendation. Can I get back to you by tomorrow afternoon?”
As you work to build relationships with members of the campus leadership team, realize that you bring a unique perspective to the table. You have more hats than most of the people on your campus–teacher, administrator, media specialist. Own those roles, and the knowledge that goes with them. Be confident and a good problem solver, and soon you’ll find yourself a valued member of a transformational campus leadership team.
Author: Jennifer Laboon
Jennifer LaBoon is the Coordinator of Library Technology in Fort Worth ISD. She serves on the AASL Blog Committee, on the Executive Board of the Texas Library Association, volunteers with a local children’s musical theater group, and is an avid TCU fan.