What 2020 Has Taught Me about Advocacy–A Simple Way to Toot Your Own Horn

2020 has been a roller coaster of emotions for so many of us. It has caused us stress and worry about so many things, from the health and safety of loved ones during the pandemic to the election to the multiple natural disasters. All of these events have us carrying a weight we may not have felt before in our lifetimes. Add to it the additional concerns about how school librarians fit, or don’t fit, into schools’ plans for the future. But, we know now more than ever, the skills and support certified school librarians provide students and their school communities are vitally important.

With the challenges caused by the pandemic, many schools changed the way they provided instruction. And, for many, that plan has changed multiple times since March. School districts were forced to reevaluate their structure and their budgets. Some schools are still hosting students in person 100 percent, but many have turned to hybrid or entirely virtual formats. Teachers in my area have been tasked with simultaneously teaching students in person and virtually each day.

Even before our world changed so drastically, the work school librarians did to support their school communities could sometimes seem like a well-kept secret. With the roles educators are currently being asked to play, it is hard to know what is happening behind the scenes, especially for those in non-traditional classrooms.

Librarian friends of mine have shared that administrators in their buildings are not aware of the amount of support they provide, especially now. One friend said each teacher in the building received a small treat in their mailbox. She did not. When she kindly asked about it, the administrator said that all the teachers had been working incredibly hard and deserved a little something. The administrator did not think to include the librarian as part of the teaching staff, even after that conversation.

While the way my friend was treated was concerning, it was not surprising. Over the years, I have heard story after story from school librarians expressing their frustration that key stakeholders were unaware of the essential service they were providing for their school. I’ve also heard many stories of school librarians who felt like their hard work was celebrated and acknowledged. As I think about those two dynamics, the power of advocacy springs to mind.

I feel a bit like I am preaching to the choir a bit here, because I know school library professionals understand the importance of advocating for their school libraries. I also know that it is really easy to fall into the trap of not wanting to toot your own horn. Now is not the time for modesty or hoping that others will sing our praises. Now is the time to toot that horn loudly and in very specific directions.

I wanted an easy, concrete way for my friend to be able to share her hard work while still being within her comfort zone. After working in a shared document with a teacher I was collaborating with, inspiration struck.

My recommendation to my friend was to begin a shared document with her administrators that showed exactly how she spent her time each day. This way there would be a specific record of how she was supporting her school community that her building leaders could access at any time. My further recommendation was to share this document with her principal and curriculum specialist as well as with the administrator that didn’t think of her as part of the teaching staff. Selecting who to share a document like this with should be a strategic choice so that you can target the decision makers and influencers in your building.

After a little reflection, I figured I should take my own advice and created a Google Doc to share with my principal (who is incredibly supportive). I creatively called it “Librarian Task Tracker.” It has three columns. One is the date, the second is the task I completed, and the third is anyone I worked with for the task. It is easy to fill out and easy to read and understand. I always have it open on my computer and add to it throughout the day whenever I am able (though there are a few times when it was the next day before it was updated).

My principal pointed out that not only is the task tracker a great way for me to share what I am working on each day, but it is a great record for me to use for reflection as I plan things for next year. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but once I did, I realized it will also help me reflect on how I want to spend my time versus how I actually spend my time, which could be another helpful advocacy tool.

It also reminds me of the Ta-Da List, something I heard about on the “Happier with Gretchen Rubin” podcast. Rather than just making a list of all the things you need to do, instead create a list of your accomplishments. Looking back at all you’ve done to support your school community can be a huge boost, especially in the middle of or end of a year. Or on a day when you just need a little lift to your spirits.

Sending a shared document of tasks tackled may seem small in the face of the challenges some school librarians are facing, but sometimes small acts can spark big conversations.

What other ways are you highlighting the work you are doing with your staff and students?


Author: Courtney Pentland

Courtney Pentland is the high school librarian at North Star High School in Lincoln, Nebraska. She is adjunct faculty for the University of Nebraska-Omaha School Library program and has served on the Nebraska School Librarians Association board as board member at large, president, and chapter delegate to AASL. She is the 2023-2024 AASL President. Follow her adventures on Twitter @livluvlibrary

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics

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4 replies

  1. Wonderful! A fourth column might record evidence of practice such as links to the pdf lesson plans, emails, student results of formative and summative assessments, and how the evidence will inform immediate and future practice.

  2. Great idea! And with Barbara’s suggestion about links to evidence of practice, you’ll be all set for end-of-year evaluations. Another enhancement/column could be a notation about which AASL Shared Foundation(s) is supported by the activity (Inquire, Include, Collaborate, Curate, Explore, Engage), which would help educate administrators about the standards that underpin our work.

  3. I love this! I know many of us create an annual report to share with the administration about our work, but after reading this the point is a good one that this pandemic might mean more frequent documentation and communication with administrators who can easily overlook all our hard work to help the bigger picture.

  4. I can testify to this – it works! Our middle school library staff started doing this in March of 2020 and shared it immediately with the principal and assistant principal because we wanted to let them know we were just as busy working at home as the teachers were. When 2020-20201 started in August, I continued this habit of sharing with the principal and one morning she told me she was so glad she had it because she was able to show it at a district principal’s meeting to “show off” how involved her library staff still was despite distance learning. I’m sure she liked how it made her look good, too!

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