I don’t think that school librarians take enough credit for what we do. Last month, I heard someone pose the question, “What is leadership?” My answer is that you are probably already engaging in leadership activities. Rather than provide a textbook definition, I would like to provide examples. Hence this month, I will begin a series on what leadership is for school librarians. Remember, leaders do not have to do or know everything. We can choose small projects. We also don’t need to be appointed. Choose a point of need and inspire people to help you to fulfill that need. There is no need to be fancy.
Being uncomfortable: You may find yourself in a position to make a change. You know the change is for the best. However, you must convince other people to accept your vision for the greater good. There is usually a constituency that will want things to remain the same. These individuals are embedded in the past cultural environment (or system of behaviors and beliefs).
Leadership demands that one assist individuals with accepting the changes that are happening. Sufficient information should be provided to help stakeholders to understand the benefits of the change. The pros and cons of changes should be presented, along with the process that is to take place. Transparency and demonstrating an understanding of multiple viewpoints facilitate leaders finding a way to execute change peacefully. One example of this is switching the scheduling for a school library. The school librarian could present data to explain scheduling. The presentation would help teachers understand the benefits of a flexible schedule or a schedule that includes fixed and flexible times.
Evolving: Leadership is meant to advance organizations. A leader looks for the changes that need to be made. Then they find a way to move their people forward. Leaders progress based on research and the surrounding cues. Therefore, leadership requires one take calculated risks based on data, observations, and intuition. There are times when a leader may feel their plans are not working. As such, they must quickly implement a plan B.
For instance, a school librarian might review test data and talk to teachers to determine a skill that needs reinforcement. Then based on the understanding of current trends and knowledge of student interests, the librarian designs and pilots an after-school program. During the pilot, the school librarian determines that the format does not work and immediately changes it. There is some anticipated backlash, but the school librarian diminishes it by addressing what went wrong and offering a better solution. Leaders gracefully accept failure and turn them into successes.
Acknowledging teamwork: Have you ever worked vigorously on a project and had someone else take credit for your work? Doesn’t it feel terrible? We have all heard that there is no “I” in team. Leadership is never about one person. And one person can never do all that is required for leadership. Leaders must take the time to acknowledge those that build the foundation for their greatness. Taking credit for all the work or continuously reminding people that they are not the leader are the hallmarks of selfishness. Selfishness diminishes morale. Leaders should say thank you and say it often.
Recognizing potential: Has there ever been a time when you knew that completing a project by yourself would take a long time? But, if you ask your friend to participate, they can help you do it better and faster? I know that part of my leadership development involves me getting comfortable asking for help. For example, I know how to make a website. However, I have a friend who can make the website with more features in half the time. Leaders understand that sometimes they do not have the best ideas or the most efficient strategies for completing tasks. Instead, they work to recognize the best people to fulfill the duties that need to be accomplished.
Feeling rewarded: Leading is a rewarding experience. When you find that you have accomplished a task that makes a difference, leadership becomes gratifying. Leadership satisfies me because I feel better within myself for identifying solutions. I gain expertise each time I start a new project because projects necessitate planning and research. I communicate with new people, thereby increasing my skill set.
Last year, I was asked to participate in a project to help undergraduate students realize their potential for STEM careers during the summer. The activities took me out of my comfort zone. I am glad that I participated in the project. I learned how libraries, linguistics, and data science intersect. I also observed how to write a different type of grant. If I had rejected the opportunity, I would not have obtained new skills or collaborative relationships.
As you can see, leadership can have varying responsibilities. The key is for you to choose an issue and to be steadfast with pursuing solutions to address it. Next time, I will share my favorite type of leadership style. Then I will discuss how school librarians can implement it. Until then, please quench your thirst for knowledge by participating in the professional development opportunities listed below.
Geralt. 2020. Leadership. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/illustrations/leadership-line-executive-3331244/
Author: Daniella Smith
Daniella Smith, PhD. is a former school and public librarian. She is currently the Hazel Harvey Peace Professor in Children’s Library Services at the University of North Texas.