School librarians, your administrators need you like never before. That’s my top takeaway from last month’s national conference of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL). Don’t take it from me, though, that’s the opinion of two of the nation’s leading superintendents.
The Hartford, CT, gathering was my first AASL meeting since coming to SLJ in 2010. The conference had many high points, not least of which was the launch of Project Connect. The brainchild of Follett, also its sponsor, the initiative assembles players from across the educational community to strategically link school librarians to the work of other areas of the school.
Significantly, Project Connect has engaged top thinkers in education, including superintendent Mark Edwards of Mooresville (NC) Graded School District, who is the School Superintendents Association’s 2013 Superintendent of the Year; and Steve Joel, superintendent of Lincoln (NE) Public Schools. Also on the Project Connect team is Mark Ray, manager of instructional technology and library services at Vancouver (WA) Public Schools, who writes about the Mooresville team in this month’s “Pivot Points” (p. 22). An essential ingredient: organizers plan to take Project Connect into the broader education arena with presentations at ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curricular Development) and ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education).
It all boils down to delivering on school success, according to Edwards and Joel, who, participating on a panel during AASL, reinforced the value that librarians can bring as instructional and building leaders. Moreover, both pointed to librarians as crucial toward meeting their own critical goals as administrators.
“This is an age of accountability that has brought a lot of bad baggage with it,” said Joel. “We absolutely have to move the needle, and we can’t do this in isolation… we are at the point where we need to harness all of our human resources.”
He urged librarians to step up and put themselves at the table, to help their own administrators view them as leaders in the solution. “Take this message back to your principal and tell them how you can help,” he said.
In Mooresville, the media specialists have been willing to evolve rapidly, said Edwards. “This service mechanism is vital to what we call school today,” he said.
Edwards joined Joel in urging librarians to step up and ask to be a part of the school leadership team. “Don’t settle for just having a great library. Ask, How can I help the district?” said Edwards. “If you’re not at the table,” he warned, “you could be on the menu.”
Then a remarkable thing happened. After the panel, Ray introduced me to Edwards, who greeted me by saying, “Thank you for your leadership.” No one has ever said those particular words to me, and I would be surprised if many school librarians hear them often, if ever. The phrase articulated gratitude for past actions, and perhaps more importantly, expectation.
I thought about the gap between the many school librarians who are already leaders, and the administrators who may not know the potential role of these players in making better schools. This is the largest challenge facing this profession.
“Focusing on a challenge is an act of leadership,” said design firm IDEO’s Michelle Ha just a few days later in Chicago at Library Journal’s Directors’ Summit, driving home for me the message of the superintendents. So let’s make 2014 the year that each of you answers the call of Edwards and Joel. Strengthen your connection to your school’s mission and goals—explicitly, by taking a place at the table.
And thank you for your leadership.
Rebecca T. Miller