November 22, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Gain Support When You Support District Goals | Take the Lead

AltobelliIn a relatively large district like mine—Albuquerque (NM) Public Schools—tying the school library to district priorities can seem simultaneously obvious and impossible. I have encountered few district initiatives that wouldn’t be improved by their close and careful integration with school library programs and resources, but school and district administrators sometimes do not realize the potential lurking helpfully within their walls.

This past year, the Lilead Fellows project has helped me refine and articulate strategies that yield results, fitting library programs into and around existing district goals. The way to success, for me, at least, has been to start small, build a network of library advocates, dream big, and never stop working for transformative change.

Sometimes, especially during times of administrative transition, it can be difficult to sync up with academic goals that are not yet fully defined. Through these changes, of which my district has had several recently, my department focuses on aligning library programs with our district’s practical and logistical priorities.

My department has never had a formal role in hiring or placing teacher librarians, but this year, we placed librarians in elementary schools for summer school. I might dream of inquiry-based curriculum throughout the district, but help with placement was what my district needed, and the project was successful. Since we knew each librarian’s background, we were able to align placements with their philosophies, experience, and commuting preferences, the latter being surprisingly important in a sprawling city. Now we have happy principals who have one less thing to worry about, and happy regular-year librarians who will come back to organized libraries. Plus, we have laid the groundwork for more in-depth collaboration with administrators.

It’s hard to predict where the best future partnerships might develop. I try to be proactive about promoting what our librarians are doing—and what they could do in the future with the right support. Every district meeting, no matter the official subject, is an opportunity to figure out how librarians can help fix problems or improve practices. A series of meetings about student logins offered a chance to position librarians as the potential digital integrationists my district increasingly needs. This led to the inclusion of our library department as a presenter at the annual district Tech Camp for teachers and principals.

Our participation will support district goals as they relate to digital resources and give us a chance to show, with real-life examples, everything that libraries and librarians offer. The amazing work of our librarians is the most powerful argument we have, and hearing about what has worked with students in our district resonates more than any study could. That power is amplified when a teacher returns to her school site and talks about how she’s improved her practices through working closely with her librarian and using library resources.

Between the librarians and my department, we surround our colleagues with information and options. Wherever they turn, there’s a friendly librarian with a potential solution or improvement. As a district administrator, I might have a meeting about new furniture with a principal who has chosen not to hire a librarian. In the course of that meeting, I might mention some of the great things teacher-librarians are doing in our district. The principal will be much more likely to follow through and hire a librarian. The same applies if they attend a larger principals’ meeting and hear about the ways other schools are successfully integrating technology in the classroom through collaborations between teachers and librarians.

Ultimately, I’ve found that the best way to promote successful partnerships is to, well, be a librarian. We listen to questions and help people figure out what they really want to know or do. We help people be successful, whatever they’re trying to accomplish or create. We offer solutions, and we help people figure out how to find solutions on their own. We show up, listen carefully, offer guidance, help with other people’s projects, collaborate, teach, and learn. We have all the answers—or we know how and where to look them up, which is just as good.

Rachel Altobelli is director of library services and instructional materials for Albuquerque Public Schools and a 2015–16 Lilead Fellow.

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