November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Connect With Your Principal | Take the Lead

Every school librarian media specialist wants to have the support of the school principal. Despite repeated efforts to talk with administrators, school librarians often feel ignored. This can stem from a difference in the way school librarians and school-level administrators communicate and make decisions.

There are several similarities between these two positions, especially in terms of their potential impact. Both hold the possibility of touching every student and teacher in the school. Also, both positions are in the midst of monumental change, and librarians and principals are both working hard to manage these shifts. Principals no longer spend most of their time on logistical and managerial concerns. There is more focus on the principal being held accountable for student performance data. Meanwhile, school librarians are navigating an ever-changing landscape of new information resources and new technology. They are being called on to be knowledgeable of instructional practices, program trends, and informational resources, while working with teachers and leading the school in digital literacy.

1608-TaketheLead-ducksinRowDespite the commonalities, there is a disconnect between how school librarians communicate and how principals make decisions. From the school librarian point of view, the disconnect can be viewed as lack of support or indifference to the library program. Often, this isn’t the case. Principals tend to avoid getting involved with the school library because they do not fully understand the role the librarian plays in improving teacher instruction and student performance. Administrator training programs do not devote time to learning how to supervise or even understand the role of a school librarian. So it is vitally important that when you have the ear of your principal, you use that time well by remembering these guidelines.

BE READY. Having your needs thought through ahead of time will benefit you. Always have at hand a list of expenses that you would like to have met so that whenever an opportunity arises, you are ready.

BE SOLUTION-ORIENTED. Often, the principal is faced with problems to solve. Those don’t usually come with suggested solutions. You want to identify the problem you are trying to address and how your proposed solution will help address it.

BE CONNECTED. The solution needs to be connected to the school’s improvement plans. It is not enough to say that you want to increase literacy by boosting circulation. You also need to be connected to your fellow teachers. Be sure that you have vetted your strategy with others.

BE SUCCINCT. Principles have very little time, so stay focused on the problem and solution. Most administrators need to know the following details in order to make a decision: What are we currently doing, what is the gap in performance, and what solution are you proposing? How will it address the gap, will it cost anything, and how will it impact teachers’ day-to-day work?

BE STUDENT-CENTERED. Most importantly, when talking to administrators, remember that they want to know how this solution will positively impact students. There is always a balancing act principals must play between adult-centered decisions and student-centered ones. Effective principals look for what will benefit students.

Administrators and school librarians are trying to provide the best education to create productive members of society. If you focus on addressing student needs with a plan in mind, the conversation will not be just about ideas but about action that can take place to address a need. You can work through the solution together, but you need to provide that starting point.

2015–16 Lilead Fellow David Blattner is chief technology officer and executive director of media and virtual learning for Iredell-Statesville (NC) Schools.

This article was published in School Library Journal's August 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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Comments

  1. Marv Abrams, Ed.D. says:

    The article “Connect with Your Principal: Take the Lead” is well written. As a now retired high school principal, I can attest to its urgency. Librarians are critically important as they open the world to students through the research opportunities available in a well-run media center. All too often, we find schools where the library is not available to students at lunch time because the staff needs to eat lunch, too. Or, the staff requires students to be quiet while using the library, instead of encouraging them to discuss what they have found with others. Yet there are institutions that prohibit students from using the media center’s computers without having made an appointment 24 hours in advance, even though one is currently available. This is what frustrates principals, and while corrective measures are within their capacity as the site leaders, they would much prefer to see their librarians lead the charge for student access in ways that may be cutting-edge. So, please, take the lead!

    • Sophie Blavet says:

      The library at ISHCMC as an open door policy. Students are encouraged to come, converse, draw, play cards, read, color, do research, work on projects, speak with one another. We always have someone on staff ready to help and guide our student population. It is of the outmost importance to have a media center open all the time.

  2. Mary Moyer Stubbs says:

    I found that principals always appreciated when I came to them with a solution for a problem. Often, they were unaware that there was even a problem and if I left a solution to them, it may not have been one that worked for me or the library. ALWAYS go with a possible solution, they will thank you for your thoughtfulness and you’ll have a solution that best works for the library.