The day you became a school librarian, the universe put a spectacular opportunity into your hands, giving you the power to affect what people believe about libraries and librarians. If you think that makes you sound a bit like a superhero, you’re right. You possess unique knowledge and skills—no one else in the school does exactly what you do.
The five roles of a school librarian, according to the American Association of School Librarians, include leader, instructional partner, information specialist, teacher, and program administrator. While it seems easy on the surface to embrace some of these, many struggle with that “leader” one. Perhaps you feel unworthy or unready. But you can do it. You must: people are counting on you.
It starts with looking inward. Stop focusing on what you can’t do, and concentrate on what you can. My Lilead experience introduced me to the concept of strengths-based leadership. When you work from your strengths, you unapologetically give the world your best. Being aware of your strengths and identifying how they can be used to move school and district priorities forward helps ensure you’re an essential part of your school’s instructional leadership team.
Take time to talk…and listen. Have conversations. Good leaders exchange ideas with the people they follow and hope to lead. Honest dialog builds connections. As a supervisor, I try to communicate with my librarians as much as possible. Yes, I use email and social media—but I also make a point to get out and visit schools. I pick up the phone and talk to my librarians when they need support, clarification, or just a reminder about why they rock. I model what I want them to do in their own buildings. Instead of feeling like the sad kid who didn’t get a party invitation, ask to attend team/department meetings. Instead of waiting for teachers to collaborate, pick up the phone or walk down the hall to their classrooms. Schedule a meeting with your principal to discuss your goals for the year, even if it is just for 15 minutes. Your voice will make a difference.
Make your leadership visible…to yourself. Leaders come in different varieties. People who lead quietly and behind the scenes are just as important as those who are loud and proud. Document your efforts—the failed attempts and the successes. Take time to reflect and reassess. Not only will your leadership log make a great artifact for your portfolio come evaluation time, but on those days when you feel like you are falling short, it can be a visual reminder of the work you are doing. There’s nothing wrong with starting small. Every blooming flower started out as a tiny seed!
Embrace the power of positive peer pressure. Everyone needs support and encouragement. Whether it’s meeting up with a few folks for coffee or creating a closed Facebook group, the important thing is to have people you can reach out to and to whom you are accountable. Bounce around ideas, share frustrations and celebrations, and push one another to stay the course. I send out a monthly newsletter to my librarians. But the work is not all on me. I encourage them to send items—reflections from conferences, photos of their libraries in action, articles about new things they’re trying. The benefits for librarians are twofold. First, celebrating and sharing the work you do makes you feel proud. Second, when you read about the fantastic things going on in another library, you might just have a moment: “Hey… I could do that. Why haven’t I tried?” Leaders need to be inspired in order to be inspirational.
Your students and colleagues deserve the benefit of you giving them your best. Just like any other superhero, you have strengths and special skills. So find the librarian leader within. People are counting on you.
Dedra Van Gelder is the instructional specialist for library media at Charles County (MD) Public Schools.
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