November 17, 2017

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Thriving During Leadership Change | Take the Lead

Changes in leadership are inevitable in today’s educational climate. Principals relocate and move up the career ladder with dizzying speed. District leaders switch school systems every few years. As soon as you educate your administrators on your school library program’s value, new ones come in, and you’re back at square one. You’ll find that turnover can derail your program—but only if you let it.

One of the biggest challenges facing our profession is that school leaders don’t always understand the value that school library programs bring to our schools. Administration classes don’t include instruction on the library’s pivotal role. Accordingly, they can view the position as adjunct. This can lead to turning their librarians into fundraising coordinators, interventionists, social committee chairs—all jobs that take away from the crucial work of collaborating with teachers to provide in-depth student instruction. Educating new leaders on the essentials of our thriving library programs is exhausting but necessary work.

What are the new head’s priorities? Luckily, as a librarian, you know how to research! Learn about the background of your new administrator. If they are from a different district, network with a librarian there. Did they support a materials budget? A flexible schedule? Clerical staff? Perhaps the prior district did not have librarians. If you uncover information that causes concern, take comfort in the possibility that your new leader hasn’t seen an exemplary model of a dynamic library program.

Adapt and communicate

Find out the new person’s educational focus. Is it instructional technology? Advocacy of literacy? Is the vision for the school a STEM or arts focus? A great thing about school library programs is that we can adapt them to meet specific building and district needs while still holding true to our mission. We’re flexible. Everything we do can be tied back to a strategic goal. If your administrator is interested in STEM, focus your communication on how you provide your students with hands-on opportunities through your library maker space program. If they are into literacy, highlight your diverse, well-rounded collection and provision of a schoolwide reading promotion program that offers students choice in their reading. Find a way to highlight how the library can help the administrator move the program in the direction of his or her passion.

Once you know your leader’s priorities, make a communications plan to grab attention and educate. Tailor your message to their passions and strategic needs. Your administrator will be pressed for time, so present your story succinctly with visuals: infographics, captioned photos, and videos. Anchor these accomplishments with research results from state library studies, grounding your assertions and showing that it’s not just you saying that your program is essential—it’s a national expectation that is solidly research-based. You are the expert on library programs. Lead with confidence.

Find opportunity

Your leadership will change. Prepare now by documenting the awesome things you do in your library. Produce video testimonials of teachers discussing how your collaboration led to increased student learning. Show students engaged in inquiry, reading, and making. Beef up your website, highlighting the learning in your library. Invite district administrators and parents to see your lessons. You’ll create advocates who will be ready to proclaim the library gospel when new leadership arrives.

Change is hard on staffs and on new administrators. They hear a lot of negative noise and have to tackle resistance. Be a shining light of positivity. Cheerlead your new head’s agenda as you enhance your program. It’s a win-win. Get involved in district or building committees that your leader champions. Show your instructional leadership outside the library. It will give you credibility and the opportunity to develop your library program in fresh ways.

Panter-Suzanne-Contrib_webSuzanna L. Panter is the innovator facilitator for school libraries in Tacoma (WA) Public Schools.

This article was published in School Library Journal's April 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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Comments

  1. Krishna Longanecker says:

    You can have an amazing library program, collect the data that shows how much of an impact your work has on young readers’ reading development and the importance of a strong library program, but if your new leadership refuses to allow you the opportunity to share this information and be educated, it’s all for naught. I have found this out the hard way.

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