May 28, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Fired Up by the SLJ Summit | The Next Big Thing

At the 2014 SLJ Leadership Summit, we heard amazing librarians from around the country talk about their successes. Listening to their stories, I was more impressed by some accomplishments that were mentioned almost as asides.

We heard the big messages loud and clear: leadership is critical for schools, and creativity is essential for learning. Mark Edwards, 2013 National Superintendent of the Year, reminded us what an amazing leader can bring to a school. Stephan Turnipseed, president emeritus of LEGO Education, helped us remember how to make learning playful. Important reminders—but nothing really new, despite the powerful delivery by both speakers.

During the librarian panel responses, however, some hidden gems emerged. I left the Summit with three key thoughts to mull over.

SLJ1412w_TK-NBT-SLJSummitLibrarian as instructional coach

Susie Harkey, media coordinator at Park View Elementary School in Edwards’s Mooresville (NC) Graded School District, referred in passing to working with a teacher in order to revise a lesson plan. Harkey helped the teacher reimagine the pedagogical approach, make better use of library resources, and provide deeper thinking and learning. She assumed the role of instructional coach, guiding the teacher toward being more effective.

This is a key area of need that school librarians can fill. In a quasi-administrative role, librarians can act as building-level consultants who help teachers understand how to make more productive use of resources and instructional strategies to meet student learning goals. We know inquiry. We are comfortable with digital resources, and we understand creativity’s role. Now it’s time for us to step up, demonstrate our expertise, and ensure that our role as instructional coach is a primary service, not something mentioned in passing.

Librarian as brand manager

No, not branch manager, brand manager. At the Summit, the Mooresville librarians described the many ways they share their successes with administrators, teachers, and parents. What they were describing was really a comprehensive marketing plan.

If you think brand management isn’t needed, consider a conversation I had with one attendee. She moved to a new school district after her old school hired a literacy specialist and a tech specialist. As the library media specialist, she was getting squeezed out. The administration didn’t realize that she was a literacy and technology expert—those skills weren’t identified as part of the library brand.

Marketing means helping others understand how your solutions address their needs. Make sure parents know how your online resources can help them help their children. Make sure teachers know what you have, and how you can work with them. Is there a local college with a media or communications program that can help with marketing tips?

Librarian as person

The last rough gem came in a passing remark from SLJ’s School Librarian of the Year, Michelle Colte, the library media specialist at the Hale Kula Elementary School in Wahiawa, HI. She mentioned that she is a librarian without a library this year, due to construction. However, she is thriving.

Being a librarian is about so much more than the room. This is especially true as our resources go digital and our spaces evolve and become learning commons, often with non-library activities co-located in the room.

Being the librarian beyond the library walls is the embodiment of the first two ideas. What would happen if you took one day a week to be out in the school, not just the library?

These three points got me fired up. Small things, but worthy of more consideration—and key points for future success.

This article was published in School Library Journal's December 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.