An Administrator’s View: Giving Teacher Librarians an Edge | Pivot Points

Former teacher librarian and current district administrator Mark Ray continues to reflect on the ways teacher librarians can better connect and work with building and district leaders.

This winter, I wrote about working with administrators (and becoming one) in “The Same Difference” (SLJ, Feb. 2013, p. 20–23). After a full year in my new role, I continue to reflect on the ways teacher librarians can better connect and work with building and district leaders. This theme will be part of the SLJ Leadership Summit in Austin, September 28–29. Call it convergence or detente, librarians and administrators will be engaged in some exciting conversations in the coming year. In preparation, here are two useful ways to think and work like an admin.

The pivot: an administrator’s view

I miss the relative simplicity of the library. While a library includes many moving parts, it is not always necessary to know how or why things work so long as they do work. Teacher librarians are often better connected to various school and district systems than classroom teachers, but their understanding may still be limited. They are likely to know which textbooks are used by different departments or grade levels and how to order them, and may have some responsibility for their management. But at the district level, a complex machinery of processes, policies, and departments must work together in order to ensure students and teachers get materials. Seeing things from that perspective can help improve library service and the library’s place in an institution.

The points

More moving parts. As an administrator, I have learned that almost nothing is simple, even in a well-aligned district such as ours. There are always more moving parts than meet the eye. Understanding those parts and what it takes to keep them moving has become essential to my work. Teacher librarians stand to benefit by developing similar institutional knowledge. By learning the complexity of their organizations, they can become better informed, connected, and placed to advocate for their programs. This learning can come from developing authentic relationships with administrators. And because principals often see things differently from administrators, teacher librarians should seek to develop relationships at both building and district levels, ideally with the curriculum and IT departments that often intersect with library programs.

It’s important not to start the relationship with an “ask.” Offer to sit on a committee or offer support of a building or district initiative. Build a trusting professional friendship over time. Eventually, you will better understand the complexity of your district, and your new administrative friends may gain a better knowledge of your library and program.

Leading as a team. Administrators rarely make decisions alone. Despite their job titles, few administrators act unilaterally, and the best rely on others to provide advice and guidance in forming policies and solutions. By contrast, as a teacher librarian, I made many—if not most—decisions with little input from others. Since few outsiders understand what happens in school libraries, many teacher librarians have more autonomy than principals. This opacity and insularity can be a problem. Connecting with other stakeholders adds valuable input, information, and ideas. Almost everything I did this year involved a team to help envision, plan, and implement projects and programs. Likewise, teacher librarians can benefit by forming teams with other stakeholders. While it will probably complicate and slow decision making, it will also expose their library programs to wider audiences.

Teacher librarians should also build professional learning communities with others in their districts and beyond. At the building level, consider forming a steering committee to better understand the needs of parents, teachers, and students. This can provide insight and inform decisions while building bridges with stakeholders.

Teacher librarians have much in common with administrators. Find ways to build relationships with them. Listen and learn how decisions are made. In doing so, you can better understand the complex machinery of educational organizations and what makes administrators tick.

Mark Ray (, a former teacher librarian, is the director of instructional technology and library services for Vancouver (WA) Public Schools.

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