Leaders take risks. You are all aware of that, and that awareness leads to something we don’t like to talk about. In 2015, I blogged about the Stories We Tell Ourselves. I skipped a big one.
The story we tell ourselves is that if we take a risk we’ll embarrass ourselves so badly we won’t be able to face our colleagues and administrators. It could even potentially cause us to lose our job. And that story is the secret reason why some librarians avoid taking on the challenge of leadership.
Fear of failure can be crippling. It keeps you from growing. Oddly enough, the converse is an equally big barrier—fear of success. If you are successful, people will expect you to continue to do more.
And just like the other stories, it is only that —a story. No one is suggesting you suddenly decide to campaign to redesign your library as a learning commons if you have never done anything to make your presence known in your building, but you do need to take some first steps. You do need to build some “street cred” first.
Start small. Share your knowledge of new web and app resources by sending weekly emails to teachers describing just one, explaining how it could be used, and offering to provide one-on-one help for them to learn it. Include your principal in the email. You may not get any takers at first, but eventually one will click with a teacher. Slowly, teachers will begin to recognize the help you can give them.
There is no risk in doing that, but two important little goals have been achieved. You have stepped out of your comfort zone, and teachers begin to take you into consideration when planning a unit. And those two accomplishments are the first building blocks of that very important “street cred.” Look for other no-risk or minimal risk ideas.
Try a book club. If you don’t know how to do it, ask your library colleagues on your state association’s listserv or other places where librarians help each other. LM_NET is the big one, but there are many more. Once you know what you are doing, speak with your administrator before putting it in place. Explain your goal for the program, how you plan to run it, and acknowledge there is no guarantee it will work but is worth a try.
If you launch the club, send updates on activities and accomplishments to your principal. Include videos of the kids discussing the books. Now you have demonstrated your value to the administration. And your reputation as a leader begins to grow.
Then it’s time to take a few bigger risks. Gardening projects have proved very successful at the elementary level. There are connections to STEAM and the produce can be given to the cafeteria, to food banks, or a local shelter depending on what seems best for your community.
Other low- risk projects include starting Hour of Code or a Makerspace. For either of those ideas, you can get all the help you need in organizing it from other librarians. We are an incredibly supportive profession.
These early risks build your confidence and you can begin to look for other possibilities. Are you thinking of genre-fying your collection? How about a Skype author visit? What about a joint project with students in another school district—or country? Before long you might even be ready to turn your library into the learning commons that had seemed an impossibility.
Being a building leader is vital. If you and your program are to thrive you must demonstrate you are invaluable to the entire educational community. Now that you see that risks don’t result in those disasters you imagined, you can step even further out of your comfort zone.
Take your place among leaders. There is always room for more. Choose one of your new successful programs and write a proposal to present it at your state conference. You may think it’s been done, but there are always librarians who haven’t tried it, and you bring your unique perspective to it. If it’s selected let your principal know. It will build your reputation even further.
Serve on one of your state association committees. Better yet volunteer to do the same in AASL or ISTE. Although it’s too late for this year’s AASL Conference IdeaLab, start planning to do it in two years at the next AASL conference. You would be in a large room with many other librarians all presenting their best ideas. You talk one-on-one with those who stop and want more information. Totally non-intimidating.
The first step in becoming a leader is deciding to step out of your comfort zone. Every leader has done so. I still take on challenges wondering how I am going to do it, but somehow it almost always works.
Have you stepped out of your comfort zone? What did you do? What was the result? Where do you need help?