Invariably at some point in your career, your principal or superintendent will ask you to do something that detracts from your library program. How do you respond?  The bottom line is you do what you are told or you are insubordinate.  But as a leader, and as the expert in what is needed for the library program, there are ways to handle the various situations in a proactive manner.

You don’t want to acquiesce sullenly, which will be recognized by your administrator. Worse is to complain to your friends on the staff about the stupidity of the request.  The school grapevine travels fast.  Your principal/superintendent will hear about it very soon.  This will shatter any relationship you have built up and seriously impact any future requests you make.

On the other hand, I strongly believe we teach people how to treat us. If you act like a doormat, people will step on you.  This may sound like a contradiction of what I said before, but it’s not.

When you are told to do something that takes away from your program, stop for one minute and recognize your administrator is in a bind and is looking for a solution.  It may or may not be the best one, but if you come from leadership, you can get it changed or altered to work better.

Here are some examples – many of which have occurred in my career:

The principal needs to use the library for one period so that a group of students can take a test. You are asked to close the library for that period. You have a class scheduled at that time.

This happened when I was very new at a high school having been transferred from the elementary school. I told him “If you need it, I suppose we will have to close, but Mrs. S. was counting on me working with her students that period.  I will let her know.” He was taken aback, thought quickly and said, “Maybe we can use Mrs. S.’s classroom while she is in the library.  I will speak with her.”

A similar incident, which I discussed in one of my books, occurred in another high school.  I got a call from the principal’s secretary asking me to close the library for several periods to allow the athletic directors from our region to meet in the library.

I told her I would notify all scheduled teachers about the change. On hearing the news, one of the teachers stormed into the principal’s office, complaining.  I heard she said, “Who is our library for?  Our students or the athletic directors?”  I soon got another call from the principal’s secretary in which she said she had misunderstood the principal.  I need only close off a section of the library (privacy screens would be provided.) 

In both cases, I did not object.  I appeared willing to do what I was told, and yet made changes in the outcome. My principals had an opportunity to see the library and I were of value to our educational program.

A frequent occurrence for many of you is being told to cover for a teacher either because the substitute is late or none is available.  I can remember being told I needed to cover a physical education class.

I said it was a shame to have to close the library for the entire school.  Was it possible to have the phys ed class meet in the library?  No problem.  The principal didn’t care as long as students were supervised.  I had the class work on researching aspects of a sport of their choice.  I told students their work would be turned into the teacher for a probable grade.  I got good cooperation from them, and once again showed the administration I was a team player – pun intended.

Many of you are required to shut down the library for days when high stakes tests are given.  Everyone is stressed out, including the administrators.  But it’s a terrible loss to the continuity of the library program.

Successful librarians have dealt with the challenge by getting permission to take their necessary tools on a cart and work with individual classes.  As long as you are not required to proctor, this has many benefits.  You partner with teachers on their territory. Since kids are also stressed and off kilter because of schedule changes, this puts two adults in one room. The kids get to see you in a different setting and as more of a teacher –and you might build new collaborative partnerships this way.

Districts are always dealing with budget cuts and frequently give librarians extra duties.  Sometimes it means going to two schools.  Other times you are given actual classes to teach.

You are not going to get out of this entirely, but if you do everything they ask with regards to this, you will only get more and/or they will assume you didn’t have that busy a day so this really wasn’t a problem.  Make a list of all your tasks.  Star what you consider the high priority ones and put a check next to those you will need to drop.  Take the list to your administrator explaining your “predicament” and ask if he/she agrees with your ranking of tasks and what you will be dropping. Be open to hearing their opinion. You will have taught your administrator the range of the library program and how it impacts the educational community.

One more personal note.  After completing a library renovation project giving the library 25% more shelf and floor space, the principal called me over the summer, asking me to come in.  He had to move the “School to Career” center into the library. This came with many apologies, but there was no other room available.

Again there was no way to escape this.  Looking at the floor plan, I found a section that was out of the way of the general flow. I got a display height bookcase and filled it with our career books to create the area as a separate place. My cooperation was well-received.  The head of the program was great at grants.  He got lots of tech which became library property and he became a strong library supporter.

Following directives doesn’t mean rolling over and playing dead.  What experiences have you had with “orders” from an administrator?  How did you handle it?

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