Feeling alone on a daily basis is a common challenge for many librarians. It’s bad enough being the sole librarian in the school –or possibly the district—but when teachers don’t see you as one of them, you feel isolated. Why does it happen? What can you do about it?
I’m not going to suggest you build your PLN or join library-related Facebook groups. I already did that in my May blog The Myth of the Lonely Librarian. I am also assuming you now have contacts with your librarian colleagues across the country.
And yet you still feel lonely.
It’s how the job seems to you every day while you are at school that’s the problem, and a lot of librarians feel this way. So consider this a deeper look at the issue.
First a look at the why. In far too many places, teachers (and administrators) have a very sketchy idea what school
librarians do. Teachers see their schedules as overburdened and from their standpoint at the elementary level you just read to kids or at the middle and high schools watch them as they work. No grading. Maybe no lesson plans. Easy job. Some of you have even heard teachers say this. Those of you who have moved from the classroom to the library may have had a colleague say, “Are you enjoying your easier life?” It rankles because you know how far from the truth that is.
Trying to explain the range of your job and how challenging it usually is isn’t effective. If you tell the truth and say you are working harder than ever, your teacher friends won’t believe you and probably won’t really hear if you try listing all your tasks and responsibilities. It’s better to just say, “Not easier, as much as different,” and leave it at that.
Now let’s look at what to do. Start by changing your mindset. Right now you are feeling angry and frustrated—and isolated. While the emotions are understandable, they won’t change the situation and may make it worse.
Whether or not you express your feelings, they are communicated. As I have said before, and research bears this out, much of communication is non-verbal. People read your attitude from your body language and the tone in your voice you can’t always control.
A helpful switch can be: “I can win them over, one teacher at a time.” To do this, you have to work on building relationships. And you will have to do that one teacher at a time.
Do you eat at your desk because you are so busy or do you join the teachers for lunch at least a few times a week? Join the teachers. Trust me. I know it’s difficult to do, but much is at stake. As you build relationships you also build the foundation for collaboration/cooperation.
At lunch, don’t push your way into conversations, particularly at the beginning. Listen for any mention of units they are working on. Then prepare a “gift package” of websites and other resources. Email them with what you have, saying “I heard your class is studying this topic and I thought this would help you.” Add you also have some books waiting for them in the library. If you included a tech website or app, let them know you can show them how to use it with their students.
Do your best to arrange to do a “show and tell” for a portion of their grade level or department meeting. Bring books and check them out while there. You can take their names and the title back to the library to put then into the system. Present one or two great new websites or apps such as the ones on AASL’s Best Websites for Teaching & Learning and Best Apps for Teaching & Learning. No more than two. You don’t want to overwhelm them.
And let’s face it – food is always a lure, so keep snacks and coffee available for teachers in a separate room for when they are there. Don’t besiege them with ideas for collaborative projects when they first stop by. Wait until they become frequent visitors, then mention an idea.
Slowly the teachers’ connection to you will build. They will begin to see you as a helpful and possibly vital resource who makes their life easier. When they initiate the contact and come to you for help, you have succeeded.
By not defending yourself and trying to tell teachers that your job is at least as challenging as theirs, you achieve your ultimate goal. Instead, you’ll create a relationship where you work together cooperatively or collaboratively on projects, and you will no longer feel they are treating you as someone less than or not connected to them.
Initially, most teachers don’t have a good idea of what you do and what you can do for them. But in actuality, unless you taught that grade level, you don’t know exactly what the teachers’ day looks like either. You certainly don’t know what your principal’s day is like. When you build these relationships, you earn their respect and have them value you as a colleague.
What have you done to foster collegiality with teachers or administration? Are you regarded as one of them? Do you always say “we” when talking about you and the teachers? What challenges are you still facing? What support do you need?