When you are asked to identify your professional roles, in what order do you list them? Is leader the first? Is it second after librarian? Does it make your list at all? Being a leader is something you need to be each day. And yes, most of the time you are managing your program, but even as you are doing that, it’s important to keep the leader perspective present. In other words, you must make leadership a habit.
In the National School Library Standards (NSLS) (2018) the American Association for School Librarians (AASL) identifies the five roles of a school librarian (p.14). The first is leader. The AASL Vision is: Every school librarian is a leader; every learner has a school librarian. If you are not thinking of yourself as a leader, first and foremost, you are likely to miss opportunities to grow your library program and the recognition by the educational community of the vital role you play.
The good news is, you can make leadership a habit. In her blog post, Five Habits that Separate Good Leaders from Great Leaders Maile Timon explains what needs to be done. She begins with observation that “Most leaders are built, not born.” If you’d seem me at the beginning of my library career, you’d know it was true. No matter where you are, you can grow in to a leader – or a stronger leader.
Here are Timon’s Five Habits all great leaders have – with my comments on them:
1. Leaders motivate and inspire – If people don’t follow you, you are not leading. You are walking alone. It starts by having a clear and focused Vision. Keep yours in front of you and others by having it on a wall in your library for all to see and to remind yourself.
“Inspiring” isn’t telling others what to do. It’s listening to them and helping them to see their own value and how what they are doing supports both your vision and likely that of the school. It supports them to become leaders, too, as they see you learn from them as much as they learn from you.
2. Leaders develop focused, forward-thinking visions – Having your vision in front of you is important, but is it an inspirational Vision? Too often we short-change our vision by not allowing it go beyond what we think is attainable. What would your library be like if money or other factors weren’t an obstacle? The AASL Vision statement is a perfect example.
As Timon suggests, start with your Mission. It’s your purpose, based on your core values. It’s what you do every day. Here’s one from my list of examples: The mission of the School Library Media Program is to ensure that students and staff are effective users and producers of ideas and information, promote literacy, and develop students’ competencies to be ethical participants in a global society. A sample Vision is: The School Library Media Program is a user-centered environment where up-to-date resources and technology and a responsive staff empower students and teachers to achieve their academic and personal goas.
3. Leaders create relationships – This works well for us as we are in the relationship business. Every day is an opportunity to create new relationships and/or to build on existing ones. It’s through these relationships that you develop collaborative learning opportunities that benefit your community and lead to the attainment of your Mission.
4. Leaders promote a culture of coaching – We don’t usually think of it as coaching, but it’s what we do whether we are working one-on-one with a teacher or present a lesson at a grade or subject level meeting. We share our knowledge with them, helping them become more confident in applying a technique or learning a new resource. It’s being an Instructional Partner, our second role in National School Library Standards (NSLS).
5. Leaders never stop learning – This is intrinsic to who we are. We are always role models of lifelong learning. We couldn’t be an Information Specialist, our fourth role in NSLS. It’s why our Professional Learning Networks and our membership in our state and national organizations are so important to us.
We also learn as we help others find the information they need. As the saying goes, we may not know the answer, but we know where to find it. And in finding it, we add to our ever-growing knowledge. We learn every day.
As you go through your day, be aware of when you are being a leader. Look for opportunities to do one or more of these leadership indicators so they are increasingly incorporated into your daily interactions. Make leadership a habit and you will lead your library with Vision.