ON LIBRARIES: Good vs. Great

Do you have a good school library program or a great one? Answer honestly. The difference between the two is crucial to how you are perceived and valued.

Years ago, I had a superintendent who allegedly said, “If it ain’t broke, break it.”  Many teachers were furious. Unfortunately, they weren’t listening to the underlying message. My superintendent was right. You can’t improve if you think you are doing well. For all its negative impact on our lives, the pandemic has made us see what is important – and broken – and make changes we never thought we would.

James C. Collins said, “Good is the enemy of great.” Every time I see that quote, I pause. It makes me wonder where I am settling. In his book, GOOD TO GREAT: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … And Others Don’t, he says,

“Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great. We don’t have great schools, principally because we have excellent schools. We don’t have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.”

The resumption of school, with all its uncertainty, is a perfect time to move your program from good to great. Those who have a great program incorporate growth and change as part of their continuing success. Those who have a good program rarely think about how to make it better, but with budgets being slashed, great is necessary.

One important step for a great program is that the administration knows the difference it makes for students. No matter how great your program is, no matter how much your teachers value you, if your administration is not aware of it, it isn’t reaching its full potential. In a post for Glassdoor, Mark Anthony Dyson discusses Good vs. Great! How to Show Employers the Difference. Although he is talking about the business world, his recommendations work for librarians as well.

  1. Show your work is known – As the saying goes, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it….” You don’t have to brag to let your work be known. Choose the social media or communication platform most used by your intended audience to spotlight those you have worked with. Praising others will show your contribution – and build a relationship with the ones you showcased.
  2. Quantify your impact (when you can)– Make sure your numbers are meaningful. In the past, librarians would point to circulation statistics. In the eyes of the administration, anyone can check books in and out. What have kids produced? Pre-COVID librarians often struggled to cooperate with teachers let alone collaborate or co-teach. Now many of you have. Share the number and names (teacher and unit) of the ones you worked on.
  3. Show your growth and improvement over time – As part of your communication with your principal, keep track of new tools and resources you have added. Note the webinars you have attended and how you implemented the learning you received. Show the benefit to the students and teachers.
  4. Show your depth with upper management – In education, upper management is the superintendent as well as the Board of Education. What do they know of your work? How has it impacted students? Here you can showcase student work and voices. Be sure your principal knows and approves of your reaching out to upper management. Don’t let him/her be surprised.
  5. Show that your network is a resourceful team – You have two networks. The first is the one you have established in your school. You are showing this in the previous ideas. But you also have a Professional Learning Network – those memberships and social media groups where librarians ask for and share advice and experiences. This keeps you ahead of the curve, and you can bring that knowledge when your principal needs it. Explain what your learned from your PLN and how you used it.
  6. Show a quick response to challenges – You have done this and more during the pandemic. Flexibility and lifelong learning are part of our job requirement. Now more than ever (I am tiring of this phrase, but it’s true) others will value this skill. If you can, show how a challenge became an opportunity.
  7. Show you’re adept at all kinds of new learning – Very similar to #6, but it means you are creating new knowledge. It’s similar to my curating business sites and seeing how they apply to school librarians, which is part of why I always give you the link. Going outside the box, and, better yet, recognizing there is no box, will make you stand out. Libraries and schools can benefit from what non-education platforms have done to succeed.

Your administrators are under extreme pressure. More than you and the teachers. They need help, and you can give them that. By being more proactive in bringing your achievements to your administrators (including upper management) and supporting them as they struggle to find the best way to move the school and district forward, you will move your program from good to great. One of my favorite quotes is “If you are not growing, you are dying.” Remember this and look for ways to grow your program from good to great.

ON LIBRARIES – Creating Collaboration

pieces fittingOne of the biggest challenges facing librarians is how to get teachers to collaborate or cooperate (for those on fixed schedules) with them. How can you break through that barrier and show teachers what you can do for them and their students?  Unless teachers are forced by the administration to work with you, they probably won’t – unless you change the playing field. To make that happen, remember we are in the relationship business.

Too frequently when you are at a middle or high school the teachers are too busy to collaborate with you.  They bring their classes to the library to do a project they haven’t discussed with you and often don’t want you input. At the elementary level it’s even more difficult. Teachers drop students at the library door and pick them up at the end of the period.  Many don’t care what you did with their kids as long as they had time to grab a cup of coffee and catch up with their work on their duty free period. To them, that’s what the library period means.build relationships

Build your relationships first, and keep building them. You probably already get along better with some teachers rather than others.  Consider how that relationship developed.  You might be able to use that knowledge to reach out to other teachers.

Email communications don’t build relationships.  Personal contact does.  It gives you the opportunity to look the other person in the eye. To smile at them.  To give them your full attention. To wait to respond until you are sure they are finished. In the process, you learn something about them. What they like.  What they do in their free time.  All the things that make them who they are.

When you reach out to them to propose a collaborative unit, you speak to that whole person. Offer your support and encouragement.  Ask what the next research project will be about and when it will occur.  Let the teacher know you would like to support her and her students by showing them how the library can make it a more successful experience.  Promise any extra work will fall on your shoulders.

working togetherConduct a careful reference interview.  Was this project done before?  If so what were the results?  Was there anything that disappointed the teacher or was particularly successful?  If it’s new, what does she hope to see in the students’ products?  What are her concerns? From there you can find out if there are any Essential Questions for it.  If not, get back to her with some suggestions and ideas for how the project might be altered and what parts you will take on.  Find tech resources that will showcase what students do and be shareable on your website and any places where parents and others can see it. Be sure to offer to check students’ works cited information.

Show the teacher your ideas and be open to any changes. You are there to help, and while you can carefully guide, don’t overpower.  You are building trust.  Since you have a relationship it’s already there to some extent but you are now expanding it.

When the project is complete, in a brief meeting – or an email at this point – review what worked and what didn’t.  Would the teacher want to do this again next year?  What changes would she like?  What would you suggest?thank you

End with acknowledgement. Send a handwritten note to the teacher, and perhaps one to the principal, thanking the teacher for taking the risk and giving you and the students this opportunity. In this day of texting and emailing, handwritten notes get attention.

To create a cooperative unit at the elementary level, use much the same techniques.  Find out what is being studied and offer to do a complementary project. See if the teacher would like to see the results.

How are you building relationships?  Is it helping you to increase your collaboration/cooperation with teachers? What help do you need?