Invariably, I come across articles on the qualities of leaders. Over the years, my list of these qualities has been slowly growing and I pass the knowledge along in my presentations, books, and blog posts.
It recently occurred to me I have never seen lifelong learning given as a leadership quality. The more I thought about it though, the more I felt perhaps it was such an obvious trait many simply overlooked it. You can’t be a leader if you are not growing. You need to know as much as you can about the world and community you inhabit so you can be prepared for changes and, in many cases, be the change agent.
In most of our Mission Statements, we as librarians refer to empowering students to become lifelong learners. We sometimes forget we are an important model of lifelong learning. We can’t help it. It’s vital for our jobs.
If you look back twenty years or more, you can see that teachers’ jobs have changed to a degree while much remains the same. For example, the focus and reliance on PARCC testing are onerous for them and us, but standardized tests have always been with us. Chalkboards are gone replaced by smartboards, but the purpose is the same. The specific technology is what has altered. Desks may not be in rows as they once were, yet in most classes, you still find the teacher in front of the room.
By contrast, our jobs have altered drastically. For us, we live the message of the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland who said, “My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.” Most of us start our day on a run and never slow up.
You work at being Instructional Partners with teachers and that takes effort whether you try to coordinate with their units at the elementary level or find ways to collaborate at the middle and high school. You look for websites, apps, and other resources they can use with their students and offer it to them freely. You may even send out a newsletter or an e-mail blast to share a new tool, offering to show them how to use it with their classes.
And how do you find out about those resources? By building your Professional Learning Network. You use what AASL offers. You belong to several librarian Facebook groups. You join librarian Twitter chats. You are on the lookout for what’s new and possibly better than what you have been using. It’s exhausting and exhilarating – depending on the day.
Because librarians have more one-on-one interactions with students, we learn from our students more frequently than teachers do. When I went to school, world history didn’t go farther east than Egypt and Africa had no past before Stanley and Livingstone. Working with my students on their research papers, I learned as much as they did. From a student doing a math research paper, I learned that Arabic numerals came from India. While subject teachers are aware of new developments in their field, I was learning about them in all areas.
My students have often taught me about technology. They love sharing and realizing they know more than I do. They enjoy seeing me learn as much as I enjoy watching them.
A librarian once said to me, “We shouldn’t be called library media specialists. We are library media generalists.” Quite true. While we each have our preferred subject areas and reading tastes, we are always eager to learn—whatever the subject.
Are you modeling lifelong learning? Where do you go to discover what’s new – and what’s next? What have you learned from your students?