ON LIBRARIES: You and Your Administrator

Your principal can be your biggest supporter or can make your job more difficult.  Most of you work on relationship building with teachers, recognizing it as the first step in collaboration. The same is true with your principal.  Considering how important s/he is to your success, developing or improving that relationship should be a priority goal for you.

To initiate the process, you need to know who they are. Discover what your principal’s interests are, both professionally and personally. What are their goals?  Vision?  Do they have hobbies?  What are they passionate about? Listening to what they say, what metaphors they use, will give you some clues.  Searches on social media and the school’s website will reveal additional information.

Interest is the first step in building a relationship. Do you share any of the same interests and passions? Let your principal know. We are drawn to people who are interested in the same things we are. It doesn’t matter if it’s British mysteries, sports or the importance of literacy.

Follow-through is the second step. Share any information you find about these interests. Again, this works for both professional and personal interests. It gives you another reason to connect and strengthens the growing connection.

Empathy is the third step. Let your principal know you recognize the demands of their position and the pressures they face. While the school may focus on Social Emotional Learning (SEL), it is likely your principal isn’t doing it for him/herself.  Show when you have something that can help them reach their goals.

Trust is the final step which develops when building a relationship. You can’t have a relationship without it, which means you cannot be manipulative in building this connection.  Although having this solid relationship improves your program, the larger picture is that when you have the principal’s support – and you support the principal – the whole educational community thrives.

When and how you initiate these four steps is also important.  Some will be done in casual conversations which is easy when you have a principal who is a presence in the building.  It’s a bit more challenging with those who stay ensconced in their office or if you serve more than one school.

Brief emails are the most common way to inform your principal about websites and other information you have come across. If you have a hard copy of a magazine or professional journal and want to alert him/her, write a brief note and have the secretary pass it along.  Inevitably, you’ll get some type of positive response.

Once the relationship starts to have a foundation, you can schedule short meetings– no more than fifteen minutes – to discuss a plan or something you are doing for the principal.  Be sure you don’t go beyond the time allotted.  Ending early is best. When you have established your relationship, plan on a summer meeting to share what your goals are for the year and take the opportunity at this time to learn what the principal’s goals are.  It is a slower time, and you have the best chance of being heard.

In an article for Southwestern Musician (yes, this time I went way out of our field as part of my learning) entitled Communicating with Your Administrators, Rick Ghianelli and Jeff Laird offer the following practical advice:

Understanding the role of the administrator: Administrators are under even more stress than you and the rest of the teachers. You can tell by how much turn over exists. Test scores and tight budgets.  Kids with trauma. Developing programs promoting diversity.  All the issues hit their desk—and they are accountable to parents and the superintendent of schools.  As someone once told me, “they are drowning in detail.” Be aware and empathetic.

What are you trying to accomplish? Be focused and get to the bottom line quickly when you are asking for something.  They don’t have time for the details. If they want it, they will ask.

What do they need to know? This is also about focus and will help you keep your meeting/request brief.

Addressing your concerns: I can’t improve on the advice Ghianelli and Laird give here:

  • Be passionate about what you do, but know the big picture
  • Have some suggestions to solve the problem
  • Be patient and understanding

Maintaining support.  Your relationship needs to be ongoing. To get support, give support. Advocate for others and show you are a member of the team. Keep your principal aware of what you are doing in the library. Send a short email of a highlight for the week and make an effort to submit quarterly reports. Look for opportunities where they can participate.

When a principal recognizes the importance of the library program and supports it, the teachers follow.  While you are spending time building relationships with your teachers, be sure you are also developing the most critical one – with your administrator.

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ON LIBRARIES – New Administrator – Now What?

You just heard the replacement for your principal or your superintendent of schools has been hired.  As a leader, you need to be prepared.  You don’t wait to see what happens. You go into action mode.

At the rate administrators turn over these days this is a common situation. The coming of a new administrator reminds me of the line from Exodus, “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.”  The reputation you have built up and the relationship, good or bad you had with the previous administrator are gone.  You are starting anew. 

(To keep from the awkward “he/she,” I am using feminine pronouns throughout – although most of the administrators I worked for here male.)

Put your research skills to work as soon as you know the name of your new principal or superintendent.  See what you can learn about what kind of a leader she was in her last school or district.  If you can locate the names of librarians there, email one of them to find out how the library program did under her tenure.

The previous school/district website can provide further information as it may have messages from the administrator.  This will clue you into her priorities.  Also, Google her name and look for Twitter accounts and Facebook pages to get a sense of her achievements, values, and whatever else can help you get a picture of who your new administrator is.

Once you have a handle on what to expect, you still need to meet her to ensure she will regard your library program in the best possible light.  Schedule a meeting as soon as possible. If she is taking over during the summer so much the better. Although she will be busier than a continuing administrator because she is still finding her way around, it is still calmer than when school begins.

If the new administrator is your principal you (and your co-librarian if you are fortunate enough to have one) attend the meeting.  If it’s a superintendent, all the librarians of the district need to be there and everyone should be prepped for it. Plan on it taking no longer than half an hour.  Fifteen minutes is better.  This acknowledges you understand she is extremely busy and you can show you can be informative while being succinct.

Before the meeting, review what you found out about the administrator. Based on that, what is something you have done in the library that would be of most interest to her?  If she is a techie, have a file of pictures from your Makerspace or Hour of Code.  For a book lover, focus on any reading program you have done. You are giving highlights not the whole program so choose wisely.

Prepare questions to ask—but memorize them, don’t read them.  You want to sound spontaneous. Let the administrator know you want to ensure that the library program supports her vision for the school/district.  Ask what she liked best about the library program in her previous school. What, if anything, didn’t she like?

Those two questions should give you a direction. If her answers are fuzzy you know she has no clue as to what the library program does and you will have to work to slowly “educate” her. If she is specific but fairly negative, you will have to overcome a belief that is probably the result of her dealings with previous librarians.  A positive attitude means you start ahead and can focus on creating a good foundation.

For the rest of the school year, you must keep your new administrator informed but not deluged with what is happening in the library program.  For a superintendent, every month have each librarian share a one activity keyed to her interests, but have them send the information to one of you (rotate the task) to put together in a brief report. Always use visuals to supplement the text (Piktochart, Issuu, Animot, etc.).  Do the same for a principal. Focusing on just one activity should keep the task from being overwhelming for you to manage and for them to read.

Remember the reports should be very brief.  A new administrator has a steep learning curve and is being closely watched by the superintendent (if a principal), the Board of Education, parents, and sometimes the union.  You don’t want to add to the burden; you want to be a help. Of course, at the end of the year, you send an annual report.

Throughout that first year and in subsequent ones, invite your new administrator to “events” in the library.  If it’s the superintendent, send an invitation to both making sure each knows the other was invited.  Explain to your principal that you want the superintendent to know how the library program supports district goals and mission.

Be prepared for your administrator not to come.  She may not even let you know she isn’t coming. Don’t ask why just feature the event in your next report.  Keep inviting.  Eventually, she will come.  And it may be unannounced.

Seek another meeting the next summer. This meeting is about sharing where you want to take the library program in the next year and getting her input. By this time the administrator has a good handle on her new job., and you have shown her the value of the library program.

Have you had to deal with a new administrator recently?  What did you do to “market” your library program?  What success did you have?  What worked and what didn’t work?