Communication Channels

Every conversation is an opportunity, yet many are wasted or don’t use the best channel for a particular communication. With our limited time, we can’t afford not to use these interactions to get the maximum possible benefit.

In looking at these different channels, keep in mind that the underlying purpose of any conversation is building relationships. When we get to know people better and allow them get to know us, ties are forged, and future advocacy developed. As a leader, particularly in these times, you need all the supporters you can get.

Joel Garfinkle focuses on 5 of The Most Effective Communication Channels at Work. Each offers a different opportunity. The challenge is to know which one to choose for a specific purpose and what you can accomplish.

In Person – This gives you the best opportunity to learn more about the other person. You have a host of non-verbal cues, including body language and even appearance, to help you understand and communicate. In Person is the perfect channel to meet with your principal or other administrator (as long as your principal knows the meeting is happening).

Summer is the ideal time for this meeting when your principal is less harried, and there is less likelihood of interruption. This meeting is especially important if you have a new principal. Your past achievements don’t count.

This is the time to learn their vision, what they want to achieve, and a perception of libraries and librarians. Share your mission and vision and spin it to show how you and the library can support their goals. Use your knowledge of body language to recognize when it’s time to bring the meeting to an end. It’s best if you can do this before the principal does. Change channels and follow up with an email — or a handwritten note—thanking them for their time and highlighting one important take-away.

Video Communication – We have all become Zoomers. Within the school setting this isn’t used as much as now that we’re back to in person classes, but it offers some interesting possibilities.

If you are fortunate enough to have several librarians in your district, a Zoom meeting can help in unifying how you deal with similar challenges. While not the same as in person, it does help you to get to know your colleagues better and build those relationships. You lose some ability to read body language and eye contact isn’t as clear, but it’s a good start. Consider this channel for reaching out to the public librarian.

Phone – These are best for shorter, more direct conversations. Garfinkle recommends you check at the start to be sure this is a good time to talk. The phone is best used for setting up an in-person meeting or reporting in on something. Be specific, clear, and quick. Stay focused on your purpose. You might want to have notes to keep you on track. Follow up with a confirming email. Without any visuals to guide you, listen for verbal cues to hear if the person sounds rushed or background noise that hints at distractions.

Voice Mail – Sometimes this is the only option. You called and the person didn’t pick up. Be prepared to leave a succinct and clear message. Identify yourself and, if necessary, give your preferred call back number. Repeat that at the end of the message – slowly. Keep your message focused on the reason for the cal. Garfinkle advises if you are not prepared to capsulize the reason for your call, hang up. Get your thoughts together then try again. Smiling as you talk will help you sound upbeat and increase the chances of being called back. Your tone is your most important signal in this method.

Email – Although Garfinkle likes this channel the least, it continues to have its place as long as you are aware of potential pitfalls. The first rule is to keep it brief. People are busy and often don’t read all the way to the bottom. They are also often checking on their phones and so are reading on a small screen.

The next rule is to proofread, particularly if it’s an important communication. Spelling errors have a negative impact on you and your message. Also check to be sure your language is clear and is unlikely to be misconstrued. Obviously, this is not the place for sarcasm and emojis aren’t appropriate in the work environment. All you have are your words in this form of communication – no tone, no inflection. Clarity is key.

Before hitting “send,” make sure you haven’t included people who shouldn’t get this message in the “To” section. A “reply all” can get you in trouble. We work so fast, it’s easy to make these mistakes. If it matters, take time to get it right.

Knowing the best channel for initiating conversations is an important leadership skill. Don’t waste or miss your opportunities to reach out and build those vital relationships.

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Creating an Advisory Board

As a school librarian you are accustomed to getting the job done on your own. There is rarely a clerk or even volunteers. And now you have to keep in mind the growing movement to ban LGBTQ+ and race-related books while upholding the ALA Code of Ethics and the Library Bill of Rights. This is the time for lateral thinking. If you haven’t done so as yet, consider creating an advisory board. Common in corporations, they are a rarity among school librarians but can be a huge benefit in the current changing climate.

First, get approval from your principal to set up the board. Let them know you’re doing this not only to help the library, but to help the administration and school should there be an issue. (This is a good time to check your negotiating skills). When looking for members, you want them to represent diverse perspectives. Teachers, students, parents, and public librarians are obvious potential members as are administrators (this may be a condition of having the board) and even local business owners. 

Next, keep your board a manageable size. Five to six members are a good number. Small boards will get more done as members can easily see why they are each important. It’s also easier to get a mutually agreeable meeting time and if you need a vote, a consensus is simpler as well.

In CEOs Make or Break the Value of Advisory Boards, Larry Robertson presents the business world’s three “pivotal questions.” Libraries can use the same three as you set up and maintain your advisory board.

  1. What’s the Role? – Before you can fill the advisory board, you will need to know what they will advise on. Yes, you want their input and views on issues/topics affecting the school library, but what are the specifics of this? Perhaps you want to discuss the possibility of a diversity audit and what to do with the results. You could solicit views on how the library can best communicate with different audiences. Another possibility is looking at policies such as fines, payment for lost books, use of cell phones, eating in the library, or other practices that have been in place without re-evaluation.

The longer the list you can make before starting, the better feel you will have for how to proceed. The list will also guide you in whom you want to serve on the advisory board. You might include the list when you present the idea for the board to your principal.

  • What’s the Commitment? – You are asking busy people to volunteer their valuable time. How much? How often? There’s also your time investment as well. You can’t expect people to take on an extra responsibility if you aren’t doing the same. Will there be regularly scheduled meetings? Will they be after school? Evenings? Weekends? The decision will affect who can make the commitment. Those asked will need to know how often these meeting will occur and how long they will they last. Will there be follow-up tasks?

In addition to how much time will be involved, you also need to be clear about the location of any meetings. Are you going to use Zoom or a similar platform? Do you want to hold some meeting in person? If so, is the school a possibility or do you need another place? Being clear on this will help people say yes when you ask them.

  • What’s the Relevance? – You identified the Advisory Board’s “what” in listing the roles and tasks it would undertake. You and Board members need to know the “why” as well. In other words, the Board needs a Mission Statement, and you should develop this together . It’s the ideal way to start your first meeting. It will bring the members together as a unit and increase their understanding of what they are here to do. Have sample mission statements to help. Here is one from a public radio station. Try to keep the Mission Statement under 50 words. Then you can easily include it in follow-up communications.

As time goes on, let members know about any changes or projects that have resulted from their work. They need to know they are having an effect on the program. At year’s end, thank them all for their contributions. Some members will be leaving. Encourage them to find their own replacements. When a new year and new members start, Robertson suggests reviewing the three questions. It will get the new people up to speed.

Beyond these questions from the business world, I would add one more. What do Board members need to know about the library? Even those who think they know a lot about libraries are probably not aware of the ALA Code of Ethics and the Library Bill of Rights. They may not know about the policies your school has in place and what your job really is.  Use the first meeting to share this or send out information before the meeting and discuss the material during that meeting.

In addition to having the Board bring their perspectives so that you don’t overlook diverse members of the educational and larger community, creating an Advisory Board builds library advocates. When they learn about the library, becoming involved in its practices, and have a stake in its success, they become your supporters. As this school year wraps up, think about what it might take to start an Advisory Board for the fall and the benefits to you and your library.

Know How to Negotiate

You go to your principal with a great project in mind. They turned you down. What do you do next? If you are like many, you shrug your shoulders, tear up your plan, and complain to other librarians about how the administration doesn’t support libraries. There is another way. In these situations, “no” doesn’t always mean “no.” It may mean “not that way” or “not yet.” To turn the “no” into a “yes,” you need to know how to negotiate. This means being aware of what you want, why you want it, and how it will benefit not only your library but others as well.

Two examples from my past illustrate this point. Working in a district where they spent as little as possible on education, I wanted to purchase what was then the latest in technology – a CD tower that allowed multiple access to several databases now available digitally. The cost was about $20,000. Rather than submit it in my budget where it would be turned down immediately, I went to my Superintendent. I explained to her why the purchase was important and proposed I cut from other places in my budget to make up for the cost. I also highlighted benefits to students. I got the tower and didn’t have to make up all the money from cuts because the Superintendent knew if I purchased it, I would use it.

In the second case, in a different district, a new Superintendent visiting the library envisioned a major renovation project. I was on board with that and contacted a vendor I had seen at a conference. In 24 hours, I had a projected quote. It was much higher than the Superintendent expected. I went back to the vendor letting them know my challenges if they wanted to work with me. One day later, I had a proposal for the project with the costs to be spread over three years. The renovation went forward, and the Superintendent saw me as a valuable person on the team who could get things done.

Knowing how to negotiate pays. Before putting yourself into this situation, check with a mentor, your PLN or favorite social media group for support and encouragement from your peers. They understand the challenges and needs you face. Greg Williams gives the following practical advice to Negotiate Better: How to Increase Your Leadership Skills:

  • Plan for negotiation – You plan for the project, but you also need to plan your “Ask.” Williams says these are the needed steps:
    • What-if scenarios – Life happens. You see that the principal is not in the best of moods. Or they are busy and want you to meet with the assistant principal. Pushing through with how you planned your presentation of the project won’t work. Reschedule or use an alternate approach depending on what you think would work best. But be prepared.
    • Know when to make offers and counteroffers – In both my scenarios, understanding the parameters of others was necessary so we could make compromises. Be open to suggestions;p know what you are and aren’t prepared to give up.
    • Control emotions – Keep a positive mindset throughout. You don’t want to show frustration or anger. Show that you can handle it if you’re turned down. Remember – “no” can be temporary but being negative can leave a lasting impression.
    • Control the environment – The time and day of your meeting matters. You don’t want to do it on a Monday when the week’s crises are beginning, and you may not want a Friday afternoon when thoughts are on the weekend. Summer is my favorite time when administrators are creating their plans for the coming year, but Thursday after school can be another good choice.
    • The value of reading body language in negotiations – It’s like a “tell” in poker. Watch for attitude changes showing interest or impatience. Williams suggests you notice hand gestures, voice tonality and intonation, and shifting physical position. By being attuned to these silent communications, you can adjust what and how you continue with your presentation.

When it’s over, make time to reflect and review what happened. Did you get what you wanted or most of it? Think about what worked and what you could have done better. How has this negotiation affected your principal’s perception of you as a librarian and a leader? And when negotiation gets you what you wanted – don’t forget to celebrate.

Always Leading

Leadership should not be something you turn on and off and it’s more than something you do. It’s a mindset and a way of being. When you see yourself as a leader, you carry your leadership qualities and skill set into all situations and regardless of the type of administrator you work for.

By being aware of what your administrator(s) want and need, and responding as a leader, you sharpen your leadership skills. Other people respond to your actions by seeing you as a leader. The more naturally you assume the role, the more you own this identification. Your colleagues and administrators come to view you as one of the building leaders and respond positively to your suggestions and proposals.

Managing or leading up can be critical in a building or school district where administrators change frequently or the one in place is inept. Jenn David-Lang and Donna Spangler explain why and “How to Manage Up in a School Setting.”  They identify six different administrators and what skills you want to employ:

  • Brand new – Get in early and be regarded as a helper as the administrator becoming acclimated. Learn their goals and show how your work supports this.
  • Hands-off or distracted – Take the reins and run. They won’t notice it, but the teachers will, and many will be grateful.
  • Micromanager – Sending detailed reports shows you know how to do your job – and how they like to do theirs.
  • Inexperienced with teaching and learning – Infographics are a good source of help. You want to present information as succinctly as possible so they can absorb it and see the connection.
  • Know-it-all – Show that you’re aware of their knowledge. Introduce ideas with phrases like, “As you know…”
  • Indecisive – Present options (but not too many) and offer rankings along with reasons or evidence for choices.

David-Lang and Spangler expand on dealing with these six types of administrators with their “AAHH” strategy.

Ask – You need information to prevent missteps. Ask questions to learn their vision, what they see as success, and gain a sense of who they are. You also want to know what issues the administrator is focused on and any background information on it.

Adjust – Change tactics depending on which of the type of supervisor you are dealing with. What worked for a previous administrator, might not work for your new one. For example, if you were a micromanager, presenting a plan of action and having a written agreement on who will do what (and probably by when) works well. With a hands-off administrator, you can be more general in your plan and stay focused on presenting the successful end result.

Head or Heart – Some administrators want just the facts. They love data. Others respond better to the emotion behind a project. Micromanagers and Know-it-alls tend to be the former. The others can fall into either category, so it helps to identify early how they react to information and present it in a way that facilitates their hearing you.

Hands – When you make a proposal, you need to support it with an action plan. All types of administrators need to know they can count on you to deliver—and make them look good.

Get to know your administrators and their style. Present yourself and your work in the best light by giving them what they need, the way they can you it best. When you do, you are better able to lead everywhere.

A Librarian and a Leader

If you’ve read my books, my blog or my Facebook posts or seen me speak at a conference you know my most passionate belief: Leadership is not an option for librarians. It’s part of the job description. The National Standards School Library Standards (2018) lists Leader as one of our roles. However, our job description as defined and understood by our districts rarely if ever makes mention of this.

It’s easier to be a leader when your title and description grant you that right. Instead librarians need to create that “mantle” on their own. And we need to make it an ongoing priority. When you are identified as a leader, you are viewed as indispensable. In a world where librarians and libraries are threatened, being seen as indispensable is a worthwhile goal.

What does this mean? It means that when you institute new programs, collaborate with teachers and students on curriculum and tech issues, you look for ways to make certain that the administration and teachers are aware of your role in the process. This way when they think of the building leaders they think of you. Reaching that stage is not simple, but it’s important to work towards it.

Dan Rockwell, “The Leadership Freak”, suggests a possible means of achieving this goal in an internet post on How to Act Like a CEO When You’re Not. This is how I interpret his seven recommendations:

  1. Own your realm: This is about mindset. Of course, you have taken charge of your library and have established your guidelines and decorated to represent your values as a school librarian, but you need to take it a step further. Own the library and the decisions you make as a physical manifestation of how you view the values and worth of the library and you. It is more than a sense of pride. It’s how you present yourself as a leader through the look, feel, and activities of the library.
  2. Set your goals: While you want your program aligned with the school’s goals, it is vital that the goals are significant to you and the library program. Your goal, tied to your Mission, Vision, and Core Values should put your role and the value of the library front and center. Leaders must be visible — even more so when the title doesn’t indicate it.
  3. Don’t threaten higher ups: Never blindside your administrators. When you update them, be brief but keep them informed of what you are doing and why. If they have a problem with what you are doing, it’s best to discover the matter right away. That also gives you the opportunity to discuss it and make adaptations as needed. It also encourages them to reach out to you when and if their priorities change because you are seen as someone they can trust.
  4. Serve six constituencies: Believe it or not librarians do have this many – or at least five. They are: (1) Administrators (You always need to keep them in mind.) (2) Students (Your primary purpose) (3) Teachers (Gateway to students) (4) Parents (So they know what their children are accomplishing because of the library) (5) Yourself (Never forget to “serve” yourself), and (6) And possibly, the outside community- such as the public library—so that more people are aware of the values of libraries and school libraries in particular.
  5. Think big, act small: Your end game needs to be large. Hold as big a Vision as you can for your program. Then map out the small baby steps that will start you on your journey. And then think what’s next after that. And after that.
  6. Spend time with medium-performers: This doesn’t easily translate into our work world. Instead, consider who are your natural allies. Who are the people who like working with you? How can you build on this relationship to develop more allies and get people seeing how vital the library is to their success?
  7. Lead yourself: The oft-repeated reminder to take care of yourself physically and emotionally. Your “constituencies” can’t afford to lose you. Make sure you are on your own to-do list.

Next time when you are in workshop and you are asked “Who are you?” I hope you will confidently say, “I am a Leader and a Librarian.”

The Power of Storytelling

Storytelling is a way of creating connection. Any librarian who has read to a class of rapt students has felt the power and magic of a good story. You have transported them to another place and into the life of someone else. Although not as obvious, telling your story also has the power to move your listeners. The ability to tell the right story at the right time is an often-overlooked skill in building relationships. Relationships are personal, and stories can make personal connections happen. They can also help your administrators understand the vital role you and the library play in the success of the school and its students.

There is vulnerability in telling your stories even if you’re not sharing intimate details of your life. But when you offer a truth about your life, you offer an opportunity to build trust, which is the foundation of relationships. You don’t truly have a relationship with someone unless there is a level of trust.

I once had a conversation with a very well-known library leader whose position had been terminated. Although he had secured another place, he was worried about how he would fare. I told him I had just changed districts after 22 years in the same place and had felt as he did, only to discover that I was more valued in my new school. I further shared that I had grown in my old job in ways I didn’t realize. I did not recognize my own value, but the new district did. Six months later, I saw him again. He shared that his experience mirrored mine. We made a personal connection through story.

On another occasion, I told a librarian of what a failure I was in the early part of my career and mentioned some of the turning points. She told me later how much she appreciated hearing it. She had been having some self-doubts and saw me as someone who never failed in my journey to leadership. I became more human in her eyes. The connection was made.

When giving a presentation, stories are a way to connect with your audience. As Jeff Davenport says in Why Should I Tell a Story?, stories engage listeners. Hammering people with data may seem to give them what they want, but the story connects them to you and your message. It touches emotions, and emotions guide our decisions more than we like to believe. It gives them a reason to listen.

This is not to say you shouldn’t bring in data but consider using story to share it. Davenport observes that talking about a situation and how it was handled gives directions to listeners far better than a list of instructions or numbers. For example, telling a story about working with a student who struggled and their triumph after first failing will resonate. When you follow up with the research studies, the audience is in a place to receive it.

According to Davenport, you can and should also use story to describe the future. Your Vision Statement is a look into what the library might be. Share the vision as a story. Think about starting it with something like, “Imagine what it would be like if…”

When sharing with teachers, principals, and parents, finding ways to use story brings them closer to your purpose. Consider using pictures and videos to enhance your story, creating vivid images of a potential future. As they are watching, share stories that emphasize the benefits to students and teachers. The story of your Vision will help move them from their current (and potentially dated) mental and emotional image of what a school library is and help move them into considering what is possible. The story you share can guide them there.

No one knows the power of story better than librarians. We use it to captivate students; we teach them how to use it to draw a teacher into the work they create. We can use it ourselves not only in developing the one-on-one relationships that strengthen our programs and enhance collaboration, but to increase the interest and support of the library’s key stakeholders. The next time you need to talk to teachers, your principal, or others – start by telling them a story. They’ll keep listening to find out how it ends.

Time to Report

As this school year ends, consider adding “Write an Annual Report” to your to-do list. Yes, that list is already long, but it is essential that you submit one, even if it’s not required. So many librarians claim their principal doesn’t know what they do. This is an opportunity to tell them. It can inform even aware principals and increase their appreciation for what you contribute to the entire school community.

When you go through your day, be sure to notice what you are doing: curating, collaborating, teaching, leading, integrating – the list goes on.  Use your phone or whatever method you choose to keep note of these. When you can, take videos and get student feedback, preferably verbal.

Look at the data you have available.  While circulation statistics this year are probably significantly lower than in previous years, you can include the comparison to point out how successful you were despite the drop caused by the pandemic. The same is true of database use statistics.

Did you track the number of classes you taught? What did you add to your program that is likely to remain when school resumes in the fall? The number of teachers you helped, and their subjects or grades show how you affect the whole school. Where were your unexpected successes along with the planned ones/

In putting the report together, remember to keep it brief. Highlight students and their work, but also your connection to the educational program and community. The purpose is to expand your principal’s knowledge of what you do, but at the core it is a promotion of you and the library.

Elizabeth Hutchinson’s blog post, Phew! Finished! Write an annual report …? Why? No way!, echoes my feelings and adds concrete ideas to address in your report. Her big ideas are to:

Find out – You need to know what your school’s mission and goals are. If the library isn’t helping to achieve them, the library doesn’t have value to the school. And if the library doesn’t have value to the school, why have a library? Once you see the connection – make certain your principal does too.

How do you help teachers attain the goals and needs of the different subjects or grades in your school?  This shows your relevance to them. When you are actively involved in helping them, they become advocates for your program.

Planning – Where do you want to go next—and why? It’s the “why” that is important. Each of the jobs you do should be tied to your Mission. And your Mission needs to connect to the school’s. Hutchinson has a list of great questions to ask yourself as you develop this section.

Although Hutchinson doesn’t say this is needed, your annual report should include what you plan to do. It doesn’t have to be a large project. Large or small, your plan should advance your Mission and perhaps your Vision. You can share both those statements, but, again, tie them to the school’s and/or district’s aims. Remember, though, this is not the place to ask for funding. 

As you compile your report, work on making it visually appealing. You may need to present numbers but consider showing them graphically. Incorporate the pictures and videos you have of students and teachers at work and the products they created.

And if this Annual Report is a success–consider doing these quarterly (there are several examples of other librarian’s Annual Reports at the end of the article). They are shorter and will keep you and the library in front of the principal’s awareness and make this end-of-the-year job quicker. Wrap up the year on a note of success and next year will start the same way!

The Ins and Outs of Negotiation

Don’t neglect this important leadership skill which can strengthen your program.

In the education world, where the library is only one small piece of the pie, knowing how and when to negotiate can grow your program and result in your being more valued. If you are like most school librarians, you rarely think consciously of how and when to negotiate. You are likely not to recognize when you have employed it, and as a result may not have achieved your aims. The business world, however, recognizes it a vital skill, and school librarians need to do the same.

One of my most successful negotiations came in the early stages of the tech explosion. I had just been responsible for building a new library wing in our high school, a huge expenditure. Now, I wanted to get the latest digital tool –  a CD-ROM tower. It cost $20,000. Obviously, if I put that in my budget for the next school year, it would be turned down. I knew what I wanted, why I wanted it, and what I could and couldn’t sacrifice to get it. I made an appointment with my Superintendent of Schools during the summer.

The Superintendent’s first response to my request was to refuse, as I expected. I briefly summarized the benefits and offered to make cuts elsewhere in my budget. When she suggested eliminating my periodical budget, I explained why that would be a problem, and proposed slashing my book budget. Ultimately, because of my determination, clarity and willingness to negotiate, I got the CD-ROM tower – and didn’t lose anywhere near $20,000 from my budget.

You have more opportunities to negotiate than you think. You can use negotiation to propose a collaborative or cooperative unit with teachers or you can negotiate with your principal to modify your non-library duties so they relate to your program. The idea is to be open to the possibility of changing what is to something better.

To increase this skill, Ed Browdow presents Ten Tips for Negotiating in 2021 that can help you achieve goals you didn’t think possible. Here are his ten with interpretations for school librarians:

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want – If you don’t ask the answer is always, “No.” Leaders have a vision. Go for yours.
  2. Shut up and listen – Active listening is a must. Don’t rush into counter what is being said and be perceived as pushing your agenda. Pay attention so that you know what is at the root of the resistance.
  3. Do your homework – Know what the other person’s needs are. What is challenging them? How is what you want to do going to help with that? See where you can align with their priorities.
  4. Always be willing to walk away – Know when to stop. If you continue pushing when the other person is firm on their position, you are only going to increase resistance for the future. Not every negotiation ends positively.
  5. Don’t be in a hurry – While this means prolonged negotiations in the business world, for us it can mean not to give up or be upset if an appointment with an administrator is cancelled, a teacher needs to reschedule, or you are told they need time to think it over. Most negotiations are part of a longer process, not a quick yes or no decision.
  6. Aim high and expect the best outcome – Don’t second guess what is achievable. You want to lay out where you want to go. At the same time, this is a negotiation, so be prepared with your Plan B. And your Plan C.
  7. Focus on the other sides’ pressure not yours – This is where doing your homework counts. You want to present why what you are planning is beneficial to the other person whether it’s a principal or a teacher.
  8. Show the other person how their needs will be met – Related to the others sides’ pressure, if you can show where your request/suggestion/need supports them as well, you’re more likely to get the answer you want.  Be ready to be specific as much as possible. The best negotiations end with both sides feeling as though they’ve won.
  9. Don’t give anything away without getting something back – In our case this means being watching out for little landmines. For example, I had to be prepared for my Superintendent to seize on my offer to slash my book budget without giving me the tower. Had she suggested it, I would have pointed out that without the tower I was forced to make do with what I had on hand and so could ill afford my budget to be cut.
  10. Don’t take the other person’s behavior personally –This is about what you are trying to get but is influenced by the pressures and needs of the other person. Listen for the message rather than its delivery. Staying calm is a top tactic in negotiations.

Negotiations happen all the time, making this a great leadership skill to develop. Some are noticeable, others are easy to miss. They are present in your work and your home life. If you are aware of when the opportunity shows up and are prepared, you’ll strengthen your program and getting more of what you need.

ON LIBRARIES: Connecting With Administrators

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Over the years, too many librarians have told me their principal has no idea what they do. My reply is, “It’s your job to let them know.” A good part of the reason we have lost so many positions is because those in charge don’t know what a librarian does. It’s clear from what I’ve read on the School Librarian’s Workshop Facebook page that librarians have played an important part in keeping teachers and students going during this pandemic. Does your administrator know? 

Yes, keeping her/him in the loop is one more thing for you to do, but it may well be the most important thing. Administrators, both principals and superintendents, are under extreme pressure. When budget constraints are mandated, they are the ones making decisions that impair, reduce, or eliminate your program and possibly your job. It’s up to you to find an approach to forestall and/or alter those scenarios. It may mean stepping out of your comfort zone.  Your administrator will not seek you out if there has been no previous connection.  You have to create connection and that requires a plan.

Take it one step at a time. First, make a record of all you are doing and categorize it by the recipient. You can keep this general (students, teachers) or be more specific (grade, subject level, ELL, etc.) If you make it into a grid, you can also show what type of services you are providing: instruction, tech help, reading promotion, collaboration.  If you find yourself amazed to see how much you are doing and how many people you are reaching – think of how your principal will react.

Because administrators are swamped make certain anything you send to them is clear and to the point.  If you are wordy, they are less likely to respond. Try sending a message with the subject line, “One Good Thing” and then adding a specific reference such as, “One Good Thing: Teachers are successful with the Platform we are using.”  In the body of the email, explain what’s working and how it’s helping – briefly.  If all your messages are “One Good Thing,” it will tie them together, reminding your principal this all comes from you. They will recognize your emails and, hopefully, look forward to what you share.

You should also take time to consider and identify your administrator’s challenges.  Do you know her/his priorities? What are they trying to accomplish?  What difficulties are they facing? What is working? What isn’t? Once you know at least some answers think of how you might be able to help your administrator manage or mitigate any of these.  Because of how you interact with everyone, you have a big picture scan – just as your principal does.  You may not realize it, but you see things from a similar perspective.

After you’ve identified places where you can help, create one or two solutions and reach out. Again, use the subject line of the email to draw them in “How the library can support….” Diversity/Access/Test Success.  Whatever it is. Let them know you have an idea and ask for 5 minutes to speak – in person if possible, Zoom or other visual if not.  If you have no alternative, phone and email can work. Once you have your time, stick to it. Don’t go over. Your principal will appreciate you keeping your word and your focus. Lay out your plan, ask if he/she has questions and then follow up with an email or other documents as appropriate.

AASL also has support to help you make the connection with administrators. Past President Kathy Root’s  AASL School Leader Collaborative Administrators & School Librarians Transforming Teaching and Learning” is a 2-year initiative. From school librarian recommendations, it selected seven school administrators to serve and they have done a lot including creating YouTube videos and doing a Town Hall on Leading Learning.  I urge you to watch the free archived Town Hall. It’s inspiring to hear these administrators talk about how they rely on their school librarians. 

Repeat any and all of these steps so you build a lasting connection. This is cannot be a onetime thing. Once you have made it, continue to foster it.  Start building your own connection to your administrators. Not only will they know what you do, they will tell others about your program. Having a principal see you as a leader and collaborator will make you even more successful.

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.