« Advisory Advice | Main | Rubrics for Leadership »

No principal left behind

No Principal Left Behind
Head for the Edge, March 2003

All administrators can learn.

“If only my principal could hear what you just said!” is the wistful comment I hear time and again after giving a keynote presentation at conferences. Indeed, a lack of understanding by administrators about what good school library programs can be and should do is widely regarded as detrimental to the profession.

University of Nebraska professor, Gary Hartzell, often reminds school library media specialists that there is little mention of school library programs in administrative preparation programs, and that when libraries are mentioned, it is because they may be the source of problems such as book challenges or copyright problems. There is also a pretty good chance that your principal may not have had the opportunity to work with a great librarian before you came along.

That leaves it up to you, the individual school librarian, to help inform and educate your principal about good school libraries and the positive impact they can (and indeed are) having on students. Below are some tips gathered from conversations with effective school librarians about what works:

1.    Use a variety of formal reporting efforts. We should all be sending out a written (or emailed) quarterly principal’s report and a monthly faculty bulletin. These should be upbeat, useful, and short. Every newsletter that goes to parents needs a library column. Think about including digital photos of happy library-using kids. If your state library association has “advocacy tools” – handouts, videos, checklists, etc. – use them whenever you get the chance. Take advantage of regional events that may be planned in your area. For example, many New York BOCES agencies hold an annual breakfast for school librarians and their administrators that features an informative program. State library conferences often have special events just for administrators.

2.    Remember that administrators HATE surprises. Your principal does not like to be surprised by either good or bad news about your library delivered by someone else. As a true administrator, I like knowing of bad things in advance so I can figure out someone else to blame. I like knowing about good things in advance so I can figure out how to take the credit. Your principal should never learn about something happening in your library from a teacher, a student or, especially, a parent.

3.    You need to view you and your principal as allies. You need your principal’s support, of course, for funding, program building, and helping influence other staff members. Did you ever think that your principal may need you too? As cheer-leader and co-conspirator for change efforts. As staff development resource for new programs. As an educator who can positively affect the learning environment of the whole school. As a researcher for best practices information. How exactly does your principal rely on you? Are you important enough to be listened to?

4.    Know you principal’s goals and interests. Can you rattle off right now the three or four things your boss considers important in your school? Test scores? Climate? Meaningful technology use? Figure out where your goals and your principal’s goals overlap. That’s not sucking up – that’s being politic.

5.    Try to speak on behalf of a group, not just for yourself. Principals really listen to the comments of parents and community members. (Ever notice how it only takes three concerned citizens at a school board meeting to change a policy?) If you can submit the library goals and objectives, the budget, or program initiatives on behalf of an advisory group that includes parents and community members, you are more likely to be taken seriously. See <http://www.doug-johnson.com/dougwri/advisory-advice.html> for some ideas about library advisory groups.

6.    Be seen outside the library. If your principal sees you on committees, attending school events and even in the teacher’s lounge, not only can you chat informally about library matters, but you send a powerful non-verbal message as well: I am full member of the school staff.

7.    It’s OK to disagree with your principal. You may think that some ideas of your principal may not be in the best interests of your students or staff. If that’s the case, you have an ethical duty to give your reasons to your principal. But this is important: do so in private. Always voice your support in public; always voice your differences in private.

8.    Do not whine. You are not going to want to hear this, but there is a little riddle that goes around administrative circles: What is the difference between a puppy and a teacher? The puppy stops whining when you let it in the door. What exactly is whining and how does it differ from constructive communication efforts? Robert Moran in his book Never Confuse a Memo with Reality (Harper, 1994) says it best: “Never go to your boss with a problem without a solution. You are paid to think, not to whine.” I know it feels good to just let it all out sometimes about things that really can’t be changed. But listening to that sort of venting is what your spouse, your mom or your cat is there for.

9.    Advocate for kids, not for libraries. Advocating for libraries sounds, and usually is, self-serving. When you talk to your principal whether proposing a plan, asking for funds, telling what’s happening in the library, volunteering to serve on a committee, agreeing to help with a task, or suggesting a solution to a problem, the underlying reason behind it should always be: “It’s a change that will be good for our students.” Period.

10.    Remember that you have a professional obligation to be a leader as well as a follower. Michael Useem, professor at the Wharton School of Business, reminds us of this in his excellent book Leading Up: How to Lead Your Boss So You Both Can Win (Crown, 2001). Our communication efforts can and should not just inform, but persuade others, guide the directions of our organization, and improve our effectiveness. If we don’t create the positive changes in our schools that improve kids lives, just who the heck will?

Good communications are never accidental. A well-informed principal can be a truly supportive leader, but it is up to each of us in the profession to communicate, to inform, and to teach “up” as well as “down.” Let’s leave no principal behind in creating better learning opportunities with better libraries.

Posted on Wednesday, July 4, 2007 at 11:12AM by Registered CommenterDoug Johnson in | CommentsPost a Comment

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>