Collaboration and Leadership Are Essential

Working in isolation from other educators simply does not work. It doesn’t work for classroom teachers and specialists, and it doesn’t work for school librarians. In fact, while other educators in the building may “get by” with working alone, school librarians simply cannot maximize the capacity of library resources and the school library program unless they work in collaboration with administrators and colleagues. Most school librarians are the only person in their buildings who perform their roles and job functions. This position on the faculty also requires that school librarians develop leadership skills as well.

The Collaboration Challenge
Collaborating with other adults can be challenging. Many educators, including school librarians, enter the profession with a solo orientation to teaching. We think of the classroom or library as a “my” space. Classroom teachers refer to students as “their students” and school librarians refer to the library as “my library.” Moving toward an “our” orientation requires a culture shift that includes a commitment to continuous outreach to colleagues and (fearless) risk-taking with other adults.

School librarians have been “advised” to engage in classroom-library collaboration for more than fifty years. The Standards for School Library Programs published in 1960 recommended that instruction in “library skills” be a cooperative endeavor between school librarians and classroom teachers. However, many of the preservice school librarians in the courses I taught (1995-2016) believed that collaboration was a “new” way for school librarians to practice their teaching role. Their own experience as K-12 students, as classroom teachers, or even as school librarian interns may have contributed to their perception that working in isolation from other faculty members and classroom curriculum was an option.

Simply put, collaboration is not an option.

Literacies, Skills, and Dispositions
School librarians are responsible for helping students develop literacies, skills, and dispositions that cross disciplinary boundaries. To be effective in terms of student learning, they must teach literacies and skills and model dispositions in the context of the classroom curriculum. Coteaching with classroom teachers and specialists allows school librarians to fulfill their charge to integrate the resources of the library and their own expertise into the academic program of the school. If they do not collaborate, school librarians will be unable to help students, other educators, and administrators reach their capacity.

The literacies, skills, and dispositions students practice through an integrated school library program facilitated by a collaborative school librarian are transferable to every discipline and to lifelong learning. School librarian leaders feel a responsibility to ensure that students have multiple opportunities in many, if not all, content areas to learn and practice these aspects of future ready learning (see MSLL figure 1.1). This opportunity and responsibility is a call to leadership.

The Leadership Challenge
Before publishing the National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries (2018), the American Association of School Librarians hired KRC Research to conduct a study of the profession. Participants in AASL focus groups were asked about the core values of school librarianship. According to the summary, participants tended to agree on these core values (from more often mentioned to least often mentioned):

  • Inquiry
  • Equitable access to information
  • Commitment to lifelong learning (in oneself, one’s students, and one’s colleagues)
  • Empower student through literacy
  • Modeling and mentoring
  • Develop critical/skeptical thinking
  • Inclusiveness: diversity of beliefs, ideas, cultures and lifestyles
  • Intellectual freedom
  • Foster leadership and collaboration
  • Ethical use of information (AASL 2016, 9)

The fact that “foster leadership and collaboration” was one of the least often mentioned core values was a red flag for me. In my experience, enacting leadership and collaboration and fostering these two essential skills in others must be core values for school librarians. The preservice school librarians I taught over a twenty-one-year period may have come into their graduate coursework without such an understanding, but by the time they entered practice, I would hope they felt prepared to enact and foster these skills.

Simply put, leadership is not an option.

Collaboration and Leadership Are Essential
Research has shown that school librarian candidates can learn and embrace collaboration and leadership skills (Mardis 2013; Moreillon 2013; Smith 2011) and that school administrators view school librarians as leaders in technology, research, and information (Johnston et al. 2012). As Marcia Mardis (2013) notes the fact that “leadership [is] essential at all levels in schools has been described as an essential condition of innovation and change” (41).

If school librarians are to serve as key contributors to transforming learning and teaching in their schools then the abilities to collaborate and lead are essential skills to learn, practice, continually develop, refine, and sustain.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. How do you enact collaboration in your school?
  2. How do you enact leadership in your school?

Works Cited

American Association of School Librarians and KRC Research. 2016. AASL Member and Stakeholder Consultation Process and the Learning Standards and Program Guidelines. https://standards.aasl.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/AASL_SG_ResearchFindings_ExecSummary_FINAL_101116.pdf

Mardis, Marcia. 2013. “Transfer, Lead, Look Forward.: Further Study of Preservice School Librarians’ Development.” Journal of Education for Library and Information Science 54 (1): 37-54.

Additional Reading

Johnston, Melissa P., Jeffrey Huber, Jennifer Dupuis, Dan O’Hair, Mary John O’Hair, and Rosetta Sandidge. 2012. “Revitalization of the School Library Media Specialist Certification Program at the University of Kentucky: Preparing 21st Century School Library Technology Leaders.” Journal of Education for Library and Information Science 53 (3): 200-207.

Moreillon, Judi. 2013. “Educating for School Library Leadership: Developing the Instructional Partnership Role.” Journal of Education for Library and Information Science 54 (1): 55-66.

Smith, Daniella. 2011. “Educating Preservice School Librarians to Lead: A Study of Self-Perceived Transformational Leadership Behaviors.” School Library Media Research 14.

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