Coleading Alongside Principals

Earlier this month there was a discussion on the AASL Forum about the perceptions of education decision-makers regarding school librarians’ skill sets and contributions to student learning and classroom teachers’ teaching. (In addition, Rebecca Moore also published an article in VOYA magazine called “Beyond Mysterious Stain Removal: Top Skills for School Librarians.”)

Several people have commented on the Forum that school librarians must listen to principals, in particular, and help them solve the challenges they face. By helping principals and other district-level administrators solve problems and serving as coleaders alongside their administrators, school librarians can help others successfully implement change.

I invite you to revisit Misti Werle’s virtual podcast interview for Chapter 2: Job-Embedded Professional Development to note how she is leading coteaching practices among Bismarck (North Dakota) Public Schools as a way of addressing school administrators’ priorities.

In 2014, my former Texas Woman’s University colleague Teresa Starrett, who teaches school administration courses, and I crowdsourced a video titled “Principals Know: School Librarians Are the Heart of the School.” We put out a nationwide request to school librarians who had experience collaborating with their principals and with classroom teachers. These testimonials, from across the country, document what these school administrators know are the reasons all schools should have a professional school librarian on the faculty who leads a collaborative school library program.

The following are transcript excerpts from the videos we received. They were used to create the composite video.  From my perspective, these testimonials clearly indicate what all administrators should value and what all school librarians should contribute to their learning communities. I have highlighted some of the keywords in their testimonials. (Note: The administrators’ positions and titles listed were accurate at the time the video was published in 2014).

Paula Godfrey, Elementary School Principal (Retired), Tucson, Arizona
“Principals should stand for what’s important in schools, and having teacher librarians in elementary schools is essential. When you have a teacher librarian in an elementary school, they teach teachers how to be better at their craft, how to help children evaluate sites so that the research they do is meaningful and allows student voices to come out because they truly understand the research that they’re doing. When you work with the teacher librarian, you’re able to grow professionally in a way that’s very non-threatening, very supportive, but accomplishes that raise of rigor in the classroom, and their confidence in being able to complete a research project with their students. There is the opportunity on a day-to-day basis for the teacher librarian to use the skills that she has to improve teaching in classroom teachers. That professional development doesn’t happen on Wednesday afternoons from 1:45 to 2:45. Professional development happens as teacher librarians and classroom teachers collaborate together on projects for their students.

Teacher librarians are the heart of the school. And without a teacher librarian there is no central focus on literature. There is no support for families, for students, for teachers, for staff, on literature, on professional development, on research. Teacher librarians are the heart of the school.”

Dr. Neil Stamm, Assistant Principal, Crittenden Middle School, Newport News, Virginia
“The school librarian has become more of a resource for students, rather than the keeper of books. Librarians now work with students and teachers as an information agent.”

Felicia Barnett, Principal, Crittenden Middle School, Newport News, Virginia
“The true indication of the value of our school librarian is found in the excitement that our students experience when visiting our library. It’s an obvious result of the librarian’s passion: making literacy a priority for all content areas in our building and all students and families.”

Regina Stafford, Assistant Administrator, Crittenden Middle School, Newport News, Virginia
“School libraries and school librarians contribute in rich and diverse ways to the intellectual life of a school. They help develop students to function in a complex and increasingly digital environment. The school librarian really is a co-teacher who undertakes an active role by engaging in shared instruction to produce literate and informed learners who can thrive in a digital knowledge-based world.”

Linda Nathan, Founding Headmaster, Boston Arts Academy, Boston, Massachusetts
“I’m a huge advocate for bringing librarians into the forefront and bringing libraries into the forefront of thinking about urban school reform.”

Dr. Lourenco Garcia, Principal, Revere High School, Revere, Massachusetts
“The learning commons is a place where the librarian, the person that’s running it, can really program, plan activities in a more engaging and interactive way, where teachers and students feel good because technically they are not entrenched in an area that’s cold like the traditional library, but in a place that is very engaging, very interactive, where the work can be done in a more relaxing environment.”

Dr. Nadene Stein, Northeast Elementary School, Waltham, Massachusetts
“We are blessed to have a vibrant library and a great librarian who can connect with the teachers and the students and really make learning come alive for kids. And I’m not really sure what we would do without that resource. I can’t imagine not having a library teacher. I’ve worked in other systems where that’s one of the first things that gets cut, and I would be holding on to the library teacher kicking and screaming if they told me that we had to lose that out of the budget. The resource is invaluable, and it is something that just enhances the curriculum of every grade level in this building.”

Priscila Dilley, Director of Elementary Leadership, Principal Supervisor, Fort Worth, Texas
“We like to really push for a coteaching approach, where the librarian and the teacher are there side by side and they know the skills that students need to review or, you know, spiral back in, whatever it might be. We like for the librarians to be heavily involved with that so that they can support the student achievement in their libraries as well.”

Rebecca Beidelman, (Former) Principal, Kutztown Area High School, Kutztown, Pennsylvania
“They (school librarians) are teachers. They are information specialists. And they sit down and they help with writing curriculum. And helping to design assessment. Because a lot of assessment is also project based and process based – you’re evaluating the process as opposed to just the process outcome. And that process, of course, in terms of Common Core, has to include all of the research components that are required. The technology components that are required. The higher-level thinking and the depth of knowledge that’s required. I cannot imagine not having an information literacy specialist in my building to bounce things off of.”

Shenequa Coles, Principal, Columbia High School, Columbia, South Carolina
“Our librarian is a member of our leadership team, she assists with the decision-making that the team has to do, and that includes department chairs and administrators. The bottom line is, our librarian assists with projects for students with teachers, research, she provides professional development through our Technology Tuesday sessions and other sessions that we have professional development sessions throughout the school year. This school could not function without our school librarian, and she helps to provide a rich culture that is filled with inviting and new learning opportunities.”

For me, all of these testimonials suggest that school librarians’ roles as curriculum developers (#1 on Rebecca Moore’s list) and leaders in job-embedded professional development can be pathways for school librarians to help principals and district-level administrators solve the challenges they face in our schools.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. How does your principal engage in distributed leadership?
  2. What roles do leaders play in your school?

Work Cited

Moreillon, Judi, and Teresa Starrett, eds. 2014. “Principals Know: School Librarians Are the Heart of the School.”  YouTube. https://youtu.be/bihGT7LoBP0

All quotes used with permission

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