Chapter 7 Leadership by Pam Harland and Anita Cellucci
Blog post by Pam Harland and Anita Cellucci
When reflecting on the ideas we shared in our Core Values in School Librarianship chapter on how confidence and vulnerability lead to leadership, we thought about how trust is another important aspect of leadership. We were recently struck by Charles Feltman’s definition of trust, “choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions” (2021). We thought about how important it is for leaders to be intentional about building trust in themselves and with others. This idea connects to the ideas of confidence and vulnerability we wrote about in our chapter.
Building Trust with Adults in the Learning Community
We felt that the easiest way to start thinking about the idea of trust is to ask ourselves: What makes people not trust a leader? Our initial thoughts are:
- If their words and actions are inconsistent.
- If they lack understanding of our shared functional goals.
- If they deflect blame, especially at the expense of their direct reports.
- If they are too uncomfortable with uncertainty (they are not willing to take a risk).
- If they are unable to manage risk appropriately (either by taking too many risks or not enough).
- If they are unable to manage emotions (either too robotic or explosive).
- What else would you add to this list? [Leave your thoughts in the comments below.]
In order to avoid distrust and move towards trust, we must behave in ways that demonstrate our trustworthiness. We cannot control how other people think about us, but we can control our own actions and behaviors. For example, we can intentionally:
- Always tell the truth and not over-commit ourselves or our resources.
- Seek to understand school-wide goals and how our library goals align.
- Publicly accept blame when we make a mistake and be transparent with our decisions.
- Accept uncertainty in our practice. Understand that sometimes we will need to take risks in new situations in order to improve our library programs.
- While we need to take risks, we must be cautious before taking too great a risk. We will communicate clearly about any risks, especially those risks that impact others.
- Be willing to share emotions with the school community, but in a controlled way.
- What other ways can we intentionally avoid distrust in our practice? [Please share your ideas in the comments below.]
When we look for trust in our leaders, we are primarily looking for reliability and competence. Additionally, our leaders need to be able to trust the people who work with them. So, while we hope for a reliable and competent school administrator, we also need to be reliable and competent in our own practice. That means we are true to our word and able to perform all aspects of our own jobs. We do not overcommit or promise to do something that we are not willing or able to do. We are also willing to confidently take responsibility for all aspects of our roles as school librarian leaders.
Building Trust with Students
It is also vital that we act in ways that build trust with our students. “Students are much more likely to engage in discussion and try new things if they trust the librarian to look out for them” (Rinio 2018, 47). Intentionally building trusting relationships with students is another way to demonstrate true leadership in practice. Be true to your word, especially with your most vulnerable students, and you will gain great rewards.
Another way we build trust with students is to amplify their voices in situations where they have little or no power. Iris Eichenlaub, Librarian/Technology Integrator at Camden Hills Regional High School in Camden, Maine described how she created a student-centered library by listening to her students. She wrote that when freshmen first come into the library for orientation in the fall, she begins by saying, “Some of the best parts of this library are because of your great ideas, so please share them” (Eichenlaub 2018). She went on to write, “The library is a dynamic, living space, a space that the community co-constructs together, and a space that responds to the needs of the community” (Eichenlaub 2018). Because she listens to her students and is open to sharing new ideas, she has become the trusted person in her school who can influence ideas and people.
Creating a co-constructed space with students develops trust as students are made to feel comfortable sharing ideas and they have an understanding they have a voice in the decisions made about the library. By providing a platform for her students to share ideas, especially those individuals who do not necessarily possess the formal power to make and implement decisions, she has created a unique leadership opportunity for herself.
Having confidence in our practice and sharing vulnerability with our colleagues and students will help us build trust in all of our relationships. We titled this post by asking, “Who Do You Trust?” and we want to conclude it with: Be sure that the leader your school trusts is you.
In what ways do you intentionally avoid feelings of mistrust in your school community? Please share in the comments section below.
Eichenlaub, Iris. 2018. “What’s A Student-Centered Library?” Knowledge Quest (blog). Available at https://knowledgequest.aasl.org/whats-a-student-centered-library/. Accessed November 17, 2021.
Feltman, Charles. 2021. Thin Book of Trust: An Essential Primer for Building Trust at Work. 2nd ed. Bend, OR: Thin Book Publishing.
Harland, Pam, and Anita Cellucci. 2021. “Leadership.” In Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage, ed. Judi Moreillon, 107-122. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.
Rinio, Deborah. 2018. “How Understanding the Nature of Trust Can Help Address the Standards.” Knowledge Quest 46 (3): 44–48.
Photo Credit: Glenn, Kyle. 2017. Awesome Stencil. Unsplash. Available at https://unsplash.com/photos/gcw_WWu_uBQ. Accessed November 17, 2021.
Pam Harland, EdD, served as a librarian for 25 years. She is now a member of the faculty at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire where she directs the School Librarian and Digital Learning Specialist educator preparation programs. Most recently she earned her doctorate in Educational Leadership in 2019 in which she researched the leadership behaviors of school librarians. Connect with her on Twitter @pamlibrarian.
Anita Cellucci, MEd LMS, is a high school librarian, K-12 library leader, in Westborough, Massachusetts. She advises teens in a library advisory board and coaches a poetry spoken word team. As a teaching lecturer for Plymouth State University, New Hampshire, she teaches children’s and young adult literature with a focus on social justice and diversity. Connect with her on Twitter @anitacellucci.