Chapter 6: Principal-School Librarian Partnerships
by Kelly Gustafson and M. E. Shenefiel
Blog post by Judi Moreillon
As M. E. noted in last week’s blog post “Principal Partnerships and Leader-Librarians,” when the librarian “can be proactive and offer solutions to building-level concerns, the principal can breathe a little sigh of relief. These small moments and actions build trust, and strong partnerships are the result.”
Meeting the Needs of the Community
It is essential that school librarians help other people in the learning community solve problems. Whether responding to a student’s question, a colleague’s resource, technology, or instructional strategy need, a parent’s question about their student’s access to library materials, or the principal’s initiative to continuously improve literacy learning and teaching in the school, school librarians must be at the table and bring with them ideas for addressing the needs of others.
While all library stakeholders deserve our attention, meeting the needs of building-level and district-level administrators must be a top priority. Listening to and understanding those needs is essential if school librarians are to reach their capacity to influence teaching practices and student learning outcomes.
There is no substitute for having a mutually respectful, supportive, and beneficial relationship with one’s administrator.
Connection to Research
At the AASL conference in Salt Lake City last month, there were two concurrent sessions focused on research. One Research Empowering Practice session focused on collecting evidence of practice; the other focused on advocacy. In the advocacy session, I presented a recently completed study that focused on the influence of the 2018 National Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries (AASL Standards) on the understandings of the AASL School Leader Collaborative (Collaborative). Four members of Collaborative also presented an opening panel keynote at the conference, including principal Kelly Gustafson coauthor of Chapter 6.)
In May of 2019, AASL put out a call for school librarians to nominate their administrator to join the Collaborative in an effort to establish a network of administrators who could provide advocacy for school librarians. Three superintendents and four principals served for two years and it was announced at the conference that another cohort will be forming soon.
Pam Harland, Anita Cellucci (coauthors of Chapter 7), and I conducted a content analysis of videos produced by AASL with testimonials from the Collaborative gathered at the 2019 conference in Louisville (secondary sources) and the November, 2020, AASL Town Hall video, which was the primary source of data for our study.
Research Purpose and Questions
Our research inquiry was based on our belief that if administrators understood the roles and responsibilities of school librarians and school librarians were meeting administrators’ needs then there would be fewer school librarian positions eliminated. We believe that in sharing their perceptions and priorities, these exemplary administrators, who were selected based on their understanding and experience of school librarians as leaders in their schools and districts, can teach school librarians and librarian educators how to further develop as educational leaders.
We wanted to know if we could locate, within these artifacts, these administrators’ understandings of what school librarian leaders do in practice. We also wanted to learn whether or not the AASL Standards were prioritized in these artifacts. Did they mention the five roles of school librarians as defined by the Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Programs (AASL 2009) and cited in the 2018 AASL Standards? Did they refer to the six Shared Foundations as described in the AASL Standards? And finally, how did the content of these artifacts support the leader role of school librarians?
What we learned is that these administrators expect school librarians to take action to help them and others solve problems. The most noteworthy theme that emerged from the Town Hall data is that these administrators expect librarians to take action in response to challenges and opportunities in order to increase effectiveness.
Out of the 32 quotes by administrators in the town hall meeting artifact, 25 of them mentioned this leadership behavior for school librarians.
One of the administrators said: “Our librarians haven’t been waiting for people to tell them what to do. They’ve been saying okay here’s the problem we need to solve and then here’s how we’re going to make it happen” (Harland, Moreillon, and Cellucci 2021).
Another theme that emerged is that these administrators expect librarians to collaborate with principals in ways connected to the school’s mission, vision, and goals.
Out of the 32 quotes by administrators in the Town Hall video transcript, 14 of them mentioned this collaborative role for school librarians. These school leaders were asking librarians to share solutions with principals in response to school and district-wide initiatives.
Research and Practice
As noted in Chapter 6 and in last week’s blog post, school librarians must invest in their relationships with administrators. They must listen, learn, and act to help administrators be successful and thereby influence the success of every student and educator in the building or district.
“How does your library program support the strategic goals of the building and district?” (Gustafson and Shenefiel, 105)
Gustafson, Kelly, and M. E. Shenefiel. 2021. “Principal-School Librarian Partnerships” In Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage, ed. Judi Moreillon, 91-106. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.
Harland, Pam, Judi Moreillon, and Anita Cellucci. 2021. “Research Empowering Practice: Advocacy. The Influence of Standards of School Administrators’ Priorities.” American Association of School Librarians Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah.
For more information about this research study, Anita Cellucci and Pam Harland will have an article published in the January/February, 2022, issue of Knowledge Quest that focuses on the study: “Do You Know Your Administrators’ Priorities for the School Library?” All three researchers have a research study report forthcoming in School Library Research: “Take Action: A Content Analysis of Administrators’ Understandings of and Advocacy for the Roles and Responsibilities of School Librarians.”