What Admins Think of Librarian Messages (TASLA 2012)

Keep Austin Weird

I have just sat in one of the most powerful professional development sessions. Here at TASLA 2012 in Austin, programming wizard Marty Rossi pulled together several anonymous elevator pitches written by librarians. The administrators are giving the audience of school library administrators a tremendous gift by responding honestly to the pitches. Some thoughts:

- “We’re about more than assessment” – These admins don’t want to hear it. In their world, it’s only about assessment.

- A statement like, “I can help teachers,” may have the admin thinking, “What do you think is wrong with teachers?”

- If you’re going to ask for money, don’t save the fact that you’re going to apply for a grant at the end. Their mental answer is likely to be no … but hearing the word “grant” changes it to yes.

- In economically struggling districts (and which ones aren’t?), administrators are going to carefully weigh expense (e.g., iPad) vs. benefit. Explain the benefits.

- Don’t overload administrators with data. Use less data, build graphs together, or unpack it bit by bit.

- Be careful with how you talk about data. For example, there was some sample data that was meant to show how libraries impact achievement. The administrator pointed out that the bar graphs could tell a second, contradictory story. In the data shown, the school with the highest gains had reduced its library staffing … that makes it look as if LOWERING library staff correlates to gains!

- Administrators are looking to get the biggest instructional bang for the buck (and the best community relations bang for the buck is also important). Focus on impact.

- An administrator suggests that you be able to answer these questions, “Why do you need it? Where will the money come from? How will I know it worked?”

- Get on the federal NCLB listserv so you can keep a finger on the pulse of federal funding.

When I heard an administrator say, “Librarians as professional development?” and then paused, I drew in my breath. We had just spent 2.5 hours talking about what I feel is essential: librarians reshifting their priorities, teaching teachers instead of trying to reach each student. Was I about to be contradicted? Had I wasted the librarians’ time?

Then she finished her sentence. “Librarians as professional development? HUGE.”

Whew.

I HIGHLY recommend that you pull together a panel like this for your next state conference. Some of the librarian messages — classic messages I have read for years got shot down in moments. You need to know what administrators really think. And while some of the responses made me sad about where we are in education (particularly those in which principals said they couldn’t focus on anything that didn’t impact test results … hard to hear, but pragmatic and TRUE to today’s circumstance), I could see, with razor-sharp clarity, why our classic messages are not being heard. As a principal’s kid, I’d always worried about this … now I know the truth. DO IT.

Check out the TASLA TodaysMeet stream for more.

UPDATE:

We just had a conversation about this at TASLA because word is out that the link to this post hit AASLForum today (hi, everybody). Marty reminded us that part of what made this work was that she had very carefully crafted the audience to be ready to hear the message. The day, up to that point, had focused on empowerment issues — what we can do (validation), not what we aren’t doing (deflation). So the audience was feeling good about options and opportunities. We were primed to be ready to listen instead of defend. Had this session been held “out of the blue,” there was a possibility that the librarian audience and the administrative panel might have become defensive or reactionary. What made this event work was that there was an environment of trust: administrators knew they could be honest because librarians were primed to take in the message.

Image: “Keep Austin Weird” by Miracc on Flickr. Used with a Creative Commons license.



2 Responses to “What Admins Think of Librarian Messages (TASLA 2012)”

  1. Marty Rossi says:

    Administrators willing to provide open and honest feedback is key to the effectiveness of this type of program. Librarians willing to listen actively and process the feedback objectively is even more essential.

  2. Along with a TWU doctoral student, I have had the opportunity speak with preservice administrators in their supervision course. To a one, they get excited when we talk about coteaching as job-embedded professional development. This is a summary of our pitch:

    When educators coplan standards-based lessons, coteach, and coassess student learning outcomes, they are practicing job-embedded professional development. This is a win-win-win situation for students, teachers, and administrators. Students receive more one-on-one support when there are two educators to model, monitor, and guide their learning. When they coteach, educators learn from one another in real time with real students, actual curriculum, resources, and tools. Educators benefit from having a partner with whom they can reflect and problem solve. Through this form of professional development, school librarians help principals achieve improvements in instructional practices.

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