I imagine that starting in a new school district is a lot like being set up on a blind date after internet stalking the person. Sure, you've checked each other out. You may know a lot of data. You've almost certainly spent the entire summer organizing your space so it makes sense to you. There's probably even a drawer of things you just don't know where to put them yet.
You have some burning questions. Did you oversell yourself? Did they? Will people like you? Will you like them?
Here are my top 3 tips for starting somewhere new that have zero to do with your physical space because you know what to do with that.
1. "Make friends, not changes."
This is a quote from Dr. Rebecca Pasco, my library mentor. She says it so much that it's become something we refer to as a Pasco-ism. Here's the deal: she's right. It's the foundation. My own version of this is "People first". It's easy to get distracted by the mental to-do list. I wrote mine down and shoved them in a drawer for later. When teachers and students returned to school, they needed my full attention. It was incredibly difficult. I'm not naturally an extrovert. But it was so, so worth it. I put their priorities first, and they've been a valuable resource into my new role in our district.
2. Get in there with your teachers.
As a new-to-the-district teacher, I went to all of the new teacher days and was learning new things every day with other new teachers. We built relationships and walked through it together. They saw me struggle with different online tools and answered my questions. I offered to help with the things I did know. We jumped in together.
When the veteran teachers arrived, I found out something new to my experience: you don't have to constantly be peddling your wares to support teachers. You don't have to be the authority who knows everything to be valuable. The veteran teachers were MY support. I collaborated with teachers, and they took pity on me and returned the favor.
Being physically and mentally present with my teachers made a world of difference - especially in this unique year of starting a new school district during a pandemic. I saved my changes for later.
3. Talk to your administrators about their goals.
It sounds obvious, but the one thing that's made a huge difference in my own mindset is having a short discussion with my superintendent about the goal for the school library this year. Now, I'm in a very small school district with a superintendent who cares wildly about the school library program. I realize this is a unique situation. You may wind up speaking with a principal or a program supervisor. The value of having a clear goal has helped me put other good-but-not-a-priority ideas aside to implement later. It's helped me stay sane and avoid burnout. Get a school library goal and make everything you do about that. Ideally, you will have years to implement changes to your program and fix things in your physical space. Pace yourself with a purpose.
(Curious to know our goal for this year? It's simple: get books into kids' hands no matter the pandemic situation. Readers make good students, good citizens, and imaginative problem solvers. Get books into their hands.)
If you're also starting somewhere new or in a new role, I wish you the best, and I see you. We've got this. #LibraryStrong
Of course it's that time of year. We're all re-girding our loins to make the second semester of the 19-20 school year our best yet. We're revitalized. We're...
maybe perfectly on track?
Each school librarian is having a different experience.
I'm all of the above. After my awesome library aide left to pursue other career opportunities (she is doing great, by the way!), my services cut way back. I had to do her job and mine. Plus, there were some services we were only able to offer because she is bilingual. So I started break feeling like a library loser.
I ordered this book and waited for it to come in during the holiday hullabaloo. "School Librarian's Career Planner" didn't fix everything. About half of the book was aimed towards points in my career I had already passed, so I only glanced at them. This would be an amazing read for someone considering library as a career or still attending library school. I got something really great out of it though. Five fresh ideas to suite my new role! (I'll let you know how they pan out in future posts.) I also got confirmation of what I was working out in my brain already: it's time to prioritize instead of whining, complaining, and pushing for another aide. It's time to look at what I can do all by myself again, not berate myself for what the dreams WERE vs. where the library is right now, and really decide what is worth my energy. I'm realizing my energy is finite - at least right now - and I need to be honest with myself and my program about what is the most important. It all matters. It's not all the best thing for right this second.
So no matter where you are in your career, this is a nice read. It isn't a fix-it book. It's not packed with lists of ideas. I purchased my copy used from Amazon for only $14, and it's likely I'll only read it this once. I plan on giving my copy to the library program I graduated from to see if they can pass it off to an interested student.
During Banned Books Week, of all weeks, I received the first irate parent phone call of my library career. This involved father was already psyched up because his boy had taken a photo of a book on display at the library and sent it to his dad. That book - "Yay! You're Gay! Now what?". He had some very passionate concerns and an expectation for how our conversation was going to go. I hate to say it: he was angry. He was pushy. He had very strong feelings and very strong words. However, it is important to note that he was NOT disrespectful in any way.
I asked the basic questions: what book was it? What were his concerns?
And then I just listened. For about 20 minutes. Until he had everything out.
Then I acknowledged him, his concerns, and his involvement in his son's life. I explained our selection policy and what had lead to this particular book being selected. I made sure he knew his son wasn't required to read it, but it was available if he chose to. Then I told him about our challenge procedure. I offered to make the appropriate copies of paperwork and policies and leave them in the front office for him. I offered for him to read the book on school grounds - assuring him that it was very short and could be read in an hour or two. (Our policy says school copies of challenged materials cannot leave the grounds until the challenge is completed.) I made sure he knew that he wasn't obligated to go through the process if he read the material and no longer felt it should be removed from the shelves, but that the process would need to be adhered to if he truly wanted it removed.
An amazing thing happened. To this dad's credit, he calmed down. He really listened. He still didn't agree with it personally, but he ultimately decided the things we were discussing were a satisfying answer. The phone call ended amiably - with me offering to talk to him about it any time and to pull the necessary paperwork and material if he should ever choose to use them.
Then I hung up the phone and immediately began shaking. My aide, bless her heart, came over and let me pour some things out. I grabbed the book and the policies and paperwork and immediately headed for the principal's office. I briefed him, and he chose to keep and read the book in case the parent came to see him about it. My principal was impressed with the phone call and how I handled it.
I went back to the library and drafted an email to two of my best library buddies and former professors. Never would I have been able to handle that phone call without focusing on defending the actual book had they not drilled it into my head to make great selections with plenty of evidence why that book should be there AND don't defend the book - defend the process.
So, my library friends, it's going to happen at some point. It happened to me even in my small town! The best advice I can possibly give is: stay calm, be respectful, and defend the process. If you do not have your selection criteria or process in your library policy, make that happen! Also, if you do not have a challenge process in place, get it going. The ALA has a great webpage that I used to create ours. I also looked up school libraries that had those policies and borrowed their ideas and processes.
Who knew Jane Austen would be the one to credit with one of my favorite library activities this school year? You see, her birthday was on Sunday, December 16. Ms. Austen's been around our school a lot this year - our One Act team did "Darcy & Elizabeth" as their show. When I found out that one of our classes was finishing up "Pride & Prejudice" and getting ready to take a final over the book during the last week of school before Christmas break, a light bulb went on above my head.
Fortunately, the teacher is quick to collaborate and tries new things all of the time. He loved the idea of having a tea party, and the date was quickly decided upon. I stalked Amazon, dollar stores, and begged for cups and saucers. I designed name cards on Canva using one of my favorite Jane Austen quotes:
My idea of good company is the company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation.
All of the preparation was well worth it! Everything pulled through - from the linens arriving on time, to beautiful "silver" serving trays at the dollar store, and finally the cups and saucers being provided from a variety of folks.
However, nothing could have been better than when the students were physically here. I taught nineteen high schoolers how to brew a cup of tea. They experimented with three different kinds of tea: English Breakfast, Earl Grey, and Candy Cane. They added lemon and sugar. They snacked on dainty biscuits as conversation flowed about anything and everything - mostly just questions about tea and how their friends were preparing it. A student played harpsichord music on his phone to complete the atmosphere. Everyone was calm and enjoying each other's company. Snapchat was BUSY!
It was so nice to be able to give students the experience to sit and chat, try something new, and - dare I say - relax. Later, they went over the study guide for their test tomorrow. When students left, some asked if they could take their name tags with them. (Of course I said yes!)
What I hope they take with them from today is the value of just sitting and being with others. Present in the moment and being open to something new - even if it's something you think isn't your thing.
We've decided that we must find an author with a passion for coffee for next semester. Perhaps a modern author with different musical tastes. Let us know if you have any ideas!
This week in a training, the group of teachers I was with were asked a simple question:
What is your purpose?
Then, a room of hard-working, still passionate folks went around the room telling their tales. P.E. teachers, weights trainers, Special Education teachers, classroom teachers, English as a Second Language teachers - a whole mix of wonderful and weary teachers whose eyes lit up as they explained their purpose.
When it got to me, the facilitator said,
I know your answer will be different from the classroom teachers. It might be a little harder. What's your purpose?
But...is it? Is it really? That different?
So I prepared to give my elevator speech.
Elevator speech = a 30 seconds or less explanation of why you do what you do. They vary in purpose, direction, etc, but they are passionate and educated responses. They are common in the library world. We have many versions prepared in our heads. When I told some friends about elevator speeches over dinner, they were shocked. None of them had ever had to have one. They weren't librarians.
We're asked to defend ourselves a lot. Prove our worth.
I took a deep breath. I explained that I echoed some of the sentiments of the teachers who had responded before me. Then I added:
I left classroom teaching because I found something special in the role of school librarian. I found the meaning behind talking to students about life. Their lives, fictional lives, world events, history, things they have experienced, things I hope they never have to. It doesn't matter. I get to talk to them about everything. I get to guide them in critical thinking. I get to be the one not shackled by a content area. When they come to the library, they get the world. They get an adult who has the time and desire to have conversations classroom teachers often don't get to have because they are restricted by time and content. I'm not sitting and checking out books. I'm giving students the opportunity to experience all life has to offer in the safest way possible.
I wish I could honestly say that the room cheered.
However, I do think that my colleagues - even those who have worked with me for the past five years - got to see something a little different in my response. I hope they saw pride, passion, and a pretty dang enticing career. I hope they were proud to have me as their librarian - at least as proud as I am to have them as teachers in my school - because we're united. We're building what we hope will become fully functional humans in our global society together. We have the same purpose, just dressed up a little differently.
My purpose is your purpose; yours is mine. We're a village because it takes one.