The unique role of the teacher-librarian (TL) is one that, recent studies have demonstrated, fosters student achievement when working collaboratively (Farmer, 2007). This collaborative planning can only be accomplished successfully with the support of the principal. It is therefore essential that TL’s take the initiative in getting their principal ‘on board’.
Hartzell (2002) states four reasons for the inaccurate perceptions of librarians: 1) the long-held images of librarians, often from childhood; 2) professional training not addressing the changing nature of their role; 3) the nature of the job, i.e. empowering others, often in the background; and 4) a lack of self-promotion. These perceptions need to be changed and it’s up to TL’s to change it.
Changing perceptions will require a concerted effort from TL’s and considerable communication not only with principals but with staff, students and parents. Oberg (2006) maintains that TL’s need to gain respect in three key ways: through professional credibility which requires qualifications in both education and librarianship, by communicating effectively with principals, and working to advance school goals.
TL’s must be leaders. They need to offer in-servicing and professional development to staff and principals and be active participants and professional advocates in the ongoing advancement of the school’s information literacy program. They need to seek and create opportunities for collaboration with all members of the learning community; discussing and cooperatively planning and teaching units of work. TL’s should inform their principals of their collaborative planning efforts and invite them to witness the outcomes in person. And as leaders they should also ‘’engage in reflective practice to increase their effectiveness’’ (Purcell, M. 2010).
They need to have a concept of the future development of the library’s program and services, including collection development and any issues that may affect the library’s potential. This vision should be explained to the principal. The information literacy program and the TL’s role in the implementation of that program should be outlined, including the opportunities for collaborative planning and teaching. The principal needs to see the library “as a centre of learning first and a centre of resources second” (Herring, 2007).
Oberg (2006) further suggests that principals and TL’s need to be allies with a shared view of school goals and a vision for the future. TL’s “should help their principals see the strong connection between library program goals and school goals, that a close alignment between the principal’s vision and the teacher-librarian’s vision is of benefit to both of them” (Oberg, 2000).
Some TL’s have quite a task ahead of them. They are dealing with long-held perceptions, often reinforced by the media of a role that has changed dramatically in the last 50 years. They need to be strong, patient pioneers on a mission of meaningful change with their eyes firmly on the destination of a collaborative school environment that facilitates student achievement.
Farmer, L. (2007) Principals: Catalysts for Collaboration. School Libraries Worldwide. 13(1), 56 – 65.
Haycock, K. (2007). Collaboration: Critical success factors for student learning. School Libraries Worldwide, 13(1), 25-35
Hartzell, G. (2002). What’s It Take? Presented at the Washington White House Conference on School Libraries. Retrieved from http://www.laurabushfoundation.com/Hartzell.pdf
Hartzell, G. (2003). Why Should Principals Support School Libraries? Teacher Librarian. 31(2), 21 – 23.
Hartzell, G. (2009, August 25). Librarian-proof libraries? [Online blog post]. Retrieved from Doug Johnson’s Blue Skunk blog, http://doug-johnson.squarespace.com/blue-skunk-blog/2009/8/25/librarian-proof-libraries-guest-rant-by-gary-hartzell.html
Henri, J. & Boyd, S. (2002). Teacher Librarian Influence: Principal and Teacher Librarian Perspectives. School Libraries Worldwide. 8(2), 1 – 17.
Kaplan, A. G. (2007). Is your school librarian ‘highly qualified’? Phi Delta Kappan, 89(4), 300-303.
Morris, B.J. (2007). Principal support for collaboration. School Libraries Worldwide, 13(1), 23-24.
Oberg, D. (2006). Developing the respect and support of school administrators. Teacher Librarian, 33(3), 13-18
Purcell, M. (2010) All Librarians Do Is Check Out Books, Right? A Look at the Roles of a School Library Media Specialist. Library Media Connection, 29(3), 30-33.