The culminating project of the two year teacher leadership program I’ve been in was a 5 minute TED-style talk. We were directed to present a talk that would reflect on our growth over the past two years and share our passion.Now that the talk is over, I thought I’d get a few more miles out of it by using it as a blog post. Recycling is a good thing, right?
What am I DOING here? This is a question I’ve asked myself countless times over the past two years. What on earth possessed me to sign up for this program? I have no desire to be a building principal. Kudos to those of you who do. Someone has to do it, but I just don’t have the skin for it. Too many people mad at you for things you can’t control.
In all seriousness, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on my motives. In the first place, I’ve always taught my children to take advantage of any opportunity that comes your way. When this program was offered, I saw it as less a chance to pursue a dream job and more as an opportunity to have another career option.
I wasn’t, and am not, comfortable with being considered a leader. That role just doesn’t jibe with the 6th grader who was the butt of everyone’s jokes who is still in charge of my brain. What on earth do I have to offer the cool kids of the world? The cool kids include pretty much everyone who isn’t me.
As many of you have experienced, there was some discomfort involved in stepping up for this. I have a colleague who consistently makes comments about how I want to be someone I am not. And, then there’s the whole school librarian thing. The stereotype. I still meet people who are surprised that we need a masters degree. Or any degree at all for that matter. I bet there is at least one person in this room who had doubts about a librarian’s qualifications to be here. It’s okay. We’re used to it. There are still too many people out there who don’t know what a school librarian offers to a school and here I have a chance to help dispel some of those misconceptions.
For many reasons I lived most of my childhood through books. The public library was my haven. I still remember the day my parents finally let me walk there by myself. My mother had people watching me along the way and by the time I got home she had already heard that I was foolish enough to speak to a stranger en route. Luckily life at home was crazy enough that it was easier for them to trust that I had learned my lesson than to retract my independence. The library was safe place. It was familiar and consistent and quiet. No one could tease me there. My clothes were acceptable and I didn’t need any money to get in. My best friends lived in the books that I read over and over again. And I taught myself the mechanics of being a growing female by reading everything I could find. My school library was a tiny room, with limited access, but again, it was a safe place to escape the stresses of the classroom for a few minutes.
The library is the equalizer for students. Especially students in poverty. Students from low income homes come to school knowing 13 million words. That may sound like a lot, until you learn that students from middle income homes come to school with twice as many words. According to the US Department of Education, 61% of children living in poverty have no books in their homes. The school library is an essential source for these children. Research in many states demonstrates that students who have access to a quality school library program perform better on the all important standardized tests. Recently, research has also proven that the greatest increase in achievement occurs when the school librarian and classroom teacher work together.
There is nothing more frustrating that possessing this knowledge and not being able to put it to work. Too many administrators continue to view the library as a special, allowing information skills to be taught in isolation with little opportunity for real life application.
For years I’ve sat through advocacy sessions on how to become “indispensable” while we all lament the fact that people don’t know what we do. My problem with librarians promoting the benefits of a strong library program is that I think we have a little less credibility in the eyes of an audience. Of course we believe in the value of our programs. The common thread is always that we have to open administrators’ eyes, and how better to do that than to immerse myself in a program training administrators? Really, I’m just taking one for the team here.
Librarians have the ability to play a huge role in equalizing opportunity for children in poverty, but with administrative support we can do even more amazing things. Which brings me back to why I’m here. Stepping out of my comfort zone into the realm of administration has given me the opportunity to promote the benefits of libraries from within the ranks of decision makers. And that can only be a good thing for the children whose lives are touched by a great school librarian.
Thank you for listening. Now, shhhhhhh! 🙂