Being Tactical with Advocacy
Carl A. Harvey II, The 2011-2012 President of the American Association of School Librarians
When working to create advocates for the school library program, it is important to be TACTICAL and intentional in this effort. The best person to help educate administrators, school boards, parents, students, and other community members about the school library program is the teacher-librarian. We cannot rely on someone to do it for us. We cannot assume they will notice on their own. Teacher-librarians need to make a plan and implement it using TACTICAL strategies for creating advocates.
T is for Target
When designing an advocacy plan, the teacher-librarian needs to target on how the school library is a critical part of student achievement. How does the school library program affect student learning? What information do the various stakeholders need to see the connection between school libraries and student achievement? We all know the work done behind the scenes to run a school library is an important element for its success, but the work we do with students and the effect we have on their learning is the critical component. We need to make sure target in on what we do everyday so there is no doubt about the positive results we are having. For example, make sure your collaboration log documents how the projects you are working on with students directly connect to the state standards they are required to meet.
A is for Action
Actions certainly speak much louder than words. We cannot wait for the budget to be cut or administrators to decide to cut the teacher-librarian position. At that point, it is often too late. We need to be proactive to show them the actions in the school library are critical to student learning. We need to be intentional that the learning experiences created by collaborating with teachers connect to curriculum, meet the standards, and provide students with a rich learning opportunity. Often we can get wrapped up in the negative—fixed schedules, teachers unwilling to work with the teacher-librarian, budgets, and so on. What we have to do is take those elements in our control and make sure we are doing everything we can in our abilities to maximize the library program. Only then can we start to see movement and turn around in those things that aren’t in our control. For example, even on a fixed schedule the teacher-librarian is diligent to connect what is happening in the school library to what is happening in the classroom.
C is for Communication
We can’t assume that just because we are doing great things in the school library that everyone is going to see them. We have to be effective communicators. We need to find ways to reach stakeholders so there is no doubt they are aware of the influence of the school library. There are a variety of ways to communicate with all the various stakeholders and the teacher-librarian needs to use a multitude of these communication tools to reach a wide audience. Find out which methods work best to get the word out about the library and use them to maximize the impact of the message. Be sure everyone knows the great things happening in the school library. For example, to share the final projects students posted online, the teacher-librarian could include links in the school newsletters and post them on Twitter, Facebook, and the school library web site.
T is for Time
Time is always a factor to consider. There never seems to be enough of it. People say I do not have time to build advocates for the program because I am working with kids and taking care of all the administrative roles of the school library. But in reality, it is a very important component to building a successful program. The time you take to share a great project that has been happening with an administrator or a parent is well worth it when they go out and share those stories with others. It is worth it to take the time to update the school library web site about current projects and events. It is also worth the time you take to put together a library Facebook page to communicate with parents. Taking the time now to build advocates for the school library can save lots of time down the road if the program is ever threatened, or better yet it may even ensure that never happens.
I is for Involvement
An important part of building advocates is getting ideas from others on what has worked and what has not worked. Our jobs can often be very isolating. We have to make connections with our profession. There are many options and opportunities to get involved in the profession—joining your state school library organization and American Association of School Librarians (AASL) is a great place to start. Signing up for a committee to be an active contributor in the organizations is even better. Reading (and writing for) the various professional journals is a great way to get ideas and strategies as well as reflect on those things you have already tried. Online connections through Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and more, allow today’s teacher-librarian to connect with others in the field like never before. We have to take advantage of being an active contributor to the field because it only helps us become an even better teacher-librarian for our students and staff.
C is for Change
Change is never easy. But, all too often we get in a rut. We have always done it this way, so we cannot possibly change it. Wrong! We have to get in a mindset that change is a good thing. It is really the only constant thing in life. There are going to be changes in technology, in standards, in formats of materials, in kids, in teachers, in administrators, and more. Change is all around us and for the school library program to be a vital part of what is happening, we have to update it and change it based on the times we live in. People remember the library they had when they went to school, but the role school libraries play today is vastly different. Unfortunately we have some people in our field who have not moved along with the times and it makes them an easy target for cuts when administrators need to save money. We need to have a mindset that we are always looking at moving forward, constantly thinking of how we can always be improving and getting better. For example, there are amazing changes and challenges with keeping up with technology. However, not only do we need to be aware of what is on the horizon, we also need to help teachers see the potential of using technology tools with students and help administrators see the need for access to these tools.
A is for Attitude
Our attitude can play a major role in creating advocates for the library program. We need to show our enthusiasm, our excitement, and our passion. It is way too easy to get caught up in what we do not have. Whining is not going to be the answer. We need to take a minute to step back and reframe the conversation. We need to exploit all the positive things happening in the school library. We can take those positives and share how we hope to improve on them and what it will take to get us there—changes in schedule, funding, support staff, and so on. It is absolutely necessary to articulate those needs in terms of how and why they benefit students. For example, when submitting budget requests/needs, talk about the specific resources students need. Mention places where there are not sufficient resources to meet curriculum and standards needs. Use scenarios of students who have been unsuccessful because of the lack of resources. The way we conduct ourselves and how we interact with others can go a long way to helping us build those advocates we need.
L is for Leadership
The last element is probably one of the most important. We have to get out there and be leaders in our school. We need to serve on committees and chair them if possible. We need to be involved in the school improvement process. We need to be a part of curriculum development and professional development. Not only as attendees, but become part of the conversations in planning what our school needs and helping to implement it.
When we reach out beyond our area, we expand our sphere of influence. When we become a leader in the building, it helps elevate our role in the school as a staff member who is important. We all know the leaders in our schools—those people administrators go to when they want advice and counsel, those people who teachers go to when they need support and encouragement, those people who are seen as dependable and get the job done. Teacher-librarians need to be seen as one of those leaders. Just like an administrator, we have that global perspective of the entire school. Our job requires us to work with all the students and teachers and to have a grasp of what is happening in the school. Such expertise makes us natural leaders in the school. We have the opportunity to make a huge impression for the school library program by becoming a leader.
Being TACTICAL can help build and develop advocates for the school library program. Making that intentional effort is a huge component in maintaining and improving the school library program. We cannot wait around for anyone to do this for us. We have to take up the charge to be leaders and educate all stakeholders about the role teacher-librarians play in today’s schools. Not only is it important for our own building, but many of the students and teachers we are working with now are the future educators, administrators, school board members of the future. The experiences and connections they make now about school libraries could very well translate into how they see school libraries of the future. There is a lot at stake, but by being TACTICAL we can do it!
Carl A. Harvey II is the teacher-librarian at North Elementary School in Noblesville, Indiana. In his school he serves as co-chair of the School Improvement Committee and chair of the Media/Tech Advisory Committee. He is active in the Association for Indiana Media Educators (AIME) having served in various roles including President, Conference Chair, Young Hoosier Book Award General Chair, and Survivor Workshop Chair. Carl is also active in the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) serving as chair of the Affiliate Assembly, co-chair for the 2007 National Conference in Reno, NV, and currently as Member-At-Large on the AASL Board of Directors. He may be contacted at email@example.com.