I’m always thinking about strategy. I haven’t written a strategy column in a while, and I think it’s time. You just can’t disconnect technology choices and implementations from overall strategy. I want to write about strategies at the unit level—your school library—that make a difference for you and your learners and faculty partners.
Strategy is about goals and change. What do we do to make the future different and better than today? How do we adapt to the environmental changes we see around us? It’s that simple.
Yes, we can have these kinds of great goals:
• See more learners in the school library actively using resources and getting help.
• Engage with more teachers in co-curricular activities.
• Teach learners about the tools of success including modern technologies (and choosing only the best).
• Help our fellow teachers adapt to the new range of technologies and digital content (these are different issues).
• Balance our digital and hard copy collections, online and in-person use, and library versus classroom presence.
• Teach information fluency at all stages aligned with the learner’s readiness.
• Get real about homework and recognize this activity rarely happens within school hours and doesn’t always happen at “home.”
But people too often forget that it is much harder to find the tactics and operational strategies that build toward making change. It’s hard to find the ideas to try and then build these strategic goals toward success. It’s also hard to ideate within the ambiguous, constantly changing worlds we live in now. No one ever asserted that making choices is easy! That said, it’s not impossible either.
So I started to brainstorm some approaches and thought I’d put them out there. I’ve seen great school librarians implement many of these. It’s rarely a matter of funding. It’s largely a matter of finding time, breaking inertia and habit, and thinking about how to devote more time to our strategic priorities. It’s also about the choreography of our work and profession and the roles of passion and focus. In many respects, it’s finding the excitement that brought us to the confluence of teaching and librarianship in the first place and choosing to make a difference against the odds.
Give Something Up and Prioritize
Sacrifice. It’s harder than it looks. If you have 100 good ideas and only have time to implement five of them, then the hard part is to actually sacrifice 95 good ideas (or more palatably, put them on the back burner). It’s just hard to not be able to implement all of the wonderful creations our minds imagine. Even great artists like Michelangelo could only work on a few pieces of art at a time. You could feel bad about this or just gear your mindset to the fact that you’re an artist. You have to choose your best ideas and limit your number to just a few which will have the greatest impact on the largest number of learners and faculty. You’re already talented enough to make a difference on the individual level to that needier student or those teachers struggling in their first teaching positions.
When this issue of Internet@Schools hits your mailbox, you’ll have about two thirds of this school year left. Look back on the last few months. Use that track record to see what you’re doing well and what you can improve upon in the context of reaching your strategic goals.
Here are some tips to help you out:
• What were your waste-of-time experiences ? Are you going to continue doing them just because you always have or are you going to consciously choose to invest your most limited resource—your time—elsewhere? Working on executing those ideas that potentially will have the most impact on you achieving your goals. Dump (or cut back drastically) on those that won’t.
• Can you see that you chose the right goals? This is harder than it sounds. In a school library, you have to keep the doors open and the operations humming. That said, school libraries rarely look or operate the same as they did 20 years ago, or even e years ago. Ask yourself, “What is the most important thing a school librarian can accomplish that has a positive impact on the learning and skills of our students?” Pick your two to three best ideas/strategies and keep a laserlike focus on achieving them during the rest of the year and the years to follow.
• Did you choose some of your best tactical ideas—easy-to-execute ideas that will significantly impact your positioning and make you and your library more visible and important to those audiences that count? Execute these quickly to demonstrate success and have a few easy wins. This may be a simple weekly communication piece or a monthly walk-in help center—or a 10 minute staff meeting “brush-up” sponsored by the principal. Make a list and schedule these ideas. Devise a plan and invest light effort in achieving a few good ideas every month. It’s important to build a reputation for a successful track record on the road to achieving your big vision.
• Start on your long-term winning moves, hard-to-execute ideas with huge impact that take time and effort (and maybe funding). Build an adjustable, flexible, and sustainable plan—ideally across 2–3 years that build toward your big hairy audacious vision. Start planning and scheduling your time to execute these quickly and over time. By separating the wasted time from the tactical and strategic efforts, you’re well on your way to framing your challenges.
• Don’t discard your crazy ideas, difficult-to-execute ideas that, if you could figure out how to make them happen, would really make a difference. Too many professionals go conservative and eliminate these "go to the moon" ideas. Great curriculum leaders spend time figuring out how to make these feasible and rarely go it alone. Crazy ideas keep your mind open to some of the amazing and transformational technologies that arrive in our peripheral vision on a seemingly daily basis. Ask yourself the key question, “What is the one thing I cannot do today, but if I could, would fundamentally change the lives of my learners and the education library sector?”
• Stick to it, but stay flexible and regularly reassess your progress. Self-evaluation is important, but there is a lot to be said for reviewing your progress formally and informally with the principal, curriculum leaders, peer teachers, and colleagues.
Get Out of the Library
This autumn, I saw some amazing ideas implemented that drew attention to the school library. Nearly every one required the teacher-librarian to get outside the box of the school library. Here are just three stories I collected:
• Richland Library in Columbia, S.C., distributed nearly 28,000 public library cards to go home in the hands of Richland School District Two students in September 2015 as part of The White House Connect ED Challenge. This is really big-picture thinking and will pay off for years.
• W e acknowledge that it is difficult for classroom teachers to connect with parents let alone for the teacher-librarian to connect. One school librarian noticed that there was always a parking jam of cars along the road and around the parking lot at school pick-up and drop-off times. For the first week of school she went out before school started and before it ended and had conversations with the parents, making the connection between academic success and using the library. Mission accomplished to start the word-of-mouth going in the first week of school!
• School librarians have been trying to communicate for years to encourage effective home and school partnerships. One librarian wrote a simple take-action column in the school’s newspaper, and home communications emailed it to all parents. She kept it simple and gave them concrete goals—use the library to get an “A”; ask for help from the librarian; bookmark, encourage, and learn to use the online resources that are there for students 24/7/365; and make sure your children have their own public library card and take advantage of those print and digital resources, programs, and professionals outside of school hours. The trick is giving parents something to act on, rather than just platitudes.
Separate Your Technology Strategies From Your Digital Content Strategies
What’s the difference? Technology is just a tool. If it doesn’t improve learning, then why promote it in a learning environment? Digital content is another animal altogether. I’m not arguing for one over the other, as they are best evaluated in tandem, but implementing one without the other is a formula for failure. It’s best to think of two columns:
3D printed objects
At the intersection of technology and content, there needs to be one thing for success—an animator, a facilitator, a curriculum leader, or, more simply, a teacher-librarian
Experiment, Pilot, and Innovate
We know that programs at the library are the core of library service—not merely the collections, space, and furniture. What does your events calendar look like? Is it reactive? Does it fill up with activities driven by the fire hose of needs from teachers throughout the term? Or, is it strategic? Is it framed by your goals and strategies that have been gradually and successfully communicated to your partners? Is it individual essay-or project-focused, or is there a running theme of research skills and information fluency underlying every session?
Try to build a major calendar where your faculty have to compete for your time and valuable contribution to student success. Add assessment strategies to the process to evaluate your impact on student work. There are a number of good models to try.
Partner and Build Community Alliances
Don’t do it alone! Start, if you haven’t already, by working with your local public library. It may have a teen or children’s librarian or a school liaison person champing at the bit to engage with you. There are several key programs to start with. The school district I mentioned above made sure that every registered student had a personal library card in its community within the first month of school. Other districts hold library card sign-up days at their schools. Many public libraries have new technology tools and policies to issue library cards anywhere. Public librarians can be asked to teach and demonstrate their resources—programs and resources, both digital and print. It’s important to remember many students use the public library as a study hall, for homework help, and for databases from home PCs. All of these partnerships can have a very positive effect on school performance and give young people a safe place to study, socialize, and read after school and on weekends.
What other community partnerships can you develop? Are there formal ethnic groups in your area that address the needs of their demographic? Are there social workers and services for new immigrants that can assist your students? Is there a local makerspace, comic bookstore, bookseller, business association, or gaming club that meets both your needs and theirs?
Eat the Pizza One Piece at a Time
Divide it up. Have a viewpoint that thinks about the big picture, but don’t expect that one event, book talk, or partnership will solve all of the issues. Take the long view, but remember that your vision of the future is built one step at a time. Each experiment— huge or mild success or failure—is a step toward that vision. Build your tactics as part of a 1–3 year plan. Schedule your activities in such a way that you are always progressing toward your vision so that horizon keeps you excited and engaged, helping you to excite and engage others. Above all, don’t get discouraged. Celebrate progress along the way.
Find Your Tribe
We may have a small set of colleagues who are burned out, tired, and lack engagement and excitement. Too many are waiting for their exit and have stopped trying hard enough. That said, there is always a great group of colleagues—at any stage of their careers—who remain adaptable, excited, and engaged in their work. Find them. I’ve discovered that professional conferences and symposia are a good place to look for new professional colleagues to expand my circle. Those who go to conference sessions—and not just to get a subsidized trip to another city—are looking for ideas, engaged in lifelong professional learning, and thinking critically about what might work for their operations and kids. I’ve also found colleagues like these to be great to be around because they stretch my thinking in wonderful ways.
So, these are some musings on strategy and focus in the school library setting! The best result is that you wake up every day excited to be working and making a difference in people’s lives. Who could argue with that?
Here’s an article recommendation from the Innovation Trends monthly newsletter. It’s from another sector but the advice applies to us as well.
Six Ways to Elevate Your Innovation Game
1. Embrace the Opportunity Mindset.
2. Inspect your idea factory regularly.
3. Eliminate distraction.
4. Download your ideas.
5. Host All Things Considered meetings.
6. Identify when and where you do your best thinking.
Contact Stephen at email@example.com .