Okay, I admit it. I myself have uttered the defeatist phrase, “They just don’t get it!” They, in this case, usually refers to senior management (SMT). I am aware that it is entirely unhelpful and reflects poorly on me, but it felt good at the time!
It seems as though school librarians in Scotland have struggled with getting the support of administration, even more so than their American colleagues. Of course, I have met some wonderful head teachers who are very supportive of their librarians and library programmes. More often than not, though, it seems as though heads are indifferent to school libraries, or even likely to question the need for school libraries at all. There doesn’t seem to be a good explanation for this inconsistency, except perhaps that the success of a school library programme is largely down to the personalities of individual librarians and members of SMT.
I struggled in a previous school librarian post to try to convince SMT of the role of a modern school library and librarians. As I’ve stated before, I had a somewhat unusual experience as I worked in a school in which the professional librarian had been seconded for another position for several years, after which point she retired and the school was unable to find a replacement for two years. During this time, the library was staffed by a rotation of auxiliaries and even a recent school leaver towards the end. Although the “non-qualified” (for lack of a better phrase) staff were very dedicated and succeeded in managing the day-to-day tasks necessary to keep the library open for pupils, the library was never really seen as an integral part of learning and teaching. When I first took up the post, I was treated as another member of the clerical staff and really had to work at being included in committees, staff meetings, and CPD, which is not something I had anticipated when I accepted the job offer.
In fact, I found myself discouraged and even questioned whether I should continue working in a place where certain powers that be didn’t “get it.” Instead of giving up, however, I looked to Buffy Hamilton, Doug Johnson, Joe Bower, and Joyce Valenza (among others) for inspiration. They made me realise that there was no such thing as the “perfect” school library job and that it was up to me to create it.
When it was announced that the school’s October CPD session would focus on CfE Building the Curriculum 5: Assessment, I told my line manager that I was interested in attending and explained why. However, I did not wait for permission and simply attended. During the event, I made sure that I participated fully in small group discussions and even responded to a question during the large lecture portion of the event. Although it was slightly daunting to speak in front of 120+ teachers from all schools in the catchment area, I think I made a fairly good point regarding the danger of using summative assessment disguised as formative assessment.
I spoke up not to get attention, but primarily because I was genuinely interested in the topic matter. Nevertheless, my comment did get me noticed and several teachers complimented me on my input. A close teaching friend even said, “Well done. Maybe now people will start to realise you’re an educator, and not just, you know.” I’m not entirely certain what was meant by “you know,” but I think we can all guess where that comment was going.
And guess what? Several weeks later, another CPD event was planned, and the head teacher herself came to the library to personally ask me whether I wanted to be involved. It turns out she hadn’t “got it” all along! She hadn’t been excluding me from previous events intentionally, but simply because she didn’t understand that my input would be valuable or that I would even be interested in attending. As soon as I demonstrated why librarians should have the same grounding in the curriculum as teachers, and what librarians could bring to the discussion, she “got it.”