Friday, June 19, 2015

Coping with Personnel Change in Your School

Change is scary. It means having to rethink and possibly undo everything you've been doing up until that point. It means revisiting your own incompetence. It means spending a lot more time doing what should be easy. And for a library media center, change can mean the end of your own program. Especially if it's a change in administration. All of us have read stories of amazing library media centers with dynamic librarians at the helm paving the way with innovation and grace. And I would venture to say most if not all of those libraries were able to do the things they do because they had a supportive administration.

 A supportive administration listens to your ideas and then brainstorms with you to come up with solutions. They are willing to compromise and may even have the ability to give you the money you need to get started. A supportive administration recognizes that it needs to constantly learn and evolve, and more importantly will allow you to teach them about librarianship and its ideal role in a school community. In short, a support administration is...supportive. They have your back, and in turn, you have theirs. They help you out, you make a rigorous program and facility that bolsters the school community and positively affects student learning outcomes, and you make the administration look good to boot. It's a win-win-situation. It takes time to create a relationship like that though. You need to get a feel for each other's work flows, management styles, and preferred methods of communication. And even if you have the exact same vision, sometimes it just all comes down to personality. Either way, when you have a school where the library media specialist and the building administrators mesh, it's a beautiful thing. So then what do you do when something threatens to change all of that?!

My school is recently going through a lot of changes.  Many teachers are retiring and many others are jumping ship for a variety of reasons.  I'm not here to talk about why they are leaving, but rather what affect their leaving could have on a library media center.

Unlike public libraries, school libraries are built to specifically accompany a school's curriculum and needs.  We don't stock our shelves and websites with a general overview of everything you can imagine.  We instead have a very clear focus and often a very limited budget to do so.  When your English teacher approaches you and says they're going to do a unit on The Poisonwood Bible, you start to learn about The Poisonwood Bible.  You try to read it, if you can before the project starts.  You give them a whole bunch of online materials on not only the novel, but biographical information on the author, and social/historical information on the backstory.  And then when it's time to order more materials you get the audiobook and/or DVD if they're available, as well as extra copies of the book, and research materials to help students garner a deeper understanding of the topic.  You  get the idea.

But then what happens when that teacher leaves and that course is no longer taught?  Do you keep those materials?  For how many years?

Even worse, what happens when your administration changes?  That could affect your budget, your schedule, or could even result in the closing of your entire program.  That's extreme of course, but it's the reality of our profession.  Not only do our programs and jobs get re-evaluated every year - as does every school employee - but administrative changes can have sweeping consequences as well.

What do you do when something like this happens?  When everything you've worked so hard to create could come crashing down?  It doesn't seem to matter how many awards you've won or how many pages of stats exist on the rigorousness of your program.  If the incoming administration doesn't share your philosophy, it could be game over, or at the very least an overhaul of the way things are done.

Dealing with personnel change doesn't have to be all negative though.  It could mean getting in on the ground floor with some very important people.  Sure, maybe the veteran leader of the English department is retiring, but maybe you could become the go-to person for the incoming English teacher.  Maybe they'll be new to teaching and could use a helping hand.  Maybe they'll be on fire about educational technology and a new partner with whom you can flip and tweet and podcast!

Or maybe the incoming principal has a management style even more in line with what you need in a leader or has a new and exciting vision for the library media center.

In short, there's nothing we can do about personnel change, but we can change how we react to it.  Have a new teacher kit ready to go to orient new staff to your library and librarianship as a whole.  Try to arrange a meeting with your administration to find out what their goals and expectations are, and in turn, what you can do to support them with your outstanding program.  Be there for the new people, because no matter how high they are, none of them know where the bathroom is or have the schedule memorized yet.  They're going to need help and the sooner you place yourself in the role of professional friend and mentor, the better off you'll both be.  There's a lovely window of vulnerability that is present whenever someone starts a new job.  The newbies were obviously hired for their proficiency, but everyone is a bit of a clod when they just start out.  Being there for them in the beginning will hopefully not be forgotten, and the bond you form can bloom into a professional relationship with amazing potential.

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