School librarians support teaching and learning

Jan Wilson of Brookwood High School in Snellville, GA was named Hero of Collaboration by School Library Journal and Scholastic in the 2017 School Librarian of the Year Awards. Below, she shares her thoughts on redefining the role of school librarians.

If the teachers and administrators at your school were asked to list your professional responsibilities and daily tasks, how would they respond?

How would your students describe what’s happening in your space? Would they say that you check out books? Laminate? Straighten the shelves? Store equipment? If you and your school library are viewed in a limited role, there’s only one person who can change that—you!  

When I interviewed at Brookwood High School in Snellville, GA in 2010, the principal described what she expected of a media specialist and media program: to support teaching and learning. I’ll never forget her five-word reply.

I feel passionate about this mission, because there are countless ways we can fulfill this expectation: we design lessons, teach classes, provide staff development, promote reading, and build a relevant collection. Our school libraries must provide a variety of spaces, furniture, equipment and staff to support the needs of our students so they can explore, evaluate, share and create. 

Several years ago, my district media director expressed the importance of not getting caught behind the circulation desk or shelving books. Without a clerk at my school, this does happen occasionally, but it’s not the image we should consistently project to our patrons and stakeholders.

With our areas of expertise, school librarians need to be circulating the floor—not circulating books—to assist students and teachers. In the past few years, it has become more important than ever to positively market our roles and school media programs. There are many people, inside and outside the field of education, who do not understand what we do. When thinking about our profession, they visit a past memory of their time in a school library...usually decades ago! Our profession seems to be caught in a time warp, focused on the idea that we are merely managers of materials. But we can work to change that perception! 

Collaboration has allowed me to change the way that I am viewed by both my teaching staff and my students. Every year, my co-media specialist and I meet with new teachers during pre-planning, and again during the first month of school. We meet with brand-new teachers and with veteran teachers who are new to Brookwood High School. During this meeting, we explain what to expect from our program and emphasize that we are here to support and supplement their instruction.

Remember, collaboration doesn’t have to be formal. I sit with teachers at lunch, school functions, sporting events and fine arts performances. I want my teachers to know that I am their instructional partner and a resource for their curriculum. Sitting with them at a basketball game can lead to conversations about what’s going on in the classroom. I strongly believe that connecting with staff outside of the school day leads to increased interaction during the school day.  

As you reflect on your professional role, I urge you to make changes if you are stuck in a traditional role. Having a high level of collaboration among all stakeholders creates a culture of success. Your school library should provide opportunities for the diversity of all students. You can do this!

Photo via Jan Wilson