If we don’t know where we’re going, we won’t know how to get there. In the case of School Librarians, we need to develop an overall concept of what we want our School Library Program to be in order to make decisions for a day, a week, a month, a semester, or a school year. So, how can we conceptualize our School Library Program?
Any organization or program is only effective if it has 3 elements: defined beliefs, a broad vision, and a clear mission; if any of these are missing, the program suffers from indifference, mistrust, and confusion. Yet, I struggled with beliefs, vision, and mission—and my library program suffered—until I began using Strategic Planning. With strategic planning we envision a desired future and, working backwards, define goals to achieve the end-result over an extended period of time. Since “backward planning” is how we create our Library Lessons, it makes sense to apply it to a whole school library program!
While Vision/ Mission Statements and a Strategic Plan are very important, they aren’t useful as a day-to-day working tool. Only after I’d created my Library Lesson Matrix and my Personal Management strategy could I develop my Vision/Mission/Strategic Plan and produce a reporting document to tell others what I’m doing in the library.
HOW TO START A STRATEGIC PLAN
Strategic planning professionals recommend we develop a 3-5 year period of time. For my Strategic Plan I choose a 3-year period because, as a middle school librarian, I want a a learning program customized to the 3 grade-levels in my building. I tweak my plan periodically, but I strive for a picture of what I can accomplish with incoming 6th graders by the time they leave at the end of 8th grade.
I find it desirable to align my strategic plan with current national, state, or local initiatives, so over the years I’ve used Information Power, AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner, my State’s school library standards and guidelines, and my district’s strategic plans. With the release of the new AASL National School Library Standards, I begin my current Strategic Plan with the new Common Beliefs and then translate them into Significant Concepts for planning my program.
AASL Common Beliefs
My Significant Concepts
The school library is a unique and essential part of a learning community.
|Library Lessons are the foundation of a valued school library program.|
Qualified school librarians lead effective school libraries.
|The primary purpose for a School Librarian is educating our youth.|
Learners should be prepared for college, career, and life.
|Information literacy skills prepare learners for the critical thinking and problem-solving needed to succeed in our global digital society.|
Reading is the core of personal and academic competency.
|Reading is a window to the world.|
Intellectual freedom is every learner’s right.
|A democracy needs intellectual freedom and intellectual freedom supports democracy.|
Information technologies must be appropriately integrated and equitably available.
|Cloud computing provides equitable physical and intellectual access to visual, aural, and textual resources and technological tools.|
I also record my Significant Concepts onto my Library Lesson Matrix, so I can keep them in mind when planning Library Lessons.
CREATE VISION, MISSION, AND GOALS
The next step in strategic planning is creating a vision, a mission, and goals; I think of them as “what we want,” “what we do” (purpose), and “how we do it.” As a School Librarian and Teacher, my desired ideal is focused on students, not the library, so I ask, “What do I want to instill in my students?” Here is an example of my response for the Vision and Mission Statements of my Strategic Plan:
Vision Statement: Our students will enjoy a meaningful 3-year library learning program of information literacy and enriched reading that builds a global awareness of the cultural, economic, and environmental aspects of our planet Earth.
Mission Statement: Our school library provides a service-oriented center with print, audio, video, and digital resources for reading, research, and production that enables students and teachers to communicate effectively with text, images, sound, and video.
For our Goals Framework we are encouraged to use the guiding objectives of our district’s strategic plan: High achievement for all students by continuously improving instructional practices, the learning environment, operational effectiveness, and community support. I add my own school library objective under each of the district’s 4 objectives:
- Continuously improve instructional practice.
Library Objective: Emphasize library program over library facility—program and access are more important than place.
- Continuously improve the learning environment.
Library Objective: Expand library services throughout school and remotely—resource access online is as important as the in-house collection.
- Continuously improve operational effectiveness.
Library Objective: Get rid of tasks that don’t make a difference in student learning, information access, or program efficiency.
- Continuously improve community support.
Library Objective: Make purposeful and frequent communication through various media—videos help tell stories.
DEVELOP THE ACTION PLAN
An Action Plan is the short-term part of strategic planning and details how to reach the Goals. It prioritizes tasks needed to reach each objective, and identifies who will do what by a certain deadline—in other words, it organizes time, materials, and personnel. My Action Plan lists my 4 School Library goals and objectives and under each objective lists the Action Steps that I’ll take during the current school year. I limit myself to just 1 or 2 Action Steps for each Goal/Objective, otherwise I can’t complete them all, which frustrates me and affects my year-end evaluation. To stay on track all year, I enter Action Step Task Details on my Library TO DO list, and when I complete something I open up the Action Plan and record the date.
Each year I change Action Steps (and sometimes an Objective) to add new tasks, and at the end of the 3rd year of the plan, I spend more time developing the next 3-year plan. I give a print version of my Action Plan to my principal at the beginning of the school year and submit an updated print version—with accomplishments—just before my evaluation at the end of the school year.
REGULAR REPORTING TO STAY ON TRACK
At the end of every grading period I submit a “Report to the Principal” that shows what’s happening in the school library—and what I’ve been doing when no one’s around! I use the same 4 Goals as my Strategic Plan to organize and report library and librarian activities:
- Instructional practice
- circulation statistics and carts of books distributed to classrooms
- teacher collaborations and Library Lessons taught
- Learning environment
- class visits & scheduled use
- incidental walk-ins (I keep a tally sheet), and other uses
- Operational effectiveness
- books and other materials purchased
- various administrative and management tasks I’ve completed
- professional development (my own and presented to others)
- Community support
- newsletters, website, bulletin boards
- non-library school-related activities I’ve performed or participated in
To create my Report to the Principal, I use the grading period’s Library Lesson Planners and information from my Library TO DO List. For years I made a text-based report, but eventually created a stylish new graphical report to make information clearer and more appealing. My principal liked the new infographic so much he taped it to his office door so other staff members could see what was happening in the library!